My 2013 Top 20

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Thank you, Lord, for 2013. It has been another great year full of blessings. I wish I could have blogged about all my fascinating experiences, places I’ve seen, people I’ve met. But I don’t even get to meet my target of blogging at least once a month because of the many other things I do. To make up for it, praising you with heartfelt gratitude for these wonderful memories of 2013 (blog to follow :)).

HERE’S MY TOP 20!

1. Sitting on the Great Wall of China
2. Close encounter with the cuddly pandas of Chengdu!
3. Learning how to dive: check na check!
4. Swimming with sharks and majestic pawikans at the UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site and Philippines’ only national marine park, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, and getting to see the bird islet with the Red-Footed Boobies flying overhead
5. TV interviews for our advocacy to protect the Tubbataha (*Shell winning a 2013 Quill Award of Excellence for “Beauty, Bounty and a Shared Heritage: 25 Years of Protecting Tubbataha”)
6. Earning my BOSIET certificate (and passing the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training — thank goodness this certificate is good for four years!)
7. Biking through Belgium (embarrassing that our German biker companion had to help push my bike and I through the uphill cobble stone streets, since I haven’t biked in years and was so out of shape! Nyehe =})
8. Taking an über pleasant boat ride in the picture perfect city of Brugge, UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its graceful
swans and interesting architectural structures alongside, and buying yummy artisan Belgian chocolates at Miss Chocolates!
9. Witnessing the Shell Powering Progress Together conference on energy, water and food in Ahoy, Rotterdam with Ms Toni Loyzaga of the Manila Observatory (and the dynamic duo Suiee and Badz)
10. Walking through the famous Zaanse Schans Windmill Park in Amsterdam with a cup of fresh strawberries in cream on hand
11. Road trip to Wiltshire, England (straight from airport!) to see the historic and mysterious Stonehenge
12. Visiting my friend Tin and her lovely family in London and doing all the touristy things (riding the London Eye, gawking at the royal treasures and Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, having Afternoon Tea at Fortnum and Mason’s, dinner at a traditional British pub for fish & chips, and shopping gabi-gabi sa Primark!)
13. Being adopted by the Escobar family as we toured Windsor Castle :)
14. Walking through Notting Hill’s Portobello Road Market with all its interesting abubuts (and finding the famous Blue Door apartment of Hugh Grant in the movie :))
15. Taking part in my first Social Performance Review in Sabah, Malaysia (and enjoying being the only girl in the team)
16. Seeing the Rafflesia, the world’d biggest flower (better known as the flower in Plants Vs. Zombies!) at Mt Kinabalu Park
17. Seeing the Puerto Princesa Underground River, New 7 Wonder of the World, on Valentine’s Day :)
18. Enchanting firefly watching at Iwahig River in Puerto Princesa
19. Crossing five rivers to visit the indigenous Batac tribe for Malaria Awareness Day
20. Helping out in whatever little way I can through my work or personal capacity in the relief operations for those affected by natural calamities throughout the year.

Thank you, Father, I am truly blessed, for another year well-lived. May 2014 be as wonderful and even more. May I live more, give more, serve more, smile more! May I be your instrument to inspire others to live a full life. Amen.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Rediscovering Malaysia

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Rediscovering Malaysia

I’ve been to Malaysia many times but always just in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Grateful for the chance to see more of Malaysia this year. Was able to see Miri, Kota Belud and Kota Kinabalu just before 2013 ends. Here’s my workcation video blog below. Hope you enjoy!

Travel highlights:
1. Visit to Mantanani Island community – 2 hours boat ride from Kota Belud!
2. Trekking at Kinabalu Park, UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. The canopy walk through the rainforest was so cool and refreshing!
3. Tour of the Upside Down House of Borneo
4. Sighting of the “Rafflesia”, the world’s largest flower! It takes about 1 to 4 years to grow the flower in special climate conditions, and it lives for only 5 to 7 days before it turns into charcoal black. Lucky we at least saw one that was about 3 to 4 days old, near wilting already but still amazing.
5. Bargain shopping for Sabah snack delicacies, fashionable Malaysian shoes, and seawater pearls!

*Music credits: “Good Life”, performed by OneRepublic

Special thanks to our tour guide Sharif (Amazing Borneo tours) for the very professional and informative tour of Kinabalu Park, and especially to Mr and Mrs Helmi for being such wonderful travel and shopping companions! Mr Helmi is with the Malaysian tourism department and he says that next year, Malaysia will embark on its tourism campaign, “Visit Malaysia 2014″, where they have lined up many tourist activities. This video blog is just a sneak peek of the many interesting places to see and things to do in Malaysia.

Rediscovering Malaysia, photo collage

Our Little Piece of “Survivor Philippines”

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I have been putting off taking the Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training (BOSIET) because of pure fear, since it includes the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET), which basically means simulating how to escape from a helicopter that has crashed into the sea and capsized under water. I have heard stories from my colleagues who have taken the BOSIET and received mixed reviews – from those who say it was terrifying to those who say it’s pretty easy. Last week, I experienced it for myself.

Taking the BOSIET is required before I can go to the Malampaya offshore gas platform, since the primary mode of transporting people to the platform is via helicopter. Safety training such as the BOSIET is important to prepare people like me who work in the Upstream Oil and Gas industry on the proper response in the event of an emergency. Such preparation can save one’s life.

Our three-day BOSIET training had modules on:

1. Basic Firefighting — this included going through a pitch black confined space with artificial smoke while wearing a full-face mask and blindfolded, as well as handling different types of fire extinguishers – containing water, foam or chemical extinguishers;

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2. HUET — this included learning how to use a rebreather apparatus, where your only source of emergency oxygen while submerged under water is the 30-seconds worth you breathe out into an air bag, while you are turned upside down and try to push your way out of the capsized helicopter’s window, struggling out of your seat belt, and swimming out for dear life to the surface for an unlimited breath of air (the fear of being trapped in a sinking chopper, losing my breath and dying was very real to me at that moment when I was doing the exercise);

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3. Sea Survival - We learned techniques to conserve body heat while floating out on sea and waiting for rescue; we also learned the unique features of a marine life raft (both the inflatable one and the fully enclosed hard shell life boat) – it was all very “Life of Pi” for us, learning how to use personal locator devices, signal flares, sea biscuits as food provision, rain water collector pouches, etc. etc.

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4. Basic First Aid (particularly CPR) - From watching all those Baywatch episodes (yes, shows my age!) of mouth-to-mouth resuscitations of unconscious victims, I’ve always thought CPR was a complicated procedure. It is a bit detailed counting the number of chest compressions that need to be done in a minute, but knowing what to do to help a person in a life and death situation is a kind of priceless knowledge.

I consider my BOSIET batchmates my blood siblings, as what we went through was no easy thing. It’s like being on the reality adventure series “Survivor” Philippines, minus the television cameras. I thank our trainers at IDESS Maritime Center not only for demonstrating their adept knowledge on the course modules but most of all for the extra care they gave each of us to ensure that we felt safe and secure throughout the exercises.

While I initially planned to join a training group where I knew no one (I felt it was less pressure that way!), my boss told me it would still be better to take the BOSIET with a friend to build that feeling of security and boost my morale. Well, I chose no better person to take the BOSIET with than my best friend at the office, Bestie Elaine (!!!), who never failed to chant, “You can do it, Bestie!”, “Great job, Bestie!”, and even “Think Lara Croft, Bestie!”, the entire time. We were both inwardly terrified, but we tried to stay as cheerful as we could and have fun, drawing strength from each other’s cowardliness (haha!). Our other batchmates were men, who were very helpful and nice, and probably found our unintended helplessness at times amusing.

It was also a bonus that we found a nice place to stay in during our three-day “Survival” adventure, the Kamana Sanctuary Resort and Spa. It was right beside our training center in Subic, which was located in the middle of the forest and beside the sea front. It was pleasant to be surrounded by the sounds of leaves rustling in the wind and the calm rolling of waves lulling us to sleep. Our BOSIET experience was definitely an adrenalin rushing adventure at daytime and a serene nature escape at night. Definitely one of my 2013 highlights!

My next adventure will be setting  foot for the very first time on the Malampaya offshore gas platform in Palawan. Definitely looking forward to that one!

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*Music credits: “Elesi” by Rivermaya, “Feel This Moment” by Pitbull Ft. Christina Aguilera and “Raise Your Glass” by Michelle Chamuel

Jesse Robredo, a man who truly lived a full life

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Five years ago, as a freelance writer, I had the rare privilege of being asked to help write a script for a film documentary that would pay tribute to the “Ramon Magsaysay Laureates for Democracy and Good Governance”. I was given several mini biographies to read and among these was of a respected public servant from Bicol, a province in Southern Luzon — no other than the late Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo, who was then making a difference in the lives of his constituents in a profound way, as the Mayor of Naga City.

There was little the general public knew about the late Secretary Robredo at that time, but today, the Philippines gives this exceptional Filipino funeral honors fit for a president. A little over a week ago, Robredo and two others perished in a plane crash in the island of Masbate, as he fulfilled both his role as public servant and dedicated father, rushing home from a public speaking engagement to attend the awarding ceremony of his youngest daughter Jillian, who won in a swimming contest of the Palarong Panglungsod (Naga City Games).

“The man felt most comfortable in shorts and rubber slippers. But the funeral rites in his honor were fit for a head of state and would certainly discomfit him,” wrote TJ Burgonio of the Inquirer, on the day Robredo’s body was brought to Malacanang Palace.

During the eulogy at Malacanang, Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras called Robredo’s brand of leadership “Tsinelas Leadership”. The tsinelas (slippers), t-shirt and shorts were Robredo’s signature attire. A getup of someone who had no qualms about getting his hands and feet dirty to fulfill his duties and responsibilities, and who did not set himself apart from the people he served just because he held an office, but always made himself available to lend an ear or a helping hand.

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I met the late DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo in 2010 in his hometown in Naga. We were in a mall where our Shell Active Chess competition for the youth was being held. I spotted Sec Jesse donning his signature shirt, shorts and tsinelas. We were having merienda in one of the local fast food chains, where he was waiting for his takeout food for his family. I approached him and told him how I admired him for his great work. He offered a smile and had no hint of pride at all in his demeanor, oblivious to his own his greatness of spirit. He was just a simple man doing his job, and on that weekend, he was an ordinary family man who was enjoying a leisurely weekend, just like everyone else.

He did not seek greatness but greatness sought him

A very simple and unassuming man, Robredo wasn’t one to hog the limelight, but was known to be a quiet and conscientious worker who earned the respect of those around him through the honorable life he lived.

I learned from the people behind the Ramon Magsasay Awards Foundation (RMAF) that it is not like the usual awards where aspiring awardees nominate themselves for the recognition. The Ramon Magsasaysay Awards, often considered as Asia’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize, particularly gives honor to men and women who have achieved distinction in their respective fields and have helped others generously without anticipating public recognition. The RMAF keeps their eyes and ears open, following the trail of greatness left by people who follow the example of former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay, a man who exemplified integrity in government, courageous service to the people, and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society. Without their knowing, the candidates for the Ramon Magsaysay awards are carefully studied and observed by the RMAF through a rigorous research and verifying process on the candidates’ quality of character and their genuine transformational contributions to society. To be a laureate of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards is even a higher distinction, and Jesse Robredo was among those whose lives stood out among the rest, and this we recognize today.

HIGHEST HONOR. On behalf of her late husband, Leni Robredo receives from President Aquino the Philippine Legion of Honor, the highest award that can be given by the President without Congressional approval (Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau). In his eulogy, President Aquino paid tribute to his Cabinet member, comrade in advocacy and good friend. Aquino said, “Jesse was truly a model public servant: focused on others and ready to sacrifice. Among the many I have talked to, he is the person who hates flattery. In Jesse, what you see is what you get.” … “He was not content with the status quo; he showed in Naga that change is possible. He showed that the prevailing system can be overcome, that we can defeat politicians who have long ruled and used their position for their personal interest.” … “He showed you can succeed in politics without being a traditional politician.” … “He has accomplished his mission in this world.” … “So let’s not cry. Instead, let us be grateful. In the short time he was here in this world, we were blessed with the opportunity to be with Jesse Manalastas Robredo.” (Excerpts from President Aquino’s eulogy delivered after the State Funeral Mass for Robredo)

Everyone a Robredo

Indeed, when you are confronted by such magnanimity of spirit, you cannot help but be uplifted and edified. I remember that as I immersed myself in Jesse Robredo’s life story to be able to write the script I was assigned to do, it was as if my own spirit rose, inspired to follow his example and be a better Filipino, a better human being. I guess you can say that of people like Robredo, who, despite their attempts to remain low key and unnoticed, cannot let their greatness of spirit be contained for very long. Like a sweet perfume, a pure soul’s essence will escape and pretty soon, its pleasant smell is bound to be noticed. As we, and even people from other parts of the world, watch the nation’s tribute to the late Jesse Robredo and listen to the countless anecdotes of the many ways he has touched people lives, we feel a sense of loss but also a sense of continuance for the good work he has sown.

As Ateneo School of Government Dean Tony La Vina put it in his column in Manila Standard, “Everyone a Robredo”:

“The Persian poet Rumi wrote, ‘Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.’ In losing Jesse Robredo we have lost friend and champion, but we should not lose faith, hope, and love in our country and our fellow human being that he had. As many testimonials have offered, the best way to celebrate his life is to emulate his life, and share it with others. To become like him, not just in demanding good governance, but in working towards it: every man and woman a Robredo, whatever our station in life. In memory of a good friend, perhaps it’s important to remind ourselves that we are not powerless, that we have the resources to make good governance possible. Robredo has done so for Naga and the DILG—why can’t others both in and out of government do so for our own cities, for our country? Why can’t Naga’s and Robredo’s DILG story, and his story, be our country’s story as well?

Far better than to mourn death is to celebrate life that was lived. This should now be the rallying cry we offer to the memory of such an amazing life.”

A life that did not fear hardships, inconvenience and even death

Atty. Leni Robredo’s quiet dignity at this time of mourning for the death of her beloved husband is something admirable. Her grace in embracing her husband’s fate with peaceful joy is imminent in her words, when she said that Jesse lived a full live and she knew in her heart that he was more than ready to reunite with his Creator.

Only an equally honorable woman could help a man like Jesse Robredo come to full bloom. She is, in every way, a match for this great man. As they say, behind every great man is a great woman (and in Secretary Robredo’s case, four women). We thank Atty. Lenny and their three daughters for generously sharing their family’s treasure with the Filipino people.

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The Robredo family. The late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, his wife Atty. Leni and their three daughters Patricia, Aika and Jillian.  Robredo’s wife says her husband always made time for family. Aika’s description of her dad when he was still Mayor of Naga aptly describes his dedication as a husband and father: “He eats lunch and dinner with us seven days a week, even if it means he has to take two or three more meals because he has to attend a constituent’s wedding or birthday reception. No occasion is too trivial for him. He is there for us not only during PTA meetings or piano or ballet recitals, but even when my math homework gets a little too difficult.”

Jesse Robredo’s life was utterly spent in public service. He was an epitome of the Lord’s servant-leadership. Below are just some of the kind words of remembrance I have heard these past days recounting the life of the well-loved Jesse Robredo:

  • His staff at the DILG would always come to the office finding Secretary Robredo had already an earlier start at work
  • Despite his position, he would stand in line at the elevator, and even let others go ahead or take the stairs if the elevator was already full
  • He was one to always volunteer to do the most difficult and daunting tasks in government, and his fellow Cabinet Secretaries would often hear Jesse utter the words, “Sige na, sige na, ako na” (Let it be me). He would also say to his staff and co-workers, “I will not ask of you what I am not willing to do myself”
  • Jesse would rather bite his tongue rather than uncharitably lash out when he was angry
  • He was always cheerful, never hot-headed, a simple and unassuming man. He was more concerned with authenticity – with being true to himself, than winning the praise of others
  • He was always the first to clear the mud after a flood, and the first to champion the battle cry of a worthy cause

One of the best descriptions of Jesse Robredo was written by his own daughter Aika, who won the grand prize some years back as a 15-year old high school student for the 2003 Ramon Magsaysay Student Essay Competition, where she wrote about her father (excerpt of the winning essay from the RMAF):

“Now that I am a little older, sometimes people would come up to me to tell me what great things my father has done for them. I feel proud. But what puts a smile in my heart is knowing that he also did small things for some people – things like bringing back a wayward son to his distraught mother, helping a male employee patch things up with his wife, or playing basketball on a street corner with the neighborhood kids. Such things may appear inconsequential, but they have brought great joy to others and made them feel important.” (Words from Aika Robredo, eldest daughter of the late Secretary Jesse Robredo)

“The immensity of the public response to his death and the collective grief being displayed give us comfort that his efforts have made their mark. We did not expect this kind of reaction. I am sure Jess did not expect this either,” said Leni Robredo, wife of the late Jesse Robredo. She said that her husband felt that the greatest gift he could give his children was a good name. “In death, he gave my children that gift and the best way we can all honor him is to guard that name and make him proud,” she said (Left photo by Philippine Star, Right photo by Malacanang Photo Bureau).

As my own gesture of gratitude to this wonderful soul, I hope to add to the online tribute to Jesse Robredo by sharing excerpts from the script I drafted in 2007 in honor of the Ramon Magsaysay Laureates for Democracy and Good Governance:

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SCRIPT EXCERPTS

Guardians of Democracy … Models of Good Governance … Great Men and Women of Asia.

“LEGACY OF GREATNESS: The Ramon Magsaysay Laureates for Democracy and Good Governance”

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In the Philippines, a young, non-traditional politician was creating an impact with his progressive, innovative, clean and efficient mode of governance …   

In a country where democracy was constantly being undermined by the corruption and incompetence of its leaders, Jesse Manalastas Robredo, Mayor of the City of Naga, demonstrated that democratic government can be good government …

Robredo abandoned a lucrative corporate career to heed the call of public service at the age of twenty-nine …

As Mayor, he was faced with a formidable task … assuming the burdens of a third-class city with a huge budget deficit …  

Robredo was determined to bring progress to Naga and enlivened everyone with his vision for the City…

More a manager than a politician, Robredo ran his city as if it were a corporation … And his decisive management style proved effective …

Armed with an MBA and strong corporate background, Robredo applied business techniques to raise performance, productivity and morale among city employees …

He introduced a merit-based system of hiring and promotion and reorganized city employees on the basis of aptitude and competence …

He freed the City from the grip of vices and fostered a culture of excellence among his constituents …

The young mayor gained the respect of his people for his moral authority and leadership by example …

Robredo spent the City’s funds wisely, prioritizing the provision of basic services, employing creative yet practical solutions to the City’s nagging problems such as traffic and squatting, minimizing graft and corruption and enlisting the partnership of NGOs and the urban poor to reach the goals of progress …

Robredo’s enduring legacy to the cause of local autonomy is his “empowerment ordinance of Naga City”, which institutionalized the participation of NGOs and People’s Organizations in the act of governance …

JESSE ROBREDO: “Our people have proven that given the opportunity, we can rise above our parochial interests in the pursuit of a common good. Given a choice, we will opt for good government despite the attendant obligation it requires.”

Under Mayor Robredo’s leadership, Naga experienced nothing less than a renaissance in ten years, catapulting it from a third-class city to a first-class, model city, with its people enjoying the fruits of prosperity …

JESSE ROBREDO: “Indeed, yielding power to the people is perhaps my greatest achievement as City Mayor.  And the greatest lesson I have learned is that public servants should feel obliged to heed the people’s will always.  Public servants are servant leaders. Their mission is ‘to serve and not to be served’.”

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The Ramon Magsaysay Laureates have created a blueprint of best practices in democracy and governance for people all over the world …

They are living examples of exceptional service …

Outstanding individuals who manifested magnanimity of spirit, in keeping with the ideals of the late, great Asian leader Ramon Magsaysay …

May their legacy of greatness live on. ~ [End of script excerpt] ~

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Once again, Maraming Salamat, Secretary Jesse Robredo, for inspiring us with the story of your life.  Thank you for showing us how to live a life of purpose and meaning.

Congratulations for a life well-lived. You have earned our applause and the applause of heaven.

You have fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. We bid you farewell as you enter the joy of your Creator in heaven.

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The Shell Communications Team with the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo. Photo taken in Naga City, Robredo’s hometown, in 2010.

Be Brilliant

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“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

– Marianne Williamson 

I was searching for an old email through my Gmail inbox and came across this quote, which I had used as part of my email signature five years ago. I had forgotten about it already. What a beautifully insightful quote! It’s a food for thought for all of us who often still sit in the shadows, timid of showing the rest of the world how incredibly good and talented we are. It doesn’t even have to be a worldwide proclamation, it can even be just among your family, relatives, friends, work colleagues or the online community.

Can you write, sing, make people laugh, draw or organize events to a tee? Are you good at sports, making sense of numbers, mix-matching clothes (a closet fashionista/fashion trendsetter) or even serving people for charitable causes? All of us are inherently good at something. We have all been given special talents. But sometimes, or oftentimes, we supress ourselves from letting these talents shine through, hiding under the guise of humility, when it is probably pride that really hinders us from exposing our true magnificence, or more likely fear that we may outshine others or that others may judge us as superior.

But whether it’s because of pride or fear, none of those really matter in the end. We only live once and each second that passes is our life on this world fading away. Each opportunity we pass to use our talents and delight the world with it is a waste and even an injustice to ourselves, to others and to the Source of all our gifts.

“It’s time to shine!” should be our mantra each waking moment. Let’s light up the world with all of our talents. Let’s be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous! Because that’s how we were ultimately created to be. :)

D.O.G.+ 

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About the person who wrote the quote (Marianne Williamson, entry from Wikipedia):

Marianne Williamson (born July 8, 1952) is a spiritual activist, author, lecturer and founder of The Peace Alliance, a grass roots campaign supporting legislation currently before Congress to establish a United States Department of Peace. She is also the founder of Project Angel Food, a meals-on-wheels program that serves homebound people with AIDS in the Los Angeles area.[She has published ten books, including four New York Times #1 bestsellers.

Her book, The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife, was published in January 2008 and spent five weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. Her latest book, published in November 2010, is called A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever. She has been a popular guest on television programs such as Oprah, Larry King Live, Good Morning America, Charlie Rose, The Howard Stern Show and Politically Incorrect.

CELEBRATING WOMEN’S MONTH: Because women hold up more than half the sky

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Centuries ago, women did not have the right to suffrage. There were no women serving in public office, making decisions in the board room, or studying to earn a university degree.

Today, because of the countless selfless and tireless efforts of the early feminists, women are able to hold advanced degrees in practically every academic discipline, including law, medicine and engineering, which, in ages past, used to be dominated by men. I still recall these powerful words from speeches made during the Centennial of the Philippine Feminist Movement back in 2005: We have built our lives on the backs of our mothers and grandmothers, and nurture our dreams on the blood and sweat of our sisters. It would be difficult to imagine what women would be today if our feminist foremothers and foresisters did not stand up to fight for the rights we currently enjoy.

We have borne witness to women elected into public office. In fact, nowadays, it is no longer a novelty for women to ascend to the highest positions of the land, as President or Prime Minister. Filipinos can take pride in being the first in Asia to earn the right to suffrage and the first in Asia to have a woman president. Women voters all over the world are now considered a powerful force, able to shape the future of politics in their country.

In the yearly celebrations of Women’s Month every month of March, we have probably come across people quoting the ancient Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky.” But with the growing number of women and the corresponding increase in women’s valuable contributions to society, I believe women today are holding up more than half the sky.

Women are natural leaders. We manage our homes well and can more than manage a country competently. We are good economic managers and know the needs of our citizens like the needs of our own children. We are naturally nurturing, we listen and value dialogue and consultation. We are attuned to the needs of others. We care for the environment. We are prayerful. As the late Philippine President and first woman President in Asia Corazon Aquino once said, “Politics must not remain a bastion of male dominance, for there is much that women can bring into politics that would make our world a kinder, gentler place for humanity to thrive in.”

While we have gained much ground to improve the status of women, there is still much that is left to be done. Women account for half the world’s population, but also represent a staggering 70% of the world’s poor, bereft of opportunities to chart their future and make a significant, positive impact on society. These women continue to suffer injustice, discrimination, and all sorts of obstacles that get in the way of their basic needs, whether it be good health, safe childbirth, quality education or a decent employment.

Freeing disadvantaged women from these chains so that all women can enjoy the benefits of sustainable development necessitates that all of us, whether man or woman, not only take their needs into account, but put these at the front and center. After all, being a true feminist is not about gender but about believing in human rights and having the conviction to fight for the rights of women to be part of that definition of human rights.

We have a duty to uphold and enrich the noble tradition of feminism. This Women’s Month, let us remember and pay tribute to the original spirit of dignity, intelligence and vitality, which the early feminists showed, and pass on the flame to the next generation.

+D.O.G.

The Malampaya marvel

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My fly-by experience to the trailblazing Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power project’s offshore production platform

I’ve been part of the energy industry for close to half a decade now. This year, I’m performing a new role as part of the Upstream Industry, specifically involving the exploration and production of natural gas for electric power generation.

As part of getting introduced to my new job, I was invited to join a fly-by to our gas production platform offshore Palawan, one of the largest and most beautiful island provinces in the country. This was a rare opportunity as the Malampaya production platform is a no-fly zone for airplanes. However, the fly-by was organized as part of the activities in celebration of the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power Project’s 10th Anniversary (2001-2011) of powering the country with natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel and also dubbed “the fuel of the future”, with its vast reserves under the ocean floor.

Malampaya: Celebrating 10 Years of Powering a Nation

Pioneering project

The Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power Project represents the largest and most significant industrial investment in the history of the Philippines, providing indigenous or locally-sourced and cleaner-burning natural gas for power generation, providing electricity to half of the homes, cities and industries in Luzon.

Malampaya heralded the birth of the natural gas industry in the Philippines, helping to lessen the country’s dependence on imported fuel. The discovery of an alternative source of energy was a milestone event for the country, which has historically imported fuel for its domestic and industrial power requirements.

The natural gas from Malampaya’s offshore production platform is transported via a 504-kilometer subsea pipeline to the onshore processing gas plant in Batangas, which then supplies three power stations – the 1,000-megawatt Sta. Rita power plant, the 500-megawatt San Lorenzo power plant, and the 1,200-megawatt Ilijan power plant – to generate a combined 2,700 megawatts of electric power for Luzon.

How it all began

The Malampaya project began with the discovery of a major gas field in 1992. It is the first deepwater commercial energy project in the Philippines. The natural gas field lies under some 3,000 meters of water.

The project’s daunting task was to ensure that some 2.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves and 85 million barrels of condensate from such an extremely deepwater field could be continuously extracted, processed and transported safely.

The Malampaya platform offshore Palawan, and its 504-kilometer subsea pipeline to the Batangas onshore gas plant

Long before drilling began, a full range of studies, surveys and engagements were done to identify the different social and environmental impacts to be expected from Malampaya. These were all considered and addressed in the project design. In laying the subsea pipeline, for example, the route was designed to avoid all active seismic fault lines, environmentally sensitive regions, fishing grounds and ancestral domains, as well as to have minimal disturbance to the sea bed.

Malampaya has been widely recognized for its high-impact sustainable development programs for communities near its operations.

Off to Palawan

From Manila, we took the early morning flight to Puerto Princesa city, Palawan’s capital. It was my first time to ride a chartered plane and it was quite an experience. Our light aircraft was a 19-seater, German-made, Dornier 228-212 airplane. The plane was not pressurized so we were asked to wear ear protectors. Despite this, we could still hear the loud roar of the plane’s engine and propellers. You will definitely not be able to carry a conservation throughout the two-hour flight so we made good use of our time by catching on sleep. Besides, it was still dark when we left Manila at 5:30am.

At the Island Transvoyager, Inc. (ITI) hangar in Pasay City. ITI engages in air taxi and air charter operations utilizing German-made Dornier 228-212 aircrafts. ITI is the only fixed wing operator accredited by both Shell and Exxon Mobil.

Ready to experience our first chartered flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. It was still dark when my colleague Chiqui and I boarded the plane for our 5:30am flight.

All aboard! Chiqui, Dina and I were the only passengers for the flight. Here we are with the ITI pilots.

It’s a good thing the weather was perfect for the trip and the flight was relatively smooth. On not so good days, we were told the ride can be quite bumpy and even terrifying. The flight attendant gave us candies before boarding the plane and behind the seats there were ready bags in case someone got plane sick from motion discomfort.

Left photo: Left photo: Chiqui ready to sleep on the flight with her ear muffs to drown out the noise of the Dornier's engine and propellers. Right photo: The mist inside the depressurized, light aircraft. Seems like we are passing through a thick cloud.

After falling sound asleep to the constant drone of the plane engine, I woke up to a breathtaking view outside my window. The horizon was refreshing as can be with the bright morning sunshine and below, I saw what I only used to see in postcards of Palawan waters. Different hues of blue water, peppered with small, lush green islets, and a trail of misty white sand bars. Beautiful. It was like waking up to a dream. I immediately took out my camera and started taking snapshots through my window. Of course, the photos do not do justice to the true beauty of the place.

Beautiful Palawan. This breathtaking view greeted me when I woke up from my slumber during the two-hour flight to gaze outside the plane's window. Palawan was rated by National Geographic Traveler magazine 2007 as the best island destination in East and Southeast Asia, having incredibly beautiful natural seascapes and landscapes.

Then our plane flew over the rolling hills and plateaus of Puerto Princesa. The island province’s forest cover is still very much in tact and I could not wait to get out of the plane and breathe in the clean air. I was told the province had zero carbon and I hope it stays that way!

Palawan's gently rolling hills. View from the chartered light aircraft.

Palawan has the largest forest cover in the Philippines, acting as a huge foam for carbon sequestration. The island province of Palawan maintains a zero-carbon emission level.

Malampaya up close

We arrived at Puerto Princesa airport to meet with the rest of the group that would join the fly-by. We were joined by local media, some local government officials and the very dedicated staff of our Malampaya Foundation, who implement our various sustainable development programs, such as capacity-building, health, environmental conservation and livelihood generation.

The 19-seater Dornier 228-212. The ITI pilots are trained in Germany to fly this German-made twin turboprop aircraft.

Left photo: Touchdown Puerto Princesa. Right photo: Warm welcome by the very dedicated Palawan-based staff of Malampaya Foundation, who implement various sustainable development programs for Palawan communities.

Safety briefing for the Malampaya platform fly-by

After having our weight recorded and listening to the safety briefing, we walked to the Dornier, the same plane we rode from Manila. This time, the Dornier would take us 80 kilometers offshore, northwest of Palawan, where the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power platform stands in a vast ocean of water.

This is the first airplane fly-by to the Malampaya production platform organized in the last 10 years since the project began its operations. I felt really lucky to get the chance to see the platform for real this time, after having written about it in our sustainable development reports and company magazine issues the past four years.

Flight from Puerto Princesa to the offshore Malampaya gas production platform. More sandbars!

After about thirty minutes in flight, we were told that we were nearing the Malampaya platform. From my window I searched for a glimpse of it, and after looking at the big blue ocean, I spotted a grey object at the far end that definitely looks like Malampaya.

Spotted on the horizon -- the Malampaya gas production platform, a speck in the vast blue, endless ocean.

The pilots told us they would fly as close as possible to the platform so we could see it at eye level. The plane circled the platform twice on both sides, so those seated on the right and on the left of the plane had an equal chance of seeing it. Our media guests took lots of photos and video footage of the platform, that always seemed majestic in photographs I’ve seen before, but was now dwarfed by the enormity of the vast ocean surrounding it. I have all the more respect and admiration for our engineers who work at the platform, not only for withstanding the technical challenges of operating such a sophisticated facility but for braving the isolation and the exposure to the elements, away from civilization and practically in the middle of nowhere. Because of them, I am able to sit down comfortably and write this story through the electricity generated from Malampaya natural gas that powers my home, including the light and laptop I now use.

Closer, closer and closer to the majestic Malampaya offshore gas production platform! The airplane fly-by was done in commemoration of Malampaya's 10th anniversary.

Powering Philippine progress 10 years and beyond

The Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power project is an outstanding example of Shell’s technology being used to develop and extract hard to reach gas in socially and environmentally responsible ways.

Cheers to 10 years of powering the nation and many more of powering progress with cleaner energy!

Batch 2 of 3 batches of participants of the Malampaya fly-by event

*With information from “Power from the Deep: The Malampaya Story” and the official website of Malampaya www.malampaya.com

+D.O.G.