Migration, People


No Comments 22 June 2011

By Jose Antonio Vargas

Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream. But I am still an undocumented immigrant. READ FULL STORY




1 Comment 04 March 2011

By Cecil Morella

Agence France Press

MANILA — Philippine blogger Bryan Yambao went from reading his mother’s magazines to the front rows of the world’s top catwalks at warp speed, as the Internet demolishes the exclusive barriers of high fashion.

Supermodel-thin and fond of wearing colorful hats, fur-collared cardigans and handbags, the 24-year-old is now an industry heavyweight who hangs out with the likes of supermodel Naomi Campbell and designer Marc Jacobs.

“If you ask me, all of my dreams have already come true. What else can you ask for,” Yambao said in a speech at an independent fashion bloggers’ conference in New York late last year.

Yambao’s vehicle for fashion stardom is his online journal at, which delivers fresh, irreverent, and witty critiques of the world’s newest trends on expensive clothing and accessories.

The site attracts more than 200,000 unique visitor hits a day, while nearly 52,000 people follow his Twitter stream, giving the jet-setting former web designer from Manila awesome powers to thrash or promote a product.

The blog is also studded with money-spinning ads that would be the envy of fashion magazines that have only a small fraction of his readership.

Recent posts told of his labors to buy Prada’s red men’s wingtips (“It’s the shoe of the season, no doubt”) and how Hollywood stars Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher stole the thunder from fashion figures at a Sao Paulo show.

“I’ve heard several rumors that they were paid about half a million dollars to be here. Celebrities. They always f— up the whole experience,” Yambao ranted.

Drawing heavily on the Paris Hilton playbook, the blog is also as much a homage to the author as style, with photos of him in outrageous, gender-bending outfits.

“Shower me with attention and inflate my ego. Email photos of your love and I’ll add you to my ever-growing collection. Be creative! Be spontaneous!” he wrote.

The biggest fashion labels indeed do work super hard to inflate his ego, as evidenced by one of his latest posts for the current fashion week in Paris.

“I’m trying to enjoy the calm before my set of shows,” he wrote.

“My invites are starting to pour in. So far I’m confirmed at Isabel Marant, Mugler, Balmain, AF Vandevorst, Gareth Pugh, Rochas, Damir Doma, Chanel, etc. Can’t wait to receive more of my invitations!”

The traditional media also love him.

“Bringing androgyny and attitude to the blogosphere since 2004, Bryanboy’s reflections on fashion never fail to entertain,” Elle magazine wrote, in an excerpt posted in his blog.

“With his sharp wit and cheeky style choices, Manila-based blogger Bryanboy is on the brink of international stardom,” Teen Vogue wrote.

Yambao’s extraordinary online career began with him blogging about his foreign travels in 2004.

But he had always been drawn to fashion, even as a 10-year-old studying at a strict Manila Catholic school.

“I would steal my mum’s magazines and read them at school,” Yambao said in his New York speech last year. Yambao initially agreed to be interviewed by AFP but then did not reply to e-mailed questions.

From a puny readership of his friends and family, the blog took off in 2007 after his posts caught the eye of Jacobs, the influential American creative director of French design house Louis Vuitton.

“I discovered this sort of satirical little film that Bryanboy had done of me, and I was really amused by it. I started to look at the blog and I thought, this guy is so into fashion,” Jacobs said in a clip posted on Yambao’s site.

Jacobs named an ostrich leather tote bag, BB, on his own 2008 fall collection, in the Filipino blogger’s honor.

“Love your passion for fashion,” the designer gushes in a post on Yambao’s site. “After all, where would designers be without enthusiasm like yours?”

In 2009 Dolce and Gabbana put Yambao and other top bloggers on the front row at the Milan fashion week, beside traditional industry arbiters such as Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune.

Menkes, the doyenne of the fashion press, said bloggers had democratized an industry that had long been used to having everything dictated from the top down by the fashion houses.

“And then along comes Twitter and all of a sudden somebody walks out of a, say, Louis Vuitton show and says, ‘That show sucked. I hated it,'” she said in an interview posted online from last year’s Berlin’s fashion trade show.

“But that can go viral and other people can answer… and suddenly you’re faced with three million people saying negative things. It’s pretty terrifying for these brand managers.”

Yambao, who had had his Facebook account fill up with a maximum 5,000 friends a long time ago, appears to revel in the irony of a Third-World blogger dictating to the rich what to wear.

“It did happen to me, you know, somebody from the boonies, in the Philippines,” he said in his New York speech.

One of Yambao’s friends from the Philippines, fashion reporter and blogger Ingrid Go-Chua, said his spectacular career in breaking through one of the world’s most exclusive industries was an inspiration across Asia.

“A lot of Asian people look up to him. He’s like a beacon of a person. In the Third World, you never thought that dreams would come true but he made them come true. He’s put the Philippines on the map,” she told AFP.




No Comments 17 February 2011

Washington — Late Monday afternoon (Feb. 14), Manny Pacquiao and company, lots and lots of company, boarded Acela Express No. 2165 in the belly of Pennsylvania Station. Pacquiao entered his private car (cost: $10,000) flanked by two documentary film crews, promoters, publicists, advisers, his chief of staff and his wife, Jinkee. READ FULL STORY (Photo: Manny Pacquiao with US Senate Leader Harry Reid on Capitol Hill.)




No Comments 12 January 2011

He’s not an actor, director or producer, but Cebuano Kenneth Cobonpue has made it big in Hollywood. The world renowned furniture designer’s creations, known for mixing comfort, style and organic materials, have been featured in several films abroad such as Ocean’s Thirteen led by George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon; Made of Honor starring Patrick Dempsey; and Spread topbilled by Ashton Kutcher and Anne Heche. READ FULL STORY




1 Comment 09 January 2011

For Manuel V. Pangilinan, one of the top business executives in the country, eradicating poverty should be Job No. 1 for every Filipino. But to be successful, more people should help not just in civic projects but also in government programs that invite partnerships with private businesses. READ FULL STORY




No Comments 08 January 2011

By Cecil Morella

MANILA – Armed with a fast-growing fleet of planes and enough junk food snacks to feed entire armies, Philippine tycoon Lance Gokongwei is striding out confidently in the world’s most populous region.

Best known as the boss of budget carrier Cebu Pacific, the 43-year-old also leads a vast conglomerate that is involved in an array of ventures, with one claiming the title of the biggest consumer food business in Southeast Asia.

Thrust by his rags-to-riches father to lead the family-owned businesses in 2002, the US-educated Gokongwei said the group had worked feverishly to diversify and become a big player across a range of markets throughout Asia.

“I think any family business has to adapt because things are so much more competitive now,” the reserved, soft-spoken father-of-two told AFP in a recent interview at his office in a Manila high-rise tower owned by the family.

“Our job, really, is to push our international business.”

The airline and its trans-Southeast Asian branded food manufacturing business, Universal Robina Corp., are the two biggest moneymakers of the listed family conglomerate JG Summit Inc., capitalized at about $3 billion.

But it also has interests in real estate and hotels, retailing, telecommunications, petrochemicals and banking in the Philippines.

On the food side, the company each year sells $1.15 billion worth of wafers, potato chips, tea, cereals and chocolates in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and China.

The food business, which calls itself the Philippines’ first multinational, has struggled in China but succeeded elsewhere and has little debt, said April Tan, research chief with stock brokers Citisecurities Inc.

With nearly half of its profits coming from outside of the Philippines, the company’s efforts to broaden its base are paying handsome dividends, according to Tan.

“If you’re catering to a bigger market, the earnings potential is much higher,” Tan told AFP.

Cebu Pacific, the no-frills carrier with dancing flight attendants, has similarly started to spread its wings across Asia after success at home.

When Cebu Pacific began flying in 1996 with the motto, “It’s time everyone flies,” few Filipinos could afford to traverse the archipelago by air and hundreds were dying every year in alarmingly frequent ferry disasters.

It has since become the country’s biggest airline in terms of the number of domestic passengers — eclipsing national carrier Philippine Airlines.

“With Cebu Pacific, it’s quite clear that they’re capturing the bulk of the market and obviously, they are the fastest-growing carrier in the country,” Tan said.

The airline boasts a young fleet of 32 planes and serves 50 domestic and 23 regional routes. Profits are surging and it is set to bulk up with 24 new planes due for delivery over the next 14 months.

Gokongwei said the entry of other low-cost carriers in the Philippines since the Cebu Pacific success showed the huge potential pent-up demand in a country of 95 million people, 10 percent of whom work on short-term jobs abroad.

Gokongwei company shares surged last year ahead of the airline’s listing, turning the family into the country’s third richest and putting it on Forbes magazine’s billionaires’ list, its worth estimated at $1.5 billion.

A fitness nut who ran the New York Marathon last year, Gokongwei said that at times he and his father, John, a Chinese immigrant who remains the group’s largest shareholder, disagree on which countries or businesses to invest in.

In the end though, the old man, who made his name as a risk-taker, gets his way.

“I’m a working man. I’m working for him,” said the son, who went to business school at the University of Pennsylvania.

However the son proved his management mettle by reviving the young airline after one of its planes flew into a Philippine mountain killing all 104 people aboard in early 1998, according to Manila businessman Antonio Ramon Ongsiako.

“Lance is well regarded and has a reputation of being a better, more refined version of his father,” Ongsiako, a former director of the Financial Executives of the Philippines, told AFP.

“Lance will take JG Summit to a bigger and better future.” (Agence-France Presse)




3 Comments 26 November 2010

Jollibee Foods Corp. (JFC), the country’s largest fast food chain, has taken over control of Mang Inasal, a highly successful Visayas-based restaurant chain specializing in grilled chicken, in a deal worth P3 billion.

In its disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange on Oct. 18, JFC said it has submitted an unsolicited offer to acquire 70 percent of Mang Inasal Philippines Inc. (MIPI), which was unconditionally and irrevocably accepted by its parent company, Injap Investments Inc. MIPI remains a significant minority holder with 30 percent equity.

Mang Inasal, a homegrown business, started as a single proprietorship in December 2003 by its founder, Edgar “Injap” Sia II, in Iloilo City, the first barbecue fast food chain anchored by its flagship chicken inasal product.

MIPI, which has grown its branches to 306 stores nationwide, is in a positive net cash position, racking up total revenues of P2.6 billion and system-wide sales of P3.8 billion. It is targeting 500 stores nationwide before 2012.

Observers say Jollibee’s buyout of controlling interest in Mang Inasal was meant to eliminate a fast-growing competition and maintain its market dominance over the local fast food industry.

The Jollibee Group already operates the most extensive fast food network in the Philippines with a total of 1,578 stores: Jollibee (703), Chowking (404), Greenwich (218), Red Ribbon (215), Delifrance (23) and Manong Pepe’s (15).

On Oct. 12,  Sia,  chairman and CEO of Mang Inasal Philippines, Inc., was presented the Small Business Entrepreneur award for 2010 by the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year (Philippines) for best demonstrating management excellence in a business with assets of less than P100 million.

In the following article, Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines 2010 chronicles how the young probinsiyano entrepreneur defied the odds and steered Mang Inasal to its phenomenal success.

Young probinsiyano entrepreneur shows the way

The Philippines is the 12th most populous country in the world with over 90 million mouths to feed. Without a doubt, getting into the food business remains a very viable opportunity for entrepreneurs. But with so many players, how does one stand out to be noticed? More importantly, how can another food business make it big time?

Edgar “Injap” J. Sia II answered these questions by conducting his research in a very methodical manner. He looked at the 16 different regions in the Philippines and recognized that each has a unique set of culinary traditions and eating habits. He then analyzed and identified what type of food would have the most potential and mass appeal. This was the ubiquitous barbecue (inasal in Ilonggo).

With much perseverance, innovative thinking and a deep understanding of business, Sia created Mang Inasal in Iloilo City in 2003. Today it has emerged as the country’s sixth largest fast food chain and its growth seems to be unstoppable.

That the boyish Sia would venture into business comes as no surprise. Born into a family of Chinese-Filipino entrepreneurs, he was exposed to business from a very young age.

He recounts how, at the age of 10, he would spend his after-school hours stacking merchandise or manning the counter in his parents’ grocery store in Roxas City. “While many of my friends were playing or riding their bikes, I would be moving inventory and counting soap,” he recalls.

The family store became the training ground that cultivated Mr. Sia’s drive for success. Learning from the example of his industrious parents, Sia developed what he refers to as an almost “sixth sense” for business. At 20, he was already running multiple businesses — a photo developing franchise, a 58-room three-star hotel and a laundry shop in Iloilo City.

Sia seized another opportunity that came knocking in December 2003 when he was offered a 250-square meter space behind Robinson’s Place Iloilo. The space, in an unused car park, was being offered at a very attractive price. Listening to his well-honed business instincts, he jumped at the chance to acquire it. In retrospect, Mr. Sia admits that he acted on a hunch.

“The price was so attractive that I couldn’t forego it, even if I had no business plan in mind. I bought the space not knowing what to do with it! You can say that the space came ahead of the concept.”

While mulling over ideas, Sia was sure of one thing — whatever he came up with had to have the potential to expand on a nationwide scale. After much consideration, he eventually decided to go for the time-tested appeal of the Ilonggo’s comfort food, chicken barbecue or inasal, served fast-food style. Mang Inasal fuses Filipino cuisine with the fast food dine-in concept.

Mang Inasal was Sia’s first venture into the food industry and the challenges he encountered were daunting. When he started, the concept of a fast food restaurant serving traditional Filipino dishes was a novelty and Sia knew he was up against the top players in the Philippine fast food industry. Without a real system in place during his first year of operation and no commissary to supply their raw materials, he had to learn the hard way.

Sia in fact had to do most of the work, from managing the business to preparing and serving the food to cleaning up afterwards. This complete lack of hesitation to do backbreaking work, however, enabled Sia to achieve in seven years what others have taken twice as long to achieve.

Barely a year after Mang Inasal opened, Sia was able to set up another branch, this time in his native Roxas City. Their second year of operation saw six more branch openings and, in their third year, over 20 more. This phenomenal growth brought a flood of franchise offers but Sia held back until 2005 when he was completely confident of the stability and brand recall of the business. Only after a year of sustaining market demand and developing his customer base was he convinced that Mang Inasal was en route to expansion.

When Sia finally opened Mang Inasal for franchising, he concentrated his efforts on his own backyard — Visayas and Mindanao — where inasal is most popular. Not long afterwards, potential franchises from Luzon showed much interest, paving the way for Mang Inasal to penetrate Metro Manila. Mang Inasal now counts 306 branches nationwide of which 28 are company-owned.

As Mang Inasal gained popularity, there was a need to maintain top quality. To safeguard consistency in all aspects of the business, such as product quality and cleanliness, Sia established several monitoring systems and procedures. A highly skilled research and development team was tasked to handle product development and guarantee a consistent inasal taste. To facilitate smooth transactions with their commissaries and ensure consistent supplies, Sia implemented an advanced online supply ordering system for his branches.

The 32-year-old Sia considers sheer hard work and innovation as the primary reasons of Mang Inasal’s success. He also cites the uniqueness that allowed him to beat the odds as a new player in the fast food industry.

He says, “Mang Inasal is a truly Filipino-style fast food chain. Our concept, ambiance and even the way our food is served on banana leaves is authentically Filipino.”

This, according to Sia, differentiates them from the other fast food giants in the country. In addition, Mang Inasal was one of the first quick-service restaurants to offer unlimited rice, which strongly appealed to diners.

Despite the success of Mang Inasal, Sia recognizes there’s still a lot that can be done to even make it bigger. He is constantly thinking up new ideas to maintain Mang Inasal’s competitive edge, such as their recently launched delivery service.

Variations in the breakfast menu are being developed and he is also looking at giving fast food dining a whole new feel with patented combo cups. The company is preparing to go public by the end of 2010 to solidify its stronghold in the Philippine fast food industry.

While he listens to his instinct, Sia is very calculated and strategic in his approach to business. He firmly believes in hard work and perseverance, and encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to do the same.

He also urges them to believe in their capacity to make their dreams come true, saying “Nothing is impossible with the right attitude. Do not be intimidated by problems. Instead, look at them as opportunities for growth. I was lucky to acquire the right entrepreneurial attitude as a young boy. You could say I developed the right asal (behavior) for inasal,” he quips.




2 Comments 22 November 2010

Ilocos Norte is a feast of cultural, historical and natural offerings. And yet, if you must ask me my favorite tourist attraction, my number one is Ilocos Norte’s governor, Imee herself, who almost always ends up being asked to pose with foreign tourists, balikbayans, and local travelers for photo ops. READ FULL STORY




No Comments 08 November 2010

By Aby Yap

Maria Ressa’s own story is as compelling as the acclaimed stories she produced.

In the span of two decades, she co-pioneered the investigative newsmagazine format in local television, witnessed and chronicled Southeast Asia’s historic evolution, and authored a book detailing the infamous Al-Qaeda’s terrorist operations for which she landed a slot in the recent Esquire magazine’s Sexiest Women Alive list. An “unorthodox choice,” she tweeted appreciatively.

In the last six years, too, this award-winning journalist served as ABS-CBN’s News and Current Affairs chief, redefining Philippine broadcast journalism to become the force for nation-building. On October 11, however, news spread that she’d no longer renew her contract with the network, which is set to expire on January 3, 2011. She wne ton terminal leave in early November.

Her personal revolution

Moving to New Jersey at 10, Maria realized early on that she was different.

“They were much taller,” she recalls of living in a nearly all-white community. “They had self-assurance that you didn’t have.”

But Maria’s mindset was what probably set her out to a lifetime career as a trailblazer.

“You either retreat from it, or you embrace it and succeed at it,” Maria tells Planet Philippines in an exclusive interview a few weeks before she announced she was leaving her current job. “I wanted to prove that I was good and to prove it to myself, I needed to prove what I could do. So, I tried to do everything.”

“Everything” covered the academics, student council, playing sports and musical instruments. Eventually, it meant taking up molecular biology, finishing an English theatre and dance degree at Princeton University, applying to law school then deferring it for political theatre studies in the Philippines on a Fulbright Fellowship.

Her interest in her native soil, however, was stirred only when everyone began talking about the Philippines after the 1986 People Power Revolution. Though being Filipino eluded her then, she decided that she’d go back and find her roots.

Life-changing journey

Her journey led to something else.

“Cheche Lazaro changed everything because she asked me to stay and set up Probe Productions. Maybe it was this that changed my life,” she narrates. “I never really moved back to the States after that. I committed to the Philippines and Asia. Now, with ABS-CBN.”

Cecilia “Cheche” Lazaro is the brains behind the award-winning and pioneer investigative program Probe which signed off last June after 24 years and where Maria served as director/writer/producer while simultaneously working for CNN as reporter.

In 1995, CNN relocated the bureau to Jakarta, and Maria lived there for about 10 years. As the Jakarta bureau chief of CNN International, she was lead reporter in East Timor, Indonesia and the Philippines. Her investigative reporting on Asia’s terror networks led to write the book Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia.

“As I wrote the book, I felt like, ‘Phew, what else can I do?’ I’m not doing breaking news for the rest of my life. Now, I want to build something,” recounts Maria.

So, when she was invited to join the network the second time around, she readily accepted.

“I was 40 then. I thought that meant I was old enough to have had real experience and I felt I was good at what I did,” she relates. “At the same time, I felt I was young enough. I still had enough energy to actually try to change something.”

Rebuilding and creating

What Maria describes as a long battle started with the realization “that 90 percent of Filipinos get their news from television.”

“If you watch television and if we do our jobs properly, we can have a big nation-building,” she says.

So, Maria immediately worked on implementing a comprehensive Standards and Ethics Manual inspired by Princeton University’s Honor System. She cites an example, “If someone takes a bribe, we fire them. No matter how good you are.”

She herself took to a Code while moving into ABS-CBN. It was then Indonesia’s newly appointed Trade Minister Mari Pangestu’s advice, whom she asked how she’d reform the bureaucracy of 4,000 people strong.

“She said, ‘Don’t bring in more than four people (of your own). You have to fight the battle from within,’” recounts the feisty journalist who stands barely five feet. “I stuck to those rules, because you have to effect culture change from the ground that the organization must change with you.”

Amused, Maria admits to being culture-shocked with the transition in the beginning. But she understands Filipinos better now, ABS-CBN being the microcosm of Philippine society.

Noticing before that Pinoys seemed to complain a lot, she thought, “We’re unhappy. We don’t like it. But what are we doing about it?”

Launch of citizen journalism

Thus, citizen journalism was launched through Citizen Patrol in 2005. The first Boto Mo, I-patrol Mo came in 2007, followed by Bayan Mo, I-patrol Mo the year after. In 2009, it became Ako ang Simula, adopted from Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “Be the change you want to see.”

“It takes the idea of empowerment. It’s a tipping point approach to nation-building,” elaborates Maria. “You can’t build a strong nation if your people don’t have a stake, don’t care enough to take action.”

The feedback has been increasingly positive. While in 2007, they received 500 messages a week leading up to the elections; today, it’s 500 messages per day—and it’s just for SMS alone.

“I only have 50 reporters, but now I have 90,000 patrollers,” she shares excitedly. “More and more people are embracing. They want to participate and have a voice. Our culture is changing.”

Journalism is also changing, adds Maria, so they’re embracing new media like Twitter and Facebook for news gathering and viewer participation.

“Technology has already changed the way we think. Because the way we think has changed, the way we act has changed,” this Twitter fan opines.

Thus, her focus to redefine what journalism is and how it’s delivered towards the fulfilment of a promise in 1986 that has long been delayed: a nation creating itself.

“I hope that happens in my lifetime,” the 47-year-old journalist wishes aloud. “I’ll be part of it as a journalist to help make that happen.”

Writing another story

Their coverage of the 2010 national elections and the Luneta hostage crisis are a testament to how extensive their reach is. However, it’s not without flak.

There was the alleged bias for then presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino, for one. Also, their blow-by-blow live reporting of the August 23 hostage incident (along with other TV and radio networks) was partly blamed for the failed rescue attempt.

These two issues, along with her critical article, “Noynoy Flunks His First Test,” in The Wall Street Journal (Asia) and long-standing office politics factored in her unexpected departure, naysayers point out.

But as Maria writes in a farewell e-mail for her team, “There is a time and place for everything in our lives.” And hers has already arrived.

“In the end, it comes down to what we can do. You’re only good as your last story. After this, you move on. What’s your next story? You have to put in as much energy, time, and passion to make sure that the next story will be the best that you can do,” she stresses.

But what could be her next story?

On October 16, Maria tweeted for the first time since the news of her leaving broke, “I’m happy and planning what’s next. Will let you know once I know! :-).”




No Comments 17 September 2010

Manny Pacquiao’s black Hummer was nowhere in sight. The parade that he was supposed to lead had already wound down in front of the town hall here. His seat, the seat of honor, stood vacant on a stage on which singers, three beauty queens and the province’s ruling political class sat waiting. READ FULL STORY


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