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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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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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