Your medical history now comes in a card at The Medical City

Your medical history now comes in a card 
By Walter Ang
December 28, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The Medical City now makes it easier for patients to access their medical information and history through its e-Partner Card, the Philippines' first individual electronic storage card for patients' personal health records.

The card was launched as part of the hospital's 43rd anniversary celebration. The hospital unveiled four major elements that supported its anniversary theme "Establishing the Pillars of Growth and Leadership."

Pillar one was "Building a National Network," which highlighted its 15 satellite clinics and two acquisitions, Great Saviour International Hospital in Iloilo and Mercedes Medical Center in Angeles City, Pampanga.

The e-Partner card was introduced at the unveiling of pillar two, "Promoting the Patient Partnership Philosophy," accompanied by the introduction of the hospital's second corporate website ( which will serve as a supplement to its first website (, as well as its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Pillar three was "Advancing in Product Innovation," which showcased the latest technology the hospital has acquired: a new catheterization laboratory and a robotic surgery system. Pillar four was "Creating a Global Brand," celebrating The Medical City's re-accreditation by Joint Commission International, a global healthcare accrediting organization.

The card is basically a self-contained personal health record USB device. "You simply plug the e-Partner Card into a USB outlet located in most computers and the records are immediately available. With just a click of a mouse, the built-in software program opens and presents all the medical records in an easy-to-use and easy-to-read format," said Margaret A. Bengzon, Group Head of TMC's Strategic Services Group.

The e-Partner Card holds patient identification such as name, age, address, medication records and prescriptions, blood type, immunization records, and organ donor information.

It can also store medical records of procedures and exams that have been performed on the patient such as radiological imaging (like X-rays or MRI scans) and laboratory test results.

"If your medical condition requires detailed histories of multiple medications or just a running record of the latest dosages, your doctor can see what has been prescribed by other specialists that you are also seeing and avoid adverse drug reactions.," said Bengzon.

"This e-Partner Card also keeps your medical records handy and available for first responders and healthcare professionals in case of emergency or when you may be unable to communicate. However, patients have the option to secure the information with a password lock."

Upon every visit to TMC, patients with e-Partner Cards need only submit their cards to the service unit's staff to have their latest records uploaded. "The card also allows patients to enter their own additional information for customized control of their own health care," she said.

Since there is currently no single global system of storing digitized patient information and records, the stand-alone feature of the device is one if its key come-ons. It does not require additional software or any specialized readers, nor does it need internet access, and it can be accessed by any standard computer that has Microsoft Windows operating system.

Business or leisure travelers, OFWs and immigrants will appreciate the card's ability for automatic translation of records into various languages.

"With the e-Partner Card, every TMC patient can now be an even more engaged partner in the attainment of his health goals," said Bengzon. "This power to actively manage one's health information enables patients to communicate and collaborate more actively with their physicians, towards more efficient, effective and customized care."

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Holiday gifts, according to the stars

Holiday gifts, according to the stars
By Walter Ang
December 16, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

For this year, astrologers recommend patience and allowing for delays and snafus when you do your holiday shopping because there is a Mercury retrograde that started on Dec. 10 and will last until the 30th.

Mercury, the ruler of electronics, communications and transportation, will look as if (from our vantage point here on Earth) it's going backward in its path in the sky. Whenever this happens, its "powers" are "reduced," and there's usually a lot of weird miscommunication, weird traffic patterns and weird weather incidents. Also, gadgets tend to go haywire. Computers get virus attacks, fax machines break down, cellphones hang, ATMs and credit card swipers bog down.

You can already imagine how irritated people will be at the malls. By the way, electronics have also been known to drop in prices after certain Mercury retrogrades?so stave off on any electronics purchases.

That advice done with, we have astrology to use as a guide if you've run out of ideas on what to give as gifts. Whether you're one of the inherently thoughtful signs or one of the inherently absent-minded signs, you can pick out certain gifts for each of the signs (including yourself!) based on some general characteristics for each.

Earth signs
Practical and productive (bounty of the earth) but also stubborn as rocks.

Taurus (April 21-May 21)
Creatures of comfort, they like anything that adds to their sense of luxury or security without going out of their comfort zone (their beds). Their favorite piece of clothing is, more often than not, a pair of ratty (but comfy!) slippers. Once they find a restaurant they like, they eat there for life. A gift certificate to their favorite restaurant and a pair of slippers and you're good to go.

Virgo (Aug 23-Sept 22)
They love to be organized but sometimes their secret shame is that they're not really all that clean (it's that connection to earth). They all secretly want to be professional closet organizers. Get them a six-pack of body soap and some of those transparent plastic sock dividing-organizing thingies.

Capricorn (Dec 22-Jan 20)
In a positive light, determined to get to the top; the same trait expressed in the negative extreme equals super obstinate. Give them ten (they like collecting things) mugs labeled with "World's Greatest Boss" (even if they're not the boss yet). Best of all, you can give them the same kind of mug for every other occasion thereafter. "For your collection!"

Water signs
Still waters run deep (ooh, mysterious). But have you ever seen a tsunami (drama queens)?

Cancer (June 22-July 22)
The home is the power base of all Cancerians. There, they get to nurture and tend to everyone. That's also where they retreat (into their shells) when the world gets a little too much. Give aromatherapy candles to help soothe the soul of your frazzled Cancerian friends. Oh, they like red and white gingham tablecloths, too.

Scorpio (Oct 23-Nov 21)
Scorpio is the sign of secrets. They like nothing more than to uncover the truth(s) in their usual intense manner. It won't cost you anything to tell them a secret for the holidays. They'll like that even more than the second-hand Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys paperback you can get them. "Guess where I this book from!"

Pisces (Feb 20-Mar 20)
Their powerful imagination can either be channeled into artistic creativity or into daydreaming in circles. Bodies of water help them relax or focus all those ideas that constantly pop into their heads. Other than a membership to a sports club with a pool, fill a glass bottle with water, drizzle the outside with glue, then pepper with glitter. "I made this water sculpture just for you!"

Fire signs 
Source of life and warmth. And explosive blazes.

Aries (Mar 21-April 20)
Alive, awake, enthusiastic! Always raring to ram the goat's horns against every new thing in town because they see the world through a child's eyes. The newest model of anything will get them excited for sure. Otherwise, comic books or animated movies will be just as fine. If you can get the newest model of something that features a cartoon character, well, jackpot!

Leo (July 23-Aug 22)
Their lion's mane, hair, is super important to Leos (the bald ones are most likely deliberately that way because they'd rather chop off thinning or bad hair than be caught dead with it). A comb, brush, hairband, barette or any hair tool or accessory will win you points. A pocket mirror is okay, too. They'll think of you every time they preen and purr.

Sagittarius (Nov 22-Dec 21)
The sign of the archer, shooting arrows all over the place, though not necessarily aiming anywhere in particular. For them, the journey is definitely more important than the destination. They like to physically do stuff and they like to laugh a lot. Treat them to the amusement park. Or give them a couple of comedy DVDs with the labels covered up. They like surprises.

Air signs
Just like air, can be friendly and easy breezy. And can be all over the place or up in the clouds.

Gemini (May 22-July21)
Their mile-a-minute brains love words: reading words, writing words, saying words, inventing words, etc. They all want to have their own talk shows. You can get them anything they can read or write on. You can get lozenges for the ones who get you into trouble in class because they talk to all the time and your name ends up on the board under the "Noisy" list.

Libra (Sept 23-Oct 22)
They love to meet new people and make new friends, collecting a network of contacts they'll eventually tap when they run for public office. That is, if they can decide fast enough if they really want to run or not after weighing the pros and cons (sign of the scales). A planner-and-directory will help them keep track of deadlines.

Aquarius (Jan 21-Feb 19)
Because they're preoccupied with the future rather than the present, they can either become visionary innovators or they end up forgetting everything that needs to get done today. Something that beeps or lights up with reminders would be nice. A nice comfortable pillow will also be nice for the ones who think so much that they get insomnia.

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International experts to grace green architecture confab

International experts to grace green architecture confab
By Walter Ang
December 13, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Two international authorities, Emilio Ambasz and Francine Houben, will speak at a national architecture symposium on Jan. 21, 2011 to discuss "Global Green Concepts: Evolution of the Built Environment."

The symposium is organized by Architecture Network (Archinet), the University of Santo Tomas College of Architecture's student organization and will be held at Centerstage Theater, SM Mall of Asia.

Archinet planned the 2011 symposium theme to build on issues that were raised in the 2010 symposium that it also organized.

"The 2010 symposium, titled `Asian Green Cities: Visions of the Modern World,' concluded with a cliffhanger and left an open-ended question that begs to be answered," says Archinet president Mesezabel Montano. "What if we change the perception that `building green is something we can't afford' and, instead, embrace the truth that `we can no longer afford to build in any other way'?"

"Indeed, there is no easy solution when it comes to addressing the issue of sustainability," says Dan Lichauco, principal designer of Archion Architects, an associate professor at the college and Archinet's faculty advisor. "Only by asking the right questions will we get the right answers and therefore the right results.

"In this symposium, we hope to dissect the true issues behind the buzz-word `sustainability,' confront the cynicism that inhibits necessary action, and come up with creative concepts on how we can integrate green principles in our design process so that our built environment can continue to evolve into one which not only serves man but also honors nature."

Industrial designer and architect Emilio Ambasz will discuss how to design buildings that are intricately connected to the natural environment and accessible to the whole community.

Ambasz has a Master's Degree in Architecture from Princeton University. He has taught in the same university and has been a visiting professor at the Hochschule fur Gestaltung, Germany.

Projects include MycalSanda Cultural Center, Japan; Museum of American Folk Art, New York City; and Lucille Halsell Conservatory at the San Antonio Botanical Center, Texas.

He won First Prize in the closed competition to design the Master Plan for the Universal Exhibition of 1992 in Seville, Spain. In 1997, Ambasz received the Vitruvius Award from the MuseoNacional de BellasArtes, Argentina for the innovative quality of his work.

Francine Houben, founding partner and creative director of Mecanoo Architecten, Delft, The Netherlands, will present the philosophy behind her architecture, which is characterized
by a strong contextual sense for audience, user, and environment. She will also showcase a selection of her international projects which focus on energy consciousness, sustainability, and cultural value.

Houben has designed buildings in recognition that sustainability is a social responsibility and that buildings must inspire their users to be socially and ecologically responsible.

Houben is one of the few women to have reached a position of eminence in the field of architecture. She is a visiting professor at Harvard University. She lectures all over the world and takes part as jury member in many prestigious competitions. Her views on architecture where published in 2001 in the book "Composition, Contrast, Complexity."

Recent projects include Montevideo in Rotterdam and FiftyTwoDegrees in Nijmegen and Theatre and Congress Centre La Llotja in Llerida, Spain. Currently in development is the National Performing Arts Center in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

"The symposium will address issues and challenges that face a developing nation like the Philippines in light of the current state of the global environment," says Montano. "Architects, designers and planners play crucial roles in offering solutions to these problems facing the nation."

"In addition, the symposium serves as a prelude to the celebration of the UST College of Architecture's 82nd anniversary in February 2011," she says. "The symposium is also a few days prior to the Grand Opening of UST's Quadricentennial Celebrations to be held on January 28, 2011." January 28 is the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of the university.

"Global Green Concepts: The Evolution of the Built Environment" is on Jan. 21, 2011. For details, call 09178966378. Register at

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Saving San Sebastian Church

Saving San Sebastian Church
Text and photos by Walter Ang
December 7, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

San Sebastian Church facade.
Photo by Walter Ang
Bring a refrigerator magnet with you when you join the "S.O.S." (Save Our San Sebastian Church) walking tour. Part of the fun is being able to slap the magnet onto portions of the church that have been painted to look like stone.

Those magnets end up sticking onto everything. After all, the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian is the only prefabricated all-steel church in the Philippines, and, according to some sources, in Asia.

Offered by Old Manila Walks, a walking tour company headed by Ivan ManDy, the tour is equal parts art lessons, scientific facts, historical tidbits, and, of course, the most fun component, rumors of possible scandals.

No spoilers here, but be sure to ask the guides who wasn't at the big party to commemorate the completion of the church. Who allegedly broke some of the stained glass windows? Did Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty fame, really design the church?

Unfortunately, the biggest scandal-in-the-making is the fact that the all-steel structure is rusting away.

All steel
Run by the Order of the Augustinian Recollects or "the Recoletos" and located in Quiapo, the church is the first Philippine shrine for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel as it housed an image brought over from Mexio in the early 1600s.

Three previous churches made of masonry were destroyed by earthquakes from the 1600s to the 1800s. In 1880, Spanish engineer Genaro Palacios rallied the friars to use a very modern (at the time) solution: steel. Stronger, lighter and cheaper than brick, termite-proof and earthquake-proof, pre-fabricated parts would be shipped from Europe and erected in Manila.

Ask the guides why it took a decade to build. Stories of lowest bidders, circuitous delays, stubborn suppliers, dealing with two sets of "management" in separate continents and other misadventures will make for an interesting afternoon.

But side-by-side the stories of bureaucracy are also lovely tales of engineering feats; of human passion and tenacity; of an architectural accomplishment.

"The church is a great mix of art and technology, of devotion and profession, of Europe and Asia. Born of the collaboration of engineers, friars, artists, metalsmiths, glassworkers, sculptors and laborers from six countries," says architectural conservator Tina Paterno, who usually joins the Old Manila Walks tour guides.

Marvels disappearing
Once the structure was erected, celebrated local artists finished its interiors. Lorenzo Guerrero designed the retablos and pulpit. Lorenzo Rocha faux-finished the steel interiors to look like marble and jasper. Rocha was a prizewinning portraitist and royal court painter whose collaborative trompe l'oeil on the church walls are all that is known to have survived of his work.

And even those might not last for long. "Since 1891, the Philippines has had 14 major earthquakes," says Paterno. That the church is still standing is a testament to engineered steel's ability to withstand strong forces, however, it's succumbing to another force of nature. Seeping water has caused panels to warp, rivets to pop off, paint to deteriorate and rust (and resultant holes) to form.

The tour affords views of spaces not usually seen by the public: above the ceiling, through floors of wrought iron staircases that lead to the belfry. Tourists are shown a mural of purgatory in the choir loft that's all but faded away. "The paintings are a challenge because corrosion has formed beneath the paint," she says. "How do you conserve a painting whose `canvas' backing is crumbling away?"

"Save for a few additions, the interior finishes including windows and painted metal, have never been replaced," says Paterno. "The interior space would be very close to what someone would have seen on inauguration day in 1891."

Most alarming and dangerous is that all the surface rusting could indicate the likely concurrent rusting of the church's hidden internal structural supports.

The order has long noticed the church's condition. Recollect Fr. Rene Paglinawan had attended a conservation talk given by Paterno and invited her to see their church in 2008.

The San Sebastian Conservation and Development Foundation, Inc. was formed this year. Fr. Regino, the Prior Provincial of the Recoletos, chairs the board, which includes Fr. Paglinawan, and Fr. Leopoldo Estioko, the parish priest, and Paterno as the executive director.

Paterno has practiced in New York City for over a decade, working on such projects as the United Nations and the Apollo Theater. She has assembled a conservation team that has already begun the first phase of its restoration: investigation and assessment of the problem.

"We have to establish the extent of the damage and its causes before we can formulate a rescue plan," she says. "We're a multidisciplinary team putting heads together to understand it better. The team has found over 50 leaks and many puddles of water inside the church. During a recent storm, they detected one meter of water inside a column. What can possibly be more corrosive to an all-steel church?"

Help in any way
Paterno's dedication and passion have inspired others who have become part of the technical conservation team. A few of the pioneer volunteers include structural engineering company Meinhardt Philippines, architect Dan Lichauco of Archion Associates and his architecture students from University of Santo Tomas, the National Historic Institute , photographer Estan Cabigas, the Corrosion Society of the Philippines, engineering consulting company I-Mat Pro and architectural and engineering imaging company Digiscript Philippines.

The multinational team that constructed the church in the 1880s is mirrored in the team that has rallied around Paterno to assist her, all of whom are volunteering their services: Dr. Robert Baboian, corrosion scientist and key figure for the Statue of Liberty restoration; Noel Ocampo, structural engineer specializing in historic buildings from Robert Silman and Associates, New York; Roz Li, restoration architect and principal at Li-Saltzman Architects, New York; Bakas Pilipinas, a Philippine historic preservation society based in New York; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"Although the Recollects have invested in the work and Fr. Estioko tirelessly rallies his constituents for the need to keep the church alive for the subsequent generations, additional funds need to be raised for non-volunteer consultants, services and materials" she says. "There is much to do, it's a huge and complex building, any kind of help is always welcome."

"You don't have to be an architectural or engineering expert to help out," says ManDy, who added the "S.O.S." tour to his company's line-up to generate awareness and raise funds (100% of proceeds go towards the restoration efforts). "We can all help by using the skills or talents that we have. Or you can simply join the tour," he says with a laugh. "You can take photographs and post them on Facebook, write or blog about what you'll learn on the tour, tell people about it so that you can inspire others to save our San Sebastian Church."

To donate or volunteer, email For information on the tour, visit

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The prime of Ana Abad Santos

The prime of Ana Abad Santos
By Walter Ang
November 29, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

From Ana Abad Santos Facebook account
By all accounts, Ana Abad Santos had a fulfilling 2009. "It was a good year, I got to play very strong women characters in several productions with different directors. I learned a lot," she says. She got to direct theater productions and even acted in a film or two.

As soon as 2010 came around, things got even better.

Earlier this year, she was nominated twice in a single category for the 2009 Philstage Gawad Buhay, the awards given out to productions and performers of Philstage member companies. Santos was nominated for the Best Actress in a Straight Play category for her turns as Candida Marasigan in Repertory Philippines's "A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino" and as Blanche Dubois in Tanghalang Pilipino's "A Streetcar named Desire."

The short film she acted in, "Out of Love," directed by Flora Lau, won best film at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

And, oh yes, she just won this year's Aliw Award for Best Actress in a Non-Musical Production for her portrayal of the title role in Dulaang UP's "Mary Stuart."

"It was pretty great!" she says of the recognition. "I loved being chosen by a respected group of people and being nominated with actresses that I respect."

Growing up
Abad Santos seemed destined for a life in theater. She grew up "sleeping in hotel ballrooms" as her mother, former supermodel and fashion show director Wanda Louwallien, would tag her along to rehearsals.

"I remember having fun at my mom's shows. I loved watching everything, paying attention to what was going on," Santos says. "I even modeled once for one of my mom's shows. I loved modeling but, unfortunately, I never grew any taller," she adds with a laugh.

A trip to New York City solidified her love affair with theater. "My mom took me to see a Broadway show and I loved it. It just hit me, theater was what I wanted to do," she says.

Upon her return, Abad Santos sought out theater but "I didn't really know where to go, there weren't a lot opportunities back then to learn the craft."

Abad Santos started taking summer acting workshops at Repertory Philippines and soon debuted professionally in one of the company's productions. "I was a tree or something like that in `King and I,'" she says with a laugh.

She's been at it ever since, becoming part of Rep's stable of actors with ensemble or lead roles from Shakespeare tragedies to contemporary comedies.

At a time when theater companies were not as open in allowing cross-over appearances of actors, Abad Santos bucked convention and proceeded to appear in productions with Actors Actors and Dramatis Personae. Eventually, she also performed with World Theater Project ("King Lear"), Atlantis Productions ("Dogeaters") and UP Playwrights Theater ("Fluid") and Dulaang UP (most recently in "Shock Value").

"I wanted to see what was out there," she says. "It's important to always keep learning. You need to learn, you need to go out there. I have such a hunger to learn. You have to work with other directors, with other actors, with people you respect, to hone your craft."

She credits her former teachers at Rep for being long-lasting influences in her career as a theater artist. "Bart Guingona and Jaime Del Mundo were two of my teachers at the Rep workshops," she says. "Bart taught me the importance of doing radical works and Jaime taught me the value of the foundation work of doing the classics."

Abad Santos has also taken a post graduate course in Classical Theater at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art and got a chance to apply what she'd learned, this time as a director, when she was tapped to helm Rep's critically-acclaimed "Hamlet" a few years ago.

She's also directed rock opera "Bare" for Ateneo Blue Repertory, the musical "Duets" for Rep and, most recently, Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical revue "A Grand Night for Singing," for Power Plant Mall.

From student to practitioner, Abad Santos also has "teacher" as part of her list of roles. She teaches at Rep's summer workshops and at Beacon Academy for its International Baccalaureate academic program's drama subjects.

Her "hunger to learn" is insatiable it seems. And her capacity to work knows no bounds.

Abad Santos is currently taking up an online course on "professional development on teaching theater." She's also already working on her first two productions for 2011. She's rehearsing as an actress for Repertory Philippines' February staging of Amy Tan's "Joy Luck Club," where she plays one of the daughters in the story of Chinese women who've immigrated to America, and she's rehearsing as the director for Rep's March staging of "The 39 Steps," a comedy based on the Alfred Hitchcock movie.

All this learning, teaching and doing is inspired by her ten year old son, Tommy, and is driven by her desire to take an active role in developing theater for the country.

"Theater is alive here in the Philippines. It doesn't always have to be `serious.' Even if it's just to entertain or amuse, it's there," she says. "I attended a talk by playwright David Henry Hwang where he said people can find their culture and their identity in theater. I believe that. Being Filipino is tied to theater. I want people to be able to see themselves in theater. I want to bridge that gap."

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Aside from sports, Spain has fashion and shopping

Aside from sports, Spain has fashion and shopping
By Walter Ang
November 28, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"If you've been to Spain," said Angela Castaño, Director of National Tourist Office of Spain, "you'll understand why our new tagline is 'I need Spain.'"

"When you experience what Spain has to offer, you'll need its food and wine, need its arts and culture, need its passion and lifestyle, need your visit to last forever."

Castaño visited Manila to invite Filipinos to include Spain in their travel plans. She noted the historical relationship between the two countries and said, "Perhaps some Filipinos see Spain as a 'historical' place and therefore 'old' place. I'm here to let everyone know that, yes, we have historical sites for you to visit, but we are also very cosmopolitan and always exciting!"

Fashion and sports
Just this past year, Spain has been in the sports spotlight with Rafael Nadal winning at Wimbledon, La Roja winning the World Cup, Alberto Contador winning the Tour de France and Barcelona hosting the 2010 European Athletics Championships.

"But we also have fashion and shopping," she said smiling. "There are so many fashion brands that are from Spain such as Mango, Zara, Springfield, Trucco, Manolo Blahnik and many others. From apparel to accessories, from footwear to jewellery and perfumes."

She recommended spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) as the best times to visit because "the weather is nice and you can get better rates for accommodations. But those who want to catch our biggest sales of the year should go in January."

Madrid has a "golden mile" that is "home to the most prestigious Spanish brands alongside world names in luxury fashion" and the "Rastro," a street market in the city center. Barcelona has five kilometers' worth of fashion stores in its Ensanche and El Borne areas.

Castaño announced the Spain tourism office's partnership with Mango. "In the Glorietta and Rockwell branches, a P3,000 purchase will entitle you to a a raffle coupon to win a trip to Spain," she said. The promo runs until Nov 30 for a Dec 7 draw.

Culture and lifestyle
The two largest cities are the thriving capital, Madrid, and the vibrant coastal city of Barcelona.

"Madrid is exciting simply because it is Madrid. There is always something going on," she said. Madrid has the Royal Palace, the Prado Musuem, and Las Ventas, the largest Plaza de Toros (bullring) in Spain, among other tourist spots. The city is also known for its art galleries, shopping and nightlife.

Barcelona features the architecture of Antoni Gaudi, including the Sagrada Familia, recently consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI and still undergoing construction since the 1882. This city also has the Picasso Museum and Joan Miro Foundation Gallery. Miro's surrealist work is recognizable as Spain's tourism logo for 25 years now.

But, of course, there are other cities to explore. And in these different cities there are all sorts of festivals year-round that celebrate everything "from wine to wild horses." Performing arts festivals and events cover the gamut: music, opera, jazz, dance, ballet, film, books and theater.

Commerce and industry
Emerging Filipino energy industrialists might want to visit and learn from the world's largest solar thermal energy plant, La Florida, in the northern state of Navarra.

Another interesting city is Bilbao, one of Spain's main industrial centers (shipbuilding and iron and steel production) featuring a 100-year-old transporter bridge. It's a fairly "new" popular tourist destination by virtue of it being the home of the Guggenheim Musuem.

Spain has its origins in the Iberian, Celtiberian, Latin, Visigothic, Roman Catholic, and Islamic cultures and this is reflected in its arts, languages, and, of course, food. The country's different regions have respective signature cuisines.

Ferran Adria, head chef of the El Bulli restaurant in Roses, Costa Brava, is one of Spain's tourism ambassadors for 2011, together with six-time kitesurfing world champion Gisela Pulido, among others.

Gourmet Magazine has dubbed Adria as "the Salvador Dali of the kitchen" and El Bulli has been named best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine. Adria has built a reputation as the father of modern Spanish cuisine and as an experimentalist who crafts unexpected flavors with unconventional ingredients.

Nature and spirituality
"The Philippines has Boracay beach, so I won't mention Spain's beaches anymore," Castaño said laughing. (Though it's worth mentioning that Spain is home to Ibiza, famous for its summer club parties and Café del Mar.)

Spain has more than 300 hectares worth of national parks featuring flora, fauna and vistas not usually seen in places with tropical climates (like the Philippines) such as high-altitude deserts and sub-alpine steppes.

She noted that the Spain tourism office can recommend itineraries that allow visitors to experience a combination of whatever it is that they are looking for, whether it be shopping, nightlife, culture, food or arts, in either urban or rural settings.

Spain boasts one of the greatest collections of historical and architectural monuments in the world. The country has the second highest number of Unesco World Heritage designations in the world.

For those who seek a more spiritual itinerary, there's the pilgrimage "Way of St. James" from the east of Spain to Santiago de Compostela in the west, where the tomb of St. James the Apostle is located. This destination is considered as the world's third biggest Christian pilgrimage site, next to Rome and Jerusalem.

In 2011, Madrid will host World Youth Day, a Catholic event done every two to three years featuring a public appearance by the Pope.

Visit Thai Airways flies from Manila to Spain (Madrid) via Bangkok. For bookings, call 817-5442 or 812-4812.

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Aquino Museum in Tarlac up for redesign

Aquino Museum in Tarlac up for redesign
By Walter Ang
November 22, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Architects, interior designers, conservators, and curators are invited to join "Reawakening Democracy: Aquino Museum Redesign Competition," a contest that aims to find the best design solution for the museum that will capture the impact of Benigno "Ninoy" and Corazon "Cory" Aquino on Philippine history.

The Aquino Musuem is housed in the Aquino Center located in Tarlac. It features the Aquino family's memorabilia and a chronological depiction of how the couple "re-awakened and regained the democracy that the Philippines lost during the martial law regime:" the assassination of Senator Ninoy Aquino in 1983 that led to the emergence of the People Power revolution in 1986 and the presidency of Cory Aquino.

Architect and University of Santo Tomas College of Architecture professor Dan Lichauco, nephew of Mrs. Aquino, developed the design concepts for the center in 2001. The Aquino Center was originally intended to be predominantly a museum but eventually included convention facilities that are rented out to generate income for the center's maintenance and upkeep.

"The center is nine years old, although ageing gracefully since it is well maintained, it's beginning to show its age," he said. "It's also become evident that spaces originally intended to be used as offices are under-utilized. The exhibit is no longer current in chronicling the lives of both Ninoy and Cory and how they continue to influence us as a nation and race."

"The Design Completion is intended to change this," he said. "In addition to the competition, we are also hoping to establish a curatorial team that will guide the museum in the future."

The competition will be an opportunity to develop a more comprehensive coverage of the life and legacy of the late President Aquino beyond her six-year term; and to re-package the entire museum exhibition to appeal to and resonate among visitors.

The competition requires participants to submit a "creative and cost-efficient design scheme that should deliver a coherent and compelling museum-going experience, including all aspects of exhibition design, content selection, installation scheme, atmospherics and path narrative."

The competition is organized by Lafarge Cement Services Philippines with the endorsement of and for the benefit of the Ninoy and Cory Aquino Foundation (NCAF), which runs the Aquino Center.

The foundation was formerly known as Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Foundation. Mrs. Aquino worked through the foundation to engage non-governmental organizations and supported programs to strengthen cooperatives, human rights education among law enforcers, and microfinance institutions.

In 2008, the foundation launched the "iamninoy" campaign to make the former senator's values resonant among the youth. The foundation's name was changed last year after former President Aquino passed away.

"For the past many years, Republic Cement Corporation and Iligan Cement Corporation, both Lafarge companies, have made it a commitment to support landmarks of our Filipino identity," said Lafarge vice president of communications Cirilo M. Pestaño II.

"As we launch the redevelopment of the Aquino Museum, we continue our support for the preservation of the memories of two Filipino icons of democracy that have shaped Philippine history. We are extremely proud and deeply honored to take the lead in this project and keep their legacy alive for future generations."

Shared exhibit
Three finalists will be given funding to further develop their designs. The winning team will be awarded a design contract to implement its proposal.

The competition's board of judges is composed of NCAF chair Maria Elena Aquino-Cruz, NCAF trustee Dan Lichauco, Lafarge Cement Services Philippines chair Rene Sunico, Ateneo professor Ricky Abad, film director Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Cultural Center of the Philippines chair Emily Abrera, former Metropolitan Musuem director Ino Manalo, Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office undersecretary Manuel Quezon III, and Ayala Foundation executive vice president and chief operating officer Guillermo Luz.

As the Aquino Center redesigns its galleries, the Ayala Musuem will host a year-round series of exhibits of selected items from the Aquino Musuem.

"We are pleased to make these exhibits more accessible to the public," said Ayala Foundation chair Jaime Zobel de Ayala. "It is our hope that by viewing these exhibits, we will all learn to be proud to be Filipinos and to continue to collectively work hard to bring more benefits to more people."

Ma. Elena "Ballsy" Aquino-Cruz, eldest daughter of the Aquinos, thanked the organizers of the redesign competition and said, "Dad, the glib master politician, realized his true mission in the loneliness of a prison cell and emerged a far better and stronger human being. Mom, the self-effacing housewife, was thrust into a position of leadership that she could not spurn and emerged a source of inspiration for millions. Together, as destiny would have it, they changed the face of our nation.

"The museum's narrative comprehensively covers the colorful life of Ninoy Aquino. When Mom passed on last year, the tremendous outpouring of affection and respect for her made it clear that she had accomplished far more than just continuing Dad's unfinished work. She had earned her place in the hearts and minds of our countrymen.

"It is only fitting, therefore, that the Aquino Center be re-designed and updated to reflect, as well, what it is about the person, life and legacy of Cory Aquino that inspires and animates so many. It is the interweaving of these two narratives that I hope the redesigned Museum would capture in a manner that would resonate even among those who never got to know Ninoy or Cory Aquino. We in the family continue to be overwhelmed and grateful for our fellow Filipinos' love for her to this day."

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Theater-in-a-backpack brings Orwell to the streets

Theater-in-a-backpack brings Orwell to the streets
By Walter Ang
November 22, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"Imperio Animalia," despite sounding somewhat scary, is actually meant to be "an engaging and highly interactive children's play and installation art piece." It's the title of Sipat Lawin Ensemble's adaptation of George Orwell's "Animal Farm."

Orwell's allegory tells of barn animals that revolt against their human master to establish a utopia where "all animals are equal." The plot turns when the pigs start changing the rules and stealthily espouse, "but some animals are more equal than others."

SLE plans to stage its production in "nerve centers of the metro." So far, their line-up includes Market!Market! Mall (in collaboration with the "Arts in the City" program), Intramuros, UP Diliman and UP Los Banos.

In order for the group to achieve its goal of performing on the streets "for free and open to the public," SLE is seeking support, financial or otherwise, for its "theater-in-a-backpack" brand of artistry.

The troupe was formed in 2007, though its members had been performing together in various productions since 1999 under the tutelage of Herbert Go, former artistic director of Tanghalang Pilipino and former faculty at the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA).

"He left the country in 2006 and we were left with nothing but ourselves and our desire to continue creating for the theatre," says SLE artistic director JK Anicoche. The group then staged a twinbill using their own resources. "Bring your own props. Bring your own costume. We mainly did it all for the love of theatre."

Thus was born the idea of making theatre readily available. "We want to put up shows where all we need to do so should fit in a backpack. This includes costumes, props, sounds and lights," he says.

All over the place
These PHSA alumni (Theater Arts majors) took the name of their school's more than 30 year old resident theatre company, Dulaang Sipat Lawin, and evolved it into Sipat Lawin Ensemble.

"We became a non-stock, non-profit organization geared towards promoting culture and the arts by involving the audience through site-specific, open space, public theatre performances," he says.

The group's works have been staged in bars, galleries, gift shops, living rooms, and, yes, public comfort rooms. "These are our playgrounds, our battlefields, in line with our vision and mission of developing an urban theatre community experience," he says. "We want to engage larger audiences in different places and make theatre relevant to the lives of more Filipinos."

Recent works include a collaboration with Australian playwright David Finnigan in "To Heat You Up and Cool You Down," a national tour under Tanghalang Pilipino of National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose's "Progress," and a work that mixed elements of theater, opera, film, contemporary dance and music titled "Strange Pilgrims."

There are plans to stage their version of the cult Japanese movie "Battle Royale" (where a classroom of students are stranded in an island and forced to exterminate each other) next year involving 12 university theater groups. SLE has also been holding "Theater-in-a-Backpack" workshops, teaching theater throughout the country.

Meanwhile, as a progression of "Haring Tubu-l," its adaptation of Alfred Jarry's absurdist play "Ubu Roi," staged earlier this year as a commentary on the mid-year elections, SLE chose to adapt "Animal Farm" to "investigate the promises and foundation of democracy amidst post-elections Philippines."

Disguising Orwell's story as a fairy tale is deliberate. "People can relate to fairy tales," he says. "When, at first look, they see magic and spectacle, they'd be engaged to watch. Then they'd want to find out what the performance is about and what it wants to say."

Assistance needed
The group has much to say and they're saying it in a unique way. Unlike most Tagalog translations/adaptations, "Imperio Animalia" has no single translator. The troupe employs a collaborative process where all actors have inputs in the development of the text and staging devices?a method they used with success for "Haring Tubu-l."

"It's a challenge to bring theatre to middle-class and grassroots audiences who don't usually step into theaters," he says. "We create works that aren't usually supported by corporate sponsors. We want to bring our work to more people, for free if possible, but still addressing the financial needs of the production and our actors.

"We're asking if you could pledge to spare some cab fare and take the jeepney or bus instead, just for a day, or maybe miss one venti-size coffee and drink a 3-in-1 sachet for breakfast, or save on extra rice. Perhaps you can share your little extras for us to be able to bring this work into the streets. Simple gestures, little risks, and small contributions can amount to a big impact in changing people's consciousness."

"We really feel that we have an important story to tell, ideas to share, images to show. As artists, we play an important role in today's society, in creating our new history," he says. "Now we have to change the way how we create theatre."

To donate in cash or kind to Sipat Lawin Ensemble, contact 0917-500-8753. Imperio Animalia aims to run from November 2010 to January 2011. 

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'Little Women' is Rep's 2010 holiday musical

'Little Women' is Rep's holiday musical
By Walter Ang
November 18, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

A hundred eighty degree turn from the material it staged last year for its annual big musical, Repertory Philippines has gone from a suspense-thriller about people eating pies made from people (a sold-out run of "Sweeny Todd") to a decidedly more genteel, light comedy romance about the lives and loves of four sisters: Little Women.

This family musical, with music by Jason Howard, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and book by Allan Knee, is based on the novel by American author Louisa May Alcott.

"This is a wonderful story that's appropriate for the holiday season," says director Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo. Yulo won the 2009 Philstage Gawad Buhay for Female Lead Perfomance in a Musical for her turn as Mrs. Lovett in Rep's "Sweeny Todd." Her most recent directing credit was for the musical "West Side Story."

"Audiences will see how the March sisters depend on each other as a family and how they cope as their father is away serving the American Civil War," she says. "They're a fun bunch: brash aspiring writer Jo, romantic Meg, pretentious Amy, and kind-hearted Beth. Audiences will surely be able to relate to these four little women."

To further help audiences relate to the material, Yulo is collaborating with New York-based set designer Joey Mendoza to craft an acting space that "visually bridges the material's setting with the sensibilities of today's audiences."

Mendoza was a teenage Rep workshop attendee in the 1980s. He graduated into backstage work and acting roles for Rep. "My first bit in design was for a staging of the musical `You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown' in Dumaguete. I was terrible," he says with a laugh.

Mendoza moved to New York City in the early 90s and "immediately got involved with former Rep member Jorge Ortoll's spanking new theater group, Ma-Yi Theatre Company." It was here that Mendoza was able to learn from and work closely with multi-awarded set designer Loy Arcenas.

While he did other theatrical endeavors like producing the "Stage" series of albums (compilations of musical theater love songs sung by men) and the premiere cast recordings of "Heading East" (featuring Paolo Montalban) and "Bed, Boys & Beyond," designing for the theater has never left his heart.

"I belong to a family of architects/designers/artists so it's no surprise I have reverted back to my first love, the theater," he says. "Little Women's setting and period fascinates me."

Modern aesthetic
The story is set in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1860s. "While it is a period piece, we wanted something very modern about the design. I think it's essential to have a contemporary interpretation to suit the times," he says.

No one can accuse Yulo and Mendoza of being copycats. "The first thing we wanted to do was stay clear of the look of the original Broadway staging," he says.

"We wanted to magnify the story, making it as intimate as possible. I discarded anything that wasn't absolutely necessary that might clutter or distract. The set is a study in minimalism, which is ideal for the era's austere architecture and a stark contrast to the warm, cozy yet strong March family.

"When the March sisters are playing make-believe, we have a center platform to anchor the scenes but all conventional rules of space and movement are thrown out. The audience is encouraged to participate in an imaginative way. There are just enough pieces of very well appointed furniture and props that will allow them to make that leap.

Mendoza will also use silhouettes ("A very Victorian effect," he says.) to create shapes such as trees and dunes, and to imbue the necessary atmosphere.

"The script is very episodic and the best way to achieve fluid transitions is to have only essential pieces that will define the space, so that shifting to the next scenes won't be tedious or cumbersome (our theaters are not equipped with multi-million dollar hydraulics of yet). I prefer this more organic method. While spectacle is entertaining, there's something more magical about simple stage techniques.

"Ironically, this back-to-basics concept seems very modern to me. There is an elegance in this minimalism that is very modern to me."

The actors who'll be using Mendoza's set are Caisa Borromeo (Jo), Lora Nicolas (Meg), Kelly Lati (Amy) and Cara Barredo (Beth).

Multi-awarded performer Pinky Marquez will play the sisters' mother (Marmee). Marquez was last seen onstage for Rep in the musical "Fiddler on the Roof" and the children's musical "Sleeping Beauty." She has played major roles in productions such as "Magnificat," "The Vagina Monologues," "Flower Drum Song," "The Sound of Music," "Rama at Sita," and "Beauty and the Beast," among many others.

Gerard Salonga conducts the FILharmoniKA orchestra. Tuxqs Rutaquio does costume design and John Batalla does lighting design. Rem Zamora is assistant director.

The musical will be staged at Onstage Theater at the second floor of Greenbelt 1 Mall, Makati City. "We're at a convenient location for families or friends. There are many things they can do before or after watching our shows, like shopping, dining out, visiting the nearby Ayala Musuem or even simply enjoying the outdoor garden spaces as we embrace the holiday season," Yulo says.

"Little Women" runs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 12, 2010, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM with matinees at 3:30PM on Saturdays and Sundays at Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1 Mall, Makati City. 

Call Repertory Philippines at 571-6926, 571-4941 or email Tickets also available at Ticketworld at 891-9999 or

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Dance Forum marks 15th year with "Re-performing"

Dance Forum marks 15th year with "Re-performing"
By Walter Ang
November 15, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

In celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of Dance Forum, a collaborative group of contemporary dance artists headed by Myra Beltran, a dance concert titled "Re-performing" will feature excerpts of selected choreography from her earlier works.

The concert marks Beltran's 21 years of independent contemporary dance practice. "It's also my birthday celebration," she says with a laugh.

Since Beltran's choreographic career started in 1989, she has been a moving force in shaping current contemporary dance practice in the Philippines. Notable is her push for the solo form.

She founded Dance Forum in 1995 and proceeded to pursue collaborations with artists of different disciplines such as musician Alfonso "Coke" Bolipata, Ramon Bolipata and Dr. Ramon Santos, filmmaker Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, theater director Anton Juan, visual artists Benedicto "Bencab" Cabrera, Roberto Feleo and Karen Flores, among others.

"We had to break away from the regular conceptions and conventions of `formal' dance, that is, classical ballet, not that this is not valid but it was necessary to re-consider what its assumptions were. In the process, one could evolve what could be `contemporary,'" she says.

"Independent dance practice in the Philippines necessarily had to be contemporary in approach and aesthetic and it bravely challenged some previously `untouched' premises such as where dance should be produced, the process it should take, the hierarchy inherent in how it was being produced?these things were under examination."

To further advocate contemporary dance, she converted her backyard into a studio-theater, Dance Forum Space, as an alternative venue. It has hosted works by Paul Morales, Dwight Rodrigazo, Denisa Reyes, Christine Maranan, Jojo Lucila, Enrico Labayen, and many other choreographers who are now making their mark in Philippine contemporary dance.

Enjoining others
Dance writer Joelle Jacinto has said of Beltran, "Myra is not the first to attempt a career as a dance artist putting on regular performances without the benefit of a dance company or a regular institutional sponsor, but she is definitely the only one who really persevered and has ? active years of performances to show for it."

Last year, Beltran staged "Itim Asu 1719-2009," her deconstruction of Virginia Moreno's play "The Onyx Wolf."

Beltran is also founding director and current vice chair of Contemporary Dance Network Philippines (CNDP), a group that promotes contemporary dance in the Philippines composed of
dance companies, artists, school-based organizations, critics and institutions.

CDNP hosts the annual Wifi Body Independent Contemporary Dance Festival and Contemporary Dance Map series. Earlier this year, the Contemporary Dance Map series staged "Moving Dance @ The LRT Dance Express," where over 20 dancers danced inside LRT2 trains and stations.

Body of work
The concert "Re-performing" serves as a meditation on these past accomplishments filtered by and through new choreographers and dancers.

"In a world of constant updates such as in Facebook, how would it feel to go back to an earlier work?" she says. "Works that were the first pitch in the shaping of independent contemporary dance in the Philippines. Works that were `alone' in the dance landscape. Can we understand their breakthroughs? Was it due to something that can be re-created or is it more intangible and specific to the time?"

"The works I've done over the years seem to be mostly characterized by silence. I wanted to hear myself, and I think the audience wanted the same as well. So today, we want to find out if silence is still the most radical thing in a world of constant `status updates.'"

Participating choreographers who will work with Beltran for the concert include Ava Maureen Villanueva, Herbert Alvarez, Rhosam Prudenciado Jr. Dancers will come from Airdance and U.P. Dance Company.

"Re-performing" runs on Nov. 17 8pm and Nov. 20 8pm at Dance Forum Studio, 36E West Ave., Quezon City (near Mister Kabab restaurant). Call 0917-526-9724 or 373-2947.

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The thrill of the (cheap) hunt: Marc Ablaza collects watches

The Thrill of the (cheap) hunt
By Walter Ang
November-December 2010 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

Pawnshop scion Marc Ablaza collects watches but doesn't have to dig deep into his wallet. He tells Walter Ang it's all about 
The thrill of the (cheap) hunt

When people find out that Marc Ablaza has a collection of Seiko, Citizen and Casio G-Shock wristwatches, the first question they always ask is "Why not Swiss watches?"

While he doesn't dismiss the pleasure most collectors derive from owning classic Swiss timepieces, he also points out that these are the pieces that most collectors deal with, and most of them are just in it for the resale value. "I want to be different," he says. "I'm in it for the fun of it!"

Like a kid with his stacks of gaming cards, Ablaza has an earnest gleam in his eye when he talks about his collection. Scion to the Ablaza chain of pawnshops, Marc grew up surrounded by plastic bags filled with Rolexes and an assortment of other well-known brands. He had, however, no particular attachment or fascination for them.

His first watch was given to him when he was four so he could learn to tell time. He'd occasionally be given a new watch or two while he was growing up, but the only appeal was perhaps some playground bragging rights since "it wasn't too often that you'd see a grade school student wearing a wristwatch." In high school, Ablaza discovered diving and had to acquire a chronograph wristwatch.

Of course, these days, he sings a different tune. His collection is young by most measures. In the mid-90s, he went to Hong Kong and scored a Seiko chronograph at "a fantastic value." That was the beginning of a new relationship with the brand he'd grown up with.

First off, he realized that he enjoyed Seiko's mechanical precision. He also notes the brand's "underdog" quality. "The Japanese took technology from the Swiss then made it even better," he says.

Also, he finds the historical perspective fascinating. "We were the second largest market for Japanese wristwatches for quite a while, so there are pieces out there that aren't commonly found anywhere else in the world," he says.

Unfortunately, there were quite a number of shrewd buyers who would purchase Seiko pieces in the country at cheaper prices and sell them off abroad for profit. So part of the adventure in collecting this brand is chasing down the pieces.

However, Ablaza doesn't have suspenseful stories of going down dingy side streets, or meeting suspicious men in overcoats in dark alleys to acquire new pieces. "I get all of my stuff from eBay!" he announces.

He usually starts off by shortlisting dial designs that he likes, and bids on them. If the bid goes beyond what he's willing to pay for it, he has no problem letting a piece go. "I'm attracted to parts of a wristwatch that have interesting elements," he says, listing features such as dials with unusual colors, multiple hands, and crowns and pushbuttons that are positioned in places other than the usual right side of the bezel.

Sometimes, in the course of his search, he will end up with just the dial or just the bracelet of a piece. Hunting down the corresponding part adds to the thrill. Otherwise, he'll simply match two parts that weren't originally meant for each other, or he takes a trip to his favorite craftsman to have a bracelet fashioned.

Purists needn't bother trying to get acquainted with Ablaza, since his tinkering has evolved into occasionally customizing his pieces. He'll have a dial in a non Seiko-issued color made from scratch or come up with a bracelet design just because.

Beyond surface aesthetics, Ablaza also usually has the watches' casebacks opened so he can determine the condition and type of the machine or "watch caliber," as it's called amongst watch enthusiasts. "The machine is the heart and soul of the watch," he says. "For example, chronograph seikos are complications because of the many functions the machine can do. The machines or modules on the quartz watches are a different matter altogether. The more functions a quartz watch has, the more complicated the modules."

Ablaza's collection is always anchored on two things. "I get designs that I like, since I wear all the pieces I acquire," he says, noting that some collectors never wear any of their pieces. "What's the point of that?" he wonders out loud, shaking his head.

"Importantly, they have to be cheap," he says. The low price of his watches helps keep the process fun. "I don't want to have to think or worry about where I have to source the funds to acquire a piece I like."

The choice of collecting Seiko watches isn't really about being different, but about being true to himself. "I'm not one to get a fancy expensive Omega watch that looks nice, because it's simply not me," he says.

For someone who collects watches, Ablaza confesses to not being too conscious of where he swings or places his arms. "And you know how it is, the more fancy or expensive your watch is, the faster it gets scratched as soon as you start wearing it," he says with a laugh. "So I get cheap ones. If I bang them up, it's all right."

REVIEW: Campus productions tackle cruel nature of life, memory, death

Campus productions tackle cruel nature of life, memory, death
By Walter Ang
October 25, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

In our world of sensory overload through various mediums, desensitization to real life is a constant threat, if not result. Last month, the University of the Philippines' College of Arts and Letters put up three productions whose different materials and staging methods provided meditations on this implication while commemorating International Day of the Disappeared.

The college's Departamento ng Filipino at Panitikan ng Pilipinas staged a twinbill of Palanca Hall of Fame awardee Reuel Aguila's works: "Alimuom / Walang Maliw," directed by Chris Millado and its Dept. of English and Comparative Literature staged Argentine playwright Griselda Gambaro's "Information for Foreigners," directed by Anton Juan. Its Dept. of Speech Communications and Theater Arts, through Dulaang UP, staged Floy Quintos' "Shock Value," directed by Alex Cortez.

Aguila's works take us into the internal and ephemeral. Staged in the intimate Tanghalang Hermogenes Ylagan, "Alimuom" (roughly: mugginess) is a monologue featuring a former military torturer inventorying the various methods he has applied in his career.

He talks of becoming used to the sights and sounds of the fallout of torture. He justifies that he'd only been following orders. A solitary length of bright orange plastic pipe coiled on the ground, a torture implement creating waves of creepy atmosphere.

Jonathan Tadiaoan deftly brought the torturer to life, though the monologue was staged in an unrelenting one-note of guilty anger, making it easy to space out at his ranting. Yes, we too became used the sights and sounds on stage, no matter the horrors being revealed.

"Walang Maliw" (roughly: unwaning) features a couple talking about their daughter who has disappeared five years hence. Names of Filipino desaparecidos (victims of forced disappearance) were written in chalk across the stage floor, setting a sharp, poignant and poetic statement: these names of real people who have disappeared that can all be easily erased with the swipe of a hand.

Millado employed a light touch with this piece, allowing Teroy Guzman (Daddy), Sherry Lara (Mommy) and Julia Enriquez (alternating with Kat Castillo) playing the daughter, Leny, to highlight Aguila's text with impactful subtlety.

The twinbill highlighted the burden of memory, the oppression of longing, and the struggle of letting go. The stark staging provided the immediacy and space to contemplate these themes.

If Aguila's work showed the inner workings of the mind and heart, Juan and assistant director/dramaturg Pat Valera's "Information for Foreigners" was all guts and gore.

Through a bacchanalia of exaggerated props, costumes (Lhenvil Paneda), lighting (Meliton Roxas) and sound (Jethro Joaquin) under Ohm David's technical direction, the show overwhelmed by using three entire floors of the College of Arts and Letters Building and bombarded audiences with scenes of torture and other acts of inhuman insanity in different classrooms and hallways.

To create the sense of loss of control, audiences were broken into groups led by tour guides through the different locations and were whisked away at turning points in scenes, some of which required audience participation. Kudos to the cast for powering through repeated performances for every group that arrives in succession and to the tour guides who had to navigate Juan's labyrinthine production while controlling large groups of people.

At one point, the novelty of going from room to room wearing off, the heat and humidity, the unyielding cacophony, the going up and down the stairs in herds had gotten to me and I thought, "How different is this from riding the MRT during rush hour and seeing, hearing and smelling Manila's brand of poverty-ridden craziness when I exit the station? What am I seeing here that I haven't already seen on TV or on the internet? This is supposed to be scary?"

Yet another instance of the numbing effect, which is very telling of the desensitizing powers of media and everyday life, despite the theatrically-configured presentation. Reality is blurred into fantasy when the production features the story of desaparecido Jonas Burgos. The enforced manner of experiencing this production leaves no time for thinking but is definitely thought-provoking through and through.

At the other end of the spectrum, "Shock Value" is a fluffy comedy about TV producer Matt Desaparecidos and how he orchestrates his own disappearance after becoming involved in a sex scandal that was, in turn, orchestrated by a rival. Subplots involve TV personalities as products of formulation and exploitation.

Andoy Ranay (alternating with Jojit Lorenzo) made Matt easy to hate: a self-absorbed, selfish, deceitful man-child. Mylene Dizon (alternating with Ana Abad Sanots) gives moments of earnestness to Rina Corpuz, the high-strung producer attempting to be Matt's voice of reason. Stella Canete (alternating with Frances Makil Ignacio) is a hilarious news anchor forced to compromise standards for ratings gimmicks while John Lapus (alternating with Jomari Jose) is a hilarious TV show host with no standards at all.

Cortez shows us the carnival that the broadcast industry is and Quintos makes us laugh at its ridiculousness. That this is a light comedy doesn't mean it doesn't have anything serious to say.

Quintos uses the broadcast industry as a metaphor to show us how power can be systematically abused on such a scale and to such a degree that we don't even notice it anymore or accept it as par (again, the notion of numbing).

Victims all
While the three departments didn't plan to showcase three distinct ways of presenting connected subject matter, audiences are better for it because they've been treated to a wealth of ideas to ponder on.

Social issues and history are touched on by the first two productions, but as the last production prods us to ask, despite the illusion that information is more accessible than ever, if all you watched on cable television were showbiz talk shows or all your current events news came only from your Facebook friends' shoutouts, and if all published and broadcasted information is actually edited by unseen powers anyway, who's to know what's real or not?

Needless to say, comparing enforced disappearances to anything else will be construed as insensitive. This tangential connection is merely to indulge a very small idea: if desaparecidos become disappeared without their consent because of their character, beliefs and will, it doesn't seem any better to have your own character, beliefs and will disappear, with your consent and participation, while you're still alive. Human cruelty spans from the horrible to the haunting, and also, the habitual.

Dulaang UP will stage "Isang Panaginip na Fili" written and directed by Floy Quintos from Nov. 24 to Dec. 12, 2010. This will be the third production for its 35th season "Return Engagement: Plays that deserve a second look," a series of restagings of DUP's past popular works. Call 981-8500 local 2449, 926-1349, 433-7840 or 0917-6206224.

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Asian American playwrights lend support to their Filipino counterparts

Asian American playwrights lend support to their Filipino counterparts
By Walter Ang
October 18, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tony Award winning playwright David Henry Hwang noted the importance of supporting local playwrights as part of efforts to establish Philippine theater in the global arena.

"[The Philippines] has a unique, beautiful and complicated identity that needs to be shared with the world," he said at a reception at the Ayala Museum hosted by the Asia Society Philippine Foundation in cooperation with the Lark Play Development Center.

Hwang's most famous work is the play "M. Butterfly," which has been staged in the Philippines several times by theater groups such as Dulaang UP and Repertory Philippines. His "Golden Child" has also been staged by Tanghalang Pilipino.

Hwang co-wrote the libretto for the Disney musical "Aida" and wrote the libretti for the Disney musical "Tarzan" and an updated version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Flower Drum Song," which was initially slated to be staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines this year but has been postponed.

Hwang admitted to having more than just a unique perspective of the Philippines: his mother's family is from Cebu. "The works of playwrights," he said, "need to be honored by being produced for the stage. Theater can help shape identities of communities, of nations, of peoples. There are many local writers who deserve to be heard."

The reception featured short excerpts of plays written by members of the Writers Bloc, a support group for Filipino playwrights headed by multi-awarded playwright Rody Vera.

A scene was performed from Layeta Bucoy's play, "Anatomiya ni Hermano Puli," to open the program. Stage readings were done for the works of Vincent De Jesus' work-in-progress musical "Dragon Tales;" Mariane Villalon's play "Streetlight Manifesto;" and Floy Quintos' play "Fake."

Korean American playwright Lloyd Suh's play "American Hwangup" was also featured. His play is currently being staged by Tanghalang Pilipino. Performances in English and in a Filipino translation by Joi Barrios-Leblanc, in mixed-schedules, run until October 3.

The local staging of "American Hwangup" is done in cooperation with the Lark Play Development Center. The center in New York City provides resources for writers in developing plays and has international programs to "seek out and embrace unheard voices and diverse perspectives, celebrating differences in language and worldviews."

Hwang is a playwright advisor for the center and Suh is a former fellow.

Both Hwang and Suh demonstrated, through the readings of their plays, the revision process that they've had to go through to polish their works for successful runs.

Hwang reminded playwrights to ensure that they hear their works being spoken out loud as part of their revision process and to finally "have them produced however way you can." He recounted how he himself directed his first play in his college dormitory, which served to open doors for him in establishing a career as a playwright.

"David articulated everything that we've envisioned for Writers Bloc and the Virgin Labfest," said Rody Vera. The Virgin Labfest is the annual staging of output from the Writers Bloc's pool of playwrights. "It's wonderful that we have the same mission regarding playwrights' development in the country."

Prior to the reception, the Asia Society hosted a panel discussion titled "Breaking through Barriers" that focused on diversity and theater's role in cultural exchange.

Asia Society executive director Arnel Casanova said, "Theater serves as a platform and a bridge for different voices to be heard."

Founded by John D. Rockefeller III, the Asia Society promotes understanding of Asia through education. To this end, it conducts lectures, exhibitions, films, seminars, conferences and travel tours to encourage intercultural communications between Asia and the United States across the fields of policy, business, education, arts and culture.

Held at the Filipinas Heritage Library, speakers included John Eisner, Lark artistic director; Kate Leowald, Play Company artistic director; and Jorge Ortoll, Ma-Yi Theater executive director.

Headed by Ortoll and artistic director Ralph Pena, Ma-Yi Theater is known as one of the leading incubators of new Asian-American plays. It received a Special Drama Desk Award for Excellence this year.

Hsu's play was premiered Off-Broadway by Ma-Yi Theater. He is also co-director of Ma-Yi Writers Lab, the largest resident company of professional Asian American playwrights.

Joining the discussion were Asia Society's fellows for arts and culture Martin Lopez, Far Eastern University President's Committee on Culture head; and Cagayan De Oro-based Mozart Pastrano, Pasundayag Community Theater artistic director.

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'Dolce Italia!' launched

'Dolce Italia!' launched
Text and photos by Walter Ang
October 18, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Italian ambassador Luca Fornari and his wife Silvana opened this year's Italian Festival 2010 at a reception held at Italian furniture retailer Furnitalia's showroom in Bonifacio Global City.

Fornari gave a few inspiring words, highlighting that the festival is indeed the perfect time to celebrate the continuing partnership between Italy and the Philippines.

Organized annually by the Italian Trade Commission, this year's theme is "Dolce Italia," aiming "to promote fine Italian living through a series of interesting events that mix art with technology, design with function, and tradition with development."

Hosting the launch were Furnitalia managing director Florence Ko and Italian Trade Commission senior trade officer Lyndon Villanueva. Noted personalities from the social, business and diplomatic circles were treated to a red, white and green celebration.

Multi-awarded tenor and pop opera singer Jonathan Badon serenaded the guests with Italian arias. Canapés and desserts were prepared by Florabel retauarant. Furnitalia raffled off luxurious furniture pieces.

This year's festival runs until November 24 and includes various events. An Italian Village was created at The Podium to benefit the Animal Welfare Coalition. Italian companies in the Philippines and those that carry Italian brands exhibited their products and held lectures and product demos.

Film festival
From Oct. 20 to 26, the Italian Film Festival will be held at Shangri-la Plaza. Line-up of movies includes comedies such as Ovosodo (Hard boiled egg), L'abbufatta (The feast), Riprendimi (Good morning heartache) and Chiedimi se sono felice (Ask me if I'm happy), among others. There will also be thrillers like La Sindrome Di Stendhal (The Stendhal Syndrome) and La Ragazza del lago (The Girl by the lake).

Fashion and home
Stores like Furnitalia, B&B, Megamax Concepts and Alessi will highlight Italian furniture and houseware in their particular showrooms, focusing on the newest products available.

In November, Newtrends will hold an invitational fashion accessories show featuring Italian brand watches. The Segnatempo Time and Jewels store in Greenbelt will also be launched.

Hotels and restaurants that offer Italian cuisine have discounts or special offers: Caffe Puccini, Cantinetta, Sunday Brunch at Escolta of Peninsula Manila, Giuseppe, L'Ambasciata d'Abruzzo, L'Opera Group of Restaurants, Paparazzi of EDSA Shangri-la, and White Hat Frozen Yogurt.

A raffle promo for tickets to Italy is up for grabs at the following establishments: Bellini's, Cantinetta, Cravings, Skylounge of Diamond Hotel, Harry's Bar, L'Incontro, Latitude of Traders Hotel, Oakroom of Oakwood Premier, Riviera Café of Hertiage Hotel, and Tosca of Dusit Thani Hotel.

Until the end of October, the Italian Food and Wine Festival is being held at the Araneta Center, Cubao, where promos and discounts are offered by restaurants and wine shops like Vapensiero, Cibo, Titania, and Premier Wine.

Wine collectors or people stocking up on Christmas gifts should take advantage of the discounts that distributors are offering on Italian labels.

In November, the Center for Culinary Arts will conduct demonstrations featuring prominent Italian chefs as lecturers such as Chef Salvatore de Vincentis of EDSA Shangri-la's Italian restaurant, Paparazzi.

For details, call the Italian Trade Commission at 817-5929.

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REVIEW: American Hwangap -- charming, funny and fuzzy

American Hwangap -- charming, funny and fuzzy
By Walter Ang
October 14, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Distance is a recurring theme in Korean American Lloyd Suh's "American Hwangap," recently staged by Tanghalang Pilipino.

Min Suk left his family in Texas for Korea fifteen years ago and has returned for his 60th birthday. David, his eldest son, is in New York City, closer to Texas than Korea, but refuses to join the reunion. Esther, his daughter, is in the same house as he is but can't wait to leave. Ralph, the youngest son, lives in the basement but now Min Suk wants him out. Mary, the mother, is in a new place in her life, even if she's still physically in the same location.

Suh's play is charming and funny enough: the characters are endearingly quirky, the punchlines are good for laughs. But it plods along at a slow pace and fizzles at the end due to both scripting and staging.

Hwangap commemorates the completion of one full astrological cycle and is a symbolic "rebirth" upon turning 60. Min Suk takes this as a carte blanche free pass to suddenly start fixing his children's lives as if he'd never left.

The premise of the prodigal father sounds ripe for confrontations, but Suh has crafted a family that's not into explosions, instead, they suppress bitterness, feign self-control, and intersperse their points with circuitous recollections of the past. Not the best way to sustain tension on stage.

Suh's lines for the characters tell us where they've been, but don't seem to tell us where they're coming from. And before we get to know the children enough to empathize with the angst they feel for their father, Suh has already cut them off with closing statements. One underexplained motivation is how Mary, without a trace of resentment, is so welcoming of Min Suk's return.

This results in the distances, emotional or otherwise, either feeling like they aren't leading anywhere or terminating too cleanly. After you leave the theater, you realize that the characters actually articulated where they want to go, but because of the roundabout sequencing of these declarations and director Chris Millado's drawn out pacing, it was easy to miss.

It does not help that set designer Mio Infante parlays the distances being navigated by the characters with a cavernous house that spans the entire length of the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino stage.

Yes, it can be construed as a metaphor for how the characters rattle around an external world as far reaching as their internal problems, but the scale dissipates the intimate material (of mostly scenes between two characters at a time) and eats up the otherwise competent turns of the cast.

Sound designer Jethro Joaquin's melancholy music bridge for the black-outs between scenes, which are awkwardly long because audiences have to wait for the actors have to cross back and forth the huge set, and Katsch Catoy's dim lighting design further add to the sluggish pacing.

There are questions about the adaptation choices as well. The birthdays of celebrities is used as a conversation point, but why does the production use names that are familiar to Filipinos only in the Tagalog translation? If it weren't for being the voice behind Mermaid Man in Spongebob Squarepants, would anyone younger than 35 even know who Ernest Borgnine is? (He shares Esther's birthday). The blank look of the college students watching tells us the name doesn't ring any bells.

Language gap
Nonetheless, Jeremy Domingo (David), Leisel Batucan (Esther) and Nico Manalo (Ralph) are each given scenes where they are able to show off their acting chops. Domingo and Batucan express variations of frustration and hurt. Manalo, although too young looking for his 30 year old character, has great comic timing.

The English staging works with Bembol Roco (Min Suk) since Suh assigns the character lines with broken grammar and Roco speaks without an American twang.

As Mary, Celeste Legaspi's ease with twang fits her character's context of having rebuilt herself into a more "American" version of herself (therefore, being able to speak "better" English?though a Texan drawl might have been more fun and funnier).

The Tagalog translation runs into several problems. Joi Barrios-Lebanc's translation is clumsy and hard on the ears. Her choices for Tagalog vocabulary lean towards the poetic, which doesn't match the conversational tone of the original English. She has the characters slip in and out of English (a lot of this) and Tagalog (doesn't seem enough, considering it's a translation) but not in the usual Taglish syntax that we use.

In the Tagalog version, Mario O' Hara (Min Suk) speaks with equal ease in Tagalog and English while Gina Pareno (Mary), is comfortable in Tagalog but her English wavers. Twang colors Batucan's and Domingo's Tagalog.

If, in this world that Leblanc has created, Taglish replaces American English as the parents' second language (assuming Korean is there first language), then shouldn't O'Hara be speaking broken Taglish for that matter, instead of slipping into entire sentences of broken English? Never mind the disparate accents.

Language barriers aside, both Roco and O'Hara were able to balance out Min Suk with equal parts arrogance, humor and sensitivity. Legaspi is an assured and sassy Mary, at ease with her co-actors. Pareno, while occasionally falling prey to split second gaps as she anticipates her cues, holds her own against the veteran cast and is hilarious with her effortless turns at physical comedy in her stage debut.

External to internal
It's as if Suh wants to say Asian American theater craft is done with asking questions about identity hinged on culture or ethnicity, instead, it's now hinged on other things like, oh say, family dynamics.

It's as if Millado's casting choices and Leblanc's translation choices want to point out that accents and grammar (and, okay, let's put facial features and skin color in the mix, too) don't matter in this production that is, at this point, a mix of Korean, American and Filipino filters.

But in this world seemingly stripped of cultural identifiers?the set design is a generic "American" suburban interior devoid of Korean decor; Korean phrases seem inserted as an afterthought, etc.?the risk of stereotyping notwithstanding, it becomes difficult to situate this attempt at an everyfamily.

Perhaps the production's whole point is that, save for the concept of hwangap, this family is not at all encumbered by their Korean cultural baggage, and are, in fact, depending on how you look at it, all American? Or is that Filipino? Who exactly are they again?

Tanghalang Pilipino will stage the children's musical "Ang Hukuman Ni Sinukuan" by National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario from Nov. 19 to Dec. 12, 2010. Call 832-3661.

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New internet experience from Sky Broadband

New internet experience
By Walter Ang
October 11, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Cable internet provider SkyBroadband has launched its 112mbps service, the fastest ultra high speed plan available for residential customers. Speeds of 48mbps and 24mbps are also now offered, all surpassing its high speed connections of 6mbps and 12mbps.

SkyBroadband provides internet connection using the same infrastructure used for the SkyCable cable television service. Cable lines carry more data and allow for higher bandwidths compared to DSL internet connections which use phone lines.

"With this service, we bring the Philippines to the next level, moving closer to first-world countries such as Japan," said Ray Montinola, marketing head of Sky. Japan ranked the highest in a study of 30 countries on the fastest advertised broadband speeds offered commercially and technologically. The study was conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

"We are committed to elevate the Filipino internet experience and contribute to the country's upward path to economic progress," he added, citing a statement made by the International Telecommunications Union's secretary general that broadband is "the next truly transformational technology. It can generate jobs, drive growth and productivity, and underpin long-term economic competitiveness."

Home use
Montinola notes that SkyBroadband is "at the forefront of pushing greater broadband speeds to allow more Filipinos improved access to productivity, entertainment and information sources and applications on the internet."

He said that having this kind of access to high speed will allow users to use multiple online applications without lag, for example, watching uninterrupted streaming high-definition video while downloading large files.

The service also allows subscribers to access exclusive content from SkyCable and sister broadcasting company ABS-CBN at the website.

"Subscribers can watch shows they want, on-demand anytime, for free," he said. "They can catch up the latest telenovela shows in ABS-CBN, the business programs in ANC, the news-breaking developments in foreign cable news shows, and, for the young, the latest music videos on MYX." Live streaming is also available from certain stations.

Bundled packages can include SkyCable service as well as the company's SkyVoice overseas phone call service that uses voice over internet protocol for cheaper rates compared to calls made on phone lines. "This allows our subscribers the convenience of paying for all three services with just one bill," he said.

While lower speed plans are also available, subscribers who avail of the 6mpbs plan and upward are given a personal concierge for service concerns.

The roll-out is in its initial stages and is now available in Rockwell, Makati City in the following buildings: Rizal Tower, Hidalgo Place, Luna Gardens, Amorsolo Square, Joya Lofts and Towers, and The Manansala.

Call 636-9292 loc. 4952 or visit 

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