Tuesday, October 4, 2016


by Roger Pe
Philippine Daily Inquirer
October 2, 2016 issue

Melanie Caabay lost her husband from a vehicular accident in the late 1990s. When two of her four children were about to go to college, she had no recourse but to accept a domestic helper job in Hongkong. She moved to Singapore after three years, stayed there for five years, and eventually made it to Europe when a foreign diplomat brought her to Italy. 

Compared to most Filipinas, Caabay is comely and makes an extra effort to look presentable, even if she does not need to go out of the house. For her, it is an important to look good because it makes her feel good. It was probably one of the reasons why her employer brought her to Rome.

Her earlier days as a domestic helper were tough. Because she was dark-skinned, she had to endure being discriminated upon, and often times, on the receiving end of conscious racial slurs. 

When she had extra money, she would stash away troves of skin beautifying creams from Manila. Not only she used them herself, she also resold them to a network of fellow Filipina workers with a few mark-ups. 

Today, she is far from the girl who first ventured in Hongkong, largely unsure of her future. She has learned how to parry insults and disarm those who are prone to making side remarks about her color. By investing on self-improvement and looking good, she has regained her self-esteem and built her confidence. And quite noticeably, she is fairer in the way she looks now.

On her day-offs and whenever she gets invited to Filipino gatherings, Caabay would share her past to her ‘kababayans’ for them to draw inspiration from. She knows for sure, countless of them have encountered or still experiencing varying degrees of racial remarks. 

Many casual interviews conducted among women OFWs reveal startling insights. Some of them have found refuge, not in friends’ sympathetic arms, but in skin whitening creams. Unbelievable to some, but here’s a quote from one of them: “The whiter I become, the less insults I’ll get.”

Bizarre as it may seem, a closer scrutiny at a local drugstore chain validates the fact – a proliferation of skin whitening brands sold in most their branches nationwide, from Glutathione to Papaine-laced soaps, creams or capsules. They are also present in big supermarkets, catering to all socio-economic groups, even men.

Multinational brands, too, have joined the skin whitening bandwagon, spending huge money on advertising in promoting them. These do not count the countless beauty and facial rejuvenation salons that offer diamond peel and other skin whitening ‘magic’ to those who want to look as white as Snow White.

White Asia

Preference for lighter skin remains prevalent in Asia, according to many articles written on the subject. A most recent survey conducted by an independent research group, noted that 4 out of 10 women surveyed in Hongkong, Malaysia, Philippines and South Korea used a skin whitening cream.

A report made in Malaysia concluded that three quarters of Malaysian men thought their partners would be more attractive if they had lighter skin complexion, a beauty standard they call the “Eurasian” or the "Pan-Asian look".

History of skin whitening in Asia dates back to ancient China, India and Japan, according to the report. “In ancient dynastic times, those with fair skin implied wealth and nobility as opposed to servants who labored outside under the scorching sun.”

Just as the Grimms' fairy tales feature light-skinned princesses like Cinderella and Snow White, Asian culture equates fairer skin with feminine beauty, racial superiority, and power. Asians with ‘fairer’ skin enjoy strong influences on marital prospects, employment, status, and income,” the report says.

Andrew McDougall of www.cosmetics design-asia.com noted that skin lightening has long been a trend in Asia and is set to continue to boost the global market in the next five years.

He said that the global market for skin lighteners is “projected to reach $19.8 billion by 2018, driven by the growing desire for light-coloured skin among both men and women primarily from the Asian, African and Middle East regions.”

He said, skin whitening products represent one of the rapidly growing segments in the global beauty industry, with manufacturers capitalizing on consumers’ desire for fair skin in these regions.

The demand for male skin brightening and lightening products is on the rise, too, particularly in Asia, according to McDougall.

“Growth in the market is to be driven by strong demand in Asia-Pacific, as the popularity of skin whiteners grows in the region, particularly in India, Japan, and China, where fair skin is associated with youth, beauty, and prosperity,” according to him.

On Matador Network, beauty critic Matthew Kepnes noted that over the last few decades, Western nations have tried to become a “post racial society.” 

“From our birth we are taught that everyone is equal but when I traveled to Asia and lived in Thailand, I was shocked to see so much “racism.” They loved whiteness. The whiter your skin, the better you were,” he said.

In most of Asia, particularly Korea, Japan and Thailand, dark-skinned people are looked down upon, McDougall says. “Everyone strives to be white. Every skin product has whitening in it and everyone stays out of the sun. It was the complete opposite for us in the West, where coming back from a vacation with a tan was always expected,” he said.

According to McDougall, Asian countries look down on dark skin because they don’t want to be perceived as poor. Historically, dark skin was associated with people who worked in the fields. “The upper class stayed indoors and under the shade,” according to him.

He also observed that “it’s good to be white in Asia where TV stars are white and models are white. Everyone is airbrushed until they look like ghosts. In Asia, dark skin is poor, white skin is rich. They promote whiteness because no one wants to be perceived as poor,” he said.

What about the Philippines? Business Mirror interviews a Pharmacist-Entrepreneur who has built a career in distributing quality skin and beauty products in the Philippines. 

Imelda Tesalona, General Manager of a former start-up company, Fine Nutrition, Philippines, recently appointed affiliate of Fine Japan Co. Ltd, a company known as a “Collagen Expert” worldwide speaks about why Filipino women, just like their Asian sisters, are obsessed with having whiter skin:

Why do you think Filipino women want to have whiter skin? 

IT: Maybe it is a cultural thing. We were ruled by Spain for almost 400 years and Americans introduced Hollywood to us. White supremacy probably stuck and that became our standard for beauty. They also want to look presentable and be physically attractive just like our former colonizers.

Why is the skin whitening business big in the Philippines?

IT: That is because 49% of the 101.5 million of our population is female and 52% are working age. I should say there are 10 active brands and more brands are silently selling away without getting into advertising.

Will “white is beautiful” continue to be the norm? 

IT: Sadly, yes, this has been perceived and acknowledged even in the next 10 years.

Why do some women spend money to look whiter, fairer? 

IT: They belong to the rabidly beauty conscious group bordering on vanity. They are knowledgeable, risk-takers and have the money to burn and do regular beauty regimen daily.

What is your definition of a totally beautiful woman? 

IT: She is a woman with a brain, not only with good looks. She speaks with well-chosen words, finesse, and most of all, has a good heart, as Miss Universe would say.
What interesting insights on Filipino women have you found in recent years?

IT: They know what are they looking for and will meet their standards in health, beauty and wellness. They will spend, if they can afford to defy ageing. They know innovative products that have whitening and anti–ageing ingredients like Hyaluronic Acid, Collagen and Pearl Coix Extract.

Are men similarly obsessed with having whiter skin?

IT: In our foray into research, it has given us more insights about men using skin whitening and anti-aging ingestibles. While women are our target market, we found out that men are users, too, and their number are quite large - 50%.

What is your business like and some of the challenges you face?

IT: There is an opportunity to grow the business since consumers acknowledge that ingestibles are more effective compared to topical products. However, we need to educate consumers. There are many challenges and learnings in setting up this line of business. But there are also a lot of opportunities. The nutri-beauty industry in the Philippines is in a nascent category and is considered a niche market. 

What is your philosophy in this line of business?

IT: I strongly believe in good quality that works. I have fundamental values towards health and beauty. Coupled with luck, we were chosen by Fine Japan as their vehicle to enter our country’s market. I find this as the highlight of my career.

How do you see the skin whitening business 10 years from now?

IT: Skin-whitening business will still be a trend 10 years from now. Consumers, in general, will want products that will make them feel good about themselves. If people feel good about themselves, we unleash their potential and they remain productive members of society. These insights tell us that it is important for our products to work and fulfill their consumer promise.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


By Roger Pe
Business Mirror
October 3, 2016

It was the first quarter storm, a time of many uncertainties. Student activism was raging. After completing his AB Humanities in Ateneo de Manila, Gabby Lopez boycotted his graduation with twenty other students. Then, he was accepted at the UP Institute of Planning (now the UP School of Urban and Regional Planning) as its first scholar and belonged to the third batch of graduate students.
Martial Law soon came after and the early period of that dark past in our history challenged his adventurous spirit. As young professionals then were being asked to serve the public sector, he took the plunge and got his first job - away from Manila.

He worked as Regional-Urban Planner in Davao City for the Mindanao Regional Development Study Project of UNDP and the Philippine Government Consortium (this included the Mindanao Development Authority, Department of Public Works, Transportation and Communications and University of the Philippines Institute of Planning.

When he got back to Manila, he would get enticed to work at NEDA as Regional Economist in the newly activated Regional Development Staff. Here, he was tasked to help Secretary Gerry Sicat and his senior team to organize and activate the Regional Development Offices, specifically in Bicol, Southern Mindanao, Northern Mindanao and Western Mindanao, Central Luzon, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas and Western Visayas. 
He also helped recruit graduates from UP, Ateneo, La Salle and leading provincial schools. 

He would then get invited to join the new Population Center Foundation of former First Lady Imelda Marcos where he worked with prominent population experts in promoting family planning and health development in rural areas. 

“I was happy to work with the likes of Dr. Clipper Lorenzo, Dr. Dodong Solon of the Nutrition Center of the Philippines, Mr. Mon Binamira of Green Revolution, Sen. Helen Benitez for the Environment, and Secretary Fanny Aldaba-Lim for Social Welfare,“ he remembers.

In his sorties to Bicol, he was fortunate to deal with Secretary Peter Prado, who was then managing the Bicol River Basin Project, funded by USAID. 

Lopez then ventured to study as a working student at the UP College of Public Administration in Padre Faura to pursue his doctoral studies, mentored by great minds, notably Dr. Raul de Guzman, Dr. Ledy CariƱo, Dr. Caring Alfonso, Dr. Gabby Iglesias, Prof. Liling Briones, Prof. Romy Ocampo, Prof. Commissioner Albina Dans, and Dr. Nes Pilar. “It was a period of Martial Law that I found productive and very engaging,” he says.

He missed a scholarship program - “Special Program in Urban and Regional Studies” and a UNDP Travel Grant to Tennessee Valley Authority when he moved to the Cultural Center of the Philippines to head the Management Information Team of the First Lady, leading a young staff of professionals to undertake special studies for the projects of Imelda Marcos as Governor of Metro Manila. 

“The CCP General Manager, Chinese-American IT Expert, Joan Fang involved us in the organization of the World Festival of the Arts to happen during the 1976 Miss Universe Contest in Manila. We helped market the various shows at CCP featuring the Bolshoi and Australian Ballet, individual concert performances of Monserrat Caballe, Van Cliburn and other international artists. We helped Johannesburg-based Canadian painter Clarence Wilson organize an exhibit of world master paintings. “We were very happy to witness all these events as a young professionals. Those were my exciting mid-20s years,” he reminisces.
Today, Lopez likes teaching people to make them self-sustaining, responsible and involved citizens of the community. He is often ready to teach, even with little or no compensation at all.

By being an educator and an environmental planner, he has almost circumnavigated the world doing his calling. He always gave something in return, sharing his knowledge and experience back home, and to countries that hired him as a consultant.
Lopez does not regret being a former OFW. He, in fact, evolved into an author of a number of scholarly readings in urban planning and national security. Most recently, teachers and students of UP School of Urban and Regional Planning recognized his dissertation (Integrating National Security Into Philippine Regional Development Planning”) as well as four of his other publications. One student described them as “important part of our national development.”

In 1983, Lopez left the Philippines and lived in Washington DC for six years. He was hired as a senior management advisor for Coverdale Organization, a company started by the late Ralph Coverdale, an ex-Jesuit novice in Ateneo who served in the Royal Army and took organizational behaviour studies in Oxford University.

He was developed to become a management consultant-trainer specializing in team building, leadership development and conflict-resolution. The job brought him to the United Kingdom, Aruba and selected USAID projects in Nigeria and Ecuador.

With a working visa, he got to serve in projects with the International Monetary Fund, US Peace Corps, the World Bank and USAID, as well as with some US Corporate Clients, notably, Ryland Homes, Glen Gery Brick, and the Aruba Hotel Association.

In May 1986, he was assigned to do management and leadership training programs through USAID Enterprise Program (worldwide) in Lagos, Nigeria. In October of the same year, he was assigned to do management programs for the Family Planning National Groups of Brazil, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina. During the late President Cory Aquino’s visit to Washington DC, he and his team were immediately engaged to do the same program.

There was no stopping after that. He flew in and out of London several times to work with his British colleagues, serving various Coverdale programs, which took a toll on his health.

He was off to Oranjestad, Aruba in 1989 three times to facilitate the strategic review and planning workshops of the Aruba Government and the Aruba Hotel Association - to transition from a predominantly oil-refining center (the largest in the Western Hemishpere, being only 8 nautical miles from oil-rich Venezuela) to a new tourist destination. Here, he befriended the Prime Minister and his cabinet while in Aruba and was even offered residency.

He describes himself as “buhay na buhay sa pagtuturo” (teaches animatedly), simple, calm, compassionate, cheerful, someone who loves God, classical music and his country.

The words in Galatians 6:9 (“Let us not tire of doing good, for at the proper time (Tamang Panahon) we will harvest if we do not give up.”) and Saint Ignatius of Loyola inspire him: (“In everything love and serve the Lord, for His greater glory.)

Lopez’ profession also took him to New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, India, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland.
As a senior adviser to former First Lady Loi Ejercito, Lopez was also included in official trips to Malaysia, Brunei and South Korea, APEC meetings in New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Washington DC, New York, and during the beatification of Pedro Calungsod at the Vatican.

Thoughts on the Filipino diaspora: “Sadly, it is a reality most Filipino families face because economic opportunities are limited in our country,” Lopez says.

However, it is also good, according to him. “It has produced the Global Pinoy with his/her local characteristics. Now, we have Glocal Pinoys, who are globally responsive and updated, and still maintain their Filipino-ness wherever they are,” he adds.

He would like to see the Philippines one day as a first world nation, globally respected and responsive, with all citizens enjoying good quality and comfortable modern life, living in peace and prosperity, preserving our culture of goodness and greatness.

When he came home from his stints abroad, Lopez is most proud of the ones that he has done unselfishly, all of them too many to mention.

“Am happy to have introduced and propagated the concept of servant leadership in the early 1990s wherever I taught, but most especially in National Defense College of the Philippines,” he says.

He co-initiated the propagation of the Development and Security Paradigm in the national security sector, particularly at AFP Command and General Staff College via Development Academy of the Philippines, as well as the Department of Health’s “Doctors to the Barrios” program.

Together with “Stop Hunger Now” and “Poor Foundation” teams, he partnered with corporations to distribute relief goods to disaster-stricken communities and medical missions to poor children in public hospitals in Quezon City and Manila annually.

“I was involved in catechetical teaching as well as visiting poor communities. I was also politically challenged by the “oppressive system” so I became active in Ateneo History Club and campus activism of the late 60s and early 70s. I became a disciple of the late Ed Jopson,” he narrates.

He taught in Ateneo de Davao, Baltimore International Culinary Arts College, National Defense College of the Philippines, Philippine Air Force College, Philippine Army College, National Police College, AFP Command and General Staff College, Development Academy of the Philippines Graduate School of Management, Ateneo de Manila University Loyola Schools, John Gokongwei School of Management, School of Humanities, and Graduate School of Government.

Former Dean of Graduate School of Management at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Senior Fellow/Graduate Faculty at Development Academy of the Philippines and National Defense College of the Philippines, he is currently a visiting lecturer at Enderun Colleges.


by Roger Pe
Philippine Daily Inquirer
October 1, 2016 issue

Moving to a new condominium building? Wait a minute. It could be beautiful outside but could give you hidden costs inside. The builders could pass on to you added burdens because it is unsustainable on many counts.

Simply put, a building that takes too much energy to cool or heat is like a car that guzzles up too much petrol. The analogy is simple. You accept a bad building design, you end up seeing your savings go down the drain because of the builder’s operational costs - and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“Designing and building a structure should be within and beyond the green building norms,” says long time Philippine resident Italian architect Romolo Nati, a sensitive artist who professes to have a liking for the Filipino nipa hut. 

Nati has lived in the Philippines for quite some time. Having seen many climate upheavals in recent years, his work thus reflects solutions about environmental issues. They are creatively woven into his modern Italian designs and inspirations derive from things Filipino are always present, giving his clients a fusion with added value: Living with nature and learning to harmonize with the environment. 

A devout advocate of sustainability, Nati says a building design must always have a common denominator. While it must basically provide functionality to people, it must have a lower impact on the environment. 

“At the rate we are abusing the planet, it is simply not sustainable. We are bound to run out of natural resources needed to survive. That is why we need to focus on building green buildings,” he says.

And that’s what he exactly did. 

When he met Jose Leviste III, a young Filipino environmental lawyer in 2009, both of them immediately developed a liking to pursue real estate development, with focus on green architecture and sustainability. The encounter resulted in the establishment of ItalPinas, a real estate development company serious in designing eco-friendly and mixed-use buildings in the Philippines.

World-renowned Italian design

Nati brings with him a big chunk of Italy, a country recognized as a global fashion, architecture, automotive, and interior design trendsetter. Famous designer Pier Giacomo Castiglioni once said: "Quite simply, we are the best" and Nati always wants to come close to that standard.

After graduating summa cum laude with an Architecture degree in Italy, Nati travelled around the world. By stroke of fate, he ended up in the Philippines. Italy’s loss, Philippines’ gain, so to speak.

On its beautifully designed website, Nati points out the company’s mantra: “Ours is performance based. Our projects are developed with the use of parametric architecture. Our design process involves integrating important factors like weather conditions, financial considerationss and functional needs. Our primary goal: find the best possible combination in order to arrive at the final design that will ultimately give out the best solution.”

He explains that rather than elbow with existing developers in already well-developed areas, ItalPinas zeroes in on upcoming cities in naturally beautiful locations and safe areas. 

The ItalPinas, which Nati leads, together with Leviste, seeks to expand in selected cities in the next few years. Cities with significant demographic and economic growth potentials are on the radar. Similarly, the company invests in undeveloped natural areas to provide well-integrated eco-tourist developments. 

Here’s more of Nati on sustainable real estate development:

What is an eco-sustainable building?

RN: It’s a building low on environmental impact and has significant social value. It benefits everyone including the entire community. It minimizes use of water, raw materials, energy, and even the land where it sits on. More than ever, it reduces emissions, waste, polluting the environment and protects people’s health.

Why should anyone invest on an eco-sustainable building? 

RN: Because it is good for the community and the environment, aside from being solidly value-packed. 
Sustainable buildings do not deplete natural resources. Developers of sustainable structures consciously use less raw materials and more environmentally responsible renewable products.

What made you focus on this aspect of real estate business?

RN: I like the idea of producing products that create value to people and effect positively on our ecosystem. 

Can aesthetic design and eco-sustainability go together?

RN: Absolutely yes. San Miguel in Ortigas, Ateneo in Rockwell and my favorite, the Bahai Cubao are good examples. 

What is a great building design to you?

RN: A building that addresses the values I mentioned above and it is beautiful inside out. A great building is when it is good for the environment and costs less to operate. Primavera Residences is the perfect example of a sustainable architecture.

Who influenced much of your architectural advocacy in the Philippines?

RN: The beautiful natural environment (that should be preserved), the character of Filipino people (very friendly) and the not-balanced wealth situation (we need to create value that is affordable).

What advice can you give to future developers in the Philippines when it comes to constructing sustainable buildings?

RN: Sustainable buildings produce higher value for companies, their clients and the country. They have significant long-term effects, allowing businesses to play their part in protecting the environment on a daily basis.

Creating them benefit both local communities and society as a whole. The return on investment with a sustainable building also increases. Because it is energy efficient, the value of your property also helps improve the bottom line.

Can you tell if a building is sustainable or not?

RN: Yes. Physically, it is a building with a “green” roof, which can have significant economic benefits. Lowering roof temperature reduces the amount of cooling machinery needed, even lowering costs for neighboring buildings. 

It can reduce environmental impact by lowering pollution from the building’s power usage. The chain reaction ultimately leads to the community’s heat effect. Reduced storm water runoff is another environmental benefit. 

Is building a sustainable edifice expensive? Why and why not?

RN: It is not when you know how to design and focus on sustainability early on. It is not when you encourage sustainable design ideas to flourish, like retrofitting existing buildings rather than building a new one.

Tell us about yourself, what school did you study?

RN: I graduated from Rome’s University “La Sapienza” (it means knowledge). I had a thesis in Industrial Design and designed a car for Mitsubishi that was awarded in international competition. 

Do you think Filipinos appreciate good architectural design?

RN: Yes, they do.

Generally, what do you think of building designs in the country’s busiest cities? 

RN: As in every city, some are beautiful some are not. The most important places for me are those between buildings, and have big spaces for the public. 

What is your dream design if you have all the money to build it?

RN: Sustainable houses for the poor. 

What made IDC focus on developing emerging cities in the Philippines and how do you see it 10 years from now?

RN: Megacities are getting un-livable, congested, unhealthy, expensive, polluted, and stressful. It is better to go to a new growing city where quality of life is much better. I see it as a leader in accessible, sustainable real estate developments in ASEAN.

What inspires you? 

RN: Nature and my favorite quote from Fuller: “The best way to predict the future is to design it.” 

On-going projects

Primavera Residences. The “Twin Towers” located in the Pueblo de Oro Business Park, Cagayan de Oro. It offers convenience, style and all amenities of modern living, adjacent to SM City, schools, churches, a golf course, situated inside Pueblo de Oro Business Park, an export-zone registered with Philippine Export Zone Authority (PEZA). 

IDC established itself as the “first-mover” in introducing condominium style living in Cagayan de Oro for the middle-income segment. It won the Best Mixed-Use Development in the Philippines Award given by the International Property Awards in Kuala Lumpur in 2014. It was also highly commended as one of the Best Condo Developments in the Philippines at the 2011 Southeast Asia Property Awards held in Singapore in 2011.

Primavera City. Located at the heart of uptown Cagayan de Oro, near the multi-awarded Primavera Residences. A mixed-use living environment condominium, inspired by nature’s secrets, the project will be in three phases: Mixed-use condominium, a BPO and a host a branded hotel and luxury apartments. 

It will offer distinct Italian design and world-class construction standards, contemporary architectural aesthetics, attention to detail and elegant ambience. Envisioned to be a highlight in Philippine high-rise architecture.

Miramonti. Surrounded by green peaks and highlands south of Manila in Sto. Tomas (part of the Philippines’ new beltway of economic growth, along the expressway connecting the capital region with Batangas Port. Miramonti will soon become a landmark south of Manila, an essential point of reference for the expanding residential and commercial communities of southern Luzon. 

It is a mixed-use, commercial and residential development with contemporary Italian design – from the lobby to the green sky garden. It will feature modern and lifestyle and recreation options as well as harness natural principles to meet its cooling and energy needs.

Nati espouses sustainability like no other. He lives it, designs it and endorses it. You cannot expect him to veer away from it. For him, a green building is not a buzzword or a fashionable word to namedrop. It is a way of life.