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Farewell Senator ‘Nene’

November 11, 2019

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina--As the dust settles on the death of the late senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. let me share fond memories of meeting one of the greatest lawmakers this country produced.   Long before he authored the Local Government Code, all power was centralized in Malacanang. Every barangay, every town, every city and province are beholden to the Palace whose longest sitting ruler held an iron grip to power. Everyone was at his mercy up to the last days of his bed-ridden occupation of the country’s seat of authority.   With so much power concentrated in one person it is expected that political patronage will be the norm. And the barangay officials, who represent government on the grassroots level, are but mere foot soldiers at the beck and call of political generals kilometers away from their barrios.   Worse these barangay officials are made water boys and hauler of chairs for their political patrons who wish to impress by showing that they have bailiwicks in the province. And as Cagayan de Oro City mayor, Pimentel saw for himself the inequity and imbalance of power and felt that this setting should be rectified.   Having traveled to Germany and Australia, Pimentel saw how their governments have decentralized power and delegated it to their local officials who have a greater say and autonomy to chart the future of their communities. And their example provided the seed of inspiration for Pimentel’s Local Government Code.   And while Manila still holds sway over the rest of the country, albeit shifting to and fro to Davao City where the incumbent president comes from, local governments can now plan budgets and implement programs while the lowly barangay chairperson or captain were promoted from political lackeys to political lieutenants.   Of the many laws authored or co authored by yhe late Senator The Local Code, the Bible of the local is the legacy of the great Senator from Mindanao, who was born in Claveria, Misamis Oriental and schooled and grew up in Cagayan de Oro.   I knew more about Senator Nene long before I joined the media in Cagayan de Oro City while I worked at the 6th Municipal Circuit Court of Tagoloan Villanueva, Misamis Oriental. The clerk of Court then was the late Alejandrino Pimentel, the younger brother of the late senator’s father.   Nong Dino, as he was called by us would regale me with his nephew’s achievements in school, his stand against the martial law of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Nong Dino was the proud uncle. If my memory serves me right, I think Nong Dino was the youngest brother of the late senator’s father.   There was a problem with my papers and it took some time to have it approved by the Supreme Court so Ning Dino asked the help of his nephew to intervene. And true enough, it was approved and I was unable to thank the senator since I have no access to him except through Nong Dino.   And so when I finally met him in an interview years later, I thanked the good senator for his help and told him what happened as he does not know me personally. Senator Nene calls me Sue and when I interviewed him it would be a learning process. There will always be lessons and learning from the answers or questions you posed to him.   He is very strict in the truest sense of the word but through the years he mellowed down. I love listening to his rendition of Visayan classics Matud Nila, Usahay and ‘You Are My Sunshine.’  I hope that his plans for Mindanao did not die with him.   And the two-day wake held at the City Tourism Hall of Cagayan de Oro City Hall along with the outpouring of gratitude and shedding of tears over his death proved that even with the long passage of time and long after he left the corridors of power, Senator Aquilino ‘Nene’ Pimentel Jr. is beloved by Cagayan de Oro City’s residents young and old alike.    Indeed he is also a great son of Mindanao. Rest in peace Senator ‘Nene’ Pimentel you have done a lot for the Philippines and you will always he remembered.

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Finding Peace in a piece of pastry from Macau

November 11, 2019

Entrance to Golden Dragon Casino Macau as featured in the James Bond movie SKYFALL One of the most insightful things I learned during a recent visit to Macau was shared with us by our tour guide Tata. I was part of a group of journalists from the Visayas and Mindanao who were brought by Cebu Pacific and JG Summit Holdings to visit the Special Administrative Region since the airline now flies direct to it from Manila, Clark and Cebu. We were in the midst of our hectic first day itinerary and had just arrived at Fishermen’s Wharf when Tata thoughtfully though of replenishing our spirits with two of Macau’s iconic foods: the Macau egg tart  and Pork Chop Bun.  I found many tales regarding the origins of the Macau egg tart online but the one I believe closest to the actual events are Matthew Keegan’s account in theculturetrip.com , essentially the same tale detailed in Kate Springer’s 2015 story in BBC Culture “The Baker behind Macau’s famous egg custard tarts . Based on the pasteis de nata from Portugal, the tarts were first introduced to Macau by British pharmacist-turned baker, Andrew Stow. After tasting the tarts in Portugal, Stow returned to Macau and started experimenting with the recipe to create his own ‘Macau’ version. Not long after, he opened Lord Stow’s Bakery in Macau’s Coloane Village and the rest is history. More than 25 years after selling their first tart, the bakery produces more than 13,000 a day and they are more popular than ever.  Chef Raimund Pichlmaier, who worked at the Hyatt Regency a client of Stow’s failed import business, introduced the Englishman to the pastel de nata recipe. Not content with the Hyatt’s traditional tart, Stow tinkered with the recipe, jettisoning corn flour in the spirit of the creamier British custard tarts. He also chose to mould the tart’s shells by hand. The result was a Portuguese-English hybrid – with a custard that’s more like the English version, and a light, flaky shell and caramelized top that stays true to the Portuguese pastel de nata – thought by historians to be invented by the 18th-century monks of the Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon’s Belém parish. I didn’t have time to appreciate the egg tart during our tour of Fishermen’s Wharf since I had to balance it along with the Pork Chop Bun and my camera. It was only when I came back to the Philippines that I truly appreciated the pastry, even when served cold straight from the fridge.   Harmony in an egg tart But it was Tata’s insightful remarks on the symbolism embodied in the egg tart that stuck with me the most. “The egg tart represents the harmonious relationship between China and Macau,” Tata shared. “The Chinese are known to be masters of egg cooking while the Portuguese (who were masters of Macau for the longest time) are masters of baking the tart. Together, they bring the best of both worlds in the egg tart and you can taste the peace and harmony that we enjoy even when Macau was turned over to China in 1999.” Of course there’s more to the story than that but her description struck me as almost the opposite of the situation in China’s other administrative region just across the bay. Despite its status as one of the economic tiger economies of Asia, everything has not been roses in Hong Kong since the turnover in 1997. In a recent Bloomberg.com article,  authors Eric Lam and Enda Curren reported that Hong Kong’s economy has descended into recession,  contracting 3.2% in the 3rd quarter, following a 0.4% contraction in the second, its worst slump since 2009.  Financial Secretary Paul Chan said that a full-year economic contraction is “very likely.” One of the biggest factors in determining if Hong Kong will recover -- and how soon -- is whether mainland Chinese tourists scared away by the protests will return. Mainland visitors still account for almost 80% of total arrivals in Hong Kong. Bloomberg reported how the number of Chinese group tours to the city fell 90% compared to a year ago in the first ten days of September, according to data compiled by the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong. For August, the decline was 63% compared to a year and declined almost 40% in August from a year earlier, said Financial Secretary Paul Chan. That’s the worst drop since the 2003 SARS epidemic.  Chief Executive Carrie Lam said visitor arrivals in the first half of October were down about 50% on-year. Contrast this with the situation in Macau, just across the bay. Hong Kong vs. Macau   Hong Kong and Macau have acted as cultural and economic bridges, connecting China to the international market.  However, each region contributes a different type of integration link for China.  In Macau, it’s tourism and gambling, whereas it’s banking, investment and trade in Hong Kong.  These different economic compositions, coupled with a historic and unprecedented health event, have fortified the status of Hong Kong and Macau as economic bridges to China.  Of the two, the Hong Kong economy has emerged as stronger and more suitable for international trade relationships.  Hong Kong rapidly developed into a middleman to China since the beginning of the economic reforms initiated by China in the late 1970s.  In turn, Macau offers a distinct, yet equally strong, bridge to China:  it is a language and cultural link between China and the Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) countries.  Each of the two SARs thus boasts a unique contribution to the larger integration between China and the rest of the world. Stark Differences   Although functioning under the same governing principle, Hong Kong and Macau have some stark differences. Macau's population of 623,000 is just a fraction of Hong Kong's 7.4 million. Almost half of Macau residents were born in mainland China, in contrast to Hong Kong's 20%. "Most Macau people still recognize themselves as Chinese. People have a strong link with the mainland,” Kin-Sun Chan, an assistant professor in government and public administration at the University of Macau, told DW. However, due to the vast differences between the two regions, Chan said it's difficult to compare Hong Kong and Macau directly. "The two economies are very different. Also Macau is much smaller. As a result, Macau is more dependent on mainland than Hong Kong." Since Macau has little arable land and few natural resources, it depends on mainland China for most of its food, fresh water, and energy imports. Japan and Hong Kong are the main suppliers of raw materials and capital goods.   The steady growth of the Macau SAR benefited from the support of Beijing. Since the establishment of the region, public security has been improved and the central government even designated Macau as the city for expansion of gambling-related tourism. The introduction of the Individual Visit Scheme policy made it easier for Chinese mainland residents to travel back and forth. In 2005 alone, there were more than 10 million tourists from mainland China, which made up 60% of the total number of tourists in Macau. The income from the gambling houses in Macau reached almost US$5.6 billion. On 15 July 2005, the Historic Centre of Macau was listed as a World Cultural Heritage site. The increasing development of tourism became a major factor in the rapid development of the economy of Macau. Hong Kong and Macau are among the most densely populated places on earth, making the influx of Mainland Chinese tourists and migrants particularly challenging. Much of this wealth has been accumulated since the handover in 1999, with most visitors to the casinos being Chinese. Consequently, Macau’s economy in large part depends on rich visitors from China spending time gambling in its casinos. Whereas Hong Kong has a strong economic foundation even without Chinese visitors flocking to the territory, Macau does not. The Hong Kongers can permit themselves to be anti-Beijing and scare off tourists, while for the Macanese, scaring off Chinese gamblers would be too costly    Friendship Statue In an article in BBC Travel, author Andy Jarosz  relates how the Portuguese allowed Macau to decay slowly, reluctant to invest more than necessary in this distant outpost. Yet in the run-up to the handover of Macau to the Chinese in 1999, the Portuguese government took a renewed interest, keen to ensure a lasting legacy once their time in Macau was over. Among these were statues to commemorate Portugal’s role in Macau’s history; the most prominent being the Friendship Statue at the foot of St Paul’s Church, featuring a Chinese girl handing a lotus flower (a symbol of purity) to a young Portuguese man, encompassed by a tiled loop which hold the figures together in the symbolic form of friendship between China and Portugal. While this may be the most oft cited symbolism of the harmony and peace between Macau’s Chinese and Portuguese roots, in my mind the Chinese girl is holding the Macau egg custard tart, as a symbol epitomizing the harmonious integration of two divergent cultures that travelers across the world can bring home to ponder on and share with their family and friends. Olá, bom dia!        

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John Gokongwei Jr, Philippine's 3rd richest man dies at 93

November 10, 2019

The country's 3rd richest man, John Gokongwei, died of a natural death last Saturday. He was 93 at the time of his death. John was the main man of Gokongwei's business empire. With his brilliant mind oozing with extraordinary ideas the family business is able to grow into a sprawling business empire in the fields of banking, real estate, air transportation, food and beverage, among others.   "Our beloved husband, father and grandfather John Gokongwei Jr. passed away peacefully 11:41 pm, November 9th, at the Manila Doctor's Hospital surrounded by his loved ones. Please pray for the repose of his soul. Details of his wake to follow. Rest In Peace, Mr. John," Lance Gokongwei told reporters in a text message. JG Summit Holdings, Inc, one of the business empire of the family, business executives and rank and file employees said they are mourning the passing of a great man, with super natural ideas, work ethics and his passion for business. "Mr. John, as we fondly called him, was a visionary. He was an inspiration to entrepreneurs and businessmen around the nation, with his pioneering ideas, his strong work ethic, his passion, and perseverance," it said in a press statement said to the media. John's remains now lie at the Heritage Park in Taguig. His wake will be from 12 noon to 10pm from Monday to Friday, while his funeral mass will also be hedld on the same venue on Friday. The family of the late John Gokongwei has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations would be given to the donors' respective charities. Meanwhile, Forbes Park has recently included JOhn in their list of Asias's richest businessmen. John ranked no. 3 in the Philippines with his networth of $5.8 billion. John said "I earned about P20 a day by working longer and harder than everybody else. But it didn’t matter since I really loved my work. I loved being an entrepreneur."  "And so all through the years, I stayed as an entrepreneur, loving what I did and working hard. And always learning from the school of life." In 2006, John donated P20 billion, or an equivalent to half of his shares in JG Summit Holdings to the foundation established by the family.  

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John L. Gokongwei, Jr., 93

November 10, 2019

We mourn the peaceful passing of our Founder and Chairman Emeritus John L. Gokongwei Jr., on November 9, 2019. He was 93. We, the 75,000-strong employees of JG Summit Holdings and Robinsons Retail Holdings, join the nation in paying tribute to the founder of the first Philippine multinational conglomerate, a philanthropist with a passion for education. Mr. John, as we fondly called him, was a visionary. He was an inspiration to entrepreneurs and businessmen around the nation, with his pioneering ideas, his strong work ethic, his passion, and perseverance. Today, the Gokongwei Group is one of the country’s largest and most diversified conglomerates with interests in air transportation, telecommunications, banking, food, power, property,  hospitality, retail, and petrochemicals. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Elizabeth, and his children Robina, Lance, Lisa, Faith and Hope, and Marcia; his in-laws and grandchildren; brothers Eddie and James Go, sister Lily; and his nieces and nephews.  The wake will take place from Monday, November 11 to Thursday, November 14 at Heritage Park, Taguig, from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.  Daily masses will be celebrated at 7 p.m. Funeral mass will be on Friday, November 15 at 8 a.m. at Heritage Park. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to your favorite charity.

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AboitizPower posts P13.5 billion net income from January to September 2019

November 10, 2019

On a year-to-date basis, AboitizPower’s net income for the first nine months of 2019 was ₱13.5 billion, 19% lower than the ₱16.7 billion recorded during the same period last year. The company recognized non-recurring losses of ₱220 million versus last year’s losses of ₱1.7 billion related to net foreign exchange and derivative losses. Without these one-off losses, the company’s core net income was ₱13.7 billion, 26% lower than the ₱18.4 billion recorded in the same period last year. This was primarily due to the higher volume and cost of purchased power, lower spot market revenues, and lower plant availability. “It has been a tough year for AboitizPower with the supply issues that resulted in the high cost of replacement power for our customers. The company has also generated lower revenues from the spot market due to challenges that caused some of our power plants to shut down,” said Emmanuel V. Rubio, AboitizPower Chief Operating Officer. “Despite this, our customer base continues to grow, which underscores the consumers’ trust and confidence in AboitizPower. Moreover, we remain confident that with our incoming capacities, we will surpass our 2020 target of 4,000 megawatts attributable capacity, ensuring sustainable growth for the company, our shareholders, and the customers and communities we serve,” Rubio said. Results of Operations Generation and Retail Electricity Supply   AboitizPower’s generation and retail supply business recorded consolidated earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) of ₱28.7 billion in the first three quarters of 2019, 13% lower than the ₱33 billion recorded during the same period last year. This was primarily driven by the higher volume and cost of purchased power, lower spot market revenues, and lower plant availability. Spot market prices were high in the first half of 2019 and during that period, the company purchased replacement power due to outages and contracting ahead in preparation for Therma Visayas, Inc.’s incoming capacity. Plant availability was also lower versus the same period last year due to outages from the company’s coal facilities. Distribution   For the first three quarters of 2019, AboitizPower’s distribution business recorded consolidated EBITDA of ₱6 billion, 3% lower than the ₱6.2 billion recorded during the corresponding period in 2018. This was primarily due to lost margins from the decommissioning of the Bajada power plant. The company saw energy sales increase to 4,341 gigawatt-hours (GWh), which was 5% higher than the 4,136 GWh recorded in the first nine months of 2018. This was primarily driven by the increase in new customers across all segments. About AboitizPower AboitizPower is the holding company for the Aboitiz Group’s investments in power generation, distribution, and retail electricity services. It advances business and communities by providing reliable and ample power supply at a reasonable and competitive price, and with the least adverse effects on the environment and host communities. The company is one of the largest power producers in the Philippines with a balanced portfolio of assets located across the country. It is a major producer of Cleanergy, its brand for clean and renewable energy with several hydroelectric and geothermal power generation facilities. It also has various fossil-fired power plants in its generation portfolio to support the baseload and peak energy demands of the country. The company also owns distribution utilities that operate in high-growth areas in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, including the second and third largest private utilities in the country

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Quake victims share food with monkeys

November 10, 2019

On a mountain village in this quake-stricken municipality, residents live in virtual cages while monkeys can roam around undisturbed.  Barangay New Israel, along the foot of Mt. Apo, at about 800 meters above sea level, is surrounded by lush vegetation and tree farms.  It is home to 600 human families and around 300 monkeys. The village is among places that suffered in the recent series of earthquakes, the strongest at magnitude 6.6, that hit many parts of Mindanao, particularly in Davao del Sur and Cotabato provinces. According to estimates by barangay officials, close to 90 percent of the houses in the area inhabited by the religious group Moncadista sustained damages and rendered unsafe to live in. Barangay chair Eduardo Delfin said many of the residents prefer to sleep in tents outdoors instead of entering their homes. “We only go in if we need to use the toilet,” he said. The situation has exposed the human residents to live in the open with the monkey inhabitants sans the usual barrier between them. Houses in the village have screen and other barriers to prevent the monkeys from entering and ransacking their homes for food. Sixty-three year old Rodolfo Aguillar said he once forgot to close the door of his house and when he came back, the meal he had prepared was gone and his belongings strewn all over the house.. “Morag giagian sa mga kawatan (Looks like thieves came to my house in search of something),” he said. Factions The monkeys in New Israel, originally led by an alpha male named “Mike,” have their own politics and have since divided themselves into three factions, Aguillar said.  A group of about 60 monkeys have established themselves in the barangay center, while the two other groups who used to live with the community, but whose leaders were dethroned, left for the wooded areas surrounding the community. The outside groups would at times attempt to enter the community, triggering a bloody encounter among monkeys, Aguillar said, describing the conflict of the monkeys, which he said “must be due to territory and food resources.”  Even with that situation of the monkeys, residents themselves have not hurt or harmed them, which have lived with the community for about five generations already. Sharing food Last November 8, New Israel held “Amo (Cebuano for monkey) Festival” to mark the 108th birthday of Maximino Guibernas, founder of the Moncadista religious group that established itself as a community in the area. During the festival, residents and monkeys eat together on a long table of fruits and veggies.  As the residents suffer from the calamity brought by the series of earthquakes, the monkeys struggle as well, especially with the inadequate food.  Residents who used to feed the monkeys as part of their household, now rely on aid coming from relief agencies and volunteer groups. Eutiquia Medel, 83, said they have to look after themselves and care for the monkeys as this was taught to them by their leader, whom they call Papa Guibernas, who established the Moncadista religious group in 1935. “Lisud man siya, pero dawaton kay nahitabo kini sa pagtugot sa Kahitas-an (It may be difficult, but we accept it because it is the will from the heavens),” she said, while holding a roll of sleeping mat and tent given as aid by the Rotary Club of Dadiangas. She said she will still share food with the monkeys as they used to do. Egg not bananas On Saturday, soldiers brought to the village several truckloads of belongings and bags of foodstuffs, including boxes of bananas, apparently for the monkeys. But a load of bananas in a military truck was noticeably untouched even as the monkeys roam around. “Busog na sila! Daghan sila nakaon kagahapon sa selebrasyon. (They’re full. They had plenty from yesterday’s celebration),” remarked Aguillar, referring to the birthday celebration of their leader, Papa Guibernas. Aguillar narrated in Cebuano that a volunteer group brought in food, including popsicles that the monkeys grabbed and ate. After several minutes, he said many of the monkeys were throwing up. “Nabugnawan ang tiyan (Their tummies are not accustomed to it)!” he said, laughing. But, give them raw egg and even if they are full, they will consume it. Aguillar, who grew up as a child in the place, said it is not bananas that they love to eat. He told the aid volunteers: “Sa sunod magdala mo, itlog (Next time, bring eggs instead)!” 

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