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Greenology: Ayala Malls’ earth-friendly philosophy balikbayanmagazine.com

october 2009

Volume I number 8

US$ 5.00•PHP 150.00


balikbayan

editor’s notebook By lito ocampo cruz, editor-in-chief

Publisher & CEO | Roger L. Oriel President & Co-Publisher | Cora M. Oriel Editor-in-Chief | EVP ASIA | Lito Ocampo Cruz Associate Editor | Louie Jon Agustin Sanchez Contributing Editors | Malou Liwanag-Aguilar, Alma Anonas-Carpio, Jewel Castro, Cynthia De Castro, Gayle Gatchalian, Berry Pelaez–Marfori, Ruben Nepales, Janet Susan Nepales, Rhod V. Nuncio, Rochelle C. Pangilinan, Joseph Pimentel, D.M. Reyes, Althea Lauren Ricardo, Joel Salud, Aldus Santos, Ahmed Toledo, Walter Villa, Momar Visaya Contributing Photographers | Joe Cobilla, Philip Kimpo Jr., Ted Madamba, Raphael John Oriel, Miko Santos, Andy Tecson Art Director | Le Grande Dee Pedroche Assistant editor | Marie Angeli S. Syjueco photography editor | Andrew Tadalan Production Manager | Kristine Tan

At The Ruins in Talisay, Negros Occidental.

Vice President for Advertising | Noel Godinez Vice President for marketing | Genelyn S. Alcala Vice President for Sales | Sharon Ann Z. Bathan vP for Circulation & special events | Vince Samson Staff Writer | Billy dela Cruz Staff Artists | Edward Dy, Napoleon Laurel, Jr., Valory Lim, Bienvenida Salazar, Vanessa Augustin Circulation Manager | Arthur Sibulangcao Accountant | Ria Fabro balikbayan Magazine is published monthly by Asian Journal Publications, Inc. Distributed in the Philippines by East West All Media Services, Inc. 1100 88 Corporate Center, Valero St., corner Sedeño St., Salcedo Village, Makati City, 1226 Philippines. Tel. No. (632)893-1720 • Fax No. (632) 813-8746 Send subscription inquiries to subscription@asianjournalinc.com, and advertising queries at advertising@asianjournalinc.com. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage of retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the Publisher. Asian Journal Publications, Inc. regrets that no responsibility can be accepted for unsolicited material, which will be returned only if stamped, addressed envelope is enclosed. Printed in the Philippines. Distributed in the Philippines for newly arrived balikbayans at Duty Free Philippines, as well as at select hotels, resorts, restaurants and cafes and major bookstores and magazine distributors. Circulated at special events and through subscription in the United States of America. Asia Headquarters / Editorial & Advertising Offices Makati City: Suite 208, The Manila Bank Corp. Bldg., 6771 Ayala Avenue, Makati City, 1226 Philippines Tel. (632) 893–1720 USA Advertising Offices Los Angeles: 1150 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90017-1904. • Tel. (213) 250–9797 San Francisco: 841 San Bruno Avenue West, Ste. 12-14 San Bruno, CA 94066 • Tel. (650) 583–6818 New York: 5 Penn Plaza, Ste. 1932, New York, NY 10001 • Tel. (212) 655–5426 New Jersey: 2500 Plaza Five, Harborside Financial Center, Jersey City, NJ 07311 • Tel. (201) 484–7249 Las Vegas: 3700 W. Desert Inn Rd., Las Vegas, NV 89102 Tel. (702) 792–6678

     f The Ruins could talk, or tell a story as well as Louie Jon Sanchez, we would not need a guidebook or a map. The story would tell itself. In his writings (We’ll Always Have Silay, p. 40; Balay Silay, The Houses of Memory, p. 44; Sugar and Spice and All Things Doreen, p. 50), you can see in Sanchez, a young W. Somerset Maugham, Pico Iyer, or perhaps even Paul Theroux expressing his Orient. He writes with the majesty of Maugham, the simplicity of Iyer, and the nostalgia of Theroux. You get lost and engrossed in his words; reading almost becomes an unguided tour, where at last, you find the meaning of a journey. He makes the ordinary sound extraordinary. Although you’ve been there before, he makes you feel like you’re discovering that proverbial town for the first time. His body of work in this issue is about Negros from another point of view. His writings here are not mere travelogues. They are journals and journeys in progress. For instance, he comes home to Balay Negrense and the experience never leaves him. In a piece on Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, the late great culinary critic, he worhips Silay like a pilgrim to a glorious culinary shrine. The city is full of recipes and memories. Louie remembers memory’s fiction, to borrow from Bienvenido Santos, or what’s left of it, the life and style of a Negros now gone forever. He ummasks through the MassKara Festival, the many faces and phases of Bacolod. Like the city itself, Louie Jon Sanchez is ready for his close-up. The Balikbayan team joins him in this journey off the sweetened track, a road paved with golden memories, like the magic sunset photography editor Andrew Tadalan caught on the way from Sagay to Talisay. Our assistant editor Marie Angeli Syjueco also gathers her own souvenirs and in the process becomes the other brilliant eye. What the team creates collectively, art director Le Grande Pedroche, with Napoloen Laurel Jr. assisting, designs them into a page full of reminscences, like a map to places in the heart. In this issue, we also rediscover Makati and find every reason to fall in love with the city. Bon Voyage! g

Addendum September 2009 Issue

The article by Marie Angeli Syjueco failed to include Bern Osias to the group that created the VuQo brand name.—Ed.

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2 editor’s notebook Between the Bylines By Lito Ocampo Cruz, Editor-in-chief

7 KEEPING A JOURNAL Two for the Books By roger lagmay oriel, publisher

10 scenic roots A Bridge Too Far The Highway from Yesterday to the Ayala Way By Joel Jorge gaviola

18 Makati from a New Triangle By berry pelaez–Marfori

24 Picture Perfect A Portrait of Makati through the Eye of Dr. Elenita Binay By marie angeli syjueco

27 Greenology: Ayala Mall’s Earth-friendly Philosophy 33 the unguided tour Bacolod Unmasked Ready for its Close-up By Louie Jon A. Sanchez & Marie Angeli Syjueco

38 persona We’ll Always have Silay By Louie Jon A. Sanchez

42 essence of place Balay Silay: The Houses of Memory By Louie Jon A. Sanchez

49 past food Sugar and Spice and All Things Doreen By Louie Jon A. Sanchez

55 inn focus There’s A Small Hotel By Marie Angeli Syjueco

58 estateside Renaissance Juan: RJ Ledesma BY Marie Angeli Syjueco

63 red carpet Gina Alexander, The Great BY ruben v. nepales

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Keeping A Journal By roger lagmay oriel, publisher

his issue is a tale of two cities. And these two stand prominently in the Negros Occidental map—the capital city of Bacolod and the heritage city of Silay. And the connection is fully forged with the recent opening of the Bacolod-Silay International Airport. The trip was nothing but nostalgic, and we had seen the most colorful faces and places of Negros in these two cities, and in more. Both cities appear prominently in this issue, both showcasing Negros history and culture.

Two For the Books

The people we met on the way however made the experience more meaningful. In Manila, former Congressman John Orola guided us, giving us tips on where to go and whom to meet while in Negros. In the duration of our stay, the great doyenne of Negrense culture, Lyn Gamboa Fernandez, accompanied us. Joining her was her husband Neil Gamboa and their uncle Joe Gamboa, who now lives in Sonora, California. It was sort of a homecoming for Joe, a return to his roots. They brought us around the cities and told us magnificent and larger than life stories and histories. We also shared good food and great company. The journey was not only a trip down memory lane. It was also a food trip. From a breakfast full of recipes and memories at the Balay Negrense, the heritage house of the Gaston Family in Silay, to a carinderia named “Sir and Ma’am,” the Gamboas showed their trademark warmth and hospitality, as well as their peculiar love for authentic Silay cuisine, and by extension, love of Filipino food, known to have been the advocacy of the Dean of Filipino Culinary Culture Writing, the late Doreen Fernandez, who also hails from the Gamboa clan. Along the way, we also met new friends. At Sagay City, we sat down and talked with Mayor Alfred Marañon, who welcomed us into his bustling city. While in Silay, we met Mayor Jose Montelibano, who himself hails from one of the prominent families of the heritage town. In Bacolod, we talked to Mayor Evelio Leordina, the brains behind what is known today as the MassKara Festival. We first met Mayor Leordina in Los Angeles on his way to Las Vegas to be at the ringside during the last fight of People’s Champ Manny Pacquiao. All these generous local executives welcomed us and showed us the ever-changing face of the province. Indeed, the landscape continues to change. We also met the Yves Tankeh Javellana of Talisay City, whose family now owns and maintains “The Ruins” of the Lacson Mansion, the newest scenic destination in the city. The

Javellanas have taken over the house of their descendants, and they are amazingly doing a great service to their glorious past by keeping it lively amidst memories. We also got to meet Sonia and Edgar Sarroza of the Nature’s Village Resort, Hotel and Restaurant, where we enjoyed the trees and lush greenery. We also visited Museo Sang Bata Sa Negros, where Negrense children get to be educated in a homey local environment. Sonia heads the museum as president of the Museo Sang Bata sa Negros Foundation. The trip was also a musical journey. Joining us on the road from Silay to Bacolod was our very own Filipino-American Symphony Orchestra musical director Robert Shroder. He was in town for the pre-production planning of the orchestra’s upcoming Christmas presentation, “Handog ng FASO sa Pasko.” In Silay, Joe Gamboa joined us in the planning. Joe came in to spearhead Friends of FASO, which will gather patrons of the arts in the United States. Back at Negros, he also gives back to the community by helping senior citizens to live decent, comfortable lives. We ended the journey by visiting Mambukal Resort in Bacolod with billboard magnate Alvin Carranza. For any balikbayan, the place was certainly a site to remember for it comes with a piece of America. Like a voice in the wilderness, there stood a bust of the late US President John F. Kennedy. It has a marker which says: “To the citizen of the world: Ask not what America can do for you, but ask what we can do together for the good of the world.” Indeed, this country and America is intertwined. A place, no matter how scenic, can only thrive with people. And this is probably what all these continuing journeys are all about. The stories of the people we have met along the way told us the tales. They are definitely for the books. g balikbayanmagazine.com | October 2009 | balikbayan    


| scenic roots |

The Highway from Yesterday to the Ayala Way by joel jorge gaviola

akati is a very interesting city to say the least. At times, you’ll find yourself in awe at the perpetual buildings and skyscrapers as well as new establishments. It also boasts of a very historic past, and its outskirts and the mighty Makati Poblacion stand by the glorious memory of this town, this megacity by the river. Its place by the river presaged early on its steady rise to power—economically, culturally and historically. Today, it is a civilization in itself, a thriving metropolis where once, the indigenous and the brave thrived. Makati traces its history as far back as 1000 A.D. That time, thriving barangays of Malays from a twin migration of allied kingdoms had settled and they came in from sturdy balanghais. A balanghai is defined as a large boat used by Malay settlers in prehispanic times. The vessel, about 18 meters in length, could carry a small clan or a large family. As intended citizens, the migrants formed themselves into a barangay, named after the great sailboat. The Malays lived in clusters of nipa huts which they raised on piles along the banks of the Pasig River. Now, the nipa huts must have been replaced with teeming high rises, coffee shops and structures. Indeed, much has taken place in the city. At the MRT Blue Line, Makati greets you by way of the Pasig River on your left and right and then Guadalupe. A little further from it, you will see a big signboard going to Rockwell, another upscale and elite location in Makati. Pasig River shares the same long rich history with the city itself. The river traverses the cities of Manila, Makati, Mandaluyong, and Pasig City. The river served as an important mode of transport and it functioned as the city’s lifeline and the center of economic activity as ferries and merchants ply the routes.

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The Guadalupe Bridge that spans the Pasig River at EDSA connects Makati City to the rest of the Metro.

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A monument for heroism: Gabriela Silang at Ayala Avenue.

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Mornings at Ayala Avenue.

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In 1571, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, coming from the tails of Martin de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo, took possession of Maynila (of which Makati was a part of). The place was deemed to be a boon to trade and commerce because of its coastline. Makati’s name apparently has had a varied history, apparently, when Legaspi made a stopover in one of the barangays in Manila, he asked the datu the name of the place. Probably not conversant in Castilian Spanish, the datu pointed to the waters, now swiftly receding, and said: “Makati na. Kumakati na,” which roughly translates to “The tide is ebbing.” Legaspi thought this as his answer and wrote down “Makati” as the name of the place. There have been other versions of the tale, but this one seems to take credence over others. Makati had a story in the colonial era. From the building of its first major church dedicated to the patroness of the Americas, the Our Lady of Guadalupe, to its pivotal place in the history of the Katipunan, in the person of Pio del Pilar, its local hero, Makati has made a mark for itself, rising literally from its swampy past. The colonial masters used to say that nothing much could be done with Makati’s swamps. But they were clearly mistaken. In the swamps rose a great city of the nation, a city that enjoyed all possible developments in its glorious history. Such things happened during the Commonwealth period. In 1935, Don Enrique Zobel was appointed by then President Manuel Quezon as his special aide. In this capacity, Don Enrique worked on the development of areas surrounding Manila. One of the highlights of his achievements was a highway which was initially named Julio 19, after Jose Rizal’s birthday, then renamed into Highway 54. Today, we know the road as Epifanio delos Santos Avenue or EDSA, after the famous Philippine educator. The pinnacle of Zobel’s success in developing Makati was to turn 42 hectares of his hacienda into the Nielsen Airport. An ideal location for an airport at that time, Makati was then just sparsely populated adjacent to the capital Manila. The site was located on a hard tract of land jutting from rice fields allowing clear approaches from all angles. Laurie Reuben Nielson, a native of New Zealand, and his group took up the offer and the airport was eventually inaugurated in July 1937.

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Come and play at the Salcedo Park.

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After only 11 years, in 1948, the airport finally ceased operations in Makati to relocate at its present location in Parañaque, ownership of the airport’s permanent facilities was passed on to Ayala y Cia. Although the runways were eventually converted into roads and other airport structures were leveled to pave the way for the development of the Makati business and commercial district, the owners took extra pains to preserve the airport’s passenger terminal and control tower, which came to be known as the Nielsen Tower. The Nielsen Tower finally and officially became the permanent home of the Filipinas Heritage Library. The library, during one of my rare visits, is a true treasure trove of rare Filipiniana books. In the ‘70s, a year after President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, the Makati skyline suddenly rumbled and quivered with development. And as every building inundated the once vast expanse of nothing, more revenues were added to the municipal treasury. There was no stopping Makati’s hurried pace to development. In a few years, low level arcades that once cuddled beauty salons, flossy boutiques, bookshops, and trendy stores were leveled and in their places rose multi-storied complexes that contained department stores, supermarkets, movie houses, and fastfood-restaurants. When the Marcoses were toppled from power, the successor, the late President Cory Aquino, appointed Jejomar Binay as the OIC of Makati. The city then became symbolic as the epicenter of history-making events, like the Yellow Confetti Days that catalyzed the People’s Power. In January 2, 1995, By virtue of Republic Act 7854, passed by Congress in late December 1994 and signed into law by President Fidel V. Ramos, the municipality of Makati became the City of Makati. g

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by berry pelaez–marfori

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rom swamps and grasslands in the ‘30s, Makati today continues to be the most successful financial district in the Philippines with the highest concentration of iconic office towers, highly-rated hotels and retail buildings that have won international recognition. Close to a million people visit, live and work in the 124-hectare business center daily. Few of them realize that Makati’s sustained success is largely the result of deliberate planning on the part of Ayala Land, Inc., the country’s largest property developer. The company traces its roots to the firm that originally founded Makati in the late ‘40s, Ayala y Cia. Ayala y Cia owned the vast Hacienda San Pedro de Makati, which at one time cultivated grasses to be used as fodder for the horses that drew the carriages of Old Manila’s elite and the city’s streetcars. Then, Makati was merely a suburb of the capital Manila. In fact, the sparsely populated hacienda was the perfect location for an airport when air travel became commercially viable in the Philippines in the late ‘30s. The tract of land offered clear approaches from all sides, a fact appreciated by Laurie Reuben Nielson, a New Zealander who set up a number of businesses in the Philippines including a stock brokerage, mining, an aviation school and the construction of an international airport on a turnkey basis. The Nielsen Airport, which consisted of 42 hectares leased from the Ayala family, served as the base of the American Far Eastern School of Aviation. When commercial air travel found a ready market in the Philippines, it became the primary gateway between the Manila and the world. Writer Alejandro Roces, a fresh graduate from the US in the late ‘40s, recalls landing on either Makati or Ayala Avenue or Paseo de Roxas when they were still runways. He showed his passport and gathered his luggage in Nielsen Tower, the home today of the Filipinas Heritage Library. balikbayanmagazine.com | October 2009 | balikbayan    19


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A perspective of the new Ayala Triangle.

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The plot of land bordered by the three runways repurposed as the main avenues of the country’s premier business district was later named the Ayala Triangle. Soon after the international airport was relocated elsewhere, Ayala y Cia envisioned the first masterplanned business area in the former hacienda. Bordered by attractive gated subdivisions euphemistically called “villages,” a commercial center and other amenities, the Makati Business District would be a self-contained community where one could live, work and find recreation. The ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s saw the vision taking shape with the Manila Polo Club and Makati Commercial Center serving as people magnets. In the decades immediately after the World War, development was naturally gravitating north of the City of Manila. Homes were being built in Sta. Mesa, New Manila and the working man enclaves or “Projects” of Quezon City, which had been decreed the new seat of government. Makati consisted mostly of empty tracts of land but its planners used the modern Rizal Theater and the playing fields and sports amenities of the Manila Polo Club to entice the wealthy to visit their city still largely on paper. It also donated land in San Lorenzo Village for a new campus to Assumption College, a school favored

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by the elite, who in the pre-war years sent their daughters to the original Herran campus. The attractions of Makati beckoned and soon the sugar barons, the wealthy descended from the Spanish mestizos and other landed gentry were building their homes in Forbes Park. The professionals, politicos, and others soon followed in Makati’s other residential areas forming a key segment of the critical mass that fueled Makati’s growth. By the ‘80s, Makati was clearly the premier business district of the Philippines as office towers rose in Legapsi and Salcedo Villages alongside residential condominiums. The forerunner of the ever-evolving shopping mall, the 36-hectare Makati Commercial Center kept the rest of the populace visiting the area and anticipating its next reincarnation. After more transformations in the ‘90s, the commercial area was eventually segregated into the Greenbelt and the Glorietta complexes with each brand focused on a particular target market. Today, the Greenbelt and Glorietta malls have become icons of innovative retail development. Emphasizes Anna Margarita Dy, group head of the Strategic Landbank Management Group of Ayala Land, the developer


that continues to prime Makati’s sustained growth: “We intend to maintain Makati’s competitive edge through a constant stream of projects that will keep the place vibrant. We want it to continue being friendly, engaging and interesting to all who live, work and visit here.” A key component to making Makati a vibrant city is to make it even more friendly to pedestrians than it already is. A new urban oasis at the heart of the business district to be unveiled this November serves merely as a symbol of the company’s commitment to progress and innovation. The two-hectare garden lies behind the Tower One and Exchange Plaza on Ayala Avenue and is bordered by Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue. Salcedo Village residents and employees who cut across the Ayala Triangle from Paseo de Roxas as they head for Ayala Avenue and Ayala Center will see the board-ups come down in a few weeks time to reveal a landscaped promenade. “You can take a walk, exercise your dog, or just enjoy a coffee break in this convergence area which is one of the most valuable land parcels in Makati,” says Dy. “The place will also be a venue for cultural, art and shared events.” She observes that great cities

of the world are distinguished by their gardens and civic areas where the pursuit of art and other finer things in life can take place. In that sense, the Ayala Triangle garden will be another symbol of Makati’s constant evolution. The Ayala Land project will be complemented by an undertaking of the Makati Commercial Estates Association (Macea), the organization of property owners in the business district, to make the business district truly a walking city. On-grade sidewalks will be expanded in some areas, lighting will be improved and special paving material will be incorporated in important locations. Urban patios dedicated to pedestrians are part of the scheme. Dy emphasizes that in addition to its location at the center of Metro Manila, Makati has remained the preferred business district even after close to six decades because of deliberate planning on the part of Ayala Land, the continuous upgrade of the district’s facilities including the multi-awarded Ayala Center, the completeness of its offerings, as well as the participation of its most important stakeholders like Macea in the governance and planning of the area. “Makati’s success has inspired Ayala Land planners to replicate its growth in other areas of the country such as the Bonifacio Global City and Nuvali,” she notes. g

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Picture Perfect

A Portrait of Makati through the Eye of Dr. Elenita Binay by MARIE angeli syjueco | THE AJPRESS

ore than just a mother of five, Dr. Elenita Binay has become a mother to the whole city of Makati since her husband Mayor Jejomar Binay assumed office in 1986. And as first lady of Makati, she believes that the beautification of the city is her legacy.

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We sat down with Dr. Binay and she told us how it was like to be wife of a mayor, and consequently, a mother of one of the nation’s central business districts. “I stopped working as resident obstetrician-gynecologist. Mahirap na,” she said. It must be hard because working as a doctor while being the mayor’s wife may cause a lot of expectations or attract intrigues. However, her service as doctor never ended as she initiated health programs for the city of Makati. “At first, I was more active with health programs. I advised my husband to build the Ospital ng Makati (OM),” she said. Thus, together with the foundation of the OM, the Ospital ng Makati Foundation, where Elen is a board member, was founded to provide medical supplies to the beneficiaries of OM. Through the years, Elen discovered a new task she must do as the first lady of Makati. After securing health programs for the residents of the city, Elen thought of making Makati beautiful. “So I advised my husband to make the Makati Park & Garden,” she said. The park, definitely, is a pride to the the city of Makati as it became a landmark and even a tourist spot. Indeed, Elen has been a mother to Makati by taking care of its children’s health and keeping its surroundings clean and beautiful. “I think health & beautification are the things I should give attention to,” Elen said. “And beautification is my legacy.” Later on, Elen had to run for office when her husband’s term ended. She considered it a hard task. “Becoming a mayor is not like working for a company where you just work and get paid. There is the obligation to serve,” she said. As the Binay husband and wife believed in profit sharing, they understand the need to give something back to the people. “You don’t just collect taxes. You have to give back something to the people,” Elen said. And the legacy went on as Elen continued to beautify Makati. “When I became mayor, I became more active with the beautification projects,” she said. Even today, Elen continued to beautify the city. There is an on-going project along Buendia. “We even started shaping the plants, para maiba naman,” she said in laughter. Even as a child, Elen really loved to plant. “You know my grandmother had a hectare lot where she plant santol, balimbing, tamarind, talong and many more,” Elen said. She practically has a green thumb that until today, she still does planting as a hobby and even a business. “My father loves to go to the farm, too, and supervise the inter-planting in our farm in Bulacan.” Today, Elen has more plans to beautify Makati. “I’m thinking of planting more flowering trees like golden shower, Palawan cherry, banaba and palosanto around the city,” she said. g


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Bag designers all (from left to right). Jun Escario, Michi Calica Sotto, Randy Ortiz, Vic Barba, Patrice Ramos Diaz, Louis Claparols.

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s one of the country’s premier shopping, dining and entertainment destination, Ayala Malls takes a leap further by heeding the world’s call for sustainability by launching an awareness campaign called Greenology. More than just a venue for leisure and relaxation, Ayala Malls continues to take an active role in bringing the sustainable lifestyle to the consumers through the various events and activities lined up in the coming months. Through the years, Ayala Malls has been showing its unwavering commitment in providing not just innovative and rewarding experiences to its customers and patrons but also an atmosphere fit for the green lifestyle. Greenology is just one of the many eco-friendly efforts the Ayala Malls is promoting to raise the standard of sustainable living through its programs for its patrons and the environment. Ayala Malls continues to mark the trend of being an ecofriendly and eco-chic establishment by showcasing remarkable events that will surely capture the hearts of concerned mall patrons and environmentalists. Ayala Malls Group Senior Vice President and Group Head Marivic Añonuevo relates, “We have pioneered environmental programs in Philippine malls, and these programs have now become models in the industry. Now we’re affirming our commitment to Mother Nature by responding to the global call for sustainable living and sustainable environment. With Greenology, we have come up with an integrated approach to strengthen our environmental efforts

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and our campaign for sustainable development. And we would like our merchants and mall goers to be our partners in making Greenology a success.” Ayala Malls Group Vice President and COO Rowena Tomeldan adds, “We at Ayala Malls have explored ways to balance our environmental commitments with our customers’ need for a rewarding shopping experience. We’re celebrating “Greenology” through a series of earth-friendly events designed to remind everyone to take care of the environment. We urge all our merchants, shoppers, and supporters to help us make a difference for a sustainable future.” Ayala Malls launches the ECO TOTE in which fashion designers Louis Claparols, Michi Calica-Sotto, Vic Barba, Patrice Ramos-Diaz, Jun Escario and Randy Ortiz from the Filipino Zone in Greenbelt 5 are commissioned to create a reusable bag for each Ayala Mall. The ECO TOTE will be sold at a retail price of P400 in August 2009 at the concierge of each Ayala Mall. P100.00 goes directly to World Wildlife Fund for every bag sold.


The designers have also partnered with organizations in support of their environmental campaign. Vic Barba taps Gift and Graces Fair Trade Foundation, an organization that provides product development and market access to marginalized communities and has been making shopping bags for his own boutique. Jun Escario supports Gasa sa Gugma, home of the destitute and dying elderly, by providing them with basic necessities such as food, bedding and toiletries. Michi Calica Sotto engages Earth Day Network, an environmental campaign pushing for proper waste management, to bring her reusable bag to life as she fashions old billboard tarpaulin into the underside of her Eco Tote. Louis Claparols adopts The Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), an organization that develops awareness and compassion for animals in the country, as proceeds from each sale of his Eco Tote goes to their cause. Randy Ortiz partners with shoemakers of Marikina City, tasking the legendary cobblers known all over the world for their superior craftsmanship, to create his Eco Tote in hopes of reawakening the local footwear industry. Patrice RamosDiaz supports Haribon Foundation’s Gift of Trees project under the Road to 2020 movement, aiming to restore 1 million hectares of rainforest with native tree species by 2020, as proceeds from each sale of her Eco Tote goes to their cause. Another green way in saving Mother Earth is the ECO DASH, a fun run open to all patrons of Ayala Malls, runners and non-runners alike on September 13, 5:00am at the Bonifacio High Street. In partnership with Bantay Kalikasan, Globe and Ayala Land, Ayala Malls’ ECO DASH invites everyone to run as we race against time to save the earth. Runners may choose from among the 4 distances: 3, 5, 10 or 21 kilometers. P100,000.00 cash donation will go to Bantay Kalikasan. Participants are also encouraged to donate any recyclable material, which will go to Bantay Kalikasan as well. A sustainable lifestyle finds expression in ECO ART, a display of edgy art installations featuring sculptures and 3D models highlighting the fundamentals of recreating, in partnership with renowned artists Alma Quinto, Pete Jimenez, Mac Valdezco and Ral Arrogante with students from University of the Philippines, University of the East, University of Sto. Tomas, College of St. Benilde, Far Eastern University, Philippine Women’s University and Technical University of the Philippines. The art installation aims to educate the shoppers of how much garbage is consumed by using plastics or paper cups. Starting August 28 until September 11, be captivated with visually stimulating pieces from ECO ART to be

exhibited simultaneously around Glorietta, Greenbelt, Alabang Town Center, Market! Market!, TriNoma, Bonifacio High Street, Ayala Center Cebu and UP Techno Hub. Witness Ayala Malls’ top local brands and designers as they support the campaign by collaborating with Ayala Malls in creating clothes and accessories made out of eco-friendly materials via Limited Edition GREEN LINE. The Limited Edition GREEN LINE is available to the public for two weeks (September 16-30) at the Filipino Zone, Greenbelt 5. Top local brands include Bayo and Folded & Hung. Greenbelt 5 Filipino Zone designers to participate in this momentous event are Aranaz, Arnel Papa, Barba, Bonne Bouche, Gaupo, Jun Escario, Myth, Paradi, Religioso and Ana Rocha. World-renowned artist Kenji Williams also supports Ayala Malls’ sustainability campaign as he performs live at the Ayala Malls this coming October. An award-winning musician, filmmaker, music producer and classically trained violinist, he combines visual media with music to tell a story of planetary consciousness and spiritual evolution. Ayala Malls’ response to the call for sustainable development is also exemplified through its Solid Waste Management Program that fully integrates environmental responsibility with a clean and green mall lifestyle. Ayala Center pioneered in waste segregation which led to the establishment of The Solid Waste Management (SWM) program. It also established the Material Recovery Facility, a first in the commercial center, which complies with Republic Act 9003, known as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act. This environmental impact is through residual waste diversion from the landfill or reduction of waste that goes to the landfill by recovering materials that can be reused, recycled, and processed into compost and bricks. Ayala Center together with Jeram Hauling Services developed the close loop system wherein garden waste is converted into compost or soil conditioner through Vermi composting. This is presently used in the Ayala Center landscaping and cost 50% less than the market price. Shredded and pulverized dried residual wastes are converted into brick after mixed with cement, sand and water. These can be used as paving blocks in the Ayala Center. Indeed, the Ayala Malls’ Greenology campaign is a true testament towards a cleaner and more eco-friendly environment. These and more are some of the reasons why we lov’emall at the Ayala Malls! g balikbayanmagazine.com | October 2009 | balikbayan    29


| the unguided tour |

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Bacolod Unmasked Ready for its close-up e came face to face with Bacolod recently, in time for its MassKara Festival this month. And the city’s face, we must say, constantly changes. The Greeks had it, these masks. In their tragedy, a mask embodies the persona, the character being played by the actor. The mask becomes the vessel of ethos in carrying out the dramatic tension. Masks play an important role in the dramatization of tragic fate and the evocation of catharsis. More than hiding the real person behind the cover, masks up to the present time show not only a heightened sense of character, but also an expanded view of the imagination. This is perhaps the same imagination that Bacoleños have employed whenever they started to celebrate MassKara Festival in Bacolod, Negros Occidental. Through the years, The September celebrations have become one of the most colorful and visited festivals in the country, joining ranks with Cebu’s Sinulog, Kalibo, Aklan’s Ati-Atihan, and Lucena, Quezon’s Pahiyas. MassKara showcases the different faces of Negros Occidental, and its many hidden gems and developments. MassKara is the occasion where Negrenses go on stage and sport their faces and selves. The center of the celebrations of course is the Dakbanwa sang Bacolod. As in Intramuros, the Bacolod in Hiligaynon, the language of the region, means “stonehill,” since the first settlers of the town established themselves in a stony and hilly area. In the late 1700s, the Muslim raids forced the community to move towards the shoreline. The people called the place they left as “daan-banwa,” the old town.

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At the poolside of Sugarland Hotel.

The bloody raids of the Muslims had forced the people to band together and unite. And this banding together seems to be the major theme of the Bacolod myth. In the late 1970s, the people banded again as the region experienced a turbulent crisis. Aside from the slump in the once abundant sugar industry, a tragedy shocked the whole province. An inter-island vessel named Don Juan collided with a tanker and sank. Almost 700 were killed, many of them Negrenses. Some of them were even from the province’s prominent families. It was a sad time for all. But everyone endured. The late president of the Art Association of Bacolod Ely Santiago coined the word MassKara, which he took from the word mass, pertaining to the people, and the Spanish word, cara, which means face. This new word read in its historical context speaks very much of what the Greek dramatic elements we have mentioned. But read deeply, the creation of the MassKara evokes its turbulent times and the desire of Negrenses to move forward. As the City of Smiles, they can stand proud and be back on their feet. This was Negros’ clear statement when it first celebrated MassKara in 1980. But the brains behind the celebration that time was lawyer Evelio Leordina, then heading the Negros Occidental Department of Tourism. He moved mountains to bring the celebration to reality, to make the people smile once again as they say. He continued to lobby for Bacolod and the province to support the festival. And the rest as they say, is history. Leordina’s efforts paid off and the festival has been esteemed annual showcase for Bacolod. It is a most sought after festival, a well-visited one all these years. And the small aim of bringing back the smile in the City of Smiles had

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made a lot of tourists smile for the grandeur, the showmanship and the color of this city’s amusing fiesta. So much has changed in Bacolod, and the MassKara Festival will be celebrating its 28th year this month. Leordina is still very much around after the sterling two decades of the festival. And he is still at the helm of the festivities, now that he is the concurrent Mayor of Bacolod. His continued vision of bringing in the best and the brightest phases and faces of the city has wowed a lot of people from all walks of life and from all places. Bacolod as a city has become a melting pot of rich cultural development, economic prosperity, and history. Visiting the city will yield very fulfilling experiences of the sights and sounds of a bustling metropolis. Mayor Leordina brought us to the seat of government, the New Bacolod Government Center. The Government Center City, one of the newest must-see destinations of the city, stands majestic amidst sugarcane fields. What’s so peculiar about it is its semblance with the White House in Washington. It follows a contemporary classical renaissance design. The vastness of the locale emphasizes the eminence of the immaculate white structure, and this new development only reiterates the importance of the city as a center for commerce, government and tourism. There was also time for remembering history. The good mayor toured us around the Negros Museum, where much of the province’s history is kept and chronicled. The Negros Museum is the repository of the rich history of Negros Occidental--from it being formerly called as Buglas, which means the separation of the island from the islands of Panay and Guimaras; through the colonization period; and to the golden years of its haciendas.


The Bacolod Government House.

The Negros Museum used to be the office of the Bureau of Agriculture originally built in 1941. It was called the Sunset of the Empire towards the end of the American colonization. During the war, the Japanese colonizers occupied it. And in 2003, it has become the home to the Negros Museum. To this day, the original structure and the floors of the building have stayed the same. Much could be seen in the Negros Museum. It first introduced its beginnings in pre-colonial history. When colonizers set foot on the island of Buglas, they saw an aeta and they called him Negro. Thus, they called the whole island Negros. Negros, which is a volcanic land, has sugar as their primary industry that started in the 1800s. And this led to the intermarriages among the rich families from Negros and Pampanga to keep their control on the monopoly of sugar. In another room, for instance, we saw the hacienda system during the colonization period. Painted on the wall was a sugar baron with a top hat. The top hat indicates the status of the man. The taller the hat, the richer the man is. Another painting showed a scenario in the hacienda where a man wore a “bayong” on his head to cover his face. He was not a “makapili” (a person who spies for the Japanese), instead he works as a look out for the sugar barons to know who were not working well in the hacienda. There was the replica of the old “asupanaga,” big wooden machinery operated with the use of a carabao, which was used in the haciendas to squeeze the sugarcane and get the juices to be cooked in a big “kawa” for several hours.

Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leordina.

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At Aboy’s, with owner Nestor Evaristo. In a hall, we also saw a historical timeline of Negros Occidental during the different colonization period, which shows the influences brought by the foreigners to the island. At the center was a replica of a big boat called “Batil,” which was used to transport sugar to the Iloilo International Port. When the boat comes back, it carries different products from the Americans and the Chinese, like books, porcelain plates, cigarettes and wooden furniture. In one corner was a replica of a big train. It was during the American colonization when there was modernization of the milling facilities. There were massive monsters (iron dinosaurs)--trains that made the transportation of sugar from one hacienda to another easier. Today, the Hawaiian Philippines Milling Company in Silay still uses the set of trains that dates back the 1920s. The British, on the other hand, opened the ports of Negros Occidental to the international trade that prompted the boom in the sugar industry. When the British ventured in the textile industry, the Ilonggos and the Chinese mestizo’s business suffered a downfall. Thus, they immigrated to Negros because of the rapid agricultural development and the boom of sugar industry. The Japanese section explains the contribution of the Japanese to the sugar industry. Kukichipol Ishiwata, an engineer, helped to build milling companies and renovated the Bacolod Cathedral. His famous work was the Mambukal resort. We went on to another room, and there we saw mannequins representing the heroes of Negros Occidental like Aneceto Lacson and Don Juan Araneta. They were the ones who led the battle against the Spaniards during the revolution. One of the scenes presented in the museum was about how the Filipinos used the rolled bamboo mats and coconut—-both painted with black to look like canons and canon balls. When the Spaniards saw these from the Bacolod Cathedral Tower, they thought the Filipinos were armed, thus, they surrendered. This was the battle known to us today as the Cinco de Noviembre. The last section we looked at was the one that showed the first Philippine flag in Negros Occidental made by three Negrense women: Olympia Severino Gamboa, her sister Perpetua and their cousin Europia. We also paid homage to the many other important shrines in

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Bacolod. The first one, was the Sugarland Hotel. The hotel has been around for 34 years, and its various facilities all tell magnificent tales of its time. Boasting of 88 guestrooms, six function rooms, a beautiful poolside and a grand ballroom, the hotel has hosted travelers and personalities like chess legend Bobby Fisher and former US President Jimmy Carter. It’s websites says it best, their tradition of hospitality: “Here is where businessmen wheel their deals, corporate minds exchange ideas, and newly weds toast to a future. Through moments both big and small, our goal has always been to make your stay pleasant and memorable.” Another shrine we visited was Aboy’s Restaurant. We went to Aboy’s for lunch where we were served with a feast of grilled blue marin, squid, pork belly and talaba and a “mild interpretation” of Bicol Express (as the owner puts it), adobo and Pangat—their version of Laing. Aboy’s Restaurant is named after its owner Nestor “Aboy” Evaristo. Aboy started this business because it’s the only thing he knows. “I know how to eat and I know how to cook,” he told us. He had worked in Bacolod for nine years and when the company he was working for wanted to re-assign him back to Manila, he didn’t want to go back there anymore. “I said ‘No,’ I came to love Bacolod already,” he said. Thus, he brought his wife and child to Bacolod. “We don’t have relatives here, so when we started we were practically on our own,” he said. They then decided to put up a small eatery. The Association of Negros Producers (ANP) became our last stop to buy pasalubong. When we entered the showroom, the first thing we saw were the delicacies from Negros, then the elegant decorations together with paintings made by local artists, accessories, weaved bags, the Bacolod-designed shirts, clothes and furniture. ANP was conceptualize through the efforts of 15 women putting up business alternatives for the failing sugar economy during the 1980s. ANP first started as the House of Negros Foundation, then based in Manila where the women were. Today, the ANP consists of small and big producers from Negros who sell or export their products. These are the many faces of Bacolod today, and each face shows the liveliness, the very essence of life in the city. g  LJS


| persona |

We’ll Always Have Silay Lyn Gamboa talks about her moveable feast

ou haven’t been to Silay if you haven’t met Lyn Gamboa. Known here and elsewhere as the doyenne of culture and heritage not only of Silay but also of the whole province itself, Lyn is the keeper of all things Negros—from the manuglibuds to the old houses. While she herself hails from Tarlac, her marriage with Neil from the clan of the Gamboas, one of the oldest Silaynon families, initiated her into a wonderful and thriving culture rich in history, artistry and imagination. She had blended so well, that today, she now plays a cultural vanguard of the locale. She is now president of the Negros Cultural Foundation (NCF), which maintains among other cultural repositories, the Negros Museum, in the former Provincial Capitol. She also helps organize the annual Adobo Festival at Silay every November, coinciding with the celebrations of the Cinco de Noviembre revolt.

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Through NCF, Lyn is also a patron of the famed Balay Negrense, the old heritage house of the Gaston clan. In our recent visit to Silay, we sat down with Lyn and Neil, and their uncle Joe Gamboa a balikbayan from Sonora, California, at the Balay Negrense to re-experience, not only the old and glorious times of the house, but also the other cultural facets of the place, like its food, stories, and the city itself. The unofficial tour guide, custodian, and historian, rolled into one has really blended so well in the colorful Silay fabric. Next year, she plans to immortalize the important sons and daughters of Silay like National Artist Leandro Locsin, Doreen Fernandez, the opera singer Conchita Gaston and Purita Kalaw Ledesma. But that morning, she was just our animated host and storyteller. She shared so much about food, glorious memory and her own life amidst history. Breakfast and missing the manug-libud That morning, the gracious hosts served us a very comforting set of Silaynon breakfast dishes. Over breakfast, Lyn tried to make sense of Silay cuisine, and remembered the magic of the manuglibud. “Silay is a genteel town. All the rich people live here with the big houses. Big haciendas. And the women’s pastime was ma-jong. When they play, nobody wanted to get out of the table.” “From then on came this group of entrepreneurial women who cooked food at home. We call them manug-libud, the women to bring food to the mahjong table. The players choose from their baskets while they’re busy playing.” Every little home, Lyn recalled, had their own specialty. “There was panara, and then all kinds of suman. We also had puto, lanson, lumpia. and some

others. So all you did was wait for the manuglibud. She starts at seven or eight o’clock, then she went from house to house.” And this is a real tradition of Silay, according to Lyn. “In fact, that’s my mission now, to make the modern manuglibuds realize how important native food is.” At the table, Lyn continued to share what for her were important dishes in any Silaynon breakfast. “The Visayans have soup for breakfast. Our soup is called baskoy. It is pork liver sautéed in ginger, among others. And then we have our fried rice called kalo-kalo. You eat it with the soup. You pour on some spoons of the soup on the top of the rice and then, you also put egg. You also add your chorizo and dried fish.” “We also have the special chorizo of Negros,” she said, as she passed on that plate. “We always serve breakfast for special people. It’s always cooked in my house.” Later on, she continued introducing the other dishes in the table. “This is panara, an ageold recipe of Silay. It was started really by people from Silay. It is made of rice flour with bean sprouts inside. This one is the manapla puto, but it is now made in Silay.” balikbayanmagazine.com | October 2009 | balikbayan    39


Joe Gamboa. At another moment, she showed us an interesting indigenous fish dish. “I want to show you this. This fish is called dunog. I learned this from his brother. I never knew that there was such a fish and it’s very good. So you eat it with a sawsawan of tomato, onions and cilantro.” The breakfast was of course completed by generous cups of coffee. It is sweetened by no less than one Negrense favorite. “Only the mascuvado, nothing can replace it. And this coffee too, I buy it from the market. I patronize local product. I buy it from the market. It’s freshly ground everyday,” Lyn boasted. On the Balay Negrense According to Lyn, Balay Negrense was last occupied in the 1970s. The last occupants turned its wide “basketball court-sized” hall into a ballet school. Lyn, who with another member of an old Silay clan, Cristina Montelibano, refurnished the house and turned it into a museum, had wonderful memories of this house the sugarcane boom built, and later on, nostalgia rebuilt. “The house was just finished by 1895. The Gastons had 12 children. The unspoken rule was that they could live here by turns. So it was really peopled by all of them. And these were little stories that nobody wanted to share because I guess they don’t think it’s important but this was the important part of this house,” she said, while bringing us around the house. Lyn even recalled the wonderful personages who once lived in the house. “When the family of Emilio Gaston was here, the eldest daughter played the piano. Later, she taught piano in the house. Then the younger sister, Inday Manosa, became a ballet teacher, so she opened a ballet school. Lately, I also found out that Chloe Romulo Cruz, also a ballet dancer also taught here. So many were schooled

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Lyn and Neil Gamboa. here. This house has witnessed so many things out of the community.” When she and Montelibano banded together to turn the house into a cultural showcase, they were faced with various challenges in rebuilding a whole historical lifestyle. The two friends went to Manila’s antique stores and were fortunate to have been granted items perfect for the display. Both of their families too donated heirloom furniture and important memorabilia to recreate the authentic feel of the yesteryears. Soon, other people helped. Balay Negrense became an important tourist destination in all of Silay. Lyn recalled: “The house was awful when it was still empty. But I think we were lucky because people really thought the house was haunted. Nothing much was looted and everything was in their original location and status. The walls were down but we put them back. And we saved the original wood of the floor. We had everything fixed up.” Balay Negrense now houses paintings, photographs, antiques, beds and other paraphernalia that bring visitors back to the time when the house was very much alive with Gaston joie de vivre. The visitors are also grounded with much information and cultural trivia by the descriptions all around the house. “All the descriptions were written by Doreen,” Lyn said, referring to her relative, Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, the Silaynon who became the dean of Philippine Food Writing. As a heritage center, Balay Negrense aptly reminds visitors that once in the city’s lifetime, Silay has been called “The Paris of Negros.” “But you know, I don’t like that much,” Lyn said, still having faith in the true Filipino spirit. “We have our own identity. Why do we have to become Parisians?” Lyn’s faith endures, and is very much felt not only in the house, but in her whole being. g  LJS


| essence of place | silay, negros occidental

hen one walks around Silay, that quaint Negros Occidental heritage city a town away from the capitol of Bacolod, one experiences immediate transport— an experience of being here, and being not here all at the same time. To say the least, the city has a time of its own. It almost always does not belong to our realm, but then again, it is much part of our own, much part of the present. The Plaza, the City Hall, the old houses, the streets—all these characterize Silay’s glorious past. Every step in the cobblestones, under the eaves of trees, and even under the shadows of those great houses will grant one a benevolent gift of memory. Silay, after all, is the city of memories—known long ago even as the City of Lights, the Paris of Negros, where culture and wealth thrived. Each house is a memento of those times of the Sugar Barons, the vaudeville, the zarzuelistas and the mannered young ladies trying to peek through their capiz or glass windows. Each alley, each shadow, is found memory. I breathed and lived Silay in a pasamano of the Balay Negrense, in my first summer trip to the province. After a grueling writers workshop at Bacolod, we fellows paid homage to this town of the olden days, and the sight of the beautiful and elaborate grand staircase led me to the wide halls of a past I can only imagine—or at least see in books and old lore. Being in the stairs brought me images of grand parties and bailes. In the adjoining rooms with small altars and retablos, I was reminded of the angelus as the bells of the San Diego Cathedral tolled. But life in its simplicity, was there in the pasamano, at sunset. I sat in the terrace like an eager child, saying my farewell to the ending day. I saw the almost reddish skies color the whole neighborhood at Balay Negrense, with a sprawling garden fenced off by intricate grillwork at that street aptly named Cinco de Noviembre. It was in Silay that the event known in Negros history as “Al Cinco de Noviembre” was planned before it took a revolutionary turn in 1898, the birth of the Philippine Republic.

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The Grand Sala of that house of memory. balikbayanmagazine.com | October 2009 | balikbayan    43


But before anything else, the house in itself has great history. In the early 1800s, the patriarch of the house Yves Leopold Germaine Gaston moved here with his wife, Prudencia Fernandez. The Frenchman ventured into sugar, and he brought with him the horno ecocomico, a sugar milling technology still unheard of in the lands. He became a prominent businessman, a full-pledged Sugar Baron in what could have been a self-sustaining Republic of Negros. In the Gaston house was a round table with a circular illustration of the Gaston lineage. How big the family is, I exclaimed to a friend, while we read each of the names that descended from the Frenchman Gaston. This family has grown this much because of the many stories it had to tell about Silay, the city of their roots. At that point of the afternoon, I tried to imagine how it was to grow up in this household—in that pasamano. Somehow, it was deeply magical. The trees swayed as night fell. The red started to

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disappear. But of course, there were more houses out there. And we could just imagine that while the people were marching quietly at the secret meeting for the “Al Cinco de Noviembre” in the neighborhood drugstore in the street, more and more of the owners of the houses started to peep through their half-opened capiz or stained glass windows, trying to know what was happening. Of course, they have probably heard about it—the plan, and actually the whole kucho-kucho, the rumors that were spreading with it. The Revolt was actually an effective bluff that scared off the Spanish authorities and the peninsulares who had been holding fort for so long. With all the influential families banding together—the Lacsons, the Golezes, the Locsins, the Severinos, the Aranetas, the Lizareses, the Diazes, the Montillas and many others—Negros, in one brief


Remember when? Balay Negrense captures the essence of a morning in a room kissed by the sun. shinning moment, portrayed probably one of the first bloodless revolutions in Philippine history. The movements seen from the discreetly opened windows probably provided a sneak peek at the painful but fulfilling birthing of Negrense, and by extension, Filipino nationalism. What else could be seen in the windows of the heritage houses? Well, in the Gaston house, I saw the San Diego, the trees in the plaza, and the many other gallant houses, which at night were mere shadows of the past. I saw no light at these houses, save for some, which were still being used by descendants of the old families. But in the Bernardino-Ysabel Jalandoni Ancestral House, I saw in the wide and airy windows a city coming alive. It was near the popular eating places, and the busy bus station where one could wait for a ride to go to other towns like Victorias. It was a junction to other realms, I suppose.

But somehow all the windows of the homes provide canvasses of an idyllic time some of us would probably want to cross and be part of. The canvass expands if we just look closely: even farther than the Golden Years of the Sugar Barons, there was pre-colony, when Silay was merely a land of lore where a princess named Kansilay led the people fight the rampaging pirates. But the princess died in battle. In her grave rose a tree, which the people named after her, and consequently, the town. Did my favorite bowl of sour kansi also originated from her? I can only speculate. The canvass could also paint a revealing colonial past: The first settlements had been found in 1565 in this town known as “Carobcob,” which is Kiniray-a for “to scratch.” From a humble creek town, it had become an encomienda of Cristobal Nuñez Paroja. Those days began the long journey of the Negrense sakadas who toiled for a land they will never own. balikbayanmagazine.com | October 2009 | balikbayan    45


The facade of Balay Negrense. The story of the sakadas is the story of Negros, and of Silay itself, where most of the rich and the affluent monopolizers of the sugar industry spent their riches. Their lives crisscrossed here, like the many buses that pass through town in sleepy nights. By the windows, they could probably be seen—there is no such thing as absence. Today, you could walk around Silay and still get the authentic colonial feel. The plaza, although bereft of its old benches (the benches had found a home at Balay Negrense), has still maintained its being sentro of the town. The whole town in itself is a sentro, if we recall history: the nearer the sentro, the richer and important the inhabitants of the houses were. This was the common structure of the pueblo system when the Spaniards gathered the indios to turn them into civilized subjects of Madre España. The regularly planned roads of the heritage town all wonderfully converge in the Plaza, where the Sen. Jose C. Locsin Cultural and Civic Center now stands, right across the Silay City Hall and the San Diego Cathedral. Time has somehow stood still. But Silay is not only a convergence of the historical and the political. Another colorful facet of the Silay canvass is its rich cultural heritage. This town loved all that was good, true and beautiful, and it could be seen in the very intricacies of the houses themselves. The grillwork, the ventanillas, and the whole design of the Balay Negrense are nothing but amazing work, and the same goes to the other houses that surround the Plaza. Although adopting the bahay na bato structure, the houses themselves encapsulate the grand and even the baroque in the magnificent homes of the Sugar Barons and the leading community leaders. The houses have become architectural treasures themselves embodying the different and “wide range of architectural styles, ranging from the Floral to Geometrical styles of the ‘bahay na bato’… the Art Nouveau and Art Deco influences… and the American colonial styles,” according to architect Juliet Patosa. And it was also the center of art and culture for Negros, in the days of the Sugar Barons. The Cathedral of San Diego is a work of art itself, a living proof of this cultured society. When the town was boasting itself of being the “Paris of Negros,” it had to recreate

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what used to be a dilapidated parish church. Don Jose Ledesma initiated the new construction, and hired the Italian architect Lucio Bernasconi. Bernasconi adopted the traditional Latinate crossshaped structure of churches, and placed on top of the structure complex, Byzantine inspired silver-colored domes, that shine bright in sunlight. The Sugar Barons shelled out money for the construction of the whole church, which has amusing columns and stained glass. As an art center, Silay was the center stage of entertainment. Neil Solomon Locsin wrote: “As Silay grew in population and progressed in economic and cultural wealth, it became famous for its cultural; shows and import of artists from Manila and overseas.” Among the known visitors of Silay, Locsin noted, were pianist Arthur Rubenstein and Spanish poet Salvador Rueda. Silay was also home to many artists and even theater enthusiasts. The National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin, who designed many of the more popular structures around the country, hails from Silay. But my mind had wandered long around Silay. In my memory, I am still seated at the pasamano of the Balay Negrense, the heritage house of the Gastons. During the tour, this house, I discovered had long been filled with music, especially with the opera singer, Conchita Gaston, who was believed to have lived here. In her heydays, she was known to have performed Madame Butterfly, and even for Leonard Bernstein’s rendition of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex. Her gift of voice must have resounded in every nook and cranny of Balay Negrense, and even in the surrounding neighborhood mansions. I could only imagine her sing, while accompanied by a grand piano. But these are only memories, reconstructed even. The next summer I was in Silay, I walked its Plaza. At night, the trees glittered with display lights. I relieved the shadows of the houses of memory. Time gifted itself. The walk in the windy night was simply blissful. Perhaps, Conchita was peeking out her still unclosed grand windows, carrying a tune, an opera perhaps, taking in the light of the full moon, addressing the Silay skies. Perhaps, Silay was singing with her too. It sings the composos that continue to chronicle the Negros story. g  LJS


| past food |

Kaon Ta. Negrense food remembered in Negros Museum, Bacolod.

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The world according to Doreen Gamboa Fernandez

                    he world, according to Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, is in a plate. It is a plate filled with her favorite Silay sweets or afternoon merienda like kalan-unon, piaya, empanada, lumpia, tortitas or dulce gatas. Or it could be a plate of sumptuous bindonggo, pinakas nga guma, or guinamos nga bihud; or maybe even a serving of inasal nga manok, shiny in its oils and secret spices, hot off the grill, and perfect with sinamak. This is the world Doreen tried to articulate all through her life, until she passed on at the age of 67 in 2002 while on vacation in New York. The world she referred to belonged not only to the red and fertile Negros soil—although it may well be solely for it, given the fact that she wrote that our culinary culture is very much grounded in the soil, in the locale itself. Her universe revolved not only around, but also within this plate. And this worldview of hers all began in that little town called Silay, now a city, in Negros Occidental. “Silay is a city, deservedly so because it has two museums, a cultural center, houses traditional and modern, and is the rumored home of a new airport,” Doreen wrote, in a popular flyer distributed by the city’s tourism office. The terminal she wrote about is now known as the Silay-Bacolod International Airport, the new gateway of tourism and commerce in the region. Undoubtedly and hopefully for the better, the airport and some other various developments are changing the Silay landscape day by day. But somehow, we could sense that Doreen wished all these would not move, not even touch her beloved Silay. She never lived to see the dread, or the amazement though. However, she took with her the memory of a quiant Silay, which will always have a “small-town feel to it.” “Most Silaynon shop, go to movies, go to school, and dine out in Bacolod. I am glad this feeling persists, because it has kept Silay food, one of the town’s best assets, at the level of hometown excellence.”

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And in her life, she always remembered Silay food. She took with her such wonderful childhood memories, memories that have probably written themselves and remained in her palate forever. “When we used to return home in school vacations, our first request was for the manug-libud. These pleasant lady-vendors would come; baskets on their heads, cans slung on their arms… (They) lay everything down on the kitchen table.” Doreen’s catalogues, in books and in the flyer, are nothing but amusing. Even now, she describes food so well it actually brings one back to the table. This gift of powerful descriptions was given to her, not by the fates, but probably by the manug-libud, as they seem to have brought out some magic in those sweet and filling goodies from their baskets. Her descriptions could be considered talismans for this world she attempted to make sense of. Her mouth-watering sentences are all visceral, making wide use of all the functioning senses. “Piyaya, (the) sesame-sprinkled cakes with melted brown sugar inside”; “chicken-filled empanadas in pleated, fluted shells“; “And very, very especially, the Silay Lumpia, like which there is no other; crisp young ubod from a tree felled that morning, sautéed in garlic, pork and shrimps, in a wrapper thin as silk, accented with jaunty spring onion.” Reading closely, there is no place for dry adjectives in her paper, as well as her palate. Perhaps, only the paradoxical grammar of the senses could ever make it in her universe. She also recalled quite vividly, a dear culinary shrine of her childhood, the El Ideal Bakery along Rizal Street, and provided an amazing catalogue, as if she was herself bringing us in front of the bakery’s display glasses. “El Ideal Bakery on Rizal Street

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can tell its own tale of Silay food. At least 75 years old, perhaps older, (the bakery) specializes in cookies and biscuits from which Molo, Iloilo is still famous. Most of Negros was populated by families from Iloilo… (carving) out sugar haciendas during the 19th century sugar boom. This is one of the legacies.” Doreen continued: “The name of the biscuits are a roll call of tradition: quinamunsil and sinambag, kamachili and sampalok; bañadas, a cookie bathed in white frosting; broas or lady fingers; bizcocho Principe and bizcocho de caña; galletas, thin and wafer-like; paciencia, masapodrida; lubid-lubid twisted like ropes, hojaldres thin and crumbly; paborita; ugoy-ugoy; isda-isda. And meringues large and small, white or colored.” She kept all of them in mind, remembering their taste, and the sense of wonder in every sweet bite. Doreen also probably remembered as well, the road to their rich and colorful market, despite being much sheltered as a Silaynon. She must have gone to it, taking in all the sights, sounds and flavors. “The market is a place in which to buy—or eat local specialties. From the bindonggo cooked with batuan, “tender and steaming,” as she described it, to the kalo-kalo or sinangag with scrambled eggs during breakfasts, she has probably memorized the most important places of these tasteful market treats. They’re all inscribed in her heart. Markets, they say, are repositories of local food culture, and it is always blissful to make a pilgrimage every time we get the chance. Doreen probably agrees, as she made a hearty recommendation in the flyer: “Have as well inasal nga manok, our barbecued chicken special because of tuba vinegar and atsuwete, and the roasting method. And if diwal (angel wings) are in season, let them fly you heavenward.” Silay and its food have permeated Doreen’s writings from for many years. In the 50s, she left Silay to study at Manila’s St. Scholastica’s College, earning her BA in 1954. At the Ateneo de Manila University, she received her MA (1956) and PhD (1977) in literature, where she taught for almost thirty years. She had become a performer in her writings, and in her two passions— theater scholarship and food writing. She studied theater and even organized a very progressive theater group during Martial Law. She also wrote food reviews that are unparalleled up to now. For the critic Barbara Kirshenblatt-Giblett, Doreen flourished in both. “Both challenge the writer to go beyond criticism. Doreen approached both kinds of writing as an educator, rather than as a critic… She made ephemeral memories, and traced a path from the immediacy of the moment to a vast and varied culinary landscape and history.” The magic from the basket of the manuglibud must have been so potent for Doreen, it gave birth to several books: Sarap: Essays in Philippine Food (1998, with Edilberto Alegre), Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture, and many food guides in collaboration with Alegre. Doreen also penned with Alegre, Kinilaw: A Philippine Cuisine of Freshness (1991), and Fruits of the Philippines (1997). A few years before her death, she was inspired to look into Filipino food culture through the clay pot, the palayok. In her Palayok: Philippine Food Through Time, On Site, In the Pot (2000), she seemed to re-echo what was earlier discovered in the discourse on “Filipinology” by Prospero Covar. Doreen’s and Covar’s earthen wares are relatives in the first place, both describing the Filipino character and culture at large. And with this clear similarity, we could not help but be astonished. “For Doreen,” Giblett continued, “food was a mirror that Filipinos could hold up to themselves. It offered an opportunity for self-knowledge that was grounded in immediate experience, embodied knowledge and personal and collective memory.”


The merry mix of Mang Inasal and Mark Bautista

Mark Bautista with Edgar “ Injap “ Sia II of Mang Inasal

About six years ago, the man behind Iloilo’s famous Mang Inasal, Edgar “Injap” Sia II, and singer/actor Mark Bautista dared to take their chances in Manila. Fortune smiled at them who, by sheer hard work and a humble attitude, attained their goals and dreams. And as if serendipity sought out two likeminded individuals to complement each other, Mang Inasal has partnered with Mark Bautista to take the message of good food and family celebrations to more and more Filipinos nationwide. Mang Inasal’s existing branches were a big hit in the Visayas, as fellow Ilonggos could not seem to get enough of their scrumptiously moist and juicy, tender and tasty barbecued chicken, meats and seafood. But would the ever-evolving palates of Manila folks accept Mang Inasal as well? To Sia’s pleasant surprise, Mang Inasal was eagerly embraced by Manila foodies. And today, Mang Inasal has become a culinary force to reckon with. Indeed, the Visayan favorite is now a Metro Manila hotspot too. Sia believes that this success can be attributed to many factors which come together to make a totality - affordability, a distinct Filipino flavor, the unlimited rice offerings, the strategic location of branches, and the dynamic brand build up that creates favorable awareness for Mang Inasal. At just about the same time that Sia was preparing for Mang Inasal’s Manila debut, one young man was gearing up for his own conquest of the nation’s capital. Mark Bautista grew up in Cagayan de Oro. He recalls how even at an early age, he and his siblings were taught the value of hard work. Thus, he decided to join a singing contest to help with the family’s financial obligations. Today, he is a popular showbiz personality with a string of musical hits to his name, and a blooming film career. For Sia, Mang Inasal and Bautista have some similarities. “Mark also started in 2004, like Mang Inasal. Mark is also very unassuming but he has stayed in the entertainment world for quite some time already and he’s doing well. And we feel that Mark, like Mang Inasal, has a very big potential, coming into the next few years as they slowly unfold,” Sia said. Today, the two gentlemen from the South are more inspired than ever. All their efforts are paying off, giving credence to the principle that hard work, patience, honesty and faith in God make the best formula for success. And when at times the road may seem so rough and long, just keep walking and working and who knows, the dream may be closer to fulfillment than you think. g


At Balay Negrense, memory of glorious banquets abound at its spacious kitchen.

And after all, it was what she always wanted. In an interview with the defunct Pen and Ink literary journal, she related her own poetics of food writing—and her burning desire to stir the primal hunger of every Filipino reader. “I... want food writing to be something you can almost taste. I want the reader to feel pleasure reading it; I want to make the reader hungry. That’s where everything I learned as an English major comes in. Thus I can write about food without using only food words. I can use words from literature, from painting, from music, and so on, to bring the whole experience across. I want to emphasize the Pleasure Principle; it must always be there.” In her passing, Doreen has found herself in a fictionalized world created by her fellow Hiligaynon writer and critic, Rosario Cruz Lucero. In the Palanca-award winning short story aptly titled “Doreen’s Story,” the tongue-and-cheek first person speaker of the story related how the fictional Doreen related the story of Anabella, the defiant daughter of a haciendero in Silay who locked herself up in her room to write “72 novels, 122 short stories, 7 novelettes, 5 corridos, 8 narrative poems of 100 to 1,000 stanzas each, 231 short lyrics, 7 long plays, 24 short plays and dialogos in verse, 7 volumes of essays, and 2 autobiographies.” The name Anabella itself alludes to “Si Anabella,” a story written by Magdalena Jalandoni, the queen Hiligaynon writer, who was a recluse and who had a comparable writing output with Luceros’ Anabella. But the real story happens in the elegiac remembrance of Doreen at the beginning of the story by the point of view, who might be Lucero herself, we do not know: “The day before she left for New York, where she died two weeks later, Doreen told me the story of the house on Sanchez St., in Silay City, the city of her childhood. She herself had lived in a bahay na bato on a different street, where the first wave of migrants from Iloilo had settled two centuries ago.” The fictional Doreen interweaves the stories in that amusing metafiction (or meta-food review?). Everything is being related at a restaurant’s table, where Doreen is supposed to sample on the food

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for a food review. She comes in and out of the story, in and out of the fictional Silay created in that universe of Lucero’s story. And everything still revolved around the plate. “The waitress came with our panini sandwiches and Doreen reverted easily from storyteller to food critic. “Twelve minutes,” she said. “Not bad.” She wrote it down in her little notebook. Then she took a moderate bite on the sandwich, chewed it, and swallowed it with her mouth full, although she was not one to take dainty bites either… Anabella, she said, was seventeen when she fell in love. He was a dentistry student on scholarship, the son of a plantation worker and a banig weaver, and her parents would have none of it.” “My generation needs its own legends too,” Lucero ends the story. But whose story, whose legend was it, really? It could basically be Anabella’s, or even Lucero’s, the story’s speaking voice. But it is definitely Doreen’s story, as her life and memory—and by extension, worldview—had been hemmed in quite beautifully in a colorful narrative of love, passion and creativity in the city of Doreen’s childhood. In this story, Doreen returns to the Silay of her childhood, perhaps agreeing that her personal legend really resides in her town. She may not have rested in her own native land, but she returns to it through her writings, and through her platefuls of magnificent thought on food and culture. Like the fictional Anabella, Doreen only had one love: Silay. “The best way to staste Silay is to have a friend invite you and serve you “just our ordinary food,” like laswa, a combination of four or five kinds of vegetables (leaf, seed, root) steamed with guinamos. Or paklay, pork or beef innards soured with green pineapple and balimbing. And the desserts that so many households make to order.” And she also advised, for us to remember: “When you leave, take home with you some of the sweets, snacks, biscuits—the flavors of a town that once had a mini-opera house and was called the “Paris of Negros,” but is still and will always be best remembered as the home of Silay kalan-unon.” g  LJS


t was a village that grew from a small dream. Before, there was just a piece of land—too small for a sugar plantation but too big for an orchid farm. The Sarrosa family decided to grow trees until they opened up a driving range. Then people started to ask for more. Sonia Marañon-Sarrosa never knew that it would blossom into a small paradise within the Talisay City, Negros Occidental. And it became a Nature’s Village, indeed, where everyone could experience the wonders of nature. In our visit in Negros Occidental, we spent a day at the Nature’s Village. When we got there, we found a very serene place, a secret garden within a city. There was this romantic feel with all the trees growing and the flowers blooming that could be seen right upon entering its gates. We went straight to The Village Hotel, which looked more like a vacation house— a home away from home. It was a fourstorey building, and the plants that grew around it seemed like its natural decorative.

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| inn focus | by marie angeli syjueco | photos by andrew tadalan | The ajpress

There’s A Small Hotel A bridge to paradise called Nature’s Village

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Sonia and Edgar Sarrosa. The big wooden door resembled a mansion’s door. And if not for the front desk, the lobby was like a living room with the round table and steel chairs and the long sofa seat. And though we were indoors, it felt like we were outside in the garden, as the sunlight shone and the wind blew through the big windows. As we went up the stairs to our rooms, I noticed the many different decorations in the walls. There were weaved mats from Thailand; on the floor were shells (which I figured were from Sagay City—where Sonia’s family, the Maranons, were prominent) and many more like the wine bottles, which were collector’s item. When I got to my room, I felt like I’m suddenly transported into a forest cabin. The wooden pieces of furniture, which I found out were made in the local carpentry of Nature’s Village, looked vintage. And the dim lighting of the room gave a romantic and relaxing aura. It was dinner time. And on my way down, I noticed at the foot of

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the stairs a wooden sculpture of a man, a priest. It was Padre Pio. And over dinner of chicken inasal and fresh vegetable salad which Sonia prepared for us, she told us how Padre Pio helped the dream of building the Nature’s Village come true. “When the relic of Padre Pio came to Carmel, we went there. I wanted to ask for his help, but I was embarrassed,” Sonia said. But it seemed that Padre Pio heard what’s on her mind even before she even asked for it. Her phone rang right at that moment, and what she needed was given to her. Nature’s Village must be a nature’s gift. Sonia continued to tell the many stories behind what has become the Nature’s Village as we enjoyed our hearty meal at the resort’s restaurant. The restaurant was an open area where there was just the roof. And its ceiling was decorated with colorful cloth (which Sonia proudly said was a brilliant idea of a relative). There were a number of wooden tables in the restaurant and at the long rectangular table at the center was where we sat. From just a simple driving range, the village blossomed. “I thought we’ll put up a range and people would hit balls,” Sonia said laughing. But it must have been nature’s mysterious plan. “We built the restaurant then the people wanted to stay overnight so we built the hotel,” she said. And then the Camp Edgar (the camp area named after Sonia’s husband), the small village farm and the Salvacion Park all came next to everyone’s delight. The following day, Sonia invited me to tour the village and I was surprised to discover more of its natural beauty. At the Camp Edgar, there were nipa and cogon huts, different varieties of bamboo were grown at the far end of the camp and on its open space were children on camp. “I want the children to have an experiential education of nature,” Sonia said. “We also prepare educational presentations about nature for the kids so that they’ll learn to appreciate it.” I was awed with what Nature’s Village could offer. And as we walked to the Salvacion Park, Sonia shared with me one of its touching stories. “One time there was a couple and their child who went to the park. They stayed there from 9am until 5pm. And I knew the guy must be an OFW, and they needed quality time so they went here,” she said. The gate to the park was beautifully covered with vines. Inside, there’s a children’s pool, tables and chairs under the trees, a small pond and a bridge going to this very small island. There were many people, and I could see in their faces how this quaint place brought joy to them. Some swam on the pool, while others relaxed as they sat under the trees; a group of friends played volleyball, and a family prepared their small picnic. Sonia’s dream was nature’s blessing. Nature’s Village definitely is a small, hidden paradise. g


| estateside | by marie angeli syjueco | photos by andrew tadalan | the ajpress

Meet RJ Ledesma, entrepreneur, writer and actor. He’s not your average Juan dela Cruz. He’s a modern day renaissance man. Call him RJ for Renaissance Juan.

hen I met RJ Ledesma, entrepreneur, writer and actor--the renaissance “juan,” the first thing that came to my mind was the Royal Tru-Orange popular commercial—”Ako at Royal, natural!”—-where he played the unforgettable character of Joey. But that was long ago, and he has gone so far. Today, RJ is busy with two full-time jobs as the executive vice-president of the Ledesco Development Corporation and the editor-in-chief of Uno, a men’s magazine. At first, I found it impossible for anyone to be able to do two different things at the same time. But RJ believed that it is his passion that helped him achieve these. “Everything I’ve done, I pursued because I’m interested with them. These are not things that I actually wanted to excel in, but rather, these are what I’m passionate about,” he said.

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As the EVP of Ledesco, he works for the family business. “Technically, it means that I’m the COO, child-of-the-owner, utus-utusan of my dad,” RJ said humorously. But becoming an entrepreneur is really a goal for him. “I remember really wanting to become a businessman like my dad because I idolize him,” he said.


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Thus, RJ finished a double degree in applied economics and business management from De La Salle University and took up master’s in real estate development in the Masachusetts Institute in Technology. Back in his college years, RJ actively joined organizations in his university. And very significant were his experience as the president of the DLSU Debate Society and writing for the university’s school paper--The La Sallian and the Malate Literary Folio. “La Salle gave me the opportunity to become well-rounded. Everything I got from college helped me now. And I have the wealth of experience,” he said. He never lost his passion to write. Thus, as editor of Uno, RJ works on a different craft. “We re-imagined Uno Magazine to be a higher end men’s magazine. Think of it as a men’s magazine that grew up,” he said. And apart from working as editor, he also writes a humor column for Philippine Star. RJ also published a book—Lies My Yaya Should Have Told Me, which is a compilation of his articles from his column. “It’s a best-seller. My mom bought most of the copies... That’s a joke by the way,” he said. I wondered how RJ could manage all these with such a busy schedule. “Lack of sleep, I think. WiFi and a good cell phone,” he said. “I have my priority checklist. At the start of the day I know what I’m supposed to do.” And aside from working for Ledesco and Uno, RJ also ventured in show business. He did hosting jobs, produced a show—The Men’s Room, and even had his first movie--Star Cinema’s And I Love You So. I imagined how an ordinary day for RJ. It must be very stressful, but for him, stress is never an issue. “Everyday there’s a lot of things going on and it depends on your perception if it’s going to be a stressful day or not,” he said. It is, indeed, like juggling. RJ has to keep moving to balance his busy life. “But sometimes you don’t juggle perfectly. You drop a couple of balls but the important thing is you pick up the balls and start juggling again,” he said. Moreover, for RJ, what keeps his life really interesting, apart from his busy work schedule, is his wife and his baby. “I’m very much into family life. I have a baby and wife with whom I am head over heels.” he said. “Every morning I spend time with my baby, and my wife and I, we still get the chance to go out on a date.” And as a hobby, he has a comic book collection. “I am a very avid comic book fan. I’ve been collecting comic books since I was 6 or 7 years old,” he said. But more important to RJ is his yoga practice. “Training from yoga is detachment from ego, which makes you not responsible for what you do. It’s like humility,” he said. And this is also one principle he lives by. Thus, part of practicing yoga, RJ is also a vegetarian. He has definitely so much in his hands, but amazingly, he delivers. g

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| red carpet | by ruben v. nepales | photos by janet susan r. nepales

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or many years, Gina Alexander and her husband, Richard, faced one devastating setback after another in their quest to have a child through in vitro, adoption and surrogacy methods. The ultimate blow was an ectopic pregnancy that nearly ended in death for Gina while she was in surgery. For Gina, the loss of the baby she was carrying was almost too much to bear. As if these misfortunes were not enough, Gina was let go from a handbag designer company due to restructuring. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, the Los Angeles-based Gina marched on. She decided to start her own bag enterprise, Gina Alexander, Inc. “Nine years ago, I started my company with just a piece of paper, a concept and sold it to the management of the Hollywood and Highland complex,” Gina recounted. She started with a kiosk which she herself operated at the complex where the Oscars are held. She slept for a few hours after her night shift work at Starbucks and then she ran the kiosk, peddling her one-of-a-kind bags.

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“My main motivation was to raise money to adopt a baby,” she admitted. “My husband and I lost three kids through miscarriage. We were about to adopt a newborn but the mother took the baby back. With these devastating incidents, I created the photo handbag as an outlet. It was in a sense ‘my baby.’ I dove into creating the bags—to me, it was a healing process. I never knew my company would become successful. In our second year, we hit $1.2 million in sales.” Amid this financial turnaround, Gina and Richard also had a happy twist in their family life. They were finally able to adopt a baby, Katelyn Alexander, through Hope for Children, a sister organization of Hope worldwide. Katelyn, now 7, has been a blessing to Gina, who saw her bag business grow from a garage operation with one simple kiosk outlet to a multimilliondollar business. The Filipino-American’s photo handbags are used by celebrities from Jennifer Lopez to Elizabeth Taylor and have been featured in Elle, People, Vogue Italy and other magazines. With the success of her company, of which she is the CEO and designer (with Richard as the CFO), Gina has not forgotten that it was all inspired by her desire to have children. One of her passions is to help Hope worldwide Philippines, which runs a model child welfare and protection system for underprivileged Filipino children. She donates a percentage of every handbag sold from her line to help fund the Center of Hope in Biñan, Laguna, Baseco, Manila and Payatas, Quezon City. She has also held fundraisers to help support these child welfare protection shelters. In our talk, Gina admitted that it was a tough climb to where she is today. “It was extremely hard,” she said. “I didn’t have any money and asking my friends and family for it was difficult. But I asked and asked. There was one person who believed in us and gave $10,000 to us. One lesson I learned is to keep asking and your ratio goes up — someone will help, but you have to be hungry first. We also had an investor, Atty. Darren Manibog, who received a 100 percent return on his investment. He was a wise investor and a good friend to us.” She added, “There were days at my kiosk where we made $13.00 in a day and my rent was $4,000 a month. Then 9/11 hit and at that point, I was discouraged.” With the slowdown in sales following that national tragedy, she renegotiated her kiosk contract at the Hollywood and Highland. “I know one of my gifts is negotiating, prospecting and closing the deal,” she explained. “In the end, people want to make money and the bottom line is profit. I was able to negotiate myself out of the contract to one that reflected the economy.” When she received the Kalampusan (Corporate Support) award from the Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA) last April, a line in her acceptance speech drew cheers from the audience: “If you’re going to be a nurse, then dream of owning your hospital or a chain of convalescent homes.” Later, she explained to us, “One of my dreams is to help inspire other Filipinos to take the risk and become entrepreneurs. If you’re going to be a chef, own your restaurant. My niece Kayla wanted to work at Robeks (a juice chain store). I said, ‘Why work at Robeks when you can own one?’ I got all the materials for her to find out how to run a franchise.”

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NBA star Kobe Bryant, Gina Alexander collaborate on scholarships by LOUIE JON A. SANCHEZ | THE AJPRESS

          art of Gina Alexander’s giving back to the community is her noteworthy collaborations with celebrities. One of them is Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant.

Kobe Bryant (center) with Richard and Gina Alexander

“I started working with Kobe making gifts for him 5 years ago. He saw my handbags in People magazine and had his legal associate to look for me,” remembers Gina, “I had been making handbags for his family for five years.” Gina gladly recounts his encounters with the basketball star. “He would call me to meet him at practice in El Segundo and it was wild walking into the basketball court running into Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Phil Jackson.” Soon, the trade turned into a lofty relationship. “Recently, I texted him asking him to support my project of sending some underprivileged Filipino children to school. He pledged to give 10 scholarships.” Gina will pick 10 children and will even mount an essay-writing contest with the question-theme, “Why would I like to go to Kobe Bryant’s Basketball Academy?” “I already have an offer for a reality show, and a private dinner with Kobe Bryant in December.” The intimate dinner by invitation, Gina says, will be co-hosted by Asian Journal Publications President and Co-publisher Cora Oriel and Ted Benito of TDRZ, Inc. g


“We have to get out of the mindset of working for others,” she continued. “Corporate America is not stable and it’s not thinking about the future. How do we receive money and how do we overcome fears to start a business? Who are the risk takers and warriors that will step out into the arena to make a difference? Only two percent—peculiar people, visionaries who have the guts to do it. They are not afraid to be embarrassed if they fail. They understand that the refinement process and skills you attain is how to triple your income.” Gina said, “My parents Cesar and Esmeralda Lopez were among the first to own a Denny’s franchise in the US. I come from a family of business leaders. My mother gave me the fighting spirit. Running a business is tough but through faith and her skills, I was able to make it through anything as she did. My mom and dad instilled in me to never, ever forget my people. My dad helped rescue a ship full of Filipinos who were stranded in the port of San Pedro. They were left at sea for two weeks with virtually no food. He helped pay for their way back to the Philippines.” Cesar has passed away but his legacy lives on in her daughter. “Joel Jacinto (SIPA’s executive director) told me that I was chosen to receive an award because I give back to the community,” Gina related. “I make money to give back to the Filipino community.” She volunteered, “I was recently in a book, Go Negosyo by Joey Concepcion. I was the only Filipino-American to make it in the book’s third edition. When I went to the Philippines, I was glad to be in the presence of other Filipina entrepreneurs. To be in the book, your company has to hit one million in sales or more. I asked Joey why he picked me. He said, ‘Your

story was so moving. I had to put you in the book.’ I met with executive director Ramon Lopez who made me an ambassador for Go Negosyo’s programs and other projects that we are working on. I am preparing to be a spokesman for Filipina entrepreneurs.” Jack Canfield, who wrote the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, tapped Gina to do a video testimonial for his “Key to Living the Law of Attraction.” “I met Jack by the law of attraction,” she quipped. “I said on my birthday, I want to do like a Chicken Soup for the Soul book and to meet Jack. I went to Las Vegas, bumped into him, told him my story and he called his publicist. They invited me to his house in Santa Barbara to do the testimonial.” She shared, “Jack’s producers featured my story. They said that my story completed the infomercial and connected with so many people who don’t have the start up money for a business. It was the most relatable story per executive producer Elisabeth Reynolds who was in tears after I shared my story.” Gina’s admission that she is an adopted daughter herself made her testimonial moving. Asked to share what lessons she has learned from Canfield, Gina happily obliged: “If you believe, you will achieve. We make things harder on us not to achieve because we were told in our growing years and in the workplace that we’re never good enough. And we believed that. Jack also said not to worry on how you’re going to get there. All you have to see is the 200 feet before you. You don’t need a road map. We worry too much on how to get there and then the next thing we know, some people have jumped in front of us because they just did it and took the risk.

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“I write in a daily journal all of the good things that happen to me each day. There are more great things that happen but we are trained at a very young age to look at the bad because of our crab mentality. I don’t watch TV or the news all the time because sometimes too much negative news can make you depressed. My time is precious and I have to keep my mind from being distracted. “I didn’t quit! A lot of people quit and don’t realize that is the test. If you can pass the refinement stage of growth, the gold is right around the corner. “Don’t be defined by your business. The people who mean most is your immediate family. “I have to keep my ego in check all the time. Sometimes when I receive an award, I am honored but in my mind, it is more important to pay bills on time, pay off debts and to cut up your credit cards. I would like to say that by 2010, I will pay for everything in cash and not use credit cards. And give to the poor 90 percent of my income and live on 10 percent. Noble accomplishments mean more to me than buying a new dress for every function I go to.” As for her own business secrets, she rattled some of them: “Relationship is the most important thing to me. I work with thought leaders who are service driven. And if it helps kids, the more I am driven to give and support others, especially in the community. “I look for global potential. That is why I make it a point to keep in touch with people like Joey Concepcion and Sir Ramon Lopez of Go Negosyo and RFM Industries in the Philippines. I honor their advice because they are living the dream. Cora Oriel (Asian Journal Publications president and co-publisher of Balikbayan Magazine) is another person whom I highly respect. She is a thought leader, fun to be with, light and prosperous. She is not selfish. She gives to me by spending time with me—call it mentoring. I also call it social partnership—to help support each other’s causes. Joel Jacinto, Ted Benito and Mitos Santisteban of ABS CBN and more—all these people have one thing in common. They are diligent and they give unconditionally to the Filipino community. “I choose who I surround myself with. I don’t deal with arrogant or snotty people. “I invest in myself by training with leaders. The only assets I have are my skills and me. The secret is to be teachable and humble. Never believe you know everything. On the family front, she and Richard “are presently in the process of adopting our daughter Makena and waiting for her court date. Our daughter Katelyn is a sponge for learning music, dance and taekwondo. My husband plays in a band and works part time by producing concerts.” With her busy schedule, the entrepreneur-philanthropist claimed, “On Sunday, I rest—no cell phones, Facebook, Twitter and Internet or work. It’s my day for complete rest and decompression.” As to what to expect in her unique line of bags, she disclosed, “I want to do a handbag that is inspired by Michael Jackson’s great wardrobe. He was my favorite and I was in tears the day he died. His music will never die and it makes my children dance. We made several handbags for him as gifts a couple of years ago. I was honored that he loved our handbags.” In 10 years or so, Gina hopes to be “retired, with my residual income enabling me to provide a legacy to my children’s children and the underserved children in my home country. I would like to spend time at the villages/orphanages and dedicate my life to the children who need to be hugged, have emotional support and at the same time see my business explode to the point where I am not relying on the government or a paycheck.” g

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Balikbayan Magazine October 2009