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.”
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.”
THROWBACK THURSDAY: Thanksgiving with the Woolbrights
THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
The holiday season kicks off officially with Thanksgiving. A time to be grateful for family, friends and blessings. Although this is not usually practiced in our tropical country, there are, however, families like the Woolbrights for whom this is a time-honored tradition.
by Janine Taylor sittings editor Katsy Borromeo fashion stylist Mikey Sanchez food stylist Nicolette Gaw-Yu production manager David Jones Cua intern Danica Ronquillo hair and make-up Jessie Glova assistant Jojo Embalzado photography Joseph Ong locale Woolbright Residence
Eddie Woolbright was among the thousands of G.I.’s that landed on the shores of the Philippines during the Japanese occupation. After the war, a few enterprising American soldiers came back, including the 24-year old Eddie who made Tacloban his home, before settling down in Cebu in the 1950s and opened a restaurant and a hardware store downtown—Eddie’s Log Cabin and Eddie’s Hardware and Auto Supply, respectively.
Eddie’s Log Cabin quickly became the hub of social, political and even military scene. It was the first air-conditioned café in town, and more importantly, it offered American diner food including a soda fountain and an ice cream parlor. It was patronized by one and all for its reputation for good food and service.
It also didn’t take long for the fearless Eddie Woolbright to realize that the real estate in the sleepy hillside suburbs was ripe for development. “I will show Cebu what a good planned subdivision is,” Eddie had said, when the late Senator Marcelo Fernan, then a young legal counselor for Columbian Rope Co., took Eddie to see the property. Pretty soon, Eddie had purchased over thirty-three hectares of otherwise undeveloped land from the heirs of the late Arlington Pond.
“Buy land,” Eddie Woolbright was known to quote the late humorist Will Rogers, “because they ain’t gonna make more.”
With his added access to army surplus, he bulldozed tracts of land, and a decade later, Beverly Hills, the first major subdivision in Cebu City, was created, and marketed to the city’s growing well-to-do locals, with the subdivision’s connotations of Hollywood and colonial American aesthetic. Eddie’s belief in the business potentials of central Cebu city enabled him to see much growth in his investments in land development, water drilling, construction, and general trading.
Eddie had nine children: Rick, Anita, Marc, Gilbert, Alice, Kathy, Kristy, Karen and Joy. All recall that each holiday was as important to them as Christmas. Turkey Thanksgiving dinners, for example, as it was known in the Woolbright household, began when Eddie’s mom, Nell, came to visit sometimes in the 1960s. Eddie would buy a butterball turkey from the American base in Clark and she whipped up a traditional feast complete with cornbread stuffing, cranberry jelly, candied yams, garlic mashed potatoes and her famous giblet gravy which was poured literally all over the bird, as they do back in her home in Oklahoma. Grandma Nell also taught the cooks at Eddie’s Log Cabin to make the famous Coconut Cream Pie, another Eddie’s Log Cabin standard. Kathy also recollects, “It was also dad’s idea that the restaurant and the hotel should serve breakfast 24 hours, and since I loved my Mexican omelet, sliced ham, buttered toast I enjoyed being able to eat breakfast any time of the day.”
My dad taught me how to be humble. He told us stories about his younger days jumping trains, eating nothing but grapes for days just to go pick cotton. He had a hard life growing up and I guess he wanted us, his children, to know the meaning of hard work. He would say, “Nobody owes you a life in this world”. I didn’t understand it then but I do now. -Alice Woolbright
Shortly after, turkey was introduced in the menu of Eddie’s Log Cabin, both Americans and Cebuanos, with a penchant for this wholesome meal, look for it when November came, and more especially on Thanksgiving Day. “Dad loved quality meat, and passed on this fondness to us, his children,” noted Karen, “So special meals always consisted of a good steak or the tender Prime Rib Roast. Of course, the year was never complete without a Turkey once or twice.”
As the sisters change into various outfits for the photo shoot in their childhood home, each one recalled the happy memories this holiday brings.
Alice, recalls disliking the giblet gravy as a child but since her dad would serve her at the dinner table she had no choice but to eat it. She adds, “He would get upset if we did not try everything.” Funnily enough, she now looks forward to the giblet gravy and can’t imagine turkey without it. Her dad, she said, employed the same tactic with his customers at the restaurant so after a while, they ended up getting used to it, and will not have their turkey any other way.
Between brothers and sisters coming home from out of town and family members in the States, there was always some degree of traveling or entertaining company. Dad valued the family bond and holidays were the best time to reinforce that. –Karen Woolbright
Joy Woolbright-Sotto fondly remembers watching her dad carve the bird. “He made sure that each one of the kids learned how to do it properly, with the white meat sliced thinly enough, and followed last by the dark meat,” she says. A feat she now does with ease. Future doctor Karen says that her dad would always carve the wings and serve it to her, which is still her favorite part of the fowl. Kathy though, considers turkey her comfort food. But she says that she loves the Coconut Cream Pie, which is also served on the restaurant’s menu, and that as a child she could eat half a pie in bed.
Cebu in the 60s and 70s was a very small town, if you wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving, you went to Eddie’s. Eddie’s Log Cabin, like its owner was a trailblazer, the balut dice game originated there, many singers’ careers such as Elizabeth Ramsey’s were given their first break there.
The torch has been passed on to his children, and they too celebrate it with turkey dinners and all the trimmings, ensuring that the restaurant still serves the traditional menu, down to the Coconut Cream Pie. Thanksgiving will always be celebrated at their homes, and the Beverly Hotel, the last legacy that Eddie Woolbright gave his children to run.
Another legacy that Eddie left to his children was a love for food and Alice was quick share that she got it too, “I’m usually home during the day and I find myself in the kitchen trying to cook up new dishes to serve.”
Back at the Woolbright ancestral home, which is also now Alice’s home, the dining table has been set, evoking autumn and harvest, the candles are lit, the wine is being poured, the buffet table is groaning under the weight of the Thanksgiving repast. The sisters are seated at the table, each with a glass of wine discussing whose turn it is to carve. The annual Woolbright turkey dinner is about to start and I am glad to be invited to join them at their family home. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.
(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s November 2011 Entertaining Issue, “The Gift that Keeps on Giving” on pages 72-77.)
LADY CYCLISTS HIT THE ROADS AND SLOPES OF CEBU.
Cycling has been a growing sport and hobby for many years but it’s popularity has erupted since the Covid pandemic. People biking to work and for recreation is an everyday sight in Cebu. More and more are joining the ride. Many are quite serious about cycling. I know three ladies who are among those who’ve gone long distances across Cebu.
How did you get into serious cycling? What was your motivation?
Blinky de Leon. Event Host, Product Endorser & Influencer
“ I’ve been into cycling since I was a kid. A little backstory, I was around 10 years old when my dad surprised me with my first custom-made mountain bike. I still keep it until now, in fact I had it refurbished. It’s the most sentimental thing I ever received since it was his way/gesture to catch up with me after not seeing each other for almost 6 yrs. My dad is based in Germany and he also loves cycling and makes his own bamboo bike.”
“Just a year ago though, my friend Gazini randomly, out of nowhere, picked me up from home to bike with her to the South of Cebu. I felt really excited and motivated to get back on track because it’s very nostalgic and brings back so many great memories. And since then, the rest was history. We’ve been joining different groups, tried different routes and conquered different heights. I’ve met so many cyclists with very inspiring stories in the bike community who kept me feeling motivated too. I also look forward to the sights and the adventure that comes along with it.”
Yumz Mariot. Branding & Marketing Consultant
“I used to bike along with rock and wall climbing. I am lousy with ballgames which is why. Our usual route were Talamban and Mactan but one time, managed to ship gears all the way to Dumaguete for a quick ride to Valencia, the next town located at a higher elevation. Those were days when I did it for fun and what bike I was using did not matter.”
“Fast forward to 2021, a year after the pandemic lockdown began, I realized I have been lazy to do any fitness routine. Too caught up on juggling between house chores and Work from Home deliverables (I work as a Branding and Marketing Consultant), I started to feel my body needs to move as much as my brain does. A hysical fitness routine is as important as what I eat, or what I read or watch. So I decided to invest on a decent MTB, just very recently and got myself a much necessary restart. What motivates me even more is the area where I currently reside at. It is vast, fresh, green and safe for solo bikers like me.”
Prime Sarino. Digital Media Creative
“I started biking as a young teenager and I got the idea to start it as an adult hobby 3 years ago. I was already into running and I thought it would be great to venture into another outdoor activity to keep me occupied after work hours and weekends. I was set to travel for a year so I had to put aside the idea first but came pandemic. We were all forced to stay put and everything was put on hold. Cycling became my diversion. My cyclists friends invited me to quick and short rides. I enjoyed my first 50km ride and the sceneries and routes most of all. It also helped channel a positive mindset during the hard hit season of the pandemic. Not to mention it’s also another way to stay fit when we were forced into inactivity during the quarantine.”
Next in Part 2, we ask the ladies about their cycling experiences and memorable moments…
#CebuPride: Cebuanos in Multi-awarded Pride-Themed Films
Multi-awarded International Gay Movies with Cebuano Lead Casts
By: Allain Dumon Fonte
Pride-themed movies are starting to invade the film industry as people become more accepting and are more intrigued on the stories about LGBTIQ. Many have shared the intensity of emotions and laughed with the craziest jokes on gay-themed movies. In the Philippines, these kinds of movies were questioned as to their morality and their message to the society. The strong influence of the country’s religious standards had branded gay-themed movies as sex-oriented and nothing more. Yet, with Thailand’s more tolerant culture, Thai BL (Boy’s Love) movies and television series have created a new perception to the viewers; and that is gay-themed movies are remarkably alike to all other movies – there is romance, comedy, drama, and the continuing struggle of living like normal people. Hence, Thai BL TV series have a massive following all over Asia. At the end of 2019, they became available in Netflix and are being watched by millions of viewers all over the world.
The Philippine film industry is not that far from Thailand’s. Some of the LGBTIQ-themed movies and television series are slowly getting a following in Asia and are now accessible to viewers worldwide. A few of these pride-themed movies that casted or directed by a Filipino have already been receiving nominations and awards from Golden Globe, The Berlin Film Festival, the Venezia Film Awards, and even the Emmy’s…and the Filipinos in these films hail their roots from Cebu!
1. Lingua Franca
Lingua Franca is a film directed by a Cebuana, Isabel Sandoval. Sandoval also plays the main character of the movie, and she even wrote the screenplay. Lingua Franca tells the story of Olivia, an undocumented transgender woman in New York who works as a caregiver to a senile old-lady of Russian-decent. When Olivia is challenged to attain legal status in the US, she is left with a “marriage-based green card”. While in search for her groom-to-be, she becomes romantically involved with Alex, Olga’s grandson.
The film is now available on Netflix and has received positive reviews from the media. Stephen Dalton of the Hollywood Reporter wrote Lingua Franca is a “heartfelt personal statement rooted in timely, gripping issues that obviously resonate deeply with its author, notably trans rights and Trump-era immigration anxieties”.
Isabel Sandoval graduated summa cum laude with the degree in psychology from the University of San Carlos in Cebu, Philippines. In New York, she pursued graduate studies in Film at NYU. She is now currently residing in NYC, and already has award-winning films under her belt like Apparition, Lingua Franca, Senorita, Ritwal, The Unstoppable, and Judgement.
2. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
This television series was aired in Netflix and has gained so much popularity because it showed the murder of world-renowned fashion designer, Gianni Versace, by a serial killer, Andrew Cunanan. Based on Maureen Orth’s book Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History, this television series has 9 episodes of suspenseful scenes, and is star-studded with casts like Ricky Martin and Penelope Cruz. However, the main actor who played Andrew Cunanan is Darren Criss who gained his popularity after being a regular on the top rating TV show, Glee. Darren Criss hails his roots from Cebu, Philippines.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story received positive reviews from critics. At the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, it received 9 nominations, and won 3 awards, including Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for Darren Criss.
Criss was born and raised in San Francisco, California, USA. Criss was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended roman catholic schools. He later moved to Michigan where he studied Bachelor of Fine Arts major in Theatre Performance and minor in music at the University of Michigan. Criss’s father, Charles William Criss, is a banker and served as CEO of the East West bank in Honolulu, Hawaii. Criss’s mom, Cerina, is a native of Talisay, Cebu, Philippines. When he was younger, he visited Cebu a couple of times with his mother. Darren Criss is very proud of his Cebuano roots and wants to portray Filipino characters in films and in theatres to promote visibility of the Filipinos in the American films.
3. The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela
The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival where it grabbed the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film. It was also awarded the Grand Jury Prize in the 10th 2008 Cinemanila International Film Festival at Malacañang Palace’s Kalayaan Hall. It starred Raquela Rios also known as Minerva to her Cebuano friends. Raquela is a local of Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines. The film is directed by Icelandic film director, scriptwriter, and producer, Olaf de Fleur Johannesson.
Raquella Rios is a native of Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines, and she went to the University of San Carlos in Cebu, studying sociology and anthropology. Before finishing her studies, Raquella left the Cebu and went to Iceland after being casted by Icelandic film director, scriptwriter, and producer, Olaf de Fleur Johannesson for the movie The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela. She is now based in Bangkok, Thailand as a fashion stylist and wardrobe assistant to some local Thai movies. Raquella is also an activist for sex workers rights and trans rights in Southeast Asia; pushing for the recognition on the choice of their gender and the right to change their birth names.
There are still plenty of pride-themed films in the Philippines that gained recognition all over the world; yet these movies mentioned are special because of the talented Cebuanos that have brought Cebu to world. They truly are #CebuPride.
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