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Allen Zaldariagga’s pursuit of happiness

With 20 years of success in Play House Preschool and B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy, Allen Zaldariagga continues to be an inspiring figure with her positive outlook on life, genuine care for those she meets and an effervescent inner joy that catches on.

With 20 years of success in Play House Preschool and B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy, Allen Zaldariagga continues to be an inspiring figure with her positive outlook on life, genuine care for those she meets and an effervescent inner joy that catches on.

When spending time with Allen Zaldariagga, her innate cheerfulness is contagious, spilling over in enthusiastic stories, cheerful greetings and the most genuine bouts of heartfelt laughter. Tita Allen to the students of Play House Preschool and B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy, and in effect everyone else, she walks around the campus after class, striking conversations with the lingering students. At one point, she picks up a paper flower that some of the girls were working on and admires it up close. “It’s so beautiful, are you going to make some for me?” she jokes, which the students gamely agreed to do.

It’s the kind of amiable exchanges that make Tita Allen a beloved fixture in the lives of the B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy community, every one of which she treats with familial care. “The culture here is really like a family,” she says. “I started something where I treated everyone like they’re my children. I don’t want it to become too big to a point that I don’t know anyone.”

That may be so, but the school has already grown significantly since its beginnings as Play House at a garage in Paradise Village 20 years ago. “John, our eldest son, asked me ‘mom, what do you really want to do with your life?’ and that made me think. I really love kids, and at the time, we had our one-year-old son Michael so I decided to start a preschool with five children, with Michael as one of the students,” she recalls. Of course, teaching wasn’t something that she just thought of on a whim. She had studied at the Colegio del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus in Iloilo, where she graduated as an AB English cum laude and Most Outstanding Student awardee, as well as the editor- in-chief of the school publication The Voice. Back then, the school nuns had already asked her to spend time teaching little children, so the choice seemed like an obvious fit. She carried out the school functions completely on her own, working as a teacher and marketing the school to other residents of the village at the same time. “It really started small, then word got around with my friends, who started putting their kids in. From five, it turned into ten, and then 20.”

As a result of the steady expansion, the school has changed campuses twice, with a location just outside the gates of Maria Luisa and later to their more permanent site along Gov. Cuenco Street in Banilad. For Tita Allen, though, B.R.I.G.H.T. had just grown up together with her pioneering students. “I didn’t see it as an actual school, more of just a preschool,” she admits. “But when the kids were in kinder two, they didn’t want to leave and the parents were asking me to go up to grade school. So I said, ‘okay let’s try grade one.’ We really grew up with the children one year at a time.” The same thing happened at the first sixth grade graduation, with kids reluctant to leave for another school. “Everyone was telling me that high school was tough, but the kids didn’t want to go, and I started with them and saw them grow up, so I carried on.”

Now, B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy has about 700 students from preschool to high school, with many of their graduates going on to prestigious universities in the country and around the world. “Here, our school curriculum is always evolving to address the needs and challenges the students face in the local and global community,” high school English teacher Vert Reyes explains. The dynamic approach to education keeps B.R.I.G.H.T. current, and the competent faculty admits that they too are encouraged to learn with the students and challenge themselves to continuously do better.

Of course, it isn’t always about being in the classrooms. “Aside from the high academic standards, we have a balanced education, which allows the students to experience so many other subjects,” says the school superintendent Dr. Alan Ferguson. This includes a wide range of extracurricular activities where students can find their own interests and develop talents as they grow. “It plays an important part in our school, whether its sports, music or performing arts,” Tita Allen adds, describing Voices of Children, an activity where the students are encouraged to develop public speaking skills. In fact, B.R.I.G.H.T.
has exemplary English standards, encouraging students to read and attend various school events like Book Month and character role-playing.

Keeping up with its curriculum, the school boasts of facilities to cater to educational and extracurricular needs. Besides the bright and airy classrooms decorated with student art and encouraging posters, the buildings sit around a sprawling open field with Little Tikes play areas and a soccer field to encourage interaction while outdoors. Towards the back of the school is a large gym, where the young athletes can play basketball and tennis, or do laps in the swimming pool. The home-economics room mimics a charming country kitchen, although kids take their meals at the fully air-conditioned cafeteria, which boasts of an extensive menu from the in-house chef. But probably the room that best embodies the school spirit is the Discovery Park, a 1,200-square foot playroom, which has a mini-community of houses and stores, a ball-filled playpen and a number of developmentally appropriate toys.

“Well, we really believe that one of the foundations to make a person a better individual is to build self-confidence and self-esteem. We provide various experiences for the kids to find what ticks for them, so it’s building on their strengths so they can develop passion and confidence,” shares school headmaster Neil Montesclaros. “We also believe in training kids to be self-reliant. They learn to be creative in coming up with solutions. Also equally important is our belief that the quality of the school cannot surpass the quality of its teachers. The teachers make the difference, and that is something we espouse in B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy.”

It’s a philosophy Tita Allen understands by heart. “At the end of it all, it’s not the building, but the people,” she says. “Because what would I do if it were just me? I have this culture I want to share and nobody helps me.” Thankfully, there were and her said culture has become one to make the B.R.I.G.H.T. community close-knit and warm, embodying that line in Play House’s catchy radio jingle ad that goes “the school with a heart.”

“I want everyone to be happy,” she enthuses. “Despite what you go through in life, nothing should stop you from that. It’s really a decision you make, to try to go on and be happy.” Everyone who sits down with her immediately understands the contagious power of Tita Allen’s bright smiles. She has a firm but personal approach to leadership that is integral to keeping the institution productive, but she also makes sure to create a warm environment to make everyone feel appreciated—from an elaborate Hollywood-themed sit-down dinner for last year’s faculty and staff Christmas party, to handpicking and personally wrapping special gifts. “I guess if you really care about the people you work with, then you do what you can to make them happy,” she explains, a gesture that is clearly recognized.

“We are all Tita Allen’s children!” says high school head Meann Rafaeles. “The environment in the school is very much like family—from the students, teachers, guards, kuyas, office staff. When she arrives in the office in the morning, she greets each of us with ‘Happy Morning!’ and it’s a wonderful way to begin the day.”

“She really does have a big heart,” adds Neil. “Her genuine personal care and affectionate warmth is always disarming. I really try to emulate her in this way. She has a way of honestly telling you where you stand with her, and yet convey it with sincerity. I have great respect and admiration for this woman, knowing the many things she has gone through in life.”

One such thing is her annulment, a situation that she now talks about with grace and wisdom. “You know, it’s not the end of the world,” she says. “I think it should just make you strive to do better and do what you need to become a better person.” One way of coping had been to join marathons, a feat that she now proudly narrates having finished a recent 21k run in Singapore. “I’m a half-marathon runner,” she says, referring to how marathons are traditionally 42 kilometers, “but I’m still very proud. I started with 5k and made my way up to 10k and 12k and I was so amazed that I could do it.” She’s even done the 25k Cebu 3-bridge marathon, and plans on doing more – proving she still has an upbeat energy despite turning 63 this May.

Countering obstacles with hobbies that effect positivity is an outlook that many of today’s world- weary folk should adapt. “I don’t see things as problems,” Tita Allen shares. “I don’t like the word problem, it feels heavy and it becomes hard for you to solve it. I see it as a situation, as a learning experience.”

When she does feel her spirit waning, she retreats into the Happy Room, a corner of her bedroom where she keeps her books and does arts and crafts, or schedules quick yoga sessions on her house’s scenic garden. “Like when I was feeling a little tired earlier, I had to switch and do my yoga,” she admits. “I need that calmness of spirit back because the world can get noisy, and I need to get back and refocus.”

A central part of her downtime, though, is spending it with her family. “Playing with my grandchildren and being with my children, that’s very important to me.” Besides the Sundays spent at home, the family goes on trips to Boracay, Hong Kong or Los Angeles together, with six grandchildren in tow. “Enjoy it!” she advises on how to travel with kids. “I think you have too many dos and don’ts, you lose the focus. I’m a very organized person, but I know when to switch it up and say let’s have fun.”

Quality family time is something her children look forward to as well, looking up to their mother as an example of strength and passion. “Whether it’s a B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy school activity or a 21k run she’s joining, my mom gives it everything that she’s got,” eldest son John Pages shares. “She has so much energy, enthusiasm and love for all that she does. Her passion is infectious.”

Her only daughter Cheryl Pages-Alba says she developed a deeper appreciation for her mother as she grew up. “My four brothers will attest to this, that my mom never made us feel like we weren’t good enough,” she recalls. “No matter what we did, she would always tell us how proud she was. Even my brother Charlie still gets a note on his door from my mom with sweet words of encouragement from time to time, and my other brother Randy knows that our mom is always cheering him on at his gigs. I don’t think there’s a better word to describe her than nurturing—it’s in her DNA. I guess because of her positive reinforcement, all of us don’t want to settle for mediocrity in our chosen field of interest. It is so much easier to be your best when your mom believes in you.”

The same wholehearted support is now bestowed on her grandchildren, who she dotes on with time and attention. “My mom knows that in order to win the love and trust of a child, you have to really be there for them,” Cheryl shares. “You should see her when she’s around my daughters. You’d think she was the same age as them!”

The close-knit ties Tita Allen created in her own family was a product of her own relationship with hers back in Iloilo, where she grew up. Growing up as an only daughter as well, she continues to be very close with her brothers, who she visits often.

Truly, Tita Allen is an inspiration to everyone around her. “Many of us dream of making a difference in this world, but very few actually have the willingness to translate that into action,” says Carmen, mother to B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy student Feliz. “She continues to help shape the lives of so many children by her sheer passion for creating in them a never-ending sense of awe in the beauty of learning while in a fun- filled and caring environment—all from something she established in her garage 20 years ago. I bet there isn’t one single Play House or B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy student who doesn’t have Tita Allen on their list of people who made a difference in their lives and that, I think, is her greatest achievement.”

When asked personally, though, Tita Allen reveals that the legacy she wants to leave the children is relatively simple. “Believe in yourself, and that you can do things,” she insists. “I don’t know why people have to sulk and complain about a lot of things. You can’t help but love life. That’s why I’m always smiling, because there’s so much to be thankful for.” In her case, when she needs a change in perspective, she gains life lessons from sitting in a class where it all started in the first place. “The preschoolers give me a reality check. They make life so simple.”

  • by Shari Quimbo
  • sittings editor David Jones Cua
  • photography Dan Douglas Ong
  • hair and makeup Jessie Glova
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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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