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

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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

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

The Renaissance Man Returns: Jose Rodriguez, Director, Instituto Cervantes

The Instituto Cervantes Manila has truly grown into a veritable institution in the lives of many Filipinos. Officially tasked with promoting the Spanish language and culture by organizing classes and events, this year has seen many new developments for the Instituto. In January, they moved into their new building located beside the Casino Espanol at T.M. Kalaw St. in Ermita, Manila. Then in July, Manila laid to rest its distinction as having the only Instituto Cervantes in Asia with the opening of Instituto Cervantes Beijing. August bore witness to the despedida for the much-admired Dr. Javier Galvan, who ended his term after five fruitful years as the Director of the Instituto.
When news of Dr. Galvan’s imminent departure first started trickling out to the students and patrons of the Instituto, speculation naturally turned toward the identity of his possible replacement. Whoever it would be, everybody was strongly hoping for someone who would have a great affection for the Philippines and rapport with Filipinos. For these criteria at the very least, the new Instituto Director, Jose Rodriguez, definitely qualifies. He loves Filipinos so much that he married one, then went on to live here for more than 25 years.

“My romance with the Philippines started some 30 years ago when I first met my wife in Spain. I was seduced.” Dr. Rodriguez confesses. “So today we have this total interconnection between a Spaniard and a Filipino.”

To demonstrate, he peppers his speech with Tagalog words and expressions, and even prides himself on his appropriately Pinoy-sounding palayaw, “Pepe”. It was indeed an inspired decision by Spain to appoint as Director of Instituto Cervantes Manila, not a stranger to the country, but an old friend.
Born and raised in the province of Ourense, in the Northwestern region of Galicia in Spain. Dr. Rodriguez’s wife is renowned Filipina portrait artist Lulu Coching. Their two children, Lara María and José Francisco, “grew up as Filipinos,” he asserts.

To get here Dr. Rodriguez has come a long and roundabout way from his Ph.D and M.A. in business administration, and Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural technical engineering. After completing his military service in Africa’s Sahara desert in the 1970s, he shifted to the field of journalism as a correspondent for major Spanish dailies, and eventually joined the Spanish News Agency Agencia EFE where he went on to become regional bureau chief for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. It was during his term and through his efforts that Agencia EFE established its English-language world service headquarters in Manila.

He became president of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) in 1992 and was elected president of the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) in 1995. He is also a member of the International Press Institute (IPI) and an honorary member of the National Press Club of the Philippines. He co-founded with the late Secretary Raul Manglapus and a group of Filipino Hispanistas, the weekly Crónica de Manila, a Philippine publication in Spanish.
He has been Honorary Consul of Bolivia in the Philippines (1987-2004), and President of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Espanola since 1989. Dr. Rodriguez has been awarded the Encomienda de Isabel la Catolica by His Majesty King Juan Carlos I of Spain for his contributions to the strengthening of Spanish-Philippine relations and was recently conferred the Order of Sikatuna by the Republic of the Philippines. He has also been conferred a degree of Doctor of Humanities honoris causa by the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

Dr. Rodriguez has spent the past four years away from our shores, and is very happy to be back here in his new role. “It was worth it to wait for this opportunity. This time I will no longer be just reporting on the Philippines. I hope to be able to make things happen in my field of endeavor that will be of mutual benefit to my two dear countries.”

Although he just officially started his term last September 1st, Dr. Rodriguez hit the ground running. In only two weeks his leadership style at the Instituto is already clearly felt. “I come back to the Philippines to assume this new position with something very important: a vision. My mandate is to focus on activities that will further strengthen the social and cultural relationship between Spain and the Philippines,” he explains.

Listening to the director, it becomes obvious that it is this clear vision that drives his enthusiasm. “My dream is to be able to increase Filipino interest in Spain in such a way that they will begin to appreciate that they have to learn Spanish in this day and age. Spanish was very much a part of the Philippines’ past. Having learned our lessons, my dream is that Filipinos will now consider Spain as part of their present and future.”
This dream rests on deep foundations, which the director respectfully acknowledges. “I hope to build on what my predecessors have accomplished and even dare to try to raise the level of awareness of our historical ties,” he states. “We share a great number of things in our culture. Let’s not forget that we have almost 10,000 Spanish words in the Filipino language. But in my own judgment, the Spanish culture is beyond language. It is customs, traditions, food, etc. In short, it is a way of life.”

He is positive that the Instituto’s work and worth will speak for itself. “I want to invite everyone to come visit the IC, to look at the beautiful building with state-of-the art facilities for students, an auditorium for conferences and film showings, and a library with, as of today, some 25,000 books.” The director also invites everybody to participate in and enjoy the many activities the Instituto Cervantes has planned for this year’s ¡Fiesta! the Spanish Festival for Culture and the Arts in October.

For Dr. Rodriguez, the Instituto’s further success lies in those who have yet to learn of it. “The youth, as Jose Rizalcorrectly said, is the hope of the land,” he avows, laying out his grand plan for targeting them. “Our goal is to make the Filipinos come to the Instituto Cervantes, not only for educational and cultural reasons, but as part of their way of life. To thrive, the Instituto Cervantes, or IC, must be a welcome home for everyone. We are committed to bringing the IC to the millions of students around the archipelago. Students are the soul of the Instituto Cervantes. They are the main hope to be able to achieve a dialogue between the two cultures.”The director stresses how the Instituto’s mission entails a coordinated effort. “We will try to achieve this dream by working very closely with my colleagues here, the Spanish Embassy, The Spanish community and the home government, and with the youth of this land through the universities and colleges of this country. But I know that our efforts will be crowned by success only when Filipinos embrace these programs as if they were their own. And I am confident that they will do so.”In all his statements, the consistent theme to the director’s stance is his great respect for the Filipino people and desire to serve the Philippines.

He passionately waxes effusive over our country in a manner that would bowl over even the staunchest militant nationalist or revisionist historian. “The Philippines is one of the richest cultural mosaics in the world. It is a unique window display into the westernization of the Orient. I would like to say to all foreigners who still have doubts, come to the Philippines, try the Philippines, stay in the Philippines, you will never regret it.”

Aside from raising his family and devoting half his professional life here, Dr. Rodriguez has also left a lasting legacy in the form of two books that he has published about the Philippines. “Crónicas is a mini-memoir of my stay in the country, he describes. “You will see all the major protagonists in the political and social life of the Philippines during those years, as well as other stories on themes like the Sto Nino, myths, faith, earthquakes, transition pains, the Spanish language, and prominent personalities.” He is most proud of his most recent book, published two years ago. Featuring portraits of Philippine First Ladies, he co-authored the book with his wife Lourdes, one of the country’s foremost portrait painters. “This is a book of portraits of women who shared their lives with men of power, women who played significant roles in the history of the nation,” he relates. “The book focuses on the first ladies as wives, mothers, and in one singular instance, as daughter, in the midst of revolution, war, tragedies, and political and economic challenges from 1898 to 1998.” Crónicas is available at National Book Store branches, while Philippine First Ladies Portraits is available at all Rustan’s Department Stores.Although the director has already so much to look back upon and be proud of with what he has already accomplished, he believes that it is more cause for gratitude and inspiration than an indicator that he should begin resting on his laurels. “I will never forget my 25 years in this country and the hand extended by the Filipinos, frank and kind, reaching out to hold me with a unique affection and brotherhood,” he concludes. “So now I am committed to everything left in my hands and more, to demonstrate that what has been given to me by the Filipinos has not been in vain.”
-text & photo by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in What’s On & Expat newspaper, 2006

Paul Monozca: The Lion Tamer

Having done well in Singapore, Paul Monozca now seeks to do good at home

The stereotype of the silver-spooned haciendero, one born into the land of the sugar barons, haunts many sons of the well-to-do from the plantation-rich society of the island of Negros. A few are content to bask in their gentility, cultivating a charmed lifestyle as their ancestors must have enjoyed. But some strive to shake it off, break away from the shackles of privilege, and show everyone up on their own terms. Or as Paul Infante Monozca puts it, “have the passion to dare to dream and do it”. An overlooked facet of the oft-romanticized saga of the sugar plantations is how many families, including Paul’s, struggled to cope with and recover from the profound impact of the sweeping land reform program on the province’s agriculture-based economy. This struggle, compounded with his upbringing among a family of dedicated doctors, helped develop a passion for service in the young Paul.

A proud native of Bacolod City, the 38 year-old Paul has been based in Singapore for the past 14 years, where he is arguably the most visible Filipino personality. He currently stands as the Asian regional head for business development for leading investment advisory service PricewaterhouseCoopers, handling the banking & capital markets industry group. Three years ago, Paul made waves in both his host and home country with the impressive feat of bringing together scions of five prominent Filipino families to work as one in doing business with companies linked to the Singapore government. He has been invited by no less than Singapore’s Minister of Parliament and Rotary President Claire Chiang to speak on 2nd generation Philippines-Singapore business relations, and by the Philippine Embassy to be involved in entrepreneur training workshops for Filipino workers.

Paul was recently awarded the Singapore Sports Council’s ‘Sporting Singapore Inspirational Award 2006’ bySingapore’s Minister of Sports Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, the first Filipino ever to receive such a prestigious recognition in the history of the awards.

His philanthrophic efforts have raised over SIN$300,000 (over Php10million) for various charitable causes, including the Dr. AB Monozca Foundation which focuses on providing medical missions to the Philippines, funding for church restorations and scholarships to needy children.

“Because I grew up in Bacolod, a passion not only of myself, but also of my late father, is to be able to provide good health care for sugar farm workers,” shares Paul. “We’ve been fortunate to be supported by some very good names like Caltex Asia, Unilab andSingapore’s CK Tang property group. Now we’re working with a leading charitable organization in Singapore to send some Philippine doctors on scholarships and train them, but in exchange they have to commit to help out in our medical missions,” he explains.

Numerous Filipino athletes have also been given the chance to work overseas due to the foundation. “I’ve been talking to a few close friends who own PBA teams. Certain players, especially alumni, can be given opportunities to coach in Singapore and get paid well doing that. So they’ll be able to follow through after their career as a player.” The foundation’s basketball project is a nationally endorsed program by the Sports Council and Basketball Association of Singapore, currently serving an initial 17 schools with more to come.

An avid sportsman, Paul counts equestrian, golf, karting, shooting and basketball among his leisure activities. He runs some of the most high-flying fund raisers in Singapore such as the Annual Celebrity Golf Classic and the Gatorade Basketball Academy which have been attended by international celebrities including British Open Champion Gary Player, NBA great John Havliceck, China’s basketball star Chen Zhen Hao, Olympic Badminton Champions Susi Susanti and Alan Budi Kusuma, concert queen Pops Fernandez and former Philippine President Ramos. He is also credited for assisting inSingapore’s Formula One bid and Sports Hub initiative, which envisions top regional athletes converging on Singapore to participate in the global drive to promote foreign talent in the city state. “I’ve been asked by former President Ramos to see if these events can be brought to the Philippines, especially our golf event,” he reveals. “This will bring in media coverage, top sportsmen and personalities from all over the world. There are a lot of opportunities between the two countries to be visible together. The plan is to use sports to build diplomacy.”

Paul’s subsequent goal is to assist in reclaiming the investment priority status of the Philippines with the region’s financial centre, Singapore. “We used to be Asia’s number one economy. That has translated into Filipinos having a first world mindset. Our infrastructure has to keep up,” he contends. “Singapore is pretty much the hub of the region. It’s not an easy country to please, but at the same time we have to engage them because they have quite an influence over the investment landscape.”

It is this talent at engaging people, corporations, and even other countries that has obviously served Paul well in his sterling career. But he makes it very clear that above all, he will always be Pinoy at heart, and he doesn’t hold back in airing the extent of his patriotism to the Philippines.

“I’m just one of the millions of Pinoys who are based overseas, one of the guys who continually want to do good for our country. We hope that everything we do contributes to everyone’s well being,” he states. “We’ve been known as a country that deploys a lot of talent overseas, at the same time we should be mindful that all these people are still attached to our mother country whether they are vocal or not. We should strengthen our links to leverage on each one’s success and failures. Indirectly we bring Filipino traits like being respectful to our host country. This is a great way to contribute and make our presence felt”.

Paul feels that above everything, it’s all about embracing the current era of globalization. “Filipino talent is being recognized on a grand scale all over the world right now, especially our creativity, service and hospitality,” he asserts. “Filipinos can be very competitive, but are quiet about it. Now is the right time to be visible and to grab opportunities. I’ve always said that I feel that the Philippines is where China was in the 1960s, where we’re sort of living in our own world, always doing things the Filipino way.” Paul hopes that through his work he can help in creating a new mindset for the country, through sports or whatever other medium, and make a difference.

It is this noble objective of serving the greater good that now drives Paul to succeed and gives him fulfillment, after having reflected on how the world right now just revolves a lot around money. “A lot of our countrymen are forced to do a lot of things which they don’t even want to do to earn money,” he bemoans. “I’m not someone who should give advice, but a food for thought for everyone is just to follow your heart and what you want to do. Do it sincerely and credibly because that’s not something money can buy. You achieve certain things but no matter how small it is you should put in all the effort and not step on anyone. Daanan sa galing, huwag sa gulangan”.

A real never-say-die guy, Paul believes in gaining the right outlook and following what you’re passionate about and continually doing it despite people telling you it’s not going to work. “If it makes you happy, weigh the risks and do it,” Paul affirms. “Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, has their own passion and is successful in their own right. The bottom-line of the whole thing is that when you’re passionate about something it becomes priceless.”

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manual magazine, 2006

The Hot Spot – keeping connected in Boracay

Boracay is as close to a compleat paradise as we can get to without flashing our passports. It’s got everything: white sand beaches, warm sunshine, wild parties, and most importantly, what we techies want – wi-fi! The Hot Spot has hotspots! Yes, there’s yet another reason to brave the planes, boats, and crowds just to scope out our sweet little corner of wireless broadband bliss. After all, just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you have to take a break from the net. On the contrary, it’s a really triumphant W?BIC! (Why? Because I Can!) moment to be able to wirelessly surf the web while the sea breeze blows over your face and the waves lap at your feet (and hopefully not at your laptop!).

Over the long weekend we stayed at the idyllic Boracay Terraces Resort, right at the very end of White Beach. Beyond the other things to recommend about the resort, like the huge, lavishly appointed rooms, and in-house spa service, is the fact that they’ve got a really strong and steady wi-fi signal that was a cinch to connect to, and consistently speedy. In fact, some of the resorts in the relatively posh-er Boat Station 1 area seem to be set-up for the requirements of the discriminating jet-set who can’t go half a day without checking their e-mail or see how their stocks are doing. You can walk across most of this stretch without missing a byte, perfect if you need to shanghai some wi-fi! Towards the busier Boat Station 2 area, where the most popular party places are located, wi-fi gets spottier, harder to sniff out, and less liberally shared. There’s supposed to be an unsecured connection throughout the area provided by Globe, but it didn’t seem to work when I tried it. Some places require you to ask for a key from the manager or owner. Boat Station 3 is backpacker central, and as expected, features a respectable sprinkling of hotspots. Basically, for it’s size, Boracay may just be one of the country’s most wired (and wireless) islands, you needn’t stray far to stumble onto a signal somewhere, or in a pinch, you can always jack in at a cafe.

Even when on vacation, easy connectivity can actually become more of a necessity than a luxury when emergencies strike. And in our case, it was a State of Emergency! Through the chaos, the ability to check the latest news reports and keep in touch with friends and family kept this crazy weekend from spiraling out of control.

It’s all in the bags

Packing and preparation is half the fun of traveling, at least I’ve always thought. But bringing your delicate high-tech gadgets with you for an island getaway poses a peculiar challenge. Although it may work for some people to just dump everything into a duffel bag, the prudent techie traveler prizes protection, organization, and security when bundling his gear. So the first order of business should actually be a thorough back up of all your crucial data, be they work documents, contact info, or downloaded porn. You’re never sure what disaster may strike while you’re out and about, and knowing that you’ve got back-up files safe at home can help salvage your trip just in case the worst happens.

Once you’ve banked your software, time to think of bagging your hardware. The heavy black leather-laden bags your laptop probably came with just won’t do. You’ve got to shop around for a lightweight, padded, more casual-looking carrier, one that won’t look out of place on the beach, and maybe with some room for sunscreen or a racy novel. Top-dollar brands like Crumpler and Targus all feature a range of hip gadget-friendly bags, but the budget conscious can get away with any well-constructed messenger bag or backpack plus a little ingenuity. If you’re going the cheapo route, just make sure that your gear carrier has its straps, handles, zips, and clasps securely stitched and fastened, and that the material is of a decent thickness and quality. Bags constructed with waterproof fabric or lining is ideal, padding is a plus. For that added layer of armor, and a nifty way to keep things neat and tidy, go pick up a pack of resealable zip-loc bags. The sandwich-sized ones work well for small gadgets like cellphones, PDAs, MP3 players, digicams and their chargers, the roast-chicken-sized ones are good for power bricks and even small notebooks. For larger gear, garbage bags may do the trick. One bag for each gadget makes them easy to discern when rifling through your stuff, and keeps cables separate and tangle-free. That humble plastic bag could be what provides the precious few seconds before corrosive salt water gets into your gadgets’ circuits as you fish them out from the sea right after you stumble off the boat.

Next, if you don’t have one yet, invest in a lockable security cable for your laptop for the times when you have to leave it behind in your room. Try to figure out a thief-proof way to secure it to something large and hefty, looped around the bed’s headboard and legs works well, and don’t forget not to leave the key lying around !

When on vacation, it’s best to charge as often as you can, since you’re never sure what gimmick or sidetrip might crop up to prevent you from powering up, or you may need to make an urgent phone call or trip research session that may sap your batteries

Hands in your pockets

As a traveler, you’ve got to keep your hands free. It would be rather tiresome to be continuously clutching your phone or camera in either hand when they’re not in use. But if you think it’s just too dorky-touristy to carry your camera, phone, or PDA around on your neck or waist, then you have to invest in clothing with pockets. A gadget vest would be the next less dorky-touristy thing, but considering the heat and the not-too-cool fashion statement you’ll be making, this option is reserved for those guys who can keep from sweating and can pack some serious swagger. So that leaves us mortals with cargo shorts, trunks, or board shorts. Past color, style, and size, pocket quality is another feature you now have to consider. Check for pockets lined with dense fabric and not hole-prone mesh or net-like material. Those that you can zip or Velcro closed are preferred. And of course, your gear has to fit in them. Just using common sense, never let your gadgets out of your sight. Friendly local boatmen or guides may offer to hold your gear or take your pics for you, and although I’m sure that most of them may be honest folk, just be wary of the exceptions who may not be! Executing a regular pocket-pat-down maneuver to check on your gadgets is not a bad little habit either.

Unwire and Unwind

With all these things in mind, don’t forget to actually go have some fun! Let loose, lie down, go wild. Decompress and disconnect yourself from technology for some time. Doing this will make you appreciate it all the more when you plug back in. Anyway, you can always send an SMS when you feel the tech-withdrawal symptoms coming on.

-text and photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in m|ph magazine, 2006

Crash Chords: D’ Hebigats

Heady, heavy assignment, figure out the TEN most influential Pinoy albums EVER in less than a week. In the end, I could only come up with nine, and a few days late too. But, tough noogies. During crunches like these it turns out that everyone’s an expert, everyone’s a critic, and everyone interprets the word “influential” in a different way.

Ultraelectromagneticjam!: The Music Of The Era...

Ultraelectromagneticjam!: The Music Of The Eraserheads (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everybody agrees on one album though – the Eraserheads’ “Ultraelectromagneticpop”. I can still remember watching their first TV performance on Dawn Zulueta’s late night show RSVP, and foreseeing that they were going to be big. Released in 1993 by BMG Records, the album’s commercial success rejiggered the sound of the decade, reintroducing band-based music into the pop mainstream, leading the way for rivals Rivermaya, Yano, and arguably every Pinoy pop-rock band created since then.

Filipino musician Pepe Smith, Philippine Rock ...

Filipino musician Pepe Smith, Philippine Rock n Roll Legend (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Going back to the era when Pinoy rock first exploded, the Golden Age is tied irrevocably to the rise of The Juan Dela Cruz Band, founded by legends Edmund and Mike Hanopol. The band was named after the common man and played rock for the common man. Although the band debuted with “Up in Arms,” in 1971, it is “Himig Natin“, released in 1974 and featuring the too-cool trifecta of Mike, Wally Gonzales, and the notorious Joey “Pepe” Smith on the cover that will always resonate for a generation of teenagers that lived through the “maximum tolerance” of martial rule, a time when sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll raged under the cloak of curfew.

Hotdog’s Unang Kagat” combined big band music with droll Taglish lyrics resulting in their patented “Manila Sound”. Hitting it big with the theme song to the 1974 Ms. Universe Pageant held here in Manila, “Ikaw ang Miss Universe ng Buhay Ko” could have cemented Hotdog’s immortality all on its own, if it hadn’t been followed by the just-as-memorable smashes “Pers Lab”, “Annie Batungbakal”, “Bongga Ka ‘Day”, “Beh Buti Nga”, and eventually “Manila”. The 1970s saw Hotdog, together with VST and Company and the Boyfriends, pushing Filipino pop music to innovate, adopting foreign trends such as disco to serve local tastes.

The culturati may beg to differ, but novelty songs are as important a subgenre in Pinoy music as jazz and classical. Although its roots can be traced as far back as vaudeville and even bugtungan, and its fruits continue to haunt us in the musical stylings of the Sexbomb girls and the Masculados, only one man can stake a claim as conquistador of this turf, and that’s “Magellan”, Yoyoy Villame’s first recording in 1972. As an artist, Yoyoy has had his ups and downs, but he’s never worn a frown.

Freddie Aguilar is a very popular folk musicia...

Freddie Aguilar is a very popular folk musician from the Philippines who is best known for the hit – Bayan Ko-, which became the anthem for the opposition to the Marcos regime during the 1986 EDSA Revolution. Photo taken in Tondo, National Capitol Region, The Phillipines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the late 1970s Filipino rock musicians started infusing folk influences into their sound, leading to the 1978 breakthrough success of Freddie Aguilar‘s debut recording “Anak”. This album was the most commercially successful Filipino recording in history, even crossing over to the rest of Asia and Europe. Master Freddie went on to record other powerful (and revolutionary, in a literal sense) anthems such as “Bayan Ko“, and he also paved the way for later Filipino folk stars such as Joey Ayala and Grace Nono.

Rey Valera

Rey Valera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few could have predicted that a fresh young 12 year-old mayor’s daughter would eventually spawn a veritable industry unto herself after first listening to the sweet, inoffensive, obviously-sucking-up-to-the-radio-stations ditty “Mr. DJ”. But the hits and record albums kept coming and a Megastar was born. To her credit, Ate Shawie has managed to use her considerable popularity to boost the careers of talented composers such as George Canseco and Rey Valera, and even other singers like Raymond Lauchengco…

…who, as we of a certain age all know, shot to stardom with his songs for the soundtrack to the mother of all 1980s barkada flicks – Bagets (and its sequel). Not only did this flick define teen fashion, trends and morès for the pre-Edsa era, but its accompanying songs burrowed into the collective consciousness, prompting laughter and tears for many proms, graduations, homecomings, reunions, and nostalgia sessions to come. “Growing Up”, anyone?

Francis Magalona

Francis Magalona (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Francis M’s “Yo!” exploded in 1990, the first rap album by a Filipino to be commercially released in the Philippines, giving birth to Filipino hip hop (for good and ill). Francis M always seemed to take rapping seriously, unlike some of the subsequent pretenders (like the Es, Vs, and “Amirs”) to his throne as “King of Pinoy Rap”, thus earning the respect of even the folksters and rockers, and bridging a customarily unbridgeable divide.

A couple of years ago, thanks to an inundation of Chi-novela-induced pop and other Pan-Asian pap, it was a real slog wading through the sickly-sweet waters for something less cloying. But something was there all right, and ‘twas Sugarfree no less. Drowning in obscurity for months, their album “Sa Wakas!” was finally rescued from the depths and heralded the resurgence of the real Pinoy music scene. Record labels started taking chances on local talent again, and the rest, as they say, is the present.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published under music column Crash Chords in Manual magazine, 2005

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