No Comments 01 May 2012

By Cherie del Rio

Living in the city and getting caught up in its fast paced lifestyle can eventually take a toll on one’s being. Your body craves for a much-needed respite from the draining physical work. Your mind desires even just a moment’s peace from the capital’s hustle and bustle. And while you normally don’t have the time and the extra effort to drive out to the countryside, you’d find that Manila actually has some remarkable nature parks that you can retreat to: an escape into the city’s green hideaways.

Luscious La Mesa

Nestled in Quezon City’s La Mesa Watershed is a 2000-hectare forest sanctuary. The watershed is made up of 2,700 hectares in all with its 700 hectares belonging to the reservoir. Dubbed as the “Lung of Manila”, the La Mesa Eco Park serves as the city’s “carbon dioxide sink”, providing the metropolis with clean air. Surrounding the shed is a well-developed nature preserve that is quickly becoming a favorite destination among the visiting city dwellers. What draws tourists to the forest, aptly named La Mesa Eco Park, is the variety in facilities and activities that it offers — add to that its accessibility (it’s just right along Commonwealth Avenue).

There are about five hectares of picnic sites in La Mesa Eco Park. Families gathering in the Lopez Picnic Grounds paint a quaint picture of idyllic life: a relaxing meal with blankets laid on the ground with a multitude of trees providing shade and a relaxing ambiance. Lovers are treated with the park’s own brand of romantic atmosphere: a delightful paddle boat ride at the Superferry Boating Lagoon or perhaps a tranquil bonding moment shared at the Fishing Lagoon after reveling in the beauty of the Shell Flower Terraces (The two-hectare floral terrace is incidentally the very wall of the La Mesa reservoir).

The Eco Park, as part of its commitment to provide healthful activities to its visitors, has opened the Salt Water Swimming Pool to the public. Since the pool uses salt granules instead of chlorine, the water is deemed less toxic. Sports enthusiasts and athletes can also commune with nature at the La Mesa Eco Park whilst sticking with their energetic routines. The Petron Fitness and Mountain Bike Trail inside the park has 17 exercise stations. The mountain bike trail spans a total of 1.2 kilometers of the forest.

Tired city residents aren’t the only ones yearning for the environmental therapy provided by the Eco Park. A number of schools and organizations have journeyed to La Mesa as part of educational trips. The Ecomuseum is an environmental education hub that focuses on “biodiversity conservation”, one of the Eco Park’s many visions. Those who have had the pleasure of meeting Mother Nature inside the borders of the Eco Park have raved about the Butterfly Trail and Hatchery. The trail leads visitors into a voyage towards one flamboyant show of the most colorful butterflies.

Guests have also voiced out highly satisfactory reviews of the Eco Park, stating that the place is really ideal for outdoor activities. They have also noted that unlike other parks and conservatories, the Eco Park doesn’t require guests to pay exorbitant fees. Those who wish to stay overnight at the park can avail of private pavilions with overnight camping facilities. The La Mesa Eco Park is likewise home to the Adventure Zone Team Building Facility and a Mini-Golf Course.

Quietude in Quezon Memorial Park

Another green refuge that you can explore as you take a break from the stressful metropolis is the Quezon Memorial Park. Unlike the La Mesa Eco Park whose vastness is dominated by woodland and lagoons, Quezon Memorial Park offers a diverse mix of landscape sanctuaries and entrepreneurial corners. The park is both surrounded and converged on by national roads, making it an ecological center: nature’s heart in the middle of a concrete jungle.

The kiosks (or bahay kubo stalls) where residents sell various products as a means to nurture the local businesses blend with the plants and trees that line the park. People come to the Quezon Memorial Park to enjoy a bit of fresh air and relish the emerging breeze and calming sounds from the rustling foliage. There are many locations wherein individuals, pairs, and groups can jog, brisk walk, bike, and exercise. The space leading to the Peace Bell is adorned by the now grown shrubs that were planted by volunteers several years ago.

Other notable landmarks in the park include the Café Amadeo, the Serye Café, and of course, the Quezon Memorial Shrine itself.

The Marvel of Mango Farm

Slowly rising into recognition and distinction (and registering on the traveler’s radar) is The Mango Farm, a two-and-a-half-hectare of breathtaking greenery that is somewhat hidden within Kingsville Court Village in Antipolo City. Bound by Filinvest to the south, Katarungan to the west, and Kingsville Court Village to the north, the Mango Farm is home to over 200 mango trees.

Although relatively younger and lesser known compared to the green destinations of the La Mesa Eco Park and the Quezon Memorial Park, the Mango Farm still has its own claim to fame. Imagine mature mango trees, in their magnificence and glory, acting as nothing less than nature’s grandiose umbrellas. Enjoy a pleasant meal under the shade of the mango trees and afterwards, go and discover the farm’s expanse. Later, take in the lovely scenery as you pause for a break in the exquisite gazebos and patios.

At the moment, the Mango Farm offers its pavilions as venues for various events and celebrations. Its Azotea Rojo is a quaint grass garden outlined by mango trees. The La Carmen is similar to the Azotea Rojo, except that it has a mini bar — a small touch of modernity within the cradles of nature. Unlike the Azotea Rojo and the La Carmen which are both Vigan-paved, the Plaza Gat Tayaw is paved with bricks but nonetheless tucked in yet another grove of mango trees. Other venues inside the Mango Farm include the Glass Pavilion and the Sunken Garden — which usually serves as the prime location for wedding ceremonies held at the farm.

The Mango Farm is a welcome surprise in the city, an unexpected hideaway from the skyscrapers, the noisy vehicles, and the polluted city air. Guests find the Mango Farm as easy to reach, being merely a 20-minute drive from points such as Ateneo in Katipunan and Eastwood in Libis.

Endangered Escapes

These green sanctuaries in Manila offer not only a reprieve from the busy city lifestyle but also a chance to reconnect with nature and ultimately aid in its sustainability. In the La Mesa Eco Park, for example, guests already help the watershed just by the mere act of visiting. Whatever revenue is earned from the park goes to its maintenance and conservation. These eco parks and farms offer an escape, the interlude to life’s demands. But that is not their only reason for existence. They are truly sanctuaries that need to be guarded and taken care of.

As more and more high-rise buildings are constructed and the threats of environmental evils loom around the corner, one can only hope that more green sanctuaries are developed in Manila. After all, this is our home. You need to replenish not just yourself but also Mother Nature.




3 Comments 16 March 2012

By Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes

This was a whitening product’s commercial tagline a few years back. The ad shows a girl’s face magically being peeled, layer after layer until she turns deathly white. The TV ad ends with the statement: “Your whitest skin ever.”

“Why?” I yelled back at the TV, forgetting for a moment that it was called an idiot box for a reason. But I couldn’t help it. The commercial made my brown skin bristle. I wonder why ads like these would presume that I would like a pasty pallor. It baffles me and at the same time insults me. Why don’t we ever get commercials on bronzers that enhance the morena glow?

A similar TV campaign caught the attention of the media in India, calling the ad – where a man replaces his former love with someone who had lighter skin – racist. The broadcast journalists were outraged, saying “she’s unbelievably beautiful, but if you want to get the guy, you have to get whiter.”

I was just as incensed, but as if to appease me, the clip was suddenly followed by a commercial showing a fair-skinned model surrounded by her bronze-skinned friends. She is questioned as to why she’s so pale. Has she been using whitening lotion?

The secret? “Hindi siya nakasama sa beach”.

Few commercials like this actually challenge the idea of what consumerism wants to capitalize on. White is not necessarily beautiful. Boldly, the commercial states that being white can equate to inactivity, being strapped for cash, and maybe even poor health.

So while the sun worshipers in the commercial are showing off their tans, the pasty-skinned lead is left cooped up in her office.  The commercial suggests that she is missing out on the blessings of the sun and a much needed R&R. Although she was pale, she didn’t look ghastly, but the advertisement implies that if she did have a choice, she’d rather be out getting her tan on.

Many women are lovely with their China-doll complexion. Kris Aquino looks like a pretty kabuki doll in her porcelain skin. Gwen Stefani is the quintessential modern Snow White with her pouty red lips set against flawless ivory skin.

Then there are people who no matter what they do, just can’t get a tan. My husband is Caucasian and tanning for him is a futile and frustrating exercise. After baking under the sun for hours, he’d end up with angry red splotches on his cheeks that burn and itch. Like him, some people are naturally fair skinned and they’re beautiful that way.

In the same way, morenas are beautiful in their own skin, but many choose to go lighter, believing that beauty is in the light. For instance, my morena friend, Summer: if not for her sunny personality, her name would have been an irony because she shies away from the sun for fear of skin darkening. Teasing her, I told her that bronze skin is very cosmopolitan and fashionable. Promptly, she answered, “Pangit na nga ako, magpapaitim pa?” Correct me if I’m wrong but, is she saying that being dark makes one even ugly or uglier? Many kayumanggis like her cover themselves in globs of sun block, not because they want to be protected from photoaging or skin cancer, but because they abhor getting darker.

I once took a friend to the pool a day before her wedding. People pointed accusing fingers at me on the day of the wedding.  “She dragged the bride to go swimming before the wedding! Lahat ng nagpapakasal, nagpapaputi.” The horror! The horror! Never mind that she looked radiant in her tan and white dress.

Ad after ad promises whiter skin. Dermatologists and spas offer dermabrasion or exfoliating treatments. Drugstore shelves are stocked with whitening potions. Like the devil, they come in every shape and form from exfoliants, lotions, soaps, and yes, even pills. All in the name of erasing the brown pigment that Mother Nature has worked so hard on as protection from ultraviolet rays that can cause sun spots, skin cancer, and wrinkles. Darker skinned people have the privilege of better coverage from sun exposure, because they have more melanin, that skin pigment that morenas are abundantly endowed with. Yet countless choose to peel that protective layer off for a fairer complexion.

It’s almost amusing and ridiculous at the same time, this whole business of trying to get whiter when on the other side of the planet, people spend hundreds of dollars to get darker, to look like they spent the weekend at the Riviera. A tan for many equates to a radiant bank account that affords one the luxuries of extravagant vacations, tanning salons, and high-end bronzers. To many westerners, paleness is lifelessness, weakness, and deprivation. White is unfashionable.

I once met a Swedish gal who had never heard of whitening products until I enlightened her.  She looked at me wide eyed through her thickly sunscreen slathered face (she’s cursed with a sensitive skin) and said, “What?! Whitening lotion?” For her people, who get the sun as often as we get a blue moon, skin whitening is unheard of.

We’re of the darker race so we want to be lighter. They’re light skinned, so they want to be tanned. Is this merely a case of wanting what we do not have? We’re obsessed with the idea of looking like snow queens, storybook characters that we will never be, because no matter what we do, we will always be Maria Clara with brown eyes and not even colored contact lenses can hide that fact. But while we put Snow White on a pedestal, maybe we should also remember that the stage is big enough for Maria Makiling. Although what I’d really like to say is throw away all your whitening products and head to the beach. We’re blessed beautiful brown children of Bathala; let’s shed not our melanin, but our tops, and allow the sun to paint our shoulders golden.

Can you get any darker?

(The author maintains a travel blog —




No Comments 04 November 2011

By Pepper Marcelo

Hundreds of years before tattoos and body artwork became acceptable and mainstream in the country, Filipinos were already adorning themselves with ink. When the Spanish arrived and subsequently colonized the Philippines, they documented and referred to the islands and its inhabitants as La Isla De Los Pintados, or “Island of the Painted Ones.”

Throughout the archipelago, various tribes and communities used tattoos to signify rank, age, accomplishment; some were even viewed as symbols of magic. Also regarded as a sign of beauty, women adorned themselves with tattoos, oftentimes marking them themselves. Inking methods during this early period were crude, consisting of smearing the skin with a mixture of soot and sugar cane juice.

In modern times, tattoos have entered popular culture. Celebrities, entertainers, athletes, ordinary folks and yes, the jailbirds – they all proudly sport tattoos. Planet Philippines recently sat down with two of the country’s leading tattoo artists – Ricky Sta. Ana of Skinworkz and Joe Saliendra of Tattoo at Joe’s – to discuss the local tattoo industry, its growing acceptance by mainstream society, and how Filipino artists compare with the rest of the world.

Ricky Sta. Ana

Ricky Sta. Ana is one of the more popular tattoo artists in the country. He has been prominently featured in magazines and newspapers, television programs and advertisements. He is the current head of the Philippine Tattoo Artist Guild (PHILTAG).

With no formal training, he opened his first tattoo parlor in 1990 at Cartimar Arcade in Pasay City, which has now sprouted to three in the Metro Manila area, with a staff of 10 artists. When he first started, he recalls, his clientele was mostly criminals and gangsters. “It was the mark of a bad boy or a rebel,” he says.

Nowadays, he caters to actors, rock stars, sports celebrities and even politicians. “They bring their girlfriends, or mistresses, and give them a tattoo as a gift.”

Skinworkz’s prices range from the minor (Php1,000) to premium (Php10,000 and above). Popular and traditional tattoos for most locals, he says, include flowers, stars and Filipino tribal art.

Sta. Ana says that he originally accepted walk-ins to his shop, but with business booming, he now chooses clients whose designs have the most meaning to them. While able to draw almost any style, he prefers to execute Oriental (harkening to his half-Chinese background), as well as elemental designs.

He explains that it’s more expensive to have an arm tattoo than a back tattoo, despite the size difference. “It’s more difficult with an arm, because you’re working on a round surface. You have to be sure it’s symmetrical. At least with a back you’re working on a flat surface.”

Sta. Ana advises first timers to start with something small and simple. “Try it first, then think and educate yourself about it. Later, you can get something more deep.”

Joe Saliendra

Another industry veteran, Joe Saliendra has been a tattoo artist for 27 years and one of the original founders of PHILTAG. It was only five years ago, however, that he opened his shop in BF Homes in Paranaque City. Also a self-taught tattoo artist, he originally worked as an animator, but gave that up when tattooing became more lucrative.

Many of his colleagues, including Sta. Ana, view Saliendra as a mentor figure and pioneer in the industry. But Saliendra shrugs the accolade off, saying that in the “underground” realm of tattoos, there’s no merit for labels or titles. “It’s not like a person studying to be a doctor,” he says. “There’s isn’t a degree you can get. To be a professional is self-proclaimed. Me, I’m just a tattoo artist.”

Over the years, he’s catered to all types of clients – men, women, celebrities, white-collar workers, tricycle and jeepney drivers. Even underage kids approach him, accompanied by their parents. “I once asked the mother if it was okay for her 17-year-old son to get a tattoo,” he recalls. “She told me, ‘It’s okay, so, what can I do?’ So I said okay.”

Saliendra’s tattoo methods are different than those of other shops. After a client sets an appointment with him, they go through an extensive orientation and interview process. Like Sta. Ana, he asks clients why they want a tattoo. “It has to be personal, justified and meaningful to them,” he says.

Unlike most artists, Saliendra doesn’t specialize in a specific image or design, because all types of people approach him. “I have to know what you like, then I’ll go with the flow. The influence of the tattoo doesn’t come from me, but from the person getting the tattoo. He or she will educate and motivate me.”

The process, depending on the size and design, can take anywhere from one hour to a simple tattoo (such as a butterfly) to a month, with the prices ranging from Php1,500 to more than a Php100,000. Saliendra says that the most expensive tattoo he has worked on was a back-placed Oriental design, which cost Php120,000.

Most people, he says, want to emulate designs and placements they see on celebrities, such as the angel with wings design on popular British soccer player David Beckham. He refuses such requests. “Resemblance is okay,” Saliendra says, “but I don’t want to do a carbon copy.”

Another common design for many locals are patriotic themes, such as the sun, rays and stars evoking the Philippine flag. “I’m sick of those,” he says.

Mainstream acceptance

Tattoos now are more popular and widely accepted, or at least tolerated, as they’ve ever been. “There’s more education, because of the internet, and the exposure in the media,” says Saliendra. “Before, it was like you were trapped in a small corner. Now, it’s spread everywhere.”

Despite the openness, he says there’s still some prejudice. “There’s the mentality that if you have a tattoo, you’re a bad guy.” He adds that it’s always the people without tattoos that pick on the people with, but never the other way around. “People ask, why do you have a tattoo? What’s wrong with you?’ But a tattooed person would never ask, ‘Why don’t you have a tattoo?’”

Sta. Ana agrees that there’s still some resistance to tattoos, but it’s natural. “Even in Europe and the US, they still have that problem,” he says. “It’s better to just educate people.”

Saliendra says that while the increasing commercialization of tattoos and proliferation of tattoo shops and artists, as well as events like Dutdutan, the biggest annual tattoo expo in the country, are positive for the industry, there’s a danger in over-commercialization. With so many shops, customers try to get the best price and make tattoo artists compete with another to bring the cost down. “There’s no standard set of prices,” he says. “Are you looking for artwork, or are you into getting the best deal?”

For his part, Sta. Ana is more concerned with advocating proper protocol and safety standards. “You see so many shops, they have modern equipment, but then they dispose needles improperly,” he says. “If a client gets infected, the whole industry will be affected.” PHILTAG, with approximately 152 registered members, conducts seminars on proper tattoo techniques and health safety procedures.

World-class talent

Being Pinoy, in both skill and culture, is what differentiates local artists, and is what ultimately makes them unique. “Job-wise, the Filipino at times is better,” says Saliendra. “We use the same equipment, pigments and all that. The people abroad charge more, and you can get that tattoo for cheaper here, and more personalized.”

Sta. Ana agrees, and wants to focus on helping burgeoning artists, especially wayward and out-of-school teens. “Their tattoo art is their only hope for a better life for them and their family,” he says. “Better to do this, than something negative.”

In his view, having a tattoo can be a form of catharsis and expression, or a chance to break free of the drudgery of life. “When you get home from work and take off your uniform, showing your tattoos, it’s the only time you can express another side of who you really are.”

Saliendra puts it more philosophically: “This is the ultimate soul of art, because this is the only art that divides the person’s soul from the reality. It is on this thin layer of skin – inside is your soul, outside is the reality. The art is the dividing wall, a reflection of your soul.”




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




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.”




No Comments 30 May 2010

When going down EDSA, try playing the Celebrity Spotting game – point out as many celebrities as you can see on the road. From SM North to the end of the MRT station, it is easy for the gamers to rack up a shared fifty sightings. Fifty, you may think, seems like an exaggerated number. It isn’t. There are celebrities on billboards. There are celebrities on buses. There are celebrities on MRT banners. There are celebrities on roadside store signages. There are celebrities on huge tarpaulins plastered against malls. Since the advertisements that feature the celebrities are often current, you can more or less gauge who’s the hot celebrity of the moment. If Hollywood has its Walk of Fame, Manila has EDSA, the Highway of the Stars! READ FULL STORY




No Comments 29 April 2010

By Pepper Marcelo

I laugh, so I do not cry, goes the saying. The Filipino is renowned for keeping a happy disposition in spite of adversity. This trait is perhaps most emblematic in the lower-class who, in spite of poverty and other difficulties, continue to maintain an optimistic outlook on life.

So it seemed only inevitable that a competition is created to designate “The Happiest Pinoy.” Sponsored by Cebuana Lhuiller Insurance Solutions (CLIS), the aim of the event was to “rekindle the values of optimism, resilience and hope in the Filipino nation.”

“We wanted to veer away from the traditional advocacy marketing concept and this is what we thought would be effective, inspiring, unique, and refreshing,” says CLIS General Manager Jonathan D. Batangan.

A nationwide search was conducted, with more than 218 nominations from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao received by the screening committee. The nominees were shortened down to 20, and then a final six were interviewed by the judges.

After deliberations, Winston Abella Maxino, 47, chief operating officer (COO) of Hooven Philippines, was given the award for “exhibiting an optimistic outlook on life, a cheerful disposition, the ability to rise above life’s challenges and having a positive impact on the life of others.”

In his acceptance speech, Maxino said that his most special prize was the gift of insight about happiness. “Happiness is rejoicing even in the reality that our lives are suffering. Happiness is rejoicing despite suffering.”

He, along with six finalists, attended the awarding ceremonies last February at the Hotel Intercontinental in Makati City. Maxino received a trophy and P200,000, while the finalists received P25,000 each.

The others on the shortlist included: Nona Andaya-Castillo, 47, a teacher; Rex Bernardo, 39, an academic; Gerardo Gamez, 44, a salesman; Celestino Habito, 90, a retired professor; Carolina Reyes, 78, a housewife and lecturer; and Maria Kathrina Lopez-Yarza, 26, an artist and entrepreneur.

Each of them have suffered severe personal hardships but continued to excel and lead fulfilling lives. One of the judges for the event, University of the Philippines president Dr. Emerlinda Roman, was very much impressed with all of the finalists’ stories of hope and perseverance.

“As we interviewed the nominees, we became aware that there are many different views of happiness,” Roman noted. “We were humbled by many of the finalists because of their inner strength which pulled them through, their optimism and their faith.”

Maxino was born and raised in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, the eighth of nine children. Despite growing up with asthma and allergy attacks, he became an exemplary overachiever – becoming a “Little City Mayor” in Dumaguete City at 11, and being elected the youngest Kagawad representing the youth sector of the city.

He credits his supportive family with helping him hurdle the difficulties of his childhood years. “Since I was small, I was almost bedridden because of severe asthma. But my family was there to push me all the way, their love has brought me optimism and I grew up to be very optimistic in life and I chose to be happy,”

He eventually graduated cum lade from Silliman University, with a degree in political science, carrying the distinction of being the only college student of Silliman who was the recipient of the “Most Outstanding Student of the Year” in each of his four years in college.

Health problems continued to hound him as he attended law school at the Ateneo de Manila University. He even went so far as to keep oxygen tank in his dorm room for self-medication.

After law school, he joined government service, first as a legislative assistant to then Senator Agapito “Butz” Aquino, then as one of President Cory Aquino’s speech writers. He also occupied various positions in the Philippine Postal Corp. in the mid 1990s.

In 1996, he decided to switch to the private sector, gradually rising from the ranks of Hooven Philippines to become the COO of the aluminum manufacturing company.

In 2000, Maxino was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a degenerative and incurable bone disease which causes his spine to swell and cause his lower back pain. He spent several years in chemotherapy, taking oral steroids to lessen the pain. Doctors stopped the treatment, seeing that it was not alleviating the pain, and switched to opiates. He took the medicine gradually so as not to become addicted.

Though somewhat optimistic that there will be a cure in the future, Maxino happily accepts his life’s circumstances. “I am not less of a person because my body is broken. I do not dwell on what I do not have.”

Maxino plans to get involved in serious advocacy work to spread awareness about the disease. “It is a rare disease and there is not much number yet of patients suffering.”

He and wife Alina have three daughters. His second daughter, Brina Kei, has Down syndrome, needing speech, physical, and occupational therapy. Again, instead of becoming disheartened, he and his wife took inspiration from their daughter.

“She (Brina Kei) frequently declares, ‘I love my life and I love my future!’” he says. “I realize that she is right. Happiness is a choice. No matter what the circumstances of my life are and will be, with God’s grace, I choose and will continue to choose to be happy.”

Maxino joined the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines and became its president. He and his group helped secure Presidential Proclamation No. 157, declaring February as “Down Syndrome Consciousness Month.” His other civic advocacy includes being General Manager of Green Earth Power and Energy Corporation.

He is also a Certified Balloon Artist (CBA), clown and magician, performing at children’s parties for free (he calls himself a “kidologist”).

“A positive outlook gets us through the most trying times,” he says. “Laughter is the best medicine. Laughter is free. Laughter does not require a doctor’s prescription. It is internally generated therefore it does not run out of stock.”

To Maxino, it is all about keeping a positive perspective no matter what happens. “I’m not saying my problems are more difficult than others. I don’t want to compare. I guess it’s not the gravity of the problem I am facing, but how I accept the problem and turn it into something positive,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

It is this characteristic, he says, that he and the rest of the finalists for “The Happiest Pinoy” share. “What is common among the finalists is that we are suffering in a major way, in my case because of an incurable disease or physical disability. We rise above our physical pain and limitations to live full happy lives. Happiness is our daily therapy and positive outlook gets us through the most trying times.”




1 Comment 27 February 2010

By Carmela Lapeña

Many Pinoys will spare no expense to have whiter skin. That’s why store shelves are flooded with whitening products—from soaps, creams, and powders. And, oh, who hasn’t heard of glutathione? To be white is to be beautiful. At least that’s what the ads tell us. READ FULL STORY. See related story in a previous issue – “This Beauty Thing.”




No Comments 07 February 2010

By Norimitsu Onishi

The New York Times

General Santos City – After a day of barbering, Rodolfo Gregorio went to his neighborhood karaoke bar still smelling of talcum powder. Putting aside his glass of Red Horse Extra Strong beer, he grasped a microphone with a habitué’s self-assuredness and briefly stilled the room with the Platters’ My Prayer.

Next, he belted out crowd-pleasers by Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. But Mr. Gregorio, 63, a witness to countless fistfights and occasional stabbings erupting from disputes over karaoke singing, did not dare choose one beloved classic: Frank Sinatra’s version of My Way.

“I used to like My Way, but after all the trouble, I stopped singing it,” he said. “You can get killed.” READ FULL STORY.




3 Comments 31 January 2010

By Lito Banayo

When I was four or five, we would motor from San Pablo in Laguna to Manila, take a lunch of comida China at a panciteria in Escolta (pictured here in the 1950s) or Sta. Cruz. Sometimes my lola would go visit her lawyer in his Escolta office, and then give me a treat at Botica Boie’s soda fountain, where huge sundaes and parfaits were once upon a happy time now mere memories. READ FULL STORY.


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