Thursday, March 9, 2017


 by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
March 9, 2017 issue

Picture-pretty. Picture-laden. That’s all. Back in the 90s, our tourism commercials had that kind of formula. The usual mandatory slogan was also all over, as if mentioning it at the end shot was not enough. It was always a menu of the usual, like going to a bookstore’s postcard section and you see the same pictures over and over again. You leaf through the pages of a tourism book or a magazine for expats, and you see the same batch.

You pick up a two-fold leaflet in the airport and you immediately recognize them. You look around you and you see big bold lighted billboards of the same. Oh, they are also on the inflight magazine’s cover.

What happened to the rest? We’re supposed to have seven thousand six hundred forty-one islands, to be exact, some of them more spectacular and jawdropping. Why are they not being promoted?

On January 25, 2017, the much-awaited Department of Tourism tv commercial had its soft launch, aired without much fanfare. It was coming from the heels of an era where tourism advertising in the region was being eagerly watched and global advertising award shows have elevated it as a mainstream category.

Tourism advertising in the Philippines has leapfrogged, from a probono exercise to a legit business in the last seven years, the acquisition of which, gives the winning ad agency some kind of a prestige and a halo of being important, far from the age of yore when it could be had without having to pitch.

People were also itching to see what a less award-conscious agency would come up with. Would it fall short of the standard that has been set like those on the Cannes reel? Would it raise the ante and escort its predecessor to the archives of the 90s?

When “Anak” broke on traditional and social media, Filipino viewers, as well as global audiences of the 2016 Miss Universe Beauty Pageant saw something different. Not the usual fare but something that touches on one of the most important components of Filipino society. Family.

The ad was simple, not presumptuous and told a heartwarming story why “it’s more fun in the Philippines”. Finally, the campaign was strategically tighter and did not just resort to word pun to escape scrutiny. It presented a universal truth about Filipinos and that made it doubly endearing.

The commercial shows foreign traveler Jack Ellis being offered a local food by a Filipina mother who addresses him as her own "Anak” (child). Curious, he nonchalantly asks his tourist guide the meaning of the word. He looks back with a sense of wonder. The ad got good reviews on social media and even top advertising creative directors publicly announced their positive sentiments for the spot.

"Anak" is said to be part of a series of video campaigns that will be shown locally and internationally. At a press briefing before production of the material began, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said that while they stuck with the current "It's More Fun in the Philippines" slogan, they deemed it more appropriate to focus on the traits of the Filipino people, as suggested by United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary-General Taleb Rifai.

Rifai said, the slogan should answer and define “why it's more fun in the country” and stressed that most countries have already beaches, malls and restaurants. But being Filipinos make you different, you are Filipinos”. There lies the unique selling proposition.

Previously, DOT Undersecretary Kat de Castro also said the new campaign would be more specific in terms of the destinations and activities tourists can do in the country.

The Advertising Agency

Having said that, McCann WorldGroup Philippines, once famous for its “Truth Well Told” dictum, rolled up its sleeves and buckled down to work.

The agency recently rebranded to be more relevant to the industry’s climate change. On the wall of its posh Bonifacio Global City office, boldly stands its raison d’etre: “Transforming Brands and Growing Businesses”, as if trying to say that it is putting sense back to the ad industry.

The brief given to the agency was clear. Teo had given McCann a single-minded task: Focus on people to give answer and meaning to the slogan and make the beauty of the place as just a backdrop.

“The agency embraced it, it also confirmed our research that it is the people that tourists remember when they travel abroad, including their warmth, hospitality and generosity,” Sydney Samodio, McCann Executive Creative Director opens during the interview.

How well did the agency put its creativity principle into use? “We utilized our global strategic and communication plan. We asked: “What’s the best way to tell the story?” We worked as a lens to come up with something like this, a perfect case study zeroing on a general truth,” McCann Managing Partner Gerald Gonzalez says matter-of-factly.
To squeeze more truth and leave no stone unturned, the agency treated the Filipino as “a client from Day One,” a brilliant probing statement from Samodio. The agency gathered as much culturally rich insights as it could, profusely inspired and very vocal about working with a government account that it described as refreshing, and its people, pleasant, supportive, and appreciative.

How does it feel to have done an ad for the country, personally, and on a larger perspective? Gonzalez says is proud to have worked on the new DOT campaign. “When I was tapped to do this, I thought to myself that this maybe the only time in my career that I would be able to directly contribute to the country. Personally, it is rewarding to see that people are reacting positively, to what we’ve created and have featured unique places that only Philippines can offer. I hope that tourism becomes a strong pillar of our economy moving forward,” he says.

He mentions, however, that the logistics of tourism are some of the major challenges our tourism industry is facing. “Transportation and accommodations for travellers, especially in remote areas, the infrastructure that would allow easier access and stay would be our biggest opportunities to further boost tourism in the country,” he says.

The agency worked on an extremely tight timetable. It was in the middle of 2016 Christmas break, made tougher by a strong typhoon that visited the production locale in far Mindanao.

But at the end of trying circumstances, the result was a material truthfully and beautifully told, set in a place many people call an enchanted river in Hinatuan, Surigao province on the southeastern board of the Philippines.

The Director

There was a lot of pressure for Franco Marinelli, the Australian film director (of Italian descent), to deliver a wonderful ad. To do that, he stuck to the brief and executed the film intuitively.

Marinelli’s biggest challenge was the weather. “There was a big typhoon when we arrived in the location area. We barely checked the location but found ourselves retreating back to Manila to avoid it,” he recalls.

When Marinelli and everyone else returned, it again rained every day of the shoot except for the last day. In one of the finished scenes (traveler and mother) there were actual raindrops in the finished shots they had to remove them during post-editing.

Marinelli is all praises in working with the Filipino crew. He particularly mentions Aaron Farrugia, a half-Filipino, half-Australian cinematographer who gave life to his masterpiece. Although born in Australia, Aaron’s mother is a Filipina who was originally from Baguio.

“It was also nice working again with Ross Misa of Abracadabra after a long break, a guy who always supported my ideas 100%,” he says.

Marinelli worked with several foreign government tourism projects and local commercials prior to his DOT assignment. He gushes at the support given to him by DOT, McCann and the production staff, describing them as world-class.

“I created a very thorough shooting board that covered many facets of the story. I kind of saw it as a travel and adventure story, with an emotional twist,” he says. He is thankful for having a supportive McCann team for his creative development of the story.

“The emotion essence was already very clearly evident in the agency’s script and the storyboard was very clearly thought out,” he says. The film started with refreshing visuals of adventure and ended with an emotional connection between a young foreigner and the Filipino mom.

He relates his shooting experience as unforgettable, waxing nostalgia about the ‘enchanting’ river.“ “The river itself is really enchanted. It exudes its own natural positive energy that seems to come directly from the bowels of the earth. It’s hard to explain but it seems to be a very feminine type of energy. I always felt as though the river was allowing us to show its most beautiful faces. It’s amazing and a very special place,” he fondly explains.

Before he flew to Manila, Marinelli made “City of Inspiration”, a tourism spot for Shanghai city government. The Information Office of Shanghai was his client, the film is showcased on its website at He also recently made a new tourism film for Dalat City, Vietnam, which will be released shortly and a series of 6 commercials for Perth, Western Australia.

What are his thoughts on the country’s film production capabilities?

Marinelli says that after shooting for many years in the Philippines, he believes that it is extremely high because it has an established local film industry, with very experienced production staff and top of the line equipment and facilities.

“The fact that I have shot so many successful foreign productions in the Philippines is testament to this. I plan to shoot more in the future,” he says with deep conviction.

With a Masters Degree in fine arts, majoring in painting and photography, Franco Marinelli achieved considerable recognition as a painter who had mounted a number of stand-alone exhibitions. He then decided to further utilize his artistic talents by working as a film director.

In 1992, he began directing music videos before focusing on commercials. Since then, Marinelli has directed hundreds of commercials in almost every region of the world.

"My commercial directing style has evolved from my background as an artist. There is a strong link between my painting style and directing style. Hence, I approach a commercial production with the same discipline as I would on an oil painting," he says.

Despite his roots in traditional art forms, Marinelli is not averse to advances in digital post-production. In fact, he believes that technology has allowed his work to be more 'painterly'. He is highly experienced in digital visual effects and computer animation.

Marinelli started doing commercials by accident. After graduating from a Sydney University Art School, he opened a café in the city to make ends meet.

One of his customers was a cinematographer and knowing he could draw, asked his help to do a storyboard project. A few months later, he was chatting with a café supplier and mentioned about it. He told him he needed to shoot a commercial for one of his wine brands and asked if he could help.

With a small budget and working with the same cinematographer and a producer friend, they shot the film. When they presented it, the client was so amazed by the result he had tears in his eyes. They all made a 50% profit on the project and the rest is history.

A great commercial for Marinelli is one with a very simple idea, executed in an amazing way. A good example for him is the old British Airways commercial “Face” done by Saatchi & Saatchi in 1989.

What does he think about Filipino creativity in the ad industry? “There is a new generation with fresh approaches and philosophies. They seem to be more independent and locally focused in their thinking – which is good to see, both in Film and Advertising disciplines,” he says.

The Production House

Because of Marinelli's film style and the ad was to be shot in Mindanao, Abracadabra went into preparation way ahead to avoid logistical nightmares.

The production house also tapped “Actors Prime”, a unit within its vast technical capabilities with expertise on remote, far-flung communities. The outfit drew simultaneous, parallel approach to the normal preparation being done by the ad agency at the onset.

For one, James Gaines, the American guy who was part of Francis Ford Coppola’s shooting crew when “Apocalypse Now” was shot in the Philippines years ago, made it a lot easier.

“This is where you separate the men from the boys,” Gaines says. He picked three battle-tested Pinoys whom he had worked on foreign productions in the Philippines in the past.

They were award-winning cinematographer Jun Periera, seasoned Art Director Andy Andico (he last worked on Hollywood’s “Borne Legacy”) and Production Manager Manix Leonardo, three musketeers whom he had a reunion of sort in doing this commercial.

A couple of years ago, Gaines worked with Andico for a Japanese film in Subic. Midway into the production, a typhoon struck and the whole production staff, including the Japanese director, was marooned in the jungle. But he said to himself: “We can do this realizing that making a film is like doing a long form versus short one or like night and day.”

So when typhoon lashed through Surigao during the DOT shoot, the case was nothing new for Gaines.

“Inspite of bad weather, the fear of a rebel ambush along the highway that we traversed everyday, the Director’s boat that also served as our camera boat, (that almost sank, and God forbid, if it did, I am sure all the women would grieve, not for Marinelli, but for Faruggia, our good-looking cinematographer who could give any actor a run for his money). I could just imagine the agency and our female staff if the banca did sink, their reaction would be worse than seeing Titanic sink with Leonardo de Carpio”, Gaines laughingly reminisces.

Abracadabra is a 10-year old Filipino production house, which debuted with an Anchor Beer tv commercial shot in China, in collaboration with ad agency Leo Burnett Guangzhou. It won gold awards from the local industry’s Oscars: Ad Congress, Kidlat Awards and in regional and international award shows like Spike Asia, Cannes, and One Show. It even made a full-length movie entry for Sundance Film Festival.

"We evolve with the times and equip Abracadabra with up-to-the-minute equipment to be competitive in the digital landscape. From content concepts to storyboard production to pre-production to the finished material, we put our years of experience and expertise on each of them,” Ross Misa, founding chairman and CEO proudly says.

Tourism slogans through the years

The Philippine Department of Tourism was created by then President Ferdinand Marcos in 1973, splitting the Department of Trade and Tourism into separate departments. Along side the new department were the Philippine Tourism Authority and Philippine Convention Bureau.

There are no recorded official advertising campaign slogans from that period but unofficially, the country referred to it as “Pearl of the Orient.” Under Secretary Gordon in 2003, DOT initiated one of its most successful tourism promotion projects, Visit Philippines 2003.

It then made a nationwide effort to launch “Fiesta Islands Philippines” and “Wow, Philippines”. As its neighboring Asean countries were experiencing unprecedented tourism boom, the Philippines launched “Pilipinas Kay Ganda,” in 2010, a short-lived catchphrase that received huge criticisms from the public for its uncanny similarities to Poland’s tourism logo and slogan. So controversial it was, it led to the resignation of then DOT Secretary Alberto Lim,

The “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” plagiarism brouhaha bordered on the following issues: The fonts of Polska and “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” were similar. Both slogans have their letter “L” stylized into trees. The only difference was the latter’s letter "L" was stylized into a coconut tree as against the former’s "L" which was stylized into generic tree.
Lim acknowledged that the Philippine slogan had some similarities with the Polska logo but commented that it was more colorful.

After a much-publicized pitch among high-profile Philippine ad agencies, a new slogan was launched: “It’s More Fun In The Philippines”, a tagline that also was not spared of copycatting issues. Netizens flooded social media arguing that it was a rip off of “It’s More Fun In Switzerland”.

DOT was preparing to say goodbye to “It’s More Fun In The Philippines” slogan until it had a change of heart towards the last quarter of 2016.

Meanwhile, DOT Secretary Teo recently reactivated the tourism council this week to spur team effort among sectoral stakeholders in the tourism industry.

“It is imperative that we collaborate as a team of stakeholders in the implementation of the NTDP and realize the government’s vision of Ambisyon Natin 2040 for the benefit of all sectors, at the same time, deliver the best tourism packages to the world market,” Teo said.

The tourism chief said the TCC, which had not convened in the last two years, is mandated by the Tourism Act of 2009 to help set the direction for the country’s tourism program and address urgent issues confronting the country’s tourism industry.

Government agencies lauded the DOT for succinctly capturing the social development agenda of the President in the NTDP. However, issues and concerns such as high hotel rates, insufficient infrastructure, poor access roads, lack of direct flights to tourist destinations, and adverse travel advisories over security threats were also raised during the TCC forum.

Traffic congestion, destruction of historical sites, massive number of street dwellers and “colorum” tour guides and taxi services were also mentioned in the open forum.

“We cannot sweep these issues under the rug. It is the mandate of the Tourism Coordinating Council to address such concerns,” Teo stressed.

A long-time travel professional herself, Secretary Teo also brought up the issue on pricing of travel packages, which has been a stumbling block in the Philippines’ global tourism competitiveness.

She went on to say, “Our neighboring countries in Southeast Asia and even Japan, sell reasonably priced packages, especially after a natural calamity or political upheaval so foreign travelers would still be enticed to visit after a crisis.”

Leni Fabul of the Philippine Hotel Owners Association (PHOA) added, “Due to the supply-demand factor we have to keep our room rates high and allow us to keep up with high cost of energy here.”  Fabul also said there is also the need to encourage more hotel investors to correct the room gap of about 75,000 more rooms for the next five years.

Friday, February 17, 2017


Business Mirror
February 18, 2017 issue

By Roger Pe

You may call it a hotel with a museum. Or a museum that looks like a hotel. But either that, you must come up to Baguio, not because of Pinagbenga or its cool weather but for Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Fernando Amorsolo, Vicente Manansala, Hernando Ocampo, Carlos “Botong” Francisco and more.

Sierra Pines is Baguio’s pride. Perhaps, it is the best thing that ever happened to the City of Pine’s skyline – it is the most modern in this part of the world, and the design could easily land on the pages of Architectural Digest.

You have heard of Francisco only as a painter, but did you know that he is a master in sculpture as well? The moment you step into the hotel’s lobby, a bas-relief done by the National Artist on a tough ‘Kamagong’ tree, about four feet tall, will greet you. It is a beautiful “Botong” masterpiece depicting a Filipino folklore.

Then there’s “Claire de Lune” (1886) and “Barcos en el Horizonte” (1893) by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. As you move around, you would be mesmerized by Fernando Amorsolo’s vibrantly rich colors exploding all over, like “Fisherman’s Departure”, (1944) “Barrio Fiesta”, (1949), “Lavandera” (1957), “Planting Rice”, (1962) and there’s a whole lot of discoveries to be made. 

A painting by Amorsolo in collaboration with his former student Antonio Dumlao, “Ifugao Dancers” (1944) even hangs on the hotel’s foyer. You can spot a Hernando Ocampo and Anita Magsaysay-Ho, too.

In short, the hotel is a virtual repository of Philippine treasures amidst a posh, sustainable, clutter-free green building conceptualized by the patriarch of the family, and one of the Philippines’ modernist architects, Francis Xavier Santaromana.

Old Baguio, new Baguio

When was the last time you were up, chasing the sky and wandered through Kennon’s long and winding mountain highways? When did you last see waterfalls gently sliding through the rocks as mountains grew bigger and bigger as you clambered to the top? When was that unforgettable moment when it made you say, “I shall return”? 

The once number one tourist spot in the Philippines is serious in regaining its former glory.
Whether its old or new Baguio you want to see, it boils down to the experience you get and that’s what you are going to get if you listen to Joey Reyes, President of Sierra Pines. 

“We want to reintroduce Baguio to the young generation of Filipinos and redefine their Baguio experience,” Reyes says with conviction. Reyes was part of the decision-making from the time the hotel idea was born. The hotel primarily caters to families, and secondarily, the corporate market looking for value-for-money and unmatched comfort.

The young Ateneo graduate, who divides his time managing the hotel and taking his MBA in Hawaii, speaks highly of his Dad for giving him a free way in managing the hotel. “You want to top your Dad, but you can’t put one over him”, he proudly says.

Reyes is focused. He sets his mind with a clear-cut vision: Make the hotel Number One in 2018. Based on surveys, so far, Sierra Pines is Baguio’s highest-rating hotel with excellent top-of-mind ranking. 
What does he want to see in Baguio in the next 5 years? “I want to see more environmentally responsible developers and tourists, see them make initiatives to make Baguio a sustainable city,” he says. He also wants to see an improvement in transportation going to Baguio, make it garbage-free and concerned groups educate people more to make the city sustainable.

Beautiful hotel

Once you step into the lobby, you immediately feel a sense of familiarity. The Baguio that you expect, cozy, welcoming instantly makes you feel at home. The tall and spacious atrium, the beauty of the building continues to unfold as you walk around.

The interiors are open-planned, lofty, functional, with little or zero “non-performing elements”, a signature Santa Romana design: Bold roof lines, undulating, multi-levelled and steep sloped with extended eaves that give a distinct sweeping movement.

The Green initiative of the owners was to stay close to the roots of the City of Pines, built on a former residential lot with an old house right across the Marcos Mansion.

The southwest part captures the scenic view of the mountains lined with the vertical frames of the preserved pine trees. The lobby and informal dining area or the “Atrium” is full 6-storey high topped by a translucent membrane roof.

The tent-like roof material is designed to collect rainwater, bringing it down a pair of pipes along the elevator shaft and into a reservoir located at the lowest elevation of the Amphi-garden where it is filtered and recycled for domestic use.

Rainwater harvesting addresses non-potable needs of the hotel including showers and tap water supply. This recovers rain from the year round 50% rainy season making the hotel independent from the rationed water supply in the city. Recycled wood, mostly from the old house, has returned to life as wall panels and accents, while the lone uprooted pine tree (distressed by the construction) has been resurrected in the front desk, the fireplace and special places all throughout the hotel interiors.

Migration to Baguio has been relentless for the past two decades. While the onslaught has been going for the last five years, causing pollution and a bit of bad planning, the old charm is still there. The pine trees are ageing but still giving visitors a breath of fresh air. The mansions maybe growing ‘white hairs’ but have retained their graciousness. 

The best way to see the real beauty of Baguio is in the morning, when the sun is barely rising and the grass is sprinkled with mountain dews, glistening as you stir up your coffee. 

The mist gently kisses your parched lips. The quietness calms your inner self, the scent of pine trees, perfect for your weary soul. 

As the city wakes up from its deep slumber and flower buds unravel a palette of crimsons, yellows and varied hues, blooms of different varieties delight passerbys. You know it’s time to click away for some photos. 

New, eclectic, and modern condominiums are dotting Baguio’s fringes. Cafes and specialty restaurants offering varied cuisines, local and foreign, are aplenty.

You need to look at Baguio with an open mind. One might liken human migration to Baguio to Favelas of Brazil. Environmentalists might frown on the pollution that has become part of its daily scene. Hopeless romantics may now shed a tear on the desecration of some of its former haunts. But the famous landmarks are still there.

The structures on the hills of Baguio have multiplied by a hundredfold. If you hate them, perhaps you may want to see them from another perspective: See it like Mondrian’s giant mosaic. 

On a perfect day from Marcos Highway, the scene is a jaw-dropping panorama, blue becomes sparkling blue, green changes into refreshing green, red blooms like an alluring Rose, and just about all colors in the rainbow emit hues in their most enchanting natural glow. 

Monday, February 6, 2017


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
January 26, 2016 issue

Way before Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines, Chinese merchants had been openly trading with Filipinos as far back as the 9th century. 
As proven by Chinese artifacts found in many places in the country, the evidence is well documented. According to historians, some local “Rajahs” and “Datus”, themselves, even belonged to a generation of ‘Chinoys’ (Chinese-Filipinos), product of inter-marriages between Chinese settlers and Filipinos. 
During the Spanish colonial period, Spanish authorities encouraged Chinese male immigrants to convert to Catholicism. Those who did were baptized and their names Hispanized. They were then allowed to marry local women, even Spanish women, and their offsprings became subjects of Spain. With that, came a number of privileges and many opportunities.
Hispanize meant having Chinese surnames reflecting their own heritage. Thus, the full name of a Chinese ancestor would read like a one-word surname: Cojuangco, Landicho, Ongpin, Cuyegkeng, Tambunting, Tiongson, Yuchengco, Yupangco, Limcaoco, Ongpauco, Tanchanco, Yaptinchay, Gozon, etc.
But even with that, traditional Chinese culture deeply grew its roots in the Philippines and the Chinese did not lose its age-old family traditions. One such was a Chinese must only be married to a fellow Chinese. Marrying a Filipino or a foreigner, for that matter, was considered taboo, thus creating irreconcilable issues to both parties. 
Patriarchal in family structure, a member of a traditional Chinese-Filipino family may be denied of his or her inheritance, and is likely to be disowned by his or her family by marrying an outsider without permission. There are some exceptions, however, where inter-marriage to a Filipino is acceptable - if the Filipino's family is well off, influential or born to power.
Today, modern Chinese-Filipino families allow their children to marry Filipinos. But many of them still respect tradition and or would still prefer that the Filipino would have some Chinese blood.

Cultural differences
On meonpause blog, the anonymous author brings us to the realm of Chinoy marriages. The insights are enlightening and the interaction between the writer and those who are in similar situation give readers words to live by. Here are some of them:
“A girl once asked her mom why Chinese parents prefer Chinese partners for their kids. She said, "The culture is so different. In a Chinese family, the parents are the head of the business. Hence, they are the treasurer of the house. In a Filipino family, the kids provide for their parents the moment they start working. They also provide support to other relatives who may be in need."
In short, she is concerned that the Filipino partner will get money from the business pot to provide for his/her family.” 
Does marrying a Chinese to a Chinese guarantee marital bliss and prosperity? The blog author continues: “I've met way too many pure and mixed couple to know. What matters the most are the following: 1. God is at the core of the relationship 2. There is love between the couple 3. Both Families have given the couple their blessing. These are the foundation to a strong marriage, not money, not social class, not race.
But some are unlucky. There are those that break apart, prompting writers Aurora Teo Mei Ling and Coylee Gamboa to write a book on the subject, “Broken Mirror”. 
In the book, Teo and Gamboa show the secret world of Filipino-Chinese marriages. “In a culture where a woman’s silence in the face of abuse and maltreatment is viewed as a virtue because of self-sacrifice and submission, the main character, Aurora, defies tradition as she breaks the code of silence and divulge secrets of a Chinese marriage,” the book says.

Making of “Broken Mirror”
This is Aurora Teo Mei Ling’s story as it happened to her. It is drama in real life — not a fictitious account. A real person went through all the experiences that are chronicled in this book. Names were changed including locations and some details to protect the identity of her children. But everything happened. “Broken Mirror” is a largely autobiographical account of Aurora’s life that she narrated and Gamboa wrote.
Aurora is half Filipino and half Chinese. She grew up in a family held together by her strong-willed Chinese father and she married an immigrant from China, so naturally those facts influenced our setting.
Here are the highlights of the interview with Gamboa:
Business Mirror: What is “Broken Mirror” all about?
Coylee Gamboa: “Broken Mirror” is the true-to-life story of a woman who endures great suffering — from the loss of her mother at the age of two, followed by exile to Hong Kong at the age of three. There, in the care of her father’s first wife, she is abused and molested as a child until the age of seven when he brings her back to the Philippines. 
Her father, an immigrant from China, raises her with his children from his mistresses, putting them to work in his junkyard at an early age to teach them not just the business and the conduct of business, but also his homespun values like hard work and perseverance. But her father is distant and often absent, which leaves her hungry for genuine affection. Aurora searches for love and ends up marrying an immigrant from China. She strives to be a traditional Chinese wife until their marriage breaks up.
BM: How did you come to collaborate on writing this book?
CG: Aurora and I were classmates in an art class. She was looking for a writer to help her with her story and I agreed to listen to her. I was spellbound by her story.
When we started this, she was going through the break-up of her marriage and she was in pain — great emotional pain. She brought to the table her story — the stark reality of it and the rawness of her emotions. No woman should have to go through that alone. 
I brought to the table my skill as a writer, as well as compassion, kindness and acceptance of her as a person. There was no judgment of her actions. My role was to elicit the story and to put it in context. I drew it out of her — very gently — because I could see how painful her life had been. She needed to tell somebody the whole story and I was that person.
It took courage for Aurora to bare her soul and her deepest secrets to another person. It was also not easy for me to listen to it and to be there for her through some of her darkest days. Our friendship was forged in the crucible of writing this book. 
Often, I felt the heaviness of her pain, a burden that could be relieved only by lifting her situation up to God. She wasn’t aware that I was praying for her to be strengthened, to find a way out of her darkness and to emerge from it on her way to wholeness as a person.

The remarkable thing is that she does emerge (from this process of writing the book) stronger and determined. It is amazing how she has endured all that happened to her and still be the kind soul that she is. Aurora is gentle, generous and quietly strong. She’s also affectionate, funny, fun loving, and (if I might add) very astute in business. She’s a wonderful person and I am privileged to be working with her on this project.
BM: Where did the inspiration for the book title come from?
CG: It came from a short story “The Maze of Mirrors” that I had crafted for my nephew about a bunch of kids that entered a magical maze of mirrors. In one corner, full of cobwebs and shrouded was the most powerful mirror of the lot. 
It could reveal the future. But this powerful mirror was broken in an earthquake and the souls of people who were peering into were trapped on the other side. From that time on, the mirror was shrouded so that no one would ever look into it and be unable to return.
I suggested to Aurora that we work “broken mirror” in as a theme and she soared with it. She contemplated the theme and, a week later, got back to me with her reflections. I wove those reflections into her story until it was seamless. We bore this theme in mind as we continued with the project.
BM: At which point did you or she decide to publish the story?
CG: While we were writing the story, I knew the material that was coming from Aurora was explosive. I was her first audience and her story moved me tremendously. I knew it would find resonance in other women’s lives, but it was her story and hers to do as she pleased. So I waited as she went through the process.
When we were almost done with the book, after one particularly dark episode in her life, Aurora said to me that writing the book has been a catharsis for her and that it has strengthened her. But, she added that writing it was not enough. After having people tell her — throughout her childhood and marriage — that she was worthless as a person, Aurora wanted her life to be worthwhile, to be of value. 
She decided to use her life story to reach out to and help other women in similar situations. Through the book, she is telling them that they are worthwhile and precious, that others suffering as they do and they’re not alone. But, more importantly, she’s telling them there’s hope and they shouldn’t give up. They can break free of the shackles of tradition and live fruitful and happy lives. 
BM: Do you have statistics of how many women actually suffer such abuse?
CG: No, we don’t have such statistics, but the media is full of such horror stories — from a third person point of view. Someone else is reporting about abused women. To my knowledge, this is the first time that someone here has come out to tell her own story of what went on in her life and her marriage. That’s why Broken Mirror is groundbreaking.
It is especially groundbreaking because the Chinese don’t talk about what goes on in their personal life. Generally speaking, they always maintain an inscrutable façade. Aurora breaks that code of silence and reveals her secrets. In other words, she lets us in behind the façade. 
Her revelations have nothing to do with being part Filipino and therefore being able to speak out. Her revelations have everything to do with telling her story in order to help other women.
Women who’ve read the synopsis or draft of her book tell her, “You’re so brave to come out with you story.” Others have said, “That’s my story!” She’s given all these women, not just Chinese women but women who are confined by their customs, a voice.
Personally, I think that, anywhere in this world where women are suffering abuse of some sort, there will be women who see themselves in Aurora’s story and they will be able to relate to it. I am confident that this book will have a global resonance and reach.
BM: You mentioned global resonance and reach. Are you taking this book to the global market?
CG: Yes, indeed we are. Caelestis Production, Inc., through its President and CEO Sally Jo Bellosillo, is helping us do that. We are launching the book in the Philippines in time for the Chinese New Year right up to Valentines Day. After that, we will launch in selected international markets. People are already talking to us about the possibility of turning Aurora’s life story into a movie. We will get there in the not too distant future, I hope. 

But, in the immediate future, we’re focused on launching the book. I think it’s only fitting that our partners for the launching of Broken Mirror are Business Mirror, Philippines Graphic and, of course, Manila Grand Opera Hotel, the venue of our launch. We are delighted with the partnership
Coylee Gamboa has a Master’s in Communications from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of the Philippines. She was the financial markets editor of the Asian Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong and a news editor of the Business Times of Singapore. Based in Manila today, Coylee is an editor and a book writer who assists people with their life’s work and memoirs. She also takes photographs and paints. She collaborates with the ecumenical Marketplace Leaders Foundation and the Pimentel Institute for Local Governance on initiatives for national transformation.


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
February 5, 2016 issue

When he said the interview would be at five in the afternoon, he meant just like that. Five o’clock. Not a few minutes late, not a few minutes early either. He was ready on the dot considering that his schedule was tight and he needed to give newly crowned Miss Universe Iris Mittenaere, her countrywoman, a warm send-off to New York prior to the meeting. 
Thierry Mathou, France Ambassador to the Philippines, also non-resident Ambassador to Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Islands, was exultant: “It is a wonderful coincidence that, on our 70th year of friendship with the Philippines, Miss France won the 65th Miss Universe title right here in your country.” Later in the news, Miss Universe had called Manila, her second home.
The debonaire extraordinaire French ambassador proudly added that “Miss Universe will be France’s Ambassadress to the Philippines and she will be back in Manila to strengthen Philippines-France relations more than ever before.”
France was one of the first countries in the world to recognize the Philippine republic right after World War II. On June 26, 1947, a treaty was formalized to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries. This year, thus, marks the 70th year of that undying friendship.  

France was also the first country to support the restoration of democracy of the country in 1986. “We provided support to the new regime, and welcomed the President of the Philippines as the guest of honor during the Bicentennial Celebration of our Revolution in Paris in 1989,” Mathou recalled.
Born on March 8, 1963, Mathou is married and has three children, a daughter and two sons. He has been named a Chevalier (Knight) of the highest decoration in France, the National Order of the Legion of Honour. 
A career diplomat, scholar and graduate of Paris Institute of Political Studies and the prestigious EDHEC (Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales) Business School, Mathou has written about six books focusing on Asia, particularly Chinese and Himalayan studies. He obtained his PhD in Political Science and Asian Studies before joining the diplomatic service in 1989. 

He has been posted in the United States and China and served as Deputy Director of the Department for International Economic and Financial Affairs at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2004 to 2006 and was Ambassador of France to Myanmar from 2011 to 2015, prior to his posting in the Philippines.
He also was a research associate at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and fluent in English and Chinese.

Feel French
“Despite our geographical distance, many cultural, educational, entrepreneurial and technological exchanges between France and the Philippines flourished, particularly in recent years,” Mathou said.
He mentioned that French President François Hollande was the first French and European head of state to visit the Philippines in 2015.
To celebrate the milestone, the embassy has launched “PhilFrance: Feel French!”, a year-long program of activities offering Filipinos an opportunity to “feel France” within the context of strong bilateral partnership shared by the two nations.”
“We want to illustrate the growing political, economic and cultural cooperation between France and the Philippines through Arts and Culture, Art de Vivre, the Youth and Knowledge, High Tech and Entrepreneurship, and Sharing Values,” Mathou said.
Cultural and artistic cooperation is one of the top priorities of France in the Philippines. In 2013, the biggest exhibition in Europe dedicated to Filipino culture was hosted at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris.
The French Film Festival and Fête de la Musique are two of the year’s most anticipated cultural events, gathering thousands of Filipinos to enjoy French cinema and celebrate music through performances by local and visiting French musicians. 

To mark the signing of the Philippine-France Treaty of Friendship in June, French pianist François Chaplin will be performing alongside the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra for “Ravel Unraveled”, an evening of French classical music at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. 
Love for food is a passion shared by French and Filipinos. Chefs in the Philippines will join 2,000 others all over the world to celebrate French cuisine in the 3rd edition of Goût de France/Good France on March 21, while a special French weekend market called “Bon Appetit!” will be launched in September. 
Youth and Knowledge
The Francophonie Festival in March will celebrate the French language, which more and more Filipinos are learning at the Alliance Française (French language school) in Manila and Cebu.
The French Embassy in Manila has also opened its call for applications for the PhilFrance scholarships, granting financial assistance to Filipinos who wish to pursue exchange programs or post-graduate degrees in French higher learning institutions. 
Last year, according to Mathou, ten awardees of this program joined 350 Filipinos already studying in France. 
French and Filipino researchers have also been working closely for new scientific discoveries. This cooperation will be highlighted with the unveiling at the Museum of Natural History in Manila of a skeleton of a rhinoceros discovered during an archeological dig in the Cagayan Valley. 
High Tech and Entrepreneurship
In 2015, France and the Philippines revived the Joint Economic Committee. The growing confidence on the Philippines and two-way trade was valued at 1.44 billion euros in 2015, making France one of the Philippines’ top trading partners from the European Union. 
Aviation sales, particularly of Airbus planes, accounted for around 76 percent of French exports to the Philippines, while other export items included agri-food products, electronic components, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.
Sharing Values
France and the Philippines have long shared common values since Ilustrados such as Jose Rizal, Juan and Antonio Luna, and Marcelo H. Del Pilar traveled to Europe in the 1800s to learn more about European nationalist and democratic ideals. 
Today, the French values of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity will be celebrated in “PhilFrance: Feel French!” 
Following the footsteps of Rizal, a growing number of young Filipinos are now studying in France, which welcomes a significant population of OFWs. At the same time, the largest number of French volunteers based in Asia is found in the Philippines, where they help those who are most in need. 
After typhoon Yolanda, the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the French Embassy, created France-Philippines United Action to provide massive relief to people and areas affected.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Built by my father's parents', our ancestral house in Longmen, China, more than 200 years old (you can see from the woodwork and stone below).
All photos taken in Anxi and Xiamen, China.  
Copyright: Roger Pe

What if I died and never met Chin Yan, Lin Qin, Jian Zhong, Chen, Lin Qing, Bin Bin, Yu Yu, Huang Kai and the rest of my closest relatives?

I was told about having a brother and sister in China when I was a child but my Filipino siblings did not know where to get in touch with them. Over fifty long years, way past my childhood, an entire life lived without seeing them from ground zero. They would have been completely forgotten but that did not happen. I could only thank God, and words are not enough to also thank Pe Clan Facebook page, social media and, well, yes, my insomnia. 

From the start, verifying the news was like passing through a dark underground highway, an emotional rollercoaster even when you see the light at the end of the tunnel. "What if it was a joke?" was a question I didn't want to entertain. But it kept ringing in my ears

And then I actually heard Lin's, (my sister) voice on the phone.  

That very Tuesday morning, I mustered enough courage and dropped everything, even if it meant not spending Christmas in Manila, an occasion I have learned not to look forward to. I rushed to the mall, found myself looking for the nearest airline counter. The day that I decided to book a flight to Xiamen was the beginning of an adventure, a journey of a lifetime fraught with mixed feelings. Fright. Curiosity. Hope. Excitement.

Looking back, everything is now immaterial. People who label people, people I struggle with every single day don't matter anymore. They are now irrelevant to me and have no part in my story. Who cares what people think when you have a loving family?  

Today, I have learned that no matter who you are, what you are, where you came from is not important. What matters most is what you have become and learning to know what is essential and inconsequential. I have found my family.
December 23, 2016
NAIA 3, Manila, before my plane took off for China:

I will make this less melodramatic. Advance Merry Christmas, to all of you, my FB friends. Thank you all for your good wishes. I am dropping everything, yes, everything, even spending Christmas in the Philippines - for something special.

In a few hours, I will be in Xiamen, then to China mainland, and finally to Anxi, China's tea capital where my relatives live. 

Inside my luggage are two disposable winter jackets hurriedly bought from a Makati Square Ukay-Ukay store (cheap, 200 pesos each), boxes of Philippine dried Mangoes, pastillas, other pasalubongs and some bundles of newspapers, hahaha! 

How will I get by in China? Adventure. But it's nice to know that my two nephews will fetch me at the airport and will hold a banner with my name on it. That makes me a little less anxious.

My father left a wife and two young children in China when he and his cousins left Amoy, (now Xiamen) China after the war. Perhaps, he promised them that he would return. He never did. He died when I was 11 years old in the Philippines.

This Christmas, I will be seeing one of ‘two young children’, Chin Yan, my Chinese half-brother who is now about 84 years old. It would be perfect to meet the other one, Lin Qin, my half-sister, but she is currently in the US visiting her youngest son. 

No, I don’t want to call them half-brother or half-sister. Regardless of their status in life, they are my family and I am now complete.

I have never met them nor seen their pictures previously. Facebook led me to their existence through an exhaustive family tree search, and finally on an accidental trip to Anxi on November 2016. Chin subsequently informed Lin, who, together with her daughter-in-law, Christina, initiated a series of calls and emails to contact me.

Proud of my grand nephews and a niece whom I met for the first time 
on Christmas Eve dinner. Young professionals, product of hardwork.
Couldn't help but get misty eyed.

Lin could not speak English. I could not speak Mandarin. But the moment she spoke on the phone, I instantaneously knew she was my sister. I could only express my feelings with “How are you?” “Thank God, we finally met” and “I love you”. In between her long silent pauses and tearful “hao, hao … hao” mutterings, a tear rolled down my cheek. In photo: Lin and her son's family in San Jose, California.
My sister Lin's youngest son with his wife Christina and his family in San Jose, California.
I hope to meet them in February this year. Before my China trip, Lin and Christina
called me many times to make sure that my trip to Xiamen would not suffer any hitch.
Christina was very helpful and kind to make me feel I am part of the family.
December 24, 2016:

From three different cities (Nan-An, Anxi, JinJiang) my brother’s family convoyed to Longmen, a village exactly the opposite of industrializing Xiamen. After one hour of driving, we stopped at a commodity store. 

My "Kuya" (Brother) Chin Yan
I had thought we were going to get bottles of water but Jian Zhong, my nephew, told me to follow him to an old house nearby. I was introduced to a woman who kept glancing at me with curiosity I felt awkward. 

As they continued to talk, the stubborn rule breaker in me anxiously sneaked inside. A pre-war bike caught my attention. A padlocked room gave me the chills. A feeling of serendipity, I reckon. 

Further right, as I strayed, I came close to an enclave that looked like an altar gathering dusts with mounds of ashes from burnt sticks of incense. Moving closer to the centerpiece, three pictures came to my view. The one in the middle made me choke. It was my father’s. At this point, I can hear everyone’s footsteps and I rushed outside, only to reemerge after about two minutes. What happened next? What happened in the village stays in the village.

In the olden days, traditional Chinese houses had a courtyard (a multi-purpose space for family get-togethers) and a permanent fixture – an altar to remember members of the family who have passed. As for the picture, I will post it on Father’s Day. It will be private for now. My family in China: The best in the world. Xie xie, wo ai ni.
My precious, loving family in Anxi.
Two Journalists in the family, Bibby, my super-busy grand nephew, 
and that's the sleepless, tired and haggard-looking me (ugh). Am so proud of this boy
honor graduate of Journalism from Xiamen Tan Kah Kee University.
An 80-year old heirloom, my father's dowry to his Chinese wife before their wedding day.

My sketch of my brother Chin Yan when I visited him for the second time,
done in his apartment while his wife Su Shulian served me 
crunchy, delicious Guava slices.
1,000 year-old river moat, just across Jian's apartment
in Anxi. A stone marker names it "Millenium" because of such. 

A beautiful park frequented by people from all walks of life to jog,
stroll, sit around or watch the world go by.
Anping Bridge, a national landmark and major tourist attraction in China.
Bin Bin (Bibby)
Chen, (Jian's brother) and his growing family, taken from the family album.
Bibzy, taken at the foot of Yuzhamgshan Mountain Reserve
My sister Lin Qin (seated, in pink dress with her daughters. At the back is my niece and her French husband (both are based in Nice, France but I met them on Christmas Day Family Lunch). We had a great chat getting to know each other. My niece (back row) even allowed me to sit beside them. My sister married a Huang and I was told that some of our descendants also migrated to the Philippines and once owned Corona Bazaar in Escolta, Manila.
Self-portrait of my sister's fourth child and eldest son (his name escapes me at the moment), an accomplished painter and member of Fujian's Calligraphy Council, father of Huang Kai. I did not meet him personally but I hope I could when I come back because I love his painting style, classic Chinese or modern art.
His calligraphy pens in his studio in Nan-An City. Below are his other paintings.

Huang Kai, my 28-year old nephew. He travelled 30 kilometers to see me
and invited me to the family Christmas Day lunch. His heart almost
sunk when he misinterpreted that I wouldn't be able to make it. I replied,
"Of course not, I will go with you, wherever you go." He brought me to his home
and proudly showed me his father's awesome paintings.
My nephew Jian Zhong when he was promoted as Sargeant
in the People's Liberation Army. I feel bad I wasn't with him during

his younger years, otherwise I could have come to China as often. He is the reincarnation of my brother Ruben who was killed in St. Bernard, Southern Leyte in 1983 
 and buried in Libingan ng Mga Bayan (Philippines' cemetery for heroes).

Anping, China's longest stone footbridge, built in 1138. My brother's two sons, Jian and Chen,  together with Lin and my niece Bibzy, brought me here after a hearty lunch the latter prepared (I particularly loved the Oyster omelet). After a long walk around the national park, I felt sad that Chen would not join our ride back to Anxi. He stayed in the park. Damn, if I could only speak Chinese and talk to him and spend a little time. That was the last time I saw him. He was the guy who gave a great handshake and pressed my hand so hard at the family dinner on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve dinner, meeting my family was indescribable.
Surreal. My happiest Christmas ever. First descendants of my Father and brother
 (beside me, with his wife Su Shulian).
A bunch of nephews and nieces, I am so proud of what they have become,
all achievers at young age.
My hardworking Journalist nephew, Bibby. A no non-sense guy. He bought his father a car so his father and sister could drive it. But when he drives it, you know that he owns the car. He is chief news reporter at West Strait Morning Post in Xiamen and recently got promoted as in-charge of the publication's Breaking News section. I know how busy he is so I don't demand that he should answer all my emails. I gave him all the Yuan money I brought to China (bought from a money-changer in Manila) because his father would refuse it. 
Just the same, he refused it and gave me a hug instead.
The French family side of a niece who got married to a Frenchman (the guy with a backpack).
Taken after Christmas Day lunch.
Bibby, Lin, Jian and (fat-looking me) before my flight back to Manila.
Gorgeous sculptures infront Anxi City Hall building.
Sketching session at the house of Lin Qing's brother, taken after our Longmen trip (natural hot springs foot spa).
I am not a selfie-person and seldom want my picture taken. 
Just preparing to meet and mingle with the nephews.
Taken at my hotel in Anxi, China whom they all paid for.
My brother's modest home in Anxi. It may look old from the outside,
but very nice and comfortable inside.
Christmas Day Lunch, here is my sister Lin Qin's family in separate table.
I wasn't able to chat and linger with them for a little while because of language problem.
Anxi City Hall. It was freaking cold when I took this photo.
People meet on its big frontyard every single night.
Stonemarker to the gates of Yunzhangsan mountain tea plantation, 
with Anxi Tea Master Chen Liang Gu.
My sketch of my nephew Jian, done in less than 15 minutes.
I was very happy with the result and so was he. I must have done 15 sketches
of all my nephews and nieces, family friends, including my brother's throughout my stay in China. Back in Manila, I was happy to learn that they all brought them to the frame shop. 

Below is Jian Zhong and his elder brother Chen.
The Brothers.

At Huang Kai's house, December 25, 2016.

Huang Kai

Taken infront of Anxi's Municipal Hall where my nephew Jian works.
I particularly loved the way the building was designed. Wonderful piece of architecture,
two thumbs up. At night, city folks, mostly the elderly, gather infront of the building yard, a big square, to do mass calisthenics and aerobics dancing.

Anxi City Hall. I really love this building.
My brother's wife Su Shulian. I like this sketch because I think I captured
the way she smiled. She spoke a little all throughout our meeting. 
I loved the slices of Guava she served me while doing this portrait.
Jian's wife Lin Qing, on top of a pagoda we visited overlooking Anxi on my last day of visit.
Flower of a Tea Tree, very sweet. That's Bibzy's hand.
They won't serve you tea in China if they don't feel that you are a friend and there's
romance to the tea ceremony, cup after cup after cup.
China's finest, highest-grade tea is grown in Anxi, no wonder 
it is the country's Tea Capital. That's Bibzy in the photo.
My brother's other son, Chen.
China's complex of mountain tunnels, jaw-dropping.
World's biggest Tea Cup, photo taken in an Anxi park.
Duck farm beside the ancestral house.
Lin Qing, my nephew's wife. Done in an Anxi restaurant. One of my happiest dinner moments with the family, not because of the food, 
but the way they made me feel part of the family.
Lin and Jian, I will never forget them.
The Longmen ancestral house.
View from Jian's house.
Inside my father's house, shocked to find my father's photo in the altar. 
I broke down when I saw it.
Bibby, my translator, treated me like no other. She cried at the airport
and almost went past the airport check-in counter just to say goodbye.
The altar in my father's house. My father's picture is in the middle. Though I knew of that photo a long time ago, I was not expecting it to be there. I immediately recognized him. He died in Palawan Provincial Hospital in Puerto Princesa (now a city) in 1966, isolated from the rest of the patients. When he passed away, my mother found him with tears in his eyes still warm. Perhaps, he was thinking of his children, that he would never see them again. We buried him in the town's Chinese cemetery with less than ten people attending. Not even his Chinese relatives mourned with us for reasons I don't know and don't want to know anymore.  I came back to the town in 2005 to replace his old gravemark.
Endless cups of tea. Taken at a rural eatery, atop a hill overlooking the beautiful cityscape of Anxi. Jian and Lin, I noticed were unusually sad, maybe it was my last day or, I don't know. I wish could read their minds. Before we headed for Xiamen, Jian stopped the car and showed me a condominium being constructed near his family apartment. I wish I could give what his heart and mind were thinking.
Where my nephew Bibby works. Me and Bibzy went up the 12th floor to take a peek at the glass window of his office. I am proud of Bibby. I'd say it again and again.
In the lobby of Anxi Municipal Hall. This area is so big it can occupy two
basketball courts. 
To be continued.