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The Legacy of Mike Rama

“I’ve been preparing to be a leader all my life.” — Mike Rama

It is definitely not a statement that just anyone can throw around. Then again, if you are the incumbent mayor of a progressive city like Cebu, there is sure to be a lot of grit anchoring it. Mayor Michael “Mike” Rama has had nineteen astounding years in public service, but after winning the 2010 elections for the esteemed post, he has never been more motivated, or been busier.

It took some prodding on our part before we could finally squeeze into the city manager’s hectic schedule for a midday photo shoot with his son, Mikel. We were to have approximately two hours with him before his next appointment. Since our location was off the main road, we offered to meet Mayor Rama at a nearby landmark and form a convoy.

A maroon pick-up with the “MAYOR” license plate arrived, a Philippine flag mounted on its hood. As we “escorted” the mayor, we couldn’t help but notice other vehicles giving way without a moment’s hesitation. There could not have been a more distorted prelude to our discovery of just how down-to-earth Mayor Rama actually was.

He came in a white, button-down, short-sleeved shirt and denim trousers, and his raspy voice immediately filled the studio as he greeted everyone; his presence was anything but intimidating.

Mayor Rama beamed a smile of surprise when he caught sight of Mikel dappered up in a suit. “I didn’t know we were doing the shoot together!” he told kidded. The father and his twenty-five-year-old son now live in separate houses but make it a point to see each other at least once a week despite the former’s demanding daily itinerary. “He calls me all the time throughout the day,” Mikel shared.

The same goes for his daughter, Micheline, a fine arts graduate from the University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman, whom Mayor Rama stays in close contact with. Having served as a creative consultant for various advocacies and NGOs in Manila, she is currently the publicity head and a member of the board of directors of Dakila, a group of artists, writers, students, and other individuals promoting social awareness  and involvement.

“That’s the advantage of having a small family,” Mayor Rama said. “We can give each child more undivided attention.”

Quite the contrary, however, Mayor Rama has come from a family that is not exactly small. He grew up with twelve other siblings at their compound in Barangay San Nicolas in Cebu.

But theirs is a lineage entrenched in the political arena. His grandfather, the late Don Vicente Rama, whom he refers to as “the old man,” was a Cebu City councilor, and was mayor, congressman, and senator besides. His uncle, Osmundo Rama, is a former governor of Cebu Province, and his brother, Eduardo L. Rama, Sr., the former governor and congressman of Agusan del Norte.

Numerous as these influences are, it was from his father, the late Fernando Rama, a former Cebu City councilor, that Mayor Rama acquired a most important trait:

“I learned about the value of hard work from my dad,” the mayor said. “We used to work for our poultry business in the morning—selling eggs and doing chores—before we would attend school in the afternoon. In a way, you can say that at a young age, we were already helping others,” he joked.

“I was the inquisitive son. I was young but I liked to interact with old people and observe what was happening around me.” Rama as a boy clearly showed potential in following the footsteps of his politically prominent relatives—he was a cub scout, the valedictorian of his high school batch at the University of Southern Philippines and responsible son and brother. “My four sisters were not allowed to go on dates by themselves so I would chaperone for each of them. Helping out became natural to me. It’s just automatic.”

Mike Rama took a pre-medicine course at Velez College in Cebu, but then proceeded to Manila to finish a law degree at San Beda College. With determination, he passed the bar exam in 1983.

He started in public service as a Cebu City councilor in 1992. He successfully served three consecutive terms, during which he was appointed chairman of the Area Vocational Rehabilitation Center II Advisory Council, and was duly recognized by colleagues as he gained the title of National President of the Philippine Councilors League (PCL).

It seemed only inevitable that he would land the major municipal post of vice mayor in June 2001 and would hold it for the next nine years. He was appointed chairman of several government and non-government agencies, most notably the Zoning Board of Cebu City, the Cebu City Tourism Commission, the Police Coordinating and Advisory Council (PCAC), and the People’s Law Enforcement Board (PLEB). He was also elected as the president of the Vice Mayors League of the Philippines (VLMP). During his three terms, his trademark projects—the annual Sinulog Festival, Pasko sa V. Rama, and the revitalization of Colon in downtown Cebu earned him votes of appreciation from fellow Cebuanos, so that when he ran for the coveted post of Cebu City mayor in 2010, he won by a wide margin.

Said Mayor Rama, “Many would not like to be in politics, some of them even wondering how I have been able to survive amidst many challenges. I told them I’m very clear with my purpose in government; I’m taking it as a vocation. Therefore, public service for me is a means of mortification and giving hope that there is still a career in it. I want the youth to regain hope and to trust the government.”

His campaign slogan during the last election was, “Together we make things happen.” It has given way to an inverted-pyramid style of management wherein, according to Mayor Rama, “everyone is a participant. Rather than me directing or imposing, we start on the same plane and implement together. It’s the people who are the force.” The development framework he has introduced envisions beautiful coastal barangays, a revitalized downtown, a progressive uptown, and upland development balanced with environment conservation.

And what does he have to say about his detractors, the most recent ones arising from his controversial separation from his long-time political party, BO-PK?

“I try to look at the bigger picture,” Mayor Rama said. “I want to leave a legacy—that when I became mayor, I did what I was supposed to do. What matters is making Cebu a sustainable community.”

Rama shows his dedication to the cause by exhausting his daily schedule. He said, “I wake up as early as 5:30 in the morning. If I will not do that, I won’t have enough time to interact with people. I make sure to go through the documents to be signed because there is never a good reason for the government to be delayed.” Chuckling, he continued, “And then I go through a bond paper sheet’s worth of activities.”

Though his eight-hour shifts often extend to twelve hours, the mayor never seems to run out of gusto. “I love it!” he told us. “The passion to serve is in my system.”

This commitment we were delighted to see as he stepped in front of the camera and internalized a character for each pose, to the point of creating scenarios and a dialogue around them.

“Every moment should be injected with seriousness,” Mayor Rama said.

He kept us entertained by an impressive repertoire of expressions (think Barrack Obama meets Donald Trump) with matching hand gestures, and had Mikel and the rest of us laughing as he verbalized lines like “Oh, come on!” or “You want a piece of me?” He even sang a few verses of The Way You Look Tonight, which was one of two songs he performed for a recent event. The other was the Visayan classic, Usahay.

Mikel recalled his fondest childhood memory with his father: “My dad used to read bedtime stories to me and my sister. He loves to sing and really likes speaking. Whenever he reached the end of the book and didn’t want to stop talking yet, he would sing the titles of the other books mentioned in the publication’s credits. Even up to now, I can still remember the sequence of those book titles and the way he sang it. It was so funny!”

This being their first photo shoot together, the mayor helped his son loosen up by reeling him in on his spiels and offering actual advice about life and love as they walked together on the cemented path beside the studio. Described by Rama as “a very obedient son,” Mikel had gone to Sacred Heart School-Jesuit, now Ateneo de Cebu, and obtained a law degree after finishing his undergraduate studies, just like his dad, at the University of San Carlos.

Mikel shared with us his father’s reaction to his passing the bar exam last March: “He was really happy. I only remembered seeing my dad cry once, and that was when my grandfather died when I was still a kid. But then I saw him do it again during our thanksgiving dinner. He’s usually very talkative but when he was asked to give a toast, he was speechless and in tears. It really meant a lot to him.”

The young lawyer took his oath in April and started working in mid-June for an established Cebu-based law firm. Seeing as how his career path seems like history repeating itself, we wanted to know if Mikel could see himself entering politics as well.

“For now,” he replied, “I have no immediate plans and want to practice law first. Being in public service is a responsibility and it isn’t easy. You need to gain enough knowledge, be committed, and be ready for it. Politics has been in our family for a long time and we have built a reputation, so you can say that I am predisposed to it. It’s a calling and if I were to be called, it would be an honor.”

Embarking on his first job, Mikel would like to emulate qualities he admires in his father: “My dad doesn’t seem to have a tough exterior but he’s really disciplined. He’s been through a lot. It seems like nothing fazes him. You can never see him worried. He controls his emotions very well. And he never gets tired. His dedication…it’s the opposite of lazy. That’s what I want to achieve.”

But for the honorable Mike Rama, it is only a matter of time before a person develops his full potential as long as the intent to learn is there, just as it has always been for him: “Growing and learning are two different things. You can grow in age but it doesn’t mean that you are wiser. The desire to learn should never be lost. One must do things with significance.”

From a father who somehow always knew what he wanted from the get-go, to a son who just might find his way down the same road, the future of Cebu continues to hold strong promise.

by Pia Echevarria sittings editor Katsy Borromeo editorial assistant Kurt Jarabilo grooming Romero Vergara grooming assistant Jessie Egos photography Dan Ong

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Events

Citizens of the World: CAMPAIGN 2KRAINE

Asmara Urban Resort and Lifestyle Village

Citizens of the World: CAMPAIGN 2KRAINE

By Eva Gullas

“We are all citizens of the world. What’s good for you, must be good for all. If you are lost, share a plate with a stranger… you will find who you are.”

-Jose Andres, renowned Spanish Chef and founder of World Central Kitchen

 

Chef José Andrés

Where there are humanitarian disasters, you will find the volunteers of World Central Kitchen.  In their midst will be local chefs, most of them inspired by its iconic founder, celebrity chef José Andrés. Founded in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in  2010, World Central Kitchen established its “chef network,” of global professional chefs. The vision was for a kind of “chefs without borders” program where volunteers would enact positive change by cooking using local knowledge and resources. Last year, they even came to the island of Siargao in response to an Instagram plea for help after typhoon Odette almost levelled this idyllic paradise. WCK sponsored 2 community kitchens for 2 months serving 250 to 500 meals per day in Siargao.

WCK at Siargao with volunteers, December 2021. (Photo courtesy of Ai-Ai Garcia)

Chef José Andrés was born in Spain where he honed his culinary skills at the eponymous El Bulli under Ferran Adria. By the time he moved to the US in 1991, he was well on his way to being part of the celebrity chefs, with his Bazaar restaurant at the then SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills a favorite hang-out for Hollywood stars. Michelin stars and James Beard awards followed closely. These days though, Jose Andres spends his time in kitchens all over the world while his top rated chain of restaurants in the US continue to thrive. There’s a Bazaar restaurant at Las Vegas and Miami, and if you happen to be in the area, check out their amazing servings – it’s worth the splurge especially since it is owned by this great humanitarian!

The Bazaar Restaurant in Miami

With the Ukraine invasion delivered to us in sharp details tru social media and TV, it’s hard to ignore. And so, it was a natural conversation to be able to do something about it even in a small way. On a full-moon evening a few days ago, joining us at a beachside home for dinner was Matthew Wood, the German singer guest of Miranda Konstantiniduo who is here for a few days to shoot his latest music video. Sated with a good meal by the sea, we idly discussed a fund raising event with Matthew. We have been so engrossed with local politics and a looming election in just 2 months, that it was refreshing to talk about something bigger than our small world. Butch Carungay, seated in front of me, took the idea to heart and by the following day, he had the graphics for the event, and a ready rolodex of possible donors for the silent auction. Getting on board the following night was Carlo Cordaro, who happily lent us the second level of Asmara Resort. To complement Matthew, Cebuana singer Doods Osmena also will belt out a few songs. An impressive list of items for the silent auction is being compiled by Butch, composed of overnight stays at top resorts, artworks and furniture pieces from named artists.  We will post a list on the day of event. 

German singer Matthew Wood

Asmara Urban Resort and Lifestyle Village

Ribbon designed by Butch Carungay for guests at the fund raising event

It is sponsored by Zee Publications Inc., in our first foray after having been dormant during the pandemic and typhoon Odette. Zee will soon be launching a new artsy printed magazine called Eatz Cebu! 

This Friday, March 25, at 6pm, we open the doors of Asmara Urban Resort (see map) for this fundraising where we hope you can join us by donating a minimum of $50 to the World Central Kitchen directly at https://wck.org/donate. It will be an evening of fun and fundraising, and entry is tru an email or digital receipt of your donation. 

***

On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. By February 25, 2022, Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen (WCK) was on the ground serving free wholesome meals to those fleeing the violence. Chef Andrés and his volunteers have already served more than one million meals to Ukrainian refugees, from basements, train stations, and shelters. Still, cooking and distributing food in a war zone comes with unique challenges. “We began operations…over two weeks ago inside Lviv,” says Andrés. “The last two days we saw some missiles falling down. So, the western side of Ukraine, that actually was a safe haven for many Ukrainians leaving war, is already kind of feeling like the war is getting closer.” For Andrés, it’s a humanitarian necessity and a call he answers. “The least we can do at World Central Kitchen is be next to them – making sure they will be fed every day.”

SOURCE: MSNBC

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People

What Makes an Empowered Woman? Let’s take it from Megaworld Hotels and Resorts’ Managing Director, Cleofe Albiso

What is an empowered woman made of? Managing Director Cleofe Albiso of Megaworld Hotels and Resorts, the Philippines’ largest homegrown hospitality chain with 4,000 room keys and 11 hotels, composes her thoughts and shares that its grit, resilience, and love. 

Cleofe Albiso, Managing Director of Megaworld Hotels and Resorts  

Settling in on her new leadership role at the start of the new year, Albiso looks back even way before joining the organization during the last quarter of 2019 as its Group General Manager. It comes as a surprise when she shares that her years takes her back from being a pre-school teacher in Cebu using her degree in Bachelor of Science in Education major in mathematics finishing Magna Cum Laude. After a while, and with doors opening for her to join the corporate world, she finds herself earning her years in sales and marketing where she has gathered decades worth of exemplary experience being part of the country’s biggest telecommunications group and international hospitality brands. 

With the highs and blows of life and as well as business, she shares that “An empowered woman needs to have grit”. The will to persevere and continue with passion has become her brand of leadership in serving not just clients and guests, but as well as taking care of the people she works with. Through her dedication, Albiso has since continued to climb the corporate ladder and was also recognized as the first Filipino General Manager of a Marriott International branded property in the country, the Courtyard by Marriott Iloilo that is also one of Megaworld Corporation’s many other operated international hotels in the Philippines. 

Fast forward to today, she looks at the future with gratefulness as she embraces the opportunity to empower the lives of 2,000 employees present across 11 hotels and not to mention 3 more properties opening this year as well as in 2023. She shares that “My responsibility can only be best tackled by filling my heart with gratitude and keeping my purpose in close check when times get challenging.” 

More than ever, she has come to understand that “Resilience is her way of life.” She explains that challenges come and go along with every solution that solves each one of them. Safe to say, what she considers as the biggest one yet would have to be this pandemic.  Albiso hopes that after a two year pause and struggle of the industry “My constant prayer is for our fellow Filipinos to help us recover by patronizing homegrown brands for them to explore the Philippines and travel again.” She said that in doing so “this will mean more jobs for the hospitality and tourism practitioners and boost confidence in the total industry to go back on full swing once again.” 

Admittedly, despite being one of the industries at the frontline of the pandemic, she can still say that “The culture of appreciation in our very own organization has been better strengthened during these times”.  The company lives by the Circle of Happiness. She explains that “Our organization operates with a culture that reminds us to love ourselves, our families, our work, our community with the love of God at the center of everything we do.” This pandemic has better reminded them to strive to take care of the wholistic well-being of each employee from physical to emotional and even mental health.

On top of that, Albiso gathers that what allows them to thrive is their team’s collective ability to take care of their key stakeholders, execute efforts geared towards sustaining the business, and making people stay and work passionately.  She further adds “We are a work in progress and there are many more business and service facets that we are focusing on improving” and humbly claims that “The best years for Megaworld Hotels and Resorts are yet to come.”

When asked about what her best advice to fellow women would be as they reach for their dreams, she said “I only found genuine fulfillment when I started having a relationship with God.  It is only by accepting that we cannot do things by ourselves that we become dependent on our creator.” According to her it is important “That we do not give credit to our talent, creativity and hard work (alone) but give glory to the one above us who have blessed us with all that.”  

At present, their properties are continuously looking to hire qualified applicants for vacant positions in front office, security, information technology, food and beverage, sales & marketing, human resources and engineering for Belmont Hotel Manila and Savoy Hotel Manila within Newport City in Pasay across NAIA terminal 3, Kingsford Hotel Manila located in the Entertainment City of Paranaque, Hotel Lucky Chinatown in Binondo, Twin Lakes Hotel near Tagaytay, Eastwood Richmonde Hotel in Quezon City, Richmonde Hotel Ortigas in Pasig, Richmonde Hotel Iloilo in Iloilo Business Park of Iloilo City, Belmont Hotel Boracay or Savoy Hotel Boracay located at the Newcoast Boracay and Savoy Hotel Mactan Newtown in Cebu.

For more information about how you can be part of Megaworld Hotels and Resorts, kindly email careers@megaworldhotels.com. You may also inquire about your future stays through salesinquiry@megaworldhotels.com or connect with them through any of Megaworld Hotels and Resorts’ and its properties’ social media pages. 

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Lifestyle

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Thanksgiving with the Woolbrights

THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING

The holiday season kicks off officially with Thanksgiving. A time to be grateful for family, friends and blessings. Although this is not usually practiced in our tropical country, there are, however, families like the Woolbrights for whom this is a time-honored tradition.

by Janine Taylor sittings editor Katsy Borromeo fashion stylist Mikey Sanchez food stylist Nicolette Gaw-Yu production manager David Jones Cua intern Danica Ronquillo hair and make-up Jessie Glova assistant Jojo Embalzado photography Joseph Ong locale Woolbright Residence

 

Eddie Woolbright was among the thousands of G.I.’s that landed on the shores of the Philippines during the Japanese occupation. After the war, a few enterprising American soldiers came back, including the 24-year old Eddie who made Tacloban his home, before settling down in Cebu in the 1950s and opened a restaurant and a hardware store downtown—Eddie’s Log Cabin and Eddie’s Hardware and Auto Supply, respectively.

Eddie’s Log Cabin quickly became the hub of social, political and even military scene. It was the first air-conditioned café in town, and more importantly, it offered American diner food including a soda fountain and an ice cream parlor. It was patronized by one and all for its reputation for good food and service.

It also didn’t take long for the fearless Eddie Woolbright to realize that the real estate in the sleepy hillside suburbs was ripe for development. “I will show Cebu what a good planned subdivision is,” Eddie had said, when the late Senator Marcelo Fernan, then a young legal counselor for Columbian Rope Co., took Eddie to see the property. Pretty soon, Eddie had purchased over thirty-three hectares of otherwise undeveloped land from the heirs of the late Arlington Pond.

“Buy land,” Eddie Woolbright was known to quote the late humorist Will Rogers, “because they ain’t gonna make more.”

With his added access to army surplus, he bulldozed tracts of land, and a decade later, Beverly Hills, the first major subdivision in Cebu City, was created, and marketed to the city’s growing well-to-do locals, with the subdivision’s connotations of Hollywood and colonial American aesthetic. Eddie’s belief in the business potentials of central Cebu city enabled him to see much growth in his investments in land development, water drilling, construction, and general trading.

ON THE COVER The Woolbright sisters, Joy, Karen and Alice don Jun Escario’s Holiday Collection, photographed in their home by Joseph Ong. Hair and make-up by Jessie Glova.

 

Eddie had nine children: Rick, Anita, Marc, Gilbert, Alice, Kathy, Kristy, Karen and Joy. All recall that each holiday was as important to them as Christmas. Turkey Thanksgiving dinners, for example, as it was known in the Woolbright household, began when Eddie’s mom, Nell, came to visit sometimes in the 1960s. Eddie would buy a butterball turkey from the American base in Clark and she whipped up a traditional feast complete with cornbread stuffing, cranberry jelly, candied yams, garlic mashed potatoes and her famous giblet gravy which was poured literally all over the bird, as they do back in her home in Oklahoma. Grandma Nell also taught the cooks at Eddie’s Log Cabin to make the famous Coconut Cream Pie, another Eddie’s Log Cabin standard. Kathy also recollects, “It was also dad’s idea that the restaurant and the hotel should serve breakfast 24 hours, and since I loved my Mexican omelet, sliced ham, buttered toast I enjoyed being able to eat breakfast any time of the day.” 

My dad taught me how to be humble. He told us stories about his younger days jumping trains, eating nothing but grapes for days just to go pick cotton. He had a hard life growing up and I guess he wanted us, his children, to know the meaning of hard work. He would say, “Nobody owes you a life in this world”. I didn’t understand it then but I do now. -Alice Woolbright

 

FROM LEFT ON JOY Nude dress, models own; ring and bangle by Gladys Young; ON ALICE Sequined LBD, models own; ON KAREN Grey pleated shift dress from Loalde; ring and necklace by Gladys Young.

Shortly after, turkey was introduced in the menu of Eddie’s Log Cabin, both Americans and Cebuanos, with a penchant for this wholesome meal, look for it when November came, and more especially on Thanksgiving Day. “Dad loved quality meat, and passed on this fondness to us, his children,” noted Karen, “So special meals always consisted of a good steak or the tender Prime Rib Roast. Of course, the year was never complete without a Turkey once or twice.”

As the sisters change into various outfits for the photo shoot in their childhood home, each one recalled the happy memories this holiday brings.  

ON KAREN Teal pantsuit from Loalde, belt by Gladys Young; ON JOY Plum cocktail dress, model’s own; ON ALICE Teal corseted dress by Jun Escario, belt by Gladys Young.

Alice, recalls disliking the giblet gravy as a child but since her dad would serve her at the dinner table she had no choice but to eat it. She adds, “He would get upset if we did not try everything.” Funnily enough, she now looks forward to the giblet gravy and can’t imagine turkey without it.  Her dad, she said, employed the same tactic with his customers at the restaurant so after a while, they ended up getting used to it, and will not have their turkey any other way.

Between brothers and sisters coming home from out of town and family members in the States, there was always some degree of traveling or entertaining company. Dad valued the family bond and holidays were the best time to reinforce that. –Karen Woolbright

Happy hour with the Woolbright siblings.

The family pet Chewy joins in on the annual Woolbright Thanksgiving dinner.

Joy Woolbright-Sotto fondly remembers watching her dad carve the bird. “He made sure that each one of the kids learned how to do it properly, with the white meat sliced thinly enough, and followed last by the dark meat,” she says. A feat she now does with ease. Future doctor Karen says that her dad would always carve the wings and serve it to her, which is still her favorite part of the fowl. Kathy though, considers turkey her comfort food. But she says that she loves the Coconut Cream Pie, which is also served on the restaurant’s menu, and that as a child she could eat half a pie in bed. 

 

Old fashioned roast turkey

Cebu in the 60s and 70s was a very small town, if you wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving, you went to Eddie’s. Eddie’s Log Cabin, like its owner was a trailblazer, the balut dice game originated there, many singers’ careers such as Elizabeth Ramsey’s were given their first break there.  

The torch has been passed on to his children, and they too celebrate it with turkey dinners and all the trimmings, ensuring that the restaurant still serves the traditional menu, down to the Coconut Cream Pie.  Thanksgiving will always be celebrated at their homes, and the Beverly Hotel, the last legacy that Eddie Woolbright gave his children to run.

Another legacy that Eddie left to his children was a love for food and Alice was quick share that she got it too, “I’m usually home during the day and I find myself in the kitchen trying to cook up new dishes to serve.”

 

Back at the Woolbright ancestral home, which is also now Alice’s home, the dining table has been set, evoking autumn and harvest, the candles are lit, the wine is being poured, the buffet table is groaning under the weight of the Thanksgiving repast. The sisters are seated at the table, each with a glass of wine discussing whose turn it is to carve. The annual Woolbright turkey dinner is about to start and I am glad to be invited to join them at their family home. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

 

(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s November 2011 Entertaining Issue, “The Gift that Keeps on Giving” on pages 72-77.)

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