Saturday, 29 March 2008

My baby is now a lady

Paraphrasing a line from a baby powder advert . . . yup, my baby is fast becoming a lady (I'm still in a state of denial that the time is NOW).

My eldest daughter -- my pride and joy

Maria Aurora Patrice Ramirez Gutierrez

or simply, Ara, will be marking a milestone in her young life.

A few hours from now - as I write this -- she'll be going up the stage to receive her high school diploma from the College of the Holy Spirit-Manila.

March 30, 2008 (Sunday) will be remembered as the day when Ara will start her transition to a new chapter in her academic life.

And I'm saddened that I'll not be there to stand up, cheer and beam with pride.

I initially planned to make a quick trip to Manila to attend her graduation, but things got iffy and Mara and I had to tweak our plans for this year.

Ganito pala ang feeling ng may anak na ga-graduate. Totoo pala yung mga eksena sa mga TVC like the mobile phone ad that I'd often see on CNN kung saan mangiyak-ngiyak yung isang tatay while watching her daughter in a toga tapos nagfla-flashback yung mga scenes when his kid was just learning how to write her name hanggang sa lumaki na at humantong na nga sa graduation. Parang ganun rin nangyayari sa akin for the past few days. Sounds corny, but it's true.

Ang bilis ng panahon. Parang kailan lang I was there on a string of Ara's seeming unending graduation from nursery (twice at St. Charles Learning Centre), then pre-kinder then kindergarten then elementary (all at St. Joseph's College-Quezon City). . . .

(picture taken at Ara's graduation at St. Joseph's College in April 2004)

I still vividly remember the time when I escorted Ara to CHS to apply and eventually enroll as a freshman. We were thrilled to see the dolls dressed up in a CHS uniform at the then bare High School Library and we were also excited as the school's official seamstress took her measurements for her uniform. Kahit na medyo mabigat sa bulsa, I really pushed that she be part of history -- by being a member of the pioneer batch of the school's comebacking high school department -- and by the time this gets posted, she will be hours away from realising that moment.

Ara's graduation and subsequently Aia and Andre's will always have a deeper meaning to me. Starting with Ara, I've come full circle . . . and hopefully will still reach the roundabout when its time for Aia and Andre to cross the line.
I had my moment 22 years ago.

Now, it's my girl's time. And what a way for her to go . . . her class even voted her as the grad ball's "princess". And my goodness, mabuti na lang nagmana sa ama etcetera, etcetera . . . .

Mabrouk to Class 2008!

* * *

Nakakamangha talaga. Parang hagibis na dumaan ang 16 years.

Was it only yesterday when this little girl would sleep soundly in my arms and wasn't it just last night when she giggled and clapped her hands when I came home from work?

Parang kailan lang my mornings and evenings were spent watching Lion King dahil gusto niya na palaging ginagaya yung presentation scene ni Simba or mimic fight scenes from Power Rangers -- siya yung Pink Ranger ako naman yung kalaban -- or see her jump from the sofa and shout "sa kapangyarihan ng hiyas ng puso" while flashing Starla's "magic jewel." Ito na ba yung bata na dati-rati'y ang hirap awatin sa panonood ng Ghostfighter, parang kit-kiti kung gayahin ang pagsayaw ng original na Marimar at wala ring sawa sa pakikinig ng mga kanta ng F4 kahit na "Oh baby, baby baby" lang ang naintindihan?

* * *
Since moving away, I've lost track kung ano-ano ang likes and dislikes ng mga bebe ko.

From watching cartoons, Ara and even Aia are more interested in going to concerts. A few months back, pinapanood ko sila ng gig ng Fallout Boys (wonder if I spelt that right) and instead of dolls and other girlie stuff, they asked for iPods as pasalubong.

When I went home last December, Ara and Aia would prefer "fraps" at Starbucks to Happy Meal or Jolly Kiddie Meal. And Andre is still very much fixated with his Battle B-daman.

I miss our lazy weekend afternoons. I miss my kids.

Simple priceless pleasures that I had to give up.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Discovery of the Philippines

TACLOBAN CITY -- The province of Eastern Samar commemorated the 487th anniversary of Magellan landing in the Philippines, particularly at the island of Humumu (as mentioned by Pigafetta in his chronicle), now called the island of Homonhon in the municipality of Guiuan.

While there is a controversy as to where the first mass in the Philippines was held, there is no debate as to where Ferdinand Magellan had first set foot in the country.

Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer who led the first successful expedition around the world.

He was born in 1480, and he came to the Philippines when he was 41, and died in Mactan Island, Cebu, in April of 1521.

Every Filipino student knows the significance of March 16, 1521, the date when Magellan "discovered" the Philippines, as was taught in school.

Yet throughout the years no grand and nationwide celebration has been observed to commemorate the date, except that which is celebrated in the province of Eastern Samar. But the event has great significance and must therefore be given more importance and attention, according to the Philippine Information Agency here.

As historian Agoncillo wrote, it was through Magellan expedition that the Europeans first learned of the existence of the Philippines. It was the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe, and Magellan was with a native Filipino, Enrique or Panglima Awang.

The Magellan expedition also proved that the earth is round, not flat, as was popularly believed then. It established the International Dateline, that one "gains" a day when traveling from west to east and "loses" a day when traveling from east to west.

For SamareƱos and Eastern Visayas, Magellan landing at Homonhon, showed one and all the fact that Samar and the Philippines, already had a structured society and a culture of its own. As Pigafetta wrote, "their seignior was an old man who was painted. He wore two gold earrings in his ears and the others, many gold armlets on their arms and kerchiefs about their heads...They have very black hair that falls to the waist, and use daggers, knives, and spears ornamented with gold, large shields, fascines, javelins and fishing nets that resemble rizali and their boats are like ours."

On March 16, 2008, four hundred eighty seven years after Magellan landed at the tiny island of Homonhon, a Mass, re-enactment and commemorative program will be held at the Magellan Landing site.

The so-called site is at Pagbabangnan where the big rock which serves as the marker, remains intact, a silent witness to the historic event which took place hundreds of years ago. A Magellan’s Cross, though no longer the original, is also found there (there is one in Cebu) and the spring (now called Magellan Spring) where Magellan and his men drank many years ago continues to provide clear water.
Also read the Inquirer's report on the Samar's claim to history.

Saturday, 15 March 2008


Today, we mark the first anniversary of XPRESS, a weekly newspaper published by Al Nisr Media. This is where I work.

All 53 issues were literally end products of the blood, sweat and tears -- heartaches and headaches -- of its staff of diverse backgrounds, culture, beliefs, persuasion and passion.

XPRESS started in 2005 as Project X. Our motley crew was given the marching orders to develop and come up with an innovative paper that is supposed to know no limits in terms of page design and story ideas.

I'll let you decide whether we did a good job or not. Log on to our website at and see the online version of our paper. If you're based in Dubai, XPRESS comes out every Thursday and is distributed as a FREE paper.

Looking Back: This was us while waiting for the first copies of XPRESS to roll out of the presses on the early hours of 15 March 2007.....

On the day -- and night -- we produced issue #53, I purposedly wore the same red floral shirt to remember my original XPRESS mates like Radhina, Chris and Austyn and of course, Shatha (who took the pictures).

Here's the original XPRESS team . . . .

Last Thursday, we had a "team picnic" at Safa Park to mark the paper's "big" day.

Francis Matthew, our former managing editor at ANM who is now Editor-At-Large at Gulf News, was there, and so was my good friend Adonis Durado, the creative genius behind XPRESS.
Sorely missed were the guys and gals who were once part of "Dubai's most exciting paper".

See who the survivors are in this footage.

Monday, 10 March 2008

My little boy turns 8

My kiddo will be eight years old today, March 10.

This pic was taken a few days after I arrived from Dubai last December. He was really showing off the shirt he was wearing in this picture to everybody.

I can still remember the first thing he told me when we finally saw each other at the airport: "Dad, buti na lang dumating ka. Sawang-sawa na ako sa mga babaing yan (pointing to his Mommy, Ate Ara and Ate Aia)." Later while having dinner at the Ihaw-Ihaw, Kalde-Kaldero resto along Roxas Boulevard, Andre wrapped his arms around my neck and whispered: "Dad, huwag ka nang umalis uli ha." I was speechless. My boy really misses me a lot.

I feel doubly guilty because this is the 2nd year in a row that I'm not with my Andre as he turns a year older. Of course, it's one of the social costs that an OFW has to pay and we've long accepted that reality.

Happy birthday Andre (a.k.a. Andy, Andoy, Dadoy, Dudoy, Dardoyle, Andot, Andres, Anders, Andrew E) !

I miss you.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

When will I die?

OMG! I just made a startling discovery.

I will die (knock on wood) daw on July 25, 2042, a Friday. I'll be 73 years old by then. I would've outlived my Papa by 21 years and about 12 years short of the age when my Daddy (my mom's dad) died. Napaka-morbid ko naman!

This info did not come from any doomsayer or fortune teller, but a website aptly called as the The Death Clock.

The site will ask for your birthdate, body mass index (BMI) and will ask if you're a smoker or not. If you don't know your BMI, the site will calculate it for you. After everything's filled in, it will then flash the estimated date when you'll probably die and there's also a countdown clock that tells you how many more seconds to go before you write 30.'s a grim reminder of one's mortality. The bottomline message, make the best out of your life by living right.

Go check when will people send you flowers.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Art for Gaza at ang kahalagahan nang kabuluhan sa buhay

Napapansin ko lang na masyado yatang nagiging artsy-fartsy ang drama ko dito sa Dubya ngayong 2009.

Sinimulan natin sa Wowowee na maaari sigurong maituring na performing art at nasundan naman nang pagdalo natin bilang isa sa mga hurado ng isang essay writing contest sa UIPS at sa pagmimiron naman sa Emirates Airlines International Festival of Literature.

Kamakailan lang ay napadalo naman tayo sa pagbubukas ng Art for Gaza kung saan nag-exhibit ng kani-kanilang mga obra ang ilang mga talentadong tao ditto sa Dubai nakaramihan ay mga kaopisina ko ditto sa XPRESS at Gulf News.

Simple pero may dating ang exhibit na isinagawa sa Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre sa Mall of the Emirates mula a-tres ng Marso at magtatapos sa kaarawan nang aking unico hijong si Andre sa a-diyes.

Mga likhang kamay ng aking mga kaopisinang mga Mexicano at mga sipat naman ng aking mga kasamahang Indiano at Canadian at dating kasambahay na si Kahlil at mga piling dokumentaryong ginawa ng aming mga kasamahan sa Gulf News na nagtungo mismo sa Gaza noong panahong sumalakay doon ang mga tropang Israeli noong Disyembre ang isinabit sa exhibit area.

Ang mga obra ay isusubasta kung saan ang mga malilikom rito ay ibabahagi sa Palestine Children’s Relief Fund na siya namang kumakalinga sa mga pangangailangan ng mga batang naipit sa kaguluhan sa Occupied Palestine (kung tawagin dito sa Gitnang Silangan).

Kamangha-mangha ang mga obra kung saan makikita o mararamdaman nang manonood ang hinagpis at pasakit na dinaranas ng mga biktima nang kaguluhang tila walang katapusan.

May ilang mga obra naman na bagama’t walang direktang koneksyon sa Gaza ang nasa exhibit gaya ng mga larawang kuha ng aking mga kaibigang sina Zarina, Karen at Kahlil.

Bagama’t walang kinalaman sa Gaza, ipinakikita naman sa kanilang mga kuha ang iba’t –ibang anggulo ng buhay at tanawin ditto sa UAE.

Palaisipan lang sa akin kung ano ang kinalaman ng mga super heroes na likha ng mga Amerikano sa tema ng exhibit. Siguro, sila ang representasyon ng mga kontrabida.

Naalala ko tuloy ang aming dinaluhang essay-writing contest kung saan kalahati sa kabuuang panuntunan nang pagtimbang sa mga lahok ang tinatawag na Relevance ng sanaysay sa tema.

May mga kalahok sa patimpalak na talagang mahusay magsulat ng sanaysay subalit dahil sa lihis sa tema ang kanilang obra, mababa ang kanilang nakuhang puntos sa criteriang Relevance.

Isa na namang aral ang ating natutunan

Kahit na magaling ka, kung wala namang kabuluhan ang iyong ginawa o ginagawa, talo ka pa rin sa bandang huli.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Dubai: The pain and the glory

Today, I'm yielding my spot to Boo Chanco, my former boss at the Manila Chronicle, who was in Dubai last week as one of the media observers in Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap's entourage. Sir Boo writes a business-oriented column in the Philippine Star.

Dubai: The pain and the glory

By Boo Chanco
Monday, March 3, 2008

Thursday afternoon in the Middle East is like a Saturday afternoon back home. As we walked into the villa that houses the Philippine consulate, Consul General Benito Valeriano explained that Thursday is a busy day for the Consulate... marrying lovestruck OFWs. Photos of those intending to get married fill up the bulletin board in the public area of the consulate.

I spent a few days last week in Dubai to check out our efforts to tap the very promising export market in agricultural products there and incidentally came across the pain and the glory that describes the OFW experience in this gateway to the riches of the Middle East. There were outstanding stories of success... of ordinary refugees from our country’s economic hardships finding their big pot of gold. There were also heartbreaking stories of abuses and bad luck that make your heart cry out.

Dubai is a city of many faces in the heart of the oil rich Arabian peninsula. Dubai is Arabic, yet multinational and very cosmopolitan. It is ruled by an emir and is part of a federation of seven small states or emirates. An unofficial study commissioned by a federal body which advises the government revealed just last week that the population of the United Arab Emirates is now 5.6 million as of the end of 2006, up from 4.1 million, the last official figure at the end of 2005.

The strange thing about Dubai is that foreigners outnumber natives. The study, showed there were only 866,779 Emirati citizens among the population of over 5.6 million, the daily Al-Bayan said. Foreigners numbered 4,764,356, or 84.6 percent of the total population.

The last official figures showed 825,000 Emirati citizens, or just 21.9 percent. The study revealed the natives are now just 15.4 percent of the population. The latest study clearly showed that the native population of the oil-rich Gulf Arab country is steadily dwindling as more foreigners flock to the UAE, amid a spectacular economic boom and what is euphemistically known as the “demographic imbalance.”

The large foreign population gives it the feel of a melting pot of nationalities and cultures that explains its very international feel. Unlike Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Dubai in particular is very tolerant of religions other than Islam. Catholic churches are allowed, which is one reason our Pinoy community feels more at home there than elsewhere in the region.

There are officially 250,000 Filipinos in the emirates but I am told the number is more likely at least a hundred thousand more and rising. Many Pinoys go to Dubai ostensibly as tourists and just change status after they are able to get a job.

While the booming economy creates a lot of jobs, Ares Gutierrez, a journalist I used to work with at the defunct Manila Chronicle, warns that life there is no cakewalk.

If I had my rathers, Ares declared, I’d rather be home.

With inflation in the teens, the cost of living is high and can pose quite a challenge for the Pinoy fresh off the early morning Emirates direct flight from Manila.

Ares told a group of visiting journalists that renting a bed space can set an immigrant back at least 700 dirhams a month, which at P11 to a dirham is equivalent to P7,700. Ares explains that to save money, bed sharing has been devised, which is exactly what it suggests... two unrelated people sleeping on the same bed.

But there are spectacular success stories that encourage the ordinary OFW to hope and persevere.

One such success story is Rowena “Weng” Jamaji, originally from Olongapo. She was one such OFW in Dubai some years ago until she and her Iranian husband started a construction company. She told me that initially, her husband continued working as an executive in a construction company so they could cover the bills. Then Weng’s Midas touch started to work and they are now rich beyond any ordinary Pinoy’s dream, myself included.

Weng and husband Minoo and their three children live in a palatial home in Dubai’s most exclusive district. I saw in their garage a Rolls Royce, a Hummer, three or four Benzes of various types and I understand they have other cars I didn’t see. Given the construction boom in Dubai, Minoo told me they have clients begging them to accept their projects. He and Weng employ some 6,000 workers and are in the market for at least a thousand more.

Then, there is Vivian Economides, a Pinay married to a Greek, and she owns the Majestic Hotel where our group of journalists stayed. And, there’s Isabelita Sabado Warren who runs a trading company with her husband Glen. In fact, in a party Weng hosted for us in her home, we met more Filipinas who did extremely well in the Middle East and one thing they had in common was sheer determination to succeed and a firm control of finances. Those tough Pinays control the purse strings of their businesses.

But then, there are the heartbreaking stories of those who not only failed to meet their Arabian lamp genie but whose lives turned for the worse.

A local paper carried the story of a Pinay who was sideswiped by a speeding car while she was waiting for her ride to work. She suffered broken bones and some bleeding in her brain and is now undergoing therapy. She is worried about how to support the education of her children back home in the meantime. She is hoping to collect damages from the car owner.

The afternoon we were at the consulate, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap listened to the sad stories of four more OFWs and I am told they were typical of the difficulties our people suffer in search of a better life for their families. Hearing their stories puts a human face on the cold remittance figures that our officials routinely tout as their economic achievements.

Indeed, to the visiting Pinoy journalist, Dubai could well be an overseas colony of Imperial Manila.

Tagalog is widely spoken anywhere you go. Jollibee and Chowking are there. And Dindo Amparo, ABS-CBN News bureau chief is a local celebrity because they see him covering the local community’s activities and airing them on Balitang Middle East on ANC and The Filipino Channel (TFC).

Dubai’s key role as gateway to the Middle East market makes it an important place for Filipino business groups to show their wares.

That’s exactly what a few brave souls did last week at the GulFood Exhibition where 2,500 companies participated. Our Philippine exhibit area was pathetic compared to those of Thailand and Malaysia but that is also a reflection of how things are back home.

One gets an impression of how far Thailand and Malaysia have gone in terms of food manufacturing. Even their packaging is generally better looking than ours.

We can’t even completely blame government for our less than competitive appearance at GulFood because I understand in the case of Thailand and Malaysia, the driving force is really the private sector. I would have expected San Miguel to have a big presence in this exhibit as our largest food processor but they were hardly there... not even for the country’s sake.

Among our private sector participants, one has to give credit to the daring entrepreneurship of Mega sardines and Fortress Food. Michelle Tiu Lim Chua of Mega Sardines was particularly upbeat about the export prospects of this local brand.

What struck me with Fortress food, on the other hand, is the sheer bravado of seeking the export market for their canned Kaldereta Mechado and Kare Kare even before they really gain headway in the Philippine market. Fortress Food was also trying to sell Kalderetang Kambing, Sinampalukang Kambing and Papaitang Kambing under the Golden Farm brand.

Given the large Pinoy community not just in Dubai but in the whole region, it seems the Pinoys alone can support the popular Pinoy brands. At least one Arab is betting on Pinoys... Abu Nader employs an almost all Pinoy team of workers in his Philippine supermarket which looks like a grocery store in a provincial capital. His shelves carry familiar brands from Universal Robina, Oishi, Sunflower biscuits, Purefoods, among many others. Even the Nestle and Del Monte products there are Philippine made.

But the biggest opportunities are in the export of fresh fruits, particularly bananas.

From what I heard during meetings with traders, they can take any quantity we can produce and we already supply 99 per cent of all bananas sold at the UAE. But they urged Agriculture Secretary Yap to make sure we maintain the quality of our banana exports. Some less than desirable stock has reached the Middle East and is starting to harm our reputation.

Three days were just too short to get a good grip of what Dubai is in the context of our country and our people. But it was enough for me to know first hand that this is one major world capital that should have our attention. Dubai is indeed, our gate city to the riches and promises of the Middle East.