Steadfast for Spain: Ambassador Luis Arias

The Spanish Ambassador to the Philippines has always been held in high regard and afforded a lot of attention. As the country’s official link to Spain, the ambassador has to be able to look back on our shared pasts, and also move forward by implementing programs that will benefit our countries’ futures. Modest and earnest, H.E. Luis Arias Romero brings to his position 33 years’ worth of experience in the foreign service.

“At one time I wanted to teach in the university,” admits the dedicated diplomat. “But I decided to remain in the service to represent and serve my country abroad. It was not a difficult reflection.”

He explains how as a diplomat, he is tasked to protect the interests of the Spanish people and to expand the idea of Spain. Fulfilling this function in the Philippines is both a great challenge and privilege considering the more than 400 years of common history and tradition shared between us.

“We have very good relations in the political realm and we do many projects in the cultural realm,” he says. “But there are still many things we can do to improve our economic relations. Spain can contribute so much in the areas of energy, climactic change, and tourism. My government expects many things to be accomplished.”

The ambassador notes that there are many institutions in the Philippines that are very helpful and hospitable, thus lightening his load. And yet he does confess to not having much free time. Rare is the day when he has no social event to attend. But he does try to set aside at least half an hour a day to go swimming for his health and to unwind.

It’s this demanding schedule which has made the busy envoy appreciate the value of time.
“I choose to seize every moment.,” he states. “Everyday is the most important in my life. Every time I’m working in my office, I’m doing something useful for the Philippines and Spain. Every day I feel that I will be able to do more. The possibilities are enormous and the future is optimistic.”

Despite his long years of service, an accomplishment he is most proud of, the envoy remains as enthusiastic as ever. It is his first posting in Asia and he likens it to starting a new career. Costa Rica was his first overseas assignment, and also his first time to go abroad. It was while living in another country that the ambassador professes to having discovered himself. He was then posted to the USA, Poland, Canada, and Belgium. “Each place has its own character and particularities,” he muses. “As a professional, we have to always find the interesting and positive things in any place.”

The envoy remembers encountering Filipinos almost everywhere, especially in the US, the foreign service, and in Spain where there are many who are well-established. His impression of Filipinos is of a very hospitable people, sympathetic and compassionate.

Prior to his arrival, the ambassador talked with many people who had been to the Philippines those with knowledge and experience to share about the country, whether in business or government. He diligently read up on the work of the embassy in Manila for the last 25 years, and began reading the history of the Philippines.

But studying the country in theory was still not quite the same as experiencing the real thing.
“When I arrived here there was a moment to get in touch with reality. Now that you are here you have to start work,” he told himself. I arrived on the 27th of February and on the 28th I was in my office.”

Although he knew beforehand about the country’s 88 million inhabitants, it still made quite an impression on him to actually live amongst them. “It’s very easy to connect with people here. I feel at home,” he declares. “The most obvious influence may be from the US but Spain’s influence goes deeper. It’s a part of your way of life and understanding things. I think another characteristic of Filipinos is that your sense of humor is rather different from other Asians. It’s very familiar for me, a Spaniard. We laugh at the same things. When I talk with somebody or I see the names of streets and places, there are so many things that constantly remind me of Spain or Spanish things. I always have to make an effort to remember that I’m really in Asia here. It’s like being in a Latin American country.”

Despite all that is familiar, there were still quite a few things Ambassador Arias had to figure out and get used to. “One thing I didn’t know about before was Filipino time, the daily timetable,” he reveals. ”Now we are perfectly adapted. I wake up at 6 in the morning then we have breakfast and I’m working by 7:30am. Then at 12:30 we are having lunch. I think it’s a very clever timetable compared to in Spain where we have lunch at 2:30, and dinner past 9pm. Here I feel I have more time to work and enjoy myself.”

The ambassador’s family has also apparently eased into their new situation with aplomb. “My wife is very happy and very positive. There are many activities to do here and she’s collecting many friends,” he shares.

“Our 26 year old son likes Asia very much and is very happy to have us here. He has been working in Beijing and speaks good Chinese. In fact he visited Philippines years before we came. Even now he e-mails me places to go. He wants me to use the jeepney. It’s a bit more complicated and difficult for me than it is for him though!”

The envoy was finally able to carry out his son’s suggestion on a trip to El Nido. “I used the jeepney once from the airport to the port where we rode the banca. I think it’s a very ingenious way of transport,” he concludes. The trip also whetted his appetite to further explore the country. “When we were flying over the islands, I could see the reality of the Philippines. I definitely have to travel more, to go to the Visayas and Mindanao where we have many projects of cooperation, and for me to be able to talk properly about the entire country.”

The envoy is obviously quite dedicated to his work and role. “When I eventually leave the Philippines I want to have quite a bit of knowledge about the country and its many different people. I’d like to be remembered as an ambassador who has done his best to extend the friendship, good relations and brotherhood between the Philippines and Spain.” And even just over the span of a few months, Ambassador Arias has already been receiving compliments for his approach to the job, high praise indeed for a first-timer.

“I feel that maybe I am changing or the country is changing me,” he reflects. “I’m very happy here and I’d like to really know the country from the north in Batanes to the south in Mindanao. That is my horizon.”

-text & photo by Jude Defensor. first published in What’s On & Expat Newspaper, 2007

Advertisements

Converging on Capas: The Bataan Death March Memorial

Bataan death march memorial

Bataan death march memorial (Photo credit: Jeff Youngstrom)

The Second World War remains an abstract concept for most young Filipinos. We learn about the facts and dates from books and classes. We may look at some pictures, browse a museum exhibit, or at best pay a visit to a historical site. But it’s an entirely different matter to actually meet a war veteran, someone who has lived through hell and more. To be in the presence of these warriors and survivors is enough to make history seem real in a way that words never could. Their bodies may be frail, but their spirits are resilient, burning with a fierce pride that cannot be extinguished by age nor neglect. Today they fight a different war, the battle to keep their legacy alive. Taking up the flag of their cause is the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (DBC) Foundation, a group founded in 1952 and sustained by those who took part in those legendary battles and their descendants, all without financial support from the government or dues from its members. As the original members dwindle in number due to the inevitable, the struggle to maintain the group’s fervor mounts.

The DBC has been most visible in organizing regular activities and gatherings for its members. At these events, old comrades reconnect, reminisce over their adventures and ordeals, and pay tribute to the fallen and departed. Their activities climax during the yearly commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan or Veterans’ Day in the Philippines, every April 9, the anniversary of the surrender of the combined US and Philippine forces to the Japanese in 1942. During the week-long tribute to war heroes, the veterans and such notable officials as the President of the Philippines, the US Ambassador, and Japanese Ambassador visit the various shrines erected around the country in honor of those who fought, suffered, and sacrificed their lives.

Remembering Capas

One such memorial is the Capas National Shrine (Paggunita Sa Capas) in Capas, Tarlac. The area of the shrine originated as a cantonment center for military training of Filipino youth in 1941. On July 15, 1941, on orders from US President Roosevelt, it became a mobilization center for the 71st Division, Philippine Army, USAFFE. After the fall of Bataan, the camp was transformed into a POW Camp in mid-April 1942. Renamed Capas POW Camp, an estimated 60,500 Filipino and American POWs were marched here, sick and dying from disease, injuries, and maltreatment. By July 25, 1942 an estimated 30,000 had died here. The camp became part of the Clark Air Base Military Reservation, and then was turned over to the Philippine Government on April 9, 1982.

Wall of names at the Bataan Death March Memorial at Camp O’Donnell (Photo credit: ReverendMungo)

A proclamation by then President Corazon Aquino in December 1991 kicked off the conversion of the site into the shrine it is now. Built and maintained by the Philippine government, the shrine stands as a monument to the Filipino and American soldiers who died in

Camp O’Donnell at the end of the Bataan Death March. Encompassing 54 hectares of parkland, 35 hectares have been planted with rows of trees to represent each of the fallen. Last April 9, 2003, a new memorial wall of black marble and a 70-meter tall obelisk were unveiled. The memorial wall is engraved with the names of the Filipinos and Americans known to have died there,  as well as statistics about the total numbers of prisoners and deaths, and poems extolling peace. The wall is divided into three segments to represent the Filipino, American, and Japanese people. The obelisk’s soaring height is meant to signify all those groups’ great desire for world peace. The tall black structure stands as the shrine’s centerpoint, towering over the grounds of the former interment camp and visible from the entire Capas area. A small monument built by an American group calling themselves the “Battling Bastards of Bataan” honoring the American war casualties, a museum, and meeting area also lie within the area.

English: Battling Bastards of Bataan Memorial ...

English: Battling Bastards of Bataan Memorial at Camp O’Donnell, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lay of the Land


On the way to and from the shrine, one can follow the path delineated by the Bataan Death March Markers. The final mileage markers of the death march are located outside the shrine, at kilometers 111, 100 and 109. Each marker was donated by a private individual or organization and is listed on the rear of the marker. The front indicates the mileage of the death march, with 0 km being the start at Bataan.

The Esplanade is a wide paved walkway extending from the shrine’s main gate to the central obelisk area, with a line of flag poles stretching on either side. It is reminiscent of the Mall in Washington DC, except that in this case the obelisk is black with striking carved flourishes instead of plain white. Surrounded by lush greenery, the dramatic lines and perspectives struck by the various monumental elements create an atmosphere of both serenity and majesty.

To the east of the Esplanade is a field containing a replica of a POW Camp constructed for the 2003 dedication. The replica includes two guard towers and a prisoner’s quarters building. To the west is the nature park with rows of trees planted as living memorials and also to promote environmental consciousness. A few kilometers from the shrine itself is the new Camp O’Donnell which now serves as one of the headquarters for the modern-day Philippine army.

Underneath the obelisk at Bataan Death March Memorial at Camp O’Donnell (Photo credit: ReverendMungo)

One of our guides around the shrine was Defender Atty. Rafael Estrada, Founder and First Supreme Councilor of the DBC, a survivor of the prison camp and a highly respected driving force among all the veterans. He proudly toured us around the garden planted and tended by the DBC Foundation, nimbly crossing the hanging bridge that dangles over the river from which he and his fellow prisoners took their water. “We owe this river our life,” he stated, pointing out that after the memorial, the bridge is the most visited spot within the shrine. Veterans and survivors come to Capas to look back at an unforgettable period in their lives and bring with them their children and grandchildren to make them better appreciate our current freedoms. Generations have been raised with an ever-fading memory of the war, and it takes a trip to monuments such as these to put history into sharp focus. From around 50,000 survivors after the war, the DBC can now muster only around 400 at each get-together. But even when these hardcore old-timers have been laid to rest, awaiting the low clear reveille of God, the DBC is sure to keep soldiering on, for generations to come.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in What’s On & Expat newspaper, 2007

Envoy to the Other Side of the World: Ambassador Carlos Costa of Brazil

His Excellency Carlos Eduardo Sette Camara Da Fonseca Costa, Ambassador of Brazil, is as tall as his name is long, and has a diplomatic career that’s just as lengthy. “I’ve been in the profession for thirty-something years. It’s been a long time and I’m quite happy,” says the laid-back envoy. A career in international relations came quite naturally to the ambassador, having been born into a family of diplomats. “Since my childhood I have been thinking about being a diplomat. It’s the way of life of many of my relatives. My father wasn’t a diplomat but he was posted in many international conferences. And with my travels through the years my ideas were crystallized.” He then entered the diplomatic academy in Brazil and never looked back.
Ambassador Costa considers his role in strengthening the relationships between countries to be the most important and fulfilling aspect of being a diplomat. “I think that we are privileged that we are able to do that. When I was ambassador in Indonesia I did my best. I’m doing my best now with the Philippines.”“If I weren’t a diplomat I wouldn’t have any idea what I would be. By training I am a lawyer, but I don’t have the inclination to be one. If I wouldn’t be a lawyer, perhaps I’d be a doctor because sometimes medicine interests me. But I never really thought of having another profession,” he shares.

So far, the ambassador’s efforts have been paying off splendidly, with a breakthrough agreement already notched on his belt. “With the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) we now have a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between our two countries. Before I arrived there wasn’t an MOA yet. But now we are having the first meeting in Brasilia in 2007, and then we are going to hold a workshop every year either in the Philippines or Brazil. I am very proud of what we have accomplished here. I think this is an important step.”

The ambassador admits that it’s not the simplest matter to handle relations between two countries that are so distant geographically. “It takes two days to travel one way. So to go back and forth you have four days in transit,” he sighs. But he believes the results are worth it. “The relationship between the two countries is very positive. One example of that is this MOA. We have growing trade between the two countries. It’s very balanced, around USD150M each way, while bilateral trade is around USD550M with the Philippines exporting a little bit more than Brazil. Recently in New York, at the General Assembly of the United Nations,Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim met with DFA Secretary Alberto Romulo. This is a landmark meeting and we intend to deepen the relationship.”The Guy From Ipanema

Beyond official diplomatic efforts, Filipinos already seem to hold a deep fascination with all things Brazilian. “Our music is very popular here in the Philippines,” the ambassador notes. “Bossa Nova is very common to hear on the radio. It’s also a surprise how capoeira has become popular. I think it’s very funny.” Ambassador Costa predicts that the caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail, to be the next trendy drink to sweep the country.

Evidently, the Brazilians are as eager to welcome us Filipinos as we are enthusiastic of their culture. Despite the distance, the ambassador encourages Filipinos to try to come and visit his country, which may actually be easier than what most may think. “Filipinos do not need a visa to go to Brazil. As far as I know, we are one of the few Latin American countries that do not require one.” He believes that Filipinos will find themselves right at home in Brazil, just as easily as he has settled here in the country. “Brazilian people are very friendly,” he asserts. “We like singing and dancing. I think it’s a good match because both of our countries have friendly people who are not afraid of being happy, of enjoying life. Brazilians and Filipinos are very similar. I think that you Filipinos are the Latins of Asia. That is the common perception among my friends from Latin America here.”

The envoy’s posting was actually his first time to reach local shores. “I wasn’t able to visit before because the Philippines is not along the usual tourism routes. You must purposefully want to come here. But I think you have huge potential for tourism. You have beautiful beaches, islands and buildings. I think you have very exceptional treasures that should be more explored and promoted. For example, I have never seen in Asia such a beautiful setting as Intramuros. I didn’t know about it before I arrived here. So when I saw it I was hugely surprised by the beautiful old churches, forts and buildings.”

Unfortunately, the ambassador will be here for only one year and has just now been able to begin to travel, but he intends to go to Mindanao, Palawan, and the Visayas. He clearly displays an affinity for the region and plans to learn more about it.

“I was very happy when I found out I would be assigned here, because firstly I would still be in the neighborhood of Southeast Asia. I consider Southeast Asia to be one of the most dynamic regions in the world, not only economically but also culturally. My experience in Indonesia with the Malay people was a very good one. So I was happy to come here and be with the same kind of Malay people who I know are friendly and happy like us Brazilians. It was a very easy transition for me. When I arrived here I felt at home.”

Reading is what essentially keeps the ambassador occupied during his spare time. But time for himself is quite a rarity, as a diplomat he has to honor many invitations to official events. The embassy even has to operate on two work shifts, a normal work shift in the day, and another in the evening for receptions and cocktails. But all in all so far, it has been smooth sailing for the Brazilian envoy. “It’s extremely easy to be posted here,” he affirms. “I’ve had no difficulty with relating to people. Everybody speaks English. There are lots of nice people and good restaurants. It’s a pleasant place to be. If only it didn’t take too long to travel home to Brazil. Otherwise it would be a paradise.”

Shared Pasts, Shared Futures

Besides our country’s natural charms, the ambassador also admires, of all things, our political system. “The Philippines has a good reputation as a free country, especially in a region where not all the countries are democratic. I think that your long-held democracy is a great virtue.” This approbation is really no surprise bearing in mind the fact that Brazil is also a predominantly Catholic country that has struggled through a long period of colonization, dictatorships and corrupt governments.

Looking further ahead, Ambassador Costa hopes to be able to help promote the use of ethanol here in the Philippines, a technology that the government is currently considering to reduce dependence on foreign oil and with which Brazil has a lot of experience. “We have been using ethanol for more than 30 years,” he explains. “Almost all cars in Brazil have multi-fuel engines. All gasoline in Brazil has a mix of 25 percent ethanol. The distribution of ethanol is now completely market oriented. It’s very efficient and successful.”

For the moment, the Philippine government has not officially approached Brazil about ethanol technology. “But if they do we will be glad to help,” states Ambassador Costa. “We are ready to collaborate with the Philippines regarding that. When we began with ethanol in Brazil it was very complicated. But now it’s a technology which we have completely developed and perfected in Brazil.”

The ambassador surely has no reason to be modest about Brazil’s many achievements and bright prospects as an emerging economic giant. “We are growing well,” the envoy admits. “We are the largest economy in South America. We will probably achieve an investment grade rating next year. Economic fundamentals are good like here in the Philippines.” He hopes that through trade and cooperation, the two countries may help support each other’s development.

“The Philippines already exports very specialized products such as cellphones and semiconductors to Brazil. We send mostly Brazilian beef. For the moment it’s quite dynamic, and we can’t control these forces. I am sure we can find the right ways to improve the trade between the two countries,” Ambassador Costa optimistically states.

-text & photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in What’s On & Expat newspaper, 2006

Coming Home to Center Stage: Michelle Washington

Michelle Washington (far right) and fellow theatre enthusiast expats

When I first started writing for What’s On & Expat I asked some friends if they knew any interesting expatriates who would be good for our “People You Should Know” section. Immediately, one friend told me about Michelle Washington. He described her as “a real character, a fun lady, definitely worth a piece on”. Little did I know that Ms. Washington would turn out to be all that and more. Michelle’s enthusiasm and energy is infectious, as if it bubbles out from her very core. After warmly welcoming me into her home and bonding over her cats, our encounter ended up more like a conversation with a new friend than an interview. This lady has so much to share and is not shy about it.

“When we first arrived, my husband was so concerned that I wouldn’t have anything to do here,” Michelle reveals. But considering his wife’s personality, he shouldn’t have worried a bit. “When the Asian Development Spouses’ Association (ADBSA) saw that I have a background in theater, they asked me to join their board of trustees and be their program director. It turned out to be a great way of meeting people.”

Michelle soon found her hands full. The first thing she had to deal with was a charity event for the ADBSA social welfare and scholarship committee fund. Michelle saw this as a way to exert a positive effect on her host country. “What struck me when I first got here was the number of street children out begging. Coming from the United States, I’ve seen poor people before, but nothing like this. I’m not the type of person who can just sit and let this happen. I have to feel like I’m contributing something. So I thought, what can I do to make a difference?”

That’s why she feels very glad to have joined the ADBSA and really believes in what they do. Michelle described their program wherein they provide funding for teachers to go into different neighborhoods and teach street children. “A teacher sets up the school on a side of the building. The street-children will gather there because they know the teacher will be in that place that day and they basically go, pin up their assignments and have lessons.” she explained. The ADBSA also funds scholarships for students throughout the Philippines, pay for their tuition and books, transportation, and meals.

Michelle figured that she wanted to use all her education and experience to help somehow. She has masters degrees in theater management, theater history and criticism, taught for three and a half years at universities including Le Sorbonne in France and ran several theater companies. “This is a fabulous opportunity. And the proof is in the results,” she affirms. “It was the end of May when we started the show “An Evening of Stars”, the first show I ever produced here with the help of ADBSA, and we raised a little over 500,000 pesos, which is probably just a drop in the bucket. We sold over 400 tickets. We had sponsors like BMW, Jaguar, some airlines and resorts. We had over 50 artists from every single continent, including the Repertory Philippines theater company, amateurs and professionals all together. We even had Mrs. Kuroda, who is the ADB president’s wife, to be part of the show. And they all did it for free, a two hour show. It was just incredible.”

Michelle was more than just vindicated by the success of her efforts, it was as if she had experienced an epiphany. “My mother died a couple of years back and she knew me better than anyone in this world. I just felt her that night shining down on me,” she relates. “I felt this warmth because all of us had been working together. And I realized that’s what I’m meant to do here. That I was meant to use my talent, my skills, whatever I can to make a difference.”

It’s obvious that not only is Michelle making a difference, but she is a different sort of expat lady herself, and that’s in a good way. “I’m not like some people who just sit around. I don’t understand that. I have too much ambition, too much feeling inside to just say, I’m bored. I gotta get out there and do something. I’ve actually heard some people say, ‘I’m so bored, I have nothing to do but play golf.’ And I’m like, I don’t have time to play golf!” Michelle shares this insight so good-naturedly one can’t help but smile. It’s her refreshing attitude and sense of humor which makes it no surprise why all these expat groups have rallied around her projects or actively sought out her help. As a member of the American Women’s Club and the American Association of the Philippines, Michelle has also been actively involved in their fundraising activities. “We get to do a lot of good. And I feel so incredible about that, it’s like a shiver running down my spine, and it’s so much fun!” she declares.

Despite her having accomplished so much in less than a year of having lived here, Michelle admits that the Philippines still stumps her at times. “There are certain nuances that are particular to the culture I still don’t get. But I’m learning. And I rally through.”

What Michelle wasn’t counting on in her ongoing education, was finding a friendly and thriving community ready to take her into their fold. “I wouldn’t have thought that my ideas would have worked here. But last April, I started asking, who do you know who’s in theater in this city? So I found out about these theater organizations. And to get to know all these people I basically threw a theater party. It started with just two people and I told them to bring a friend along. And we had three waves of people. People who weren’t working, came at 7pm, people who were working in rehearsals came at 8pm, people who were in shows came at 11:30pm. The last person left at 3:30 am. It was beautiful. There were so many people.”

Obviously, Michelle was as big a hit with the theater community as her party. “It was so great when I met [Repertory Philippines co-founder] Baby Barredo, she told me to come to her rehearsal one night. And when I was there, she introduced me as, ‘this is Michelle, she’s a new Rep person’. And I thought, how cool! And every time I go there everyone says ‘Hi Michelle!’”

Michelle is currently helping Repertory Philippines build up their expat audience through her contacts within the community, clubs and organizations. “I just introduce myself and tell them ‘come on, let’s go get tickets to the theater tonight’. This has helped me to get to know even more people and do something for the theater community with their marketing. I’ve gotten them coverage through sending e-mails to these different organizations. I go once or twice a week to get publicity material to help get the word out.”

As far as Michelle is concerned, this is all just the first act of a brilliant performance, the first show of a blockbuster run. “I told them a few things I can do, but I still have so much to learn. And I’m hoping to do some producing and probably some directing for them in the future. For now, it’s a start.”

-text & photo by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in What’s On & Expat newspaper, 2006

Biofuel Law to Boost Economy and Break Oil Dependence

Biofuel project in Iba, Zambales

Biofuel project in Iba, Zambales (Photo credit: treesftf)

Hailed as a positive legislative breakthrough, the passing of the Biofuels Act demonstrates the country’s pressing need for the government to actually carry on with its jobs by composing and enacting more vital pieces of legislation which will clearly benefit the country. With the support of local industry, the agricultural sector, and the international community, this development also stands out as a bright spot in the attempt to resolve the complicated and problematic balance between man’s need for energy and responsibility to our environment.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo formally signed into law Republic Act No. 9367, also known as the “Biofuels Act of 2006” last January 17. Together with Senate President Manuel Villar and House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., the President affixed her signature on the new law during the ceremonial signing held at Malacañang’s Rizal Hall.

Biofuel refers to bioethanol and biodiesel and other fuels made from biomass and primarily used for motive, thermal and power generation with quality specifications in accordance with the Philippine National Standards. Biofuel can be used both for central- and decentralized production of electricity and heat. As of 2005, bioenergy covers approximately 15% of the world’s energy consumption.

Sugar cane residue can be used as a biofuel

Sugar cane residue can be used as a biofuel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The law promotes the use of biofuels as a measure to develop and utilize indigenous renewable and sustainably-sourced clean energy sources. This aims to reduce dependence on imported oil, thus also facilitating economic growth and expanding opportunities for livelihood by increasing rural employment and income, and giving due regard to the protection of public health, the environment and natural ecosystems by lessening toxic and greenhouse gas emissions.

The law mandates that within two years of going into effect, all liquid fuel for motors and engines sold in the Philippines shall contain locally-sourced biofuel components of at least 5 percent bio-ethanol in the annual total volume of gasoline fuel actually sold and distributed by each and every oil company in the country.

House Bill No. 4629 or the Biofuels Act of 2005 was principally authored by Bukidnon Representative Juan Miguel F. Zubiri and co-sponsored by more than 100 other congressmen. It was then unanimously approved by the House of Representatives and sent to the Senate last year. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has pushed for the passage of the bill and defended it on the floor. Although the bill had been certified urgent by President Arroyo, it had been previously set aside by the Senate which had been preoccupied by other political agendas.

Rep. Zubiri explains how the program aims to replace within four years a tenth of national gasoline consumption with a VAT-free, cheap, clean fuel produced from the likes of cane and coconut through the granting of tax and financing incentives. Under the law, biofuel producers will be exempted from paying tariff and duties in the importation of all types of inputs and machinery that they will exclusively use for the program. The Board of Investments is likewise tasked to identify other suitable incentives to encourage investments in domestic production of bio-ethanol fuel. This could translate to biofuel costing as much Php 10.00 lower compared with existing premium gas prices. Rep. Zubiri’s office has also calculated how the reduction in fuel imports could lead to billions of pesos in annual foreign exchange savings. A Tariff Commission is required under the bill to create a tariff line for bioethanol fuel and gasohol but this will be harmonized with the World Trade Organization and ASEAN Free Trade Area agreements.

The Department of Energy (DOE), is now conducting a series of consultations with the National Biofuel Board (NBB) and various stakeholders and other agencies concerned with the drafting of the implementing rules and regulations which should be promulgated within three months upon effectivity of the Act. The NBB is chaired by the Secretary, and its members include the Secretaries of the Departments of Trade and Industry, Science and Technology, Agriculture, Finance, Labor and Employment, and the administrators of the Philippine Coconut Authority and Sugar Regulatory Authority. The DOE has stated that talks are expected to provide extensive inputs for the smooth implementation of the Act.

Agricultural products specifically grown for use as biofuels include corn and soybeans, primarily in the United States; as well as flaxseed and rapeseed, primarily in Europe; sugar cane in Brazil and palm oil in South-East Asia. Biodegradable outputs from industry, agriculture, forestry, and households can also be used to produce bioenergy; examples include straw, timber, manure, rice husks, sewage, biodegradable waste, and food leftovers. Rep. Zubiri  has stated how the country has the means to ride on the alternative fuels boom, with 2.4 million hectares planted to corn, 3.2 million hectares to coconut, 390,000 hectares to sugarcane, and 330,000 to cassava and camote. President Arroyo has also recently promoted sweet sorghum as another alternative feedstock for biofuel production.  Projections made by the Department of Agriculture point to 300,000 new farm jobs created with the law’s passage. In addition, bioethanol plants, of which two are gearing up for operation in Negros and Bukidnon, are expected to hire at least 10,000 workers. The reduction in air pollution will also save the country billions of pesos from medical costs and lost income due to illness, and help diminish losses due to environmental damage and the deleterious effects of climate change.

In light of rising and unstable prices of petroleum-based fuel, and international treaties on climate change such as the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Montreal Action Plan, which have assigned mandatory targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to signatory nations, there has been a mounting global push towards the development of alternative fuels. As of December 2006, a total of 169 countries and other governmental entities, including the Philippines, have ratified the agreement. Notable exceptions include the United States and Australia, who have signed the treaty but refuse to ratify it. Other countries, like India and China, which have ratified the protocol, are not required to reduce carbon emissions under the present agreement despite their relatively large populations. In his previous State of the Union address, US President Bush had stated that the US government will also begin funding research for advanced methods in producing biofuel. In 2005 the Swedish government announced their intention to become the first country to break their dependence on oil and other ‘fossil raw materials’ by 2020, aiming to reach this goal through the further development of domestically grown biofuel. During the recently-concluded 12th ASEAN Summit in Cebu, the 16 heads of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its dialogue partners ratified the Declaration on East Asian Energy Security which promotes the use of alternative fuels.

Biofuels Defined

Bioethanol – shall refer to ethanol (C2H5OH) produced from biomass;

Bioethanol Fuel – shall refer to hydrous or anhydrous bioethanol suitably denatured for use as motor fuel;

Biofuels – shall refer to a liquid fuel produced from biomass and primarily used to fuel vehicles, but can also fuel engines or fuel cells for electricity generation, and may include bioethanol and biodiesel, among others;

Biomass – shall refer to any organic matter, particularly cellulosic or ligno-cellulosic matter, which is available on a renewable or recurring basis, including trees, crops and associated residues, plant fiber, poultry litter and other animal wastes, industrial wastes, and the biodegradable component of municipal solid waste


-reportage by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. published in What’s On & Expat newspaper and Moon Herald newspaper, 2007.

Nostalgia in Negros Occidental

Sandwiched between larger and older Iloilo City across the Guimaras strait, and younger and more scholarly Dumaguete across the Kanlaon Mountain range, the city of Bacolod somehow manages to distinguish itself from its sister cities through sheer attitude. The more devoted denizens of Bacolod proudly maintain that their beloved hometown is more antebellum than Atlanta and more genteel than Geneva. And they’re not really all that far off. At its peak, the province of Negros Occidental, of which Bacolod is the capital, lay claim to a glittering social scene revolving around the incredible wealth generated by the vast plantations or haciendas that blanket the boot-shaped island. From this milieu materialized a rarefied bubble in which float sugar barons, debutante balls, and opera nights, which neither history nor entropy have completely burst.

Respect and Remembrance

As a community, the Negrenses hold their heritage in high esteem, maybe more so than most Filipinos. This is most evident in the attention and care given to the museums dedicated to the province. Located in the old agriculture building close to the capitol building, the Negros Museum is an unusual historical and humanities museum in the sense that, instead of displaying antiques and artifacts, it showcases the ongoing saga of the people of Negros Occidental. The tale begins with the main and permanent display of a reconstructed batil, a wooden sailing vessel used for passengers and cargo at the turn of the century. The batil contains artifacts and reproductions of the type of goods that were exchanged between Negros, nearby islands and foreign lands.

The story flows onward by highlighting the province’s role as the “sugarbowl” of the Philippines, with displays depicting sugar production, the role of the ordinary plantation worker, and even the lifestyle of the legendary Negrense haciendero or plantation owner. There are also exhibits focusing on such themes as the Chinese in Negros, the Catholic Church, and the folksongs and folktales of the island. Smaller galleries flank the main hall: the Cinco de Noviembre exhibit highlights the Spanish colonial era, the Sports Hall of Fame, and a gallery for changing exhibits. In the museum’s north wing is the Jose Garcia Montelibano Toy and Folk Arts Museum, the only one of its kind in the Philippines. Containing about 2,000 toys and folk crafts collected by Mrs. Montelibano all over the world, many of the toys are in mint state. The display is arranged anthropologically with each section telling a story, from simple, basic toys to the most complex mechanized creations.

Nostalgia buffs can get their fill of family heirlooms and religious relics at the Museo Negrense de La Salle. Maintained by the prestigious private Catholic school, the museum preserves vital documents, photographs, and cultural artifacts related to the history and culture of Negros that have been donated by its most prominent families. During our visit, the museum was featuring the legacy of the illustrious Vargas family, particularly the mementos of their late matriarch, Lourdes “Nena” Vargas-Ledesma. From there, we were then warmly welcomed to the estate of her son Eduardo Vargas Ledesma Jr., which prides itself on maintaining one of the world’s largest breeding farms for fighting cocks, and also an interesting display of centuries-old urnas, colorful religious figures collected from all around the Visayas.

Sweet Sojourn

As the sun began to set, we proceeded to the picturesque town of Silay, home to no less than 31 heritage houses of varying degrees of grandeur and antiquity. The dwindling twilight lent a rather spooky air to the storied town. It was easy to imagine the ghosts of Silay roaming the stone streets and ancient structures, haunting the vestiges of the sugar boom’s belle époque, biding their time till the next spectral ball. Thankfully, the Romanesque domes of Silay’s San Diego Pro-Cathedral were ablaze with light and life, as the devout townsfolk giddily prepared for a religious procession, much like their ancestors must have done for generations.

As we sped back to the city for the evening, sweeping tracts of sugarcane spread out on both sides of the highway, inescapably reminding us of the backbone on which the island’s society rests. Although the pace may be slow and the pleasures simple, things still seem to be carried out with a certain sense of style. Even the local dialect of Hiligaynon, unquestionably the Philippines’ gentlest-sounding language, has a sweetly romantic lilt to its cadence.

The sugar baron’s swagger that profoundly permeates the city’s lifestyle is never more obvious than after nightfall. Like exotic nocturnal creatures, the Bacoleños break free from their daytime responsibilities (or lack thereof) and flit into the lively clubs, cafes, and casinos that all cater to the appetites of a town that has learned how to live well and live high and never forgot its lessons. Where else but in Sugarland can you expect a smorgasbord of the most scrumptiously elegant pastries and desserts? And the Ledesma’s fighting cock farm notwithstanding, the Negrenses do love their chicken, grilled to perfection preferably in the traditional Bacolod inasal (literal translation: “cooked over the fire”) recipe which entails a lot of garlic, calamansi juice, and annatto. Once stuffed with sweets, brewed coffee, grilled meats, and liquor (not necessarily in that order) Bacoleños customarily take a leisurely stroll round the rectangular reflecting lagoon in front of the capitol building, or down the main thoroughfare ofLacson St.

Bacolod is a city that likes to keep its mysteries shrouded, and the decadent goings-on at the private parties thrown by some of Negros society’s finest are the stuff of international legend, and interested visitors should dearly hope to be invited for a glimpse into this privileged circus. Or wait till October, when in an ironic display of public passion, the city hosts the yearly Masskara Festival, like a rowdier version of the Venice Masquerade with a Filipino twist – all the masks come with a big smile. But knowing the Negrenses, the faces concealed behind the masks are sure to be smiling even wider, safely smug with their sweet secrets.

Getting There:

Bacolod is located 45 minutes South of Manila by plane. Commercial flights are available daily. If flying in to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila you will have to change planes for the 45 minute hop to Bacolod. A new airport of international standards opened in Silay in 2007.

-text and photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in What’s On & Expat newspaper, 2007.

Related articles

One Ring to Bind Them – Singelringen, the “Single Ring”

Singelringen

Singelringen (Photo credit: Duet G.)

Sweden’s best known exports so far have been pop music groups, supermodels, moody art films, and Ericsson phones, but now with the Singelringen, Scandinavia’s largest country seeks to spread a strong statement on the thrills of singlehood.

Singelringen founder Johan Wahlbäck is the very image of a strapping Swede. The then-single bachelor was fully enjoying the un-coupled life, when over a dinner conversation with a friend about how one can identify a single in a bar or a nightclub, they realized that while married and engaged people wear rings to proclaim their shackled status, single people lacked an accessory to easily advertise their availability.“My friend was also single and she mentioned that she’d always check if a man is married or engaged. But the thing is nowadays a lot of people are already in a relationship without being married or engaged. So we basically said, we need something to signify that hey, I’m single,” explains Johan.

And thus spawned Singelringen! Meaning “single ring” (obviously) in Swedish, the unisex band features a turquoise acrylic layer over a silver base, with “made in Sweden” and a unique registration number inscribed on the inner side of each ring. Johan chose a bright and modern look for the ring so it would stand out and people wouldn’t confuse it with anything else. The half circle design that is notched out from the ring is meant to show how when two single people meet, their two rings complete a full circle.The irony is that three days after conceiving the idea of a single ring, Johan met the lovely Jeanette Borén and they’ve been blissfully living and working together as a couple ever since.

Size 3 Singelringen!

Size 3 Singelringen! (Photo credit: leah.jones)

“Most of us know from long experience how it is to be single, up till when I met her I was a happily single guy. Possibly, that’s what made me more attractive to her,” Johan conjectures. He was on an all-time high at the time after coming up with Singelringen and had never been in a serious relationship until he met Jeanette. “When you’re happy you’re more attractive. So I had help from the ring. Not visibly but mentally.”

Johan compares wearing the ring to buying a pair of nice underwear. “You feel cool and sexy even if nobody can see it. The ring is a little bit of the same thing. People may not know what it means, but if you carry the values around of being a confident single, it improves your self-esteem. That in return will make you more attractive,” he affirms.Despite having found each other, both Johan and Jeannette have yet to retire their Singelringens. Whereas some erstwhile Singelringen-ers who find themselves in committed relationships stow their rings away in a safe place or pass them along to friends or family members, Johan reports that some people still wear the rings even when married. “When you wear it when you’re with someone, it reminds you of how if they weren’t so great, you’d still be single,” says Johan. “That this person is more important than the single life.” In Japan eventually they put their rings on a necklace to wear as a good luck charm.

mi anillo de soltero

mi anillo de soltero (Photo credit: Cien de Cine)

Singelringen first started selling in Sweden in April, 2005 and its popularity quickly spread throughout Scandinavia, and onward to Europe, South America, and the United States. In Asia, Singelringen-mania is especially high in Japan and Taiwan, but Johan asserts that they’ve “never been anywhere where the response has been as positive as the Philippines.”

Registering your ring number on the Singelringen website gives you an e-mail address and a page for your profile. “The idea is to let people communicate, not necessarily to date, but just to chat with other people around the world.” The concept of an eye-catching ring for singles just seems to be a good fit wherever it’s taken. As Johan puts it, the dating cultures may be different but single people around the world have the same problems. “The situations are similar. When you’re not in a relationship, you have more time to spend on yourself, do what you want, educate yourself, focus on your career, traveling, clubbing, partying, being with friends. But you may also be searching for the love of your life. It’s everyone’s ultimate dream to meet him or her. But if you still haven’t found that person, you still can feel good about yourself. We try to encourage people to just enjoy life and not be miserable about being by themselves. Time will come when you will find the perfect love and you will have a different life. Enjoy singlehood as long as it lasts.”

But neither is wearing the ring a sign of desperation. “What’s important is the image of the ring is that of single power. It’s not a ring you put on half an hour before closing time to project that hey, I’m single and available. But it’s a ring for those who are confident, and definitely not desperate. It’s a statement that it’s cool to be single.’

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manual magazine, 2007

Disc-o-vering Jay: Odyssey’s Jay Fonacier

Local music retailing store stalwart Odyssey’s top guy Jay Fonacier shares his spin on life in the biz of trading tunes

On Work:

I juggle twenty things in a day, It’s my personality and also my skill, I wouldn’t be happy just doing one thing. I’m way too hands on. In fact I wish I were doing some work right now.

On Music:

I’m a real music guy, growing up I used to spend my entire allowance on records. The love of music keeps me going because retail is really challenging. You have to get fulfilment from hearing about new bands, going to concerts, and seeing hit artists fly off the shelves.

On the Digital Future:

Being a child of the 1980s I’m not totally digital yet, CDs are still my favored medium, But I have a kick-ass vinyl collection and I still have the mix tapes I made for high school girlfriends.

Besides piracy, our greatest challenge these days comes from digital downloads. We try to make the store and the products more attractive so people keep coming in. But I’ve been spending a lot of my time preparing for a digital future. We’re putting up our own download site and introducing these interactive digital kiosks into our stores. Now you can listen to an unlimited amount of music before you buy. It’s the start of an evolution to an age where everything’s more digital.

I look forward to a future where a customer would come in and he could browse through the whole catalog, choose whatever he wants, and we produce the CD for him. Since it’s all bits and bytes, it really does away with our problems regarding inventory. We could have a fantastic store where we just beam music into your portable music device.

Worst case: Nobody buys physical product anymore and they’re all downloading it for free. Nobody pays for anything digital

Best case: We’ll be there with the most popular format that the market consumes music and media in the future

On Piracy:

I think that the pirates have a pretty comprehensive offering. They’re quite creative and resourceful, I have to give them that. They have a good idea, it’s convenient. But we want to improve upon that, to offer something that’s more exciting, but legal. As the Philippine economy progresses, there should be less tolerance for piracy.

If I had my way I’d crush them under a steamroller with me driving while wearing a hardhat. They’re freaking playing dirty. I’d bury them under all the fake CDs they’ve produced. Or I’d force them to listen to really bad 1980s heavy metal, hairspray American guitar rock like Poison and Nelson.

On the Music Business:

The market is really primarily a hot hits market, it’s not very deep or into multiple genres. There are times when we tried all these titles, but they wouldn’t sell. We really have to focus on our high inventory, high turnover popular products.

A major record label may have a total of around 20 new releases out in a month, but they’ll only let 3 or 4 trickle down to the Philippine market, the rest will never hit our shores because of shipment issues. I’d like it to be more like the book industry where you can release a greater variety of material and see what really catches on. The bottleneck is the distribution policy of the major labels. Being able to release more product for the ears is what I’d really like to change.

We don’t have many niche radio stations. With the internet hopefully more people get to hear more kinds of music and the labels will be ok with trying out more vanguard, exotic titles and categories, and there’d be more radio stations for the independent listener. Hopefully they make it easy for us retailers to show them this variety. We’re only reacting to their policy that we have to keep it mainstream.

I’m happy with how some of these local indie record labels have been coming up. People have been asking after them. We want more bands of that ilk to succeed.

When there’s a certain title we really want to push, we’ll rack it out and make sure that even a blind person won’t be able to not check it out. Sometimes we’ve been successful.

You gotta support local artists. There’s this whole OPM resurgence. People think that these corporate juggernauts make so much money but that’s not really true. These guys take a lot of risks, I respect what they do. They take a bet on twenty artists and only a couple will bear fruit. Digital sort of takes out the risk in that. It’s important to show bands our support through legal means, whether physical or digital. If you guys love your music you should take a stand. Keep the ecosystem going.

Profits aside, if I could go crazy I’d just stock the stores with so many genres. Let them be a place where anybody could come in, from the coolest Brit bands to all these Brazilian samba labels. I’ll just pack them in with everything, with something for everyone.

-interview by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manual magazine, 2007

We Talk About Movies

Over at Encore’s World of Film and TV, Andrew is hosting a blogathon about movie scenes featuring “the splendor of cinematic rain”. Here is my submission.

The rain is such a multi-sensorial experience that visuals alone don’t seem to do it justice. I ended up thinking of scenes that didn’t just show the rain but married it to music gorgeous enough to evoke that exquisite feeling of wet, cool drops falling on your skin and soaking into your clothes, or the even more exhilarating sensation of running through a wall of water.

This scene can be considered the climax of Alfonso Cuaron‘s sorely underappreciated adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations. In one long tracking shot, helmed by genius cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (before Malick snapped him up), and lushly scored by Patrick Doyle, the camera follows Ethan Hawke‘s Finn (a.k.a. Pip in the original) as he runs through the rain…

View original post 353 more words

Windows to Well-Being: Microsoft’s Tep Misa

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

As one of 12 winners from among 70,000 employees worldwide, Stephen Thomas “Tep” Misa, Small & Mid-Market Solutions and Partners director for Microsoft Philippines, received the much-coveted Chairman’s Award, Circle of Excellence in 2006

His achievement is made more noteworthy by the fact that out of 230 Circle of Excellence Awardees, Bill Gates himself personally handpicks who gets the Chairman’s Awards. “We were just so blessed that the one chosen for Asia Pacific is, for the first time, a Filipino,” Tep relates. “We didn’t expect it. The nominations come from your peers. It’s not something that you gun for.”

Tep planned such innovative Microsoft Partner Programs as the sales-boosting “Kaakbay”, and “IT Ignite” which helped fire up international opportunities for local software houses.

The live awards ceremonies, held at the NBA Arena, were further enlivened by Tep’s far-from-understated demeanor. “The whole court was the stage, all the winners were in the middle,” he recounts. “When I was called we were shocked. I went to the very front, facing the arena that was full of people. The Philippine team was there. All the winners had a red jacket with a badge saying Circle of Excellence Awardee. But we also had a Philippine jacket. And every time we’d go to a global briefing we’d wear that jacket with our flag, Olympics-style. I took off the red jacket to reveal the Philippine jacket. The crowd burst into applause, even Steve Ballmerclapped. Then I threw the jacket to the team. All the other winners just went up to have their hands shaken. I was shouting Philippines! Philippines!”

Aside from work, accepting awards, and caring for his wife Hazel and twins Gio and Chili, Tep channels his boundless energy into triathlons, tennis, and playing keyboards for the Ligaya ng Panginoon Catholic Charismatic Community. “I have 5 mantras to sustain me,” states Tep. “I shall play, rest, work, learn and pray. If I’m a bit lacking in one, my life isn’t balanced. Not even the riches in the world will be enough to compensate for living and enjoying a well-balanced life.”

Cover of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effectiv...

Cover of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Tep feels fortunate to have found his mission in life back in 1998 while attending a course on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He resolved to start making a positive difference in other people’s lives and is grateful that working for Microsoft allows him to do that. “The company encourages people like me to be the best that they can be, to give back to their community, help your country, your partners, big and small companies in big ways and small ways,” Tep affirms. “It may sound cliché but it’s hard to accomplish, to find time for your family, work and community, and time to train for physical fitness. But in the end it’s a very rewarding experience. I perform better at work because of sports. You are sharper, better as a human being, because you don’t win every time. Losing forces you to be humble and bounce back.” But the winner in him busts out when Tep waxes effusive about how he enjoys competing as part of the Alterra Men’s Health team. “Before we were nobodies,” he admits. “Then we started winning. So now people are watching us.”

At a dinner with Steve Ballmer, he asked Tep what he was most proud of for being at Microsoft. Tep replied that it’s not because he’s making good money, not because of the cool technology, but because the company allows him to help other people. “I’m surrounded by great, passionate, talented people who maybe have even more passion than I do,” Tep gushes. “Now the bar is higher. When our country succeeds, as an economy, as a Filipino people, so does Microsoft. We haven’t succeeded if our country has not succeeded.”

Two years ago, Tep decided to just go crazy. He realized how unhealthy he was when he saw an officemate, who weighed over 200 lbs, finish a triathlon. Coupled with the Lance Armstrong story of surviving cancer, this inspired him to do a 180 degree turn in his life in terms of health. He then started preparing for a triathlon, motivated by one major factor: three of Tep’s loved ones, two close friends and his mother-in-law, were all suffering from cancer. Tep thought how fortunate he was to be healthy and have the opportunity to live a good life and not waste it. So he vowed: “From here on, with every step, every swim stroke, every pedal, I’d pray to the Lord that my three loved ones would live one day longer. And that really inspired and motivated me. My two friends are still alive. Unfortunately my mother-in-law, who I love so much, passed away earlier this year.”

And although his wife is still a bit saddened by their loss, Tep has still started to prepare her to be a runner, cyclist and swimmer. “All your frustrations, take it out on the training,” he goads . “Make something positive out of something negative.” Tep hopes his kids eventually adopt his outlook on health as well. He’s already bought them bikes to start them off.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Men’s Health Philippines, 2007

%d bloggers like this: