The Filipino Expat Magazine Spring 2022

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POWER OF LOVE How Giovanni and Chriza Hidalgo’s love for family has turned failures into success

PROFILES Courage in war, abduction, and illness PARENTING Raising a social media superstar TRAVEL Dubai in 72 hours TASTE Carabao mango and Barako coffee #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO




It is easy being cheesy!

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Are you an interested retailer who wants to carry these products? You can send an email to or visit our website for more information.

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6 Contributor’s page 7 Editor’s note

8 Teal Botanicals for healthy, glowing skin




Cover story: Giovanni Hidalgo proves that past failures are not a hindrance to success

Juggling parenthood, full time job and a thriving business



Diplomat Off Duty: Amb. Malaya writes his legacy of knowledge


Profiles: Stories of courage, from Kabul to Amsterdam 4

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The secret to raising a TikTok superstar

31 Starting a

business in the USA

A millennial opens a grocery store in London amidst the pandemic

39 MZ Akil defines courage


Publisher and Editor-in-chief Nats Sisma Villaluna


Publisher and Managing Editor Dheza Marie Aguilar

Expat living in Bologna

Graphics and Layout Alden Joshua Cedo Creative Adviser Robin Kuijs Contributing Writers:

45 Finding adventure in gardening

56 Bringing fresh Carabao mangoes to Switzerland

Agatha Verdadero, Elisha Gay Hidalgo, Francine Alessanda Vito, Geneva Liz Isaac, Louise Baterna, MZ Akil, Sharon Masler, Tricia Morente Contributing Photographers: Noel Jandongan, Pepe Chavez, Robin Kuijs The Filipino Expat Magazine Published 3 times a year The opinions expressed in The Filipino Expat magazine do not represent the views of The Filipino Expat company. While we have exhausted every efort to ensure the


Books for spring readings

accuracy of the information contained in this publication, neither The Filipino Expat nor its

58 Introducing Barako coffee to Germans

editors, contributors and staf will accept any responsibility for any omission, typographical or printing errors, inaccuracies or changes however caused. Our editorial and creative teams reserve the right to edit any material submitted at our discretion. All texts, photos and graphics have been used with the permission of the author or artists. All rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be duplicated or reproduced in a whole in any form or by any means without the publisher’s prior written permission.

49 72 hours in Dubai

55 Best barbecue recipe

60 A hero without a cape in Paris

Comments and complaints should be addressed to: The Publisher The Filipino Expat Magazine 2e Maasbosstraat 54 3134XK Vlaardingen The Netherlands Telephone +31 (0) 39311392 Email Website #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO



Francine Alessandra Vito is a writer, serial thrifter, and an advocate for the slow living lifestyle. You can find her sustainable fashion and lifestyle posts on her Instagram account,

Elisha Gay Hidalgo lives and works in Italy with her family. She spends her spare time writing and doing volunteer works.

Geneva Liz Isaac works for a local bank during the day and hustles as a writer at night. In rare times that she’s not glued to her computer typing her heart away, she can be found in museums or aesthetically beautiful cafés.

Sharon Masler has 25 years experience in finance and accounting. She co-owns Masler & Associates, an accounting firm in California. She has also started her own charcuterie business she calls SHARcuterie.

Pepe Chavez is from Baler, Aurora and is currently one of Barcelona’s most sought-after professional photographers. He goes fishing and plays billiards in his free time. He is totally obssessed with aquariums.

Agatha Vervadero is a writer and editor. She finished MFA in Creative Writing at De La Salle University Manila and BA Humanities at University of the Philippines Diliman. She lives in Nairobi, Kenya and does extreme adventures in the wild.

Tricia Morente is a journalist and editorial consultant. She is the sole proprietor of, where she writes about travel and the occasional epiphany. She is currently based in Madrid.

MZ Akil worked in publishing and television in the Philippines before moving to the UK. She spends her train journey to and from London randomly musing about life and occasionally talking about it in her blog.

Louise Baterna is a writer and former lifestyle journalist in Manila. She lives in Brussels and works as Chef Du Cuisine at the Residence of the German Delegation to the NATO.

Alden Joshua Cedo is a design professional working for one of the Philippines’ biggest real estate companies. If he is not tinkering with Adobe applications, he can be found in the gym or in his pad listening to music.


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Elvis in Springtime I was in the metro the other day and I couldn’t help but overhear the discussion of two teenage students standing next to me. Both were looking at the CD one of them was holding. I could make out the words “Aloha”, “Elvis,” and “Spring Fever” as the rail squeal of the speeding train made it tricky to get the whole context. Were they talking about Elvis Presley?, I wondered. I furtively glanced at the CD that was the subject of their eager scrutiny. And there he was, on the front cover, the King of Rock and Roll. The train stopped at the next station and suddenly, their conversation became much clearer. The one holding the CD turned out to be a huge fan of Elvis and he knew his songs by heart. He told his friend to watch Elvis’ Aloha concert on Youtube. The latter enthusiastically nodded his head in agreement. And here I was, three decades older than that kid and he knew more about Elvis than me. I suddenly felt a pang of envy and I got curious. I fished out my phone and went to Google. Scrolling through, I bumped into his famous lines. And one caught my attention. “We’re trapped in a world that’s troubled with pain. As long as a man has the strength to dream, he can redeem his soul and fly.” It is as if Elvis was referring to the sad state of the world right now, I told myself. Two years into the pandemic, we are still in pain. It seems that the end is still uncertain. And as the gray winter skies give way to the new season, we eagerly await the coming of a new chapter ahead. Our Spring Issue is filled with extraordinary stories of courage, of stubborn persistence and the unwillingness to admit defeat. On our cover is Giovanni Hidalgo with his wife Chriza Pichay Rafanan. Giovanni’s bumpy first years in Barcelona led him to a life of misery and mortification. Drug abuse and family troubles knocked him down, contemptuously, and ruthlessly. Either to rise up or lay trampled, he chose the former, changing the course of his life before it was too late. With Chriza on his side, he found the secure grip on life he had been looking for. Speaking about courage, we have a handful of brave kababayans with their brave stories. Elmer Presa takes us to the dangerous streets of Kabul while Marlene Francia shares her close encounter with Somali bandits.

June Serrano recalls his turbulent past. Community leader Lito Gomez braves all odds to help and protect our undocumented kababayans in Paris. Plus, a touching essay from our London-based columnist MZ Akil on surviving the unknown in order to live. Sometimes life throws us a curveball and it is up to us to either dodge or hit it head on. Curveballs are un-hittable but career mom Rose Jilliane Casia and single mom Leslie Dula, by choosing their battles, show us how they let the good ones go, and swing at the bad one. Experience expat living as Elisha Gay Hidalgo takes us to rustic Bologna, Italy, and Louise Baterna gives us a glimpse of her adventures in her own garden. Travel with us to Dubai and experience the magic of the city of gold. Learn and be motivated by our successful Filipino entrepreneurs as they share the secrets of their blossoming businesses. That night, before going to bed, I followed the kid’s advice. I searched for Elvis’ songs on Youtube. Although I was already familiar with his more popular songs, it was the first time I heard Spring Fever. The 1966 song, with its quirky melody, is apt for the season of bloom. So dear readers, we hope you enjoy our Spring Issue and just like how Elvis ends his song, we want to be the first to announce that… “Spring is everywhere. Spring is everywhere.”

Nats Sisma Villaluna EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

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By Nats Sisma Villaluna



NYC-based Filipino American entrepreneur and registered nurse Carmela Diopol Lerner is a self-confessed perfectionist when it comes to skincare products. That is why, when she founded Teal Botanicals, a clean beauty and lifestyle company in 2018, she saw to it that her products were simple, clean, safe, sustainable, and not tested on animals. “A lot of us don’t really check the ingredients of what we put on our body or skin. I am always looking for products that are all natural,” explains Bacolod-born Carmela. Growing up in the Philippines, Carmela was no stranger to natural and effective ingredients for her skin and hair such as coconut oil and aloe vera. Thus, it is no wonder that when she formulated her first product, Teal Botanicals Facial Oil, she only had organic ingredients in mind. Her mom, who is equally very particular with her skin, was the first one to try and immediately gave her stamp of approval. Not long enough, the product became a hit among her first clients. The enthusiasm that her first product received was the motivation Carmela needed to carry on. Apart from being certified in botanical care products, she trained in facial aesthetics for medical professionals in New York. “I started with facial oil. For the next products, I listened to the costumers. Whatever the costumers are asking, that’s how we move to the next level.” Products of Teal Botanicals are manufactured in New York city. Six products like coconut oil and lemon grass are sourced from small farms in the Philippines while other ingredients come from Europe, Africa, and the rest of the world. As her business gets bigger, Carmela is dedicated to doing things right. “I see to it that our suppliers pay their workers fairly. We use ecofriendly glass reusable packaging.

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We are also aware that skin care is not one size fit all. Some people may not be happy for whatever reason, so we have a money back policy where we send the 100% refund. So far, we have had only one case since 2018. Sometimes, you also don’t know what the costumer is using or if it could sit well with our products. But we always want our customers to be happy.” Teal Botanicals has landed on the pages of Vogue magazine, a manifestation of its quality and success. Not only that, Think Dirty®, an app which helps consumers to check the ingredients in beauty, personal care and household products if they are clean and non-toxic, has given Teal Botanicals products the best ratings. On Amazon. com, Teal Botanicals Facial Oil enjoys glowing reviews. Being very hands-

Carmela Diopol Lerner strives to make Teal Botanicals clean, natural and effective.



FACIAL OIL - ($47.50) This super hydrating, all-natural Facial Oil regenerates and nourishes, leaving skin glowing with silky smoothness. Teal Botanicals Facial Oil is packed with antioxidants helping to brighten damaged and discolored skin while preventing fine lines. Can be used as a primer, before putting on make up. Serves as a moisturiser day and night.

on, Carmela learned not a few things in keeping her business sound and afloat. “Never stop learning and build a good network. Also, it is important not to quit your day job until the business has consistent sales. A good businessperson needs to be organised in everything. And of course, there is nothing wrong with starting small but consistent.” To share more of her learnings, Carmela started “Keeping it Teal”, a podcast about wellness and self-help. She wants to show the world that Teal botanicals is not only skin care, but also a wellness lifestyle brand. “No matter what you put on your skin if your lifestyle is not healthy, the most expensive product is not going to help. We need to get enough sleep, be active, and eat well.” To date, Teal Botanicals

has 27 products and growing. This year, it will be focusing more on personal care, mainly deodorants, body wash and natural lipsticks. With more products in the offing, Teal Botanicals is also active in taking care of the planet. It has partnered with OneTreePlanted. org to plant trees in California and in the Philippines, specifically in Mindanao. Grounded by its company’s mission and vision, Teal Botanicals always strives to be clean, natural, effective, healthy, simple, cruelty-free, and ecofriendly.

EXFOLIATING FACIAL MASK WITH AHA AND FRUIT ACIDS- ($28.00) No need to go for a facial. You can do it at home. It removes dead skins cells from your skin. It´s like a mechanical peel but it´s made of fruit acids. It has collagen and anti ageing properties. NIGHT REPAIR SERUM WITH NIACINAMIDE - ($29.80) This anti-oxidant-rich serum has Niacinamide which reduces inflammation and helps to ease redness from eczema, acne, and other inflammatory skin conditions. It minimizes pore appearance and keeps skin smooth and moisturized. MULTI-PURPOSE BABYBALM - ($13.00) I used this on my children. put it on their face or diaper area. It´s 100% vegan. For orders, customers can go directly to or amazon. com. Clients from the Philippines can make their purchase through Shopee. com. Teal Botanicals ships worldwide.

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AMBASSADOR J. EDUARDO MALAYA “Whenever I see a bookstore, I need to stop.”


By Dheza Marie Aguilar

e are used to seeing them in their formal suits, working hard serving the Filipino communities in different parts of the world as members of the diplomatic corps. But what do our ambassadors and consuls do when they are off from work? To talk about leisure with Ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya felt like a daunting task, as he seems to be totally uninterested in the idea of rest and relaxation. As a career diplomat, he held several posts at the Department of Foreign Affairs, became part of the Philippine missions in Belgium and the United States before becoming ambassador to Malaysia from 2011-2017. He is a lawyer and a writer of several books on foreign policy, diplomacy, international law and Philippine politics. In the middle of a pandemic, he also undertook a massive renovation of the Philippine Embassy in The Hague. There is very little room for leisure in his daily schedule. In his temporary office at the Statesman building in The Hague, Ambassador Malaya accommodates The Filipino Expat magazine to talk about foreign policy and his favorite past time, writing.

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How do you unwind? To me, reading and writing are very relaxing. It calms me down, it gets my mind to focus on certain things and not wander. I occasionally play the piano, but there is no piano here at home in The Hague. Too bulky to bring along. Once the embassy renovation is completed in early 2022, a piano at the main reception hall would be ideal. We will be able to host trade, art exhibits and cultural performances. When do you find time to write? When people ask me, when did you

AMBASSADOR J. EDUARDO MALAYA find the time, where did you get the idea for those writings, I say that these aren’t alien subjects to me. These are subject matters that I deal with and work on at DFA or here at the embassy. But I don’t really consider myself as a natural writer. It has been a habit of mine that when I am working on something, I try to know the subject matter deeply, so that I can do my job well, particularly when I am in meetings or when I am about to enter into negotiations. One needs to prepare necessarily. Then after some time, if I get to feel

corner wherein I do the work. Who is on your bookshelf and nightstand? I am more inclined towards nonfiction/current events books. I am always on the lookout for the books of Robert D. Kaplan who is able to weave foreign affairs, history and travel in his writings. His analyses are insightful, yet he delivers them in an informative and engaging matter. His earlier work “Monsoon,” for instance, predicted that the Indian Ocean would be the next area of geopolitical contest even before analysts and policy

Do you have a big library? I have this bad habit of buying books and sometimes I am barely able to read them. I have to move from place to place. I can’t take them with me, and my wife has been complaining “Libro na naman yan, saan na naman ilalagay yan?” So, what I have done was, when I needed to leave off some books, I would deposit and donate to the DFA library so that you know, our younger officer and staff read them. What about an e-reader? I am more of a traditional type. Better to hold it to feel it and leave a bookmark as to which one you have read.

that I know enough about the subject, before I forget them, given the frailty of human memory, I might as well put it down in writing. As diplomats, we don’t have the opportunity to deal with our usual coterie of friends so there is less distractions and there is more time in one’s hand, particularly for myself because my family is in Manila. What better way to spend it than trying to read and maybe to write? How do you make scholarly books less cold? Some of my books deal with technical subjects. One cannot really help given the serious nature of the subject matter. When it comes to serious, technical books, one just needs to have it organised so it would be easy to read. Also try to relate it to the reader and his requirement. Write with clarity. It is very important. Any writing ritual? None. I just need to have a quiet

makers began talking about it. On my nightstand are biographies of diplomats and statesmen, the Economist magazine, Foreign Affairs journal and the like, but I only read a few pages at a time -- to calm me down after the day’s work and then sleep. I enjoy the writings of Resil Mojares and Patricio Abinales, whose “State and Society in the Philippines” should be read along, if not replace, the much-admired yet dated Agoncillo’s History of the Filipino People.” They do serious research, but also write short, fun yet informative pieces. Since its early years, the DFA has been a home of writers and intellectuals – starting with Carlos P Romulo, Leon Ma. Guerrero, Salvador P Lopez, Raul Manglapus, and these days, Teodoro Locsin Jr. I certainly am not a gifted writer like them. It is important to keep the tradition of documenting and sharing knowledge and ideas. To be able to contribute a small bit in building up knowledge is enough.

Where do you go when on a holiday, beach, museums, or libraries? If I am not on a holiday and I just have some time to spare, to air out, I just go to a bookstore. My wife says that when I see a bookstore, I need to stop because “mukha akong nilalagnat.” I just need to go in, and even for just ten minutes, and move on. At times I ended buying because I had the impulse to buy then later say to myself, “Bakit ko binili iyon?” Out of town trips are rare at this time of pandemic, but the family managed to spend a weekend last summer at the De Hoge Veluwe National Park. The kids enjoyed the night safari where we saw red deer, rams, and wild boars up close, while the older set had their fill of Van Gogh (world’s second largest collection) at the Kroller-Muller Museum, and everyone had a memorable stay at the hunting lodge Sint Hubertus. A side trip to the John Frost bridge in Arnhem, the site of a decisive battle where the Germans repulsed the Allies’ attempt to shorten WWII on the Western front, made it a perfect weekend getaway. I love going to places like that. What did you love about Malaysia? I love the food. The cuisine there is very rich. Certainly, there’s Malay food, Chinese food, a significant number of the population is Indian, so you also have Indian food. Just think the combination of these three culinary traditions, really delicious food. It’s like a foodie paradise. There used to be a Chinese restaurant just in front of the embassy and we would frequent it so often, it was like our kitchen.

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By Nats Sisma Villaluna


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f he were to decide, Elmer Presa, wouldn’t want to leave Kabul, his home for ten years. But this was not up to him. As he sat patiently on the floor of the C17 US Air force transport plane bound for Doha, surrounded by a thousand mix of Afghan citizens, foreign civilians, military personnel, private security contractors like him, Elmer, 49, felt relieved and despondent. After gruelling days of chaos and confusion, he was now safe and ready to flee a nation on the brink of collapse. But he was saddened to abandon the country he had learned to love. To distract himself from the commotion inside and outside the plane, he fished out his mobile phone from his backpack, the only belonging he was able to grab during the whole ordeal and took selfies with some Afghan kids sitting beside him.

World's most dangerous city It was his fondness of dogs that brought Elmer, a former postman and three-term Cavite city councillor to Afghanistan. He was working as a canine handler for a UK company in 2011. Elmer immediately embraced his exciting life in Afghanistan. He made friends with the locals who treated him as family. From being a dog handler, to a K9 project manager, he was later promoted to Kennel master. When he arrived in Kabul, he knew that danger came with his job. He was responsible for handling specially trained dogs to detect and find bombs and improvised explosive devices. He also conducted basic handler refresher courses, certifications, weapon and induction trainings to his team members. “It was a dream come true to be part of an international deployment team. But it was also dangerous. A rocket once passed a few feet above us or a car bomb exploded from a distance. I remember I was patrolling with my dog near one of the most dangerous highways of Kabul when a massive explosion happened. A lot of people died, young and old. It was my first time to witness it.” Despite the perils, his job didn’t only give him an exciting work experience, it also allowed him to give his wife and three daughters a comfortable life back home. “I just told myself, if it is my time, it is my time. I just focused on my work. It´s not productive if we are scared all the time. I just

pray that God protects me.” Dark clouds began to hover over the horizon on February 29, 2020 when the US and the Taliban signed an agreement wherein the US and NATO allies were to withdraw all troops within 14 months. “We were aware of the security and political turn of events in the country as we were often briefed by our country management director. We had contingency plans. Honestly, I was more worried for my colleagues who were new in this kind of working environment.” April 13, 2021 came, the day US president Biden announced that all US troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11. News of the unexpectedly quick Taliban takeover of nearby districts spread like wildfire. Elmer prepared for the worst, which finally came on August 15, when the Taliban finally reached Kabul.

Above: Throughout his stay in Afghanistan, Elmer has built strong friendship with the locals. Below: Elmer with one of his trained dogs.

Not leaving a kababayan behind Hours before the arrival of the Taliban, Elmer and his team were busy transporting equipment and personnel from their facility to Zohak Village Hotel, where most international company personnel would stay prior to departure. The hotel, located next to Hamid Karzai international airport,

“It was a dream come true to be part of an international deployment team. But it was also dangerous. A rocket once passed a few feet above us or a car bomb exploded from a distance. I remember I was patrolling with my dog near one of the most dangerous highways of Kabul when a massive explosion happened. A lot of people died, young and old.” Elmer takes a a #15 selfie with two Afghan 13 kids 2022 | THE FILIPINO inside a US military plane.

PROFILES was still under NATO and US military control. “My boss told me that we didn’t have a choice but to get out of the country. Our Afghan colleagues took it upon themselves to be with their families and flee the city.” There were reports that Afghan president Ghani had left and flew to Tajikistan. The streets of Kabul were a picture of chaos and desperation. The local police had already abandoned their posts and civilians were left on their own. Elmer learned that a fellow Filipino dog handler, Jeffrey, was stuck in his post and couldn’t get to the hotel. He had to get Jeffrey, but he was turned down by one of the company drivers. Nobody was allowed to leave the hotel. Gunfire could be heard everywhere. “I had to take the risk. It was my responsibility to look after my team´s safety. I can’t imagine myself explaining to their family in case something bad happens to them under my watch.” Elmer begged his transport manager but was denied. He was told to wait until the roads became passable. But he couldn’t take any chances. “My immediate manager helped me convince our COO Mr. James. I was taking full responsibility for my actions, I told him. He eventually granted me permission.” Elmer, along with Chris, another Pinoy staff member, set off to pick up Jeffrey. Along the way, there were Talibans on motorcycles armed with AK rifles roaming around. Elmer’s journey was slowed down by several checkpoints. He remained calm and collected. He waved their IDs at checkpoints. “We finally had Jeffrey with us. Going back to the hotel was more chaotic. It was an image similar to a Quiapo procession with thousands of people rushing towards the airport. At one checkpoint, I had to explain to a group of Taliban soldiers why we were on the road. I was not nervous. I even asked to have a photo with them to ease the tension. They let us pass.” 14 THE FILIPINO | #15 2022

Inside the plane before flying out of Kabul.

babies endorsed by their parents to some US soldiers to make sure they were safe. The kids were given water and food. It was a very emotional moment. My heart goes out to these people. They were hungry, scared and desperate. And the heat!” While waiting for their flight, Elmer´s group had to spend the night in an abandoned room near the airport gate. “We were so hungry; we found packs of biscuits in the room and ate them. We didn’t

Getting final instructions for evacuation.

That evening, the Taliban had declared the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, officially marking the return of its rule over Afghanistan after 20 years. At the hotel, Elmer received the news that another Pinoy, Joselito, hadn´t made it to the hotel yet. He was dropped off at the US embassy compound by mistake instead of Zohak hotel. He immediately secured his boss´s permission to rescue another kababayan. Elmer and another Pinoy companion were met by a group of Taliban soldiers manning the gate of the embassy. “I talked to the commandant. He said, no problem. One of them asked me: “You Filipin! Taliban, good? Or no good?” It was a tricky question. I hesitantly said, “Good”. He doubted a bit, but I tried to change the subject. I couldn’t afford to make any mistake. I was fighting against time.”

After minutes of waiting, Joselito came out and they immediately boarded the vehicle and drove away. On the way back, the crowd had doubled. Taliban soldiers had already been deployed everywhere. Elmer and his group finally reached the hotel. Coming out unscathed The hotel´s gate was already manned by the Taliban. They had a media team who took videos and photos of the people coming out, recording everything. Elmer and his team joined the slow-moving ocean of distraught citizens and expats eager to leave the country on August 17. It took Elmer two hours to reach Abbey Gate. “At the gate, there were various HR managers identifying their employees. We had to show our passports and IDs. We could hear gunshots from afar. I saw

realize that they were already expired, but we didn’t care.” Lessons from Afghanistan Elmer landed in Washington D.C. from Doha on August 22. Being a US visa holder, he stayed in the US with the Christian Brethren Community in Lakewood. He thought he would never see Kabul again. But it seemed that he and Afghanistan were not ready to part ways just yet. Last November, Elmer was back to work as K9 Project Manager/ Kennel Master providing support for United Nations Assistance Missions for Afghanistan. On his return, Elmer started a new chapter in his life in one of the world´s most dangerous countries. But he came prepared. Life is too short to be scared. Afghanistan has taught him never to give in to fear and not to pass up the chance to risk his life for others.


An expat’s nightmarish experience in Mandera, Kenya

By Agatha Verdadero


n archetypal image of Kenya is a setting sun hovering above the horizon, a lone acacia in the middle of a savanna and silhouettes of a grazing animals in the foreground. Much of the country is like this, an embodiment of savage beauty and grace, which makes it no surprise that many expat retirees choose to make it their home. While we’d all like to believe that the Kenyan countryside is idyllic and full of possibilities, it’s not always the case. In Marlene C. Francia’s experience, she realised that not every adventure results in Instagrammable moments. Marlene came to Kenya in 2006, when her partner’s work took him to Nairobi. For the next 12 years, she made Nairobi her very own space in the world. At some point in her East African life, Marlene was able to find opportunities to work there as a media professional. One opportunity took her to Mandera, a town in north-eastern Kenya, close to the borders of Somalia and Ethiopia. She and a team were supposed to be on the ground for 11 days to document activities related

Marlene in one of her meetings with her Kenyan team.

to their client’s mandate. On July 17, 2009, she has only six days left to wrap up her project and fly back to Nairobi on a humanitarian flight. That Friday was beset by high winds and huge dust storms which left Marlene and her team exhausted. Calling it a day As soon as they were back at their secured accommodations and all scrubbed

of the day’s grime, each one found their respective corners in the compound to begin a weekend of rest and relaxation. No one was allowed outside the premises after dark because Mandera had a porous boundary with the Horn of Africa. It was not uncommon for Somalis to stage illegal incursions into Kenya, so everybody was on high alert. Fortunately, the place where Marlene and her colleagues were billeted at was set up with a TV room, a dining area, and a rooftop from which they could enjoy a bit of the night’s chill. By the time Marlene had downloaded the day’s photos to her laptop, her colleagues were on the rooftop. She decided to have dinner alone before joining them. At 9:30 p.m. Marlene went back to her room, in a section of the compound called the dungeon, to review the photos. As the night grew darker, she went back to the kitchen to drink water and some midnight snacking. The call of nature came very quickly thereafter, so Marlene headed over to the common toilets. No more than five minutes later, the night was shattered by a man screaming in #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO



terror. Then silence. Under attack Marlene didn’t know what to make of it. She didn’t know if a drunk was out on the street or a mugging victim crying out for help. A gun went off somewhere in the darkness and drove up her anxieties. Then more gunshots and screams ensued. They all sounded close, like they were all happening inside the compound. Outside the row of toilet stalls, she could hear bodies wrestling, footfalls, and scared whispers. She cowered inside the stall, uncertain what to do. Before long, the rev of vehicle engines starting and taking off punctuated the air for a few minutes before everything fell silent again. Marlene tiptoed out the stall and kept to the shadows as she made her way through the compound until she reached the TV room. The place was in disarray and there was no one in sight. Flip flops and Crocs were strewn everywhere across the ground. She found her way to the dungeon. Her room was untouched and still had her light on. She crept to the other rooms in the vicinity. She couldn’t spot any living soul. She scrolled through her mobile phone, trying to figure out who best to message. She saw the name of the person who gave her a security briefing upon her arrival in Mandera. If there was anyone to ask what had happened, it had to be him. Several minutes passed before a silent SMS came through from him. He was somewhere on the rooftop. He gave terse instruction for Marlene to stay put. She was in a panic, thinking that she was left all alone on the ground floor while everyone else was safe upstairs. She decided to call up to the people in hiding, in a stage whisper. She was promptly shushed, and a voice hissed for her to go back inside.

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The shocking truth Back in her room, Marlene crouched low and waited. The walls felt like they were about to come crashing down on her. Her pulse banged on her temples. She trembled uncontrollably. After what seemed like an eternity, light footfalls scraped on the floor outside her door. She peeped in time to see her colleague creep past. She called out and felt leagues better to be in the company of another human being. “What happened?” she muttered under her breath. That’s when she found out that several of her teammates had been dragged away by armed men. Her worst fears had passed. Suddenly, she had no idea if she would still be alive by morning. It was just past 10 p.m. Nothing was certain anymore, including her ability to survive the night. Her security teammate had already raised the alarm about their situation, but neither of them knew when help was coming. Then a rattling sound came from a small gate nearby. Marlene froze. She feared the abductors had come back to do

Suddenly, she had no idea if she would still be alive by morning. It was just past 10 p.m. Nothing was certain anymore, including her ability to survive the night. one last sweep for live bodies. The new arrival turned out to be one of her other teammates who had found a hiding place before the abductors had bulldozed their way to her space. Meanwhile, Marlene finally found the presence of mind to text her partner back in Nairobi, telling him about the abduction. It was a matter she had previously joked, so he had to read Marlene’s message several times before it dawned on him that it was not a drill. The compound security had been breached and several people had indeed ended up in the hands of bad elements. Safe but not sound As the minutes passed, more people came out from hiding. Many were in shock at the swiftness and precision of the attack. One of them had peered over the rooftop after the first scream and saw everything.

The assault had unfolded like clockwork. Men had knocked out all the streetlights, so they moved in the darkness, unseen. Two 4WD vehicles waited just outside the compound as the band of marauders moved stealthily towards the compound gates. They quickly breached them by clambering up and over them and disarming the guards on the other side. From that moment, everything moved in a blur, with everybody seeking refuge in the darkest nooks and crannies of the structures within their fenced-off perimeter. In the end, the abductors captured three of Marlene’s colleagues, who were right at the area of their point of entry. Seven people, including Marlene, were spared. It was gut-wrenching for everyone as all those left behind were flown to Nairobi for their debriefing. Then the long wait began. Three months later, all three were released alive, with no details given about the negotiations that took place to secure their freedom and what happened to them while they were in captivity somewhere in the Horn of Africa. Still a tough woman Four years after the incident, Marlene still looks back on that Mandera near-abduction and reflects soberly on it. Comical as it may seem with her hiding inside a toilet stall, it was one of the most traumatic events in her life—one she is likely to carry to her grave. She remains grateful that they all survived, including the three abducted by the Somalis, who owned up to the foray. It was an adventure gone awry but one that made Marlene cherish her life even more. She stayed in Nairobi for two more years before moving back to the Philippines. “For good?” I ask. She only smiles in response.




A porn actor crawled out of hell to see the bright side of life

By Nats Sisma Villaluna

By Robin Kuijs

e are in this small Thai restaurant in Amsterdam when a jolly Asian-looking man, who after talking to the waitress in Thai, smiles at us and starts a conversation. As it turns out, June Serrano is a kababayan who lives in Amsterdam and can speak seven languages. He agrees to share his story with us. June’s childhood in Manila was happy but unfulfilling. When he was eight, he was sexually abused by a teenage neighbour. “He would grope me, lead me to a toilet and rape me. I didn’t know that it was rape. I resisted, but I was afraid to let people know about it.” The abuse went on for three years and only stopped when June reached puberty. “My sense of intimacy was damaged. I began to look at guys as a sexual object rather than a person I could be intimate with.” June never hid his sexuality

from his religious parents. “I was their favourite son, but my being gay caused them a lot of grief.” His father wanted him to be macho and his mother warned him he would burn in hell. From zero sex life to positive He had always dreamt of living abroad so he took up European languages and literature, major in Spanish and French. In 1980, 19-year-old June moved to Thailand to join his older sister, working as a receptionist in the hotel owned by his sister’s husband. He described his social life as boring. In contrast, June’s professional career was flourishing. In 1988, he was promoted to manager. The following year, June decided to study Hotel Management in Laussane, Switzerland. There, he was exposed to the European gay

Above: June finds peace of mind in his paintings. Below: His paintings of birds and other animals.

lifestyle where he learned to let go of his inhibitions. In between classes, he frequented gay clubs and saunas. His sexual life had never been that active. “It was like a buffet party. I was young and beautiful. Everyone wanted me. Never in my life had I felt so desired by all those gorgeous men.” One day June fell ill and went to see a doctor. The diagnosis came as a shock. He was HIV positive. It was too much for him to take. He was just beginning to live the the best time of his life and suddenly, it was slowly crumbling down right before his eyes. “I was sent to a psychiatric institution for a week. It was my first time to wrestle with depression.” June worked hard to battle his depression. He focused on his studies and eventually graduated with honours. #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO 17

PROFILES June is now happily married, still enjoys working in a hotel and has learned to live with his depression.

“Time is an illusion. I have to live in the present and learn how to be grateful and appreciate myself and the people around me.” But loneliness made him go back to Thailand, working as a hotel manager in several hotels in Phuket and Bangkok. There, he had a string of relationships that came and went. In 1996, time took its toll on June’s health. Despite living a healthy lifestyle, he knew it was time to seek treatment somewhere else. But after a failed job search in New Zealand and an unpleasant experience in Australia, he set his eyes on Europe. Finding love, settling down June came to the Netherlands in 1997 as a tourist where he met his first husband. “I thought he could probably help me live here. He was tall, very good looking and two years younger than me. And he had the biggest dingdong in the whole of Amsterdam!” The two fell in love and in 1998, June told his Dutch boyfriend that he was no longer going back to Thailand. They got married that same year and June came clean about his illness. “I was relieved that my husband understood my situation. There was already treatment for HIV patients in the Netherlands that time and after several years, I had an undetectable viral load, which means, I cannot pass HIV through sex.” He underwent significant treatments which 18 THE FILIPINO | #15 2022

improved his health significantly. Unfortunately, his husband died of heart attack in 2002. A porn actor was born June carried on working as a hotel manager in Amsterdam, but it was the sense of adventure and sex that lured him to do porn. He joined the porn industry through a friend he met years before his husband’s death. “I told them I was 28, not 36. I also told them I was under HIV treatment, but it seemed not to be a problem that time. I had a good body, and I wanted the world to see it. I also started to take some pills like ecstasy so I could perform well. The only one in my family who knew what I was doing was my late brother.” June didn’t have qualms about doing the scenes in front of the camera. He was enjoying his newfound fame. “I was in a sauna one time, and they were showing one of my films, and the clients there recognised me. The more they saw me in the video, the more they desired me. I told the person in charge of the sauna if they could play my video for 24 hours.” Despite his fame, June still fell into depression which he tried fighting with drugs and sex. For four years, he travelled to Berlin, Paris, and Madrid to make a slew of porn films. Then suddenly, he was no longer at

the top of his class. Projects came few and far between. “In porn, they don’t want to see the same person all the time. The first years were good, then they didn’t want me anymore.” The fire and the bridge In 2006, he met his second husband, Reitze, a sex shop owner from Friesland. But June’s life was on a downward spiral. Three years later, the hotel where he was working burned down. The huge fire brought back memories of their house in Manila that was destroyed in a fire when he was nine. His anxiety shot up that he had a nervous breakdown. “I realised that anxiety was something that I needed to accept and confront. The more I didn’t want it, the more it attacked me.” For years, June was in and out of depression, in and out of institutions. He tried to take away his life three times. On his third attempt, he tried to jump off a bridge in Amsterdam but was thankfully stopped by a passerby. “I was under intensive care at a psychiatric institution. It took a while before they gave me the right medicines which helped me to get out of that hell.” The ordeal made him finally see the whole mess he was in. Coming out of hell It was that third attempt that

brought him back to God and turned his life around. “I went back to my faith. Little by little, I found peace of mind. Then I started yoga in 2015.” June turned his back on drugs and devoted his time to church, work, and his husband. He and his husband have been married for fourteen years now. “It was in my husband that I found comfort and stability. He knows about my take on intimacy, love and sex. He knows about my childhood. He understands this. And I love him very much.” June has no regrets. He believes that God never gave him anything that he couldn´t bear. He never felt he was being punished. “Time is an illusion. I have to live in the present and learn how to be grateful and appreciate myself and the people around me.” After our zoom interview, June proudly shows his paintings of birds resting on treetops, a hobby he took on two years ago. I ask him why he has chosen birds for his subject. “They are easy to paint,” he beams. At 60, he is living an easy, less complicated, and happy life with his husband, their two cats and his family’s support. Just like his feathered creations, June is now resting serenely on top of his life after a long and tumultuous flight.

By Nats Sisma Villaluna

By Pepe Chavez


#15 2022 | THE FILIPINO



From janitor to restaurant director: Giovanni Hidalgo fought the hurdles of life, including drug addiction, to become successful

By Dheza Marie Aguilar

By Pepe Chavez

By Ralph Joseph Quijano


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mong Filipinos back home, there is a notion that life abroad is equivalent to prosperity, comfort, and to a great extent, happiness. After all, the steady flow of remittances makes life better, if not entirely prosperous for the family left behind, especially the children growing up without one or both parents. Giovanni Hidalgo, 36, assumed as much. His parents left to work in Spain when he was seven, leaving him and his sister Xiaoyin in the care of their grandmother in La Union. Unlike most of his classmates, no parents brought or picked them up from school. But that void was filled with the monthly allowance that they received from Spain. His parents promised to petition them after seven years, which dragged on for a decade, and when they were finally reunited, the reality of their parents´ life in Spain crushed his rosy idea of what expat life was. “I thought that life in Spain was good, that they were earning a lot of money. But when I came here for the first time, there were five of us in one room, small and cramped. My father would go to work as early as 4am, and barely had time for us. I thought, Is this life in Europe? House, work, house, work,” Giovanni narrates. We are in Rossini, a popular Italian restaurant in Plaza Real, where Giovanni has been working for almost 13 years.

Despite the disappointment, he remained grateful. His family was complete, that for him was the most important. His father Artemio worked at the airport, his mother Letecia took care of them, and in addition, they finally got to meet their youngest brother, Kevin, who was born in Spain. Giovanni had a plan; work for a maximum of ten years, earn a lot of money and continue his life in the Philippines, and start a piggery or a carinderia. He did not want to stay in Europe. Searching for identity Giovanni got on with his plan right away. He studied Spanish and at the same time worked as a cashier in an

Asian store while waiting for his residence permit. When his papers finally got approved, he worked at the airport together with his father. Meanwhile, his sister had a different plan. She went to school to finish secondary education despite not knowing a single word of Catalan. Xiaoyin went on to study pharmacy while Giovanni began to enjoy earning and spending his own money. Like many young Filipinos uprooted from their homeland, Giovanni was searching for his identity as a Filipino in Spain. He found his tribe in the group of young Pinoys who frequented Plaza dels Angels and Plaza Terenci Moix near Museum of

Giovanni Hidalgo, takes a break at the bar of Rossini, his workplace for more than 13 years.


Giovanni and Chriza with their team of USANA leaders.

Contemporary Arts Barcelona (MACBA) located in Barrio Raval, where 4,000 of the 9,000 Filipinos in Barcelona live. “That is where I learned to drink, smoke and eventually use illegal drugs. Our group was big, around 30 teenagers, some were born here, some migrated from the Philippines. Maybe because I was new in Barcelona, I was experimenting, I was trying to find out who I was. Or perhaps because I was trying to fill up the shortcomings of my parents with other people.” Family failure Under normal circumstances, his parents would have reprimanded Giovanni from using hard drugs. But this was not the case. He discovered that his parents were users themselves. In the

beginning, he tried to convince them to give up their vices but eventually gave up. There was a time when all of them would use drugs together. Still, Giovanni pursued to make life better for his family. He bought a small house in Sant Antoni, so that the family could move out of their cramped one-room lodging. He eventually became the breadwinner, using a big chunk of his salary as a waiter to pay for their house. Giovanni found himself falling in love with a co-worker at the same time falling deeper into his drug addiction. He used his money to buy drugs instead of paying the mortgage. His younger sister Xioayin extracted herself from the household situation and moved out. Giovanni also left to live with

his new girlfriend. “That was the worst decision of my life. I left my parents knowing that they were addicts, knowing that nobody would be paying the house. My sister left because she couldn´t support my parents either. My youngest brother was only ten at that time, and he was left with my parents. But I couldn’t blame myself either because I was starting a family of my own.” During his monthly visits to bring grocery supplies to his parents, Giovanni would always find an empty fridge in their rat-infested house without electricity and water due to non-payment. His brother was becoming thinner by every visit and was obviously missing school. As if it were not enough, the unimaginable happened.

“The government took Kevin. My parents couldn’t take him back because of their situation. The government only gave me a few months, and if I was not able to get him back, he would be placed for adoption,” recalls Giovanni in between silent sobs. In 2010, Tristan Ezequiel was born. Giovanni did not want his first born to have the kind of parents that he had. So he decided to change the course of his life and stopped using illegal drugs. The first six months were the hardest, but after a year, his body stopped craving it. With his baby in tow, Giovanni would regularly visit Kevin at the youth facility. He could tell he was unhappy despite being surrounded by other young kids. A few #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO


COVER STORY too much, they would commit suicide,” he tearfully answers. Her mother would regularly make a scene at Giovanni’s, his father’s, and his sister’s workplaces, screaming outside if they didn’t come out. When his son was hospitalised and almost died of pneumonia, his mother was also becoming worse. Giovanni recalled the time she was so high that she took a knife, wanting to kill her husband, but fell and broke her head. That was when he decided to send her for rehabilitation. “That is one of the bravest things I did in my life. I told the doctor that if they didn’t help my mother, my family would be ruined. My work would be ruined, my sister would be fired, and without work I would not be able to pay the rent. How could I support my son?” His mother spent three months at Hospital Clinic rehabilitation centre.

Despite being busy, Giovanni always sees to it to spend quality time with son Tristan.

months later, Kevin ran away from the facility, walked down to Barcelona city, where the police eventually found him and took him back to the facility. Giovanni knew that he was the only one who could save his brother. He worked even harder. He needed a house that would satisfy the requirements of the government, a steady income to ensure that he could support his younger brother. But when he finally got his brother back, life threw him another curveball. He and his partner were having a major setback, and he was conflicted whether to keep his family intact for his son or leave an unhappy relationship. Picking up the pieces Giovanni decided to leave. He went back to Barrio Raval 22 THE FILIPINO | #15 2022

and rented a house in Joaquin Costa, where he lived together with his son, his brother Kevin, and eventually his sister. He was forced into debt when the bank forfeited the house where his parents lived, so he also took them in with him. Did he not blame his parents for all the misfortunes that happened to their family? “At times yes. I questioned why things happened the way they did? Why didn’t they save up money or buy a house? Why did they not think of the future of their children? They are parents, they were supposed to take care of us. Why did they become like that? But I couldn’t blame everything on them because I had faults myself. And I couldn’t keep on rebuking them for their mistake because I was afraid that if I pushed them

New beginnings Single and at peace with his current life, Giovanni eventually met Chriza Rafanan, a young native of Ilocos Sur who migrated to Spain at 11. Chriza was fond of dancing, and Giovanni used to join dance competitions when he was a kid. As fate would have it, the dance studio where Chriza was volunteering was in the same building where Giovanni’s son Tristan was taking karate lessons. On the day that he walked in, the dance instructor wasn’t present, so Chriza was the one who taught him the first steps. “There was not much going in my life than my house-work routine. So, I thought maybe I should try dancing again. That’s where I met Chriza but in the beginning she refused my offer of a relationship,”he fondly recalls. Giovanni was not discouraged. He asked her family, including her grandfather for permission to court her again. After one month, Chriza finally accepted

“That is one of the bravest things I did in my life. I told the doctor that if they didn’t help my mother, my family would be ruined. My work would be ruined, my sister would be fired, and without work I would not be able to pay the rent. How could I support my son?”


“When I was already falling in love with him, he told me the story of his life. I only fell deeper for him. And besides, the past belongs to the past. I saw how he changed, and I wasn’t afraid that he would go back to his addiction. I totally accepted him.”

#15 2022 | THE FILIPINO



Giovanni as his boyfriend. “When I was already falling in love with him, he told me the story of his life. I only fell deeper for him. And besides, the past belongs to the past. I saw how he changed, and I wasn’t afraid that he would go back to his addiction. I totally accepted him,” Chriza, pregnant at the time of the interview with their first child, shyly admits. “I told her who I am and what I did before. I wanted her to know everything about me before she said yes. I did not want her to find out from other people,” Giovanni proudly adds. Chriza has played a very important role in Giovanni’s life. He has at last found his balance. Her calm demeanor helps him to cope up with his personal issues. Giovanni became focused and motivated. He even quit smoking because of her. Now that they are expecting their first child, he is looking forward to raising his growing family with her. At last, the wind of change seemed to be finally blowing in his favour. After her rehabilitation, Giovanni sent his mother to the Philippines so that she could rest, and that she would knowingly be afraid to ever touch illegal drugs again under the Duterte presidency. He rented a much bigger house, in Sants-Badal, in a quiet neighbourhood away from the bustle and temptations of the city center, where his family, including Chriza, is sharing a four-bedroom apartment and the luxury of two bathrooms. Eventhough he was not able to fully mend the relationship between his brother Kevin and his parents, he makes sure he is there for his baby brother. “Kevin is still angry about what happened to him. Every time we have disagreements, he brings up the past. I try to reason out with him that we are aware of our mistakes and failures in the past. That’s why we try to make up for them 24 THE FILIPINO | #15 2022

As director of Rossini, Giovanni is responsible for all the restaurant’s operational headaches including sick leaves, booking cancellations and bad reviews on Tripadvisor.

now.” Fortunately, his family had become whole again before his father passed away in 2019. Pandemic blessings Like the rest of the world, Spain reeled from the Covid-19 pandemic that started in 2020. The hotel and restaurant industry took one of the biggest hits. When the restaurants finally opened, Giovanni’s boss asked him to become director, a role he hesitated to take

because of the sheer weight of the responsibilities. “I wanted to focus on Chriza and our children and I did not want to think of work too much anymore. Eventually, I accepted the promotion not because of the money nor the position but because I wanted to learn more.” Giovanni’s career in the restaurant industry is almost as long as his entire life in Spain. He started working in a coffee shop at El Prat

airport, then as a waiter in Quatre Gats, one of the oldest and most popular bars and restaurants in Barcelona. Despite having experience in waiting tables, he started as a janitor in Rossini. He worked his way up the career ladder as a waiter, bartender, manager, to supervisor and finally as a director. Currently, he manages almost 60 people and is responsible for all the operational headaches, from sick leaves to bad reviews on

Giovanni shares morning coffee with Elsie and another co-worker.

“We have different personalities, so at work you should be the one adjusting to other people, not the other way around. Don´t t steal or step on other people’s toes. Nor use others for your own advantage. And most of all you have to love and be happy with your work.”


If you or your family is struggling with drug dependency, don’t hesitate to seek help. 1. Ask your local health authorities for advice on available treatments. 2. Talk to the parish priest in your local church or religious adviser if you are not comfortable going to your doctor right away. 3. CECAS Foundation in Barcelona, Tarragona and Lleida provides treatment, family and therapeutic support, community support groups, social reintegration, among other services. Call them at 933 177 820, or email Or drop by their office located at w/ Banys Nous, 16, Barcelona.

Trip Advisor. “I’ve been working with Giovanni for 12 years. When he was still a waiter under my supervision, I was less friendly than how he is now to me as my boss. He is very kind. Our relationship as co-workers has remained good despite his current position,” says Elsie Nazarie, one of the managers at Rossini. Giovanni did not go to a hospitality school, nor does he have a management or even a college degree. Yet he earned the full trust of his employer. Whenever there is a difficult situation in any branch that is part of their group of their restaurants, he is the one called to fix it. In fact, it was his team who recommended him to become their director. “Giovanni deserves the promotion. We have worked together for 13 years now, and I trust him. I know that he is an efficient leader,” says his boss Milos Klimek, owner of Grupo Degusplus. “There are others who tried this position, carrying impressive educational background and experience, including working in five-star hotels. But here at Rossini, their management style faltered. Because they would

want to change everything, they wanted to become bosses instead of leaders. As a leader, you should show your team how things should be done, instead of just telling them what they should do.” Healthy living for the future His father’s death in 2019 made Giovanni think of the future, especially his family. “When you die, you’re gone, you’re free from hardships. When my father died, he left us with nothing. He didn’t have any insurance. We shouldered all the funeral expenses. I realised how important it is to save up for the future. And how important it is to have a healthy lifestyle.” Giovanni started taking Usana supplements, a brand of nutritional and skin care products founded by scientist and entrepreneur Myron Wentz, listed in the 2021 Forbes’ list of billionaires, with a net worth of $1.6B. Usana is also a multi-level marketing company, operating under the same business model employed by Herbalife and Avon. Usana has recently become so popular that even Philippine weightlifting Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz is endorsing it. Giovanni only wanted to try #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO



the products in the beginning, but a business opportunity had presented itself because there was nobody selling Usana products in Barcelona. Barely two years after becoming a distributor, Giovanni has now more than 300 people in his team and is currently earning a steady weekly income able to augment the loss of salary during the pandemic. He also became the first Usana Gold Director in Spain. “Working in restaurants leaves you with probably 2-3 hours a day for your family. I do not want to continue the working cycle that my father went through, working too hard and not having enough time for my family. I do not want to wait until I am 67 years old to retire. Hopefully through Usana, I can build a passive income that will allow me more time and freedom with my family.” Giovanni hopes that in the near future, he can finally build that small restaurant that he has been dreaming of. Advice to the young generation Giovanni’s brush with addiction is not unique in Barcelona. In a 2019 article published in El Diario entitled

26 THE FILIPINO | #15 2022

“‘Shabú’, a drug to endure at work that causes havoc in the Filipino community of Barcelona”, Dr. Sandra Santuré, a doctor working at Raval Nord, claimed that she had seen many people in 2018 coming up to her clinic with health problems from using methampethamine, or shabu, a problem not only affecting Filipinos but also other immigrants who are clocking in between 12 to 16 hours of work, mostly those working in the restaurant industry. In the same article, Ferran Soler, technical director of CECAS, a private, non-profit foundation dedicated to caring for people with drug addiction, emphasized that consumption of shabu among Filipinos is not higher than the consumption of cannabis or cocaine among the Spaniards. A scathing study led by Dr. María Ángeles López-Vílchez, head of Pediatrics at Hospital del Mar Paediatric Service, reported the increase of shabu consumption in the Filipino community, and a staggering 6.8% prevalence of drug use was detected among Filipino women who gave birth in the hospital, or nine out of 131 mothers. It is very high compared to the average of

the general population which is recorded at only 1%. “Many families have been broken by drug addiction. I remember seeing people I know from my group, who were good people, are now homeless. I hope the youth won’t waste their opportunities of living here in Europe. If you ever lose your way, take inspiration to change your life from your loved ones. Be brave, and trust in God. Know your limit, and know what is right from wrong,” reflects Giovani. Giovanni has proven that a successful career is possible even without a diploma. “We have different personalities, so at work you should be the one to adjust to other people, not the other way around. Don’t steal or step on other people’s toes. Nor use others for your own advantage. And most of all you have to love and be happy with your work.” The young man who migrated to Spain to earn a lot of money and planned to only stay a decade decided to stay for good. His measure of success has also changed. As long as his family is happy and doesn’t go hungry, he feels successful even though he doesn’t have tons of money in the bank.

“I hope the

youth won´t waste their

opportunities of living here in Europe. If

you ever lose

your way, take inspiration to

change your life from your loved ones. Be brave,

and trust in God. Know your limit, and know what is right from wrong.”


#15 2022 | THE FILIPINO




By Nats Sisma Villaluna

By Noel Jandongan

eslie Dula, 48, never expected that her 18-yearold son, Jamiel Bustos would become a social media star. The young barber has 4.1 million followers on Tiktok and 47k on Instagram, and counts Canadian millionaires as clients. But behind this successful teen is Leslie, his shy and doting mom who raised him singlehandedly. Leslie migrated to Canada together with her then-husband in 2005, leaving behind one-yearold Jamiel in the care of their parents. Jamiel was four when he finally joined his parents but that same year, Leslie and her husband separated. Bringing up Jamiel Raising Jamiel alone was a tough task for Leslie. She was working from 11:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. as a lab technician in a veterinary clinic. She hired her cousin to look after her son when she was at work. “When my cousin left in the morning, Jamiel would eat breakfast alone. When I got home at 8 a.m., he was already dressed up and we would walk to school together. At night, before I left for work, I would prepare his breakfast. His favourite breakfast was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I would put it in the fridge and he would microwave it.” Despite this set up, Jamiel remained a happy kid, never once complained about not having her mother around to tuck him to bed. “He is a brave kid. On his first day of school after he arrived in Canada, I was scared that he would cry. He didn’t speak English that time. But it was me who cried.” Accepting life Just like any other kids, Jamiel was makulit but Leslie never had a hard time making him do his tasks. “I didn’t have problems waking him up, he was always ready for school. When I went to work, Jamiel never had

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How a single mother raised the most popular barber in Canada


Jamiel poses with Nick Ara in front of his billboard at Dunbas Square,Toronto.

“I always tell him, this is the life I can give you. When you have a family of your own, be a good husband to your wife.” Leslie enjoys her bonding moment with son Jamiel.

fits, no tantrums. When we were at the mall, he would always say, ´If we have money, Mama, can we buy this?´” Leslie made it clear that she needed to work and her son understood this. “He is mature for his age. When he was in 4th grade, I got ill for a week. He took care of me, cooking rice using the rice cooker and making me a strawberry peanut butter sandwich.” Jamiel never had a memory of having a whole family, of the three of them together. “He was too young. He was one year old when we left him and four when his father and I separated. And in between those years, he was not with us.” But when he was growing up, Leslie could see that her son was looking for a complete family. “I always tell him, this is the life I can give you. When you have a family of your own, be a good husband to your wife.” Despite what happened between Leslie and her former husband, she never taught her son to hold a grudge against his dad. In fact, father and son are close. “I am glad that his dad is reaching out to him too, trying his best to be a good dad to him.” Internet superstar son Leslie would watch Jamiel play “barber” with his cousin. “He would use a pentel pen as his scissors. He was also fuzzy with his haircut.” Leslie would often change hairdressers because Jamiel complained about the cut. When Jamiel was 10, Leslie decided to take him to a barbershop. One day while watching #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO 29


Youtube, 14-year-old Jamiel said, “Ma, I want to cut hair.” Leslie didn’t believe him at first. “I was surprised when I saw him cutting his own hair. Although it was not pantay, it was not bad. I told him not to do it again.” But Jamiel was serious about his new found hobby. It was only later that Leslie found out that he practiced on Leslie’s cousin, the first to trust him. “My cousin who took care of him is a girl but Jamiel gave her a man’s haircut giving it some twists, a flower design and a lightning.” At school, Jamiel cut his classmates’ hair for free. Different career choice Leslie would like Jamiel to go to college and have a degree but she accepted her son’s interests. “One day, he asked me to buy him a barber’s chair which I did. Then a mirror. His friends 30 THE FILIPINO | #15 2022

would come and he would cut their hair and play video games afterwards.” Jamiel’s hobby eventually became a passion. At school, word got around about his haircutting skills that older kids and a teacher tapped his service. Leslie supported her son when he decided to be an apprentice at Platinum Hair Design barber shop at 16. Leslie was surprised when Jamiel was featured on Toronto Breakfast Television. She later discovered that her son is famous online. His videos, where he cuts rich people’s hair are gaining millions of views on TikTok. Though she is proud of Jamiel, she is also worried. “I don’t see his movements all the time. He drives a car now. I can’t monitor all his activities.” But Jamiel knows too well how to make his mother at ease. He calls to

tell her where he is and what he does. Jamiel continues to surprise his mom. When Leslie saw her son’s billboard at Dunbas square, she couldn’t believe her eyes. “My son on a billboard, described as the number one TikTok barber in Canada with his favourite quote: With passion, nothing is impossible. As a mother, it was one of my proudest moments.” Instilling good values Leslie and Jamiel also argue especially about typical teenage issues like washing his clothes to cleaning his room.“But he never answers back. He is a good kid. I have instilled in him the Filipino values of respecting older people.” Undeniably, the way Jamiel values his family shows how Pinoy na Pinoy he is. When asked why he works so hard, he says he

wants his parents to retire soon and enjoy life. Now that Jamiel is earning on his own, Leslie tells her son to always save for the rainy days. She wants him to value his own money and learn how to keep it. She believes that he will go places. Not only because of the money that he is earning but because of the way he treats others. “My son is not scared of competition. He is even teaching his friends to cut hair. He also takes some of them to his team.” Because of Jamiel’s hectic schedule, working at the barber shop in the morning, doing house calls and video shoots in the afternoon, Leslie misses their bonding moments. “When he was small, he would always tag along wherever I went. Now he comes home late. He is very busy. I seldom see him. Sometimes, I tease him that he doesn’t have time for me anymore. And he always says, ´I love you, Mama´.” A single mom's courage Raising a child as a single working mom takes a lot of courage and patience. Leslie is lucky to have a son who understands their situation and appreciates his mother’s efforts. “I pray hard for strength. I am also fortunate that I have relatives who gave me a hand during our trying times. If not for them, it would have been extremely difficult for me.” Single parents like Leslie always fear of making bad decisions and being judged by society. She may not be a perfect mother but seeing Jamiel become an independent, responsible and loving son, she knows she has done something right.


seriously by spending the money to set up an entity, you avoid thinking of it as a hobby. It is also important to check with the city requirements in terms of permits and business license where you will be operating your business. Know your target audience or clientele. If you are planning to sell a product, look at similar businesses, research on their pricing, look at your source of materials and labour and work on a markup so you can make a profit. The general rule of thumb is 1/3 labour, 1/3 overhead and 1/3 profit. Then begin with a website and social media strategy especially that presence on the internet has become so vital and important. Use the right tools on social media to gain traction. Set up a good accounting system. Start with opening a business bank account and a business credit card as soon as your entity is set up. Doing so, it encourages you to have a smoother flow of transactions and easier bookkeeping because your business transactions are properly segregated from your personal transactions. Create a business road map. This is one of the crucial items on your list. This will be your guide to your business journey. It can be a simple write up of 10-15 points you want to accomplish

with the timeline you set. It could include your immediate plans, hiring, marketing strategy moves, etc. Because having a new business can be very overwhelming, a road map will help you get organised and remember, do one thing at a time and complete each task so you are not in over your head and things are not left hanging. Lastly, make sure you are familiar with all the deadlines: Federal and state tax filing deadlines, payroll tax and sales tax reporting deadlines. It is important that you are not delinquent with any of these filing requirements so your business can run smoothly without interruptions or any liens on your account because you have missed filings or payments. I have been a business owner for 13 years now and I would not change a thing. Sure it is not easy, but the joy of serving clients as well as the flexibility it allows to raise a family has become a far more important factor for a balanced life. Your drive will make or break your business so make sure that it is the kind of business that you love to do, that it has potential for profitability. Have the proper mindset and focus. It will be hard at first and it could be a long journey to see the light, but do not easily give up, persevere and you will reap the fruits of your labour.

Managing Partner, Masler & Associates, CPAs


tarting a business has become easy and convenient in the United States. You can operate from home in your pyjamas even. While that is true, this is just the beginning. Running a business takes a lot of effort, time & energy but the satisfaction of being your own boss, time management and flexibility has proven to be such an attraction to start one. You as the business owner will be the driving force as you set the tone and direction of your company. The success of your business will depend on so many factors including your management style. Before starting a business, always know this: What is your purpose? What problem are you solving by creating your business? To attract clients, they will want to see your value whether you are providing service or selling a merchandise. Determine what kind of entity you are setting up. In the US, you have a few choices. You can be a sole proprietorship, an LLC, an S Corp or a C Corp. It is best to speak to an attorney for the legal set up of your company. Why do I suggest this? If you treat setting up a business

By Sharon Masler


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#15 2021 | THE FILIPINO


Rose Casia Robinsons juggles motherhood, career, and running her own business.


By Dheza Marie Aguilar


or many people, getting fired in the middle of a pandemic is a career breaker. But architect and new mom Rose Jilliane Casia turned this curveball into an opportunity. Ten months after giving birth, Rose Casia Robinson, 30, has already found a routine as a new mother. She wakes up at 6am, showers and does her morning rituals while her daughter is still asleep. At 7am, when Tala wakes up, she changes her nappy, feeds her, and puts her on one of her toys. Then she’s off to work in her living room and stays working until 12 midnight. Rose works as an architect for Cadent Gas, UK’s biggest gas distribution network. But in addition to her full-time job, she is also the founder and chief architect of

Casia Robinson, the architectural firm she set up in the middle of the pandemic, right after she got fired from her job of almost six years.

her parents, both engineers and owners of a construction company, gave her a stern warning. Pursue architecture or they wouldn´t be sending her to university. Unlike her two siblings who were allowed to choose their education, Rose obeyed her parents. She finished her degree at Bicol University and not long after graduation, she landed a job in Dubai. “None of my siblings were forced to take the course they didn’t want. They had free will, I didn’t. But then it worked. Architecture took me to a number of places; my dad was right. He must have already foreseen it that time.” At 23, Rose flew to Dubai to work for Brewer Smith Brewer Group, a decision that her parents also disagreed with. She was too young, and they thought the job offer was too good to be true. This time Rose was not swayed. “It was a 3-day interview among 100 applicants. I was handpicked by one of the partners. So, I went.”

Forced into design Rose did not want to be an architect. She wanted to sign up for the military. But

Taste of discrimination In Dubai, Rose was not stricken with homesickness unlike many young people

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who go abroad for the first time. With almost half a million Filipinos working and living in Dubai, and access to all sorts of Filipino food, she felt instantly at home. When she was already settled and earning enough, Rose pursued a master’s degree in Business for Architecture and Design at the IE School of Architecture and Design in Madrid, fulfilling her dream of studying in Spain. Rose thought she was doing a good job, especially for someone as young and driven as she is. She was able to work on big ticket projects including the Bluewater Island, a famed resort and residential island in Dubai. She was also managing projects with 10-15 people under her team. But she was not getting the recognition she thought she deserved, nor the title that her other colleagues were getting. She was never promoted. “I started questioning myself. Am I not good enough?” The company moved her to a new branch in London, which she took as a sort of job promotion. However, when she was assigned in the same team with a colleague whom she disliked, she unhesitatingly resigned.


“But I was told to pay £4,500 in visa cost. That was a lot of money, so I said no.” After her unsuccessful resignation, she was treated with indifference. Exacerbated by the UK’s gloomy weather and living alone while her partner, a navy officer, was stationed in another country, Rose was tired and miserable in London. She cried herself to sleep at night and would go to work anxious in the morning. It was the lowest point in her life. Pandemic blessing Rose was part of the team that standardised the drawings of their new branch in London, a task she enjoyed doing. The many issues at work notwithstanding, she was still very thankful that the company had trained her in specialised architectural technology which gave her an edge in her future job search. Then the pandemic happened. A call from a boss in Dubai told her that she was being laid off due to financial reasons. Instead of sulking, she prayed and thanked God that she was being let go. “I was relieved. When they finally let me go, all the crying stopped.” One week after getting fired, Rose landed a job at another firm right away, then changed to a new company half a year later. Her passion for drawing returned. And with a re-ignited zest for architecture came a new mission, to help those who lost their jobs during the pandemic. Casia Robinson was born from the comfort of her living room. Like any other start-up, Rose started with doubts and less selfconfidence. “I was asking myself, who is going to trust me? Who is going to ask me when there are a lot of local architects around? Who is going to ask a foreign architect to design their house? But then, I thought this was just a part time thing. I still have my full-time

Left: Rose tries to set a good example to her team. Right: First Christmas as a family with husband Andrew and daughter Tala.

job. Nothing to lose anyway. I didn’t invest money. It is just all my effort.” And indeed, for the first few months, nobody called, no projects. She decided to market her business using the widely available and easily accessible tool on the internet: Google ads. Soon after, calls for projects came in, including designing the fast-food restaurants of Tanky’s Burger and Shakes in the UK. Casia Robinson has become very successful that it has grown into a company with seven full time and two part time employees in just two years. Although she was elated with her company’s performance, it was a sign for her to slow down. “You know the fear that if you make it big so fast, it may not work? I refused some projects because we couldn’t accommodate them anymore. I don’t want people to be working too hard, like how I experienced it.” In April 2021, Rose became a mom. Combining motherhood with her full-time job at Cadent Gas and making sure they are delivering quality work at Casia Robinson sometimes take a toll on her. She has to give up some of her simple pleasures like spending time at the mall or binge watching on Netflix. There are even times when she can’t handle the stress anymore. But as opposed to her previous job, Rose knows that her work now has a higher purpose. “It is really tiring. But I tell myself, it’s not only about me

anymore. Now I must think of the people relying on Casia Robinson for their income. I can’t be that selfish, I need to make it work. I need time management.” Master of time management How do you do it all? This is a question that Rose often gets whenever people learn about her job, her business, and her nannyless daughter. “I don’t find it hard because I enjoy everything that I do.” Rose is also honest about running her own business while being employed by Cadent Gas. She believes that if she is delivering the output expected of her, she is free to do things on the side. Quality work is what Rose wants to be synonymous with Casia Robinson. Having a work force scattered in the Philippines, UAE, and London, Rose makes sure that she runs through all the designs before they are sent out, even if her team leader has already checked them. She has mastered the art of time management and delegation, at the same time making herself available whenever they need her advice. “I am a strict boss when it comes to deadlines. If I say I’ll finish a drawing tonight, I’ll finish the drawing tonight. I make sure that I am a good example to them.” On being successful Rose’s idea of success as having a lot of money, owning a villa, and having access to things

“I want Tala to say, that’s my mom! That when she sees me, she is proud of me. ”

most people don’t have, has changed over time, “As an adult, success for me now is just being happy. Happiness means to be with your family, even with low or just enough income. And, to help people. I feel successful now because I am providing employment to people, especially in the Philippines, and the people who lost their jobs during the pandemic.” But more than anything, Rose wants to become the woman her daughter will look up to in the future. “I want Tala to say, that’s my mom! That when she sees me, she is proud of me. So, whenever I do something, I always ask, is she going to be proud of me if I do this?” #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO



LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL Twenty-something entrepreneur Paola Amores proves that, to run a thriving retail business in the UK, fortune indeed favours the brave


orders need to be gathered, packed, and dispatched by 5 p.m. directly from the store at North Finchley—a suburb in the London Borough of Barnet—to the depot, to guarantee her promise of next-day delivery. And as her partner and helpful family members have full-time jobs, Amores does all these on her own while attending to a steady stream of walk-in customers. “It can be so tiring that I sometimes cry while packing,” she says self-deprecatingly. “But once 5 p.m. hits and everything is okay, the feeling of accomplishment is priceless— even more so when customers

receive their items on Tuesday and there aren’t any complaints. Some would even leave good reviews, saying the items were well-packed, and that gets me feeling kilig (giddy).” Raising the stakes Having graduated with a degree in business and finance at the University of Westminster, Amores recognised that when it comes to business, the higher the risk, the higher the reward. Add a global health crisis that

decimated enterprises worldwide to that equation, and the risk increases tenfold. But even as the odds were stacked against setting up shop during the Covid-19 pandemic’s apocalyptic tour across the UK, Amores— who has worked at an Asian store since she was 16—strongly felt it was worth the gamble. “I wasn’t scared to open a food business at that point because no matter how much we struggled, Filipinos are always going to spend on food. The pandemic actually ended up being good for us,” she relates. With government restrictions shuttering restaurants in the country, people were staying

By Tricia V. Morente

hile it is an unacknowledged truth that Mondays are universally dreaded—seeing the word can send people into varying states of doom and gloom—Paola Amores, the entrepreneur behind increasingly popular Asian grocery store Amores Oriental Mart, revels in it. “Mondays are the best part of my week,” the 25-year-old admits in an interview with The Filipino Expat Magazine. It isn’t even because Mondays at Amores Oriental Mart are easy. Quite the contrary, Mondays happen to be the grocery’s busiest day as delivery

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AMORES ORIENTAL at home, and as was the trend worldwide, some ended up discovering a love for cooking their own meals. “That trend, and the fact that the space we found was quite small, which means our expenses wouldn’t be as high… convinced me and my partner to invest our money in a new venture as we couldn’t get a mortgage straight away anyway. Sumugal lang talaga kami [We just really made a gamble].” Some bets come at an unexpectedly high price, however, as Amores would discover months into running the business mostly by herself. Being the 80% owner of the business meant she was the one on top of things— from sales and inventory to daily operations and marketing. Even with the extensive experience she had gained from her previous employment at an Asian shop, it was a different story entirely when it was her life savings at stake. “I thought the only skills that I needed to learn was how to do taxes and deal with government-related matters. I did not expect to struggle so much with time management. Doing inventory, monitoring stocks, sorting out the bills, and dealing with suppliers—all on my own— all of which were made doubly hard because the pandemic cut down everybody’s work hours, became very frustrating,” she relates. In the trenches Amores’ business-related frustrations eventually seeped their way into her personal life. Ironically, the more her business gained steam, the more her relationship with her partner deteriorated. “When we started the business, we were still together as a couple. Because the business consumed so much of my time and energy, we saw less of each other and soon there were a lot of misunderstandings. We ended up breaking up,” she shares, lamenting, “the first time I finally achieved something, it came at the cost of my personal happiness.” While things are now amicable between the former

couple—“My partner still owns 20% of the business, and he helps out a lot; there is no hatred between us,” she is quick to clarify—Amores admits to having blamed the business for “everything crashing.” As with any ending, tumultuous times followed, and to “keep calm and carry on” was an impossibility. “I stopped talking to suppliers even though I knew we were running low on goods. I didn’t update our online platform, and I was so behind on accounts. Sales was also really affected because I was not motivated to talk to customers,” admits Amores, adding that it had to take the business inevitably being in the red—its state mirroring her state of mind—to rouse her into action. “It felt like I was raising a child and I was letting it down. I told myself that, okay, love may not be working for me now, but I need to make more effort to keep the business running,” relates Amores. The road ahead While it took a good deal of time and effort to pick up the pieces, Amores now counts herself among the 5,090 Filipino business owners that have set up shop in the UK—the topmost non-British nationality contributing to the economy, according to December 2021 research by ETX Capital. Being among this network of Filipino business owners has proven to be valuable for the young entrepreneur. “One of the best pieces of advice we’ve been given is to keep putting the

money back into the business consistently for three years. We just get our salaries, and the rest is invested back into growing the store—that’s what we’re doing now,” says Amores, adding that her current focus is to enhance her relationship with her clients. “Every business decision— whether marketing or branding, etc.—must always answer, will this click with our customers? I also make sure to answer any inquiries on Facebook as soon as possible,” she relates, as some of her clients come all the way from Sussex and other places outside of London. “Some come here once a month, and they buy a lot—pakyaw—so I want to make sure na sulit ang biyahe nila.” All that hard work seems to be paying off. What started as a grocery initially targeting Filipinos ended up expanding its merchandise to include other Asian food items; non-Asian customers now also make up majority of the store’s walk-in clients. “My partner and I were talking about this recently, and we saw that sales and foot traffic are picking up—especially from our walk-in customers,” Amores shares, adding that this is a far cry from their early days when they would often do nothing in the store for hours. “Now I rarely get a break because there are customers that come in throughout the day.” Amores shares that while keeping the store running in North Finchley is her topmost priority, she is also entertaining the idea of expanding. However, with uncertainties still surrounding Brexit, rendering her

and other business owners from seamlessly shipping goods from the UK to other parts of Europe, she says it would happen all in good time. “There is already the demand— we’ve had a lot of people from Spain, the Netherlands, and all the way from Greece inquire about whether we ship to other parts of Europe—and there won’t be a problem in terms of supply. We’re just waiting on Brexit, for them to come into an agreement with the EU so we can send out parcels, but we’re ready,” she shares.

Business at a glance

Business name: Amores Oriental Mart Ltd Location: North Finchley, London, UK Industry: Retail Initial Investment: £40,000 Recurring expenses: £5,000 to £6,000 (excluding inventory) Expected ROI: No exact amount but aiming for at least 30-45% of investment. Best business advice: As long as you know what you want to do, and you know it’s right for you and for your target audience, just go for it. Embrace the risks and challenges because that’s when you know you are starting to grow. #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO 37




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he adults were engaged in their noisy chatter while I sat looking at the fallen trees and landslides our vehicle was passing by. Typical— or traditional could be more of an apt word—of Filipino families, the entire barangay sends off a family member when going abroad. In our case, it was just the entire household. That day though wasn’t one of our typical send-offs. A typhoon had lashed out in Batangas and our town was one among that took a heavy battering. To reach our coastal town, you have to negotiate a series of bridges—some wooden—along a winding road that overlooked dangerously steep cliffs. One of the bridges had been too precarious for vehicles to cross. From the other end, I watched my parents lug their suitcases by foot across the bridge. Another vehicle that would take them to Manila was waiting for them. We knew the drill, so there was no more choking back tears and heavy hearts—at least not on show. On that occasion, the only ones seeing the airport were the

ones flying. On the way back, I was calculating when I would see my parents again. At the time, they were Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW): my father as a physician/ surgeon, and my mother a nurse employed by the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They were in a generous position that they were able to take my sibling and me to live with them while not of school age. When my sister and I returned to the Philippines, our parents would come home every ten months, during our twomonth school break. It was the case for a decade or so. We didn’t feel any different from everyone else as not having a family member working overseas was, and still is, the exception rather than the norm. Being exposed to familial distance at an early age schooled us about practicality, sacrifice and emotional detachment as sometimes necessary inconveniences to forge a more comfortable life ahead. It doesn’t work for all, but if you’re placed in the situation, you make it work. A few years into settling in the UK, I came across a TV show called ‘Wanted Down Under’.

The programme gives British families a week’s taster, which includes house and job-hunting in Australia or New Zealand, to see and feel if either country will suit their lifestyle and financial goals. At the end of the show, the family members each hold a card that bears the UK’s flag and Australia’s or New Zealand’s on the other. They’re asked whether they’ll permanently stay down under or go back to the UK. The families or couples start flipping the card that shows the flags while their decision is suspended for the viewers by a commercial gap. I was almost always correct in my assumption as to where the families would choose to be. The ones who cried me a river within a week at the debilitating thought of possibly seeing their families back in the UK only annually, and missing out on birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, and Sunday roast, chose grey and rain over bright and dry. While I empathized with their point of view, I also felt simultaneously contemptuous as I thought of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos whose only painful choice for better opportunities is not to be physically with their families for years. They have no cards with flags to flip. They

leave to scrub other people’s floors. And posteriors. Most heartbreaking of all, is they leave their children to take care of other people’s children. In my 16 years in the UK, I have met colleagues who were raised by Filipino nannies. One of them is still my colleague’s cleaner. These women have their own children back home. Some have been fortunate enough to bring them over. The lockdowns and travel restrictions have magnified that distance and separation. But these workers simply carry on. What if Filipinos were given the same leverage as British families in that show? We always speak of resilience as one of the best qualities of Filipinos; I say let’s put courage first. It is in every Filipino who leaves behind their loved ones to earn a living. Courage is not only about dying for one’s country; it is also about surviving the unknown in order to live.

By MZ Akil


We always speak of resilience as one of the best qualities of Filipinos; I say let’s put courage first. It is in every Filipino who leaves behind their loved ones to earn a living.

#15 2022 | THE FILIPINO 39


By Elisha Gay C. Hidalgo


t’s December in Bologna, a city located somewhere in Northern Italy. I have been living here for almost a decade now, yet I still have not gotten used to checking the weather updates on my phone before I get dressed every morning to go to work. So, I often find myself either being underdressed (missing a bonnet or a pair of gloves or wearing the wrong pair of shoes) or a little overdressed (too much layering of winter sweaters and that overly thick woolen scarf) for the weather. In many senses, I am still an outsider to what I would like to consider my second home. Bologna may not be as well-known a tourist destination as other Italian cities like Rome, Milan, or Venice. Yet, Bologna and its region, EmiliaRomagna, is home to thousands of Filipino workers and their families making it one of the top Italian cities with the highest concentration of the Filipino population. The first thing I noticed when I came here was the almost uniform red or red-orange houses and buildings inside the city historical center. It is said that this type of brick walling with its terracotta color is still the

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remains of medieval Bologna, making this beautiful city known in Italy as “la rossa” (the red). Bologna is also “la dotta” (the learned) being home to Alma Mater Studiorum (University of Bologna), the oldest university in the Western World. Founded in 1088, it has produced many notable scientists, statesmen, popes and artists like Nicolaus Copernicus, Petrarch, Luigi Galvani, Laura Bassi, Umberto Eco and Marcello Malpighi. Another nickname for Bologna is “la grassa” because of its rich food and wine tradition and the region boasts one of the highest agricultural productions in the whole country. Its rich meat sauce called “Ragù Bolognese” served with pasta called “tagliatelle” is famous worldwide. The region of Emilia Romagna is proud of its parmesan cheese or the

Bologna is also “la dotta” (the learned) being home to Alma Mater Studiorum (University of Bologna), the oldest university in the Western World.

parmigiano-reggiano, arguably the best tasting cheese in the world. A love-hate thing At first, I was torn between hating and loving this place, so different from where I grew up in, with people speaking a very unfamiliar, difficult, and yet romantic language. I felt literally “handicapped” by my lack of Italian knowledge especially when filing legal documents. I would always need the assistance of a family member who could speak and understand the language. Living here, one must also deal with the long dark cold winters and the short scorching summers. Living in Bologna is not complete without being subjected to the notorious Italian world of bureaucracy that newly arrived Filipinos wish that more

Above: The Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca sits atop Monte della hill. Below:Piazza Nettuno on a sunny afternoon.


government functionaries spoke English to make their lives easier. Italian red tape covers tons of paperwork, long lines in offices, most notably the Italian post office, which is not only responsible for the mails but also serves as a bank, bill/utility payment centre. Yet, the reasons to love Bologna outweigh whatever inconveniences Filipinos have to deal with living here. This place is generous and welcoming to people from different cultures and backgrounds. I remember being excited to get my first library card or enjoying browsing through hundreds of books and DVDs available to learn Italian. Many Filipino communities are free to form organisations based on their interests, advocacies, or regions. These organisations can be legally registered for financial and administrative support. Being a largely Catholic country, Filipino Christians can freely practice their faith, even celebrate some of our traditions like Santacruzan and Simbang Gabi. Some Filipinos have also started their Looking up Torre Garisenda, the leaning tower of Bologna.

BEST PART ABOUT LIVING IN BOLOGNA I was captivated by its simple beauty, ambiance, and cleanliness. There are many churches and parks, including Basilica San Luca which you can reach by climbing the more than 600 steps uphill overlooking the entire city. People are approachable, especially the Filipinos living here. They are always helpful to co-nationals and respectful to Italians and other migrants. There are numerous community organizations, some are religious groups, civic and regional associations which you can choose from to be a part of, according to your beliefs, advocacies, and interests. - Mercedita Centeno De Jesus, Founder and president of Filipino Women’s League in Bologna, resident for 18 years Biggest challenge Integration with Italians and other migrants despite my lack of fluency with the Italian language was a big challenge. Our women organization and other community- based associations must co-exist with other Italian and migrants’ association but it was challenging for us to make these always visible and known.

EXPAT ADVICE Learn the language It is a must to learn the Italian language to become independent. There are many good courses offered for free by the city. There are many projects from the government which promote the integration of foreigners thru institutions like the Centro Interculturale M. Zonarrelli Huong Le Thi Bich, teacher of Vietnamese language, resident for 20 years Join a community Expats who want to move and live in Bologna should first contact a friend, a relative or a community leader so that they could help in searching for an apartment, jobs and organizations they could join in. These will help them with the fastest integration within the community. - Mercedita Centeno de Jesus Showcase your skills Filipinos are full of talent and skills. We must share these, be discovered and make known to the community that we are not just domestic helpers and blue-collar workers but also talented and skilled in other aspects. Dream bigger Study and earn a degree, find a good paying job and own a flat/ apartment if salary permits. – Chrismarie Zaldivar, community leader, 20 years resident

#15 2022 | THE FILIPINO



Main photo: Boologna public library. Below top: Filipinos celebrating Flores de Mayo in Bologna. Below bottom: A free library where passersby can take home books.

own businesses in retail and merchandise. Bologna is well-known for its quality education. Twelve years of compulsory education is free (elementary schools provide free books and free lunch and snacks for children) and enrolment to the University of Bologna is open for scholarships and grants by the region. There are also free short courses (culinary, tourism, marketing, IT) intended to cover job shortages offered occasionally by different technical and professional schools. The Italian medical service system is largely free. Struggling young couples with many kids, persons with disabilities, old people who cannot work for medical reasons can apply for quality housing which costs less than a tenth of what free-market rent costs. Human rights or the 42 THE FILIPINO | #15 2022

recognition of human dignity is not just a concept here but is something the community leaders are trying to recognise in all areas of life and what the public continues to discuss in open spaces. Bologna tries to take care of the environment. Residents must learn how to segregate waste; public bins are available in the neighbourhood and are collected regularly. This might seem mundane, but for me, this means a lot as I know that most cities in the Philippines sadly don’t even have a commendable waste disposal system which is one of the main causes of flooding. At the weekend, the city center is closed to public transport to control air pollution. The city also provides public parks in almost every neighbourhood where residents

can just relax, do sports, organise activities, or read a book under a tree. Back home in the Philippines, pieces of land are sold almost to the point of exhaustion for commercial purposes. Bologna also boasts of its efficient public transportation system. The buses run on their timetable and stop in their designated areas, thus avoiding traffic. There are also bike lanes and the city provides maps for cycle paths including the nearby municipalities. Of generosity and openness In the end, I am very grateful to have found a new home provided by the good Lord. Looking back, I feel lucky to have been given so many opportunities, from employment to education to volunteer and


Above: The author’s children attending a free art workshop. Below: Locals shop organic produce.

community activities. I have joined countless community activities and free courses I could only dream of when I was in the Philippines, like a storytelling activity done in a theatre where I read a children’s story I wrote in Filipino, with a co-volunteer translating it in Italian, and an illustrator projecting his interpretation of the story live on a big screen. I was also asked to serve a Filipino youth community once, participated in medical missions, worked as an English teacher in a kid’s summer camp and hosted some programs and events like Renee Salud’s Balik sa Basik in Bologna. At present, I still work from time to time as a cultural mediator in schools and volunteer in our parish church for the distribution of clothes to the needy. Bologna has not only taught

me a new language and a new way of living but its generosity and openness made me realise that bounty, or whatever surplus you have, is to be shared with others. The idea of putting up a little free library in an elementary school in the Philippines was inspired by the same project done by an American friend I met here in Bologna who had set up one inside the university grounds. Supporting outreach programs and other charity missions in the Philippines are made possible by coordinating various Filipino organizations and the generosity of members to share whatever they could. The “bayanihan” spirit is still alive even within the Filipino community here in Bologna and it is evident during this time of pandemic. It is common practice here among Filipinos to help quarantined or isolated families by dropping

off needed groceries and other supplies. Moving into a new place can be difficult and requires a lot of patience, flexibility, and resourcefulness. It is not easy, and it is not always a success story. I myself still have a long way to go here. But gratitude, charity and hope are the recipe for joy wherever you may be in the world, whether you are in Bologna or elsewhere. #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO 43

44 THE FILIPINO | #15 2022


By Louise Baterna


t began during my autumn years, when the first signs of arthritis appeared on my fingers, when kneeling for long periods of time felt like a real sacrifice. It did not stop me though, to venture out in the open, in the garden that I had ignored and let nature take its course for may years. More than twenty years ago, not knowing what we could be getting, we went to a public sale of several properties. With a limited budget, we chose the smallest house with a fourmeter-wide garden, extending up to eight meters to a back wall. Beyond that, stretching the entire length of a row of houses was a huge plot of land that nobody wanted, despite its giveaway bidding price. It was like a neighbourhood dump, and no one saw its potential…except us. My husband dreamt of having a dog and he wanted a huge space for it to run and play. I thought then, that when the dog was too old to run, it would be nice to have some extra square meters of real estate to build on. In the meantime, we built a garden, or rather, the landscape architect, who brought a mini bulldozer, transformed the dump into a twolevel lawn. He tore down the back wall and it opened to this bigger garden, slightly hidden from many viewpoints. He saved some trees,

#15 2022 | THE FILIPINO 45


cut others, planted new ones, and closed off a section for parking rentals. To complement the evergreens, we added a few fruit trees, created a line of berry bushes, and when our daughter was born a year later, we planted a walnut tree. It took almost 20 years for the garden to “settle.” It took me longer to call it mine. It was there, enclaved among walls of neighbours, this little paradise in the city. Season after season, bushes and trees found their places, like hosts of a big party holding their breath, waiting for the day I would eventually come and embrace them. My real interest in gardening grew when I realised I could grow my own food, at a time when the green movement became fashionable. Go organic, go local, grow your own. Working in the kitchen of a European diplomatic mission, I was also immensely inspired by chefs who tended their own vegetable gardens, creating plant-based menus from their own produce, from farm to table, from herb parterres to mortar and pestle, ground into concoctions that create magical flavours. Growing

vegetables became the new source of culinary creativity, as if it was something new, when in fact, vegetable gardens had always been the source of what we eat except that over time, men and women had become too busy, too lazy, too spoiled, demanding variety and choice from supermarkets resulting in monocultures and intensive farming. It was during the spring of the year I turned fifty when I joined the ranks of plant enthusiasts. I felt like a warrior and the garden became my new territory. I attacked my new hobby with frenzy. I rushed to the nurseries, hoarded seeds, bought fancy tools. Shovels and pitchforks became weapons. I allied with worms and built barricades for slugs. I waved my dirty and broken fingernails like war medals. Every day, I visited my two raised vegetable patches, waiting for tiny signs of life. I was impatient. I wanted quick results, bringing out seedlings too early in the season or showering too much fertilizers. I was awkward, ignorant and didn’t take the time to get myself acquainted with my garden. Instead, I was

like an obsessed lover who zealously smothered his object of desire without the prelude of a courtship. My first trials failed Ignoring the first rule was the root of the problem. Know your soil. Ours was sandy, which made it difficult to grow any kind of vegetable but turned out to be best for carrots, tomatoes and strawberries. Feed it with nutrients. Fortunately, we were already composting and the “ripe” bulks were added to the soil. Water regularly. This was a problem as we didn’t have any water source in the former dump but eventually found a system to collect rainwater in big barrels from a neighbouring building’s downspout, beside the mini green house where I potter and prepare seedlings or re-pot young plants to bigger containers. With some technical improvements and a bit more knowledge, I tried again the year after. My vegetable patch was yet far from robust. The salads remained shy, the beets tasted bitter. I also wanted to experiment with tropical vegetables like okra and pigeon peas. But apart from

It took almost 20 years for the garden to “settle.” It took me longer to call it mine. It was there, enclaved among walls of neighbours, this little paradise in the city. Season after season, bushes and trees found their places, like hosts of a big party holding their breath, waiting for the day I would eventually come and embrace them. 46 THE FILIPINO | #15 2022


the zucchini, which seemed happy where it was and like a diva, claimed much of the territory with its leaves and vines, other vegetables remained stunted. Meanwhile, the fruit trees, which were planted many years ago, started bearing fruits. The walnuts and plums were a bit bigger. The weight of Conference pears and Golden apples bent their branches. And, as if it was announcing the onset of a sunny summer, the cherry tree turned bright red with its bounty. Under its lush foliage, I made what I call my Cherry Tree Corner. Its red brick and paved flooring, each of it I hauled and installed; and a flea market find-wrought iron table and chairs made it a perfect place for reading and meditation. This was also the time I learned how to make jams. Since then, every summer, the abundance of sweet things line our basement pantry: jars of plum, rhubarb and fig jams and apple compote. Tarts and crumbles also graced our picnic tables. The vegetable patch, however, continued to defy me. Year two after I started digging my fingers in soil, the harvest remained lean. I turned to flowers, thinking that would be easier. But that was a completely different universe: insects, mildew, differences between annuals and perrenials. How little did I know. Again! Somehow, with very little intervention, many of them bloomed. Lilacs, forsythias

and camelias brightened shady corners. Tulips, hyacinths and daffodils thrived under the trees. Climbers, like the clematis, adorned walls while the wisteria, with a bit of guidance, formed a canopy where the backwall used to be. Peonies became my favourite. Short flowering period but endowed with generous, plump petals that looked like a hundred pages of a book. I became interested in fragrant rose varieties, dedicated the sunniest portion of the garden to my amateur cultivation, and finally, the lupins naturally found their homes in spots I thought impossible: in the vegetable patch. The flowers filled vases, bowls, even teapots, arranged with intuition and techniques I followed on an online floral arrangement course. Unknowingly, I was diversifying and was getting more addicted to anything that had roots or leaves or buds. One late summer, after several weeks of ignoring the raised beds, I finally returned to them. I don’t know what kept me away. I blamed it on Belgium’s relentless rain that year, the stubborn slugs, a sort of burn-out from saying yes to many things. I was also thinking that maybe, I didn’t have a green thumb after all. But when I reached the vegetable patch, I was so humbled to discover that “they” gave.... what I planted months

ago - without receiving attention. True, the corn and potatoes died, the chili peppers shrivelled, the salad grew like a tower but the carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and pumpkins survived. Not a huge harvest but enough to make a decent vegetarian meal and to remind me this is why I garden in the first place. I finally succeeded to grow my own. The garden has become our haven. During the lockdowns, we felt so privileged to have this space outside, envied by others who didn’t realize that such a luxury demanded dedication and hard work. Over the years, I have learned from my gardening mistakes and from the pitfalls of my impatience. I now have a pile of practical books but the most difficult task was accepting that gardening is a long journey. When I look around in my garden, seeing how young my fruit trees are, I regret to have taken an interest late in life. I will probably never sit under the shade of the trees that I have planted. Trees grow old with us, grow older than us. Sometimes, when I need to think or feeling the blues, I sit on a bench, gazing at nothing and everything. Taco, our third adopted dog who runs in this playground of his predecessors, jumps beside me and puts his head on my lap. And time stands still until he decides to run after the fox or squirrel that he doesn’t really want to catch in the first place. This is our pastime until the days become shorter as autumn officially sets in. Slowly, the garden metamorphoses, from a green palette to a golden and deep red hue. The low temperatures will make it less bearable to sit on the bench for a long time. Leaves will start to fall, leaving branches naked. The last rose petals will brave the cold but bulbs will hide deep in the earth to go to sleep in winter. I will still potter where I can, lingering on places that need work next spring, until darkness reminds me to leave the garden in peace, that me too… I will need rest until the next awakening. #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO 47


Looking for a good read for your Spring holidays?


Geschichten und Deutungen der Herkunft und der Identität von migrantisch gefärbtem Leben.

“We not only inherit the life that our parents built for us in their new chosen home, but also a responsibility to bear the torch and put our stamp on their legacy. Not entirely Filipino, not exactly Austrian, we are the sons and daughters of a third culture—the global citizen whose home is not one place, not one culture, not one language but a beautiful and colorful quilt of all our combined identities.”

Arlene D. Castañeda / Ralph Chan (Hrsg.) Castañeda / Chan (Hrsg.)

Cosechas del Insomnio (“Insomnious Harvest”), a book of poems and short stories in Spanish Native Caviteña Karessa Malaya Ramos Aguiñot releases “Cosechas del Insomnio” (“Insomnious Harvest”), a book that recounts her experiences as a Filipina migrant, mother and artist, among others, including her childhood memories of the Philippines. After three years of creative writing lessons, 52 poems and 7 short stories were launched in Madrid and Barcelona during late 2021. No stranger to writing, Karessa Malaya started journaling at 9 years old and at 10, she composed her first poem in her English class entitled “The Moon”. Karessa Malaya’s literary journey in Spanish started in 2018 in a creative writing workshop led by fellow poet Gloria Fortún (Fundación Entredós). Her writing adventure continued throughout the lockdown in 2020 when she opened an Instagram account and was discovered by poet and editor Quinny Martínez Hernández, who proposed to publish her first book under PlataformaCer0, an initiative focused on promoting the work of neophyte migrant writers. From the book’s layout to its content, “Cosechas del

insomnio’’ is daring, performative and at times uncomfortable as the author breaks away from the traditional blueprint for poems, using blacked out text or chat messages, among other techniques. Similarly, the short stories offer a unique landscape from the author’s childhood memories in the Philippines, along with a peek at the cultural background that greatly influenced her narrative voice. Available for €11.54 at

(Gerard Rababa, designer, marketing professional, communications executive)

(Chelsea Amada)

„Ich habe mit den beiden Kulturen in mir zu kämpfen gehabt. Es gibt Eigenschaften, die auf den Philippinen gutgeheißen werden, in Österreich nicht. Aber ich bin eben so.“ (Cynthia „Cindy“ Kurleto, Model, Schauspielerin)

“This book is doing a great service to both the Filipino community and (as a part of) Austrian and German society: that of raising awareness for the values of the diversity of culture, mentality, and social origin for the communalization of individual life’s destinies and life endeavors, as they are demanded of all of us.” (Thomas A. Bauer, Professor emeritus, University of Vienna)

ISBN 978-3-947729-38-8

¤ 24,90 [D]

9 783947 729388

COMMON DIVERSITIES Junge Filipin@s im deutschsprachigen Raum

“I started suppressing my Filipino roots in school. The less foreign I seemed, the better—or so I thought. At home, I felt that I was being constantly reminded that I wasn’t the kind of Filipina that I should be. The older I got, the more I became aware of the world and myself. I was silencing me and my version. I realized that I was silencing my authenticity.”

48 THE FILIPINO | #15 2022



DIVERSITIES Junge Filipin@s

im deutschsprachigen Raum


Common Diversities: Junge Filipin@s im deutschsprachigen Raum is a collection of essays and written contributions by scholars, writers, experts and community leaders from the second and third generations themselves. The book is the first of its kind and is a collection of essays examining the experiences and impressions of the second and successive generations of the Filipino diaspora in the Germanspeaking countries of Austria, Germany and Switzerland. It is an introspection of identity, authenticity and belonging that reflects the unique voices within the region’s specific migrant subculture. “With the book we give the

second and third generation of Filipinos in German-speaking countries a voice and a face. This anthology focuses on the experiences of Filipinos in the diaspora in Europe. It is important to hear their stories, point of views and opinions because they shape our present and future society.” – Ralph Chan, Co-Publisher Available for €24.90 or e-book for €21.90 at regiospectra. de. In the Typhoon’s Eye by Bles Chaves-Bernstein A Story of Childhood and Leaving Home follows Bles Chavez-Bernstein’s personal development, written from the perspective of the person Chavez-Bernstein was at each stage being depicted. From the author’s impoverished upbringing in postwar Southeast Asia to a career as a mental health and addictions RN specialist, In the Typhoon’s Eye is an immigrant story like no other, laying out how denial of self-expression, poverty, and trauma from physical and emotional abuse resulted not in dysfunction, but in strengthening of character-- the pursuit of her lifetime calling and her truest self. Available for €17.54 on Amazon.

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case. With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell

the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block… Available for €12.88 on Amazon.


ubai is the entire world in one city. Showy and opulent, the emirate has always been “reaching for the sky”. It likes to do things on a grand scale –no wonder it is the home to the world’s largest and tallest observation wheel, the largest artificial island, the deepest swimming pool, the fastest roller coaster, the longest zipline, the largest mall, the tallest building, and the list goes on. But behind these wondrous world-class tourist attractions are hidden gems that are waiting to be uncovered.

By Geneva Liz Isaac


c/o the author and Dubai Tourism


#15 2022 | THE FILIPINO 49


Main photo: Old Dubai with her modern face in the background. Below top: Visitors can drink local coffee in Old Dubai Below: Relaxing at Seva wellness centre.

If you have a 72-hour layover in Dubai, there is no reason to be bored. So, throw away your standard itinerary and let these insider tips help you to have a whale of a time in the city of gold. Old Dubai Before Dubai became the futuristic metropolis it is today, it used to be a small village dependent on fishing and a declining pearl industry. Located on the banks of the Dubai Creek, a visit to the Old Dubai is like a blast from the past. Remember the streets and markets of Agrabah where Aladdin met Princess Jasmine? That is how this heritage village looks like –buzzing with back-street haggling and merchants crisscrossing the calm waters in their traditional dhows. Dotted with quaint cafés and holein-the-wall restaurants, Old Dubai offers delightful bites to satisfy even the pickiest palate. If you want an authentic Emirati cuisine, head to Arabian Tea House and enjoy its Instagrammable décor filled with flower garlands, rattan furniture and soothing turquoise tones as you sip your cup of Arabic tea. Conclude your time travel with a memorable boat tour across the water in a traditional wooden dhow worth 1 dirham en route. Imam Hussein Mosque Situated at Al Wasl Road in Jumeirah, this magnificent Iranian Mosque is 50 THE FILIPINO | #15 2022

certainly a love at first sight. It exhibits an azure blue-colored faience tiles embellished with intricate floral motifs, blanketing its onion-shaped dome and façade. Its doors are open for nonMuslims to get a look at the mosque’s stunning interior and delicately painted arches. However, the hair, shoulders, and knees of female visitors should be covered upon entering the mosque as a sign of respect. Highlights also include a library that provides a repertoire of about 14,000 books of diverse topics and languages including Arabic, English, Urdu, and Persian. (Jumeira First - 226 - 226 Al Wasl Rd.) Seva Embark on a serene journey of wellness as soon as you step into the zen-like garden café in Jumeirah 1 on Jumeirah Beach Road. The word ‘Seva‘ comes from the ancient Sanskrit word meaning ‘selfless service for the betterment of the community’, which has been the establishment’s advocacy since its inception. It has a Bali-like atmosphere with lots of greeneries, colorful décor, and log tables, making it a great place to catch up with friends, read a book, do yoga, or just meditate. It also offers a wide range of plant-based menus that are glutenfree, soy-free, and without refined sugars to promote health and commitment to Mother Earth. (

The Green Planet The Green Planet is a bio-dome that invites visitors to explore our planet’s fascinating flora and fauna through an immersive expedition into the tropics. It is made up of four levels: the Canopy, the Midstory, the Forest Floor and the Flooded Rainforest. Each level discusses the role and the importance every part

( and Hot Air Balloon Dubai (www.hotairballoonuae. com).

of a rainforest plays. Designed as an enclosed ecosystem, The Green Planet recreates the enchanting world of a tropical forest with over 3,000 plants and animals and the world’s largest man-made and life-sustaining indoor tree. (www. Balloon Adventures of Dubai A hot air balloon ride in Dubai may not exactly be the same as a flying carpet ride, but it is just as magical. Catching a rising sun against a clear desert sky as you go sky-high on a hot air balloon and glide over windswept dunes is such an unforgettable experience. All hot air balloon baskets are equipped with GoPros so that you can enjoy looking back at your memories for years to come. You also get to enjoy traversing the desert in museumquality vintage Land Rovers, followed by a gourmet breakfast à la carte served in a magnificent desert setting. There are several companies offering ballooning in Dubai including Balloon Adventures Dubai

Palm West Beach A great way to enjoy Dubai is with sand under your feet, wind in your hair, and salt on your skin! Palm West Beach is a 1.6km promenade and beachfront stretch dotted with 300 palm trees, a range of premium hotels and beachfront restaurants, water sports, and the best Dubai skyline views! It is the perfect fusion of Miami and Boracay where you can indulge and relax against the backdrop of picture-perfect sunsets. Don’t forget to bring your bathing suit. (www. Riverland This rustic French village looks like it is designed straight out of “Beauty and the Beast” movie set. Functioning as an entryway to the 25 million square feet Dubai Parks & Resorts, this quaint countryside-style setting will transport you to medieval France in the late 1600s with its cobblestone walkways, whimsical dining options, man-made river, and artistic displays. Riverland is even more

mesmerizing at night when lit by lanterns. Book your tickets via Dubai Parks and Resorts ( Promise Bridge Just like the iconic Namsan Love Locks in Seoul, people visiting the Promise Bridge near Mushrif Park in Al Khawaneej can also seal their love by fastening a padlock to the bridge, throwing the key into the waters, and promising it will hold forever like metal locks. No romantic partner? That’s okay! Enjoy some “me” time and take a tour around the picturesque area or check out the scenery with newly met friends. It also embraces a rustic courtyard, an organic farmers’

Going sky-high on a hot air balloon. #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO



If your cold tolerance is not that reliable, don’t fret. Your movie ticket comes with the right kind of accessories like jacket, beanie hat, boots, fleece gloves, socks, and even wireless headphones, so you can sing like Elsa in full voice saying, “The cold never bothered me anyway!” market, bakery, restaurants, and a unique and a unique mix of shops so you will always find something to be entertained. Wafi City Wafi City is one of Dubai’s most popular shopping destination. As soon as you arrive, you will be greeted like a royalty by huge sphinx statues, pharaoh sculptures and columns with hieroglyphics! Inside, the impressive stained-glass pyramids will captivate your heart as you delight in the strings of fashion boutiques, fine-dining restaurants, leisure options, and a famous souk. Enjoy the gentle giants of Giza with a fun twist of contemporary designs. Be prepared to splurge! (www. Snow Cinema at Ski Dubai Follow the reindeer footsteps leading to a cinema nestled in the heart of Ski Dubai and experience Winter Wonderland as you watch your favorite blockbuster! Wrapped up in a nice warm blanket with hot chocolate and fresh popcorn in your hands, you will feel like you’re inside a snow globe surrounded by glistening snow! And if your cold tolerance is not that reliable, don’t fret. Your movie ticket comes with the right kind of accessories like jacket, beanie hat, boots, fleece gloves, socks, and even wireless headphones, so you can sing like Elsa in full voice saying, “The cold never bothered me anyway!”. Book your tickets at

52 THE FILIPINO | #15 2022

INSIDER'S TIP: 60% off

Above: Visitors enjoying their time at the indoor skiing complex Ski Dubai. Below: The author tries belly dancing.

Get as much as from entrance fee for most attractions and activities with the Dubai Pass. Dubai Pass offers five options depending on your itinerary:

Dubai Flexi Attractions

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Book it via



#15 2022 | THE FILIPINO



A Filipino Favorite

Sarangani Bay Harvests only the best Milkfish from their very own farm. The fish are marinated to perfection in classic blends of fresh spices. Sarangani Bay’s reputation for consistent high-quality packaged seafood products is well known outside the Philippines. Which is, it is a favorite amongst Filipino communities all over the world!

54 THE FILIPINO | #14 #15 2022 2021

Are you an interested retailer who wants to carry these products? You can send an email to or visit our website for more information.



Filipino BBQ Pork Chop Prep Time: 3 hours Cooking Time: 15 minutes Servings: 6 Ingredients: 1.3 kg pork chop 177 ml soy sauce 3 tablespoons calamansi puree 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 1 tablespoon garlic powder 60 ml banana sauce (ketchup) 2 teaspoons granulated white sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground black pepper 2 tablespoons cooking oil *Tip: use vinegar as dip sauce!

Instructions: • Make the marinade by combining the soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Banana sauce, lemon juice, salt, sugar, garlic powder, and pepper in a bowl. Mix until the sugar is diluted. • Place the pork chop in a large resealable bag. Pour in the marinade mixture in the bag. Let the air out and then seal. • Marinate the pork chop overnight or for at least 3 hours. Make sure to place the bag in the fridge while doing this. • Make the basting sauce by transferring the remaining marinade in a bowl and then add the cooking oil and about 3 tablespoons of banana sauce. • Grill each side of the pork chop for 10 to 12 minutes in low to medium heat while basting both sides. • Arrange the BBQ Pork chop over warm white rice, on a plate covered with fresh banana leaves. • Serve with salted eggs, chopped tomato, and onion.

Are you an interested retailer who wants to carry these products? You can send an email to or visit #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO 55 our website for more information.






“I really love mangoes. I tried mangoes here and people would always say lasang gamot and it is true. It is really different compared to our mango. Ours is really sweet, and softer. It is good in everything, as dessert or on its own.”

By Dheza Marie Aguilar

henever Philippine mango is mentioned, Kristina Stadler’s face lights up, like a child given a box of candies. The 19-year-old Swiss Filipina has been the face of the Philippine Carabao mango in Switzerland since 2020, when she decided to import the much-loved and often sorely missed fruit into the country. Kristina grew up in Quezon City and was already accepted in universities in the Philippines when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Taking advantage of her Swiss citizenship, she and her sister decided to move to Switzerland. One day while eating together via video call with her mother Diana de la Paz, a café owner in the Philippines, and expressing how much she missed Pinoy fruits, the idea of importing Philippine mango sparked a business plan. “I really love mangoes. I am very passionate about mangoes. I tried mangoes here and people would always say lasang gamot and it is true. It is really different compared to our mango. Ours is really sweet, and softer. It is good in everything, as dessert or on its own,” Kristina enthuses.

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PHILMANGO TASTE AMBASSADOR Kristina Stadler is proud of her mango business.

Not long after, she was calling her titas in Zurich, mostly her mom’s friends, for tips and advice on how to arrange business permits in Switzerland, all while learning German and integrating in her new home at the same time. In June 2021 MKS General Import-Export Stadler was officially registered, and in September the first shipment of fresh mangoes came, a total of 20 kilos which Kristina personally picked up from the cargo release area at the Zurich airport. “When the first batch came, I started posting on my (Instagram) stories, and started messaging titas telling them that the mangoes had arrived. There were no orders yet, it was just for us, for personal consumption. We ate mangoes for a week. It was fun.” Two weeks later, a batch of 100 kilos of mangoes arrived. The custom clearance was not as easy and fun anymore. In addition to more phytosanitary procedures, there were bigger piles of paper to fill, and more procedures to follow until the shipment is cleared for release. Kristina knew that her small idea is turning into a serious business. Her first big challenge was finding a broker to help her with custom formalities. Fortunately, Kristina was not ashamed to ask for help directly from the people working at the airport’s cargo facility. Bringing the mangoes to her clients was the second. She decided to deliver the mangoes herself, taking the train to different regions in Switzerland to bring the orders to her clients’ doorsteps, a task she thoroughly enjoys. “Even if it is just a five second exchange, they will give me the cash or ask if they can pay it later with TWINT (payment app), it is so fulfilling. For them maybe it’s just another order but for me it is like, oh my God I got another order.” At school, Kristina is already known “Tina with the mangoes”, as she still replies to orders through

her phone during her integration lessons. Friends and classmates from different parts of the world, who have never heard of Philippine mango are introduced to her favourite fruit through the sample bites she brings to school, resulting to more orders. Through a partnership with the Philippine Embassy in Switzerland, PhilMango participated in the 2021 Fernweh Festival in Bern, together with other Filipino food products, where their mangoes easily sold out. Kristina pointed out that one of their missions is to buy mangoes from small farmers who have more production but lesser orders. Her mother, who does the procurement, personally assess the quality of mangoes they get from farmers in Davao, Cebu and Guimaras. In Switzerland the mangoes are sold for CHF35 (approximately EUR33), making it a luxury product. Kristina has to polish her selling skills every time a customer complains about the price. But despite being expensive, the craving for a truly unique Filipino taste has been driving more orders to PhilMango. “At first people would always say, 35 francs for 1 kilo of mango, that’s how many thousands of pesos! Ang mahal. But there’s so much to incorporate in the price and I would say, kahit 1 kilo lang tita. Just to try have them try (Philippine) mangoes again because I am sure they haven’t eaten it for a while. Once they order one kilo and they were like it tastes like home and they say sige pabili pa ako kahit mahal.” To avoid spoilage Kristina and her sister had been experimenting new ways

One of the mango desserts served at the 2021 Fernweh Festival in Bern.

to preserve the fresh mangoes that were not sold. Last Christmas they started selling mango float, a popular Filipino dessert made of whipped cream and Graham crackers. They also developed their own version of mango royale using yoghurt topped with mangoes, which was a hit during the Fernweh Festival. As the first importer of Philippine Carabao mangoes in Switzerland, Kristina can’t be prouder of the accomplishments she has made in such a short time. She is enthusiastic about the potential of Philippine fruits in the Swiss fresh produce market. But for now, she is determined to bring her favourite fruit not only to Filipinos but also to the Swiss palate. “It is going great. More and more orders every month. Seeing this progress is nice and very fulfilling. My mother and I are talking about bringing in more fruits like saba, or kalamansi but for now we are focused on the mangoes.” Follow PhilMango on Instagram (@ philmango) or order via WhatsApp +41 788907522. #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO




By Dheza Marie Aguilar



atricia Villasenor is a certified coffee lover. When she moved to Germany for her postgraduate study, she spent most of her time in cafés, writing her thesis from the moment they opened until closing time. While working as a marketing manager for Babble, a language-learning app, she still regularly frequents co-working cafés to work and mingles with colleagues from the tech world.

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“When I moved to Germany, one of the things I love about it is that it has a very strong coffee culture. I am the type who goes to a café to work. I don’t know why; the café culture is very conducive to working. I love

that.” While there is a variety of coffee choices from different parts of the world, she noticed what was glaringly absent was coffee from the Philippines, considering that the Philippines is located


along the Bean Belt, and is one of the few countries in the world able to produce the four coffee varieties, Arabica, Liberica, Robusta, and Excelsa. In 1880, the Philippines was the fourth major producers of coffee in the world, until the coffee rust, a disease that destroyed crops in the early 1900s, almost wiped-out entire plantations. Today, the Philippines ranks 32nd among global coffee producers. The idea of bringing Filipino coffee to Germany had since then began brewing in her head. In September 2021, undeterred by the Covid-19 pandemic, she took the leap and began importing and selling Philippine coffee through her web shop Kape de Filipina. She brought in two varieties, Arabica coffee beans from Mt. Apo, Ampucao and Mt. Matutum, and Liberica, or the famed Barako coffee which made put Lipa, Batangas on the coffee world map. “Among the samples that I brought in, Barakao was not the winner in terms of taste. I don’t know any other origin of

coffee which has the same smoky, jack-fruity, citrusy flavour. By its taste it is very unique. When you’re accustomed to sweetness, that’s always Arabica, the sweeter the better. Barako is different. But I knew that Barako would be the carrier because it is so uniquely Filipino. Barako is now my #1 bestseller.” Patricia adds that because only 3% of the coffee yield originates from Liberica coffee origin, there is less awareness and thus less consumption of this variety. But she is determined to change this, starting at least in Germany. She recalls talking to another visitor at the Frankfurt Coffee Festival, where she is hoping to be an exhibitor one day. “I had a conversation with one person where I said, I carry coffee beans from the Philippines, and I want to learn more about the coffee culture in Germany. First thing he said was, ‘wait a minute you have coffee beans from the Philippines? That is already so unique because I have never heard of it.’ It validated a lot of the things I was hoping to start conversations in Germany. The interest is there because they never heard of it, they never tasted it, and no one talks about it,” Patricia excitedly narrates. Within 90 days since launching Kape de Filipina, Patricia was able to sell 500 packs of coffee, a small but significant step towards her goal of bringing the Philippine coffee back to the global coffee map. Patricia recognises the role of Filipino expats in bringing awareness about Philippine coffee. Her clients consist mainly of Filipinos in Germany who not only buy for their own consumption but to give away as gifts to friends and family. Through Instagram, Facebook and word of mouth, a few German clients are also ordering from her, either out of curiosity or because of their Filipino connection. In March 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Philippine Coffee Industry

Patricial Villasenor enjoying her morning coffee.

Roadmap, which aimed to boost the country’s domestic coffee output between 2017-2022. Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, and while capable, the Philippines is only producing 62,000 metric tons of green coffee a year, which is not even enough for local consumption estimated at 100,000 metric tons. The Philippine Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Agriculture hope to increase this to an average yield of 1 ton per hectare in 2022, by providing additional subsidy for farmers, additional facility for postharvest, access to credit and market outlets and education programme, and mobilizing both government and private sectors. Patricia knows the struggles of Filipino coffee farmers- from having too little income and meagre investment while being vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. This year she plans to visit plantations to get to know coffee farmers more, and become a member of the Philippine Coffee Alliance. How do we bring Filipino coffee back on the global map?

“I think the first step to really bring awareness about the ability of the Philippines to produce its own coffee. It is quite surprising that there’s very little awareness of our coffee culture. Second is making more Filipino and non Filipino taste our coffee. One of my favourite things about the coffee industry globally is that, depending on where your coffee comes from, the taste is really so different, you can taste it. And I love for the world to be able to taste Filipino coffee and find it, from world expo and cafes, that the Philippines is represented.” Recently Patricia has added coffee-flavoured chocolates in her assortment, made from awardwinning Philippine cacao, the perfect accompaniment to strong, Filipino coffee. One day, she dreams of owning a café selling Philippine produced coffee. But for now, Patricia enjoys the ultimate coffee moment, quiet mornings when she can make her own coffee at home, enjoy every sip and share it with Filipinos in Europe through Kape de Filipina. Follow Kape de Filipina on Instagram (@kapedefilipina) or order via www.kapedefilipina. eu. #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO 59


HERO WITHOUT A CAPE Lito Gomez (below) is a human rights and labour activist who has organised the Filipino community in Paris to protest China’s incursion in the West Philipine Seas.

By Francine Alessandra Vito


any aspire to do good, help the oppressed, and change the world. These are lofty goals, but Lito Gomez, a Filipino community leader based in France, proves they’re not impossible to do. Service is second nature to Lito. A native of Quezon City, he served in the Armed Forces of the Philippines K9 core while still a student. In 1984, he left the Philippines for France. At that time, there was already a Filipino community but very few had legal status. Lito arrived on a tourist visa but knew he wanted to stay. “If you want apples, you go to an apple tree. If you go to a pechay plantation, you won’t get an apple there.” The “apple” he is talking about is the carte de sejour (CDS), a legal document that allows foreigners to live and work in France. So, he went straight to the CDS issuing body- the French prefecture. Lito spent weeks outside his local prefecture, patiently observing what people did and

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help other Filipinos struggling to become documented.

engaging in conversations with them. A few weeks later, he met an employee working for the prefecture who told him what he needed to do to get a CDS. His patience and grit bore

fruit. In less than a year, he was able to get the much coveted récépissé, the pre-CDS document. It might be destiny or a stroke of luck, but one thing is for sure- he used his newfound knowledge to

Unlikely hero Lito didn’t plan for this to be his life’s work. Shortly after getting his papers, some friends of his got controlled by the immigration police. They had no papers and were detained. Armed with his knowledge and a desire to act, he got them released and they successfully applied for papers. Word spread through the tight-knit Filipino community and the next time someone had the same problem, they called on him. It started to become a regular thing, but he never saw it as a burden. He took these as opportunities to help and learn. “The more they come to me, the more I learn.” He studies each case a kababayan brings to him and researches what they can do about it. Soon, he knows exactly what to do for a certain problem. Human rights champion The clamour for legal


“The top two reasons why Filipinos can get abused is that number one, they don´t have the legal papers. Number two, they do not know their rights.”

work permits and regularization of stays were unceasing the first decade Lito was here. To organise his efforts, he founded the Maharlika Association in 1995. Aside from helping undocumented Filipinos get the right to stay in France, they also assist Filipinos who are victims of labour and conjugal abuse. In 2007, after a year-long demonstration in France, Lito and Maharlika Association achieved one of their landmark successesthe passage of a French law that granted qualified, undocumented Filipinos work permits and carte de sejours. For the sans papiers, it means finally being able to roam the streets of France with peace of mind, without the constant fear of deportation. That also meant no more putting up with abusive employers. La vie en rose has become reality. The law continues to be used to this day, with over 70,000 permits issued over 16 years. With Lito at the helm, Maharlika Association works like a well-oiled machine, able to solve 80% of the problems brought to them, without having to resort to legal action. He is very hands-on. He gives advice to those who need it, acts as a translator and mediator in immigration hearings, and

talks to employers about salary negotiations. His phone is constantly buzzing with calls and texts. During our interview at one in the afternoon, he has already had three distress calls and several texts from different people. Sometimes, he even finds himself in movie-like situations. Lito was present during the recent incident involving a Filipina domestic worker in Paris who jumped from a secondfloor balcony. “Jenny” had tied a blanket to the grills to escape her abusive employers. In the press video, we see her falling onto the sidewalk, her cry waking up her employers. Emerging from a dark corner, in a crouched position is Sir Lito, clad in an all-black outfit and dark-tinted eyeglasses. He rushes to help Jenny and commotion ensues as her employers find out about the attempted escape. Jenny was rushed to the hospital and the rest of them went to the police station. Her manner of escape was unusual, but Lito says that these types of abusive employers are much more common than what’s shown in the news. Balancing act The fight for change is rewarding but wrought with many challenges. Aside from police station stays, heated arguments and threats from angry bosses also come with the territory. “I don´t start the fights. I tell them about the worker’s legal rights, and they are the ones who usually start the fight. They take us for “third-class citizens” and I want to combat this view by showing them we are not ignorant.” Asked about how his wife and children handle his extra duties, “My wife jokes that I haven’t given her a ‘peaceful life’, but she is very supportive and is used to it. During the recent incident with Jenny, my son asked his mom why she wasn’t panicking when the police called. She told him, “You still haven´t gotten used to your dad, he knows what he’s doing.” Lito

Lito together with members of Maharlika Association during a protest in Paris.

always makes sure he does all his responsibilities as a husband and father. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve done my part as a father and husband.” Lito also manages to balance all of this with his professional life. In the 90s and 2000s, he owned a company that specializes in the maintenance and repair of Macs and PCs. Currently, he and his son run an advertising company. He is two years away from retirement and works flexible hours, choosing to dedicate his extra time to Maharlika and their advocacies. 30 years on, the fight continues Despite the law that provides more rights to immigrants, many are still in fear of speaking out against labour abuses. Many don’t know that they have rights and access to services, no matter their legal status. “The top two reasons why Filipinos can get abused is that number one, they don´t have the legal papers. Number two, they do not know their rights.”

The language barrier poses a big problem too. Sometimes, he encounters cases where a kababayan still can’t speak French despite living here for more than a decade. He tells them something that is also true for every Filipino who wants to live abroad. “It’s important to integrate into your new home country. You can’t just stay inside a cocoon; you need to go out. That means learning the culture, learning the language.” Lito brings together the best values of the Philippines and France: the Filipino bayanihan and the French fraternité to uplift the Pinoy community in France. Today, Maharlika Association has grown and has a team of like-minded, dedicated members and volunteers at the service of our kababayans. Lito is a man who walks the talk when it comes to fighting injustice and human rights violations. He’s proof that you don’t need a cape, a government position, or deep pockets to do good and create change in your community. #15 2022 | THE FILIPINO


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