Monday, April 30, 2012

Numbers and Figures

One figure tells us more information than a thick report of blah coming from an agency.

For us to remember a few fractions, decimals, percentages and numbers and a few facts about the Philippines:
1/3 - fraction of the total population that live below the poverty line
1.3 Billion - number of text messages exchanged daily
90% - percentage of the population that are literate
72 (years) - average life expectancy (which means that if you're dead before this age, it must be due to cancer)
22 (years) - average age of a Filipino (which means if you're older than this and you're reading this blog, you've got to be considered really old)
1 & 3 - must be feng shui with these numbers but what's the worst that can happen? Sure we're the worst airport in the world and number 3 for worst places to drive in the world...but we're also numbers 1 & 3 in terms of the best, where we're number 1 as the best country for business English proficiency and number 3 for best surfing places in the world.
99 Million - number of mobile phones active in the Philippines
57% - percentage of the total population that are below 18 years old (woot woot for the practice of Pediatrics)
8.27 Million - number of internet users in the Philippines (which I think is an underestimate)

Ironically, Manny Pacquiao is heralded as a national hero, which I think is insulting compared to Jose Rizal. I mean really now, some people had just had their heads banged a bit more.

But yes, this is the Philippines, where Shoemart (SM) happens to be the malling capital AND the national park and NOT Luneta. Where ChaTime, Serenitea, and GongCha are the national drink and NOT Salabat.

So I wouldn't be surprised that if Jessica Sanchez wins American Idol (which I hope she does), she would eventually displace Manny Pacquiao (or Jose Rizal) as the next national hero.

Only in the Philippines!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Brother Kervin

Brother Kervin is 19 years old. He's been with the San Carlos Seminary for three years. Yesterday, during church service, he was made to give a brief talk about vocations.

He told his life story. When he was in 3rd year high school he already knew that he wanted to become a priest. During his graduating year, he watched his classmates apply at various colleges and universities, hoping that one of the big schools would accept them - and they would fulfill either their dream, or their parents dream of being bankers, businessmen, doctors, engineers, architects, and other professions that would bring in a "brighter future" in the corporate world or become some overseas worker.

He took the first exam at San Carlos and failed. Not daunted by the failure of serving God, he was an out-of-school youth for a year.

The next year, when he took the exam at the seminary, he passed.

He is on his third year of a ten year journey to priesthood.

Kervin is one of a few younger people nowadays who look to serving their lives in the service of fellow men. The priesthood is one of the most, if not the most, challenging of all vocations.

Many of us follow the road most traveled. Parents don't encourage us to become priests or give our lives up for the service of our fellow men. At least the parents I know, in spite of being "devout" Catholics, do not encourage or even raise their children in the image of the Catholic faith.

While it is a calling to serve any religion, it takes more than sheer determination and conviction to stick to the vocation. There are forces, spiritually and morally, that work at making failure an option in the course of their journey.

After the short message of Kervin, the church goers applauded at the short, but determined speech of a young man who would give up other dreams to chase his own in the service of God.

We may not have many Kervins in this world, but he was an eye opener in this world of digital technology and consumerism - telling us that the faith of one, can save mankind.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Perhaps I don't get it. Or perhaps some of the people in the government just don't get it either.

So when CNN Go featured the Philippines as the THIRD worst country in the world to drive in, Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino was on the defensive. Featured on prime time news, Tolentino drove around Metro Manila and challenged the viewers and the detractors on the real scenario of what it's like to be driving around Metro Manila.

It was obvious that Mr. Tolentino did not apparently factor in the fact that (1) it's summer vacation in the Philippines and therefore the sheer volume and true picture of driving in Metro Manila was underestimated, (2) he was probably driving around during less peak hours (but it's true mostly every where else in the world where the roads come to a virtual standstill during rush hour), and (3) it was sparklingly sunny outside and we all know that during the rainy season the streets of Metro Manila virtually become the Venice of the East.

What floored me was the fact that during the short interview, Tolentino admitted to the public that "we all know that the major cause of traffic include public utility vehicles like jeepneys, colorum busses and tricycles and pedicabs not to mention people who jaywalk in the streets and the sidewalks that are used as stalls". Well golly gee wow - since Tolentino knows that these are the major sins of the streets of the metro, what the hell is the MMDA doing about this? I mean, really. Come on! You know what's wrong and if you don't make it right then there's something really wrong with you having to head the MMDA!

It is understandable why the roads in the Metro are the way it is (believe me when I say that even the more urbanized areas in the provinces are the same). It's because of the sheer lack of discipline among drivers, especially the public utility vehicles. And the reason for turning the other cheek, so to speak, is the fact that all this lack in discipline is driven by a lack of political will in the local government units. You don't solve a problem by tweaking minor details like imposing number coding. You attack the problem by attending to the major root - in this case the utter chaos on the streets because even our own law enforcers DO NOT enforce the law. Tolentino lacked the balls to acknowledge that even the MMDA officers and local government traffic enforcers do not tend to the anarchy of public vehicles. These traffic aides are more busy at catching those who violate the number coding scheme, because simply said, there is more the mulct from private car owners than the pathetic public utility vehicle driver.

I see them busy texting even when the traffic is already gridlocked and most (if not all) of them have these public utility vehicle drivers breaking the law right in front of their very eyes! I once told a traffic enforcer to catch the jeepney driver who was loading and unloading in a non-loading and unloading zone. He just looked at me and walked away! Sanamagan!

Like I said, it will take a real leader with political will to address the chaotic problem of traffic in Metro Manila. The key word here is instilling discipline. It's either we sink or swim with the idiots.

Of course, I need to take my hats off to Tolentino for creating the Apps for the MMDA which is downloadable on any iPhone (and I guess there's an Android version of it as well?) It has been a great help navigating some major thoroughfares but it presumes everyone that drives has an iPhone. Nevertheless, this is NOT the answer to easing traffic congestion in the Metro. We need to see more discipline instilled on both enforcers of the law as well as the public.

On another note, while watching the evening news, there are talks that one congressman is enticing investors in putting up Disneyland in Clark, Pampanga. They drew the statistics that one of the largest number of tourists that flock to Hong Kong Disneyland are actually Filipinos.

Fine! Great!

And while theme parks are actually a good source of revenue for both the country and the investor, I think that they need to seriously look at the practicality of putting up such a grand idea in the country. What the news people forgot to ask was did they factor in the weather condition in the Philippines? During the very rainy season, these theme parks are practically useless. During the very hot summers, who would like to get baked in open air? There is nothing fun at both these scenarios and one need not look far. Enchanted Kingdom at Laguna did not take off as a desired local destination theme park attraction. The other factor that they forgot was how many people from our neighboring countries (read - Foreign Tourists) would really come to the Philippines to enjoy a theme park vacation in a province far far away from the Metro?

If this is not studied well and carefully, we would be the laughing stock of Asia where we lure investors without doing our homework.

Rather than address the major problems of graft, corruption, and discipline - we choose to rationalize much of what our country lacks by painting a rainbow over the stench of poor political will. We need to get our act together so that we can truly promote the Philippines as a reason for business, for tourism, for health, and for finding a second home.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cebu - my second home

There's a second home that beckons me to go back several times...if not for rest and recreation...just for the feeling of being relaxed and the Queen City of the South of the Philippines called Cebu.

One of my favorite places is Plantation Bay. Not that it's fantastic or superb, but because if offers so much serenity in spite of the fact that the place needs a major make over already after several decades of existence! The mere fact that I keep going back to Plantation Bay says a lot about the character of this resort.

The endless lagoon of salt and fresh water, the small but clean beach, the fact that when you step out of your rooms, you're right in the pool already...they're just the perks to make you feel so relaxed in spite of the heat.

And because it was a vacation for me, my partner and my family, it was sleep, eat, rest, play and eat, sleep, rest, play...but I guess what got the most part was the eating in spite of our arrival on a Good Friday.

There are many things to do at Plantation Bay, which does not mean swimming and water sports alone. You can enjoy a good rub down at the Mogambo Spa, or shoot some arrows or guns or climb a wall or play some table tennis - one will never run out of options - whether you enjoy the vast pool or jet skiing at the beach.

There are also a few good restaurants and I would recommend Fiji more than the rest. But of course, you can dine at Savannah (burgers, fries and hotdogs) or have a regular meal at Kilimanjaro (so humid and hot that the Halo Halo melted instantaneously), or settle for some Italian cuisine at Palermo. The upside here is the food at the resort is good. Not excellent - just good. The downside (which I reviewed in TripAdvisor) is that it's really expensive! I mean, who gets to drink mango juice (Del Monte in can) for P240? What a rip off. (You may want to serve the juice without the can so that it looks more authentic because we all know how much the canned juice costs.) And the pictures on the website of Plantation Bay on the food are not what they actually look like when the food is on the table. They're actually more delectable! But a vacation is a vacation and you need a really deep pocket to contend with the small dishes and the price for them.

Of course, going to Cebu isn't just about Plantation Bay.

There's a new discovery I made in Cebu and it's Zubuchon. Their lechon is the BEST!!! While all the food there mostly revolves around the pork called lechon, one should try the deliciuos Kamias Shake. It literally removes the fat you eat from the lechon. I guess you need to give in every guiltlessly once in a while to the sin of having to eat a bit more than we could chew. After all, we can all go on a diet when we're dead!

There is something about Cebu that makes you feel the laid back life and yet enjoy urban living. And my Cebuano friends have the best of both worlds in my fave second home - Cebu!

Truly...everything is more fun in the Philippines!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Trending and Philippine Airport Fees

During our vacation, I was asking my partner what trending meant and all that hashtag (#) hallubaloo on Twitter. Well he patiently explained it to me and thank you for that explanation. When I got the hang of it, the trending topics on various threads were uhmmm, sad to say, pathetic.

And while technology has caught up with the Pinoys (or for the people on Earth for that matter), the local "Tweets" that were being followed were obscurely for the most inconsequential topics. Yes, technology has changed the face of the world - sadly, it has increased the IQs of most of the people who use technology for better use.

Let's use the Philippine Airport Fees as an issue. I'm not the only one that complains about the airport taxes. Most of my friends have the same complaint - "why inconvenience the riding public by collecting Airport Fees at the airport?" It's actually a simple solution - "integrate it to our airline tickets!" For God's sake, it's not even rocket science. Even if people say that the airport fees vary from Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao at P200.00 for domestic flights and Tagbilaran, Batanes, or Jolo at P20.00 for domestic flights - you can easily calculate this because you know the route the passenger takes anyway!!! And you can even standardize it - that all domestic flights to ONE destination is P100.00 or P200.00 is the same, regardless of destination! If you can afford to fly - you can afford the Airport Fee!

It has always baffled me why this issue cannot be solved. Someone told me that the reason for this is so that the local authorities can collect their share IMMEDIATELY. Which means that based on that reasoning - the problem is the government (Unless of course there is another or a more valid reason for collection ON THE SPOT). The government apparently has no system that will remit ON TIME the collections for that particular province that has an airport! That's what the national government is for - to provide solutions to its citizens.

Collecting airport taxes is NOT the issue. It's how it's done ONLY IN THE PHILIPPINES, that makes it ubiquitously odd. Where does the collection go to and is there any transparent accountability by the local government on the airport fees that are collected? None! With so many domestic airports in the Philippines, does the Commission on Audit even report on the accountability of all these collected fees? You can see how dilapidated and outdated some of the provincial airports are. And yet, they collect airport fees. For what?!?!

The power of technology (and media) has changed the landscape of how we look at issues. Unfortunately, the issues on the hotdog of Aljur Abrenica or Anabelle Rama vs. Amalia Fuentes or Charice getting a makeover or even Grace Lee dating the PNoy are not even a national one. It's just sad that in spite of the digital age, technology has not provided a means to increase the brain capacity of its people.

Obviously, this blog piece will not get a viral hit compared to even Pinoy Porn scandals. It's this kind of thought on using the power of technology through Twitter or Facebook or whatever site that makes changing the world and making it a better place and getting our message across the universe that will create an impact on issues at hand.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Food tripping in Singapore

It was my sister's birthday. And we all needed the time off from work and a few moments together. My family, partner and I decided to hie off to nearby Singapore for a few days of bonding and yes, what better way to do it than to return to Singapore and laze off at the fabulous boutique Naumi Hotel on 41 Seah Street.

I've always felt at home with Naumi Hotel and truth be told, it's a posh boutique hotel right beside the legendary Raffles Hotel. While many of the taxi drivers are not familiar with this hotel (and I believe most of my blog readers as well), it is without a doubt one of the best hotels in Singapore. The staff are mostly Filipinos (yes PINOYS) and they are uber courteous and helpful. From the time the doors open up to the time you get to check out, there is undoubtedly that Filipino smile that has charmed the world. Then of course are the rooms. It would be an understatement to say that they are splendid and sprawling - with a mini kitchenette, Nespresso daily, soda and water in the fridge (free and replaceable anytime), a fabulously huge bathroom (tub and bath are separate and the shower has a rain shower) with Molton Brown amenities, iPod dock, free (yes free again) wifi throughout the hotel, and free (yes free again) buffet breakfast that serves only healthy food (organic bread and jam, freshly squeezed juices, steamed fish, freshly cooked eggs, non fat milk, boiled or broiled meat, a variety of garden salad, and those into champagne or wine with breakfast can avail of the early bubbly as part of breakfast. Did I mention that the cappuccino is refillable and freshly made?). There's a small but relaxing infinity pool at the 10th floor that overlooks Suntec City and the Singapore Flyer.

But this vacation on my sister's birthday had a different twist to it because we decided to eat our way through our stay. I could not even recall all the foodies we went to but one of the fantastic finds was YY Cafe right at the back of our hotel. It's one of those local "carinderia" - sinfully good, downright cheap and yes, you'd be back for more!

Then there was the Taiwanese dishes which we had at Vivo City and at Ion Orchard. Curiously the one at Ion Orchard had the Xiao Long Bao in various flavors!!! The milk iced tea was really flavorful and made the GongCha or Serinitea teas sold at the Philippine malls taste pathetic.

Obviously, we needed to try some seafood as well so we headed off to the Mandarin Marina area where a delightful assortment of pasta and flame-it-in-your face giant prawns in cheese dashed with excellent lime juice or a bubble gum drink to go.

But it wasn't simply a food trip. There was shopping and "green living" at the Orchid Gardens of the beautifully manicured Botanical Gardens. Our cameras just couldn't stop clicking away at the variety of orchids as they overwhelmed us on the beauty of this flower!.

It was a great weekend (and weekdays) to cap off the birthday of my sister. And even if we had to settle with pieces of cakes from TWG and their fine macarons, we got to celebrate another year together.

After all, money is only good if you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. We come into this world with nothing and we leave all of these behind.