LAND OF BOXERS, DICTATORS AND HOSTAGE TAKERS

Current Affairs

LAND OF BOXERS, DICTATORS AND HOSTAGE TAKERS

No Comments 28 August 2010

The Philippines is a collection of islands in a sleepy corner of the world famous for Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection, Manny Pacquiao, the Maguindanao Massacre and, now, the Quirino Grandstand hostage crisis. At least that’s what an outsider might describe the country we call home based on what he hears from the international press. READ FULL STORY

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WALK THIS WAY AND SEE MANILA DIFFERENTLY

Travel

WALK THIS WAY AND SEE MANILA DIFFERENTLY

No Comments 27 August 2010

“Walk this way,” the man in a hat says, and everyone follows. Carlos Celdran has been touring groups around Intramuros for years. At the end of the tour, he tells the group, “We can’t change Manila, but we can change the way we see it.” READ FULL STORY

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BACKLASH FEARED AFTER HOSTAGE FIASCO

Current Affairs

BACKLASH FEARED AFTER HOSTAGE FIASCO

No Comments 24 August 2010

The Philippines could be in for a backlash following Aug. 23’s botched hostage rescue that resulted in the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists.

The government’s damage control response was seen as crucial to mitigating the impact on the country’s image and the economy. On Aug. 24 peso shed a hefty 47 centavos to the US dollar while the stock market dropped by 2.29%.

The fiasco has prompted Hong Kong to issue a “black” travel alert — its highest — while China warned its citizens to exercise caution while in the Philippines, prompting alarm among local travel industry officials and concerns that foreign investments would also be affected.

President Benigno C. Aquino III met with Chinese Ambassador Liu Jian Chao yesterday to convey the Philippines’ sympathy and assure that the incident would be investigated. He also talked with Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang — who had complained that calls to Mr. Aquino during the crisis were not answered — by phone and declared August 25 a National Day of Mourning.

Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ricky A. Carandang said members of the diplomatic community would be provided a detailed explanation, including particulars of the botched rescue’s operational aspect.

“We have a plan to send a delegation to Hong Kong in the next few days … The idea is to go there and meet with concerned officials to explain what happened,” Mr. Carandang said.

The delegation will also address concerns that Filipinos living in Hong Kong could come under threat given public anger over the incident.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the Foreign Affairs department would brief members of the diplomatic corps to assure them and the foreign community that the Philippines is safe.

“We believe that if we explain what happened … they’ll have more of an understanding, perhaps be kinder when they issue travel advisories,” Mr. Carandang said.

The immediate impact, said Mr. Aquino, would likely be in tourism.

“One of our avenues for job generation is tourism. We intend to double the tourism figures from three million to six million. This obviously does not help,” he told a briefing early yesterday.

Tourism Secretary Alberto A. Lim told BusinessWorld he expects this year’s 3.3-million visitor target to be missed.

“We still have to consult it with our tourism planners and the industry to know how hard they expect to be hit, but I think it (visitor volume) would [go down by] about 5% to 10%,” he said.

Mr. Lim said his department would be coming up with a new “branding package” for the country in a couple of months’ time to counter the negative impact of the incident.

This was echoed by Philippine Travel Agencies Association President Maria Paz R. Alberto, who said: “With the help of the government, we have to improve security for tourists and improve the image of the Philippine National Police, which was heavily tainted in the incident.”

In Cebu, travel agency operators said they were anticipating booking cancellations, and not just from China and Hong Kong.

Jenny Franco, chairperson of the Cebu chapter of the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies, said: “Hong Kong is a country that everybody listens to, especially Asians, because they have a government that everybody looks up to.”

Japanese travel agent Hiroshi Nakamura said Japanese nationals had been advised to exert extra caution when traveling to the Philippines. He was optimistic, however, that Cebu would continue to attract Japanese visitors.

“Cebu has long been loved by the Japanese. It has a good image because it is peaceful,” Mr. Nakamura told BusinessWorld.

Local carriers said they expect to lose business but noted that cancellations were not immediate.

“Philippine Airlines (PAL) carries at least 40% of all inbound tourists from Hong Kong. The Manila-Hong Kong-Manila route is a very busy one with a total of 10 flights daily,” spokesman Ma. Cielo C. Villaluna said.

Given Hong Kong’s call for its citizens to return immediately, she said PAL would be waiving penalties for re-bookings of all Hong Kong-issued tickets.

The flag carrier is also offering two round-trip tickets for free to relatives of Hong Kong nationals who were killed or hospitalized during tragedy.

“The flag carrier will shoulder the airfare for two each for the victims’ relatives in flying to and from Manila. As our way of condoling with the victims’ families, PAL is also offering to bring back the remains of their loved ones to Hong Kong free of charge,” said Harry Tan, chairman of PAL’s executive committee.

Budget carrier Cebu Pacific said it was also waiving re-booking penalties.

“So far, we have received re-booking requests for less than 5% of our total daily passengers carried for our Hong Kong flights,” said Candice Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice-president for marketing and distribution.

Latest Tourism department data showed visitor arrivals up nearly 10% to 980,765 as of April this year. Of the figure, 47,715 came from Hong Kong, 7.89% more compared to the same period last year.

Hong Kong was the fifth-biggest tourism market for the Philippines during the period, behind only South Korea, the United States, Japan and China.

Hong Kong’s “black” alert, said Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Eduardo C. Malaya, is the only confirmed advisory against the Philippines.

“We recognize the exercise of the prerogative of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to issue a travel alert in light of the tragic end to [Monday’s] incident. The incident, however, is an isolated case and is no way reflective of the peace and order situation in the Philippines,” Mr. Malaya said in a text message.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Cayetano W. Paderanga, Jr., meanwhile, said the incident would not have a substantial impact on economic growth projections.

“I don’t think this will have a significant effect on our year-round GDP (gross domestic product) and economic growth for the third and fourth quarters. It’s an isolated case. It is not part of the country’s economic condition, and I hope it would be taken that way,” Mr. Paderanga said in a telephone interview.

“What is important now is the government’s response and handling of the incident and how we cope with it,” Mr. Paderanga said.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. told reporters: “That was a very unfortunate incident but an isolated event and the markets will see through that and it should not have a significant effect on the market in general.” (BusinessWorld)

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LADIES’ MAN

Entertainment

LADIES’ MAN

No Comments 23 August 2010

By Jocelyn Valle

It’s all been all quiet on John Lloyd Cruz’s love front since clarifying on national TV last June the much-talked-about supposedly cheating heart. For starters, his relationship with Shaina Magdayao is not only warmly accepted by their families and friends but also by the public. Moreover, his special friend, Ruffa Gutierrez, is now being linked to a Venezuelan executive while his ladylove’s ex, John Prats, has long moved on.

This doesn’t come as surprise to people who have followed the career of the 27-year-old actor since he started in showbiz as an ABS-CBN discovery in 1997. For instance, when his love team with Bea Alonzo was moving full steam ahead, John Lloyd didn’t hide his romance with Ciara Sotto and then with his subsequent non-showbiz girlfriend, Liz Uy, even if he was already firming up his status as a sought-after leading man.

He seems to be the type who’s not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve as long as he’s completely sure whom it beats for. However, if there’s mutual decision to be non-committal about the affair (like the one with Kaye Abad) or if there’s no reason for him to be vocal about it (such as the case with Krista Ranillo), he keeps quiet like a true gentleman.

When asked during the launch of his endorsement for a cracker brand about the most magical moment he’s spent with a girl, John Lloyd was at a loss for words. “I have a poor recollection [of past events]. Honestly, lately kasi I’ve been busy. Ang hirap sagutin ang tanong na ‘yan,” he sighed. “Even hypothetically speaking because it will defeat the purpose of word magical.”

Well, just like in his romantic flicks and teleseryes, the star of the forthcoming primetime series, Imortal, (opposite Angel Locsin) takes love matters seriously. Now, can he be blamed for making girls swoon over and fall for a dreamboat like him?

Kaye was the first actress to be seriously linked to John Lloyd. In Tabing Ilog, they played Eds and Rovic, whose love story was at the core of the weekly teen series that ran from 1999 to 2003. The two became very close during those times but they never admitted having anything more than friendship, that’s why even now they are inconsistently referred to as exes.

One thing’s for sure, though: the former love team partners remain very friendly to each other. In fact, Kaye has been requesting ABS-CBN for a reunion project but it’s been very difficult to find a window in the actor’s hectic schedule. John Lloyd, on the other hand, has been teasing her for having a different taste now in men, as exemplified by her tandem with balikbayan performer, Guji Lorenzana.

If Krista’s story is to be believed, though, Kaye and John Lloyd were indeed a couple. While recounting her past romances during a press con for a TV show in 2008, the newlywed actress revealed that she went steady with John Lloyd after he and Kaye broke up. She added that Kaye was her childhood friend as their fathers belonged to the same circle.

According to Krista, John Lloyd courted her for four months but their relationship lasted for only three months because she went to the States, and they stopped communicating. She learned that he was already dating Ciara when she returned home in 2002.

Like Kaye, Krista is happy about John Lloyd’s successes and likewise hopes to work with him. In a separate interview, the actor acknowledged the short-lived affair that ended simply because they lost touch with each other.

The Ciara affair was John Lloyd’s first high-profile romance. He was still in a love team with Kaye then but his tandem with young upstart Bea Alonzo in the top-rating teleserye Kay Tagal Kang Hinintay was gaining more fans, especially when they starred in the Two Hearts episode of the twinbill flick, My First Romance. Right after the soap wrapped up in 2003, John Lloyd and Bea headlined their own primetime soap, It Might Be You, and then their first full-length movie, Now That I Have You, which would later on be followed up by similar blockbusters.

Ciara, who started her career in GMA-7, transferred to ABS-CBN and even went under contract with the network’s Talent Center (now Star Magic) that counts John Lloyd and Bea among its artists. But the pressure not to take the limelight away from the popular love team reportedly persisted.

There were talks in late June 2003 that Ciara overdosed on sleeping pills because of an alleged fight with her boyfriend, who, in turn, was said to be getting the cold treatment from the Sotto family, particularly her dad Tito and mom Helen. John Lloyd ended the nasty speculations by showing up at her birthday party a few nights later and presented her with a ruby ring. The duo eventually parted ways in 2006.

John Lloyd didn’t end that year with a broken heart, though, because he soon found a new love in fashion stylist Liz Uy. The couple didn’t cause much controversy (maybe because she worked behind-the-scenes) even if his love team with Bea remained strong and he scored back-to-back box-office hits with Sarah Geronimo.

It was only when John Lloyd became extra close to Ruffa, his and Bea’s co-star in the 2008 series, I Love Betty La Fea, that the relationship headed to splitsville the following year. And that’s when he became a bigger controversy magnet.

Ruffa, after all, has hogged the limelight since her teens and has been involved in a few scandals. Too, she’s older and a single mother to two daughters. It also didn’t help that they were spotted and, in some cases, photographed while having supposedly secret trysts in and out of the country, but continued denying being a couple.

The plot thickened when Shaina entered the picture initially through a series of blind items in the tabloids (e.g. a young star goes on drinking binges with another young star who’s not her boyfriend) then sightings in places like a local bike shop, Boracay and Singapore early this year.

John Lloyd kept mum on his association with both women to the point of being tagged as a two-timer and an “Overlap King.” He finally settled the score in a tell-all interview with Boy Abunda on The Buzz on June 20, and made everybody heave a sigh of relief.

But as long as John Lloyd remains on top (he was recently named Box-office King by the Guillermo Mendoza Memorial Scholarship Foundation, Inc. for the third time in three years and cited for acting nods from Gawad PASADO, 8th Gawad Tanglaw, 1st MTRCB Awards for Movies and 26th PMPC Star Awards for Movies), people will always speculate and talk about his love affairs.

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REMEMBERING THE FATHER IN THE SEASON OF THE SON

Current Affairs

REMEMBERING THE FATHER IN THE SEASON OF THE SON

No Comments 20 August 2010

Today, August 21,2010, is the first death anniversary of Ninoy’s assassination in the administration of his son, President Noynoy. At this point, 27 years after the terrible crime against our collective sense as a civilized people, most of us still around to remember can just barely recall like a faint echo, the anger, grief and outrage over Ninoy’s public murder. READ FULL STORY

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MEMORABLE RESORTS

Travel

MEMORABLE RESORTS

No Comments 16 August 2010

By Amadís Ma. Guerrero

Of the countless resorts that I have been stayed in – from budget to luxurious, from the 1990s to 2010 – there have been a few (around ten) that have stayed in my mind, for some reason or another: impressive architecture, upscale amenities, surrounding natural beauty, environmental consciousness and, in a few instances, excellent cuisine.

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Of those in the honor roll, the resort nearest to Manila would be Caylabne Bay in Ternate, Cavite, overlooking Manila Bay. It was not the kind of high-end rest-and-recreation center that you would expect to find in that area. After the flat lands and narrow streets of the province, which is now urbanized, the route became fascinating.

There was a mild ascent, the air grew a bit cooler. More trees became evident, the scene more pastoral and you left the poblaciones (town centers) behind. Then you enter a sprawling, thickly-forested area, and are informed that this is actually a 1,000-hectare naval reservation.

Then the vehicle reaches the lookout point and you gaze down at the resort, 300 feet below, with its elegant lampposts, picnic huts, swimming pool, beach cove, and other amenities.

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Hidden Valley Springs in Laguna (Calauan via Alaminos) is one of my favorite resorts not just in Luzon but in all over the Philippines. The name hidden is well-deserved for the resort is nestled within a ten-hectare rainforest. From the Alaminos Plaza you pass through very ordinary landscape and reach the entrance, which is in itself not extraordinary.

But as you pass by the attractive cottages and walk through the foot trails and promenade area, you will traverse a bridge and gaze down at the Warm Pool and its cascading waters, tall and massive amlang trees, thick forest canopy, Soda Pools, a so-called Lovers’ Pool, and finally the spectacular Hidden Falls.

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In Lipa, Batangas, near the foothills of Mt. Malarayat, is The Farm at San Benito, another wonderland of green, and with excellent facilities. But what makes the resort unique is that it is a healing and health facility, with meditation areas, a comprehensive health and medical program, and vegetarian meals.

In the upland areas of Orani, Bataan, is a cozy and cool resort near Mt. Matib called Le Petit Baguio with a refreshing ambience, and native-style cottages where you don’t need air conditioning. It is owned by a Frenchman, Jean-Paul Chambouleyron and his wife Lucie, who is from Samal, Bataan. The cuisine is French and quite delicious.

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Now let’s go over to the Visayas, specifically Cebu, where some of the best resorts in the country are located. The best bet for me, although it is not the most luxurious, would be Plantation Bay in Mactan Island. This resort has character, a distinctive one. The 7-hectare resort is built in the style of a Caribbean plantation, with man-made lagoons, waterfalls, mini-beaches with white sand, and conference rooms with a view deck.

Best of all, the rooms evoke 19th century Philippines, with quaint four-poster beds, capiz-shell windows, and wooden louvre screens.

Now, if you go for grandeur and scale, there’s always Shangri-La Cebu, also in Mactan (where there are so many 5-star resorts) and Badian Island Resort & Spa, a two-hour-and-a-half bus ride south of Cebu, with its big and junior suites and flower-strewn marble bathtubs.

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Even more interesting than Cebu is neighboring Bohol, with its Chocolate Hills and tarsiers. And even more fascinating than Mactan, which is becoming congested (like Boracay) is Panglao Island, which is connected to the capital city of Tagbilaran by a bridge. The place to stay here is Panglao Island Nature Resort, which has luxurious cottages with a mini-pool outside your door, swimming pool which seems to cascade down into the ravine, and a nearby white-sand beach.

Goodbye Visayas, hello Palawan. This province, especially its northern part, is the most beautiful in the country. And one of the most attractive of these resorts, rivaling the upscale clubs in El Nido, is Club Noah Isabelle facing Taytay Bay in northeast Palawan. The resort has deluxe cottages above water, made of cement and nipa, and borne on stilts. The Island boasts of a 10-meter white-sand beach cove and a bigger (350 meters) west end beach, a Honeymooners Cave, and a natural rock formation which strikingly looks like St. Joseph as we imagine him.

Club Noah is ringed by jagged yet imposing black marble cliffs topped by a giant cross which is lighted at night.

Of all the resorts in Mindanao that I have stayed in, the most impressive is the Pansukian Tropical Resort in Siargao Island, an international surfing center, in Surigao del Norte. It is owned by a Frenchman, Nicolas Rambeau, and his Filipino partners. (Pansukian means a sandbar in the local language.)

The resort is located within an abundance of mangroves and a big lagoon. Its architecture is proudly Asian, a melange of Thai, Indonesian and Philippine influences, with sharp, pointed arches, nipa roofs and bamboo structures.

The cottages and rooms have queen-size beds, verandas with hammocks, T’boli finery, rice baskets from Ifugao and Palawan, and wood carvings by local sculptors.

Yet another attraction of Pansukian (as in Le Petit Baguio) is its cuisine, for its cooks have been trained by Rambeau, and they can create concoctions with French-Philippine flavors like chicken, fish, prawns and vegetables with spices and other condiments.

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THIS TEENAGE GIRL USES BOTOX. NO, SHE’S NOT ALONE

Lifestyle

THIS TEENAGE GIRL USES BOTOX. NO, SHE’S NOT ALONE

No Comments 12 August 2010

Last month, Charice Pempengco, the petite Filipino teenager whose knockout voice has wowed Oprah and millions worldwide, caused a stir of another kind. To prepare for her appearance on the Fox show Glee this fall, Ms. Pempengco, who is 18, got Botox injections and a skin-tightening treatment called Thermage. “I want to look fresh when I appear before the camera,” she said on Philippine television during the visit at which her doctor, Vicki Belo, injected her jaw. READ FULL STORY

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IS IT TIME TO REINVENT THE PBA?

Sports

IS IT TIME TO REINVENT THE PBA?

No Comments 12 August 2010

Is the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) a tired and old league? Former Philippine Basketball League (PBL) commissioner and ex-PBA sports commentator Chino Trinidad said, “It doesn’t matter if the PBA will have a two-conference or three-conference format next season, but it really needs to reinvent its identity because it looks like a tired and old league with only Ginebra as the one being consistently followed.” READ FULL STORY

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THE LAST OF A DYING BREED

Lifestyle

THE LAST OF A DYING BREED

No Comments 12 August 2010

By Pepper Marcelo

From the 1960s up to the 1990s, it was not uncommon for Metro Manila residents to witness a fragile caravan, teeming with assorted handcrafted wares, and pulled by a gaunt ox, moving slowly down a street, stopping only to sell product or to rest at a grassy patch of land.

Since the ’90s new industries and progressive methods of buying and selling have virtually rendered the ox caravan instinct. Long been taken for granted and unacknowledged, the caravan, or kariton, has since been lauded for its contribution to and enrichment of local culture and history.

Adong Ramos, 41, who has been a viajero for 30 years, says that his trade has changed drastically since he first started. “Mas maganda yung noon kesa ngayon. Mahina na. Kaya unti-unti nawawala yung ganyan.” During its peak period, there were approximately 10 to15 karitons operating around the metropolis. Now, there are only one or two. “Kami na nga lang, dalawa lang,” he laments.

The ox caravan originated in the plains of Pangasinan in the 1950s. Craftsmen would create an assortment of products made of bamboo and rattan. These would include: walis tingting (bristled broom), bigao (winnowing tray), an-duyan (baby crib or hammock), paypay (fan), bangkito (stool), as well as rattan hampers.

The caravan would then be loaded up to the brim with these goods, wherein the viajero, or traveler, would make the long trek to Metro Manila to sell the wares. Fronted by a Brahma bull, or bull, the mobile nature of the caravan made it possible for theses sellers to travel almost anywhere and be stationed for a prolonged period of time (provided there is a grassy area for the ox to eat and rest).

Slowed down by its own weight and the heavy load it drags, the bull competes for with jeepneys and buses for precious space along the busy corridors of the city, which worsens the traffic flow. Then as now, irate drivers would sometimes yell at the viajero who would only ignore them. “Minsan nayayamot ka din, pero sa amin, kailangan sa buhay namin, mahaba ang pasensya,” says Ramos.

He and his ox travel through different municipalities within the metropolis, including Marikina, Quezon City, and the neighboring towns of Montalban, Taytay, Angono, and Binangonan in Rizal province. He stops at each of these places for one or two days before moving on to the next. Basta hindi kami aabot ng isang linggo.

He lives on the road for three months at a time, and when he goes back to the province, stays only one week there before moving out again. Nakakalungkot din, pero okey lang ‘yun, kasi kailangan talaga. Sayang yung kikitain mo.

For rest, sleep or general privacy, the inside rear of the caravan provides a small space, as well as shelter, against the harsh weather.

Wives and children would oftentimes accompany the merchant, but in most cases prefer to stay in the province, or settle in the city proper to establish a new home and livelihood. Ramos, who is married with five kids, does not expect or want his children to follow in his footsteps. “Wala akong plano na sundan nila ang hanapbuhay na ganito,” he says. Kailangan mag-aral sila. Pero kung may gusto, pababayaan ko siya. Pero magtapos muna sila mag-aral.

Dr. Ma. Crisanta Nelmida-Flores has described the life the life of an ox caravan and viajero as akin to a gypsy, selling during the daytime and congregating with others at night for company and protection.

“It’s a very peripatetic life; very mobile. Most caravan cultures, like in the Middle East, it’s associated with pilgrims and traveling. Here, it’s an industry,” she says.

In 2007, Nelmida-Flores published the book, “The Cattle Caravans of Ancient Caboloan: Connecting History, Culture and Commerce by Cartwheel,” tracing the history, plight and cultural significance of the ox-driven merchant. “Like the jeepney as a vehicle of art, the same goes for the caravan. Inside, there are posters of sexy girls, next to a portrait of the Virgin Mary. This is very Filipino,” she observes.

As part of her research, she followed the path of caravan trader Mario Banaag from Pangasinan to Quezon City. At the time Banaag had already “retired,” citing diminishing returns. He was then already driving a tricycle when Dr. Nelmida-Flores convinced him to go on a “last journey,” providing him with funds to purchase the goods.

The kariton is sponsored by a patron from Pagasinan, and is usually passed down from one generation to the next. It reached the peak of its success during the 1970s, as evidenced by the upgraded lifestyle of their patrons. “A patron was able to construct a two-story house made of concrete, very impressive for the time and place,” says Nelmida-Flores.

The first sign of hard times came during the ’80s with the mass-production and widespread utilization of plastic goods. “Plastics are more sturdy and colorful,” she says. “And it doesn’t mold or get dirty as much [as the bamboo-based products].”

The near death-knell for the ox caravan came during the ’90s with the mushrooming of malls and shopping centers where all sorts of household needs and decorative items could be had for lower prices. Despite their sturdy materials and unique design and construction, the viajero’s wares are no match to modern-day wares.

For Ramos, it was the rise in the cost of raw materials as well as competition from imported items that have made their trade extinct. “Mataas na ang presyo. Sobrang mahal na yung pagbili namin. At yun mga gawa ng Chinese – yung mga plastic.”

But for him, the life of a traveling sales-gypsy is the only one he knows, and is most satisfied with. “Ginagawa ko ‘to kasi dito ako kumikita ng konti. Wala na akong mahanap ng ibang trabaho; hindi ako nakatapos sa pag-aaral. Dito din ako masaya.”

Nelmida-Flores explains that with more and more grassy areas disappearing as a result of the expansion of roads and infrastructure, the karitons were having less and less places to park and settle. When she and Banaag reached Quezon City, he was arrested by the police (for unspecified charges), who also confiscated his wares and threatened to slaughter his ox. Fortunately, with the aid of Vice-Chancellor of University of the Philippines and other officials, Nelmida-Flores and Banaag were released.

Today, the ox caravan has mostly been relegated to a cultural showpiece, providing balikbayans and tourists with a glimpse into an antiquated livelihood. “Yung tourists, pag nakikita nila ‘to, natutuwa sila,” says Ramos.

The ox caravan is also utilized as a cultural exhibit during special events and fiestas to promote the tourism and local cottage industries.

“We should look beyond this being quaint and nostalgic, but look into the lives of the people there,” says Nelmida-Flores. “In spite of the mall culture, we still have this; it still exists and persists. It’s an assertion of who we are. It’s not only their journey but our journey.”

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RP SUFFERS FROM BRAIN DRAIN AS BEST WORKERS GO ABROAD

Migration

RP SUFFERS FROM BRAIN DRAIN AS BEST WORKERS GO ABROAD

No Comments 05 August 2010

The Philippines is suffering a crippling brain drain with many of its most talented and qualified workers heading overseas for higher-paid jobs and better lifestyles, employers say.

The shock resignations last week of 25 Philippine Airlines pilots, who left for bigger salaries abroad, highlighted a trend that is changing the stereotype of overseas Filipinos being simply maids, sailors and laborers.

Scientists, engineers, doctors, IT specialists, accountants and even teachers are among the English-speaking talent heading to foreign lands, leaving the government and private companies scrambling to find replacements.

“There is a skills haemorrhage. We are losing workers in the highly professional and skilled categories,” Vicente Leogardo, director-general of the Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines, told Agence France-Presse.

The pilots who quit for jobs in the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia would have in some cases nearly tripled their salaries, Airline Pilots Association of the Philippines president Elmer Pena told AFP.

“The salary here is a lot smaller than in other countries. You can’t really compare it,” he said.

Civil engineer Paris Chuchana joined the exodus two years ago when he moved his family to Singapore so he could take a job earning about US$1,600 a month, five times more than the maximum salary he could expect at home.

Like many expatriates, Chuchana enjoys the lifestyle outside his homeland, which suffers from pervasive corruption, poor infrastructure and frequent natural disasters.

“I was just on vacation, visiting my aunt here, but I found I liked it, so I resigned from my job in the Philippines and came over,” Chuchana told AFP by telephone from Singapore, adding he had no intention of returning home soon.

“My first kid is entering high school so I am already preparing for college.”

The nine million Filipinos who work overseas—about one tenth of the nation’s population—in both high and low-skilled sectors undoubtedly play a crucial role in propping up the nation’s spluttering economy.

Last year they sent home $17.3 billion to relatives or for investment, making up more than 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, according to government data.

But Philippine Airlines’ recent woes have highlighted the costs.

The carrier said its hopes for turning a profit this financial year had sky-dived because the pilot walk-out had forced some flights to be cancelled.

Other organizations recently reported similar brain-drain pain.

The government weather station was heavily criticized last month after it failed to predict the full force of Typhoon Basyang (international codename: Conson) that killed dozens of people.

In its appeal for understanding, it said it did not have enough qualified meteorologists because 24 staff had gone abroad for better-paying jobs in recent years.

And just this week, the environment department announced it had lost 83 geologists to overseas work over the past three years, hampering government programs for mapping earthquake threats and mineral resources.

A Department of Labor study in 2008 found that despite a huge domestic workforce, many positions for skilled workers were going unfilled because there were not enough qualified applicants.

Amid this shortfall, 22 percent of the roughly 330,000 Filipinos who went abroad to work last year were technical, managerial or clerical workers, according to official data.

The government has been seeking ways to upgrade salaries and benefits, according to Myrna Asuncion, assistant director of the government’s economic planning department.

“But local salaries can only go up by so much before they start hurting the competitiveness of local industries,” Asuncion told AFP.

“We want to provide employment opportunities in the Philippines but there are some sectors that say salaries are already too high,” she said.

With no solution in sight, business groups hold little hope of keeping the nation’s top talent at home.

“You cannot stop these people from seeking greener pastures,” said Jesus Varela, a committee chairman with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Midwife Chae Reviso returned to the Philippines after eight years working tax and rent-free in Saudi Arabia because she wanted to live again with her husband.

But barely a year later, the 39-year-old is preparing to leave again because her homeland offered her too few opportunities.

“I felt I owed my husband some time but I cannot afford to build a house on my salary in the Philippines,” Reviso said. (Agence France-Presse)

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