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

Plants, Paws, and Pot Bellies: Pick A Plan For Prosperity.

It can be argued that one can be too rich, too smart, or too good-looking, but one can’t ever be too lucky. Luck is the one thing we all can use a little bit more of. But how can we bring more good luck into our lives? Throughout the ages people have believed that good luck can be found, bought, made, or even grown.

Well, if you want to grow your own luck, you have the choice of either tending to a plant or caring for a pet animal. It depends on your temperament which one you’ll find to be more fun or less demanding. If you prefer a good luck charm that doesn’t move about too much and sprouts leaves instead of fur, then you’ll be better off growing a Money Tree or a Good Fortune Tree. This unique tree’s scientific name is Pachira Aquatica. The legend goes that there was an old farmer from Taiwan who never seemed to get any luck. He had worked hard his whole life with nothing to show for it. But one morning, he found a strange new plant growing near his fields. It was a hardy, resilient tree that didn’t seem to need much care or water. The plant began to sprout multiple stems that then grew charming light-green leaves. He decided to collect the tree’s seeds, grow them and sell the young plants at market. They were a big success and he soon grew very prosperous. From then on the plant became known as the Good Luck Money Tree or Good Fortune Tree. They are now being sold around the world. The luckiest plants are said to be the ones with 7 leaves on each stem. They are very easy to take care of as they thrive even in low light and dry conditions. They only require watering around once a month or when the soil they are planted in has completely dried out.

If you want a more interactive good luck charm though, then you might consider taking care of a Good Luck Cat from Thailand. Many Thai superstitions are focused on the spirituality of animals. The Thai people have an ancient belief that certain types of cats bring good fortune to those who look after them. The Tamra Maew or Cat Book of Poems, which was written in the 1300s, lists and contains paintings of 17 kinds of “good luck cats”. It also advises the reader to:

Hurry and find a good cat to prosper and gain results, rank and slaves because of the good cat with the correct characteristics…

two eyes like diamonds business meets success with prosperity, like a priceless jewel…

…white whiskers, as if applied so fine-luck is not slow coming to the house

This ancient manuscript was recovered from Ayudhya, the capital of what was then Siam, and shows how long cats have had a special relationship with the Thai people. Their King Rama V adored animals and was known to hold a state funeral when one of his cats died. Siamese cats were rarely sold to foreigners, but because they are considered good luck they are a favorite gift to visiting dignitaries. And in Thailand, if a pair of good luck cats is given to a bride on her wedding day, it is said to ensure a happy marriage.

This maneki neko beckons customers to purchase...

This maneki neko beckons customers to purchase takarakuji tickets in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you don’t have a green thumb or the space for a pet, then growing your own luck could be a problem. No need to fret though as there are a few things you can buy to improve your lot. If you still want a good luck cat but don’t think you can manage to take care of a real live one, then you might be content to keep a Golden Lucky Money Cat or a Beckoning Cat. These cat figures are popular in Chinese and Japanese businesses. You can usually find them prominently displayed, one paw auspiciously raised up, as if hailing you to “live long and prosper”. The left paw is to beckon customers, the right paw attracts money and good fortune. They may also come in different colors for different kinds of luck. Black is to ward off evil, pink is for love, gold is for money (of course), and red for good health. These lucky cats are customarily “fed” with coins and paper bills. In China there is a charming legend told about the arrival of a cat who fought the rats and protected the silkworms that a family depended on for their wealth. Traditionally, cats also symbolize protection from evil. This is supposedly because they can see in the dark and frighten away bad spirits.

Budai - Laughing Buddha

Budai – Laughing Buddha (Photo credit: Natesh Ramasamy)

But if you’re after a more anthropomorphic symbol of good luck, then a Lucky Buddha could be what you’re looking for. Also known as Hotei in Japan, Pu-Tai in China, Laughing Buddha or Happy Buddha, these Buddha figures always feature a big smile and a large belly. His fat stomach is a symbol of happiness, generosity, and the good life.  Legend has it that if a person is to rub his belly, it brings forth wealth, luck, and prosperity. It is said that the Hotei is based on a Buddhist monk by the name of Pu-Tai. Because of his benevolent nature, he was regarded as an incarnation of the bodhisattva (the future Buddha Maitreya), but due to his fat stomach and jolly personality, he was caricatured as the “Laughing Buddha”. The name Hotei actually means cloth bag or glutton. Another item that is usually seen with the Hotei figure is a begging bowl.  This represents his Buddhist nature. Many Buddhist temples will have Hotei located at the entrance or in the courtyard. Most of these figures depict Hotei as a wandering monk who goes around and takes away the sorrow from those he passes.

Once we’ve chosen a charm it is best not to question its powers too much if we want to see any effects. Falling prey to skepticism and pessimism just won’t do you any good. At the very least, it’s always a good idea to hold on to something that makes us feel better about our chances in life. Taking care of a tree or a pet cat is always a worthwhile endeavor, and can also be very enjoyable. If you believe that keeping a lucky figure makes you feel more fortunate, or adds a more prosperous tone to your home or business, then by all means get one and display it in full view. And who knows, seeing Buddha laugh and rubbing his fat belly everyday might be just what you need to put a smile on your face and some stuffing in your bank account. As long as it makes you happy and brings you hope, who is to argue? In the end, we only have as much luck as we believe, but every little bit helps.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manila Bulletin, 2003

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