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

Global Guy Gone Native: Peace Corps Volunteer Joe Speicher

photo by Tina Cifra

Joe Speicher was born a native of Rockville, Maryland, but thanks to his two-year stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer here in the Philippines, has now become an adopted son of Valencia, Negros Oriental. The son of an accountant and a child psychologist, Joe is the eldest of three siblings. His brother is in the US Army, while his sister has recently joined the Peace Corps as well.

After graduating from a small liberal arts college, Joe first donned a suit and tie working as a political fundraiser in Washington DC. He then moved to New York Cityto join the rat race. As an employee of the multinational financial giant Lloyd’s, he found that climbing the corporate ladder in the big city was not all it was cracked up to be. He was dispirited by how the daily grind seemed to be all about money, all about profit margins. Rent was high, and he wasn’t really being paid very well. He sometimes didn’t even have enough money to buy food for himself. One time, he was so hungry he stuffed his bag with the crackers that were left out in the office’s snack area. But he got caught by his boss and was forced to put them back. Joe soon realized how unfulfilled his work environment was making him feel. He wanted something more out of his life. He then started getting involved in volunteer organizations. It was in 2003 when he made the decision that would transform him forever.


logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I applied to the Peace Corps because I wanted to change my life and do something worthwhile,” says Joe. “I didn’t really like what I was doing inNew Yorkand started to look for a change. I was planning to work overseas, and the Peace Corps recruiting office was near my building. I started going to recruiting events and decided that this was for me. After 9/11, I was absolutely certain it was something I wanted to do. I watched those planes hit the twin towers, and I immediately decided that life in a cubicle under the phosphorescent lights slaving away for cash was not for me.”

It was a huge decision and Joe was vacillating up to the last minute. At first, he thought he would be sent to Africa, so his assignment to the Philippines came as a bit of a surprise. His batch of volunteers began their training in Bohol, where Joe first experienced living with a Filipino foster family. From there, Joe then began working in earnest at his assigned site at Negros Oriental.

“The problems in the Philippines are terribly overstated by the Western media,” he asserts. “Once I got here, I felt safer in my barangay than I did in my office building in New York.”

Because of his business background, he was given a position at the Department of Trade and Industry office, where he conducted workshops for farmers to teach them useful livelihood skills, and participated in the writing of a business skills training manual which is now being used in Local Government Units and organizations. He also worked with the local zoo and nature preserve.

Palinpinon Geothermal power plant in Sitio Nas...

Palinpinon Geothermal power plant in Sitio Nasulo, Brgy. Puhagan, Valencia, Negros Oriental, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I lived in a nipa hut, helped out a few local entrepreneurs and taught English at the local elementary school,” Joe recounts. “I lent a hand to USAID and the Peace Corps for a few trainings, wrote for a local newspaper and lead an environmental camp for kids,”

Joe spent most of his time deeply involved with the community in the town of Valencia where he worked at the plant nursery and where his host family lived. Joe was such a cherished member of the community that one of the townspeople even named her baby Josephine after him. It was in Valencia where he was able to develop his amazing mastery of the Visayan language, which he speaks as well as a native.

“Joe’s command of Visayan is what I think really separates him from a lot of other foreigners in the Philippines,” shares Richard Finke, Joe’s friend and Peace Corps batch mate. “He also acquired incredible singing abilities while in the Philippines.” This remains a debatable opinion after experiencing Joe’s videoke stylings, which is apparently a necessary skill to survive the Negros countryside.

Along with many other achievements and adventures, Joe appeared in a Visayan telenovela playing the role of the US Ambassador and participated in a mini-marathon around Dumaguete.

“I got into diving and camping and even won a Peace Corps photography contest. I learned how to climb the coconut trees and wield a bolo. I watched Extra Challenge and Mulawin and listened to F4 and the Eraserheads with my friends,” reveals Joe.

After his stint in the Peace Corps ended in October of 2005, Joe went back to the States where he embarked on a cross-country tour, then worked in a camp supply store for a while to earn some money.

In January of this year, he began studying for a Masters degree in International Studies at Columbia University in New York, where he’ll be graduating in 2007. Even there he tries to hold on to his connections to the Philippines as much as possible. “I organized a trip for my classmates to a local Philippine turo-turo. In the dorm where I live there are two Cebuanas who I tease in Visayan every time I see them,” he relates. “People always ask me to teach them some Filipino, and I tell them the only words they need to know are sige and kwan. It’s true. I’ve seen Filipinos have an entire conversation using only these two words.”

Joe spent his summer vacation this year studying the Chinese language in Beijing from July to August. After his course, he swung by the Philippines to reconnect with his Filipino friends and adopted family, people whose lives he has touched and who have touched his as well.

“In the Philippines I learned how to relax and ride the wave of life without trying to control it. I was sent here to help Filipinos make better lives for themselves, but I’m the one who feels enriched. I learned more in my three years here than I did in high school, college and graduate school combined. The Philippines will always be an essential part of my life.”

-text and photo by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Men’s Health Philippines, 2006

Men Against Malignancy (all about the top 3 cancers in males)

The Human Body -- Cancer

The Human Body — Cancer (Photo credit: n0cturbulous)

Cancer is a killer. Painful, debilitating, and expensive, we all fear it as one of the worst ways you could possibly go. Chances are that you’ve had at least one friend or family member who has succumbed to this dreaded disease.

Cancer refers to the growth of abnormal cells. These invading cancer cells can eventually mess with and damage your normal cells. If the cancer spreads throughout your body, enough damage can occur to cause vital organs to shut down.

Cancer starts with mutations in the DNA of your cells. DNA works like a set of instructions that each cell follows as it grows and divides, and mutations are like typo errors. Normal cells can repair most mutations or eventually die off before dividing. But some mutations can persist and get passed on, producing cancer cells. These cancer cells can live longer and divide faster than normal, sometimes developing into tumors or malignancies.

A - normal cell division, B - cancer cell divi...

A – normal cell division, B – cancer cell division; 1 – apoptosis; 2 – damaged cell. From the National Cancer Institute. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Genetics, age, lifestyle, and the environment all affect your risk for developing cancer and how it progresses if you do.

According to a study done for the Philippine Cancer Control Program, cancer ranks third after infections and heart disease as the leading causes of disease and death in the country. The three leading cancer sites among males are lung, liver and prostate cancer. But the top three mortality cancer sites, meaning those that directly cause death, are lung, liver and leukemia.

Although there are many different types of cancers, some symptoms are common among most patients. These include fatigue, weight loss, fever, skin changes, and pain. Anyone with these symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible to diagnose and treat whatever the underlying disease might be.

Oncologist (cancer specialist) Dr. Esther Ganzon, Jr., recommends that anybody who suspects cancer should go straight to a specialist. “A general practitioner or family doctor may miss some signs and symptoms a cancer specialist is trained to spot,” she clarifies. “For your peace of mind, even if it’s just a suspicion it may be best to approach a specialist so that you can get a tailored examination to screen for cancer. Most people believe that seeing a specialist may be too expensive, but one visit doesn’t really cost too much and it may be worth it to be sure about your health.”

Lung Cancer

What You Need To Know

Steer clear

Smoking, inhaling secondhand smoke, and having asthma increases the risks of lung cancer.

Watch out

 A persistent cough, shortness of breath, and clubbed fingernails with rounded nail beds could all be signs of lung cancer.

Live Odds

 According to the Philippine Cancer Control Program study, the relative survival rate at five years for Filipino men is 7 percent.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What You Need To Do

 Quit smoking. Among male cigarette smokers, the risk of lung cancer is more than 2,000 percent higher than among male nonsmokers.

What You Need To Devour

Eating an apple a day may cut the risk of lung cancer by 40 percent, as determined by a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Take a daily multivitamin supplement containing Vitamin B6 and take an anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen or aspirin once a day. A study published in the journal Cancer found that men who take either medication at least three times a week reduce their lung-cancer risk.

Have a glass of red wine a day. Research by the National Cancer Institute indicates that red wine drinkers were 13 percent less likely to develop lung cancer.

Have a grapefruit or a glass of grapefruit juice a day. It contains naringin, a bioflavonoid antioxidant that may offer protection against some forms of lung cancer, according to a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Drink at least two cups of decaf coffee daily. Researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, in Buffalo,New York, found that those who consumed at least two cups of decaf daily were 36 percent less likely to develop lung cancer than those who drank caffeinated black tea or coffee. Coffee beans are rich in cancer-fighting flavonoids but caffeine has been shown to reduce flavonoids’ beneficial effects.

Sesame oil or walnuts contain gamma tocopherol, a form of Vitamin E that Purdue University researchers have discovered helps kill prostate and lung cancer cells without hurting healthy cells.

Dra. Ganzon explain that generally, antioxidants have been shown to demonstrate anti-cancer properties. “Like other heavily promoted health supplements such as virgin coconut oil for example, these products still do not have any approved therapeutic claims. More long-term scientific studies are still necessary for them to be seriously considered for treating cancer. But if patients like to try alternative therapies, I would not discourage them but I would strongly advise them not to stop standard treatment.

Words from the Warzone

A member of the Filipino publishing community used to be a heavy chain smoker. His smoking habit started in adolescence, and he was eventually smoking 1-2 packs a day. Then finding out he had lung cancer forced him to quit.

As his cancer progressed, his weight dropped. He began to share with friends and coworkers his regret at not kicking the habit sooner. By then he had accepted the fact that it was too late to reverse the damage he had done to his lungs.

 In order to help spread the word against smoking, he started posting pictures of his disease-ravaged body, skin and bones, haggard and hollow-cheeked. The photo comes with a caption: “I have lung cancer. Don’t be like me. Don’t smoke.”

Prostate Cancer


Finger It Out. A Pitch for Palpating the Prostate

Dra. Eliza Raymundo is a Urologist, a doctor who specializes in plumbing the male pride and joy, the source of both our strength and shame, that which many Filipina ladies still dare not name, let alone thoroughly scrutinize, inside and out. More than 80% of her patients are male, and 40% of them present with a problem related to the prostate. In these cases, it’s necessary to do a Digital Rectal Exam. And by digital, we don’t mean computers, but the latin root word “digitus” meaning “finger”. Putting together “finger” plus “rectal exam” and you can easily do the math regarding the depths of Dra. Raymundo’s dedication to her profession.

Dra. Raymundo discloses that she has never encountered a reluctance to be examined by her among her male patients aged 50 and above. Not too surprisingly, it’s the younger ones who are more hesitant. She explains that one just has to be upfront and professional about it in order to gain their confidence.

The thing about urogenital symptoms and diseases is that they are all very much related to each other. Patients with fertility or urination problems eventually manifest with sexual dysfunction and vice versa, whereas younger patients who first consult for benign symptoms may eventually be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their old age. Dra. Raymundo also reports an increasing incidence of cancer of the bladder among her patients in their 30s and early 40s.

“Some men prefer to consult with a female doctor,” states Dra. Raymundo, probably because they appreciate the different point of view a woman can provide. But some have admitted to the preference because they think that, as Dra. Raymundo reveals, “being examined by a woman is less ‘gay’. With a guy you never know for sure”.

Discussing the treatment of prostate cancer, Dra. Raymundo explains the necessity of embracing both a surgical and medical approach. Patients can opt for traditional open surgery, which is the most invasive. Or they can take advantage of the emerging trend of minimally invasive endoscopic or laparoscopic surgery, which is done utilizing fiber optic cables, miniature video cameras and special surgical instruments handled via tubes inserted into the body through small openings in its surface. However, since these techniques are technology intensive, they are not as widely available here in the Philippines.

Dra. Raymundo wants to underline the importance of raising awareness in the fight against a disease. As an example, she recounts how during the time period of the previous election, when the news about presidential candidate Raul Roco being afflicted with and eventually dying of prostate cancer thrust the disease into the media spotlight, the number of consultations and patients asking to be examined shot up more than three times. But when the news died down, the number of consults began to decline. This case in point stresses how critical a role education plays in detecting and surviving cancer. This is true for men of all ages, lifestyles, and from all walks of life. For a healthy, happy prostate, the UP-Philippine General Hospital advises a low fat, high-fiber diet, and having a yearly prostate examination starting at the age of 45 for men with a father or brother who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and starting at the age of 50 for other men.

What You Need To Know 

Steer Clear

 All men are at risk. The most significant risk factor is age. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 70 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are over the age of 65. There is some evidence that a diet high in fat, particularly animal fat, is also a factor. Genetics also appear to play a role, particularly for families in whom the diagnosis is made in men below 60 years of age. The risk rises with the number of close relatives with the cancer.

 Watch Out

 Prostate cancer can go on undetected for many years. By the time symptoms occur, the cancer may have already spread. Possible symptoms include problems with urinating and ejaculating, and pain in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs

Live Odds

According to the Philippine Cancer Control Program study, the relative survival rate at five years for Filipino men is 21.2 percent

What You Need To Do

Exercise: Men with prostate cancer can cut their risk of dying by 70 percent by vigorously exercising for at least three hours a week, according to Harvard University researchers. They believe physical activity affects hormones that would otherwise enhance the cancer’s growth.

Masturbate: Men in their 40s who ejaculate at least five times a week are 32 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer.

Quit smoking: A recent study shows that smokers were three times more likely to have cancer that spread outside the prostate by the time of surgery, compared to nonsmokers.

Dr. Ganzon recommends for all men in general to keep their cancer risks low by living healthily, eating right, and exercising regularly. “However, those with proven genetic predisposition to any particular cancer should be more prudent with regard to undergoing screening tests, following-up with their doctor, and consulting with a specialist.”

What You Need to Devour

Eat watermelon: it’s loaded with lycopene, a phytochemical that may protect your heart, prostate, and skin. Harvard investigators found that the nutrient can reduce the risk of prostate cancer by up to 35 percent.

Spice up your dinner: Rutgers University scientists found that a combination of the spice turmeric (found in curry powder) and phenethyl isothiocyanate (a compound abundant in broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower) is highly effective in fighting off the disease in mice and could offer similar benefits to humans.

Eat fish: A recently completed 12-year Harvard study determined that those who eat fish more than three times a week are 40 percent less likely to develop advanced prostate cancer than those who hit the surf only twice a month. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and vitamin D, which may help prevent prostate cancer. Salmon, mackerel, and herring have the best balance of these cancer fighters.

Whey protein: In a recent Ohio State University study researchers treated human prostate cells with whey protein and then measured the cells’ levels of a natural cancer-blocking compound called glutathione. The finding: Glutathione levels rose by a remarkable 64 percent. Whey is a rich source of the amino acid cysteine which the body can convert to glutathione. One of the best sources of whey is yogurt; a lot of the protein is in the clear liquid on top, so don’t pour it off.

Words from the Warzone

Peter, 55, a house painter, relates how he had been experiencing sporadic urinary-related symptoms over the past few years but this would usually be attributed to a urinary tract infection. It was only when he had a digital rectal examination this year when it was discovered that he had Stage 2 prostate cancer. Fortunately, his case had a good prognosis and his doctors, including Dra. Raymundo, have been able to successfully manage it so far.

 “The cancer did not affect my being able to work and function within society much,” says Peter. “But I still have difficulty controlling my urination, and I worry about ever being able to regain that.”

 Peter deals with his cancer with a certain amount of resignation and matter-of-factness now. “The many regular tests and consultations are very tiring and time-consuming but I do them all,” he says. “I am also now much more mindful of my health and diet compared to how I used to be before the cancer.” At present, he also demonstrates a deep hunger for information about the disease and anything that may be relevant to his case, a not uncommon trait shared among cancer patients of any type.

Liver Cancer

What You Need To Know

Steer Clear

Men are twice as likely as women to get liver cancer. People who have family members with liver cancer may be more likely to get the disease.

The most important risk factor for liver cancer is chronic infection with the hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus. These viruses are transmittable through blood sharing or sexual contact. Liver cancer can develop after many years of infection with the virus.

Think before you ink: University of Texas Southwestern researchers found that patronizing a tattoo parlor makes you nine times more likely to contract hepatitis C.

Alcohol abuse, certain drugs, chemicals, viruses or parasites can cause cirrhosis of the liver, wherein the liver cells are damaged and replaced with scar tissue. About 5 percent of people with cirrhosis develop liver cancer.

Overeating leads to an increase in insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I), a hormone that encourages tumor growth. According to British researches on the journal Cancer, increasing body-mass index is directly proportional to the likelihood of dying of cancers of the gut—specifically, rectal, bladder, colon, or liver cancer. Taking in less sugar and refined starches such as white bread, white rice, and pasta is the best way to control IGF-I levels, and lower your BMI as well.

Cooking meat over high heat until it chars produces heterocyclic amines (HCA), a carcinogen that elevates the risk of liver, colon, and stomach cancers. So avoid eating any protein that’s been charred, including meat and fish.

Liver cancer can be caused by aflatoxin, a harmful substance made by certain types of mold that can grow on peanuts, corn, and other nuts and grains.

Watch Out

 Liver cancer is sometimes called a “silent disease” because at early stages it often doesn’t present any symptoms. But as the cancer grows, symptoms may include abdominal pain, extending to the back and shoulder, swollen or bloated abdomen, loss of appetite and feeling full easily, nausea and vomiting, yellowing of the skin and eyes, and dark urine from jaundice.

Live Odds

According to the Philippine Cancer Control Program study, the relative survival rate at five years for Filipino men is 12.9 percent.

 What You Need To Do

At this time, liver cancer can be cured only when it is found at an early stage (before it has spread), and only if the patient is healthy enough to have an operation. However, treatments other than surgery may be able to control the disease and help patients live longer and feel better.

Among people who are not already infected with the hepatitis B virus, vaccination can prevent chronic infection and protect against liver cancer. Researchers are now working to develop a vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection.

Cut back on booze. Those who consume more than 14 drinks a week or regularly have more than five drinks at a time are at risk for cirrhosis

Limit your paracetamol. Every time you pop paracetamol, a harmful by-product is released. Your body can handle small amounts, but large quantities start destroying liver cells. It’s recommended that men take no more than two grams per day.

What You Need To Devour

Drink coffee. Coffee contains large amounts of antioxidants that inhibit carcinogens in the liver and also protect your liver from alcohol-related damage. Medium-roasted coffee has higher antioxidant activity than dark-roasted varieties.

Balance your liver with glutathione (GSH): GSH detoxifies drugs like paracetamol (which is why alcoholics should never pop one while drinking—the by-product is toxic), and is also essential for liver regeneration, as established in a study by the University of Southern California. Popping SAM-e, a supplement that converts to glutathione in the liver, can bring your GSH levels back to normal. In Europe, where SAM-e is actually prescribed for liver disease, the standard dosage is 1.2 grams, or about three tablets, per day. Drinking men should also be taking folic acid and a B-vitamin complex, because they’re essential in the formation of SAM-e and glutathione

Eat shallots: Onion’s bulbous brothers, shallots, are the real edible lifesavers. According to recent research from Cornell University, extracts from shallots were determined to be among the most effective at quashing colon- and liver-cancer cells, thanks to their rich hoard of anti-cancer-growth phytochemicals.

Down a protein shake: According to a study review published in Nutrition, the damaged livers of rats that were given a protein supplement regenerated faster than those of rats not given anything. This could also apply to humans. Look for powders that get their protein from whey (not soy) and that list the essential amino acid glutamine as one of the ingredients.

Words from the Warzone

Arthur was 52 when he found out he had metastatic liver cancer two years ago. “The cancer diagnosis was frightening, plain and simple,” he confesses. “I am single and I knew it was going to be tough to get through the treatment, so I immediately started to line up friends to come and be with me, as much as possible.”

He found that hot flashes and night sweats were two of the more memorable symptoms of cancer treatment, plus the horror of taking narcotic pain pills and the constipation that they caused.

Arthur shares that he is now much more conscious of his habits and staying healthy than ever before. “Since the treatment affected my immune system, it seems like every infection I get could turn into something major and become life-threatening,” he explains.

“Cancer is unpredictable even if you achieve cure after treatment,” shares Dr. Ganzon. “Cancers caught at an early stage are generally curable, and aggressive treatment can pay off. But in later stages, the patient’s quality of life becomes more important than pushing for a cure. Nevertheless, unlike before, it is no longer true now that cancer means your life is over.”

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. unless otherwise indicated, facts and figures provided by Men’s Health research archives. first published in Men’s Health Philippines, 2006

Alpha Male (an interview with Fred Uytengsu)

Wilfred Steven Uytengsu Jr. is president and Chief Operating Officer of the Alaska Milk Corporation, Team Owner of the Alaska Aces PBA team, and arguably the most visible active triathlete in the country. He started in sports as a child with competitive swimming and baseball. But at the age of 11, he made a decision to focus on swimming and began to train and swim with the Philippine team. He prefers individual sports because you win or lose based on your own performance as compared to team sports where if one makes a mistake it can cost the whole team. Triathlons came after he graduated from college. He did a few while in the US and when he came back here, it was a fledgling sport. He then stopped training for more than 10 years and only resumed 7 years ago when he felt that he was getting older and out of shape. Since then, the sport has grown. Although this Alpha Male admits to pouring in a lot of energy into his professional career and athletic endeavors, he loves spending time with his family just as much.

On Competition and Teamwork:

I enjoy competition. My wife says I tend to be on the borderline of being over-competitive.

I enjoy the challenge because I feel that competition really brings out the best in people. It forces you to be the best that you can be whether it be in business or sport. To be faster, stronger, better, in whatever you are pursuing.

Having a competitive background helps me understand professional basketball players. I know what it takes to perform at your best. Training from swimming has helped me in terms of learning perseverance, commitment and dedication. Those are all things I carried over into my adult life and my business career. Those are attributes and characteristics that have molded me and made me who I am. You need those attributes and you look for them in the people you hire, to have in your team. You need people who are committed to the goals of the company and the team.

On Persistence:

Persistence is key, and if you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. In the realm of sports you need to continuously practice and train. We would swim 2 to 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, roughly 320 days a year.

In business you need to be persistent and that is something I work on with my management team in terms of pushing people. In this case, my responsibility is to push people further than they think they can, than they’re comfortable doing, because that’s how you can get the best from people.

On Perseverance and Inspiration:

I would say that someone in the business world who I find fascinating is Steve Jobs of Apple. He’s the consummate entrepreneur who really helped develop the PC revolution. But he was ousted from his company, which I think was a great American tragedy. Here’s one man who was forced out by a professional hired gun and basically be left for dead in his professional career. Only to come back for an encore and achieve greater than he did the first time around. That’s the classic case of perseverance.

It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life

It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You look at Lance Armstrong. He’s a person we all admire not only for what he achieved in his professional biking career but what he has achieved in his life as a classic case of never say die, literally. What also inspires me is after I read his book, It’s Not About the Bike, which is very moving in terms of what he has overcome, and I have several friends who have been diagnosed with cancer. I have given them a copy of that book and what’s so powerful is that 3 of them are now in remission. So maybe the book has inspired them. I think the mind can overcome whatever physical ailments you may have if you believe that you can help and heal yourself

Both these men were very brash at a young age, then they became statesmen of their respective endeavors, computer technology for Steve Jobs, while Lance Armstrong is the undisputed greatest bike rider ever.

On Achievement:

One motto I have that the people in my company and basketball team know I use frequently is: Good enough never is. That’s from the book “Built to Last” by James Collins. I believe in hard work to achieve what you want. To move ahead you need a strong work ethic. That’s something my father believes in and instilled in me.

Integrity is very important. I live by a very finite set of principles. Nobody succeeds in life just waiting for things to be served to them on a silver platter. You have to pursue that. Never be afraid to try anything. People live with preconceived notions of what they can or cannot do and you need to break those barriers down. The minute you relieve yourself of those barriers you’ll find the opportunity to surpass them.

I’ve looked to overcome certain personal physical barriers. I’ve just finished Ironman Australia which is a fairly long and competitive event and is something I’ve hoped to do and do well.

Right now, that’s been the apex of my physical accomplishments. I don’t know what lies ahead. Maybe I’ll continue to do Ironman. The motto of the Ironman is: Anything is Possible. Look at what ordinary people achieve if they put their minds to it.

-interview by Jude Defensor, first published in Men’s Health Philippines magazine, 2006

Fast-Food Fitness: Your food court favorites reviewed and rated

You know it’s bad for you but you do it anyway. You go back, again and again. It’s a reward, a comfort, a guilty pleasure. Fast, filling, and fattening, we’re sure not talking about fine dining. Between convenience and nutrition, the handy and cheap quickie usually wins. But you can make the best of a bad thing. Just for you, Men’s Health spreads out and super sizes, surveying Philippine fast food’s 10 most wanted. Like a punch to the gut, we’ll serve them to you straight.

A selection of value-menu hamburgers from Amer...

A selection of value-menu hamburgers from American fast food chains. Clockwise from left to right: McDonald’s McDouble, Burger King Buck Double, Sonic Drive-In Jr. Deluxe Burger, Wendy’s Double Stack. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The usual and ubiquitous suspects of burgers, chicken and fries still won’t be mistaken for wholesome diet fare anytime soon. By and large, fast food meals are high in calories, fat, and sodium, and generally deficient in important vitamins and minerals. But with the rise in awareness regarding fitness and proper nutrition, many chains have started adding healthier menu options, trying to cash in on the boom spurred on by Men’s Health readers like you.

We have a long way to go on lean menus, though. In December 2005 President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo proclaimed 2005-2015 as “the decade of healthy lifestyle.” The result? A coalition of government and non-government agencies, professional and medical organizations, and affiliated academic groups with the Department of Health (DOH) known as the Philippine Coalition for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (PCPCNCD). The PCPCNCD has conducted meetings and dialogues with major fast food chains to encourage the inclusion of healthy alternatives to its traditional menu. Of its long list of partners, only Wenphil Corporation (Wendy’s) has agreed to sign a memorandum of agreement according to a report by Philippine Star online in April 25, 2005.

But there’s tangible headway. Six months after sealing that agreement, Wendy’s has added sugar-free iced tea and low-fat mayonnaise in their dishes. This year they are zeroing in on the promotion of salad menus as main dishes, and more significantly, the provision of nutrition information to you, the average consumer.

DOH research notes that five out of 10 Filipinos who eat out go to a fast food outlet. But in our experience, finding out the nutrition facts from these outlets is still not a straightforward process for Juan dela Cruz. Of the ten fast food restaurants surveyed, none had nutritional information available on site. Neither the counter crew nor the branch managers were informed about or willing to share nutrition facts about their food. Calling local corporate headquarters provoked similar guarded responses. In one case, I was shuffled from one department to another, only to be told in the end that the information could not be made readily available. In another, the nutrition data was said to be confidential. We had better luck going online. For example, McDonald’s Philippines actually has a link for nutritional information on their website ( However, this link sends you to a page on their McDonald’s USA website with nutritional info for their American menu. We were also able to find nutritional facts for all the other US-based chains over the internet through their official sites or unaffiliated sites that systematically compile nutrition data provided by these American chains. However, depending on quality control and enforcement of standards, there may likely be some differences with regards to available menu items, portion sizes, and the type and quality of ingredients used from what is served locally and what you can find abroad, and also from branch to branch or from day to day. Thus, the nutrition values here should be interpreted as a rough guide to the estimated nutritional values for a particular food item and not be strictly relied upon as an ideal source of accurate nutritional data.

The Fast Food Nutrition Fact Explorer database ( ) tracks the nutritional data of the world’s most popular fast food restaurant chains. The information in the Fast Food Nutrition Fact Explorer database has been compiled from the data presented on the official website of each restaurant. We used the database to fill in the nutritional info for McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Wendy’s

Dietfacts ( started as a pet project by Kelly Stuart, the daughter of a diabetic who was frustrated with trying to locate foods that fit into his newly prescribed diet and not knowing the nutritional content of his favorite restaurant foods. She gathered data from food labels and nutrition guides and in April 2002, decided to turn this project into a website so that her dad and other diabetics could utilize the information she had collected. Dietfacts obtains information directly from product labels and nutritional guides provided by the companies of the respective products and USDA data. We used Dietfacts to fill in the nutritional info for Shakey’s and Kenny Rogers.

For Jollibee, Chowking, and Greenwich, we asked nutritionist Ma. Paz L. Sales R.N-D to do an approximated nutritional analyses of their featured menu items. The items were bought from their respective stores and their ingredients were carefully removed and separated then individually weighed. The amounts were not as accurate as they would have been if each ingredient had been weighed before the actual preparation and cooking. But given this limitation, the values were computed and rounded off to obtain for us consumers an approximate nutrient value of the products. The analysis focused more on calories and % fat calories and no elaboration was made on the other nutrients.

Ted Fajardo, PhD of the Bureau of Food and Drug (BFAD), a fanatical fitness buff with a busy schedule himself, admits to finding himself facing a fast food counter more often than he would like. “They’re an unavoidable choice to eat at because they’re quick and affordable,” he adds. “Besides, some of the food is actually very tasty and the quality is consistent.” But more importantly from a food hygiene standpoint, according to Dr. Fajardo, “you can be sure that they’re following certain standards of cleanliness and preparation as compared to a carinderia, turo-turo, or mobile vendor.”

He has come up with a shrewd trick to supplement his meals. He routinely brings a home-cooked viand to work or class, usually something high protein and low fat, like chicken adobo with no oil and salt. Whenever he has to have lunch or dinner with friends or colleagues at a fast food place, he orders a dish, such as rice or vegetables, to complement his ulam, and politely asks the crew to have the kitchen heat up his baon for him.

So what else is a working guy to do? It’s not impossible to eat well while in a rush and on a budget. Just stick to a few simple rules, and you can work out a battle plan to trim the worst out of those trips to the corner fast food counter, whatever poison they may be peddling.

Stay Small, Split and Share

Say it with us, portion control counts. Shun any serving described with the words large, extra, super, or double. Small and regular, or even kiddie sizes are what you want. A plain, regular burger contains around two servings of grains and 85 grams of protein, just the right amount for a meal. Resist adding on fries or onion rings, but if you got to have them, sacrifice with the smallest serving or better yet, be the generous big-shot and split it with a friend. Do this often enough and ideally, the only thing that’ll need upsizing is your wallet.

Skip the Sauce

Although the main meal item can be unhealthy enough, the condiments or side dishes that they come with often help tip the scales. Hold the mayo and any other high-fat and high-calorie sauces and dressings. Or at least ask to have them on the side and use sparingly, or ask for a low-fat alternative. The less cheese, sour cream, gravy, croutons, or bacon bits you can live with, the better.

Beware of Beverages

Softdrinks, juices, shakes, and iced tea prepared from processed mixes are saturated with sugar, chemicals, and not much else. Avoid sipping on empty calories by opting for diet softdrinks or fresh fruit juice when available. Otherwise, you’re better off with just water or picking up a tetrapak of skim or low fat milk from the nearest convenience store.

Free Yourself From the Frier

Believe us, you really don’t want fries with that. Everything that goes in and comes out of the deep frier is something you should avoid stuffing into your mouth. Chicken or fish may seem healthier than the beef in a burger, but when breaded and dunked in hot oil they end up soaking up more fat. The same thing happens to potatoes, onions, shrimp, chicken nuggets, and those crispy chicken balls they mix into some salads. Always go grilled when you can get it.

Green is Good

It used to be that French fries and the lettuce leaf and tomato slice in your burger were the only plant matter served at most fast food chains. But nowadays almost every fast food restaurant serves some kind of salad, excepting a few holdouts. Here’s where you can go crazy: The bigger the salad, the better. As long as you reduce or pick out the fattening ingredients, like creamy dressings or fried toppings, of course. Salads with dark green leafy vegetables are rich in antioxidants and vitamins, trumping pale limp lettuce that’s mostly just water and fiber. These will all help fill your stomach, making that small-sized sandwich seem all the more satisfying. Boldly go and ask for extra veggies when you order; it won’t hurt to work those charm muscles while you’re at the counter.


Chain of Food

With the invaluable guidance of our nutrition advisor Veritas Luna, PhD, we follow in Supersize Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s footsteps, and try to eat our way through the best and worst of the fast food court. Nutritional information was consulted when available, and well-balanced meals costing around P125 were put together. “Of course, a balanced and healthy diet is relative to the other foods eaten outside these meals,” Dr. Luna explains. “Healthy eating should be taken within the context of the usual total food intake within a day in relation to body needs (including physical activity and basal metabolic rate).” When in doubt, check the fat calories (some nutritional info may be obtained from and

In the meantime, scan the meal suggestions by Dr. Luna within the P125 budget. If you have more cash in your pocket, treat yourself to what’s on Men’s Health’s menu from these familiar fast food places.

Battle of the Burgers



Wendy’s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A pioneer in serving salads to the masses, this is one place that has got its greens down. Dressings are served separately. Wendy’s also draws kudos for its satisfyingly beefy burger and coming up with a sugar-free version of their popular and refreshing Iced Tea.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Spicy Chicken Fillet Sandwich 510 170 33 49 4 55 1,480 29 2 57
Hamburger 320 110 34 13 6 40 810 17 1 34
Big Garden mix salad  180 100 56 11 6 30 220 11 5 11
Ranch lite dressing 100 70 70 8 2 15 550 1 1 6
Chili 220 60 27 6 3 35 780 17 5 23
Side Salad  35 0 0 0 0 0 20 2 3 7

Meal Suggestions

1. Side Salad P23, Chili Rice P29, Iced Tea P30, French Fries P29: Total P111

2. Hamburger P27, Spaghetti P33, Side Salad P23, Iced Tea P30: Total P113

3. Big Garden Salad P75, Hamburger P27, Coffee P16: Total P118

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Big Garden Mix Salad

Baked Potato with Chili (no cheese)

Pass This Plate Up

Double Bacon Cheeseburger

A Hamburger, fries, and a coke from a fast-foo...

A Hamburger, fries, and a coke from a fast-food restaurant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burger King

Famed for their burger’s flame-grilled flavor, Burger King’s local strategy appears to rely on slapping on several different combinations of sauces and toppings on their basic burger then selling the product at a temptingly cheap price. Hopefully, they start bringing in some of the healthier choices they have on their menus abroad.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
BK BIG FISH® Sandwich 630 270 43 30 6 60 1,380 24 4 67
Whopper Junior  370 190 51 21 6 50 570 15 2 31
Chicken tenders 6 pieces  250 130 52 15 4 40 720 14 0 16

Meal Suggestions

Whopper Jr. P55 + Regular size diet softdrink P20 = P75

Blazing Cheeseburger Supreme meal (with drink, skip fries) = P85

BK Beef Steak with drink = P80

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Blazing Burger

Pass This Plate Up

Chicken Tenders



McDonald's fast food restaurant at Kulim, Keda...

McDonald’s fast food restaurant at Kulim, Kedah, Malaysia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The international Goliath of fast food lags behind in the local market in terms of offering healthier fare. From time to time, a salad or other less meat-and-oil-centric dish gets added to their classic menu, but for the most part, they’re sticking to the fattening favorites.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Big Mac® 560 270 48 30 10 80 1,010 25 3 46
McChicken® Sandwich 420 200 48 22 5 45 760 15 1 41
Chicken McNuggets® (6 piece) 250 130 52 15 3 35 670 15 0 15
Hamburger 260 80 31 9 4 30 530 13 1 33

Meal Suggestions

1 piece Chicken McDo (skin peeled off) with McSpaghetti, diet softdrink = P88

Hamburger P25 + McSpaghetti P36 + mineral water P20 = P81

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Plain Rice

Pass This Plate Up





Jollibee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This beloved homegrown favorite features an ever-expanding ever-changing menu. It’s a good thing, in terms of variety and taste. You aren’t stuck choosing between just burgers and fried chicken anymore. In fact their salads fall into the better-tasting side of the fast food spectrum. We just wish they’d get around to providing nutritional facts about their fare.

Meal Suggestions

Regular Yum Meal P52

Spaghetti with Regular Yum Meal P76

Burger Steak Meal P45

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Fresh Garden Salad

Chicken Sotanghon

Pass This Plate Up

‘Zert Pies

Clash of the Chickens


Kenny Rogers Roasters

Kenny Rogers Roasters original logo. A similar...

Kenny Rogers Roasters original logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roast chicken is a great source of lean protein. Kenny Rogers complements this with a wide selection of side dishes, including salads. They do push their sugary muffins a bit too aggressively and some of their sidings are heavy with starch and fat.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Corn muffin 164 54 33.5 6 1 0 244 2.2 0.5 25
¼ Chicken without skin 144 18 12.5 2 n/a n/a n/a 32 0 0
 Steamed Vegetables 48 0 0 0 0 0 n/a 3 n/a 8

Meal Suggestions

Any of the following set choices:

1. Solo A (no drink included) P120 -1/4 chicken, 1, side dish (preferably vegetable), 1 rice and 1 corn, muffin
2. Roast Chicken Sandwich P72, Coleslaw P36, 1 corn, muffin P10, (no drink): Total P118
3. Combo 1 (1 pc Chicken, rice and drink) P71 and Vegetable Side Dish P36: Total 107
4. Combo 5 (chicken tenders, spaghetti & drink) P77 and Vegetable Side Dish P36: Total P113

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Classic Roast Chicken

Steamed Vegetables

Fruit & Vegetable Salad, Italian Dressing

Pass This Plate Up

Macaroni and Cheese



KFC Bandung Supermall

KFC Bandung Supermall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fried chicken may be finger-licking good, but it’s bad to the bone. Aside from their recipe’s secret blend of herbs and spices, one more thing KFC may want to keep from you is that their chicken is fried in a whole lot of fat, and that crisp coating doesn’t help keep things light either. You can peel off the skin from a chicken breast and it’s just about passable.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Chicken Twister 670 340 51 38 7 60 1,650 27 3 55
Original Recipe Chicken – Thigh 360 230 64 25 7 165 1,060 22 0 12
Crispy Chicken Salad without Dressings & Croutons 370 170 46 19 7 65 1,110 29 3 20
Cole Slaw 190 100 53 11 2 5 300 1 3 22
Original Recipe Chicken – Breast without skin or breading 140 25 18 3 1 95 410 29 0 0
Mashed Potatoes with gravy 120 40 33 5 1 0 380 2 1 18

Meal Suggestions

Rice Bowl P60 + bottled water P19 = P79

Salad D’Lite P68 + bottled water P19 = P87

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Mashed Potatoes


Garden Salad (without dressing)

Pass This Plate Up

Fried Chicken

The Pizza Pit

Shakey's logo

Shakey’s logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Their salads are just fine, although availability of ingredients can be rather inconsistent across branches and time periods. A slice or two of pizza is always good for a hearty dose of complex carbs, protein and lycopene. But stay away from the grease-and-starch heavy Mojo potatoes if you value your waistline.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Super Hot Hero Sandwich 810 396 33.1 44 n/a n/a 2688 36 n/a 67
Mojo Potatoes 950 324 34.1 36 n/a 165 3,703 17 n/a 120
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce & Garlic Bread 940 297 32 33 n/a 60 1,904 26 n/a 134
Thin Crust Pizza with Onion, Green Pepper, Olive and Mushroom
12 inch
125 45 36 5 n/a 11 313 7 n/a 14

Meal Suggestions

(Sharing between two people but budget is still P125 per person)

1. Shakey’s Salad P76, Single Serving Meatball, Spaghetti P87, Hawaiian Delight Pepperoni Pizza (solo). P83; Total P246 / 2 = P123 per person
2. Shakey’s or Ceasar’s Salad P76 & Hawaiian Delight, Pepperoni Pizza (regular) P168; Total P244 / 2 = P122 per person
3. Hero and Salad P94 and Raisin Oatmeal Cookie P31: Total P125

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Greek Salad

Vegetarian pizza


Pass This Plate Up

Mojo Potatoes

Chick ‘n Chips



Greenwich Pizza

Greenwich Pizza (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good value if all you want is something filling and warm. Most of their dishes suffer from a starchy, paste-like consistency though. Good place for carbo-loading, not so much for the Atkins crowd.

Meal Suggestions

Baked Macaroni P74 + bottled water P23 = P97

Beef & Mushroom P67 + bottled water P23 = P90

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Greenwich Special Pizza

Garden Fresh Pizza

Pass This Plate Up

Macaroni Salad Plus

Pizza Hut

Their dishes are priced at a premium, but don’t really come out all that much ahead of the competition in terms of taste so you end up paying more for ambiance. At least they have some available nutritional information online. Beware the stuffed crusts.

Pizza Hut located at Schildergasse 83, Cologne...

Pizza Hut located at Schildergasse 83, Cologne, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Super Supreme Stuffed Crust Pizza (14in) 440 180 41 20 9 50 1,270 21 3 45
Veggie Lover’s® Pan Pizza (12in) 250 100 40 11 4 15 440 9 2 28

Meal Suggestions

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce P69 + bottled water P29 = P98

(sharing between 2 people) Chicken Pork Adobo Lover’s Pizza P179 + 2 bottled water P58 = P237 or P118.50 per person

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Roast Chicken


House Salad

Veggie Lovers Supreme

Pass This Plate Up

Stuffed Crust Pizzas

Cooking Chinese, Hidden Dangers



Chinese-style cooking techniques such as stir-frying and steaming keep the grease levels down. All that soy sauce, bagoong, and MSG up the sodium though. But at what other chain can you get tofu and kangkong 24 hours a day? It’s the desperate vegetarian’s last resort.

Pancit lomi from Chowking.

Pancit lomi from Chowking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meal Suggestions

Any of the following set choices:
1. Kangkong with Bagoong or Stir Fry Kangkong P34, Chowking Ice Tea in Cup P19, Sweet and Sour Pork Rice Topping (M) P52: Total P105
2. Chopsuey Rice P99, Mongo Pao P17: Total P116
3. Spareribs Rice Topping P62, Kangkong with Bagoong P34, Chowking Mango in cup P19: Total 115
4. Kangkong with bagoong P34, Additional 2 pcs dumplings P25, Pork with Chinese bagoong Chao Fan P47, Drink in cup P19; Total P125

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Chicken Mami

Stir Fry Kangkong

King’s Congee

Fish in Tausi Sauce

Fried Tofu

Pass This Plate Up


-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Men’s Health Philippines magazine, 2006

The Camotes Islands: Quiet Waters, Deep Roots

Vegetable, Mineral, Natural

Tell someone that you’ve just been to the Camotes islands and the likely comeback is their asking you if you got to eat any camote. Ironically enough, on our “Suroy-Suroy” (Cebuano for “pasyal-pasyal” or touring) to the Camotes, the locals organized a grand fiesta celebrating their most important crop. No, not camote, but cassava. Who’d have thunk?

The Camotes may be tiny and unassuming, sleepy satellites dwarfed by the economic, political, and cultural might of neighboring Cebu, the mother planet. But to the islands’ 70,000-plus residents, there just isn’t a more blessed spot on earth than what they’ve got. The Camoteños are fiercely proud of every little scrap of history, progress, and natural beauty that they can show off, and one just can’t argue with that kind of enthusiasm.

Their pride is well-deserved. It’s easy to lapse into gemstone-inspired metaphors when describing the archipelago. Imagine a string of four emerald islands, ringed with sparkling crystal beaches, strewn across a bed of aquamarine. Then right in the middle of one emerald isle rests the deep dark opal of Lake Danao, one of the country’s largest, cleanest, and most beautiful lakes. Legend has it that an entire town lies submerged beneath its depths. That’s just one of the many tall tales that blows through the islands, which include a ghost ship laden with cacao, a river that runs upstream, a giant lapu-lapu fish living in a sunken bell, and an enchanted palace lost among the rainforest. The Camotes has been the site of many a priceless archaeological find, and it has been posited that the momentous battle between Magellan and Lapu-lapu may have been fought in the waters off Poro and not in Mactan. There are even rumors that a Japanese war veteran or two may still be toughing it out deep in the jungle. Mysterious caves, pools, and waterfalls dot the interior, further challenging the adventurous.

Four islands comprise the Camotes group: Pacijan island with San Francisco town connected by a causeway that runs dramatically through a mangrove forest to Poro island, which contains Poro and Tudela towns, across the Camotes Sea lies Ponson with Pilar town and tiny Tulang, an island barangay of San Francisco. The snorkeling around the islands may not attract much notice, but the dive outfits from the mega-resorts on Mactan and Cebu bring their clients all the way to the Camotes to check out the marine life. There is no dive shop on the islands as of yet, but like other signs of progress, it may be just around the corner. The cellphone service providers have begun blanketing the area with ads and towers, and satellite dishes are not an uncommon sight.

Past The Horizon

Yet there’s still a very strong sense of this being a pastoral community of farmers and fishermen, with everybody knowing everybody else and going about their lives as they have for generations: gathering shellfish, planting coconuts, corn, potatoes, and cassava (and yes, some camote). Although several resorts, big and small, have sprouted up around the Camotes over the past few years, tourism appears to have not yet made a major impact on the local consciousness. Visitors seem to be treated with keen fascination by the locals, and more as a source of amusement than of profits. When the local kids wave and smile at you, they’re not expecting a hand-out, but talk to them in English or Tagalog, and they’ll laugh at you in Cebuano.

What now makes these islands most charming for us visitors is also what may be easily ruined if too many come to visit. Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia assures us that the development and promotion of the Camotes islands as a tourist destination shall be carefully implemented according to the strict guidelines set in the tourism master plan for the entire province. But once discovered, it’s not hard to imagine the delicate ecosystem of the archipelago being swamped by traveling hordes. Via the Ocean Jet fast craft, it takes only around 300 pesos and an hour and 45 minute ride to cross the 30+ nautical miles from Pier 1 in Cebu City to the port on Poro town. So by sea it’s actually faster and cheaper getting to the beaches on Camotes than by land to the other beaches around Cebu. And the stretches of sand and palm that you’ll find around here, still practically free for all to enjoy, can easily top those at other islands that charge top dollar for the privilege of getting your feet wet. The story goes that a bigshot mega-resort on Mactan wanted to cart off some fine Camotes sand to fill their artificial beach with. The Camoteños said “hell, no” to whatever price, proof that their sense of protectiveness runs deep. In this case, insularity is a good thing.


detailed map of camotes islands

detailed map of camotes islands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hammock Hotspots

Santiago Bay Garden and Resort features 19 comfortable rooms tucked into 2.5 hectares of lush landscaping overlooking Santiago Bay’s wide, white sand beach and clear blue water.

Mangodlong Rock Resort rests on 2 hectares of extensive coconut-shaded gardens right beside a private white sand beachfront. Connected by a sand bar from the beach, separated from the resort by a few meters of sparkling sea, stands a coral islet with tropical huts.

-text & photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Men’s Health Philippines magazine, 2006.

Dirty Dining (all about Philippine street food, safety & nutrition)

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Street food is convenient, fast, easy, uncomplicated, and cheap. So are street hookers. Caveat emptor. Buyer beware! Unless you want to gamble with your well-being you shouldn’t play in the street. You don’t stick your tongues or dicks just anywhere, so if you don’t know where it’s been, should you stuff it in your mouth?

Pinoy streetfood is a huge part of our culinary culture, a showcase of how we Filipinos can squeeze fun and flavor from the unlikeliest and least palatable ingredients. Street food is both pop art and comfort food in one portable package, pushed around on wheels or carried on backs. Street foods are consumed by an estimated two and a half billion people world-wide. The street food business is a billion peso industry and a major driver of the underground economy. Thousands rely on it for their livelihood. Properly regulated, it has enormous potential. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have all managed to promote their street food to tourists as tasty and healthy gastronomic adventures. Why can’t we seem to reach their standards?

The Hand that Roasts the Chicken

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many street food handlers may use ingredients that are of dubious quality. They may observe faulty food preparation and handling practices, and work in facilities that lack the minimum sanitation standards. They may use recycled cooking oil. They may not use hair nets nor do they wash their hands prior to food handling/preparation. The food, containers and utensils may be improperly stored or freely exposed to dirt, smoke, flies. These practices can promote bacterial overgrowth and contamination, increasing the hazards for the consumer.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Moreover, some vendors have indiscriminately adapted “modern” techniques to counteract some of the shortcomings in their food hygiene. They use nitrites and nitrates, unauthorized dyes and cooking oils, and insecticides. Beware of food products free of flies in areas where flies are plentiful.  Such items may be sprayed with insecticides.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In the context of the impoverished economic situation of our street food handlers and vendors, I observed that the negative attitudes of pagtitipid, bahala na, mediocrity and procrastination remain to be the culprits of the ever growing foodborne illness outbreaks (many of which remain unreported) in the city,” says Ma. Veritas F. Luna, PhD, Associate Professor and Chairperson, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, College of Home Economics, University of the Philippines.

Dra. Luna expounds that food vendors will not practice safe food handling procedures unless there are clear policies and strong demand. Implementing food safety procedures are perceived to result in unwanted expenditures that increase their cost of production. And even if they realize that they can be penalized for endangering the public, they will persist in economizing their resources.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Warnings for violators of standards on food sanitation are ignored and they say, bahala na! For as long as no one files a complaint, they claim na pwede na ‘yan, wala namang nagrereklamo!,” (that’ll do, nobody complains) she gripes.

But it appears that poor sanitation is not a problem limited to the Philippine setting alone. Street food has been the source of many recent disease outbreaks, notably cholera: in India, from sugarcane mixed with ice; in Malaysia, from noodles with rice; and in Hong Kong, from a green vegetable dish.  Cases of cholera from street food have been documented in Peru, and also in Singapore where sanitary standards are generally good. And who hasn’t heard of that urban legend about rats jumping in and out of the pails of water insideNew York’s famous hotdog carts. In Bangkok, Thailand, studies consistently found unacceptably high levels of bacteria and other toxins in street food. With support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a Code of Practice for Street Foods, including 10 steps to make street foods healthier, was taught to food inspectors and a public awareness campaign was developed to teach consumers about the importance of improved hygiene.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Street food by its very nature always presents a degree of risk to the consumer. But the hazards can be minimized. A balance must be struck between standards of quality and sanitation and keeping product costs low.

The Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the College of Home Economics at the University of the Philippines offers assistance to organized groups of street food vendors by conducting training and workshops, paving the way for safer food offered within the premises of the university. For inquiries you may call 981-8500 local 3407. The many patrons of Diliman’s famous barbecued isaw can only hope that the stall handlers attended a workshop or two!

Gut Feel

Waiting for diarrhea to strike is not the best way to find out whether what we’re eating is unsafe. Most food safety hazards are not visible to the naked eye. The hazards (in the form of toxins, microorganisms, chemicals, physical contaminants) are also odorless and tasteless. Most victims do not suspect or care whether the food they’re eating is fit for consumption in the first place. You’re doomed by the first steaming, deliciously dirty mouthful.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr. Antonio Comia, Gastroenterologist and Associate Professor at the U.P.Collegeof Medicine, and consultant at the Philippine General Hospital and Asian Hospital lists acute food poisoning, amoebiasis, typhoid fever, and Hepatitis A as the more common illnesses linked to ingestion of contaminated street food. More unlucky patrons may also find themselves harboring parasites such as tapeworms or ascaris. Gastrointestinal infections usually present with symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, vomiting. Hepatitis may initially present as jaundice or yellowing of the skin. “The specific treatment varies depending on the diagnosis, but we have to make sure that patients are well hydrated when there is diarrhea,” states Dr. Comia.

Go and Glow

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When prepared fresh and with natural ingredients, some street food can be quite nutritious. Like all guilty pleasures though, you’re not supposed to live on this stuff. It’s better to regard street food as an irregular treat, or as an emergency energy source in the absence of healthier alternatives.

Animal-based products like fried or barbecued chicken or pork, and organ meats like isaw, rambo, helmet, kwekwek, adidas, and eggs such as quail, balut, or penoy, and others are high in protein. In a pinch, you can nibble on these to keep your nitrogen levels up, but keep in mind that they’re likely to raise your sodium and cholesterol as well. Barbecued and smoked meats are also laced with nitrates and free radicals, the consumption of which has been linked to an increased risk for some gastrointestinal cancers.

Fried food will be drenched in oil, which depending on the type, yields about 9 calories per gram. A serving of fried food easily provides about five grams of fat. Animal fat such as chicken skin, chicharon, and pork rinds, is sure to be swimming in cholesterol. Breading or other flour-based coatings are packed with calorific carbohydrates, the same goes with rice cakes or other native kakanins, and other flour-based products such as fish and squid balls. These starchy snacks stuff about 4 calories into each gram.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since this is a tropical country, the popularity of roadside refreshment stands needs no further explanation. Aside from helping stave off dehydration, these sweet concoctions give a quick energy boost from all the sugar mixed in. Sago and tapioca pearls contain some carbohydrates, while gulaman which is made from agar-agar (seaweed) can provide some fiber. These drinks may also be spiked with artificial food colors and flavors. Try going for beverages made from fresh fruits, they present an array of vitamins including A and C, and other beneficial phytochemicals. Taho is another wholesome street food option – a good source of plant-based protein and energy.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The much-beloved “dirty ice cream” our moms would scold us over (but secretly indulge in themselves) consists mostly coconut cream, skim milk, and cassava starch. Basically, ice cream consists of 15 percent sweetener and flavoring, 11 percent skim milk for body and texture, 10 percent fat source for creaminess, and .4 percent emulsifier-stabilizer to distribute the fat evenly and minimize the formation of ice crystals. These comprise 36.4 percent of the volume, the rest taken up by water. A cup easily provides the following nutrients: 200 calories, 3.9 grams of protein, .31 grams of calcium, .204 grams of phosphorus, .14 mg of iron, 548 IU of vitamin A, .038 mg of thiamine, and .236 mg of riboflavin.

For healthier snacking from the street, stick to fruits, vegetables, fish and other low cholesterol food. Try to steer clear of all the deep-fried fare, and seek out snacks that are steamed, grilled, or boiled. Boiled or grilled corn, boiled peanuts, steamed dumplings, and especially fresh fuits and veggies such as turnips, pineapples, watermelons, melons, and green mangoes (But watch the bagoong! It’s really high in sodium) make for smart street eating.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our experts, Dra. Luna, Dr. Comia, and Mr. Ted Fajardo of the Bureau of Food and Drugs, enumerated certain procedures that must be followed by food handlers to ensure safety.

  • Make sure ingredients are fresh and are of good quality. Food should be processed with clean raw materials and in clean conditions.
  • Wash hands frequently before, during and after handling food.
  • Cook food thoroughly and adequately to kill all possible pathogens.
  • Store food properly and monitor for spoilage. Place food in the right container and at the right temperature within the minimum length of storage time, which will depend on these conditions and the type of food
  • Avoid contact between raw and cooked foods.
  • Serve food properly using clean utensils and condiments
  • Eat food immediately after cooking
  • Re-heat leftover food thoroughly

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Men’s Health Philippines magazine, 2006

%d bloggers like this: