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VECO’s Dedication to Enhancing Cebuano Lives

As Cebu’s largest power provider, VECO emerges from its storied history to continue serving the people that matter most—the consumers.

There are few companies in Cebu whose business is as intertwined with everyday Cebuano life quite like VECO. From turning on your coffeemaker upon waking up in the morning to keeping the lights on while working at night, theirs is an outfit operating constantly in the background, providing what some may argue is one of the most basic modern necessities.

It seems funny to recall that, decades ago, VECO had to spearhead initiatives to get people to use electricity. “The company had an appliance store called VESCO, or the Visayan Electric Supply Company, just so people would buy all these things that they could use electricity for,” shares Arlo Sarmiento, who works with VECO’s parent company, Vivant Corporation, as its Executive Vice-President and Chief Operations Officer.

These days, though, it’s a completely different story. VECO now distributes an average of 240-megawatt hours of electricity every month to cover a franchise area of 674 square kilometers, an area that includes Cebu’s major cities and municipalities—Cebu City, Mandaue, Talisay, Naga, Lilo-an, Consolacion, Minglanilla and San Fernando. “There’s a lot of passion and a lot of pride,” says VECO’s Chief Operations Officer Anton Perdices. “Everyone walks in feeling pretty good that they’re working for VECO, knowing they’re responsible for over two million people’s lives.”

 

A HISTORY American engineers Martin Levering, Albert Bryan, R.R. Landon and A.A. Addenbrook had established Cebu’s first electric company—then Bryan and Landon Electricity—in 1905, covering a franchise that included Cebu, Dumaguete and Dipolog. Later on in the 1910s, the Escaño family acquired the company and renamed it Visayan Electric Company.

 

“Both parent companies [Vivant and Aboitiz Power] are committed to the industry long-term. With that kind of mindset and shared philosophy, I can’t see how things in VECO would have to change.”

-Anton Perdices

Not long after the Escaños had bought in, the Aboitiz family had also acquired shares and had since been on the VECO board. The two families already had some close ties—they had ran a shipping company together called La Naviera Filipina, before the war had broken it up into each family’s individual businesses, namely Aboitiz Shipping and Escaño Lines.

The close ties between the Escaños, with their extended family the Garcias, and the Aboitizes continued on throughout VECO’s history, but the bigger change would come later, gaining traction in the late 90s and coming to fore by 2004.

 

THE SHIFT The shift into co-management had been, according to Arlo, a long time coming. “It was something that was discussed over the years until it ultimately happened,” he shares, noting that both families had regular discussions during board meetings.

The timing was certainly right—the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) had just been passed, allowing utility providers to source from independent power suppliers outside of the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR). “The industry was changing dramatically, so it was really a good time to update VECO as well,” Arlo adds.

When the time came for change, the Garcias had felt that bringing in the Aboitiz family was the natural choice. At the time, the Aboitizes were also running their other distribution utilities Davao and Cotabato Light. “We saw how their culture made those utilities excel more than VECO, so it just made a lot of sense. We thought, let’s adapt this culture,” Arlo says.

As someone who had joined the company during the transition, Arlo himself had experienced the shift in operations. “The culture that VECO had prior to that was a very old one. It was a family-run, patriarchal type of business,” he shares. “But the board, which had been pretty much controlled by the Escaños and the Garcias, believed that a change had to happen, and the Aboitizes brought in a professionalized corporate culture.”

The transition happened in 2004, under Dennis Garcia’s term as President as the first Aboitiz COO and Executive Vice-President. It was then that Arlo joined the company’s utility economics department, the group that takes care of power supply arrangements, purchases the power and reports to the Energy Regulatory Commission. Alfonso’s brother Jimmy came in as Vice President for Engineering, but later took over as COO in 2007.

When Jimmy took over as President in 2014, he had decided to bring in Anton Perdices, who at the time was working in the company’s construction arm. “He came up to me one day and said, I have a job offer for you, and I know you’re gonna like it,” Anton recalls.

When Jimmy had informed the Garcias on the board, it was welcome news. Now, Arlo and Anton, along with Jimmy and Vice-President Emil Garcia, are the family members who serve as VECO officers, with the rest serving at a board level. “Anton pretty much runs the show,” Arlo adds with a laugh.

“But we’re always talking,” Anton replies. “That’s another thing that makes the partnership work—everyone is aware of what’s going on. The families have known each other for so long, so it wasn’t as big of an adjustment. There’s a similar mindset, similar attitude, similar sense of humor. Similar everything.”

 

IN THE FUTURE Much like any other industry, the business of distributing electricity is one that is constantly evolving. Several pieces of legislation, as well as projects VECO is spearheading itself, mean there will soon be plenty of changes in the market, some of which we’ll be seeing in the near future.

 

• RETAIL COMPETITION AND OPEN ACCESS (RCOA) This gives consumers the opportunity to purchase their electricity from their preferred supplier. “It’s kind of like the telecommunications industry, where you as a customer ca n choose Globe, Smart or Sun,” Anton explains. “Eventually you can pick where you buy your power, so that will bring competition and eventually drive prices down. There’s going to be all kinds of plans—like if you lock in a contract for three years, this is how much your rate is going to be; if it’s a year, then you will be paying this. There’ll be post-paid and pre-paid plans.”

Eventually, VECO will be relegated to the wires and poles business. Arlo explains, “It’s like a highway: you choose the car, but you pass through the highway—in this case, it’s the wires and poles—and we collect toll fees.”

And apparently, this is all happening soon. Customers with a consumption of one megawatt and above will enjoy the power of choice by February 26, and by June, those who consume 750 kilowatt and above can do the same. “They’re also going to aggregate customer accounts, like in Maria Luisa, for example,” Anton explains. “They can get together as a group, pool their demand, and pick the supplier they want.”

 

• RENEWABLE ENERGY LAW One of the provisions of this legislation, the Renewable Portfolio Standard dictates that utilities distributions need to purchase a percentage of their supply from renewable sources, with the percentage growing every year.

Currently, VECO already sources 50% of their power from renewable sources, and consumers also have the option to use their own. “Basically if you have solar panels, the electricity you don’t use, you send back to the grid and VECO buys it from you,” Anton explains.

 

• UNDERGROUND WIRING “What we’re doing now is having them study where it would make the most impact,” Anton explains about VECO’s current plans of moving existing electrical wires underground. One of their major concerns is typhoon resilience, which is why areas like Banilad, where there are a lot of trees, are likely candidates.

With electrical lines moving underground, VECO hopes other utilities like telephone and cable will follow suit.

 

TECHNOLOGY UPDATES Of course, there are a lot more changes than the consumers realize. “There’s a story about Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison,” Anton shares, narrating how the two would react to how their inventions have evolved through the years. Alexander Graham Bell would be surprised at how much the telephone has changed, with the emergence of mobile and smart phones, while Thomas Edison would find electricity work basically the same way. “But behind the scenes, it’s completely different. Our system operations department, the way we do things, it’s all electronic.”

The updated system has allowed VECO to more effectively source power, and to do so with more foresight. In fact, a process that previously required someone to study power supply and compute future demand can now be performed by a computer system. “It was developed by an Iranian mathematician,” Anton explains. “We have different suppliers who have different prices. This system would take that information, run the math and come up with the best mix—which supplier would be best for this time.”

Although these technicalities may not be something customers themselves would be able to identify, the result affects homeowners in the long run. Being able to source the best and cheapest supply at a given hour will bring down the cost of electricity, which will in turn bring down electric bills.

At the heart of it all, VECO is about the people they serve. The company is continuously looking for ways to give their customers more value for money. “We’re serving the second biggest city in the country,” Anton says. “With that comes tremendous growth, and balancing supply with trying to get the lowest price for our customers is always a concern. It’s also important to keep customer service at a level where they are satisfied. It’s a real challenge. We are growing so fast as a franchise, and customer service is always a concern.”

With this imminent growth on the horizon, both families are confident that having their partnership in place is what’s going to continue bringing their success into the future. “Both parent companies are committed to the industry long term,” Anton shares. “Aboitiz Power is in it for the long haul, and with that kind of mindset and shared philosophy, I can’t see how things in VECO would have to change.”

“I really don’t foresee any changes,” Arlo agrees, pointing out the achievements that both companies were able to achieve together. “I think right now, it’s a case of, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”   

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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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