Archive for July, 2012

Underground river declared ‘wetland of int’l importance’

When it rains, it pours for the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR).

Barely four months after having been officially installed as one of the world’s New 7 Wonders of Nature in April, the underground river was declared “Wetland of International Importance” during the Ramsar Convention held on July 6-13 in Bucharest, Romania.

The PPUR is the longest navigable under river in the world, flowing 8.2 kilometers through a cathedral-like cave of limestone formations, stalactites and stalagmites. A natural World Heritage site and Puerto Princesa City’s premier eco-tourism destination, it was also recorded in the Unesco World Heritage site list for its outstanding value and ecological significance.

“Once again, it has been proven that caring for the environment is the right way to go. It shows that we were on the right track to commit our leadership to the policy environmental protection and sustainable development,” Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn said in a press statement.

Wetlands are areas saturated by water. They support various types of vegetation with the ability to survive in saturated soil conditions. The ecological benefits that can be gained from wetlands spring from its basic function which is to conserve and preserve water.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje enjoined all Filipinos to “take pride for taking the lead in the global effort to protect wetland areas not only for the economic benefits they provide but also for the ecological service we are now enjoying.”

It was Paje who pushed for PPUR’s nomination to the list of Ramsar Convention of Wetlands, for its importance as a biodiversity conservation covering the entire mountain-to-sea ecosystem and its forests.

Governments worldwide recognized the importance of wetlands in the environment, Hagedorn said. On Feb. 2, 1971, 18 nations adopted the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in the city of Ramsar in Iran, due to the alarming rate of destruction of wetlands. Today, there are currently 160 contracting parties who form the nucleus of Ramsar convention, including the Philippines, who regularly meet every three years for a conference of parties.

The Ramsar Convention provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources among member parties. Parties are obliged to designate and nominate one wetland site for inclusion in the “List of Wetlands of International Importance,” following certain criteria. 🙄

Top Five Tips for Handling Delayed and Cancelled Flights from Superflyers

We’ve all been there. Delayed and cancelled flights are part of the travel experience. We wanted to know what the most experienced travelers do in these situations, so we asked our community of Superflyers for actionable advice. Read what they have to say here:

If you have elite status(es), save the elite customer service phone number(s) in your phone. According to one traveler, it is often easier to get re-booked and even compensated through an elite call center agent. After all, the agent on the phone is focused on you, knows your history with the airline, and does not have to deal with multiple customers at once.

Know what you are entitled to and understand the compensation guidelines for the country you are in. For example, in the EU, airlines must follow the infamous Regulation 261/2004 whereby passengers are entitled to certain compensation (in most cases) that varies based on the duration of the delay or if the flight has been cancelled. Our advice is to use your smart phone to look up this information as needed.

If your delay is over a few hours (varies according to airline), ask for food vouchers and make new friends. You’ll be able to commiserate together and may even make a valuable business connection.
Know what your other flight options are. Sometimes, it is imperative that you get to your final destination as soon as possible for an important business meeting or to see your family. Sometimes the best option is to secure a spot on another airline as quickly as possible. Use to see other flights ranked based on where you have elite status and miles.

Always be courteous to the airline staff. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it will also make you stand out from the crowd of otherwise frustrated and sometimes obnoxious travelers. If and when the desk staff has discretion to compensate travelers and help them get on new flights, you will be remembered.

Barong Tagalog to Get Modern Makeover for Olympics

Rajo Laurel, one of Manila’s top fashion designers, has been chosen by the Philippine Olympic Committee to design and create clothes for the small Philippine contingent during the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics on July 27. His plan: A modern-world makeover of the traditional Philippine barong Tagalog.

The barong Tagalog is an embroidered formal shirt, typically worn untucked, which is commonly used at Philippine ceremonial events. It is widely seen as one of the more distinctive visual elements of Philippine culture.

Mr. Laurel, a judge in the reality show “Project Runway Philippines,” said he likes the barong Tagalog because he believes in the national costume’s “simplicity and elegance.”

The typical barong, Mr. Laurel said, is steeped in tradition dating back to the 1600s. Some say the shirt – which sometimes uses a sheer, see-through fabric made out of pina fabric (a textile derived from pineapple leaves) – was forced upon locals by Spaniards during the colonial era so that any hidden weapons could be kept in plain sight. Others say it stemmed from a desire to have loose, breathable and comfortable garments in the Philippines’ tropical heat, with the fine embroidery coming later.

Today, “it’s distinct Filipino formal wear, and I’m proud to be able to show that to the world,” Mr. Laurel said.

Mr. Laurel said he’s not exactly reinventing the wheel when it comes to the barong tagalog – he just wants to give it “a more modern take.”

“I want to pay great respect to the tradition of the garment. I’m just going to give it a more tapered fit, a slightly cropped length and small fabrication changes. Headwear (inspired by Filipino tradition also) will feature in the design,” Mr. Laurel said.

Mr. Laurel, whose work has been worn by American supermodel Tyra Banks, said he’s using black, gold and mocha as primary colors for the stylized barong Tagalog, in a rayon fabric to give it a more modern feel (and to help keep the athletes warm in London’s cooler climate). The embroidery will feature a modern design with dark cobalt and blue threads symbolizing good fortune and luck. The barong Tagalog will be paired with weight wool flat front trousers, he said.

The main accessory for the small contingent of nine Philippine athletes and 13 officials will be a salakot – a traditional wide-brimmed hat, often made with rattan or reeds – with gold leaf that Mr. Laurel hopes will catch the light as the Filipino representatives enter the stadium.

The Philippine Olympic team is composed of track athletes Marestella Torres and Rene Herrera; swimmers Jasmine Alkhaldi and Jessica Lacuna; boxer Mark Anthony Barriga; BMX rider Daniel Caluag; judo practitioner Tomohiko Hoshina; shooter Brian Rosario; and weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz. 🙄

Palawan island No. 1 getaway spot in the world

The fun in the Philippines is definitely starting to pick up with a private getaway island in Palawan province taking the top spot in the British edition of Vogue Magazine’s 100 best holiday destinations in the world.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) on Monday announced that the magazine, which named Ariara Island—a 103-hectare “private paradise” snuggled among the untouched Calamian Islands—as the world’s No. 1 getaway spot, will hit the stands in August.

In a statement, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. said Philippine tourism would surely benefit from the worldwide recognition.

“What is remarkable is that the entire resort is a testament to the unique artistry and skills of Filipino designers and artisans,” Jimenez said.

“The use of local materials and traditional techniques serves as good advertising for Filipino craftsmanship and world-class products,” he added.

“Tourism is not just about counting tourist arrivals … more importantly, it is about building opportunities on the ground and improving lives, in communities, in very real places.”

The resort is owned by British property developer Charles McCulloch and his wife, Carrie.

The United Kingdom remains to be one of the Philippines’ biggest tourism markets, registering over 104,400 tourist arrivals last year, which the DOT noted was a record.

Ultimate destination

Ariara Island’s eco-friendly structures, its luxurious and spacious villas and cottages, were designed by renowned Filipino architect Jorge Yulo.

Every piece of furniture that adorns these structures was handcrafted and upholstered by local carpenters. Some had also been outsourced to Filipino artisans.

The DOT said the resort’s wooden baths employed traditional boat-building techniques, while marble baths were hand-carved from single blocks of Romblon marble.

Cushions were crafted from Mindanao’s vivid tribal fabrics and its wall accents featured heliographs and ceramics created by Filipino artist Ugu Bigyan.

The tropical island resort has been described as “the ultimate off-the-beaten-track destination,” which offers guests—a group of up to 18 people—an all-inclusive package of exclusivity, relaxation, 24-hour service, excellent cuisine and a wide array of amenities.

For $295 (P12,000) a night per person, guests can relax in its posh villas and cottages and enjoy an unbroken view of the neighboring islands and the clear blue waters of Palawan.

Guests will be made to feel like royalty even in the bedroom, which is adorned with a private terrace and a garden, hanging chairs and hammocks, a four-poster bed, a walk-in closet, a large bathroom and an open-air shower.

Out in the sea, they can enjoy jet-skiing, windsurfing, canoeing, snorkeling or scuba diving to discover Calamian Islands’ rich diversity of marine life.

Intensified promotions

Lucky visitors may even spot some of the world’s endangered species of sea turtles such as Hawksbill, leatherback, Olive Ridley and green turtles crawling along Ariara’s main beach to lay eggs.

Guests who are avid bird watchers may turn to the island’s unspoiled forest for relaxation. It is home to eagles, owls, kingfishers, woodpeckers, egrets and flower peckers, among other bird species.

“The resort’s properly planned development and low density show the owners’ respect for the environment,” Jimenez noted.

“We want to see more of this type of investment which supports the principles of responsible, ethical and sustainable tourism,” he added.

From January to May this year alone, British tourist arrivals continued to grow, yielding 50,347 arrivals. This was “one notch higher” from its previous 10th place, according to the DOT.

It also said that British tourist arrivals were expected to improve with the ongoing promotional efforts in the United Kingdom via London cabs, double-decker buses and posters mounted in strategic places in time for the Queen’s recent diamond jubilee and the 2012 Olympics.

Queen Sofia feasts on Filipino culture, brings home mangosteen for the king

On the last day of her five-day visit to the Philippines, during the cocktail reception hosted by Sen. Loren Legarda at the National Museum’s Fabella Hall on Friday afternoon, Queen Sofia of Spain reserved her biggest praise for the country’s fresh fruits, particularly mangosteen. She earlier asked for a bottle of Coke, but Legarda, who isn’t a big fan of sodas, offered her fruit juices instead.

Apart from dalandan juice, lemon grass tea and santol shake, Legarda served fresh fruits in season such as atis, lanzones, pomelo, mango and mangosteen. The senator later sent 20 kilos of mangosteen to the queen’s hotel, so she could take the fruits home with her and share them with King Juan Carlos.

“She was seated beside me and she kept on saying that this has been the best of the best of the best,” Legarda said. “I can’t interpret what she was comparing it to, but she looked obviously pleased.”

She asked if the Negritos who wore bark are still around and said, “they are wearing trees.”

Spanish staples such as cochinillo and jamon Serrano weren’t on the menu, but Legarda made sure that the queen had enough to eat during the reception.

Since both are pescetarians, Legarda and Queen Sofia eat only vegetables and seafood. The senator, who met with Spanish Ambassador Jorge Domecq several weeks ago to plan the queen’s visit, did her homework and prepared a sumptuous buffet spread consisting of chilled seafood such as native lobsters, prawns and crab claws.

The queen also feasted on open-faced sandwiches consisting of tinapa paté with eggplant, roasted red peppers with garbanzos, chili flakes and pine nuts, olives with Davao goat cheese, basil and mint, and chopped ripe cherry tomatoes, caramelized onions and pesto prepared by Kai Restaurant.

“She was so impressed, especially when I told I her that I personally researched and chose the dishes, down to the flowers,” said Legarda. “I also learned from her that she loves eggplant.”

For his part, Domecq later texted Legarda to share with her how pleased her majesty was: “HM has enjoyed every minute with you at the museum and keeps praising you.”

Legarda shared her fondness for white flowers such as roses and sampaguita through floral arrangements that echoed the framed prints drawn by Spanish botanist Juan de Cuellar in the late 18th century. The prints, which now adorn the Fabella Hall’s walls, were donated by King Juan Carlos I of Spain during a visit to Manila in 1996.

Small and intimate

She purposely kept the gathering small and intimate by inviting a select group of journalists, Spanish nationals and Philippine government officials such as Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Commission on Higher Education Chair Patricia Licuanan, Commission on Human Rights Chair Etta Rosales and Makati Business Club head Ramon del Rosario.

“I wanted the event to have a casual yet intimate feel,” said Legarda, who even had tables spruced with tinalak table runners from her personal collection. “From what I gathered from my research, the queen also wants it this way.”

Breaking protocol

Several traditions were broken both by the queen and the senator. As far as Legarda can remember, for instance, it was the first time that that part of the National Museum became a venue for lunch.

“They don’t normally allow people to eat here,” said Legarda. “They made an exception this time because the hall contained no paintings by Filipino masters.”

The queen herself earlier broke protocol while she was being toured by Legarda. She was so intrigued and obviously touched by a group of costumed Ifugaos from the Cordilleras who sang a special hudhud (native chant) in her honor, that she couldn’t resist sitting in a huddle with them to exchange pleasantries. Legarda and Domeq had no choice but to follow her majesty’s lead.

“Hudhud chants have been declared by Unesco as one of the country’s masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage,” said Legarda. “I’m currently in the process of having the chants documented to help preserve our oral traditions.”

Vigan next time

Legarda brought the Ifugaos to Manila two days ago especially for the event. They also sang a harvest chant and worked on a traditional loom for the queen and her party’s benefit. When she learned that the group of Filipinos was from scenic Banaue and its rice terraces, the queen told Legarda that she wants to visit the north, including Vigan and its famed Spanish quarter, next time.

“I promised her I’d be the one to personally tour her around,” said Legarda, who gave the queen a pair of sinamay shawls woven with piña suksok from Iloilo.

In turn, Queen Sofia gifted her with a coffee-table book titled “José Honorato Lozano: Filipinas 1847,” by José Ma. Cariño.

Fascinated with weaves

As chair of the Senate committee on cultural communities and patroness of “Hibla ng Lahing Filipino,” the first permanent textile exhibit of its kind in the country, Senator Legarda gave Queen Sofia a private tour of an adjacent hall named after the Spanish royal.

One of the exhibit’s displays is a traditional baro’t saya belonging to the senator’s late grandmother. Made of pinukpok or pounded abaca to produce a silk-like finish, the ensemble caught the queen’s interest. She became all the more fascinated by it when she learned who its original owner was.

“She was so fascinated with so many things, from the indigenous people who wove the fabrics to the dyes they used,” said Legarda. “I’m so happy that she appreciates the work we’ve put in for our indigenous people. Behind her gracious and down-to-earth demeanor is an inquisitive mind.”

And that curiosity extends to food. Kai also prepared vegetarian paella and a halo-halo bar complete with traditional native ingredients such as halayang ube, leche flan, sweetened saba, dayap rind, langka and pinipig. The well-rounded Legarda had a ready answer to her guest’s every question.

“She was savoring the ube, and I told her that halo-halo is best enjoyed by mixing all the ingredients with milk and crushed ice,” said Legarda. “But Ambassador Domecq kept pointing to his watch, signaling that they were already behind schedule.”

No elevators, please

Dressed in a two-piece beige ensemble with beaded details below the shoulders, the queen earlier had to climb several flights of stairs in a pair of high-heeled beige slingbacks to get to the second floor.

National Museum personnel were informed by the Spanish embassy that the queen preferred to use the stairs, so members of the Presidential Security Group had to shut down the elevators before her arrival. They were later switched on, but not after a number of guests did as the queen had done.