Wake Up, Philippines!

‘Pack of wolves’

A “PACK of wolves” is the apt description, and the crimes of plunder and other criminal acts the proper charges, against those involved in the infamous P728 million fertilizer fund scam.

These are the findings arrived at by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee at the conclusion of its investigation of the infamous case early this week.

That the Senate committee chose the phrase “pack of wolves” to describe the alleged perpetrators of the scam only meant how deeply its members were convinced of the reprehensible guilt of the accused.

Wolves are notoriously known to be ruthless predators that would ravish others’ lives to satisfy their own greed.

“The bigger picture shows us the distressing spectacle of veritable wolf packs preying with impunity on government projects, having access to colossal sums of public money, using power and influence without compunction, and perverting public office into an opportunity for abuse and gain,” part of the committee report said.

What is immediately noticeable in the committee’s harsh words and harsher still decision recommending the filing of plunder and other criminal charges against the personalities it found involved in the case was the total silence, if not the lack of criticisms, over such severe and exacting verdict.

But that may be expected because of the national shame and disgruntlement that such scandal caused the nation.

On the contrary, it could have been met with widespread skepticism and possibly violent street protests if the Senate committee, even just a little, toned down the tenor of its indignation on its findings.

The senators themselves, including some opposition leaders, were reported satisfied with the Blue Ribbon investigation, wishing only that the Arroyo government, in particular the Ombudsman, would act decisively on the committee’s recommendations.

Some of them also favored the committee’s report holding President Arroyo responsible for Bolante’s acts and those of the Agriculture Department officials involved in the fertilizer case, an issue which some House leaders dispute, however.

House Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong in a statement has said “the acts of those responsible for the diversion of fertilizer funds are not attributable to the President.”

But just the same, Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, insists that “the President must explain.”

Even so, Congressman Antonio Cuenco of Cebu, chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, has expressed disappointment over the Blue Ribbon Committee’s decision to link President Arroyo to the scam, however indirectly, despite the total absence of evidence.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon for his part said he was satisfied “that all the people involved in the scam were now being held accountable.”

Now the proverbial ball is on the Ombudsman’s court.

With the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendation, the hope is that the Ombudsman would act speedily on it. While it may be true that the fertilizer scam is only one of the few thousand cases now pending in the Office of the Ombudsman, it is now up to Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to device means to accommodate it for early resolution.



Manila Bulletin

Dipolog, the city of surprises

Posted in DOT, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on February 26, 2009

There’s more to this bustling city than its famous bottled sardines

Discovering Dipolog City for the first time is a lot like receiving a bottle of the city’s renowned Spanish-style sardines. There is actually more to this bustling city bounded by verdant rolling hills and the blue Sulu Sea than meets the eye.

“With rich fishing areas off its shores, Dipolog City is famous for the abundance of its marine resources and nowhere is that God-given blessing more readily apparent than in the Central Market,” said Mayor Evelyn T. Uy, who transformed Dipolog into what it is now – a progressive city.

Truly, we saw just right off the center of the city’s main street, the marketplace teems with an endless supply of the day’s catch of shrimps, prawns, crabs, yellow-fin tuna, shellfish, clams, and oysters. Seasoned buyers know that reasonable prices are almost always guaranteed.

The market also teems with the harvest from the land as well, with fruits like marang, durian, rambutan, lanzones, and mangosteen which are abundant in the months of August to October, while other popular pasalubong staples such as mangoes and papaya are available all year round.

With a lifestyle that flows as free as the sea-bound wind that rustles its many trees, Dipolog is the perfect escape from the worries of big city life. Here, one is within walking distance from the market and the city’s famous boulevard which offers a jogging experience unlike any other. The cool, relaxing seaside vistas are crowned by the magnificent sight of the beautiful sunset, yet another everyday treat in this city of surprises.

The onset of night, however, does not find that the wonders of Dipolog have retreated with the afternoon light. On the seaside boulevard itself, street food such as barbecue, balbacua, and fish balls are laid out for sale until the early dawn. It is this social “food court” that acts as a great leveler since one finds people from all walks of life eating side by side in small tables that dot the far end of the esplanade.

Referred to by the locals as “McDo,” after the popular Pinoy slang for the omnpresent American fastfood chain, the Dipolog version of “McDo” instead means “mag duko-duko,” a Cebuano term which describes one who bends low to choose which to order from the dimly lit barbecue grills.

After eating, one might be pleasantly surprised to discover that there is life after five, too, in Dipolog, contrary to what one may expect from its quaint provincial setting. Bars, karaoke joints, some ballroom dancing, and a quiet drink while listening to good music are all in store for would-be night hawks.

The art lover will never be a stranger here, too. The art scene is alive and active in Dipolog at the Goodtimes Café. Set against a rustic setting where artists converge to unwind or to paint or simply to talk art among a gallery of the works of Dipolog’s finest artists, the ambience itself makes it a place to visit even for mere artists-to-be.

If traveling around the city is the cause to build up an appetite yet again, one need not worry. Truly, no one ever really stops eating in Dipolog since, with the temptation to eat present at every street corner and hidden nook, the urge is never difficult to satisfy. From fine-dining to fast food joints, coffee shops and pastry shops, hole-in-the-wall snack counters, carinderias, name it, Dipolog has it, such that to go hungry in this city of a thousand and one treats would be only a self-inflicted punishment.

A special treat for any first-time visitor to this lovely city would be an array of seafood, Dipolog’s own version of the lechon, and luscious fresh fruits laid out in a grand buffet while one enjoys a cruise along the placid waters of the Dipolog River. Passing through verdant foliage of large trees and green fields, the cruise takes the guests to the old town site of Dipolog, where a replica of the old Subanen village now stands.

Dipolog City is fast becoming the new convention destination in this part of Mindanao. In August of this year, the Mindanao Business Conference will be held in Dipolog, attracting 500 delegates and guests including high-profile personalities like ambassadors and business tycoons. In October, the Jaycees will likewise hold their national convention here, and before the year ends, other national organizations and civic groups will have scheduled their own conventions in the city.

However, the rising popularity of Dipolog as the convention and vacation destination of choice shouldn’t be surprising. After all, it is but an hour’s flight away from Manila, and Cebu, the Queen City of the South, is just 30 minutes away by plane. Ships, ferries, and fast crafts ply the Dipolog–Dumaguete–Bohol and Cebu route several times a day. Plus, one can also travel by bus all over Mindanao from Dipolog.

Must see: The twin falls in Sungkilaw, barely an hour away from the city proper, or enjoy a short trek in the forest of Cogon Eco Park, 30 minutes into the suburbs of the city. Beach lovers can just hop into a motorized banca and go island hopping while watching the dolphins along the way. A good way to end a memorable Dipolog visit is to go back to one’s roots through a heritage tour which includes a visit to Dipolog’s Holy Rosary Cathedral and Jose Rizal’s place of exile in historic Dapitan.

Dipolog beckons, so next time you plan an out-of-town trip, consider Dipolog and discover the wonders that await every visitor in this peaceful city of simple and happy people. You will experience a different high when you mix with the locals and allow yourself to just be part of the flow of everyday life.

Manila Bulletin

Nature’s wonders

Posted in DOT, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on February 26, 2009

Explore the majestic coastal waters of Batangas

The province of Batangas is a destination of endless holiday getaway possibilities. Only two hours away from Manila, the pristine coastal waters and lush forests of this Southern Tagalog wonder will make tourists (both local and foreign) experience a ‘natural high’ – away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The unimpeded view of picturesque earth and water landscapes along the way to Nasugbu is already a form of relaxation. Tourists will feel even more relaxed when they are in the most secluded area where the beach is surrounded by a cluster of different coves and bays with lush terrain, cool breezes, and fine sand, with a handful of water sport activities.

One such spot is the Hamilo Coast situated in the coastal water of the South China Sea that encompasses 13 different green coves in varying sizes and shapes, namely: Pico de Loro, Papaya, Santelmo, Subli, Baybay, Etayo, Balibago, Arkaya, Dorado, Bucanita, Limbones, Neela, and Patungan.

This 5,800-hectare development and recreation area of Hamilo is located within the boundaries of the famous coral triangle area, which is maintained and protected by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The coral triangle area is the epicenter of marine biodiversity, spanning Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste with an abundance of coral reefs and marine life.

This extraordinary area holds the richest concentration of 75 percent of all species known in the world – more than 3,000 species of fish live in the protected area. Most yachtsmen traveling around the country are awed by the beauty of the place, and they make it one of their stopovers during their travels.

Moreover, Hamilo has a natural habitat to diverse marine life – giant sea clams, blooming corals, and sea turtles – with a little current making the place an ideal location for diving.

Tourists can also explore other coves and bays through a speedboat ride starting from the main recreation area at Pico de Loro Beach and Country Club.

Hamilo Coast was developed by Costa del Hamilo, Inc., a subsidiary of SM Investments Corporation.

Julius P. Vicente

Blueberry cheesecake at Sugarhouse, Eastwood City

Posted in Food/Drinks, Hotels/Restaurants/Bars by Erineus on February 26, 2009

Updated February 26, 2009 12:00 AM

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Sweet treat: The blueberry cheesecake at Sugarhouse, Eastwood City

MANILA, Philippines – Sugarhouse, one of the country’s well-loved coffee houses and bakeshops, is now at Eastwood City. The full-service branch is across the newly opened Eastwood City Mall.

Try the old-time favorite blueberry cheesecake, a perfect dessert to punctuate a meal or to complement your brew for the day.

Visit Sugarhouse’s new branch at City Walk 2, Eastwood City, or call 440-1534.

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Sate, soho and gado-gado at Rumah Makan

Posted in Food/Drinks, Hotels/Restaurants/Bars by Erineus on February 26, 2009

Updated February 26, 2009 12:00 AM

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A dish of health: The gado gado at Rumah Makan, Filicity, Alabang.

MANILA, Philippines – Rika Kato, a Filipina who’s married to an Indonesian, loves Indonesian food so she decided to open her own restaurant Rumah Makan in Westgate Filicity, Alabang.

The restaurant specializes in Indonesian sate and soto (soup). Sate, Indonesia’s national dish, is made of diced or sliced chicken, goat, mutton, beef, pork, or fish. It goes well with soto.

Gado-gado, one of the more popular dishes from Indonesia, is a combination of peanuts and spices ground in a mortar with the cooked vegetables. Rumah Makan has a traditional Indonesian kitchen, which has a complete selection of spices such as coriander, pepper, turmeric, cassia, cardamom, and star anise. Coconut milk is a staple, too. Visit Rumah Makan at Westgate Filicity, Alabang, Muntinlupa City. For inquiries, call 850-3517 loc 270.


Tuned in to Asian taste

Posted in Food/Drinks by Erineus on February 26, 2009

By Lester Gopela Hallig Updated February 26, 2009 12:00 AM

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Hian Goh and Maria Brown

MANILA, Philippines – Faced with a food channel that describes itself as bringing “the unbiased and honest Asia” to viewers, there is no other recourse but to pull up a chair and watch.

Way back when, tuning in to a channel that looked at Asian cuisine the way an Asian would perceive it seemed farfetched. Now, the Asian Food Channel (AFC) is breaking ground as Asia’s first and only 24-hour pay TV food channel.

Based in Singapore, AFC is dedicated to airing the best food and lifestyle programming from around Asia and the rest of the world. AFC is seen in the Philippines on Sky Cable.

“AFC has the widest range of food programming, from all the different genres that you can imagine,” says AFC co-founder and managing director Hian Goh when I spoke with him at the Peninsula Manila. “AFC has a wide palate, from instructional cooking shows to restaurant makeovers. What we have is not just an extensive array of food shows but also balanced content of Asian and Western programming.”

True enough, alongside culinary icons such as Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, there are also Vivien Tan, chef Wan, and Martin Yan. In fact, there is Tablescapes: Life On A Plate, the first lifestyle program produced in the Philippines to be broadcast pan-regionally. It is hosted by Angel Aquino and chef Bruce Lim.

“It is a Filipino show that excites and adds to our diversity. The Philippines is an exciting territory for us,” Goh declares. AFC managing director for acquisitions and programming Maria Brown agrees: “People here want to know what’s going on. There is so much to know and Filipinos are passionate about food, so it is about time our shows came to them. One of the things we want to do is to be able to promote the other side of the Philippines, as has already happened with Singapore, Japan and India. There is a whole world here in Asia that remains unexplored.”

Goh adds, “It is Filipinos as seen through Asian eyes. That is our approach.”

Launched five years ago, AFC began with a pact between Goh and Brown, who both vowed to create a channel that fed their passion, which is food. AFC first appeared in Singapore and Hong Kong. But for them, the Philippines is the crème de la crème of TV markets.

They chorus that Filipinos definitely know their TV. Brown remarks: “The platform is developed. What that means to us is greater opportunity to do more things and make the business viable. Along with Malaysia, the Philippines is our pet market. We are also excited about working with Sky Cable because they believe in us. The ratings are also good.”

AFC’s shows attract a broad spectrum of viewers, including teenage food lovers, empty nesters, housewives, aspiring chefs, and high flyers. Among their must-see programs are Iron Chef (the original Japanese series), Sugar with Anna Olsen, Martin Yan’s China, A Cook’s Tour with Anthony Bourdain, The Heat with Mark McEwan, and Restaurant Makeover.

Brown adds: “Actually, our main draw depends on what area of food you’re here for. Housewives want the instructional cooking shows so we put those in the middle of the day. In the evening, we found out that they want something energetic, so we were the first channel to bring Gordon Ramsay to Asia. Nobody else would touch him because of his language, but we like him for his energy, passion and knowledge of food. It’s also a business show.”

When they were shopping around for shows, Goh and Brown had to politely reject several because of their poor food knowledge.

The duo stresses that AFC is still all about bringing the best programming to families. That is why, for 2009, AFC is bringing, as Brown puts it, “a stomper of a lineup.”

She explains, “We are always developing new product. We do not believe in cutting back just because we can get away with it. We are producing a big-budget series this year. We want to do more Filipino-centric stuff because nobody here is exporting the Philippines to Asia and the world. From our shows, we want the rest of the world to see the Philippines as a tourist spot. We can make stars out of people very easily. Who knows? The next Jamie Oliver could be a Filipino.”

Among the things that AFC is taking full advantage of is its relationships with food and food-related authorities, as well as with advertisers. AFC regularly executes 360 advertising and marketing campaigns and solutions for top FMCG, financial and travel brands.

Brown, a former BBC journalist, states, “This is, after all, a channel that communicates food and lifestyle. We are glad that they get what we do. They feel the authenticity. Since we are the founders, our passion is indivisible from our product.”

For Goh, an investment banker-turned-entrepreneur, AFC is confident about doing a great job for its viewers. With nine territories and over 15 million viewers watching AFC, all indications point at continued growth for the channel. He has one parting piece of advice for food lovers and viewers: “stay tuned!”

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Where pigs fly and fish are blue

Posted in Food/Drinks, Hotels/Restaurants/Bars by Erineus on February 26, 2009

By Julie Cabatit-Alegre
Updated February 26, 2009 12:00 AM

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The first thing that you find appealing about the combo bistros, which opened recently at the ground level of the new Eastwood Mall in Libis, Quezon City, is their names — BluFish and The Flying Pig.

MANILA, Philippines – The first thing that you find appealing about the combo bistros, which opened recently at the ground level of the new Eastwood Mall in Libis, Quezon City, is their names — BluFish and The Flying Pig. The menu is just as creative, combining fresh flavors with western and Asian influences. “But I would not call it fusion,” chef Peter Ayson clarifies. “What we do is rustic cooking with a twist.”

“It’s the kind of food you’d serve at home to impress your guests,” says managing partner Raymund Magdaluyo, the young restaurateur who is also behind other popular eating places, such as Red Crab, Heaven and Eggs, Claw Daddy, New Orleans, and Fish Out of Water.

“Contemporary coastal cooking” is how it is described on the BluFish menu. “Think of the areas along the Mediterranean, the Italian Riviera, the French Riviera,” Magdaluyo says.

“It’s simple cooking, nothing sophisticated,” Ayson explains. “The highlight of the recipe is the freshness of the seafood itself. We like to source locally, such as our Visayan sea bass from Iloilo called bulgan, or apahap in Tagalog, so we get it really fresh, not frozen.”

Top on the menu is the Moroccan Sea Bass, which is steamed Visayan sea bass with lemon doukah (marinade made with Mediterranean spices), roasted vegetables and couscous stuffing. It is served whole, for sharing. “The fish is cooked immediately after it is ordered, not before,” says Ayson. “It is cooked whole, rather than filleted, to keep the flavor, which you get from the bones, and also the moisture and texture.”

Ayson, who grew up and studied at the International School in Indonesia where his father worked as an expat, received his culinary training when he returned to the Philippines from CCA in Katipunan in Quezon City, and CIA in Napa Valley in California where he mastered in regional American cuisine, “which is really more than just burgers and fries,” Ayson says. He also worked as sous chef at Orange, the popular breakfast place in Chicago. He says his idol is celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who is also a healthy food advocate. “I’ve thought about my social responsibility to my guests,” he says, alluding to healthy cooking and healthy eating. He does not rely on fat or butter to give his dishes flavor but rather on the freshness of the ingredients, keeping the cooking to a minimum so as not to overpower them.

The ceviche (or kinilaw) samplers are served in small trays of three shot glasses, each containing a generous mix of fresh seafood. The ceviche samba sampler brings together chipotle (Mexican peppers) mixed seafood in mango cilantro, and ahi tuna and grilled squid in coco water. The Ceviche Riviera Cruiser features ingredients that are less commonly encountered in your usual kinilaw, such as pampano with basil and candied orange rind, and seafood saffron ceviche. The Southeast Asian Kinilaw Sampler presents something more familiar, with our own tanguigue in coco cream, tuna laab (Thai) in lime, and mussels in Malaysian curry ceviche.

As a starter, the coconut chipotle gambas does a good job of opening your taste buds with the de-shelled prawns generously coated and propped on coco cream mixed with cilantro, lime and chipotle sauce. You will find the freshly baked fried cuapao, which comes with the dish, useful for soaking and finishing the rest of the sauce from your plate. And just like that, you have the flavorful mix of Spanish, Mexican, and Asian influences all working together in one dish. The shrimp and lobster bisque with a hint of blue cheese cream is as thick and creamy as it should be, and quite filling too.

BluFish shares the same kitchen as The Flying Pig next door, which features barbecue and American border cuisine. It has its own compact electric oven smoker using hickory and cherry wood where baby back ribs, jumbo belly chops, lamb ribs, and sausages are smoked for as long as 46 hours. Basting options include Creole blackened, honey pomegranate, and French espresso rub.

We tried the lager braised pig cheeks, which is beer braised kurobota pork cheeks (imported from Japan ) served with salted pork and leek risotto. It almost has the texture of tongue, tender but not “melt in your mouth.” Other interesting items on the menu under the heading “Swine Dining” include stuffed crispy knuckles, the flying meatloaf, and pulled pork lasagna. The playful titles given to the dishes echo the restaurant’s overall fun and whimsical concept, starting with its name, The Flying Pig. Magdaluyo’s four-year-old son, Rico, was fascinated by a metal artwork that he once saw. It was made from an LPG tank shaped like a pig with wings attached to it. Rico called it “the flying pig,” which Magdaluyo thought would also be an appropriate name for his restaurant, “the place where pigs can fly and diners pig-out!” Displayed on the walls are mounted cartoons of pink pigs with wings, and hanging from the ceiling are miniature gliders that serve as light source.

The interiors of both The Flying Pig and BluFish were designed by talented architect Cathy Saldana, who has worked on several other restaurants owned by Magdaluyo. “Cathy is very good at working with retail spaces,” Magdaluyo remarks. “She understands the limitations and meets the requirements of our restaurants’ leased spaces.” At BluFish, Cathy used ordinary silver serving trays hanging from the ceiling to reflect the light. Her use of natural stone on one wall, and glass panes for the façade reinforces the welcoming and relaxed, simple yet special ambience of the place.

Managing two restaurants with a shared kitchen is like commanding a whole ship, says Ayson, who changes the menu of the restaurants every quarter. The chef also taught at the Academy for International Culinary Arts a couple of years ago. There is still that part of him that likes to pass on what he knows to his staff, to his kitchen brigade, he says. His work as chef and partner in Magdaluyo’s various restaurant ventures has practically taken over his life, like an obsession, he says. And how does he unwind at the end of the day? He makes himself his favorite comfort food, plain homemade chili hotdog.

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