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.