It’s the people who make a nation great. Meet some of the country’s most outstanding people that include two national artists, an award-winning stage actress, and a CNN Hero—all from diverse fields such as the arts, tourism, environment, social work, and fashion.
An Architect and Patriot
Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa
National Artist for Architecture
He might be tisoy (Spanish mestizo), but he’s more Filipino than you think. This National Artist for Architecture has been called “the most outspoken champion of indigenous Filipino architecture” and one of seven visionary architects of Asia. He uses indigenous materials and experiments with traditional architectural designs and technological trends . He often pokes fun—with a twinkle in his eye—at those firms that bring in alien design concepts. His designs have won awards abroad, including a Gallivanter’s Award for Excellence for the six-star Amanpulo resort.
Asked what he wants his legacy to be, he says, “To be able to hear foreigners look at any of our projects and say, ‘That is Filipino architecture and it is beautiful!’”
Considering you are a tisoy with a Spanish heritage, you are very nationalistic and pro-Filipino. Where do you attribute your strong love for our country? My grandfather, also named Francisco Mañosa, came from Barcelona, Spain, and landed in Abra, Benguet, to make a better life for himself in the Philippines. My father was, by far, the greatest influence to me as a patriot of my country. He was a sanitary engineer and very loyal government official.
He would constantly preach, “You only have one country. Accept it! And learn to love it for what it is! Don’t let anyone speak garbage of your country!” I have taught the very same lessons to my three children and they, too, have imbibed the same love for our country to my seven grandchildren.
Why do you think developers and architects are using foreign influences for their themes and designs? Sadly, I think we still have not gotten rid of our “colonial mentality” and many developers use this to sell their products. They do this recklessly without realizing that by importing foreign architecture, you are essentially also importing an architecture that was made for a certain climate and culture. It does not mean that it is not beautiful—it just simply does not belong.
I want to know that I am in a house in Tagaytay in the Philippines, and not in an Italian villa in Tagaytay.
A Filipino who has worked for years in a foreign land will likely come back and build a home in his province according to what they have seen abroad. We call it “provincial architecture,” where it’s a hodge-podge of various styles of architecture (and not to mention the colors!).
Architecture belongs to the arts. It’s a matter of taste, which I can accept and respect. But one also has to realize that architecture is a commitment because that structure will stand for the next 50 to 100 years.
What can be done to reverse the lack of love for our own culture, specifically in architecture?
The funny thing is that I have personally designed primary and secondary homes of many owners of real estate development companies. And of course, they are all Filipino in design. Yet they refuse to develop the same for the masses, afraid that a Filipino home will not sell. Sadly, Filipino architecture seems to be for the rich and famous…our job is to lift up and educate everyone of its beauty and benefits.
Elements of Filipino architecture are gaining acceptance again, although most still call it something like “Asian architecture.” I think we are in a better situation now than a few decades ago. But I truly believe that we will get there one day. It may not be during my lifetime but I know that I have done my share of it.
What advice can you give Filipino architects and designers?
You are a Filipino, accept who you are first, then embrace it! Look for inspiration in your own culture. Our cultural flavor will manifest once we are comfortable with ourselves. We are citizens of the world, but we are Filipinos first!
What trends do you see in the future and how do you fuse these with a Filipino character? The “in” word today in architecture is “green.” The funny thing is that the bahay kubo (nipa hut) is actually the greenest home one can have in the Philippines. It has the lowest carbon footprint to build, has the perfect design for our climate, and is even 100% biodegradable!
How do you keep your design juices flowing? If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. I have practiced architecture for close to 60 years now and I can honestly say that I’ve never worked a day in my life!
1st Prize, 2004 Singapore International Design Competition; 2005 Design for Asia Award of Hong Kong
Kenneth Cobonpue is an artist who does not believe in “moods.” Rather, he says “putting deadlines to creativity always work.” For him, inspiration is hard work. He swears by Einstein that genius is 99% perspiration, and 1% inspiration. Give him a piece of abaca or bamboo and almost instantly, he will know what to do with it.
How do you incorporate the Filipino character in your design? Design is a reflection of its creator, and my designs will always have something that is Filipino without my conscious effort to inject it. The complexity of many of my designs ensures that it can only be made in our country.
What are the future trends that you see?
Living spaces are becoming smaller in cities all over the world, so the trend for smaller furniture will grow. Because of globalization, more and more people in the upper end of the market will value individuality and custom-made things.
Can you tell us a specific, unique Filipino character that you have incorporated in your designs or that has inspired you? Dragnet was inspired by fishing nets. I used to watch the fishermen haul their nets on the beaches of Cebu, and it was beautiful to see the sun bounce off the weave. Lolah is constructed like early ships and galleons, and Voyage is a romantic bed. Yoda is patterned after the long cogon grass.
Do you have any dream project? A boutique hotel.
How do you stay on top of your game? What keeps you going? I travel a lot and look for inspiration everywhere. The desire to innovate and try out new things pushes me to expand the collections every year.
How do you see yourself in the future? I hope to expand the brand in more countries and cross over into transportation, interiors, and architecture. We have been doing that already around the world
Jose “Jun” Parreño Jr.
COO, Discovery Group of Hotels and Resorts
Nothing—not even the minutest detail—escapes Jun Parreño’s attention. Even when being interviewed, for instance, he would know know what’s going on around him that his staff sometimes suspect he has an eye at the back of his head. This keen sense of awareness and quest for perfection, however, is precisely what brought the Discovery Group of Hotels and Resorts to the top of the heap.
What is Discovery’s secret to winning so many awards? We love what we do. We work with a burning passion. We take our guests’ holiday seriously, with a sense of family and good old-fashioned hospitality. We have been fortunate because for the past five years, our return guest ratio continues to increase. That for me is the best recognition and the best compliment yet. Service that’s all heart—that is our service mantra. Treat your staff the way you treat your guests and the rest is easy. Trust is key.
What new resort trends are coming up and how does Discovery plan to maintain its edge? Everything we do is for our guests. Innovation is key. Technology is integral in our business plan. We will find new ways in using new technologies available to serve our guests better.
How do you stay on top of your game? One should have balance in his life all the time. I work hard but I also know how to enjoy time with my family and friends.
What is bliss for you? Knowing that I am able to share what I have learned with others. Knowing that the people I have worked with are all successful in their chosen field.
What do you find horrific? When I stop being creative.
Swiss-Turned-Filipino Tourism Champion
General Manager, Marco Polo Plaza; President of the Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu Province
Visayas; Vice President, Tourism Congress of the Philippines
When asked if Switzerland really had this strange law that makes toilet flushing illegal after 10 p.m., Swiss hotelier Hans Hauri impishly replied, “Why do you think I’m in Asia?” The inveterate traveler whose career in the hotel industry has spanned over 45 years, in fact, has fallen in love with the laidback lifestyle of his new home—Cebu.
How long have you been in Asia and in the Philippines, in particular? Twenty-five years in Asia and six and a half years in Cebu. Here I am, amid the natural beauty of the Philippines, and working with people whose natural beauty reflects all the characteristics this country stands for: smiling, caring, devoted, and passionate.
Your hotel, the former Cebu Plaza and now Marco Polo Cebu, is considered one of Cebu’s landmarks. How big a factor is this in your promotion of the hotel? When the decision was made to renovate the hotel, design and style were important considerations. We knew that the former Cebu Plaza in its almost 20 years in the business touched the heartstrings of the local community and international travelers alike. What we have now, after the renovations six years ago, is classic, almost understated elegance.
What do you find unique about the Philippines? What makes this country so special is its densely knitted social fabric created by mutual respect, friendliness, and collaborative attitudes.
How do you see the tourism growth in the immediate future and how does your hotel plan to capitalize on this? Tourism in the Philippines is about to burst out of its seams. Why? Because it’s more fun in the Philippines. Imagine 92 million ambassadors of genuine hospitality, guarantors of friendliness, care, and dedicated service, and 10 million more goodwill ambassadors overseas. Which country has such a vast pool of resources to make tourism a premier industry?
You are Swiss and now you are in Cebu. How many percent Swiss and Cebuano are you now? Our family philosophy is: When we come to a place, that is our home. Cebu is our home. As a foreigner living in Cebu, I involve myself in the community by taking part in causes and initiatives. N
An Artist at Peace with the World
Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera
National Artist for Visual Arts
Founder, BenCab Museum
BenCab is not your “typical” artist—he’s not angst-ridden, he has a very neat studio, and is very disciplined. The tall and lanky owner of a four-hectare Baguio farmland that houses the BenCab Museum spends a lot of time puttering around in his farm and garden that if you didn’t know any better, you’d think he was a gentleman farmer.
What made you decide to put up a museum? Since I’m a collector of a lot of things, aside from Cordillera tribal art, photography, and contemporary art, I thought it would be nice to put up a museum not just for my work, but also my collection. So I thought it should be a proper museum–complete with a museum shop and café.
What are your thoughts about the art in the Cordilleras now? There are a number of young artists in the Baguio area, and some are self-taught. It’s very unique; how their work evolved based on tradition, adding modern touches.
How much pleasure do you get from monitoring your garden?
A lot of pleasure. I wake up early, have coffee, and just walk around and notice something that needs to be done. Across the museum is a forest, and somebody gave me 70 pine trees for my 70th birthday, which we planted on Earth Day. We’re also planting more coffee trees. That’s what we serve at the museum’s Café Sabel. We also sell strawberry jam made from the strawberries harvested from the farm.
Some artists have lulls in their careers. Did you ever experience that? There are a lot of moments like that. If that happens, I do some other things like draw from life, say, nude drawings. It’s like an exercise. I do a lot of drawings. I just take a break, do a bit of bonsai. The main thing is to be interested in a lot of things. There’s never a dull moment.
Jose Ma. Lorenzo “Lory” Tan
President & CEO, WWF-Philippines
Eco-crusader Lory Tan means business. But behind his no-nonsense approach to environmental issues is a man who still looks at the world with a sense of wonder. He gets frustrated, yes, but this multi-awarded writer, wildlife photographer, and dive master is an avowed optimist.
How would you describe the country’s environmental situation? There are some pockets of excellence. We could be managing our environment a lot better.
What victories have the WWF and other similar organizations achieved as far as conservation efforts in the Philippines are concerned? The improved management of Tubbataha Reef Natural Marine Park; the continuing program for Whale Shark Ecotourism in Donsol; and the Philippine Eagle Foundation’s captive breeding program.
How can corporations and individuals help out? As key economic players, contributing to jobs, efficiency, added value, and continuity, corporations have everything to gain by becoming part of the solution. Are you managing your carbon, water, and waste footprints? Lifestyles and markets are changing. Time to get on board.
In your role, what gives you fulfillment and frustration?
Each opportunity, each success, each productive day gives me fulfillment. Frustration comes briefly (only briefly) each time I encounter people who don’t get it, or who don’t care to understand.
Conservationists like you are oftentimes stereotyped as “serious.” What are you guys really like? What makes you laugh? Conservationists are flesh and blood, like everyone else. The only difference is that we see the world through different lenses. Balance is the secret. The key to managing things lies in finding happiness, laughter, and satisfaction in the smallest of things. There is grandeur everywhere.
Academy Award Winner
Best Live Action Short Film (2011) “God of Love”
Stef Walmsley has a strong drive to succeed. Born and raised in the Philippines, Stef went on to win an Oscar with director Luke Matheny and fellow Fil-Am producers Stephen Dypiangco and Gigi Dement while still holding a job in cosmetics. She has since gone to work on a reality show, a pilot for a fashion tilt, and for HBO.
You were raised in the Philippines but now live in New York. What Filipino traits do you still manifest today? Aside from having a Filipino breakfast at least once a week, family is so important to me. I try to find humor in even the direst situations. I call myself an undercover Asian.
What brought you to work on “God of Love”? I met the director, Luke, at a party because I was wearing a dish costume and he was dressed as a spatula. I asked if he wanted a producer. He said he didn’t really need one but I was persistent.
If you were to explain “God of Love” to a seven-year-old you would say: It’s about a lovestruck lounge singer and dart champion who receives a box of love-inducing darts. It’s an 18-minute smile.
Describe your typical day while working on this film. My job, along with the other producers, entailed everything from ensuring there was toilet paper in the bathroom to securing permits for location shoots.
Upcoming plans? I’m working on producing my first feature in the Philippines. I’d also love to film in Intramuros or on the outskirts of Manila. I think the Philippines is rife with cinematic locations.
If you were to take foreigners on a trip to the Philippines, where would you take them? I think all foreigners should go to Cebu! My mom is from there and it’s amazing that in 24 hours you can wake up surrounded by hills, eat the best lechon (roasted pork), catch the sunset by the beach, and finish the night dancing in the city.
Advice for filmmakers today? Nothing’s gonna happen when you’re sitting in your living room. Some people have great ideas but they just remain ideas.