Year: 2013

The House of a Forgotten Heroine

Actress Gretchen Barretto was here before me. So were Sharon Cuneta and Judy Ann Santos, both superstars, which probably explains why the receptionist-cum-tour guide’s question, as she ushered our group into the pre-1850 ancestral house, was: “Did you watch MMK (Maalala Mo Kaya) last night?” Um, no, we didn’t. “Well, this is the house where they shot that episode, with Gretchen. She even had a scene in the bathroom. A lot of movie stars have been here,” she said proudly. That’s how Casa Villavicencio is introduced these days—an old house that makes for a great movie set. Luckily, guests to this popular destination in Taal, Batangas are asked to watch a short video that introduces the house for what it was—a refuge for Philippine revolutionary heroes and home for a couple who largely funded the work of those heroes. The yellow-and-sea green stone mansion still standing at no. 33 Marella Street holds a treasure of stories not normally found in history books. Few Filipinos are familiar with a woman named Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio, dubbed …

Rolling out: P5 B for farmers

There are a lot of open secrets at the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac. The most open and the least secret are the arrienda or leasing out of property being arranged by farmers even before the contentious land is distributed to them. The Department of Agrarian Reform has heard the same whispers, too, from different places. But by this time, the government knows talk is cheap, so it’s letting its money talk back—loud and clear. “It’s illegal and we will not honor that, but it’s real on the ground. That’s why this is what we’re solving first,” Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Jerry Pacturan said. “If you see the amounts we have now, it’s really quite substantial: P2 billion for credit fund, P1 billion for insurance, P2 billion for ARCCESS, which are mostly equipment and services. That’s about P5 billion that will have to be spent for the year,” he said. Pacturan heads the DAR’s support services office. ARCCESS is Agrarian Reform Community Connectivity and Economic Support Services, a massive and systematic effort by the DAR to help …

A speck of white, a sea of blue

The big boat dodged the big waves, the rest it just rode out. It’s been almost an hour of rough seas, and my companions were turning green, trying hard to keep from grumbling. I, however, was lost in my memories. Our big, bouncy boat was taking us to my favorite secret place of all, and no seasickness can bring me down (besides, I am the granddaughter of a fisherman—I dig waves). The grumbling stopped before the boat’s engine did. Isla Arena’s white sand glinted from afar. Everyone forgot the dicey trip and focused on the best color of bikinis for this immaculate backdrop. “Welcome back!” bellowed no less than the owner, Roland Rodriguez, who everyone calls Mr. Fuji (his features are Japanese but his burnt brown skin is undeniably Filipino—he enjoys confusing people on his nationality). My husband and I were his first media guests on the island two years ago. To our companions, he said: “Please treat this as your private island for the next three days. It’s all yours.” That sent the boys …

The Search for Soul

They said it was a place where witches still practiced, a land that cast spells. As a child, I quivered at stories of Siquijor’s black magic. Three decades later, jaded and approaching pre-midlife crisis, I needed magic–of any sort. I headed for the Island of Fire. “Be nice,” my mother reminded me, knowing my penchant for returning cold food and not-so-well-done meat in restaurants. “You don’t know what those people can do.” I packed my most pleasing personality–and my husband, who is niceness personified–and flew to Dumaguete. Siquijor is an hour by ferry from Dumaguete City, the gateway to visitors from Manila. Being the Philippines’ third smallest province (it used to be part of Negros Oriental) with only around 91,000 inhabitants, Siquijor does not have its own airport. Except on Holy Week, when the media and tourists descend on the island for its curiosities, human traffic could not justify building one. At the pier, visitors are welcomed by a sign that immediately tries to douse the quest for whatever dark mystery the tourists came for: “Siquijor is just perfect for relaxing and recuperating. …

Trains, Planes and Mobiles: Notes on Cellphone Photography

Just before I left the travel magazine where I worked in 2011, I tagged along on an ABS-CBN interview with renowned fashion photographer Jun de Leon, a very passionate–and very elusive–artist. I’m not sure if this ever saw print, but in this age of smartphones that can do practically anything, I think his thoughts are too precious not to share, so…   Cellphone Photography, according to Jun de Leon  He has one rule in photography—there are no rules. And this is why Enrique “Jun” De Leon can move from being a photojournalist to a fashion photographer and now, an advocate of cellphone photography. His book ‘Tracing the Wind’ is the world’s first coffeetable book using purely cellphone photographs. Today he runs a Facebook page dedicated to mobile-age photography with more than 30,000 members from 40 countries. In a rare interview, he sits down and talks about the evolution of his passion. Why take on cellphone photography? According to research, the no. 2 aspiration of Filipinos is to own a digital camera. That’s why I’m changing …

10 for the Road

I will always remember January 1, 2009. That was the New Year’s day I found myself on Highway 1 in southern California, with my cousin Ice and my San Francisco housemate Athong. Being the only one who had zero driving skills, I had the privilege of enjoying the scenic view of the Pacific and quaint houses you only saw on storybooks. The picture remains perfect in my mind.  In this age of promo fares, road trips may soon become a lost form of travel. But for those who still prefer the romance of feeling the breeze on their face and holding a map in their hands, I have these 10 helpful tips for land travel. (NOTE: The photos were actually part of our engagement shoot three years and 20 lbs. ago, when we decided, on a spur of the moment, to go with a Road Trip Gone Wrong storyline)   Have a plan. It’s great to be spontaneous and just go where the fuel takes you. But if you don’t have unlimited resources and time, the one …

Tent for two, please

  It’s a lot like marriage, this glamping. I mulled the comparison as I watched Henrich, our guest services officer, unzip–yes, unzip–our room for the next three days. Sleeping in a tent was not exactly my idea of a romantic anniversary getaway but it was my husband’s dream adventure, and like I said, marriage–it’s all about compromise. “This is it! Welcome!” Henrich says a little too cheerfully, it made me nervous. Is there a catch? I entered the tent and did a quick survey: bed, check; comforter, check; fluffy pillows, check; bedside lamp, check; carpet (sort of), check; electric fan, check; electric sockets (for charging gadgets), check; wardrobe drawers, check; toiletries, check; mini bar with cold drinks, check; mini-bar, check (plus it transforms into a desk). Oh and yes, windows, check! We’ll be fine, I thought. We were in Bluewater Sumilon, the first resort to offer glamping in the Philippines. This 24-hectare island off the southern tip of Cebu has the bragging right of being the country’s first marine reserve, having been under the care of …