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There is a veneer of perfection to Senator Loren, and there is no doubt this something she aims at in everything she does. A woman fighting in a man’s world, so to speak, she is tough and demanding even, but to an extent that she would also impose on herself.

Within the quiet walls of the National Museum’s National Art Gallery sits the hallowed but empty room of what used to be the Session Hall of the Philippine Senate. The generous mid-day sunlight streaming in from the massive windows interplays with the shadows within that carry the weight of history in this proud, almost mysterious setting.

“The Senate has held its session in this historic hall since 1926,” the plaque reads. Even though the Seat of the Senate is currently in the GSIS Building in Pasay, with a room steeped in such history in the repository of the country’s cultural legacy, it seems quite fitting, then, that a short distance down the corridor, we find one senator’s efforts in preserving Filipino history and heritage encapsulated in an exhibit called “Hibla ng Lahing Filipino: The Artistry of Philippine Textiles.”

It is even more fitting that in the midst of this old Congress building, a few whispers away from the glorious former Senate Hall, we are to meet with the main proponent of “Hibla,” who also happens to be the only female senator to top the Senate race twice, and the only woman to become the Senate majority leader.

Behind Senator Loren Legarda’s stature is her tireless effort as a public official. Serving the country through the Senate, she is chiefly responsible for the passage of a number of laws that she authored, among them the Magna Carta for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Act (RA 9501), the Barangay Kabuhayan Act (RA 9509), the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003), and the Climate Change Act (RA 9729). Her concern for the welfare of women and children championed with the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act (RA 9262), the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (RA 9208), and the Anti-Child Labor Law (RA 9231).

The list is longer and far more encompassing; and her work never stops. In fact, stockpiled on top of her already overwhelming number of responsibilities, the senator also chairs the Committee on Climate Change, Committee on Foreign Relations, and Committee on Cultural Communities. In 2008, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction appointed her as its champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaption in the Asia and the Pacific region.

Walking With Loren

A flurry of activity mildly interrupts the stillness in the air in another room where the production people wait. Senator Loren arrives with her staff and it seems that even with the simple act of walking, the lady senator is multi-tasking, conferring with her staff before she reaches the other end of the room.

Time is precious for the busy lawmaker and, at barely even lunchtime, one can sense she already has fulfilled several duties for the day, and is set on tackling the next ones on her agenda. Central to this day’s to-do list for the senator is a photo shoot for Kultura and Zee Magazine’s cover story. Wasting no time, the senator rushes off to change and, with a lot less time it takes for a model to be primped up for the cameras, the senator returns with a different outfit, simple hairstyle and make-up.

The shoot is fairly quick but marked by some discussions about composition, art direction and how she generally looks in the photos. Senator Loren, a former broadcast journalist and an award-winning anchor and producer of two of the country’s most popular and respected news programs, clearly knows the power of an image, whether it is a clip on television or a photograph. She has been, after all, a commercial model in her teenage years—seemingly a lifetime away, really.

If there is anything this exercise has shown us, it is that she is a woman who knows what she wants and is not afraid to speak her mind. Although confident in front of the cameras, having been around them for a good part of her professional life, the lady senator nevertheless also discovers something new about herself during the shoot. Used to being photographed a certain way, the senator is genuinely surprised with a picture of her taken head-on. The photo, her face to the camera, exudes quiet power. Hers is not a pose, it is a declaration; the shot near-perfect that it almost needs no words.

Weaving Her Story

Born Lorna Regina Bautista Legarda to Antonio Cabrera Legarda and Bessie Gella Bautista in 1960, she is the eldest and only girl in a family of three children. With the blood of newsmen and public servants running in her veins—from her paternal great grandfather Potenciano Cabrera, the first Mayor of San Pablo City, Laguna to her maternal grandfather Jose P. Bautista, an editor of the pre-Martial Law newspaper, The Manila Times—she seems truly destined to find herself answering a higher calling; of treading the same path. But for this achiever, she becomes both a newswoman and a public servant.

There is a veneer of perfection to Senator Loren, and there is no doubt this something she aims at in everything she does. A woman fighting in a man’s world, so to speak, she is tough and demanding even, but to an extent that she would also impose on herself. A former vice presidential candidate who, according to a May 6, 2012 article by Philippine Star columnist Babe Romualdez, “no longer has any ambition for higher office,” she has just recently filed her Certificate of Candidacy for the senatorial race in 2013. She aims once again for a job not for the meek, one that could cower a lesser man even, and she’s glad to do it again.

But a rarely seen softer side to the lady senator comes by way of an article called “The Loren Legarda I Know,” written by none other than her younger son Leandro (Lean) Legarda Leviste in his column for the Philippine Star in May this year.

A “mom before anything else,” he begins, Lean also lightly reveals that his mother “sometimes thinks she’s Martha Stewart,” owing to her penchant for planting her favorite herbs in their garden and playing “interior decorator in the living room.” Painting a more human figure of Senator Loren than anyone ever could, he lovingly describes her as a micromanager in the kitchen “even though she can’t cook, because she can do just about everything else,” and calls her on her lack of rapport with technology—although she now apparently “swears that the iPad… changed her life.” Like many of us, sad movies make her cry, romantic ones turn her to mush, but she “avoids action flicks at all costs—except if they’re starring George Clooney or Harrison Ford.”

But perhaps the most personal aspect the son reveals of her is the senator’s extreme closeness to her mother. Senator Loren was once quoted to have said, “I am a mother first and foremost,” and it is evident that her own relationship with her mother has greatly shaped how she’s has cultivated her own bond with her sons.

In a Philippine Star column by Joanne Rae M. Ramirez dedicated to Mother’s Day also in May this year, she quotes the senator as saying, “My mother Bessie was my best friend. I am so much like her. But she died so young, at 61.” Yet the senator has never lacked for a mother figure thanks to her “yaya” of 50 years, Felicidad “Fely” Balagtas, whom she considers her second mother.

Nanay Fely, as she is to the entire family, has given up “a life she could have had to be with us. Her life is us,” Senator Loren was quoted in the article. As such, even her own sons Lean and Lorenzo (Lanz) have grown up under the grace and care of the woman the senator describes as “no longer just my ‘yaya.’ She has become my partner in life.”

Of all the many facets of Senator Loren’s private life and public persona, it is the strength as a woman that becomes quite immediate to anyone who meets her, owing to the influence of such strong women in her life. One also gets the sense that the senator’s strong empathy with our history and our people is because she has had first-hand lessons from her own mother—the love for our culture chief among them it seems. In fact, the “Hibla” exhibit houses rare pieces from Senator Loren’s own collection: several Baro’t Saya with Pañuelo ensembles of Bicol “pinukpok” abaca fabric worn by her late mother; as well as a T’boli upper garment, a Maranao “malong” and the B’laan ensemble that the lady senator proudly wears during important Senate sessions.

Even more so, during the shoot, Senator Loren points out that her background in one photo is T’nalak, a fabric from Cotabato, and her accessories comprise of gold earrings from Butuan and bracelet from Kalinga—“North to south,” she says, clearly proud to be central to a single image that represents the diversity of artistry of our people.

The Fabric of Philippine History

In 2009, the month of October was declared as “National Indigenous People’s Month” through Proclamation No. 1906. Fittingly, along with the “Hibla” exhibit in the National Museum, Senator Legarda spearheaded the launch of the HIBLA website, which they held during the Manila FAME Design and Lifestyle Event at the SMX Convention Center on October 17, 2012. The site aims to further promote awareness about our traditional arts and crafts, and would prove to be an easier access for younger readers. Another highlight at the event, which closed on October 20, was the Hibla Pavilion of Textiles and Weaves of the Philippines.

“[It was] an exhibition aimed at showcasing our rich and colorful heritage through the Schools of Living Traditions (SLT), a program I supported to ensure that indigenous techniques on textile-weaving, basket-making, beadwork and embroidery are passed on to the next generation,” the senator said.

Highlighted in the exhibit were the Ivatan and Gaddang traditional weaving, Antique abaca/bariw mat weaving, Iraya Mangyan traditional nito basketry, Hanunuo Mangyan weaving, Panay Bukidnon panubok embroidery, Subanen pulaw weaving, Ekam Maguindanao mat weaving, Ata Talaingod liyang weaving, T’Boli t’nalak weaving and Blaan mewel weaving. By celebrating the artistry and grandeur of these weaving traditions, the senator steps up the focus on not just an awareness campaign, but on finding solutions to threats to these traditions, including apathy that could be a factor in their extinction.

“I have visited various provinces and communities in our country, and every visit leads to a discovery of the rich heritage of the indigenous peoples—the intricately woven fabrics, the songs, chants and dances that narrate the story of your ancestors and the distinct way of life they strive to preserve,” the senator notes on the Katutubo: Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines website. With unwavering pride for our heritage, this wonderful tapestry created by every cultural contribution of every indigenous community, Senator Loren works tirelessly to “promote this cultural inheritance and improve the welfare of its stewards,” as she states.

In 2011, the senator tells Philippine Star columnist Wilson Lee Flores, “There are 15 million indigenous peoples out of our over 100 million population in the Philippines. I care about them, because they’re marginalized and the most vulnerable also to climate change. They and their traditions are who we are as a people.”

The senator champions the cause of 110 ethno-linguistic groups nationwide “because they are among the poorest of the poor and the most marginalized. I champion their cause not only to hear their voice, but also to promote their culture and traditions, the heart and soul of the indigenous peoples,” she tells Flores.

Advocacy Politics

In her interview with Flores, Senator Loren declined to talk about politics. She insisted, “The only politics I want to talk about is advocacy politics — how we can improve the lives of women, children, indigenous peoples, how to promote arts and culture, the environment, disaster risk reduction, nature, planting trees.”

At the shoot, she also waves off an interview with a smile, preferring that we visit and read up on all her office’s achievements and projects from her website and various links that detail them in full. Mind you, the wealth of material isn’t just about her work with our country’s indigenous peoples, but also her widely known environmental advocacies, what she’s done for the rights of women and children, education, good governance, as well as various foundations and programs.  Action over words; it is much better to show results than to make verbose promises of things to be done.

Helping the plight of indigenous people is only one aspect of how Senator Loren hopes to preserve our national heritage. They have shaped our story as a people, reflected our courage in their music, our dreams in their art, our glory in dance, our knowledge in their skills; our self-worth seen in their resilience.

Yet, it is not only these indigenous peoples and their cultures that are in danger of extinction. An October 7, 2012 article that appeared in Philippine Daily Inquirer by Augusto F. Villalon detailed the “shocking state of heritage in the Philippines” as described by Dominic Galicia, an architect and the new editor-in-chief of BluPrint magazine. In it, Galicia laments the disappearance of certain architectural icons that speak of our heritage from the streets of Metro Manila and nearby provinces. Yet, he accounts being impressed by some measures taken to reverse this, especially that more people seem to be acting on their realization of the importance of heritage conservation.

To the communities she supports, defends and champions, Senator Loren is foremost in that list. Leading by example, she hopes to inspire the new generation through her own actions how truly important it is that such cornerstones of our culture are passed on, kept alive and lived.

  • by Annie S. Alejo
  • photography Jo Ann Bitagcol
  • creative direction and styling Melo Esguerra 
  • locale National Museum’s National Art Gallery 
  • Special thanks to Kultura Filipino
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Design

Filipino graphic designer makes history, joins Switzerland’s Museum of Avant-garde among genre’s greats

PJ Ong of Inodoro, an internationally renowned graphic designer, is the first Filipino whose work will be part of the permanent collection of Switzerland’s Museum of Avant-garde

CEBU CITY — In a groundbreaking achievement, Cebu-based graphic designer and art director PJ Ong of Inodoro Design Studio, is set to become the first Filipino artist permanently exhibited at Museum of Avant-garde (MA-g) in Mendrisio, Switzerland.

Cebu-based graphic designer and art director of Inodoro Design Studio, PJ Ong

Ong’s recognition at MA-g places him among over 250 avant-garde artists, including iconic figures like Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, signifying a profound milestone in museum history.

“Avant-garde,” is a term that refers to pushing the boundaries of artistic expression.

“I am extremely honored and humbled. It is a remarkable milestone in my creative journey, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a prominent platform. The acknowledgment, especially considering Switzerland’s exacting standards in art and design, is truly fulfilling,” said Ong.

 

Part of a stellar contemporary collection

Under the museum’s Contemporary Collection, Ong will join global contemporary agencies such as M/M Paris (collaborator of Icelandic singer-songwriter and composer, Björk), WORK Pte Ltd (brainchild of the “Godfather of Singapore Graphic Design,” Theseus Chan), Bedow (Stockholm), BVD Stockholm AB (Stockholm), Socio Design (London) and Milkxhake (Hong Kong), among others.

Ong’s music packaging design for the Filipino harsh noise duo, White Widow, will be featured in the museum. The band’s album “The God Uterus Dissolves” — released under Melt Records — features an unconventional cassette tape packaging incorporating a hand-crafted wire mesh, elevating it into a unique and bespoke collector’s item.

The museum’s selection process for its Contemporary Collection involved three categories: Graphic Design, Photography, and Illustration. Swiss-Canadian Fritz Gottschalk, a prominent figure in contemporary graphic design, led the Graphic Design category.

“This is profoundly validating for me as a graphic designer. Being part of a museum’s permanent contemporary collection is a lasting testament to my capabilities as an artist,” said Ong.

‘Poetry you can touch’

The graphic designer from Cebu City further defined the album as a “deliberate departure from the ordinary,” stating that it was a testament to the artist’s and band’s dedication to pushing boundaries and offering the audience a unique and immersive experience.

“Careful consideration was given to every detail, including choosing a premium supplier for the cassette tape. Opting for a screen-printed cassette, where design elements were applied directly to the surface, gave it a contemporary and visually striking result, helping us reinforce the design narrative,” said Ong.

“From the cohesive placement of elements to using symbols instead of track titles on the spine and customizing fonts, every aspect was carefully thought out. Rather than opting for the conventional wire mesh treatment on print, I took a bold step by incorporating a hand-crafted wire mesh, adding a unique and sensory dimension to the album — almost like poetry you can touch.”

 

Profound honor

Established in 2003, Inodoro Design Studio under Ong’s leadership has garnered global acclaim for its bold design philosophy, spanning music, fashion, architecture, culture and technology. In becoming the first Filipino whose work will be on display at the MA-g, Ong stated that it is “particularly humbling.”

“Traditionally, these privileges are given to individuals who have amassed decades of experience, attained mastery in their craft, or even as a posthumous acknowledgment. To be among those selected is a profound and unexpected honor,” he said.

“Museums typically focus on visual artists, and for a graphic designer, especially within the realm of commercial work, recognition can be more elusive. I appreciate the challenges of this less conventional route and I am committed to proving the significance of graphic design in the broader artistic landscape.”

Art enthusiasts can anticipate viewing Ong’s work with “The God Uterus Dissolves” at MA-g, scheduled to open to the general public in 2025.

***

About The Museum of Avant-garde (MA-g)

The Museum of Avant-garde compiles an original body of work from private collections, providing a unique perspective on the cultural and artistic significance of avant-garde movements. These movements, synonymous with transformative ideologies and daring experimentations, played a pivotal role in challenging political and societal conventions. For more information, visit www.ma-g.org.

 

About Inodoro

Inodoro is the creative moniker of graphic designer and art director PJ Ong, a prominent figure in the Philippine design scene. Established in 2003, Inodoro Design Studio, based in Cebu, Philippines, has garnered international recognition for its bold and distinctive design, with a focus on thought-driven imagery and iconic visual language. The studio specializes in identities, custom typography, graphic design and art direction. For more information, visit www.inodoro-design.com.

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Ladies Who Support Ladies

Women’s Circle is an organization composed of Cebuano ladies who are successful entrepreneurs and top executives.  They recently held a fellowship event at the Sheraton Mactan Resort, with special guests from the Women’s Business Council Philippines. Chairperson, Rosemarie Rafael and Council Secretary Cynthia Mamon both flew in from Manila to discuss alliances between the Cebu and Manila groups.

Loot bag from Jo Malone, Sheraton, R&M Chocomanga, gift card from Maayo Clinic, sarong from Ferimar.

The half day event was organized by Perl Jacalan, Gina Atienza and Eva Gullas. Sheraton Resort through its GM Dottie Wugler Cronin supported the event as it is aligned with the hotel’s women initiatives.  The successful event was made more fun with generous give-aways, notably Jo Malone perfumes, Sheraton bags, R&M Chocomanga and sarongs from Ferimar.

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Eight Years of Redefining Hospitality Service

by Allain Dumon Fonte

The person behind the very successful chain of Bayfront Hotel  Cebu is the youngest son of entrepreneur couple, Edgar and Gregoria Cokaliong.  I first met Charlton as a young and dashing gentleman busily working in their textile business.  I am impressed with how he excellently juggled taking care of orders, organizing shipments, arranging deliveries, accounting, and even managing the staff of their textile company.  Charlton is an alumnus of Cebu Eastern College where he finished his primary and secondary education.  He then went to the University of San Carlos and studied accountancy.  He successfully passed the accounting licensure examinations, and worked as a certified public accountant while helping in the family’s textile business; who would have thought that he would venture into hospitality.  

Charlton Cokaliong (Managing Director of Bayfron Hotel Cebu). Picture taken at the Bayfront Hotel Lobby.

In 2014, he first opened Bayfront Hotel Cebu at the North Reclamation Area.  I even wondered why of all the places that he can start a hotel, he had to choose the North Reclamation Area.  I find the location appalling for a hotel.  What view will the guests see?  I would not want to stay in a room where the views are cranes, machines, and container vans from the sea port.  Yet, Charlton foresaw the future of hospitality service.  He knew that with the recent developments of Cebu City, people will prefer to stay in hotels that are near to the city, and have access to almost everything they need.  The hotel is right across SM City Cebu, 10 minutes from the sea ports, 30 minutes from the airport, and 15 minutes to almost all the tourist destinations in the city and in the hills of Cebu.  Then, he made the hotel packages and event packages reasonably priced; yet, with a 5-star quality of service.  I even questioned, are you not losing for the prices that you have set?  However, since the hotel opened and up to the present, Bayfront Hotel Cebu has always been fully booked and is becoming the primary choice of venue for events and celebrations.  Charlton explained that he foresaw that with the rising economy and the rising population of the metropolitan, people will always prefer to celebrate special occasions; yet, considering the inflation every year, people will also choose to become more practical by spending less  without compromising quality.  And this is what Bayfront Hotel Cebu delivers, an experience of excellent hospitality service at a price that no other can match.

Bayfront Hotel Cebu in Capitol Site.

Because of the continuous demand for their hotel rooms and venues, Charlton opened another Bayfront Hotel Cebu in September 2021.  This time the location is at the heart of the uptown of Cebu in the Capitol Site.  Again, Charlton banked on the great location of the second Bayfront hotel.  I once again questioned him on this; considering the competition in the area because of the many up and coming business hotels that offer the same rates and packages.  Charlton smiled and confidently said that apart from the great location, he also banks on the quality of service that his staff can deliver.  “If you take care of your staff very well, your staff will take good care of your customers”.  I have seen first hand how Charlton handles and manages his staff at their textile store, so I know how he also handles and takes good care of his staff in the hotel.  And I realized that this is his biggest selling point, the hotel’s incomparable service and friendliness.  Even though the hotel opened in the middle of pandemic restrictions, the new hotel is getting countless reservations; most especially that the Capitol Site Bayfront Hotel offers an amazing view of the city skyline at its roofdeck bar and pool area.  The gym , pool , and bar amenities at the hotel’s roof deck with its view are a must to be experienced.

Standard De Luxe Room at the Bayfront Hotel Cebu.

Early of 2022, Charlton also opened the hotel’s in-house dining feature.  For seven years, Bayfront Hotel Cebu was catered by a third party food concessionaire.  But, again, Charlton foresees that the Filipino market will be more critical to food and taste.  I asked, why is this?  Charlton explained that with travel becoming more affordable and accessible, people will get to experience different kinds of food and dine in different restaurants.  Hence, people will now learn to benchmark, not only from local restaurants, but also from their dining experiences around the Philippines and overseas.  Therefore, Bayfront Hotel Cebu needs to step up its game in dining.  With the opening of Caja Kitchen, Bayfront Hotel offers more selections of Asian and Filipino comfort food fusion with international cuisines.  With Caja Kitchen, Charlton turned a Filipino menu into an international dining experience. I asked him how he came up with all these.  Charlton  explained that dedication to make his guests happy and satisfied is the key motivation why he does not stop thinking about innovating and reinventing everyone’s hospitality and dining experience. 

Caja Restaurant: Bayfront Hotel Cebu’s in-house dining facility.

In September of this year, the Bayfront Hotel Cebu in North Reclamation Area is officially celebrating its 8th year of wonderful and excellent hospitality service; while the Bayfront Hotel Cebu in Capitol turns 1!  Great and exciting anniversary promotions and packages await its patrons and guests!  Please visit the social media pages of Bayfront Hotel Cebu to know the amazing anniversary deals!

With my last question, what does he have in mind now.  Charlton just smiled and said, “Well, who knows?  Another Bayfront Hotel Cebu shall rise soon!”.  After this interesting conversation, I can say that Charlton is truly a man who can foresee the future; may it be in business, in the market, with the trends, and with new experiences.  

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