The Filipino Expat Magazine Summer 2022

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Kenya France Spain Holland

Pandemic travel and the lessons we carry with us

La Dolce Vita Chef and food blogger Ces dela Cruz’s Eat, Pray and Love journey, from Amsterdam to Italy

FOOD Filipino artisanal ice cream FASHION Sustainable fashion in Norway FAMILY Hurdles of reunification in Spain BUSINESS Surviving the year of| THE no travel 1 #16 2022 FILIPINO


peanut butter. Authentic Philippine recipe. Crunchy



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TABLE OF CONTENTS 6 Contributor’s page 7 Editor’s note


15 Unusual Pinays of Australia

A family’s struggle with reunification

35 8 Sustainable fashion in Norway


Ces dela Cruz is living la dolce vita in Italy

34 Expat life in Frankfurt, Germany


36 28

12 Ambassador Lhuillier shares his love for religious pieces

Surviving the year of no travel

MZ Akil on travelling

31 Guide to US taxation


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Publisher and Editor-in-chief



Publisher and Managing Editor Dheza Marie Aguilar Graphics and Layout

41 Art of living in Nice, France

Nats Sisma Villaluna

Alden Joshua Cedo

Netherlands through a photo journey


Creative Adviser Robin Kuijs Contributing Writers: Agatha Verdadero, Antonio Montalban, Berger Capati, Francine Alessandra Vito, Henzy Managilod Ritcher, MZ Akil, Raymond Unico, Sharon Masler, Tricia Morente Contributing Photographers: Adelia Agzamova, Arthur Rocha, Brian Villanueva, Louie Hechanova, Lola Hernando Roble, Grace Nandy (via Unsplash), Pepe Chavez, Raymond Unico

Safari in Kenya


Finding my roots in Spain


Ready for take off - post pandemic travel

Artisanal Pinoy ice cream, from Europe to North America


Recipe: Make buko pandan at home


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Representing Filipino LGBTQ+ in Europe

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 effort to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, neither The Filipino Expat nor its editors, contributors and staff 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 writtem permission. 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

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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, @francinealessandra17. TRICIA MORENTE is a journalist and editorial consultant. She has worked for different publications in Southeast Asia including Manila Bulletin, Seafarer Asia, and F&B Report, among others. Tricia is sole proprietor of www.jetsetjourno. com, where she writes about travel and the occasional epiphany. She is currently based in Madrid.

Antonio J. Montalván II is a social anthropologist and museum professional who writes opinion essays for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Vera Files, PressOne.PH, and Al Jazeera Digital. He also travels the world occasionally in his study of material cultures.

HENZY MANALIGOD RICHTER is a research professional who has long swapped her foreign language teaching and translation background for sustainability-related research. Apart from Filipino and English, she speaks Spanish, French, German and Portuguese, and basic Italian and Dutch. She lives in Frankfurt am Main with her husband and daughter.


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RAYMOND UNICO is a Filipino queer living in the Netherlands. He attended Utrecht University where he completed his master’s degree in gender studies. He is particularly interested in issues around race, gender and sexualities. Raymond enjoys reading, writing, and learning new things.

AGATHA VERVADERO is a writer and editor from Nairobi, Kenya. She finished her MFA in Creative Writing at De La Salle University Manila and her BA Humanities at University of the Philippines Diliman with honors. While not immersed in her work or playing with her fur baby Sam, she does extreme adventures in the wild. BERJER B. CAPATI is an audiovisual director, editor, screenwriter, illustrator and playwright. He has lived in Barcelona for four years and has a degree in Humanities with higher studies in Audiovisual Communication. Tagó: Filipinos in Barcelona is his first professional job in the world of theater. “A Violent Act of Love” is his fourth short film after “Famelicus” (2013), “Vulneris” (2015) and “Reunae” (2016). 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 obsessed with aquariums.

MZ AKIL worked in publishing and briefly in television in the Philippines before moving to the UK in 2006. She spends her train journey to and from London—where she has a remit within luxury fashion— randomly musing about life and occasionally talking about it in her blog. Her lifelong aspiration is to write stories rather than emails.

ADELIA AGZAMOVA is a lifestyle photographer. Originally from Russia, she lived in Colombia, Italy and currently in Portugal. Adelia is passionate about architecture, archaeology and history.

ALDEN JOSHUA CEDO is a design professional working for an ad agency. If he is not tinkering with Adobe applications, he can be found in the gym or in his pad listening to music.


The Opulence of



ummer is synonymous with discovery and adventure. Sometimes crazy and outrageous. At times, brave and bold just like what Amelia Earhart did in the summer of 1928 when she crossed the Atlantic. It is in summer when we leave our comfort zones and explore the unknown, meet strangers, build new friendships and create unexpected relationships. Olympic Sprinter Wilma Rudolph once said, “When the sun is shining, I can do anything, no mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome.“ I couldn’t agree more. It was in the summer of 2013 when I decided to do the whole French route of the Camino de Santiago, 700 kilometers of walking alone for a month. It was a mad idea yet there was this positivity in me that made me trust the universe to back me up. It was also last summer that the first issue of the revived Filipino Expat Magazine came out, in the middle of an uncertain future because of the pandemic. And we couldn’t be happier with all the feedback and support we have been getting from you, dear readers. Thank you very much. And just like that, we are celebrating our first year anniversary with a bang. We are hugely excited about our special summer issue packed with everything positive, colorful and fearless. On the cover is the plucky and intrepid Bologna-based Ces de la Cruz, living the dolce vita on a roller coaster ride of adventures and misadventures in Europe. Be inspired by her grit as she deals with her irregular resident status coupled with her personal battles by choosing not to duck down to avoid the blows but instead, facing them head on and emerging in one piece. Unbending and unscathed. Get to know amazing Filipino actresses Aina Dumlao, Lena Cruz and Susana Downes as they break stereotypes in their critically hit Australian series The Unusual Suspects, inspiring us not to be scared of speaking up and fighting back. Now that the pandemic is hopefully coming to an end, we now wonder: what is the future of travel? Tricia Morente examines the effects of the pandemic on people’s travel habits and what the future of travel will be. Discover the struggles of travel agency owners Emil Maravillas and Jennelyn Valenzuela to keep their business afloat amidst Corona. Berger Capati talks with Amsterdam-based Chris Sta. Brigida, founder of Filipino LGBT Europe about how his group is taking the gay narrative to the next level. Find out why sustainable fashion designer Mayeth Sigue Codoy is a firm believer of our natural fabrics in making fashion more planet-

friendly. And what is summer without our packed backpacks, flight tickets, passports and the strong itch to create beautiful summer memories? Fly with us as we take you to as far as exuberant Kenya, to the stunning French jewel, Nice, to the busy city of Frankfurt, Germany and to the charming provinces of the Netherlands. Summer is also about family holidays and reunions. Antonio Montalván shares the story of his late Spanish grandfather José who had served as a link between his Filipino and Spanish families for over 100 years. Leaving her family behind was heartbreaking for Badeth Ramos that she found ways to get her husband and children under the reagrupación familiar program of the Spanish government. And so our dear readers, this summer, don’t just sit there and wait for September! Get out and do the things that you have been wanting to do. Grab a book, start painting, write a novel, visit a friend, fall in love, fall out of love or travel alone. Because yes, when the sun is shining, we can do anything! Have a wonderful summer everyone!


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By Francine Alessandra Vito

By Arthur Rocha




he fashion gods seem to be smiling upon sustainable fashion designer Mayeth Sigue Codoy. She just graduated from Esmod International Fashion Institute and University (Oslo) in 2020, but already has a steady stream of clients. She does pattern work for Norwegian movies and clothing companies. In 2021, she realized a goal that almost all designers dream of doing a well-received runway show in Paris. Despite her success and busy schedule, Mayeth is approachable and very candid. She takes me on a virtual tour of her work area in her Norway apartment. Clothes sketches line the white walls, a dress form is draped with fabric, and swatches of cloth on tables and on the backs of chairs. She sculpts wearable art with abaca: tailored blazers, cocktail dresses, gowns, and her most ambitious yet- a ski suit. “Abaca has great insulation and waterproof properties. I’ve tested it while skiing and it works!” Mayeth is in love with abaca (Manila hemp) and pinya (pineapple), two natural, Philippine-sourced fibers. The fabric’s textures give her pieces a distinct Filipino vibe, but the minimalist tones and avantgarde designs make them a hit with her Norwegian

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Mayeth Sigue Codoy’s journey, from Balamban, Cebu to Paris runway is one for the books.

clientele. She apologizes for the mess in her workshop. There are seven sewing machines in her studio so I ask if she currently has staff. Apparently, Mayeth is a onewoman powerhouse. She laughs as she tells me how she’s the designer, seamstress, accountant, and social media creator for her brand. “I would love help, but hiring employees in Norway costs a lot of money.” Her business MYET started

without investors or loans and she’s careful about her company’s cash flow. Mayeth has a sixth sense in business that has served her well throughout her life. She grew up on a farm in Balamban, Cebu, surrounded by chickens and pigs, where she witnessed the back-breaking hard work of her parents. She didn’t want to be a burden to them, so she worked as a yaya in the mornings to earn tuition money for her Information Technology classes at night. At a stint in a Gaisano mall, she was as enterprising as ever, selling snacks like turon and yema to her coworkers. While still at fashion school in Oslo, she already started booking clients. “I’m ambitious, but not for the wrong reasons. I just want to succeed while doing good work so I can provide for my family.” Her drive took her out of the country, working first as a domestic helper in Hong Kong before finding herself as an au pair in Switzerland, then in Norway. Mayeth didn’t plan on studying fashion abroad, but she’s no stranger to making clothes. Her mother is a seamstress in their village and at 8, she and her siblings were


MYET debuts at the Fashion for Foundation show at the Paris Fashion Week 2021.



but not for the wrong reasons. I

just want to

succeed while doing good

work so I can provide for

my family.”

already hand stitching and hemming garments, helping their mother finish costumes and uniforms. She did not expect that this experience would land her the opportunity of a lifetime. From sofa covers to haute couture Mayeth’s big break came from a generous Norwegian couple who offered to finance her fashion education. She still couldn’t believe her luck while

retelling the story of how she met her fairy godparents. “I met them through a friend. I repaired some sofa seat covers for them and they really liked it, so they asked me to make new ones.” They found out that Mayeth was worrying about how to extend her stay in Norway. Most au pairs (in Norway) usually proceed to study theology, but her heart wasn’t in it, and she knew that the chances of finding jobs in that field are slim. She started looking for tailoring and fashion schools, applied to Esmod, and got accepted. The Norwegian couple asked her how she would pay for her tuition fee. “I confidently told them that I’d work day and night to be able to afford it!” The couple, moved by Mayeth’s drive, offered to pay for her education. Today, they’re proud

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ARTISANAL FILIPINO of the results of Mayeth’s hard work and their generosity. A sustainable fashion entrepreneur Doing business in Europe is not for the faint-hearted. Her advice for aspiring Filipino entrepreneurs abroad: set concrete goals and plan out the steps you need to reach them. Everything is expensive- from business taxes, rent, to employee salaries. In the beginning you might have to do everything yourself and operate out of your home. Be ready to work hard and don’t waste any opportunity that comes your way. She says it’s also better to avoid taking uncalculated risks and debt when you’re abroad, so try to save up money before launching or investing further in your business. “I only buy more equipment once I earn enough money from my work,” she says. She counts Dubai-based designer Michael Cinco as one of her fashion and business inspirations. Aside from his glamorous designs, Mayeth is inspired by his persistence in going for his dreams and for his longevity in the global fashion industry. Asked about what she has trouble with the most in running her business, it’s going after clients with pending payments or those asking for big discounts. She says as an artist, pricing can be tricky as some people think her hourly rates are exorbitant, but half of it goes to taxes. They’re also paying for the work of a professional who invests hours of study in the craft and highquality sustainable materials. “It’s hard when people want to pay you as low as possible, but those types of customers come with the territory. I used to accept low offers but I realized if I wanted to survive and not get burned out I would have to be firm with my prices and set boundaries.” Mayeth worries about the impact of polyester, a plastic-based fabric that takes at least 20 years to decompose. Abaca on the other hand, takes only two months to biodegrade. The Philippines is the world’s largest supplier of abaca. Today, its main use is for paper products such as bank notes and tea bags. There’s still a large, untapped potential for its use as a textile, and

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MYET incorporates local Filipino fabrics like abaca and pinya in her designs.

Mayeth is hoping to find the right investors and partners to help her make her innovative ideas into reality. The excessive production of the clothing industry is another problem that she points out. “For my brand, I create small batches and cut patterns with precision to make sure there’s no waste. For both my haute couture and ready-to-wear lines, I work on a preorder basis so that I won’t end up with unsold pieces.” Part of her advocacy as a sustainable business is making sure she pays her workers more than the minimum wage. She’s now in the process of hiring staff for a small clothing factory in the Philippines.“Part of what inspires me to do business is also the ability to create jobs back home.” Mayeth puts in a lot of heart and hard work in her designs, and people notice it. This August, she’s set to showcase her new creations for the first time in the US, in the Asia Pacific Fashion Week 2022 (APFW) in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Mayeth believes that our natural fabrics and the Filipino culture of not wasting resources will be valuable in making fashion more planet-friendly. Her journey from yaya to seat-cover mender to fashion designer may not be the typical fashion career path, but she’s definitely making her mark on the fashion industry today with her sustainability efforts and original, oneof-a-kind designs.


Meet the Doctors of

Our team is getting bigger and better.



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Life is a piece of We 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?

By Nats Sisma Villaluna

By Lola H. Robles & Brian Villanueva

Philippine Ambassador Philippe Jones Lhuillier never imagined himself being a diplomat. So when President Joseph Estrada assigned him to Rome in 1999, he expected it would only be for two years. Little did he know that those two years of serving his kababayans would become twenty two, and would lead him to Italy, Albania, San Marino, Portugal and Spain and eventually, would become a life’s mission. Being with the Filipino community has become Ambassador Lhuillier’s source of happiness and his way of relaxation. Despite his hectic schedule, the approachable and good-humored ambassador agrees to sit down with The Filipino Expat Magazine in the middle of the 4th OFW Congress held in Madrid and gamely displays his candid side. What do you do in your free time? A lot of things. I enjoy antiques. I go for religious pieces, like the crucifix. I go around flea markets to find them. For me this is relaxation. Second, spending time with my family. I have been an ambassador for 22 years and I have been separated from my family this whole time. Whenever we have an opportunity, we really find time to be together. Family is the most important thing in life. Why religious pieces? I see crucifixes as art. If you look at crucifixes, there are no two crucifixes that look the same. It is the inspiration, the artist’s interpretation, his description of how Jesus Christ died on the cross or is dying on the cross. Also, it is the face of Jesus Christ, either alive or dead, that really gets me.

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How many pieces have you got so far? I have over 1,000 pieces of ivory crucifixes. I have been collecting for the past 50 years. My first piece was a tiny crucifix. Where do you keep them? When I was ambassador in Italy, I kept them under the bed so my wife wouldn’t know. When we moved back to the Philippines, she eventually found out and asked me why I had so many. I enjoy collecting them so much. I have museums in the Philippines, one in Cebu and one in Manila. I am putting one in Antipolo. Right now, they are private but I want them to be public. I always say that the Filipino community should see them. I am making a new one which will be open to the public. Hopefully people will really appreciate them, especially since most of my crucifixes and paintings are from Europe. People go to the Vatican and fall in line to see those pieces. And with my collections, they can soon see them in the Philippines. Having tons of these art pieces, is there any chance of stopping? I told myself I would stop buying. My family tells me, you have too many. But yesterday, I was offered a Pietà. I have a lot of Pietàs but I looked at it and I said, I still don’t have this one. As you know, the definition of satisfaction, you want to get something different. What do you usually do with your family? We eat together. Like tonight, all of them are here in Madrid. We are going to have dinner together, in the house. I have seven children, two boys and five girls. It’s a basketball team. My wife lives with me in

Madrid because my boss has to be beside me always. Do you have a favorite place in Madrid? For me, many places are interesting depending on the occasion. When guests come around, either we eat in the house or eat out in a restaurant. We don’t like “classclass” (fancy) restaurants, we like regular places with better food, not touristy. Especially if there are Filipinos working there, I


‘I believe in fate and God. Every night I pray for happiness. I studied in La Salle and the training that La Salle had taught me is that I can’t go out of the house without a rosary. I have my 50-year-old scapular too.’ Not really. My aim when I travel is to be with my family. Only if by chance, I see something, “by feeling”, then I buy. I never buy in bulk and it always depends on my “feeling”. What do you miss about the Philippines? First, my complete family. Second, friends. We get old and some of our friends die, it’s sad. Now, my friends and I say goodnight to each other every night. Are you religious? I believe in fate and God. Every night I pray for happiness. I studied in La Salle and the training that La Salle had taught me is that I can’t go out of the house without a rosary. I have my 50-year-old scapular too. I have two rosaries here in my pocket. It’s amazing, even when I´m swimming, it has to be there, it is a security blanket. I prefer them over having money in my pocket. see how they respect their Filipino employees. Do you travel a lot? Oh yes, with my wife and family. I used to go around every two years and travel together as a family with a 50-seater bus all over Europe. What are your favorite tourist destinations? France, Italy, Portugal. I enjoyed Portugal very much. The people are very nice, very friendly. The place is very colorful. In Italy, it’s Rome, Milan and Florence. In Spain, I like Barcelona. Also Malaga, it’s not that big. It’s near the sea. When you travel, do you buy an art piece?

What is the best part of living in Madrid? For Filipinos, this is home. They feel at home. During the pandemic, there were only eight people from Madrid who wanted to be repatriated.You will feel at home right away. Spanish people are loving and Filipinos feel being part of the family. Are there any plans of retiring soon? Retiring is a difficult thing in life. I am always on the go. Business-wise, I have decided I can´t go back to business. As a diplomat, I will be continuing. When you see this crowd (Filipinos), they need somebody to help them know their rights. I always want to help. Whenever I could, I would help more. Life is like that.

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14 THE FILIPINO | #16 2022

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By Nats Sisma Villaluna

The critically acclaimed SBS mini-series The Unusual Suspects is breaking barriers. Described as a marriage between Ocean’s 8 and Desperate Housewives, the 4-part heist dramedy deals with women empowerment and friendship. It tackles the struggles of immigrant women fighting for their survival in a society that expects them to be silent and not fight back. The Australian series, created by Jessica Redenbach and directed by Natalie Bailey and Filipino director Melvin Montalban veers away from being over the top melodramatic, and instead, injects humor and unexpected twists, apart from giving a glimpse of Filipino culture and values. Three amazing Filipino actresses confidently share top billing with Hollywood actress Miranda Otto and respected Australian actors. The Filipino Expat Magazine talks to Pinay actors Lena Cruz, Aina Dumlao and Susana Downes as they share their struggles, challenges, and the joy of being Filipino artists abroad.

By Kurt Sneddon, Corey Cooper, Simon Ozolins, John Pratley (SBS Australia)


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The Fighter R

ecalling her childhood in the Philippines, FilipinoAustralian actress Lena Cruz was already aware of the economic divide in the society. “I was happy playing under the sun, playing pico and cható in Navotas where we lived. At the same time, I knew that there were very rich people and very poor people, and we were in the middle.” Lena´s father died when she was two leaving her young mother to make ends meet. “It was hard. I learned a lot from that.” Lena came to Australia with her mother in 1984 when she was 16. In her new environment, she felt like a square peg in a round hole. Her stepfather is Russian Jewish, so they spent most of the time with the Russian Jewish community in Sydney. “I would ask myself, where the hell am I? I was missing my family and friends in the Philippines. It was hard. I was sad. It is funny because back in the Philippines, we usually tend to wonder how there can be unhappiness in a country like Australia where you can eat what you want. But then I realized that problems and challenges don´t go away, they just come on different levels.” Lena soldiered on and did her best to adjust. Going for her dream Singing was Lena´s first love and being a performer had been her long-time dream. But her

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Lena Cruz plays the feisty Amy in the hit series The Unusual Suspects.

mother expected her to have a proper and stable job. Putting her dream aside, she decided to take up a two-year accountancy course and worked at a bank afterwards. As soon as she started earning her own money, Lena hired a voice coach and learned how to develop her own persona on stage. She began participating in singing competitions. When

she started winning, her mother had a change of heart. “Those were happy times. We would drive to a lot of country towns in Australia and my mom would watch me perform. My winning song was always One Moment in Time.” She quit her day job of ten years and got herself an agent. She was ready to take the plunge. She applied at the


prestigious Western Australian Academy for Performing Arts in Mount Lawley. When she got accepted, she knew she had made the right decision. “I graduated at the age of 30. That was when my life began.” She started with a string of roles in several minor plays and in the late 90s, she bagged a part in the New Zealand prime time soap opera, Shortland Street. After her stint in New Zealand, Lena went back to Australia to do more musical shows. Little by little, she was also getting acting assignments both in films and TV. Playing Amy In 2019 The Unusual Suspects came, the series that would give her the chance to showcase her versatility as an actress. She plays the role of Amy, a tough and fierce Filipina maid who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Amy is your typical tita, straightforward, brutally frank and berates you anytime she wants. “A lot of Amy is me because I am palaban with a sense of humor.” Behind Amy’s mataray stance is an extremely loyal person who is always willing to sacrifice her needs for her family, friends, and employers. She works for Roxanne, a rich Filipino friend and somewhere along the way, she fails to renew her work visa making her an illegal resident in Australia. To prepare for the part, Lena turned to a couple of undocumented friends. “There was also my mom’s friend who used to be a maid in Hongkong and would tell my mom how she was mistreated by her employer. When I read the script, I said, I knew this story.” With an illegal status, Amy is left at the mercy of Roxanne. But as long as she has a job and an employer to protect her, Amy submits to her fate. For Lena, she understands where this is coming from. “We Filipinos are loyal, and we are very trusting to a fault. Is it a good thing that Filipinos have to

“When you stand up against people who are cowards, they can’t handle it. And for my peace of mind and self-respect, when someone tries to trample me, I have got to speak up. I’m a Filipino and I fight back.” look after other people, or their family, religiously and endlessly sending money back home? Like my mom, she feels endlessly responsible for her family. It’s not a matter of good or bad. It’s just that we need to look after ourselves first so then we can look after other people.” After the success of The Unusual Suspects, Lena dreams to be in a musical. An accomplished mezzo-soprano with a belt voice, Lena never stops learning. She continues to do film and TV acting classes, goes to auditions and waits for good roles to land in her lap. This year, she is part of the musical, “Head over Heels”. When away from the rolling cameras, Lena enjoys meditation in her residence in the eastern suburb of Sydney. “If I want to

heal myself from world problems or just any problem, I connect with God. It strengthens my faith in Him, in the goodness of life and just be grateful.” One memorable scene in the Unusual Suspects is when Amy finally confronts Roxanne.The scene starts with violent verbal exchanges and then leads to a ferocious cat fight with pancit palabok noodles flying in the kitchen. The scene is both moving and hilarious. “I know where Amy was coming from. I felt her frustrations. She was sick of the bullshit!” Standing up for herself Lena has been lucky not to regularly face discrimination in two decades in the industry. But she recalls one incident when she

had to stand up for herself. “We were doing a comedy show and there was an older and established performer. I think he didn’t like the fact that I was Asian, a Filipino, and that I was getting more laughs than him. He cut off my laugh line and spoke over the laugh space, so people were confused (whether) to laugh or not. In the beginning, I was hesitant to answer back, I didn’t want to rock the boat easily. We Filipinos want to get along with everybody.” After the show, the actor verbally attacked her and just like Amy, Lena got sick of all the bullshit. She told him to back off. And he did. “When you stand up against people who are cowards, they can’t handle it. And for my peace of mind and self-respect, when someone tries to trample me, I have got to speak up. I’m a Filipino and I fight back.” #16 2022 | THE FILIPINO




The Planner F

ilipino-American actress Aina Dumlao doesn´t easily back down. When she was seven, she and her single mom lived in a rented house in Cubao. Their landlord would steal from them because he had a key to their place. Aina would sneak into his landlord´s house and managed to pilfer back the canned goods he filched from them. Born in Quezon city, Aina moved to the US in 2010 because of love. Together with her husband, Bru Muller, an actor, director, and writer, they started producing commercials and short films. In 2013, they landed a Western Union ad, and they needed a Filipino actress. It was her first acting job. Although, she had always wanted to be an actor as a child, she never thought she would become a full-pledge actress. “At school, I was in plays, acting, writing and directing. But my mom would say, ´That’s just a hobby, it’s not going to feed you and your family’.” Her first acting role left her wanting more and with Bru´s encouragement, she took up acting classes which eventually sparked the passion that she always had. She got an agent and one audition led to the next giving her bit roles in TV series like MacGyver, Brockmire and Ballers. Diwa, Girlie and Evie But Aina felt like she wasn’t getting the break she needed. In 2018, she and Bru co-wrote Diwa, a film about an undocumented Filipino immigrant in the US. “Diwa opened the doors and introduced me to Yong Chavez, the Filipino Hollywood journalist that helped me to get more representation.” In June 2021, Filipino nurses all over the world rejoiced to finally see a Filipino nurse in Season 17 of the hit medical

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series, Grey´s Anatomy. Aina played the role of Girlie Bernardo. “This role was so important to us Filipinos. There was an outpouring of messages from kababayans all over the world telling me how happy they were to see a Pinay nurse in a hospital drama.” Then Aina bagged the role of Evie in The Unusual Suspects. She was ready to shoot in January 2020 when the wildfire in Australia delayed the production and

later, COVID-19 happened. The shoot finally took off in September 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. Aina had to stay in Australia for three months. She was the only non-Australia-based actor in the cast. Evie is an all-around helper working for a white Australian family. She is the typical helper who always says yes. But when her boss fails to release her salary, she screws up her courage and storms her boss at work. From a meek and passive

Aina Dumlao is ready for the big time.


Aina Dumlao plays Evie in the hit series The Unusual Suspects; a role that encapsulates the Filipino immigrant’s heart.

help to a badass co-heist plotter, Evie is calling the shots. Evie is Aina’s biggest role to date, one that encapsulates the Filipino immigrant’s heart, a mother who takes care of other people’s children, representing the struggle, the love, the self-sacrifice of someone who always feels guilty of being away from her family. “What I love about the Unusual Suspects is that it shows what it looks like when you stand up for yourself, what you think is right and what you deserve. It delves with the class difference, how immigrant workers are mistreated. And it was made accessible because it’s a comedy but still hits you in the heart.” As immigrants, we are often scared to speak up, to fight back, to stand for ourselves. We are afraid of losing our jobs or compromising our situation in our host country. “What we should think of is us standing up for ourselves is not just us standing for ourselves, it’s us keeping other Filipinos and other nationalities from experiencing any form of injustice.” Loving what you do Aina has learned to adapt to the eccentricities of the industry. She is aware that every rejection is a blow to the heart. Getting auditions as an actor in Hollywood is hard enough and bagging the role is a million times harder. “I used to be really heartbroken. For every one Yes, there are a hundred Nos. People only see that one Yes, and not the struggle. I literally questioned my existence as an actor. Is this really right for me? But then, this is what I love to do.” With the current changes that the

“At school, I was in plays, acting, writing and directing. But my mom would say, ‘That’s just a hobby, it’s not going to feed you and your family’.”

industry is undergoing at the moment, Aina thinks that Filipino actors have more chances in the industry. “There is a hunger for diversity, for new stories, new faces. Subtitles are no long a hurdle. People are starting to appreciate different flavors, diverse characters.” For Aina, strike while the iron is hot, everybody should keep writing stories about Filipinos. At the moment, she and her husband are writing a pilot TV show, about a Filipino family living across an Indian family set in Los Angeles in the 90s. She wants to show the international community the different faces of a Filipino. “Filipinos could be anything. That we can be wives, girlfriends, university students. We are now getting a little bit of a recognition, more opportunities but it is important for writers, producers who are Filipino to go on writing and creating to keep the momentum going.” Aina looks at the future with a clear mindset, she is here to stay, and she is not going to wait for opportunity to knock on her door. She will knock on opportunity´s door instead. “I keep writing to open doors not only for myself but also for all other Filipino filmmakers, crew and actors employed in the project.” When Aina was a little girl, it was Lea Salonga as a Disney princess that opened her imagination to a life full of possibilities. To her, Lea symbolizes a spark of hope, a burst of inspiration. Now it´s her turn, in her own little way, to inspire Filipinos all over the world to stand up and give their dreams a try.

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The Up and Coming going through the worst depression of my life that time. I was in a place where I was trying to figure out who I was. And on the day they told me I got the role, it kind of turned everything around.” During the audition, Susana got herself dressed up and made sure to practice her accent, to not sound like a tita but a millennial Pinay. Born in Sydney to a Caviteña mom and Australian dad, Susana described her childhood as both amazing and difficult. “I was the kid who loved putting on shows for people. I was a performer. But I got bullied in school for singing at assemblies and always being picked out of class because they needed me to rehearse on something. The kids hated on me.” But Susana didn’t let hate pull her down. She had a very balanced FilipinoAustralian upbringing, and she was loved by her family. To fight back the bullies, she continued performing. She didn´t back down though she knew that it would be a big battle ahead. “When you grow up in country where you don’t look like the norm, it is hard to relate what you see on TV and feel like you are represented. Some kids would call me Ching Chong even when they saw my dad and mom pick me up from school.” Susana Downes plays the perky Gigi in the hit series The Unusual Suspects.

Doors only open when the time is right.” So goes one of the first lines of Filipino-Australian actress Susana Downes in The Unusual Suspects. She plays Gigi, a naive millennial who comes to Australia to work as a cleaner but becoming lifestyle coach is what she really wants. She forges a friendship with Birdie, a lonely Australian neighbour and sways the latter to take her as her life coach. “Gigi opened the doors for me. Since landing the role, a lot of things have been coming through in my life. Gigi came to me at the right time. I was

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A family of performers Music plays a very important role in Susana´s life. Her dad would play the guitar for her as a baby and her mom would sing to her. “My mom´s brothers are good singers. My oldest Tito was called the Filipino Michael Bublé by his friends. I have a lot of musicians on my Dad’s side of the family.” Acting is in her blood too. Her grand uncle is Augusto Victa, the well-loved Filipino soap opera actor in the 80s. When Susana was 11, she took acting lessons and that was when she realized she loved being on stage, singing, acting, and dancing. She did her first musical when she was 14 playing the role of Gabriela in High School Musical.

She also did a musical production of Noli Me Tangere where she played Maria Clara. It ran for three weeks and gained positive reactions from Filipino and Australian spectators. “We wanted more people to watch it. It showed us the different side of the Philippines in the 1800s. It was such an eye-opener seeing how prevalent the Spanish colonization in the Philippines was.” Apart from performing in musicals, Susana also tried her hand in pageantry where she won the Miss Earth Australia crown and had the chance to represent Australia at Miss Earth 2019 in Manila. Heart and sunshine Susana has been doing TV commercials since 2014. She was part of the SBS mini-series called Dead Lucky that aired in 2017. Then came the Unusual Suspects and her role as Gigi gave her the chance to showcase her comedic talent. “Gigi is funny and annoying. You can’t hate her because there is something in her that’s endearing. Gigi is the heart and sunshine of the show. She has such a positive outlook in life, such optimism and she brings joy to Birdie.” She feels extremely lucky to have worked with both Filipino and Australian actors in the show. Their chemistry is just so powerful on screen. “I really bonded with my three Filipino co-actors, we went to have lunch and hang out and I felt I had so many Ates making sure I was okay. My Australian co-star were amazing. Everyone wanted to know more about the Filipino culture.” Struggles and challenges Susana’s journey in show business has not always been a walk in the park. “It has always been difficult for me. I’m 5’8”, not Asian enough to play Asian roles and I am not Australian enough to play Australian roles.” Whenever she fails to book a part, she tries to see the bigger picture. The producers just have a specific character


Gigi (played by Susana Downes) strikes an unexpected friendship with her neighbour, Berdie in the heist series The Unusual Suspects.

in mind, she tells herself. It could be the tiniest detail that defeated her from the persona that fits the role. As she gets older though, Susana has understood the problem of diversity, the struggle for more representation and making sure that people understand that Australia isn’t home to just blue-eyed, blond Westerners. It wasn´t until

six years ago that she got more roles in commercials and TV series. Suddenly producers wanted to cast more Asian Australians in their projects. The industry has taught Susana to be resilient. By not giving up easily and getting back on the horse when you get knocked down and still living that dream you have always had. Susana has learned to toughen up and fight back to survive this dog-eat-dog world of show business. Tallest Kim in History Few years ago, Susana was very close to playing Kim in a pro-amateur production of Miss Saigon in Sydney. She was the understudy, and she knew the show like the back of her hand. She was ready. She rehearsed for months, was measured into the costume but never got to play the role. She would have been the tallest Kim in history. As they say, everything has a reason, she may not have grabbed her dream role, but The Unusual Suspects gave her Gigi. After the series came out, people began noticing Susana. She got busier and she has been doing a lot of self-tapes. Apart from acting and singing, she is also into retail, video contents, and she has just started her pageant coaching business. Susana is no longer in the place where she doesn’t know who she is or where she is going because she knows what path to tread and each step is worth enjoying. With the rate her career is going now, she is excited about what the universe has for her. Perhaps a chance to play another dream role of hers: Marvel´s Pinay superhero Wave. And why not?

“When you grow up in country where you don’t look like the norm, it is hard to relate what you see on TV and feel like you are represented. Some kids would call me Ching Chong even when they saw my dad and mom pick me up from school.” #16 2022 | THE FILIPINO




By Dheza Aguilar

By AAdelia Agzamova

la dolce vita F

or most of her life in Europe, Maria Cecilia “Ces” dela Cruz had been lucky. In 2012 she migrated from the Philippines straight to a luxurious life in the Netherlands, in the arms of a well-off boyfriend. When the relationship soured, she decided to stay in Amsterdam. But even without 22 THE FILIPINO | #16 2022

a regular permit to stay, it did not stop her from pursuing her passion for cooking, donning the hats of sous chef, private chef, caterer, and later on food blogger/vlogger, representing the Filipino cuisine in the Dutch food blogging scene. Until matters of the heart ushered her to another direction, to Italy. Here, her luck ran out.



A misunderstanding with her employer left her homeless and penniless in Rome. But to make matters worse, her passport had expired and she was still waiting for her permesso di soggiorno (residence permit). Thus made the legal procedure complicated when she sought help from lawyers and the police to claim the salary her former employers refused to pay. This happened in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, when Italian authorities were strictly checking everyone’s documents, a nightmare for undocumented immigrants. “As an undocumented in Italy you’d think you have no rights but you do. Italian law is different. Even as an undocumented, if something happens to you, in the labour law, you have a right to file a denuncia (official complaint).” This was not Cecilia’s first brush with an injustice that often comes with having no permit to stay. In August 2020, during her first employment in Rome as a house caretaker and cook, she worked from 5am to 11pm, was given a small room in the basement with a CCTV camera to monitor her, and her employer uses a bell to call her up whenever she is needed - all for a meager fee of €600. “We need to talk about this because this is very important. When people find out that you are undocumented, they take advantage of you. I love Italy, I love the Italians but they tend to be discriminatory when it comes to Filipinos. They think that the only thing Filipinos can do is to clean houses,” Cecilia tells me during an online interview while on a holiday in Ravenna. Fortunately, through the new regularization law passed in 2020 to address the pandemic-led labor abuse in Italy, her application for the elusive permesso di soggiorno was finally approved, allowing her to stay legally. Destined to an expat life After finishing her Master’s degree in Public Administration at the Saint Louis University in Baguio,

“Italy has a special place in my heart because of the sun, the culture, the food. They are Catholic but they have 100% gezelligheid.”


Go to Tuscany, visit old towns, small towns and old churches. Explore the sea, from Napoli to Liguria, to Sicily. Visit little towns like Matera, Bari, and other unknown places in Italy. They are nice and cheap.


Get a car and drive around. Walk, walk, and walk some more. Depending on the season, go to the beach, blend with the locals and eat in local restaurants. Learn basic Italian, the locals appreciate it.


Forget about your diet because there are carbs in every restaurant and Italians eat sweets for breakfast. Don’t drink cappuccino after 11am, consider that Italian transportation is unreliable, and the table bread in Firenze is terrible, don’t eat it.


From previous page, clockwise: In Rome Cecilia dela Cruz did not allow visa woes to stop her from enjoying the Italian life.

Depending on the region, in Rome carbonara, cacio pepe, and porchetta, pizza in Napoli, in Bologna tagliatella ragù, deep fried veal in Milan (also called Milanese), coffee in Turin, balsamic vinegar in Modena, and pici pasta in Tuscany.

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Cecilia went straight abroad for her first job, a factory worker for a semiconductor company in Taiwan. She was able to speak Mandarin Chinese fluently, so she was promoted to Team Leader and interpreter. Despite living her life to the fullest in Taiwan, work boredom caught up on her. She went back to the Philippines in 2008. In the same year she landed a job as an Executive Secretary to the President of Werdenberg Group of Companies, the umbrella company of popular restaurants like Säntis Delicatessen, I Am Angus Steakhouse, and Chesa Bianca Swiss Restaurant. It was around this time that Cecilia developed her love for food. While dating a French guy who complimented her cooking, she decided to take up Culinary and Kitchen Management at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management in Quezon City. After getting her diploma, she became a store manager at one of Säntis branches. She also bought her first ever pan, a Le Creuset cast iron pan that would eventually accompany her in her adventures in Europe. Unfortunately, her love life ended in a messy break-up, leading to her resignation from Werdenberg. Afterwards she worked as as a human resource manager for the company of *Erwin, a Dutch guy running an e-commerce business in Manila. They eventually fell in love and he asked her to come with him to the Netherlands, making her pack her bags for the second time. Before moving to Amsterdam, the couple initially lived in Laren, one of the richest villages in the Netherlands. Although she was enjoying a comfortable life, which involved eating out everyday not worrying about money, Cecilia was not satisfied. “I did not have a job so I was very dependent on him. He gave me allowance

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but I was used to having my own money,” she quips. Wanting to be independent and earn her keep, she worked as a sous chef in the LA Club, a theater restaurant in Hilversum. When the restaurant closed down, she focused on helping Erwin manage his business. But the weather and the creeping loneliness started eating her up. “I moved from Taiwan, Philippines, and then the Netherlands. I wasn’t building connections with people anymore because I was moving from one place to another.”

“We need to talk about this because this is very important. When people find out that you are undocumented, they take advantage of you. I love Italy, I love the Italians but they tend to be discriminatory when it comes to Filipinos. They think that the only thing Filipinos can do is to clean houses.”

She continued going back and forth to the Philippines to manage the e-commerce business until she decided to stay in the Netherlands with Erwin for good. However the relationship also did not survive. She was left with an expired visa, no home nor a boyfriend. “I didn’t know what to do but I also didn’t want to go back to the Philippines because I didn’t want to start over again.” Through sheer determination and “lakas ng loob”, Cecilia was able to find people who provided her a roof above her head. She

Above: In Amsterdam, Cecilia dela Cruz flourished as a chef and foof influencer, promoting Filipino food. Below: Enjoying gelato in Rome.


combined different jobs at the same time, working as an online personal assistant and cleaning houses and bed and breakfast in Amsterdam, to be able to earn a decent living. But she felt like a failure. “I was crying a lot. I am a well-educated person, why am I cleaning? I felt very insecure, I felt very depressed because I didn’t know where to go.” Yet she decided to stay in Europe. Her resourcefulness landed her another job with a stable income, her second gig as a personal assistant to the CEO of So Digital, a branding company located in Herengracht in Amsterdam. She also cleaned her employer’s house and rented his place to AirBnB tourists coming to the city. Eventually she started her own listing of rented houses and rooms she cleaned and managed. Through smart networking, she was also able to book bartending and cooking gigs in pop up dinners,

in addition to all the jobs she was doing. To further hone her cooking skills, she also took an intensive course in Bread and Patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu. “I did not feel like I was undocumented because I was still able to do the things I liked. I was worried but I was not doing anything bad in the Netherlands so I thought, ‘maybe I wouldn’t get deported’. But I was not scared. Maybe it is my personality. I am very persistent and a risk-taker. I put a thought in my head that I can never be poor, because I have a lifestyle that I need to work hard for. I think it is very good to have that attitude - work hard to provide a good life for yourself.” A string of failed romances Cecilia’s life in Europe had been intricately intertwined with her complicated love affairs, but it also influenced the choices she would make in the years to come.

When she met British expat *Tim, she thought she was ready to settle. They got engaged, and the relationship was serious enough that she got pregnant. Unfortunately, she had a miscarriage, which started a depression she didn’t know she had until a few years later. To deal with the emotional trauma, she escaped to Bologna, Italy, to do Eat, Pray, Love, following the footsteps of Elizabeth Gilbert, and risking getting her papers checked by immigration police en route. Cecilia’s love for Bologna was inspired by the Netflix series Chef’s Table featuring Italian Michelin-star chef Massimo Bottura. She spent half a year in Bologna, and fell in love with Italy, spending most of her savings traveling around the country, particularly Emilia Romagna. But her fiancé fell out of love and broke up with her. When Cecilia returned to her

life in the Netherlands, single yet again, she spiraled deeper into depression. She ended up living at a friend’s living room in Haarlem, sleeping on an inflatable bed for months. Aggravated by the uncertainties of her situation, she turned to illegal drugs. “(Because of depression) I tend to have meaningless relationships and risky sex. You are alone and you don’t have your family around you. Some people came here (in Europe) with their family, with their kids, but I came here alone. Sometimes it gets lonely. Friends don’t show the same affection as much as a family or a husband does, or a stable relationship. Because I don’t know where I am going to end up tomorrow, or next year, you miss the affection. But I chose this life in Europe, and I can’t imagine my life if I go back to the Philippines,” she admits while holding back her tears. Part of this loneliness was also missing her daughter whom she left behind in the Philippines. Cooking as her saviour Her next relationship offered some perspective for the future. When Cecilia met *Robert, a marketing guy from Almere, he convinced her to start a Youtube channel and pursue her love for food and cooking. Utilizing her degree in Broadcast Journalism, she started in 2018, a food and travel blog later rebranded to This Delicious Side. Her content includes recipe creations, restaurant features, and interviews with owners of Filipino food brands and businesses. Under the same name, she also started weekly pop-up dinners of Filipino food in a traditional boodle fight-style eating, and underground dinners exclusive for non-Filipino diners. Before food influencers became a trend, Cecilia was already representing Filipino cuisine in

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COVER STORY the Amsterdam food blogging scene, even bagging an interview with a local television channel to promote Filipino food. “I wanted Filipino food to be more appreciated outside our (Filipino) community. Dutch and other Europeans only know Thai and Vietnamese food. For them, Filipino food is still quite strange. It’s not really a very sophisticated food, according to David Chan, it’s an ugly, delicious food like adobo. You can’t really make it artistic for fine dining. I concentrated on changing that (through pop up dinners).” Her blog became so successful (currently 30k followers on Instagram) that she was regularly invited to press trips alongside European food journalists. She was also getting paid handsomely for advertisements and endorsements, including Le Creuset, her favorite brand of kitchen products. She was finally able to offload some of her backbreaking jobs and focus on cooking and content creation, allowing herself to drown into her own creativity and passion, and finally have fun. Soul searching in Italy But fun has a downside. The culture of hard work in combination with the normality of drug use in the restaurant industry, particularly among her own circle, slowly took over her life. She got addicted, began neglecting her food blog, and started dwelling on the emptiness brought by her depression. It culminated in the summer of 2019, when one morning she woke up and decided to leave her boyfriend and move to Italy- to do another soul searching as she did when she miscarried. She left everything behind - expensive shoes, the car she bought together with her boyfriend, her collection of pans, and the newly-renovated kitchen in Robert’s house where she invested much of her savings to professionalize her food 26 THE FILIPINO | #16 2022

blogging career. With only €500 in her pocket, she took the train from Amsterdam to Paris, a BlaBlaCar from Lyon, France to Turin, Italy, then another train to Milan, a journey reminiscent of her first trip to Bologna. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit a year later, she ended up getting stuck in Italy. Not all is dolce vita She spent the first year running Il Plazzo Botique in Montalcino, a picturesque hilly town in the famous Tuscany region, home to the famed Brunello wine. While working as the hotel manager, she immersed herself in the region’s food and wine culture, and got to enjoy occasional helicopter rides with the hotel owner. But the call of the city was too strong for her to resist so she moved back to Rome to work as a private chef. As she started seeing herself settling in Italy, Cecilia also longed for human connection not always quenched by short-lived relationships. Not to wallow in loneliness again, she started a podcast called That Chick in Rome, a community for female expats in the city. The podcast discussed different women-focused topics from dating in the pandemic, sexism, cat-calling, mental health, to dating apps, food and

travel recommendations in and around Rome. It was within this community where she found friends who provided her shelter, groceries, and financial help when she became homeless, at one point surviving on a €10 allowance a day. After solving her legal mess in 2021, Cecilia was able to find what seemed to be a more relaxed job as a housekeeper and cook for an Italian/American family, back in her favorite city of Bologna. Her new employers encourage her to continue her passion for cooking. Biggest lessons While being undocumented did not stop her from going after her dreams, living and working in Europe without the right papers proved to be tough for the already resilient Cecilia. She believes that a permit to stay should not limit anyone’s growth. But she admits that it made her life more difficult. She emphasizes on the importance of having legal papers and absolutely advises others to fix their permits to stay right away. “Being undocumented is not easy, it will scare the shit out of you. If you are undocumented right now and you haven’t fixed your papers, it will not stop you from doing things you want to do but you have to take a risk. At some point your luck will run out, options are not going to be unlimited for you. Next time I need to renew my passport early,” she says laughing. Looking back at her tumultuous life in Amsterdam, she would have dealt with her depression differently. For people going through the same issues, especially for expats like her, she advises to try running, yoga or travel for those who have the capacity to spend. “Depression is tough, you need to take care of your mental health. Be part of a community, go to where the sun is, have a support group, and surround yourself with good friends.” The storms in her life

seem to be abating, so Cecilia is making plans for the future again. A future that may take her back to Amsterdam in 2022 to manage an Italian café back in Amsterdam. A future where she may finally find a compatible partner she can grow old with. “I am almost 40, I am in the path of my life now where I am searching for stability for myself and my relationships.” *Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.

Where is home for her? “I read that question and I still don’t know the answer. I was born in the Philippines, that’s my home, my family is there. But in reality, I consider home the place where I would settle with a family, with kids, and a stable relationship, where I would finally be reunited with my daughter. It doesn’t matter where I am, as long as I am with the people I love. That is home for me.”

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Our kababayans enjoying a weekend tour with BCN Montjuic Tourist Point at Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands.

By Tricia Morenta

By Pepe Chavez & BCN Montjuic


hile operating a travel company would be a dream for those stricken with insatiable wanderlust, taking this on during a global pandemic can be daunting. No bones about it: COVID-19 pretty much grounded to a halt every nook and cranny of the travel and tourism sector. While international tourism grew by 4% in 2021, the UN World Tourism Organization reports this figure is 72% below the pre-pandemic year of 2019. As with the rest of the world, Spain—which has always enjoyed blockbuster destination status in pre-pandemic times— had kept both its international and regional borders shut. It would have been around this time that Barcelona-based Emil Maravillas and Jennelyn Valenzuela would have already recouped the return on their investment on BCN Montjuic Tourist Point, the destination management company they had founded in April 2012. “When

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the pandemic came, it felt like we were starting over,” relates Valenzuela. BCN Montjuic Tourist Point began its operations as LimeBuns Travel and Tours, initially as a provider of apartamentos turisticos (tourism apartments) before AirBnb became a massive hit. They were specializing in inbound tourism, with over 95% of its clients comprising international travelers to Spain. “We were catering…we still cater to cultural tourists, mostly travelers from the Philippines and countries home to big Filipino populations,” shares Maravillas. From 2012 to 2019, he adds, the company was “very much dependent on international tourists.” Even when Spain finally got out of its two-month home confinement in May, its regional borders were closed, such that domestic tourism from one region to another was nil. Compounding the effects of the pandemic for BCN Montjuic Tourist Point were issues with their office landlord. “It’s a sad reality, but it happens,” says Maravillas. “We had to search for a new base for our operations in

Above: Jennelyn Valenzuela and Emil Maravillas learned how to diversify during the pandemic. Below: Emil shared his love for the outdoors with his clients.

BCN MONTJUIC TRAVEL AGENCY the middle of the pandemic. And while we were able to transfer to a new location in July, we didn’t have any clients. So the big question was, what are we going to do now?” The Pivot Play Necessity, as the old proverb goes, breeds invention. In the case of BCN Montjuic Tourist Point, their survival tactic came in the form of a good ol’ classic hit: retail therapy. One pandemic coping mechanism Valenzuela observed among Filipinos during confinement was shopping. “Everybody wanted to shop— and they were not only shopping for essentials, but splurging on expensive brands and luxury

“We had to search for a new base for our operations in the middle of the pandemic. And while we were able to transfer to a new location in July, we didn’t have any clients. So the big question was, what are we going to do now?”

items,” she says. As the travel company had its own vehicles, the pair decided to organize weekly “pasabays” or shopping services, in which Valenzuela would go around Barcelona’s retail centers and take photos of luxury items her fellow kababayans might like. They then created a new website,, where they would post photos of the goods available; those interested in specific items could wire their payment using online payment platforms. “Once purchased, Emil would deliver the items,” informs Valenzuela. Maravillas, who normally leads tours and represents the company in travel conferences around Europe, jokes that he

felt they were demoted for a while. “But the service trended so much that we eventually decided to make FeelPinoy a part of our regular business. Even after Spain opened its regional borders, we would still get orders,” he shares. In the same period, another opportunity came knocking. Lawyers from the Philippines were reaching out to Maravillas, expressing their interest in providing online legal services to Filipinos based in Europe. “As far as I knew, there wasn’t a Filipino company in Spain offering consultancy with lawyers based in Manila. Most Filipinos here with legal concerns would often reach out to their families back home

Left and right: BCN Montjuic Tourist Point offers bespoke travel options for young and old.

BUSINESS AT A GLANCE Business name: BCN Montjuic Tourist Point Location: Carrer d’Elkano, 41, 08004 Barcelona, Spain Website: Industry: Travel Initial Investment: Undisclosed. Emil Maravillas: “Our initial investment was really in terms of effort—from doing guerrilla marketing to reaching out to people through events, house visits to friends of friends…much of our first few months of operation involved activities like these.” Recurring expenses: Between EUR5,000 to EUR8,000 Expected ROI: According to Valenzuela, the firm almost recouped their return on investment before the pandemic. Through the assistance of the Department of Tourism of Catalunya, they were able to manage their recurring expenses in 2020. “We’re blessed and thankful for the Department of Tourism of Generalitat de

Catalunya—we were able to manage our recurring expenses the whole of 2020 even without international tourists,” she says. Biggest business challenge: In the summer of 2012, within the Filipino community, 700 passengers of KLM were issued fake tickets. Although they weren’t involved in the scam, this was around the time the pair started their company. Emil Maravillas: “It took a while for us to gain the trust of customers, especially since we didn’t have a physical office at the time, but it started with a pair of Filipinas, one of our earliest clients, whom we offered packages to Paris. Jennie had lived there for two years when she was still working with the royal family of Morocco, so she was able to organize a truly memorable trip for them. Word of mouth quickly spread, and we were able to forge ahead with the business.” #16 2022 | THE FILIPINO 29


“We’re getting busier because international clients are starting to come back; at the same time, we are experiencing an increase in our local tourists as the pandemic actually opened up an opportunity for us to expand our operations from being a purely inbound tourism company.”

and would have their family members relay their concerns to a lawyer. By offering our online legal consultancy, we became the bridge between Filipinos based in Spain and our partner lawyers back in Manila. That was borne out of the pandemic,” he shares. Discovering new paths The earlier part of the pandemic had its fair share of silver linings. In the sphere of travel and tourism, people experienced the pleasures of exploring oftignored destinations closer to their homes. For the dynamic duo behind BCN Montjuic Tourist Point, the pandemic brought them back to where their partnership started: their shared thirst for adventure and the outdoors. “Emil and I rediscovered our first love: adventure. During our earlier years, whenever we would have free time, we traveled as a family and we liked exploring mountains, rivers, and other off-the-beaten path destinations,” relates Valenzuela. When the pandemic saw its first summer, the pair began offering adventure-oriented tours to local

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tourists who were fresh off home confinement. “The lockdowns had left people mentally exhausted, so they were eager to travel. However, as there were no vaccines yet, they were also hesitant and scared to visit more popular tourist destinations like museums or commercial centers. Instead, they wanted to go to less crowded places where they could relax and breathe in fresh air,” shares Maravillas. An avid hiker, Maravillas made it his mission to rediscover and explore hiking trails around Barcelona. As there were still restrictions on the number of people that could gather, the company started offering tours of nearby rivers, waterfalls, and mountains to “bubble groups”. When the government started loosening restrictions, this grew to medium-sized groups, and from only organizing a few tours here and there, word quickly spread among both the Filipino and Spanish community about a travel company offering adventure and hiking activities. “It became a weekly event. We started offering several hiking destinations, like going on a trek from the foot of Montserrat all the way to its peak, and

each time would be a different endpoint. We pretty much reintroduced our first love to our clients, and it was a hit among Pinoys in Barcelona,” shares Maravillas. Views beyond the horizon Thrilling times are ahead for the travel and tourism industry as increasing countries around the world open their borders. This has consequently fueled a “new sense of urgency” among travelers who pretty much spent most of the pandemic confined to their homes and hometowns. A survey of 12,000 travelers across 12 countries by one-stop travel site Expedia affirms this: 65% of respondents plan on “going big” for their next trips. “We’re getting busier because international clients are starting to come back; at the same time, we are experiencing an increase in our local tourists as the pandemic actually opened up an opportunity for us to expand our operations from being a purely inbound tourism company,” relates Maravillas. As a destination management company (DMC) the services they offer tend to be more bespoke.

Valenzuela explains that DMCs offer more specialized services. “We’re a one-stop shop for their travel needs—we customize everything according to their needs and budget. While we normally do a lot of Spain tours, we also have clients who wish to travel to other major cities in Europe, and we occasionally have clients who like spending their holidays in places like Morocco, and even to other parts of Asia,” she shares. With the pent-up demand among travelers to go big on their next travel adventure, DMCs like BCN Montjuic Tourist Point have newfound relevance. While it’s been a pre-pandemic trend among travelers to DIY their next vacation, there is nothing quite like the services offered by local experts to ensure everything goes smoothly on a trip. It’s why the pair remains unfazed by competition from online booking platforms. “The apps are great, but for travelers who are willing and capable to pay, they need not spend their time booking their own tours because it would be much easier—and relaxing—to book through an agency like ours to arrange everything,” shares Valenzuela.


Practical tax tips SHARON MASLER Managing Partner Masler & Associates, CPAs


ealing with tax obligations is complex and can be confusing. That is why the more you understand about it, the better you feel and will have more opportunity to improve for next year. Here are some tax-related questions and tips that you might find practical and useful. And remember, do not hesitate to ask a professional. It can save you time, money and sleepless nights. Life gets in the way, I need to file an extensión, how much time do I have? Here in the US, you can file a tax extension if you are not yet ready to file your tax returns in time for the tax deadline, generally on 15 April every year. An extension will extend the time to file your personal returns for six months or until 15 October but it DOES NOT extend the deadline to pay the tax. That is always a confusion. If you think you are going to owe tax by 15 April, make sure to send money in if you do not want to incur unnecessary interests and penalties. Will I owe tax or get a refund? What are the odds? You either owe tax or you get a refund. Did you feel like you will get less refund for tax year 2021? If you have dependents, it is possible that you already got the child tax credit in advance in 2021 via direct deposit or checks. That would play into how much money you got back for tax year 2021. If you refinanced your home and you paid less mortgage interest, that means you have less tax deduction and it may have resulted in reduced refund or a balance due. How do I choose the right tax professional? Go for someone with knowledge and experience. Nothing beats these qualifications. Make sure whoever you choose has the capability to take care of your specific tax situation. Number two: responsiveness. Make sure that the firm is responsive to your needs. Number three:

organization is key. Find out about their process. Remember, they are dealing with a lot of paperwork day in and day out and you don’t want your information mixed up with others. Make sure you know how organized the firm is. Lastly, see to it that this is a firm that you can trust. Check out their website, their qualifications, their staffing, their clients, make sure they are the right fit for you. What is a Capital Gains Tax? A Capital Gains Tax is a tax that is imposed on a non-inventory asset. An example of which is your personal residence. If you are planning to sell your home in 2022, the goal is to pay less tax or eliminate the Capital Gains Tax. It is important that you have been living in your house for the last two years before selling it, then you can use a full Capital Gains exclusion of up to $500,000, if you are married, and $250,000 if you are single. Now, that should help eliminate or reduce Capital Gains Tax altogether. What are the two letters that you should include in your tax returns? One is the letter from the IRS that relates to your stimulus money that is called your economic impact payment. It tells you how much stimulus money you received in 2021 and how much you

think you will be able to recover some more, also known as the recovery rebate credit. Second letter is that if you have a dependent or dependents you should have received some kind of advanced child credit. If you have not, you would be able to claim this payment on your tax returns. It is very important to find these letters because they determine what amount of additional refund you are going to get or reduced taxes you are going to owe. Do we pay tax on the cash gift that we get? Here is the situation. This week a son has called me because he got $100,000 from his parents so he could buy his first house. It was exciting for him but he was worried that he would be paying tax on that gift. The good news is, he doesn´t need to pay tax on that gift and his parents will not pay tax either. All they need to do is file a gift tax return because they exceeded the $16,000 (for 2022) annual gift tax exclusion where you do not pay tax or file a tax return. In short, there is no tax involved, this is just a compliance issue. Please follow us on Instagram (@ maslercpa) and Facebook (Masler & Associates, CPAs) for more tax tips. Our goal is for you to keep more of what you make.

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By Nats Sisma Villaluna



hirteen years ago, Badeth and Pher Ramos took their kids to Cindy’s and treated them to their favorite spaghetti meal. While Franzy and Nina were enjoying their food, Badeth, in choked voice asked them, “Will you cry if Mama leaves?” “Where are you going, Mama?,” asked one of them. “To Spain so that we can give you both a better future. Don’t worry I will get you and Papa soon. You can go to a nice school, have nice clothes, new shoes and toys.” Badeth tried to hold back her tears. The kids looked at her and chorused: “Yehey!” She didn’t expect her kids’ reaction but was relieved that they didn’t seem to mind. “Maybe it was the idea of having new toys that made them excited. But it was better for me. I couldn’t bear to see them cry.” Badeth, 46, was a grade school teacher at St. Mary’s College in Ilocos Sur when an offer to go to Spain landed in her lap with the help of Pher’s Barcelonabased sister. Although she was doing well as an educator, her salary was way lower than what she would earn in Spain. Pher’s income as a farmer and a tricycle driver wasn’t enough to give their family a comfortable life.

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Life away from her kids was unbearable but Badeth needed to plug away. She made sure to call her children every week and made good her promise to send clothes, shoes and toys back home. When she reached her first year, her employer granted her a month-long vacation in time for Franzy’s 7th birthday. “At the airport, Nina didn’t recognize

me. She was aloof. I was hurt,” narrates Badeth. From that incident, she resolved to expedite her family’s visas to follow her to Spain. Reagruapcion familiar The family reunification visa allows a non-European citizen who has renewed his or her initial Spanish residence

Badeth and Pher Ramos had to leave their young children behind to work in Spain.

REAGRUAPCION FAMILIAR From left: As a family of five, Nina, Badeth, Jaden. Pher, and Franzy are among the lucky ones who were able to stay together and weather the challenges of family migration.

authorization, to bring his/her spouse, children (below 18) or parents (over 65) to Spain. In 2011, Pher’s visa got approved. The moment he landed a permanent job after months of searching, he and Badeth immediately rented a flat and started to process their children´s visas. Finally, on a cold day in January 2013, Badeth got to hug his kids again. The kids were here, but... Franzy and Nina would later learn that their parents were both working as live-in domestic employees who only had weekends as days-off and they would be living on their own. No matter how much Badeth wanted to find a live-out job, “utang na loob” prevented that thought. It was her employer who signed for her to have the Spanish work visa. She was also scared of not being able to find a job right away in case she left. Badeth and Pher, hired a babysitter to accompany the kids at night, take them to school and pick them up afterwards. Badeth would prepare the food for the week and put them in the fridge, call them before bed to give instructions and help them with their homework.

“One time, there was a party at school and we had to bring picapica. I didn’t know what pica-pica was except that it meant food so I brought rice. Everybody laughed at me because pica-pica actually meant finger foods. I was very embarrassed and angry.”

actually remember that day. Nina was four and I was five. We didn’t really think our mother would be that far. We still had our dad, our grandparents and uncles and aunts.” Nina,17, remembers how her mother would call them every week and send them nice clothes and toys. The absence of their mother didn’t affect their performance at school. They remained happy and never thought that they had an incomplete family. “But when Papa followed Mama to Spain, we felt sad,” adds Nina. Moving to Spain was a huge culture shock for Franzy and Nina. They also dreaded school. “We didn’t speak Spanish, no friends, and the students called the teachers by their first names. I tried to interact but my classmates laughed at me. One girl even pinched me,” relates Nina. The school provided special

Spanish and Catalan classes for them to catch up with the lessons. Franzy and Nina tried their best but there were some setbacks. “One time, there was a party at school and we had to bring pica-pica. I didn’t know what pica-pica was except that it meant food so I brought rice. Everybody laughed at me because pica-pica actually meant finger foods. I was very embarrassed and angry,” narrates Franzy. Adjusting to their new environment and the absence of their parents took a toll on Nina. She would cry every night and beg her mother to come home. It also didn’t help that some of their classmates would pick on them. “One girl told me that if I wanted to belong, I had to curse, to say joder. I felt bad but I

The Ramos children are thankful that they are together.

The kids were not alright When later asked why they didn´t feel sad when their mother told them about her leaving, Franzy,18, says, “I don’t #16 2022 | THE FILIPINO


PARENTING copied them,” explains Nina. Franzy´s way of integrating was to fight back. Known in his family for being temperamental, he had his fair share of physical altercations with some of the bullies who would later leave him in peace. Not living with their kids, Badeth and Pher were having a tough time. “Pher was always worried, especially at night.” In 2016, Badeth finally left her live-in job. She and Pher did the math. The money they were paying the babysitter was just the same as the money she would lose from working live-out. Badeth noticed that the kids gradually became more confident and more participative in school and in Coro Kudyapi, an allFilipino children’s choir where they have been members since 2014. Made in Spain Badeth and Pher would always joke of having a third child made in Spain. In 2018, the joke became a reality. No one was more surprised than they were to discover that Badeth was up the duff. “We didn’t expect it.

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I cried and cried. It meant that we would start all over again,” recalls Badeth. The idea of sending the baby to the Philippines came about but Pher was against it. “I didn’t want the baby to experience what Franzy and Nina did when we left them,” explains Pher, 54. When Jaden was born, Badeth´s previous worries came

to naught. “Jaden is our source of joy now. We are glad we didn’t send him home.” Franzy and Nina have never held a grudge toward their parents for leaving them behind. They understand that what they did was for their own good. Now in their teens, they want to visit the Philippines one day and see their childhood friends.

According to UNICEF, there are approximately nine million Filipino children who have at least one parent abroad. And most of them are hoping to join their parents someday. Badeth´s family´s journey was not as easy as it seems. It was an uphill climb that took them years to finally settle down together as one and complete family.

Above: Pher sharing a common love for music with son Franzy. Below: The family has now found a work/life balance that puts the children’s welfare above all.

By Henzy Manaligod Richter




f someone had asked me five years ago if I could imagine myself living in Frankfurt, Germany, my straightforward answer would have been no. Back then, I was living in Aachen, a small, farflung university town located on Germany’s border with Belgium and the Netherlands. Prior to moving to the airport while in transit to Germany, I worked for an other German cities. American finance company’s Arriving at the central ESG (Environment, Social and train station gave me mixed Governance) research team first impressions- hectic, loud, in Manila. I wanted to keep not-the-cleanest, crowded. But working in the field despite the looking up ahead as I came out intercontinental move. After of the station’s main entrance, applying for several job postings, Frankfurt greeted me with a nice I was finally invited to come to view of glistening tall buildings Frankfurt for a second round and skyscrapers, which is quite of interviews with my current unheard of in many German company. At the time, I had not cities. been to the city yet, and like When the interview was many other people, only knew over, I went to the Palmengarten

as suggested by the interviewers. The quiet green oasis in the middle of Frankfurt, with its exotic palms and plants from all corners of the world and its small artificial lake, was the perfect place to cap off my first visit, convincing enough to make me plan my move should I get the job. Mainhattan and Bankfurt Frankfurt, also nicknamed “Mainhattan”, is a wordplay between the River Main (the city’s main river) and Manhattan, the famous New Yorker borough and its skyline. Others also call it “Bankfurt” alluding to the many banks and financial institutions operating

here, though I personally prefer the former nickname. Frankfurt is not the place you move to because you like it straight away. However, jobs in certain industries, particularly finance, banking, sustainable investment research, and multinationals have their offices in this big city. After a year and a half of exhausting train commute from Aachen to Frankfurt then from Cologne to Frankfurt, I knew that the more logical next step was to live closer to where work was. My career eventually chose where I should live. We moved to Frankfurt in the summer of 2019, on a sweltering 30-degree Celsius hot day, a warm welcome #16 2022 | THE FILIPINO



day that marked the beginning of my life as a resident of this city. Life here so far has been wonderful. With the added challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, I can’t imagine spending my time locked down elsewhere. While we did have the usual restriction similar to other places in Germany, I could still enjoy walks around a nearby river and the many parks near our neighborhood. During the peak of the restrictions, getting out of the house and enjoying a patch of green space, and fresh air, spelled freedom and helped cope with the burden of not having a lot of social contact with family and friends. International flavor I could think of several reasons why Frankfurt attracts workers from various parts of the globe. The city is very

The Mainkai, with Frankfurt’s high-rise buildings in the foreground, is a favorite spot for locals to hang out on warm days.

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I could think of several reasons why Frankfurt attracts workers from various parts of the globe. The city is very international, and like Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, it is common to hear other languages spoken in the street.

international, and like Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, it is common to hear other languages spoken in the street. According to Frankfurt am Main’s official website, the city is home to more than 170 nationalities. I myself work with mostly nonGermans, while my daughter goes to nursery along with nine other toddlers with mixed backgrounds. In the area where we live, social integration is so evident that one could hear foreign languages spoken in the playground area at the same frequency as German. Locals have such a high awareness and respect for other cultures, so one easily feels at home here. As a financial hub, seat of several major banks, and the European Central Bank, Frankfurt does attract a certain demographic of expats. The central airport is also located in Frankfurt, which

makes traveling in and out of the city a breeze. It also offers a good variety of cultural events, and it boasts of its trade fair (“Messe”) since the 13th century, making it the oldest in the world. Apart from festivities that celebrate art, books, music, food, wine, Ebbelwoi (apple wine) and “Grüne Soße” (a cold sauce made with seven specific herbs), there are also activities for families with children- science and cartoon museums, the many areas in the city’s outskirts such as the Taunus with lots of green and nature, not to mention the many playgrounds and parks in the city itself. For those who like

white wine, Riesling vineyards in the Rheingau and Mosel area, combined with a nice hike, also make for nice day trips from Frankfurt. Cost of living, red tapes and pickpockets Of course, living in this city also has its drawbacks. Frankfurt figures among the top three most expensive cities in Germany based on cost of living. With high rental costs, a lot of people often prefer to either live in the suburban areas or nearby cities. Public transportation is generally reliable. However, German trains, once deemed as the most punctual on the planet, are unfortunately not as such anymore and can have all sorts of issues that cause delays. One common theme among expats (and Germans, too!) is the never-ending bureaucracy,

Palmengarten is one of the two botanical gardens in Frankfurt with 50 acres of tropical trees, orchids and ferns. You can spend a day here exploring its collection of exotic plants. Entrance fee is €7 for adults.

Day trips from Frankfurt Take a train from Frankfurt Main train station to Cochem to enjoy the vineyards and wine selection of the Mosel Valley. Train tickets start at €20.

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which trickles down to the federal and state level. There is a process for everything and a lot of paperwork almost at every stage- from changing addresses to applying for parental allowance (LOTS of documents required!), to applying for a spot at daycare, to applying for residence permit and consequent extensions. These processes take a lot of time and patience, so be warned! Another question I often get asked is whether the city is safe. Like other big cities, it has its fair share of petty crimes, mostly theft and drug related. I would not venture alone, for example, to certain side streets near the central train station, where drugdealing and prostitution are rampant. I usually avoid going to very crowded places such as the train station and the shopping area in the city center. If going there cannot be helped, I often make sure I have my eye on my bag and wallet the whole time, and not to walk around with my phone in hand. A sustainable city Adapting to life here in Frankfurt has been quite flawless so far. I particularly like how it tries to maintain more green areas than the buildings themselves, prioritizes the environment and sees the importance of nature for its residents’ sanity. It was, after all, named the Most Sustainable City in the 2015 Sustainable Cities Index and was a founding member of the Climate Alliance of European Cities in 1990 and 2014. This regard for the environment and a rooted sense of care and appreciation for nature is probably one of the main reasons why I would always choose to live in this city.

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Above: View of the Main River and the Franfurt skyline from the city’s Alte Brücke. Below: Tourists strolling in Römerber square at the center of Frankfurt’s medieval old town.

Adapting to life here in Frankfurt has been quite flawless so far. I particularly like how the city tries to maintain more green areas than the buildings themselves, prioritizes the environment and sees the importance of nature for its residents’ sanity.


Travelling the post-pandemic world

Two years after the world was brought down to its knees by a deadly virus, it is slowly back on its feet. After months of uncertainty and fear, of being trapped in the confines of our homes, the idea of booking a flight, packing our bags and hitting the road doesn’t sound scary and crazy anymore. This special travel issue takes us to the places we had had on our list before the pandemic brought the world to a halt and shares how the new chapter of travel can affect us all. With borders re-opened and strict health measures lifted, we can start ticking off our list and once again feel the excitement of exploring new places, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people. Of seeing the world with new set of eyes.

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Perks of traveling MZ AKIL AT HER CORNER


raveling to and living in multicultural countries and cities expose you to different people, characters, languages, accents and pronunciations attached to it. People from varying backgrounds come to an understanding based on degrees of familiarity. There are instances though when you think you’ve gone around to know and learn a lot, only to realize that it’s not the case. A few years ago, I traveled to Dubai on my birthday to spend it with my family. At passport control, I handed in my passport to an amiable local officer who opened it to the personal details page. He scanned it, and after checking the date, he amusedly greeted me with a happy birthday. When I thanked him, he mentioned that his birthday is also the beginning of January, which I thought made him a fellow Capricorn (I’m into astrological zodiac signs; my apologies if you aren’t, but this story is related to that). Smiling, he asked me if I was a Taurus. I said no, I’m a Capricorn. Baffled, he repeated his question if I was a Taurus. Equally baffled that a fellow Capricorn would not know that early January-born people are Capricorn, I firmly repeated that I was a Capricorn. His expression shifted from friendly to authoritative as he impatiently repeated his question while waving my passport at me: ARE YOU A TAURUS? Staring at him, I snapped out from a combination of tiredness and jet lag to confirm that rather than a TAURUS, I was indeed a TOURIST. Bemused while slightly shaking his head, he stamped my passport and I quickly made my way to the baggage claim area, trying my hardest best to

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contain my laughter. In the ladies, which I immediately headed to, I laughed so hard the others were probably thinking I inhaled laughing gas. There was a time when Filipinos mainly traveled to the United States as most of us have family there. Even traveling within the Asian region is more recent, bar trips to Hong Kong or Singapore where you get sent for business trips or as a company reward if you’re lucky. The world somehow shrank for us, and now travel anecdotes are no longer the preserve of the well-heeled. They’re of course accompanied by instagrammable images. London, New York and Paris are no longer just the only covetable destinations; Filipinos have recently been exploring the rest of Europe, the Americas and East Asian hot spots. While Dr. Jose Rizal and his equally privileged cohorts had traveled extensively before our generation, traveling has never been as accessible to most of us. COVID temporarily shut the boarding gates worldwide, but the positive (no pun intended) that came out of it was that holidaymakers looked domestically for their breaks as moving around started to

ease. There was much apprehension and reservation in the beginning, but travelers took to packing again as the lockdowns further encouraged bucket lists and family trips. I’m still having fragmentary desires to relive circa 1930s Kanoni, Corfu, and write in an unplastered villa by the sea, with running water and electricity. Without a doubt, traveling shapes you into a cultured and learned individual who come to experience first-hand what you read in guides and binge-watch in travel programs (I watch Michael Portillo’s Great British/Continental Railway Journeys where he travels all over the UK and Europe by train using the English cartographer George Bradshaw’s guide published in the 1800s). What you lose in monetary terms is gained by acquiring a worldly perspective about tolerance, compassion, inclusivity, openness and humility. On a more practical note, I get to view on the plane the films and TV series I usually would miss out on as I’m busy and most often can’t afford to sit through two straight hours staring at a big screen. Traveling is inspiring. For the deep thinkers, idea chasers, the people watchers and silence seekers, waiting to board or being physically somewhere other than home is perfect for letting our minds wander. In my attempt to beat my deadline, I wrote this within a few minutes at an altitude of 39,996 feet, onboard an A380 plane, cruising at 550 miles per hour. I couldn’t be more inspired to write about traveling when I was in the middle of it.

By Francine Alessandra Vito



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Experiencing the art of living in the French Riviera There’s living, and there’s the art of living well. If you’re looking for the French art de vivre, yearround sunshine, and Mediterranean charm, look no further than Nice. If you arrive by plane and you’re lucky enough to have a window seat, be sure to look out. The Bay of Angels curves along the Promenade des Anglais, drawing you in with explosion of turquoise blue waters dotted with palm trees on the beach. But that’s just the appetizer. In 2021, Nice earned UNESCO Heritage status, a designation reserved for places of “exceptional interest for the common heritage of mankind”. So what makes Nice so exceptional? Year-round sunshine and winter ocean dips aside, there are many more reasons to visit Nice. Nice is in the heart of the Alpes-Maritime department, sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps. An hour’s drive from the sunny coast takes you up the hinterlands or the “arrière-pays niçois”, where you’ll find countryside villages, the rugged nature of the majestic Mercantour National Park, and ski slopes. A colorful city Nice’s rich and long history goes all the way to 350 B.C., marked by the arrival of early Greek settlers and notable episodes such as Turkish raids, wars, and centuries of Italian rule. The spirit of the Belle Epoch and Roaring 20’s have also left an indelible mark on its architecture. The Belle Epoch (1860 to 1914), “The Beautiful Age”, transformed Nice from a sleepy, coastal village that made money from salt imports into a tourism powerhouse. Queen Victoria of England and King Leopold of Belgium were among the first wave of aristocratic visitors who came to escape the cold, gray winters in their countries. Then came the bourgeoise winter-escapists, with wealth to flaunt and cash to spare, allowing the best architects and designers free rein to build grand mansions and palaces of eclectic designs and aesthetics. Many of these architectural gems in jewel tone colors still exist and are open to the public as museums.

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A climb up to Castle Hill provides visitors with a spectacular panoramic view of Nice and the sea.

What to Do in Nice Nice feels like a happy medium between an island resort and a city, with a vibe that’s much more laidback than other big French cities. It’s walkable and many attractions are conveniently located next to each other. You can visit all the top landmarks in one day by starting your walk from the picturesque Port

Lympia, heading towards the Promenade des Anglais. Stop by the Marché aux Puces, a flea market selling vintage French goods and antiques. Stay on the walking path and you’ll pass by the giant “I Love Nice” sign to your left. Proceed further down, cross the street and look for the stairs or the elevator to go up

to Castle Hill, a sprawling park with an artificial waterfall, ruins of a chateau, and show-stopping panoramic views of the ocean and city. The iconic Promenade des Anglais, a 7 km stretch of pedestrian walking area, is a favorite spot for locals and visitors. You can walk, jog, or


Art and architecture often go hand in hand in Nice. The Jules Chéret Museum of Fine Arts, formerly a private mansion owned by a Russian princess, is worth a visit for its stunning facade, interiors, and artwork spanning five centuries. Learn about the city’s most important historical figures and events at Musee Masséna, a 19th-century villa with sumptuous interiors. Modern art lovers shouldn’t miss the Marc Chagall Museum and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. The Matisse Museum has the largest collection of works by Henri Matisse, widely considered the greatest colorist of the 20th century. The Palais Lascaris, a great example of Nice’s Baroque period, is currently a museum for ancient musical instruments.

Above: The city of Nice from another angle as seen from Castle Hill. Below: The fountain and statue of Apollo at Place Massena in Vieux Nice.

simply relax on one the benches. The beach runs parallel to “the Prom” and can be reached through several access points. Always carry your swimming attire ready in case the ocean gets too tempting. The whitegray pebble shore is also popular refuge for sun worshippers, readers, picnickers, or those wanting to have a front-row view

rues and even narrower ruelles to discover all sorts of surprises between the old pastel buildings. Check out the knife-wielding fishmongers and butchers in St Francois square. Food artisans

are on standby with samples of olive oil, cheese, cured meats, and vegetables brined in jars. Lavender and floral notes from perfumers waft between food smells. Gift shops sell postcards,

of the ocean and sky. The Heart of Nice Anthony Bourdain said that markets are a fast track into a country’s psyche. Nice’s old town or “Vieux Nice” is home to several markets and is a hotbed of commercial and culinary activity. Let your senses guide you through the maze of narrow

LOCAL TIP: Too crowded in the restaurants? Do it like

the French and prepare a picnic. Pick up a bottle of rosé or a Bière de Comté Nissa and some fromage from the supermarché. Grab some local specialties and choose your picnic spot. Castle Hill, Jardin des Arenes de Cimiez, Parc du Mont Boron, and Promenade du Paillon are all calm parks where you can eat in breezy, shaded areas among trees. For the ultimate summer vibe, take your picnic on the beach! #16 2022 | THE FILIPINO 43


magnets, and other trinkets. Cours Saleya is the city’s bestknown market, with its red and yellow striped awnings sheltering local plants and bright colored flowers, spices, food delicacies, and souvenirs. It turns into a brocante or flea market every Monday. In the summer, the old town’s streets and plazas overflow with tables, waiters ferrying trays of the plat du jour and glasses of wine from kitchens to hungry diners. Street musicians make the rounds with renditions of French classics and enthusiasm. On one end of Vieux Nice, you’ll find the historic Place Massena, recognizable with its fiery red facade, black and white tiled floors, and the imposing fountain and statue of Apollo. On the other end of Vieux-Nice is another plaza, Garibaldi Square, the oldest of the main squares in Nice. It’s a great place to observe people coming and going while having an espresso or apéro in one of the surrounding cafés. You’ll notice that people here know the art of living well. Eat Like a Nicois One of the greatest pleasures of traveling is sampling the local culinary delights. Food in the south is a stark contrast to the stereotypical French cuisine. The fat of choice here is olive oil, not butter. Nice’s proximity to Italy and North Africa can be

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tasted through its cuisine and vegetables like eggplants, bell peppers, zucchini, and olives are staples. Nicoise salad and ratatouille, possibly the only heart-friendly French dishes, originated here. Other uniquely Nicoise street food specialties you shouldn’t miss out on are socca, pissaladière, and pain bagnat. Socca is a grilled, golden flatbread made of chickpea flour. This savory treat is crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. It’s often served on paper cones and is a great snack to-go. Pissaladière is a sort of pizza topped with a bed of caramelized onions, softly cooked to perfection and sprinkled with either olives or anchovies. There are several stalls serving socca and pissaladière in Vieux Nice, but Chez Theresa’s is one of the best, well-loved by both tourists and locals. For something more filling, hunt for farcis nicois, bite-sized baked vegetables stuffed with meat filling. Pain bagna is an interesting crossbreed of sandwich-style burger and tuna salad. Do as the locals do and douse the inside of your pain bagna with olive oil before devouring. For the best authentic Nicoise dishes, head to Lu Fran-Calin, La Taula, or Chez Acchiardo, all located in Vieux Nice.

Above from left to right: Nice is a feast for the eyes, from its food, architecture, and shops. Below: A walk along Promenade des Anglais, overlooking the Bay of Angels is a must in Nice..


The summer months of June to August are the best for swimming and ocean activities, but prepare to jostle for beach space and restaurant tables. Spring is a great time to visit as there are fewer people, the weather starts to warm up, and you’ll be in time to catch the colorful blooms and exotic plants in their full glory. There are many musical events and openair markets during spring and summer. If you’re looking to ski, visit during fall and winter It’s also calmer during these off-season times and you get to see more of the laid-back, local culture without crowds of tourists.


Kenya is a once-in-a-lifetime destination. With its jaw-dropping landscapes and wildlife, it can take your breath away over and over again. So if you plan to come to this East African country and have just a limited amount of time, then you must at least include the following spots to have a taste of the best that it can offer. This is not specifically to lure tourists to the “same old, same old”. But for those who, like me, aspire to find home even out in the wild outdoors.

Five exciting places worth once in a lifetime adventures


By Agatha Verdader

By Grace Nandy & Louie Hachenova


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Maasai Mara A Kenyan friend once asked me, “Don’t you get tired of looking at the same animals every day?” The simple answer is that I don’t. Every single morning out in the bush is always a different experience. There are no duplications in nature. The skies are different. The rhythm on the savannah is non-repeating. Wake up to a glorious hunt of cheetahs versus a topi or drive for hours to nothing but sightings of hip-high reeds swaying in the light breeze. Spectate at all the unfolding drama of hyenas skulking and gazelles frolicking and a leopard cub tumbling off a tree and a mongoose skittering across the dirt road. Enjoy a lodge-packed lunchbox of warm mango juice, bruised apple, deconstructed cheeseburger, and rock-hard blueberry muffin under a tree canopy. Or a plate of goat kebabs, pasta, and creamed spinach from the dinner buffet table of one of the glamorous tented camps in the wildlife reserve. Go to sleep, knowing that a wake-up call would be the cacophony of birdsong that signals to humans and beasts alike that a new day has come; a new adventure awaits. I go to Maasai Mara to have a profound understanding of my place on Earth. Life happens in spite of me. Samburu National Reserve It’s a real commitment to go all the way to Samburu, roughly 326km away or a 6.5hour drive. Yes, it does play host to some very rare species of wildlife: Grevy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, and the East African oryx. Some guides like to say that they can be found only in that particular reserve, although one friend claims he’s seen the gerenuk in Tsavo, too. While these are great draws, what I like about going to Samburu is the drive itself. The highway all the way to the reserve is outstanding. The scenery changes noticeably from verdant green to sparse grey dust. There’s still a lot that needs to be done in Kenya in terms of infrastructure, but this long stretch is a good reminder that, from year to year, there are real, tangible developments happening in the country. Sometimes, my fellow expats are too cynical to see and appreciate that there are actual improvements, but they do exist. You can pass by Nanyuki and be fascinated by the presence of a thriving mountain town, nestled on the foothills of Mount Kenya. Many foreigners choose to make a home there because it provides a good balance between a semblance of urban life and a touch of the carefree outdoors. Back in Samburu, it is often plagued these days by drought and the encroachment of domesticated livestock right in the reserve itself, but it does highlight the importance of a more responsible and responsive way of doing tourism in such precarious conditions. I’ve not been to Elephant Bedroom yet, but I hear it’s quite a treat to sleep among elephants as they lumber their way across the grounds of the highly specialized lodge. 46 THE FILIPINO | #16 2022

Clockwise from left: A Cessna ride through Maasai Mara. The author playing with a blind rhino at Ol Pejeta. African wood works. Safari tourists at the Maasai Mara.

Lake Turkana Since my arrival in Kenya 20 years ago, I’d always dreamed of making my way to Lake Turkana. I love history, so I’d imagined myself walking the same lakeshore that the earliest human beings

walked on. It was never easy planning for such a trip though. From those early days, I’ve always known it to be a region fraught with tribal conflicts, cattle rustling, and highway robberies—literal ones. Finally, in 2021, I was able to fulfil

KENYA Hot-air balloons traverse the Mara expanse covered by dawn mist.

reminded how to live fearlessly and to believe in the impossible. From the lakeside, my friends and I made our way to North Horr before traversing the Chalbi Desert. It gave me an adrenalin rush that I still savor to this day. Ol Pejeta Conservancy If you retrace your steps back to Nanyuki, you can veer off the highway at some point and move northward in the direction of Ol Pejeta Conservancy. It is known as the sanctuary for the largest rhino population in Kenya and the last two remaining northern white rhinos in the world. There is a rhino graveyard a few kilometres from the main gate, a reminder of how we humans are the worst species on Earth by poaching the animals for their ivory. Those distinctions alone should lead you to its rolling plains. However, another important draw for me is its private campsites. Once you reserve one for yourself— whether single or as a group—that campsite belongs to you and you alone for the duration of your booking. Sleep in your own tent in almost total darkness but for moonlight and starlight when the celestial bodies are up in the night sky. Your lullaby is a lion’s roar or the wind whipping against the tent walls. Your campmates are giraffes and elephants. You can be just a stone’s throw away from a dam or a river filled with submerged hippos. It is good to be in a place where you can hear yourself think. Or even just breathe and be.

Clockwise from left: Locals at Lamu market. Lamu is famous for its donkeys. Don’t miss a sundown on a Swahili sailboat when visiting Lamu.

my dream. With two other friends, my little furbaby, and a rented Land Rover, we reached the south-eastern lake town of Loiyangalani in January 2021. I caught my breath the first time I laid eyes on the Jade Sea from up a lookout hill. So many people warned my friends and me not

to drive there as a solo vehicle. We were told to expect the roughest offroad driving conditions. We were cautioned to carry litres of fuel reserve because there were no reliable stations anywhere in Loiyangalani. But we more than survived; we thrived. It was good to feel young again and be

Lamu People have told me about Lamu festivals, its architecture, its town full of donkeys, but it is the dhow cruise at sundown that makes the Lamu experience extra special. There’s something meditative about watching forever stretch beyond the horizon while holding a wineglass and being present to feel the waves lapping on the sides of the Swahili sailboat. If you like going to places where you can enjoy some quiet reflection and be as far away from a metropolis as possible, away from stable internet connections and looming work deadlines, Lamu is one such place.

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A kinship unbroken by a century of lasting ties


Family photo of Jose Gabriel Montalvan Bello and Concepcion Corrales Roa.

By Antonio J. Montavan II


his is my story of a connectivity that my own family had nurtured for decades and which I encountered myself as I embarked on a journey to Spain. The beginning of the story was a Eureka moment in my career as an anthropologist and writer habituated with the rigors of archival research. A colleague who was searching for old documents in the National Archives of the Philippines accidentally came across my paternal grandfather’s hoja de servicios or his work record in the Philippines as personal de ultramar (overseas personnel) under colonial Spain. The family knows our grandfather’s story but we knew little of the details. The story his work record narrates begins in

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1891, in the vanishing decade of Spain’s colonization of the Philippines. A 34-year-old Manchego disembarked in the port of Manila. He was employed in Spain’s colonial bureaucracy and was to take up his first post as warehouse official in Tayabas in Luzon. In January 1893, the governor-general posted him as comptroller in Bataan province before sending him to remote Jolo in Sulu months later. All this time he was with the Spanish military cavalry. In 1894, he moved to Cagayan de Misamis in Mindanao to be an officer of the administracion de hacienda publica (internal revenue). My grandfather José That young man called José Gabriel Montalván Bello was my grandfather, born in 1857 in the town of Belmonte, province of Cuenca, today part of

Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha region. José met his future wife in Mindanao. My grandmother Concepcion Corrales y Roa came from a mixed ancestry, having a Spaniard for a father and a Chinese mestiza for a mother; mirroring the migration trends in the southern Philippines of the time. The entire Mindanao back then was one province with the capital in Zamboanga with five politico-military districts. Cagayan de Misamis was the capital of the Segundo Distrito and here my grandfather began his family of five children. The

eldest was Jesus José Inocentes, born in 1896 followed by Purificacion Vitaliana. But on the couple’s third pregnancy, the family decided to give birth in Spain. To travel that distant stretch of geography during those times, one had to take an excruciatingly slow boat via the Suez Canal. There the third child Maria Consuelo Ramona was born in 1899. The family eventually returned to Mindanao where my father José Manuel was born in 1903. The youngest Antonio Julian was born in 1906. In 1929, My grandfather died at 72. My grandfather, nicknamed Pepe, had only one brother in Belmonte, Juan de Dios Montalván Bello. His descendants still live there today and in Written behind the family photo taken in October 1926.


various parts of Spain. But because Juan de Dios had only one child Milagros, the surname had been lost in the town. Milagros had two children: Maria Huerta Montalván and Consuelo Huerta Montalván. Keeping the letters coming and going It was Consuelo who kept the postage mail active between Spain and the Philippines. She would update the Filipino cousins who among the relatives had died, how old their children were and where they had gone to school. After she died, her daughter Maria del Pilar Cuevas Huerta, known affectionately as Piluca to all Spanish and Filipino cousins, kept the letters going. Today at 84, she lives in Valencia, Spain. It was through these slow mail exchanges that not only letters were sent. There were photos with captions and post cards and gifts. Each side of the family was updated how their branch had grown. My first cousin Marie, daughter of my father’s sister Pura, visited Belmonte in the 1960s when she was living in Switzerland. She had kept the links and visited Piluca again in 2002 in Valencia with her son Michael. A keepsake never hindered by miles and time I first visited Belmonte in November of 2016. Belmonte is an enchanting tourist pueblo with a 15th century castle owned by the heirs of the Duchess of Alba and is a declared national historic monument of Spain since 1931. The old church Colegiata de San Bartolome was built in the 5th century and houses an ivory Cristo Crucificado brought from the Philippines by an Augustinian friar who was a native of Belmonte. But more than seeing the enthralling cultural landmarks that I saw in that visit of mine in 2016 was seeing our Spanish cousins in the flesh. I had met Piluca in Valencia before travelling to Belmonte. Her

Left: The author’s grandfather José Gabriel Montalván Bello Right: A 1947 letter to the Philippines from Consuelo Huerta Montalvan

only son Nacho and his Lithuanian wife Vaida hosted dinner for me at their home, with Piluca’s sister Carmen and her husband José . They all made sure the rest of the cousins would welcome me in Belmonte. It felt like we had known each other for decades. Conversations turned to names of Filipino cousins they had known by postal exchanges for years. There was no blur of memories. The affinity was electric. It was raining when I arrived in Belmonte. My cousin Alvaro and his widowed mother Maria José met me at the bus station. They arranged tours for me to the castle, the old church Colegiata, and the Palacio del Infante Juan Manuel. That night, they treated me to dinner at La Muralla to savor Manchego cuisine. Everything was warmly appreciated. But what was more heartwarming was meeting them for the first time. It was as though no distance had separated the Philippines and Spain for a century. Recently, just before Christmas of 2021, I returned with a group of nine, my nephew Bob and his family from California, and my niece Trichi and her family from Toronto. They didn’t expect much other than to meet in person the cousins they had known from social media. But there in the house of Ricardo Cuevas Huerta, he and his wife Luzi spread out a treasure trove of family photos from the Philippines sent to them serially beginning in the 1920s, 1930s, to the 1950s. On each photo was a caption of the letter senders from family in the Philippines. It was the most tangible memento that family connectivity was a

That night, they treated me to dinner at La Muralla to savor Manchego cuisine. Everything was warmly appreciated. But what was more heartwarming was meeting them for the first time. It was as though no distance had separated the Philippines and Spain for a century. keepsake never hindered by miles of oceans between the two far-away continents. Lasting ties Belmonte’s parish priest Don Emilio dela Fuente dela Fuente led us to the pila de bautismo (baptismal font) of the massive medieval town church where our aunt Consuelo was baptized. He then showed us a rich archive of old canonical books and papal bulls from several centuries. He opened the libros de bautismos. There on one brittle page was the name of our grandfather, born and baptized on 19 March 1857. Our family keeps a private Facebook group to sustain the never-ending ties between cousins now scattered elsewhere. We call it Montalván de Belmonte and all cousins on both sides interact regularly. Don Emilio asked to be an honorary member. He is not a blood relative, but his presence was welcomed as a lovely expression of the lasting ties strengthened through more than one century between Spain and the Philippines.

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Tourists walk past the famous wall of Igreja do Carmo church in Porto, Portugal.

READY FOR TAKE-OFF By Tricia V. Morente

We look back at travel during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, how it had changed the global travel landscape and redefined our idea of traveling. “No plan is the best plan” was definitely the theme of 2020. You literally couldn’t go anywhere. While I did miraculously manage to move to Madrid in October, plans of spending long weekends exploring other countries in Europe were immediately shelved upon arrival. There may have been a window of time during the summer when European borders had reopened, but the tsunami of new coronavirus cases saw countries shuttered by autumn. Within Spain, Madrid was the only place that opened its doors to travelers. However, being the so-called epicenter of COVID-19 at that time, I walked streets that were wanting for people, saw only half the faces of those brave enough to venture out, and where was the lively and vibrant Madrid nightlife I had read about before coming to Spain? Government-imposed toque de queda (curfews) practically made them the stuff of fiction. But the pandemic wasn’t all gloom and doom. One thing this catch-meif-you-can dance with the coronavirus revealed to me has been the art of almost-instantly shifting my reaction from disappointment to detachment. As we hadn’t seen each other since we both

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left Manila, my sister Mina and I planned to spend Christmas in Köln, Germany, where she now lives with her husband. With the Omicron variant’s seemingly relentless tour around the world, it caught up with us in Germany: we were overwhelmingly positive the night before

New Year’s Eve. Instead of celebrating New Year´s eve in Spain, everything was canceled, and we ended up reliving our Manila ECQ days in Köln—initially a disappointment, but turned out to be a funny blessing in disguise as there’s nothing like catching up over cups of

warm glühwein and, well, a cocktail of vitamins and paracetamol. The pandemic also reminded me of the pleasure of slowly peeling away the layers of mystery surrounding a city. I relished walking around Madrid. Before coming, I only knew it to be the capital of Spain but soon discovered I now live in a beautiful, multicultural city with no shortage of trendy boutiques, cocktail bars and clubs, art and cultural spaces, theater, jazz clubs, restaurants, and terraces where Madrilenos love gathering over bottles of caña, or glasses of wine or vermouth. Had my plans of gallivanting my way across Europe every weekend come to fruition—yes, I was that misguided and ambitious—I wouldn’t have gotten to know every nook and cranny of the city I now consider home. Travel Roadblocks With the stop-start nature of reopening countries, traveling during the earlier months of the coronavirus was laced with fear and riddled with obstacles. According to Adrian Cruz, Director of European Affairs for the Department of Foreign Affairs, the past years have seen temporary shifts in travel and tourism due to the pandemic. “Less Filipino retirees, or those in the 60-up age bracket, appear willing to travel. Health agencies are also having a greater say in imposing health and safety regulations for incoming and outgoing passengers,” Cruz points out, adding that he observes Filipinos to be more safetyconscious than other travelers. “There may be more interest now for local and foreign tourists to opt for domestic and rural tourism,” he says. “Traveling as a family is already stressful, but more so with an ongoing pandemic. Just the fear that if one of us tests positive, the trip we had been planning for months will have to be canceled,” says Jennie Celdran, a writer, producer and content creator based in Manila. “My family traveled to El Nido very early on in the pandemic, we basically traveled in a bubble. All the tests, insurance,

SOAKING IT IN Our travel sources share their magical moments on the road during these virus-hit times “I can remember that during the lockdown in Spain, tourist arrivals dropped to zero, and there was also a great number of outbound tourists as well. I could not forget the sight of a deserted downtown Madrid, where, as I walked the streets of Gran Via I saw the whole area completely deserted: hotels, restaurants and shops were all closed, except for a few small groceries.” —Adrian Cruz, Director of the Office for European Affairs, DFA “The first time I traveled during the pandemic was for a travel fair for work, and one of the things that really struck out for me was the relationships. The highlight was not really the places but the people I was able to see again—the partners we work with, and even the consumers. It really highlighted the importance of human connection—seeing this really verified for me the value of the travel and tourism industry in terms of making us better people.” —Margarita Valdes, Philippine Tourism Attaché for Central and Eastern Europe. “We conducted a Philippine tourism product presentation in Rome in January 2020...this was the start of the pandemic. And right in our hotel, some Asian tourists tested positive for Covid-19. Luckily, we came out unscathed, and continued to do our business trip. I think life goes on under this new travel norm! We just need to be optimistic, agile, and flexible in doing our leisure or business travel.” —Gerard O. Panga, Philippine Tourism Attaché for Northern and Southern Europe “The valuable lesson I learned is the realization that I really have been privileged to be able to travel throughout this time. My favorite moment was probably hiking in the Picos de Europa. I realized not everyone was able to enjoy the freedom that I had so I was grateful to get that opportunity.” —Jeremy Buhain, climate change consultant “Traveling during the pandemic allowed me to see places with less people. I had magical moments, but I think my favorite was when I finally flew back to my family in California. I got to hug them again, eat all the food I missed, appreciate each other and share love.” —Alistaire Bilas, yoga teacher and travel nurse, specializing in surgical and emergency nursing. “In El Nido, my daughter and I had the Big Lagoon all to ourselves. It’s great that these well-trodden places had time to recover. Another favorite moment: the morning after arriving in New York and walking down the street in early autumn, mask off. It was priceless.” —Jeniffer Celdran, writer, producer and content creator “It was visiting Switzerland and going up to the Grindelwald region. I got to see a lot of beautiful mountains and alpine scenery. I also went to see some of the spots where they shot Crash Landing On You, and after watching the series during the pandemic. I was not expecting to see it as pretty as it was in the series.” —Jerick Perrone, travel blogger

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and quarantine added to the expenses of the trip, and the mask and shield were a major inconvenience. But the best thing by far,” she points out, “was that we were able to enjoy places that would be crawling with people pre-pandemic. In El Nido, my daughter and I had the Big Lagoon all to ourselves. It was great that these well-trodden places had time to recover.” Jerick Parrone, a Filipino expat and travel blogger based in Basel, Switzerland, would often travel twice a month, visiting 10-15 countries each year, mainly to see new countries or hang out with friends. “It took baby steps before I felt it was safe to travel again. It took a while for me to even leave my apartment; the journey to the supermarket felt like a long-haul trip,” admits Parrone, who felt more at ease when cases lowered in the summer of 2020. “I went with friends on a road trip to France and Switzerland, countries that were a few hours from Belgium where I was based then. I also traveled a lot within Belgium, to places I never thought I would visit—old war battlefields, abandoned castles and breweries, and plenty of outdoor areas. It was actually nice to see more of the country I called home,” he says. Your Local For Madrid-based climate change consultant Jeremy Buhain, the pandemic has revealed how much can be seen and done close to home. Having recently moved to the Spanish capital in 2019, right before the pandemic, he felt it was a good opportunity to keep his travels local as international travel was widely discouraged. “The pandemic redefined the way I traveled. I’ve always heard of these experiences where people get to work on a farm in exchange for board and lodging. Despite having lived mostly in urban areas, I was always interested in working in nature, so I used the website Workaway to look for these experiences,”

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shares Buhain, who ended up spending two weeks working on a farm in Flix, Tarragona, and another three weeks in Villaviciosa in the Asturias region where he assisted with a house construction project. The 30-year-old also squeezed in a hiking trip in the Picos de Europa region. “I’ve always been an avid hiker, and being in an open space away from people, I felt that would minimize my exposure to the virus. I did take the opportunity to visit some nearby cities like Tarragona and Santander, but most of the six weeks I spent traveling were in the farms.” The pandemic likewise saw Alistaire Bilas, then a New York-based surgical and emergency nurse, keeping his travels domestic by exploring the verdant national parks of the U.S.—Joshua Tree, Sequoia, and Pinnacles national parks— and visiting his family in California. “I vacationed in Hawaii shortly after. I’d say I not only traveled quite a lot during the pandemic, but also more spontaneously,” shares Bilas. For him, as for many, the pandemic presented an opportunity to make some pretty big changes. “I decided to quit my staff job in early 2021,” he shares. “I was recently in Greece where I got certified as a yoga instructor, eventually making my way to Lebanon, Istanbul, Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon.” Last April 20 to 22, the World Travel Tourism Council (WTTC) held its global summit in Manila. Margarita R. Valdes, Philippine tourism attaché for Central and Eastern Europe, relates that while travel and tourism delegates are optimistic that global tourism would start to recover within 2023-24, “The CEO of WTTC said recovery is already on the way for the Philippines. We’ve had a very positive development since we opened to foreign tourists in February this year. In a span of three months, from February to May, we’ve received close to half a million foreign nationals in the country,” she shares. Tourism’s contribution to total GDP is likewise on the upswing, from 4.8%

Clockwise from left: Traveling with face masks on. Praia S Pedo Da Maceda beach in Portugal is not as busy as usual. The view of Alhambra Palace in Granada.

DESTINATION in 2020 to 10.4% in 2021. Valdes points out that while this may not be as high as the pre-pandemic 22.5% contribution of tourism to GDP, “this is already very good considering these were all domestic tourism activities. A positive thing about domestic tourism is that we were also able to practice safety protocols and address all changes that are relevant to Covid; by the time the foreign nationals arrive, we’re ready.” The Bucket List is Back At the foot of Montjuic Mountain in Barcelona, partners Emil Maravillas and Jennelyn Valenzuela are savoring the peace and quiet at BCN Montjuic Tourist Point. Since the pandemic, the company—which began as an inbound travel company catering to international tourists—had mostly organized weekend outdoor tours around Cataluña, with weekdays spent tinkering with in-house matters. Their pace of work, however, is steadily changing as more foreign travelers are increasingly making their way back to sunny Spain. “We’re experiencing happy problems in that, on the one hand we’ve expanded our business operations to include domestic travel, but we’re also getting busier now that our international clients are coming back. We’ve been having more inquiries in the past few weeks,” relates Maravillas. It’s a trend that is building steam everywhere: if 2021 was the year of Domestic Travel, a Travel Trends Report by Expedia predicts 2022 is the Year of the GOAT (Greatest of All Trips). The research polled 12,000 travelers across 12 countries and found that 65% of respondents are planning to “go big” on their next trip. Travel tech company Amadeus likewise affirms it is seeing a substantial increase in searches for travel to epic destinations and experiences, from Tanzania where travelers can see the Big Five in the wild, to Lima and Cusco in Peru, cities close to world wonder Machu Picchu; and even to the final frontier itself, Antarctica. After being forced to take a multi-year hiatus due to Covid, the excitement people feel about travel is palpable. “In 2022,” predicts Daniel Batchelor, Amadeus VP for Global Corporate Communications and Social Responsibility, “many will finally book those meaningful, once-in-a-lifetime trips.” Deeper Impact A silver lining of the pandemic is that travelers themselves are now pushing for sustainability. “Sustainability has become a topic that’s increasingly important and

It’s a trend that is building steam everywhere: if 2021 was the year of Domestic Travel, a Travel Trends Report by Expedia predicts 2022 is the Year of the GOAT (Greatest of All Trips). The research polled 12,000 travelers across 12 countries and found that 65% of respondents are planning to “go big” on their next trip.

Back to nature in Mallorca, Spain.

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relevant in Europe, and this has also been growing in the Philippines. Last year, AirBnB did a survey and found that a majority percentage of Filipinos are now looking for sustainable options,” shares Valdes. Even before the pandemic, points out Gerard O. Panga, Philippine tourism attaché to Northern and Southern Europe, sustainability has always been a core tourism program of the DOT. “We saw this in Boracay when over-tourism had a severe impact on the environment. The Philippine government closed it to tourists for six months and it was rehabilitated. When it opened, stricter environmental protection measures and environment regeneration programs were implemented, catering to increasing demand among travelers who now give more value to responsible tourism, community involvement, and sustainable development,” he states. Of course, sustainability isn’t necessarily confined only to choices that have good ecological and environmental impacts. “People are not only rediscovering the joys of travel for pleasure or self-fulfillment, but there is also that desire to use the tourism industry as a means to contribute to the development of a community in the country they visit,” says Valdes. More immersive travel experiences are gaining traction. Lockdown measures have emphasized the importance of travel not only in terms of seeing new places, but also of the importance of human connection. Bilas shares that he’s had some pretty magical moments during his travels, especially valuing the time and space the pandemic allowed for introspection. “I think people will travel more in the next three years because they’re realizing that travel is an opportunity for people to see how we are all really connected. Travel inspires us to lead more mindful and responsible lives as citizens of the world, and solutions to society’s problems will arise out of this new understanding. We will learn to treat ourselves, our families, and the world and its people better.” Valdes concurs. “I’ve always thought about travel as a way to improve humanity. With the pandemic, people— myself included—realized how special it is to be able to step out of the usual place and discover how other people live. You see the difference in perspectives, practices, and even the way they go about with their daily lives. You get to appreciate people and cultures outside of yourself, and this has never been more important today.”

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Face masks were required in many places including the Segovia Castle in Spain.

Banderitas adorn this quaint street in Porto, Portugal.

“I’ve always thought about travel as a way to improve humanity. With the pandemic, people—myself included—realized how special it is to be able to step out of the usual place and discover how other people live. You see the difference in perspectives, practices, and even the way they go about with their daily lives. You get to appreciate people and cultures outside of yourself, and this has never been more important today.”



Learning new skills According to several studies, learning new skills is beneficial to our brain. When we take some effort to learn something new – say playing a musical instrument or learning a new language, new pathways and connections are created in our brain, making our brain sharper. With this in mind, I have started exploring photography, learning from the plethora of online photography courses along the way. Armed with my newly purchased DSLR camera, I began traveling throughout the Netherlands and photographed the places and landmarks on my list. Although traveling alone, I did not feel lonely. In fact, being alone while exploring new places can be meditative. I felt a

Clockwise from left: A windmill at the boulevard in Zeeland. The Koppelpoort in Amesfoort, Utrecht. Castle Heeswijk Dinther in North Brabant. Old Dutch houses in Groningen.

connection with the craft I was trying to grasp and the places I was trying to photograph. In addition to my new-found skill, my little project allowed me to have enough content for my Instagram. It also inspired me to write. Giving up the project was not an easy. But it was more time consuming and expensive than I had anticipated. And to be honest, the images I’ve produced are rather disappointing. They lack depth and refinement. Taking photos is one thing but producing an image that captures your viewer’s attention is another level. Photography is far more challenging than I initially thought. The upside of the project is that I was able to visit places in the Netherlands that I would otherwise have not seen. My project gave me the push that I needed to get out of my comfort zone and to get to know more of the country I now call home. I often associate vacation with traveling to other countries. Sometimes, it even feels compulsory: “I must spend my vacation outside the

Netherlands, otherwise my holiday is wasted”. Vacation often means going to another country. And it’s not just me. I have noticed that, for most people I’ve met, including members of the Filipino community, they chose holiday destinations outside the Netherlands. Often, when people ask me what my plans are for my holidays, I feel that what they are ultimately asking is: ‘to which country are you visiting on your holiday?’ There is nothing wrong with traveling abroad, as long as our time and finances allow it. Discovering distant places and experiencing other cultures can broaden our horizons. But for me, it is equally

important to explore your backyard, and in my case the Netherlands. There are stunning cities and interesting places within her boundaries that are certainly worth visiting. In fact 7,3 million tourists visited the country in 2020. Although smaller than her neighbors, the Netherlands has diverse scenery, cityscapes, landmarks, and monuments. During my failed photo project, I was able to explore my adoptive country through the lens of a tourist.

By Raymundo Unico

In the winter of 2018, inspired by stunning photos I came across on social media, I decided to embark on a photo project which took place throughout 2019. My idea was to explore The Netherlands, and photograph its cities, spaces, and landmarks. Despite living here for almost twenty years, I hadn’t got the chance yet to discover its hidden gems. My plan was to visit one Dutch province each month since the Netherlands consists of twelve provinces. In January I’d begin with North Brabant – the province in which I live – and by December, I would have already completed my project. But I soon realized how ambitious the project was. I only managed to do 7 out of 12 provinces, namely, Friesland, Groningen, Utrecht, Gelderland, Zeeland, Noord Brabant, and Limburg.

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From the scoops of ice cream whipped out of the rolling carts ubiquitous to the Philippines’ street food scene, the Filipino sorbetes has gone a long way. Their flavors are not only getting more exciting, but they are also becoming a vehicle to showcase Filipino eating culture and tradition to ice-cream lovers worldwide.

And what better way to welcome the summer than a big scoop of Pinoy-flavored ice cream. So here are some of the best Filipino artisanal ice cream brands in Europe, United States, Canada and Australia that we are able to fit in this page. We promise that next time, this list will be longer.


“Dirty ice cream” is the slang for the typical Pinoy sorbetes sold in kariton (ice cream karts). But dirty ice cream is anything but. In fact it is made fresh every day with local ingredients like carabao (water buffalo) milk, and seasonal fruits like mango, jackfruit, or banana. DRTY ice cream pays homage to the origins of Pinoy sorbetes, bringing with it Filipino culture and tradition. Their flavors, Salted Coconut Caramel, Mango Float, Ube Halaya, and Cheddar Crunch also remained loyal to the nostalgic taste of dirty ice cream. Made in Edmonton, Canada Sold in Seafood City, small shops and pop-up events


Exciting flavors like Siling Labuyo, Sapin-sapin, Durian, Salted Eggs, Ice Scrambol and Fruit Salad, Sorbetes ni Manong Jelle is not afraid to experiment, and soon became a hit in Belgium. These small-batch artisanal ice cream is made in Sint Niklas (between Antwerp and Ghent) and delivered personally to those near enough to avail them. But who is Manong Jelle? He is Belgian pastry chef Jellie Bories, the better half and business partner of Filipina expat Kamille Rodriguez. Among the very first artisanal Filipino ice cream Made in Belgium brands in the Netherlands, Luneta started in 2015 in Special delivery in Belgium & the the home of Rhea Topacio and Dennis Rogacion. They Netherlands quickly became popular in neighboring countries like


By Dheza Aguillar

Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg and last year, they launched their newest brand Manong Sorbetes. Made in the Netherlands Distributed by Beagley Copperman to Filipino stores in Europe

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With three branches in London, Mamasons Dirty ice cream serves not only home-made ice cream but a scoop of Filipino flavors, culture and traditions wrapped in great love like that of a mother’s. Made in London. Branches in Kentish Town, Chinatown and Westfield London



Yelo’d, participial adjective for the Filipino word Yelo (ice) also serves Filipino fusion ice cream in Edmonton. But don’t let fusion scare you. Owners Jason and Ailynn Wong will make sure that you will still get the familiar Pinoy tastes like jackfruit, ube (purple yam), and mango, just with a little twist. A touch of siling labuyo or cinnamon churros, for example. At their bakery in 82 Avenue, they also serve mouth-watering cakes and cookies with flavours like bibingka, champorado and Barako coffee. They also have an ice cream truck called Sosyal Scoops. Made in Edmonton, Canada Branch in 10150A 82 Avenue / ice cream truck locations


From the same owners of Pop Pie Co. pie shop in San Diego, California, Stella Jean’s is Chef Gan Suebsarakham and husband Steven Torress’ newest venture, located just beside each other. Clients can sample their fixed flavors like Ube Pandesal and Mango Sticky Rice ice cream or try new flavors like Honey Jasmine Sable, all home-made and made with premium ingredients. They are also available for pick and deliveries. Made in San Diego, California Branches in University Heights and Point Loma, San Diego and Newport Beach, Costa Mesa


In Sydney chef Michelin Galang-Dapo started a craft creamery that produces small-batch of super premium ice cream that aims to represent and elevate Asian flavors to the Australian market. Manila St. prides itself with a small selection of Super Premium ice cream (Ube Halaya, Cheese Milk, Tablea Dark Chocolate, hite Chocolate, Salted Egg De Leche) that contains 77% premium ingredients and only 23% air versus Economy quality with 50% ingredients and 50% air, packing great flavors and not scrimping on quality. Made in Sydney, Australia Sold in Filipino/Asian stores and restaurants in Australia

ARAW LONDON Artisanal ice cream that takes you to places. In addition to familiar Filipino flavors like Ube Halaya and Puto Bumbong, Araw also includes Asian flavors like Masala Chai Crunch, Roasted Banana with Tahini, and Pandan Onde Onde. Made in London Sold online and delivery throughout UK


Taho ice cream anyone? Or gelato with caramelized waffles topped with crispy chicken skin? Champorado ice cream? Kariton Sorbete’s innovative and daring flavors are a concoction of pastry chef Minh Duong and Filipino chef John Rivera, two friends who wanted to bring nostalgic gelato flavors to Filipinos during the Covid-19 lockdown in Melbourne. It became a hit when the city opened up, and according to John’s interview with Broadsheet, 60% of their clientele are non-Filipinos. But if you are not adventurous, you can also get other classic Filipino flavors, all tested and approved by John’s Pinoy dad. Made in Melbourne Australia Branch in Leeds St, Footscray

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Servings: 12 | Total time: 3 hrs

Buko Pandan Salad Ingredients •

2 bars green Agar Agar

1 bottle Buenas Nata de Coco

3 cups Coconaut coconut juice

2 cans Nestlé table cream

4 tsp Pantai Pandan Leaves Extract

1 can Nestlé sweetened condensed milk

1 sachet Buenas Shredded Coconut

12 glasses to serve

Instructions 1. Soak the agar agar in Coconaut coconut juice for about 30min. in a pan (without heat!). 2. After soaking, put the heat to medium and let the Buenas Agar Agar melt while stirring regularly. 3. While stirring, add sugar and let it dissolve. Cook until the Buenas Agar Agar is completely dissolved, which should be about 10-15min. 4. Add 2 teaspoons of Pantai Pandan Leaves Extract and stir again. 5. Remove from heat and carefully pour into a tray. Allow to cool until gulaman is set and hardened. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes. 6. In a large bowl, combine gulaman, Buenas young shredded coconut, Buenas nata de coco, Nestlé table cream, and Nestlé condensed milk. 7. Add about 2 to 3 teaspoons Pantai Pandan Leaves Extract and stir to distribute flavor and color. Chill for about 1 to 2 hours. Serve cold. Shopping list

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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#16more information. 2022 | THE FILIPINO 59

GIVING BACK Mary Grace and partner Ana, members of the Filipino LGBT Europe at the Amsterdam Canal Pride celebration.


By Berger Capati

By Watsamon June-Tri-yasakda


arried in Europe yet single in the Philippines. Married with kids in Europe yet still single in the Philippines. Captain Marvel in Europe but still Captain Barbell in the Philippines. Baklang kasal sa bakla. Though this may sound like a wonderful pretext to lead a Hollywood-style film about a double life for some, it poses a serious problem for our married homosexual kababayans like entrepreneur Chris Sta Brigida, founder of Filipino LGBT Europe. Waiting for the word to become flesh. Filipino LGBT Europe ignited a spark somewhere at some time. “The Equality Bill in the Philippines has already been submitted for almost twenty years now but has never materialized. It was passed in Congress but still, never materialized.” He tells me. While most of these advances in society have been happening in the last twenty years in some EU countries, the union between two people of the same gender is still not recognized back home.

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I roll my eyes and think, “Oh, grow up, Pilipinas. It is time to evolve.” In March 2017, Chris heard the news of President Rodrigo Duterte uttering a compromising statement in *favor of same-sex marriage. Time in a very seriously religious Roman Catholic country like the Philippines froze. That was when it became personal for him. “It is the right time,’’ shares Chris. Verbalizing such an idea from the president of the Philippines became a promise, a possibility. But the word is yet to become flesh. It is the right time to do something, something concrete. But in order to be taken seriously, Chris decided to pull in his LGBT contacts in Europe and form an organization, a legally recognized entity with a purpose. Visibility Before I left for Spain, almost sixteen years ago, when someone mentions the word bakla, very, very few images would come to mind then: clown, hairdresser, sex-starved person or, a joke. There was one bakla at that time that gave me hope and it was Boy Abunda. I told Chris that Boy Abunda started breaking the image Filipino LGBT Europe, through founder Chris Sta Brigida partnered with Red Cross to help kababayans in need during the Covid-19 pandemic.


at that time of what a bakla was: not a clown, but a smart man, informed, eloquent and never a joke. He was a respected public television personality. Bakla can mean a lot more. It feels sad that when having to declare one’s homosexuality, there is still a certain prerequisite to pre-compensate the vilified truth about one’s sexual orientation. “I have made something of myself, now I can tell my parents that I am gay.” It softens the blow. “Mom, dad, I am now a CEO in the office. But I have to tell you that I am gay.” “Our son is bakla, oh, but that’s okay, he received a prestigious scholarship abroad and he is doing so well.” Bakla is a whole lot of things. Bakla is represented in the Filipino lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender (LGBT) Europe, the organization that Chris founded. And it is serious about the LGBTQ+ business. Filipino LGBT Europe is erasing that feeling of having to soften that blow to our kababayans. Be seen. Be heard. Be looked at. Be recognized. Full stop. No follow up conditioning, no justifications. I see in Chris’ eyes “News flash! It’s 2022, yes, some people are still gay. Get over it!” We are bakla but talking to you doesn’t mean that we want

to get you in bed with us. We can like you, but not always in that context. We are bakla but please know that this is just ONE OF MANY descriptions of ourselves. Filipino LGBT Europe is that: un abanico of what Pinoy baklas, tibos, trans, etc. are, doing more than just showmanship. They make noise that echoes back home: SOGIE Equality Bill, Marriage Equality, Pride in Manila, HIV awareness. The fight in the Philippines needs our support. Filipinos back home need to start seeing that there is a whole spectrum of what the LGBT community looks like. LGBT isn’t automatically transgender as it is commonly mistaken. Information is power and Filipino LGBT Europe is providing that kind of information. Helping without discriminating

During the pandemic, Filipino LGBT Europe helped more than a thousand Filipinos. It was a medium of help from bigger organizations such as the Red Cross. It has received over six hundred thousand euros worth of aid to the Filipino community in Amsterdam where Chris currently resides. This needs to be highlighted because there were cities back home that didn’t recognize LGBT families. Chris says, “When we help, we should not discriminate because of other people’s gender.” He became particularly active with the distribution of these kinds of aid because he wanted to protect the identities of LBGT Filipinos. “I would automatically out these gays, lesbians and trans because they were on my list of people who needed assistance from Filipino LGBT Europe.” It

From left to right: The 2022 Board members of Filipino LGBT Europe Kris Lee, Aris Ibarondo, Chei Billedo, Chris Sta Brigida and Ryan Aquino.

was a clear hands-on task for Chris. It is just the beginning I am almost at the end of this article but I still feel that I am leaving a lot of important things out. Being a Filipino expat and leading a privileged life, I sometimes wonder if there is something else that I could do or should I just completely renounce life back home, after all my life is already here, not there. Being a gay Filipino expat and leading a doubly privileged life, I feel very lucky that I get to be who I am. Then I met Pinoys in Barcelona who want to do something for the LGBT kababayans in the community here. “Let’s do something for help them come out.”, one of them told me. My initial response was, “Let’s not provide a solution where there wasn’t a problem in the first place.” In the words of Chris, “The only coming out that one needs is having to come out of one’s self.” Now I feel like I haven’t done squat for anyone. Having a conversation with someone like Chris, I realise that there are many ways to contribute to the evolution of the Filipino society despite the distance. In one of my afternoon lovely conversations over halo-halo with Macrina Alcedo, one of the Filipino pioneers in Barcelona, she told me, “Berjer, your way of contributing is through your art.” And I say to that, Chris’ way of contributing is an impressive network of Pinoy baklas, tibos and trans all over Europe. “They need us back home. We are (still) part of the development of this country,” says Chris.

(*President Duterte would recant this campaign promise and claimed instead that being gay is a disease that he was able to cure himself of. In 2020, his then press secretary Harry Roque said that Duterte supports gender equality but opposses same-sex marriage. -Ed )

Members of the Filipino LGBT Europe participate in the Amsterdam Canal Pride celebration.

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