Thursday, December 29, 2005

Innovation and random thoughts in Mabini, Batangas

Business Times p.B2
Thursday, December 29, 2005

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Innovation and random thoughts in Mabini, Batangas

FOR a long time I was held back from appreciating the water world by my phobia for deep water. I have always been afraid of anything that takes my feet off the ground. One of which is swimming. Our Christmas vacation gave me a challenge to overcome that imagined fear. So for the first time in many years, I got into the waters in the fish and coral sanctuary in Mabini, with my snorkel and mask, my hand held carefully by diver Mathias Mendoza and cheered by my sons, Ronjie and Adrian, and my friends, Drs. Josie Isidro and Joey Lapeña and the other Lapeñas—Mama, Papa, Roan and Jica, plus Emma and Ernie (how could I go wrong?).

Wow! All sorts, colors, shapes, sizes of fish and corals. And those gigantic clams. Beautiful. Exhilarating. I, therefore, conclude two things: 1) We should go snorkeling and diving (preferably in the protected waters of Batangas, Palawan and other places) to enjoy the spectacle and bounty of nature at least once in our lifetime and as often as we could. 2) Get rid of your aquarium, return the fish, coral and sand to the sea and let them flourish in their natural habitat. God did not originally put fish in an aquarium.

If WWF had not been vigilant in creating the whole nature protecting system in Mabini, I would not have had that rare privilege of a front-row seat in observing sea world’s magnificent beauty. Mang Iyas said that at the beginning, the fishermen were vehemently opposed to WWF’s program. Now they are active participants in the program as members of the Bantay Dagat Brigade.

Being innovative does not mean that we have to always invent something. Being innovative means also that we simply rearrange our thoughts, ideas, attitude, priorities and things. Instead of fishing, Mabini townsfolk are now in the tourist industry as boatmen, diving instructors, resort proprietors, and others and their family work in these resorts in various capacities. And they rest easy at night knowing that their children and their children’s children will inherit a well-preserved naturally beautiful and unpolluted environment.

That is one reason I don’t like spending Christmas in Manila. I go on a cooking frenzy because we are expecting visitors. We used to do the rounds of grandparents, relatives and neighbors when we were young while our parents wait for our visitors. Then, we had the good sense of tarrying a bit and engaging our hosts with Christmas banter and carols. Now, they come with outstretched arms with open palms—pahingi ng pamasko—and zoom away. Nobody eats because they have been to other houses and they also have plenty of food at home and they are in a hurry to move on—para makarami (Where is the Christmas spirit here?).

In Barangay Bagalangit, Mabini, family and friends celebrated Christmas together the traditional way. While we headed for the fish sanctuary and open seas to commune with nature, to feed fish with bread crumbs (take note, fish don’t bite oily bread) and to watch them dance and prance around undisturbed. Every now and then, they bump you playfully.

Being December, the water is rough, the waves are big and the wind blows real hard. Our boat went up and down at the mercy of the elements. Mama Lapeña said it was like riding a wild horse (Who needs a roller coaster?). We screamed and held on to the boat tightly; at the same time, took pictures of this exciting adventure (What Filipino does not take picture of everything?). I lost my favorite short pants when the wind blew it away and the sea swallowed it abruptly.

On Christmas Day, we went to Sepoc Wall, where there are great boulders of solid rocks. No place for a leisurely swim. Snorkeling was the order of the day. Next two days, we went to the fish sanctuary and some sandy beach for a little swim. It was so like Christmas—quiet and peaceful. My bad cough and colds was miraculously cured by the healing sea breeze. Or was it the peace and quiet?

My sons forgot their underwater camera. But, there was the ziplock to protect the camera from getting wet even underwater. Think of new uses for things and new combinations.

I was surrounded by those I love—family, friends and cell phone to connect with those who are far away. God is good! Merry Christmas and happy New Year everyone!

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Innovation and Christmas giving

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, December 22, 2005

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Innovation and Christmas giving

I STARTED my Christmas shopping January this year and was done in September. You know, I went to bookstores (Yes, I love giving and receiving books!) and book fairs looking for books with that Christmas spirit.

My favorite gift-books this year are Lean Against the Wind by James McKarns and Form & Splendour, a coffee table book on Philippine ethnic art by Roberto Maramba.

It feels so wonderful to give. Friends, relatives, clients and colleagues are very happy to have already read the books from cover to cover. Thanks for appreciating.

There are other gifts, though, that would give me great pleasure to give, such as:

•Help a child overcome shyness
•Leave flowers in the doorsteps of a neighbor
•Have dinner with a bunch of newsboys
•Provide care to an elderly neighbor
•Sponsor more teachers to the Accelerated Learning Workshop
•Sponsor a kids’ sports team
•Teach a child to read
•Volunteer at a hospice
•Volunteer at a battered women’s shelter
•Read fairy tales to children at RCCS, Bago Bantay, Quezon City
•Conduct an essay-writing workshop for students at the Camp Aguinaldo High School
•Design a public space for Barangay 596
•Organize and lead a “Barangay 596 Cleanup Day”
•Organize a Barangay 596 New Year Media Noche street party
•Start a Barangay 596 library
•Dedicate a song to my friends over the radio
•Throw a pasta party for my friends. Yes, Cecile Muñoz, as in the past
•Give away all my unused purchases and gifts to the teachers of Tatalon Elementary School
•Plant a forest
•Pay all my bills on time
•Catch a view of Metro Manila with my mother and her friends from the balcony of the Eugenio Lopez Center, Antipolo
•Teach kids by example
•Buy a washcloth from a kid at a sidewalk stand
•Treat some kids to a roundtrip on the Megatren
•Practice tolerance
•Think of something likable about a person I dislike the most
•Take pictures of kids and oldies and give them framed copies
•Bring all the kids in my neighborhood to a fun day in Luneta
•Bring my friend, Jenny Javier, to the front row of the Madrigal Singers Concert at Philamlife Auditorium today, the 22nd
•Ignore the faults of others
•Compile all my personal recipes and give them to friends
•Give someone a second chance
•Play mahjong with my mom, Nanay Ning, and be very patient
•For my best friend, Gigie Penalosa, a week in Paris. Though we have been friends for almost a lifetime, we have never traveled together.
•For a very kind man, Bert Tato, a trip back to Vietnam and a hair dye he is not allergic to
•For my traveling friends—Susan Valencia, Berna Ronduen, Christy and Nes Mariano and Councilor Eric Rey Medina of Quezon City—a swing-around trip to Asia
•For my sons, Ronjie and Adrian, more tender loving care (I wish you give me grandchildren soon)
•For my brothers, Jing and Jess, be more tolerant of their idiosyncrasies
•For my helps, Carmen and Emma, extra five days off each either Christmas or New Year
•For my fellow service presidents at Rotary International District 3780, a major part in our “Building a Creative and Caring Learning Organizations” project
•Donate $1,000 to The Rotary Fund
•For my editor, Arnold Tenorio, 500- to 700-word articles, no more, no less. hahahahahha
•For you, dear readers, more thoughtful and creative articles about life combined with technical lessons on entrepreneurship

And for myself, I would get these gifts:
•Forgive myself for my mistakes
•Change what I can change and stop worrying about the rest
•Organize my house-cum-library
•Own the complete works of Charles Schulz
•Know when I’ve begun to repeat myself
•Forget how old I am and remember how young I am
•Spend a day alone in the church, just thinking
•Get a new laptop and remote control for my TV set
•Read more books

Moje wishes you all a blessed Christmas and merry giving. Send your wishes through

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Innovation and habits

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, December 15, 2005

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Innovation and habits

WHEN I want to be alone to think through things, I usually go to Chocolate Kiss, my comfort place,” says Gigie Peñalosa, president, VCP Trading International. “I love their Devil’s Food Cake. Their Dayap Cake is to die for, especially for those who do not care for sweets. Their cakes are simple, but scrumptious, and reasonably priced. I buy whole cakes for special occasions.”

Chocolate Kiss has, indeed, become a daily habit of students, faculty, administrative staff and even visitors at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. According to Popoy and Maline Flores, “Those who come regularly order practically the same food—their favorite comfort food, such as adobo flakes, spareribs, eggplant pagmiggiana, Caesar salad and lasagna, aside from their “legendary” cakes baked personally by Maline.

Maline says that theirs are original family and personal recipes. These used to be her family’s special Sunday fares at home that have now become daily favorites of their customers. Every six months, they remove some food items from their menu and introduce new ones. Maline tries to experiment with new recipes and hold regular food-tasting sessions with her whole family and their friends. CK generally caters to the taste of students which, as Popoy and Maline affirm, is very different from that of adults. As well, they offer larger portions without sacrificing quality.

They have two kinds of menu book: the regular with a list of favorite favorites and the exclusive which has a changeable list. They also offer daily lunch specials—for regular diners who have already “memorized” the menu. Still these regulars go for regular food even on special occasions like Valentine however special they make their menu and recipe. Old habits never die, they just ask for double serving.

Chocolate Kiss started with 13 employees as a coffee shop at the second floor of the UP Bahay ng Alumni. Now, with an extension at the ground floor, it has a committed staff of 64 who work in two shifts. As owners, Maline and Popoy manage the day-to-day operations themselves. This enables them to address issues immediately just like running their own household. Maline says CK has evolved to a business commitment from her simple hobby of baking cakes for friends and family, from a small coffee shop to a full service restaurant.

At the start, they were the only eatery in UP that has air-conditioning so even the university president brings his guests to CK. Now, all UP canteens and cafeterias are fully air-conditioned and their competitive edge is that they have established themselves as a place for fine dining and special dates.

CK is at once cozy and stylish. The interior was done no less than the former dean of the College of Architecture, Honrado “Honey” Fernandez. It has a large oval table for big sit-down dinners that could be taken apart into attractive asymmetrical small tables on ordinary days.

Another innovative idea is that, instead of their own wall decoration which could get boring after a while, the late Dean Fernandez suggested opening up their walls for aspiring UP artists. Now, they have a daily exhibit of paintings and sculpture; every three months, they change the artworks. This makes CK seem to exude a familiar, yet different, ambiance every time depending on the artwork on display.

Maline noticed that CK is also the favorite dating place of their customers. So, they provide musical interlude for the romantics every Mondays (guitar), Thursdays (organ and violin) and Saturdays (piano). As an added treat on certain occasions they put all their musicians together in a much-appreciated concert.

To reach out to their customers who have left UP, their children, with their cousins, have set up a trendy Chocolate Kiss on Roces Avenue, Quezon city.

Give a chocolate kiss this Christmas, call Maline Flores at 09189043416. They still make those wonderfully good chocolate chip cookies.

Popoy is also service president of Rotary Club of Quezon City. Their signature project is a partnership with PCASAM (Philippine Community Antisubstance Abuse Management) in providing antisubstance-abuse education and research at the baranggay level and assistance in the personalized treatment of users at the PCASAM facilities on Manalo Street, Cubao, Quezon City. They are working on expanding this community project by offering this service to more users and improving the treatment facilities. Therefore, Popoy (09189043414) is appealing to kind-hearted people for donations and support.

Moje is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. and RCQC North. She awaits your feedback at

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Fusing innovation and tradition

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, December 8, 2005

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Fusing innovation and tradition

WHEN we think of innovation, tradition we tend to use the word “or.” The two words seem to be opposites, albeit extreme opposites.

Forty-six-year happily married couple and business partners Mercy and Robert Cordova is proving that up-to-the-minute innovation AND time-honored tradition could be fused and made profitable. Just like their strong union as husband and wife.

Think Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Think Vigan town plaza, beside the historic Vigan Church. What comes to mind is the yummy, crunchy and nutritious empanada and okoy made from a recipe that has been passed on from generation to generation to generation. They say that to this day, the recipe has remained the same —rice flour, jumping shrimp, shallot and green onions for the okoy and veggies, Vigan longanisa, egg yolk for empanada filler—and prepared exactly the same way. Tradition.

Now, true-blue Ilocana Mercy and Ilonggo Bobby have longed for her native delicacies and would bring them home by tens, stocked in the freezer, warmed and eaten whenever the mouth starts watering for them. Then Tiendesitas happened—they got a stall, hired three original cooks from the sidewalks of Vigan and, voila!, she gets to eat freshly prepared and cooked okoy and empanada every day. And shares them with many others, like Tanya Garcia and Rommel Singson. Rommel says they taste exactly like the ones cooked in Vigan and the empanada is malaman (has more filling). He says that he doesn’t have to ask his father, Chavit, to bring him tons of his favorite Vigan’s specialty. Tradition.

My sons and I enjoy a lunch of okoy and empanada every Sunday at MaC’s Deli. Mercy says MaC means Me and Christ and also stands for her parents, Mariano and Consuelo. They even have beautiful Vigan-made tables, chairs, jars and other decors and not succumbed to the monoblocs used by all other stall owners. Tradition.

I observed Jerry Pajar, the one who prepares the dough for the empanada, and I noticed that he didn’t use any measuring tool at all, yet the finished product seems to have uniform qualities and quantities. Jerry said, like everybody in his family, he does it by oido and tantiyahan (educated guess). He said it is his family livelihood for generations back in Vigan. The okoy takes 10 minutes to cook (they can only cook one okoy at a time) and the empanada (five to six pieces at a time), 7 minutes. They wouldn’t do it any other way. Tradition.

There lies the opportunity for innovation. Instead of the usual system of hungry (and somewhat angry) customers forming a long line during the first week of their operations, they now have the order system. You place your order, you are told how much time you could come back (You are now in Balintawak, or Bulacan, Angeles, Tarlac, etc.—and it will take x hours to reach Vigan. The humor appeases some grumbling stomachs.) and, meanwhile, you do your shopping at the many interesting shops selling Philippine-made products. They are trying to improve this system.

Another innovation would be in the recipe itself. For health-conscious customers, they will also use crab meat, instead of longanisa, for the empanada. They will soon offer authentic Ilocano favorites bagnet, sinanglaw, dinardaraan, adobong sili and longaniza.

So far, they have refused to locate in big malls because they might lose their authenticity and become just another fast-food place. They enjoy serving a small but growing clientele even as they think of better and faster ways of serving them. The okoy and empanada are complete meals by themselves at a very cheap price (P35 each).

Mercy says that opening this okoy-cum-empanada business is a dream come true. She has always been proud of and wanted to share her comfort foods to the world. She was born and raised in Vigan. Likewise, Mercy and Bobby attend to their business of importing salmon from Norway and two movie houses in Vigan.

CONGRATULATIONS to the Rotary Club of Diliman on its 29th Charter Anniversary. RCD has a strong tradition of fellowship and service above self with its strong membership roster and various civic projects. Into the first five months of his term, service president Edilberto Tato and his team have embarked on significant projects on vocational, community and international service and service to the new generation. They count many major donors (PDG Mel Salazar, PP Steve Robles) to The Rotary Foundation. They also have many Paul Harris Family (PDG Mel Salazar, PP Steve Robles, PP Lyndon Wong, Bjorn Wahlstedt, Alex Cureg and SP Bert, not to mention seven Multiple Paul Harris Fellows, 24 Paul Harris Fellows and 21 Paul Harris Sustaining Members.

They are also staunch supporters of the RCQCNorth Literacy Program.

Moje is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. and RCQCNorth. Please send your feedback at

Thursday, December 1, 2005

When you serve above self, the best is yet to be

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, December 1, 2005

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
When you serve above self, the best is yet to be

I AM very happy to hear from a long-lost friend Pasky de los Santos: “Thank you very much for the inspiring feature. I felt very at ease reading the material ‘cause I am an undergraduate, too, and was given this opportunity in PAL to have my “fifteen minutes of fame” as a manager of Domestic Passenger Handling. With the merger of international and domestic passenger services, I am reassigned as admin manager for PSD. More power to you and God Bless!”

Dear Pasky, you are not alone. Many successful people nowadays trace their journey from modest beginnings. District governor Benjie Bacorro and Rotary presidents Abe Candido, Celso Hiwatig, Bert Tato, Joe Villegas are a few of those whose motivation to help others is their own experience of early struggles in life.

Unlike some people with “crab mentality.” There is this guy who left Rotary when I suggested that as classroom guardians at the Tatalon Elementary School, we all should donate one television set and DVD/VCD player for each classroom. He commented, “Why should I give when where my child studies, there is no television set. And I am paying a lot.” He has not yet imbibed the joy of unconditional giving and the story of the widow who gave her last bit of cash to the offering plate. In Rotary we abide by the philosophy that the best is yet to be and the motto “service above self.”

Your story, dear Pasky, is also the story of poet John Milton as he wrote about his blindness.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

And here are some more examples from the book of Joey Green, The Road to Success is paved with Failure.

• Katie Couric was banned from reading news reports on the air by the president of CNN, who insisted she had an irritating, high-pitched, squeaky voice. After working with a voice coach, Couric became a television news reporter and a popular host on the Today show.

• Babe Ruth was raised in a Catholic school for delinquents in Baltimore. Babe Ruth became the first great home-run hitter in baseball history, hitting 714 runs during his career playing for the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

• Jay Leno applied for a job at Woolworth’s, but failed the employment test. Leno became a popular comedian and succeeded Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show.

• Fyodor Dostoyevsky was sentenced to four years of hard labor in Siberia for alleged revolutionary activity. He went on to detail his prison life in his novel Memoirs from the House of Dead, then wrote Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov. He is considered one of Russia’s greatest novelists.

• Pablo Picasso, a poor student in elementary school, was often punished by being sent to the “cell,” a room where he sat on a bench, isolated from the other students. Picasso used his time in solitary isolation to “take a pad of paper and draw nonstop” and became the most famous and innovative painter of the twentieth century, developing cubism.

The important thing to remember when we are down is that we are blessed with time, talents and free will. We can opt to wallow in sorrow and self-pity. Or we could wake up the creative and innovative child in us and do something.

CONGRATULATIONS to the elementary-school teachers of Aurora Quezon, Betty Go-Belmonte, Valencia and P. Tuazon in Quezon City for having completed the requirements and actively participated in the Accelerated Learning Workshop undertaken by the Rotary clubs of QC North, QC Southwest, New Manila South, New Manila Heights, Capitol Hills and Diliman. Their graduation is on Saturday, December 3, at the Aurora Quezon Elementary School. Please say a little prayer for these teachers to have the courage to change their learning methodologies and become more innovative. Eventually, their pupils will benefit from their newly acquired competencies.

Moje is president of Paradigms & paradoxes Corp. and RCQCNorth. Please email your feedback to