Friday, December 28, 2012

Pinoy Top Thinkers Today (2012)

Copyright @ 2012 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved. 

For five consecutive years now, I am happy to say that my intention to document and list down top Filipino living intellectuals has paid off. Lots of secondary, college, and graduate students who surf my blog and read my articles keep on posting positive reviews and comments in my annual Pinoy Top Thinkers Today (PTTT).
For 2012, I must truly say that our country is blessed with so much brilliance of brainpower. This is a country where bright minds converge and where freedom to express your mind is highly scrutinized and talked about; with the twist of social media’s increasing influence to every Pinoy’s daily life which becomes inevitable and unstoppable.  

The successful legal and political battle to oust a former Chief Justice, supposedly, the fourth strongest man in the country, is the trademark of this year. A historic first in the country’s evolving democratic maturity fortified by the rallying support from the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of our government, which brought prisms of intellect and best arguments in a politically-driven and quasi-judicial court of the Senate; televised and viewed publicly by humorous and critical Pinoys from different walks of life and fellow countrymen in many Filipino diasporic communities abroad.   

Nonetheless, this singular event had shown luminaries and brightest lawyers our country has had; a joke that the Philippines produces more lawyers would make our country forever a developing economy because we argue a lot than acting on things concretely, and maybe because most of our bureaucrats in the government are ruled by lawyers. That’s why another theory is proposed that medical doctors should govern our government mainly because they are more ‘methodical’ in prescribing solutions to social issues of our country. I have no doubt that Dr Jose Rizal, the first Filipino genius and foremost great thinker our country had, would certainly agree with me.  

Furthermore, the Philippines is beginning to turn-around economically, regaining to tickle its momentum as it bandwagons to Asian century’s limelight as a centrifugal force to lead the world economy. That’s why technocrats from the business community are always wittingly recognized in my yearly ‘who’s who’ of Filipino top thinkers because of their ability to gain more wealth for the Philippines and exporting Filipino brand of ideas in a very competitive global village.

Closest to my heart are also the academics, scientists, artists, and sportsmen who continuously shine in their chosen fields, giving more prestige to our country’s intellectual culture and traditions.   

Without much ado, here’s my roster of Pinoy Top Thinkers Today with their surnames in alphabetical order!!! 

Ramon Ang (industrialist, visionary) – it is but fitting to list down this great guy as one of Pinoy top thinkers today! He has done enough to sustain economic buoyancy of the country, with his San Miguel Corporation, the largest and most diversified conglomerate in the country! Under his management as the new president of SMC, Ang’s unorthodox and out-of-the-box management style is making a lot of headway within international circles, in particular the ambitious re-fleeting and modernization program of PAL that includes the purchase of 100 new planes. SMC is in every growth sector of our country and still continues to be an investor in major growth projects. An alumnus of Far Eastern University (FEU) with a mechanical engineering degree. From his humble beginnings, he rose from the ranks and later was appointed as president and COO of SMC in 2002. But his business relationship with Eduardo Cojuangco SMC’s top honcho, as the Inquirer has recently cited, goes back as far as his humble beginnings as the proprietor of a small firm that specialized in reconditioning surplus engines. Ang also serves as Chief Executive Officer of Cyber Bay Corporation andPetron Corporation.

Benigno Aquino III (15th president of the Philippines) – a.k.a PNOY or Noynoy, he enjoys popularity and sincerity of his vision to make our country great in the 21st century! Now my third time to cite him in my prestigious annual gallery of top thinkers alive, he placed the Philippines in the map of current deterritorialized world as the new darling for investments and opportunities. His serious policies to curb graft and corruption has made us Pinoy earn the respect of the international community as we stride into higher notch for credit ratings, transparency, and good governance worldwide. With this, our country continues to become confident as a creditor for ailing European economies. A promising young president, whose goodwill has impeached a chief justice, signed a peace deal with the MILF, promoted reproductive health against the conservative church, and is modernizing the country’s armed forces as he sees a new architecture and landscape of security environment in the West Philippine Sea. He relived the words of his great father Benigno Aquino Jr – a national hero – that Filipinos are worth dying for! 

Jaime Augusto & Fernando Zobel de Ayala (high-end retailer kings, multi-awarded industrialists) – Jaime serves as Chairman and CEO while Fernando works as President and COO of Ayala Corporation. For many generations, they were one of the very few pioneering families who put the Philippines in the world map of business. High brand Ayala is very much known for luxury, sophistication, and quality of services, products, and designs. They are the masters of growth, innovation and diversity. A famous avenue in the country’s financial district is named after them. They own  one of the country’s largest banks - Bank of the Philippine Islands. They own one of the country’s top telecommunication networks - Globe Telecom. They own one of the country’s leading real estate developer - Ayala Land. Other businesses of the Ayalas include water distribution business Manila Water Company, information technology business Integrated Microelectronics, Inc., business process outsourcing company Integreon, and so on. Jaime’s Honors include World Economic Forum Global Leader for Tomorrow in 1995, Emerging Markets CEO of the year in 1998 (sponsored by ING), Philippine TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men) Award in 1999 and Management Association of the Philippines Management Man of the Year Award in 2006. Most recently, Mr. Zobel was awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit on March 11, 2009. Lately, the brothers Jaime and Fernando share their business secrets to Business Week and Go Negosyo on the success of the Ayalas, to wit: Passion for the enterprise is the formula for growth. Blood relations running the enterprise isn’t a guarantee for growth, at best, it’s coincidental, not essential. It is one thing to accept change, but it is more entrepreneurial to be the source of change. And  lastly, entrepreneurship is key to nation building. 

Diosdado Banatao (philanthropist, engineer) – a.k.a the Bill Gates of the Philippines! From his very humble beginnings from Iguig Cagayan Valley and going big time to Silicon Valley in the US, he never forgot his roots! He pursued his secondary education in a Jesuit run school, Ateneo de Tuguegarao. After finishing high school, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and graduated cum laude. He later completed an MS Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Stanford University in 1972 in order to enhance his craft as design engineer for Boeing in the United States. According to, he is the founder and has been Managing Partner of Tallwood Venture Capital (Tallwood) since July 2000. From April 2008 to June 2009, he served as Interim Chief Executive Officer of SiRF Technology Holdings, Inc. (SiRF), a publicly-traded company that was acquired by CSR plc in June 2009 (SiRF). From October 2006 to August 2007, he served as Interim President and Chief Executive Officer of Inphi Corporation. Prior to forming Tallwood, he was a venture partner at the Mayfield Fund, a venture capital firm, from January 1998 to May 2000. Among his achievements, he co-founded three technology startups: S3 Graphics Ltd in 1989, Chips & Technologies, Inc. in 1985 and Mostron, Inc. in 1984. In his comeback to the Philippines, he continues to offer scholarships to bright students in Cagayan Valley and is willing to donate millions of dollars to resurrect his defunct alma mater Ateneo de Tuguegarao. 

Jejomar Binay (15th vice president of the Philippines) - highly educated, a seasoned politician, human rights lawyer, family man, and currently the most trusted government official in the country based from survey results. But will he become the Philippines’ president in 2016? Only time and destiny will tell. But the Binay fever is everywhere! The current sitting vice-president who aspires to become the next president has announced early on his bid for the presidential post; forming aggressively a coalition opposition party with former president Joseph Estrada. However, political analysts see this coalition as “opposition but not opposition” party because of the very high popularity of PNOY. Thus, in retracing Binay’s political roots, his baptism of fire as a politician was realized when he became the mayor of Makati city through the support of former president Corazon Aquino, the late mother of the sitting president. But what I admire him most, is how cultured he came to be. He’s standing tall as a proud Ibanag, representing an ethnic group up north of Luzon with a very rich culture and tradition, and founded a heritage foundation aimed at preserving the Ibanag culture. Being its chairman, the Ibanag language is now included in the Department of Education’s Mother-Tongue Based Multi-Lingual Education (MTB-MLE) program that will revive the dying Ibanag language. Thus, more cultural exchanges, researches on tangible and intangible culture of the Ibanags, and programs will soon be fostered and implemented by the heritage foundation he started that will inspire other ethnic groups in the Philippines to do the same endeavor of strengthening the richness of their own and distinct culture.

Romulo Davide (Ramon Magsaysay awardee, agricultural scientist) – the Philippines remains to be a pivotal agricultural country in Southeast Asia in spite of its increasing service industries. And you bet, farmers can be scientists, too. He’s one of the pioneering agricultural scientists; and the rock star scientist among his circle of agriculturalists. In his citation as one of 2012’s Ramon Magsaysay awardee, the award-giving body recognized "his steadfast passion in placing the power and discipline of science in the hands of Filipino farmers, who have consequently multiplied their yields, created productive farming communities and rediscovered the dignity of their labor." He also invented the first Philippine pesticide that can be used against roundworms or nematodes infesting crops. BIOCON is also considered as a “practical substitute for highly toxic and expensive nematicides.” Thus, the success of BIOCON, which first came out in 1992, went beyond the Philippines as it is now being sold worldwide. 

Juan Ponce Enrile (senate president, statesman) – his recently launched and a book-seller 754-page memoir is a must read! He played a pivotal role during Marcos’s martial law as his protégé, being appointed the secretary of justice and defense minister. He’s a controversial statesman from Cagayan who served the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of the Philippine government spanning from six administrations/presidents. Manong Johnny, as he was fondly called, has lived a very colorful life from rags to riches story. Highly educated here and abroad; his persona is bigger than life, based from the recently shown documentary by a leading television station and a biography written about his life. Despised by many of his colleagues because of his exceptional wit, intellect, diskarte, and memory of laws – his credibility as one of the finest lawyers our country has had was cemented during the trial of the first ousted Chief of Justice only this year. His own narrative about his life and his contributions to Philippine politics and society can be captured as footnotes in our history. Rarely do we have an elderly stateman in the Philippines, loved and despised, and who lived a protagonist/antagonist image; shaping and influencing (whether good or bad) landscapes of our contemporary politics, business, history, and society. I can attest to his sharpness of mind, when I finally witnessed his fondness of indigenous food found only in Cagayan, which I myself never saw and tasted in my childhood also growing in the same province where he came from, during our meeting with him and VP Binay, the Ibanag council of elders, and board of trustees of the Ibanag Heritage Foundation, Incorporated at Coconut Palace.  

Lance Gokongwei (technocrat, global achiever, heir) - he’s the heir of the Gokongwei’s empire, serving as president and COO, while his father John Gokongwei, still serves as Chairman Emeritus. A western-bred businessman and graduated with double summa cum laude honors from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Applied Science; and the Wharton School of Business in Finance in a span of only three and a half years. A young intellectual, technocrat, and global achiever – he received distinctions such as the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005, Ten Outstanding Young Men in 2000, and Class of Global Leader for Tomorrow in 1999. Based from JG Summit Holdings, Inc website, he’s the President and Chief Operating Officer of JGSHI. He had been Executive Vice President of JGSHI and was elected President and Chief Operating Officer effective January 1, 2002. He is also President and Chief Operating Officer of URC, and JGSPC. He is the Vice-Chairman and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of RLC and LMI. He is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Cebu Air, Inc. and DIGITEL, Chairman of Robinsons Savings Bank (RSB), President of Digital Information Technology Services, Inc. (DITSI), Vice Chairman of JGSCMC, and a director of OPMC, UIC and Singland. He is a trustee, secretary and treasurer of GBFI. 

Serafin Cuevas (prime defense counsel, legal luminary) – despite his defeat as the lead defense counsel in the recently concluded highly-politicized and highly-publicized trial of an impeached chief justice Renato Corona, he has shown brightly inside the august hall of the senate his wit and fortitude; considered as one of the highly-respected legal luminaries in the country. Having the right attitude, this prominent member of the well-organized religious group of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, graduated law from the University of the Philippines. A former Associate Justice, judge, top legal practitioner, and professorial lecturer of law himself. When asked by senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding judge of the impeached chief justice, the latter having known by heart the Rules of Court would respond immediately and sharply. The result of constant study.  He has the stature of not being bamboozled by anyone, according to his fellow defense counsels.  Recently, he bagged the “Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award” by the UP Alumni Association.

Regina Paz Lopez (environmentalist, river warrior, broadcast heiress) – a.k.a Gina Lopez is a celebrity in her own right! Credit her in her majestic vision of leading and transforming informal settlers to become river warriors as they clean up the esteros of Metro Manila in her usual all white fashionable outfits. She debunks dominant theories that it’s normal to have increasing slums and poverty porn in cities as it progresses, rather, she deems that cities should remain clean and beautiful, the more it progresses. Although, a broadcast heiress herself, her surname rings a bell when environment is discussed in high-level conferences. With her family’s diversified communications and broadcast industry, she can command her talents to mount a run for Pasig River, which is usually a blockbuster among advocates of the environment, in her effort to clean up Metro Manila’s state of the nation – the Pasig River. With this, Gina has been recently appointed as chair of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) after taking her oath, along with 35 other appointees to various government agencies and offices before President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang . Also this year, Save Palawan Movement convenor Regina Paz Lopez debated with one of the country’s prime industrialist and communications mover Philex Mining chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP), caught on video that went viral on YouTube in their frank exchange of views that animated the crowd of mining industry stakeholders at one conference in the country’s financial district. She’s also the Executive Director of the ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc. espousing key campaigns and programs such as Bantay Bata (Child Watch), Educational Television (ETV), Bantay Kalikasan (Environment Watch), Kapit Bisig Para sa Ilog Pasig (Holding Together for Pasig River), Sagip Kapamilya (Saving Members of the Family), Bayan Foundation (Community Foundation), and Bayan ni Juan (Country of Juan). 

Conchita Carpio-Morales (ombudsman) – she ruled my gallery of Pinay top thinkers last year because of her accomplishments as then associate justice and the first female magistrate to administer the oath of office of the Philippine President. This year, she magnified again power and positive change as the newly-appointed ombudsman of the country. As opinion-maker Conrado de Quiros wrote, her appointment is, “a sea of change from the days of Merceditas Gutierrez where the ombudsman existed to make sure that no venal, corrupt or piratical public official would ever be brought to justice. Or threatened by it.” In an article she herself wrote on ‘Corruption linked to culture of expectations’ – she lamented in writing that, “the incidence of corruption may also be partly attributed to a culture of societal expectations that condition or pressure the minds of professionals like lawyers, doctors, engineers as well as government officials to exhibit a high level of status just to prove or satisfy the societal expectation or depiction of a successful professional or leader.” Instead she elevates public service as a public trust, a duty to society, and she calls for unified and comprehensive reform agenda that can hit the mark in ridding this country of the corrosive element of corruption and rebuilding the foundation of good governance.

Al Haj Murad (moro leader, bearer of peace) – from a hardliner to voice of moderation, according to Maria Ressa’s He was a feared military commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who steered a once ragtag secessionist band of rebels under the shadow of the more ideological and scholarly Hashim Salamat, from whom he inherited the chairmanship of the country’s largest Moro rebel group. Murad was one semester short of finishing his civil engineering course from the Notre Dame of University in Cotabato City when he joined the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1972. According to stories, it is the violence in his Moro homeland that brought Murad into the movement that for years had pushed for separation from the state. Today he seeks to end that violence, giving up his group's call for independence, and playing a key role in ensuring peace to last. On 15 October 2012, he and President Aquino signed a preliminary agreement after 32 formal meetings between the MILF and the government spanning over more than a decade of peace negotiations and the terms of three presidents. Thank you for bringing peace to Mindanao and to our Filipino Muslim brothers!

Alfredo Pascual (university president, banker, educator) – he’s the 20th president of the University of the Philippines – armed with his BS Chemistry cum laude, MBA from UP Diliman, and honoris causa in Doctor of Pedagogy by the Angeles University Foundation in Angeles City. He taught in ivy league institutions such as UP, Ateneo de Manila, and Asian Institute of Management (AIM) before pursuing a career for 19 years as an official at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the biggest financial institution in Asia. With his corporate management and financial banking experiences, under his helm being a seasoned advisor on public-private partnerships in infrastructure, the national university, i.e., UP will soon see major transformations in its landscape with a monorail now being build up;  and changes in its system as a new campus will soon rise at The Fort Global City in Taguig through a signed a memorandum of agreement, with BCDA donating to UP a 4,300-square meter lot, for the UP professional schools which will initially include the College of Law, College of Business Administration, College of Engineering, School of Statistics and the UP Open University. But his real challenge is to revive UP and make it one of Asia's top and best universities as it used to be!

Albert del Rosario (top diplomat) – being the highest paid cabinet member of the Aquino administration, his philanthropic spirit to give away his salary last year did not reap him enough success on how to contain China’s growing clout in the West Philippine Sea. But diplomatically speaking, as the year moved forward he did pretty well  in his job as the top diplomat of the country. He has gone to several battles and stayed buoyant being a successful manager and entrepreneur at the peak of his career in the business community, arming himself with his BS degree in Economics from New York University. Then later, he became the Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary of the Republic of the Philippines to the United States of America. But now as secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, his real challenge is how to solve our issue/s with China and secure our territorial integrity. He is expected to perform conscientiously in his job especially on how he influences the ASEAN countries to bandwagon in our cause, how to safeguard our overseas workers, and discipline his senior and junior diplomats acting like kings and queens, and vacationers or tourists, when they are deployed abroad – spending government’s money for personal pleasures and idiosyncrasy. Most Filipino Foreign service officers and diplomats are so elitists in dealing with OFWs abroad who are working so hard to pump prime our domestic economy! Please discipline your employees!       

UP Law Debate Team (future lawyers and jurists) - this is my first time to give citation to a group of young achievers and intellectuals. A group of six law students from the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law reached the semi-final round of the 2012 Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition held in the United States. In the international rounds, the squad from UP defeated law students from Boston College, Kenya, Japan, Argentina, and Greece before yielding to Moscow State University, which eventually emerged as champions after beating Columbia Law School of New York in the finals. The young intellectuals also had colorful personal backgrounds; some of them are sons of overseas Filipino workers while studying in the premier university in the country. They are considered as the future great thinkers of the legal community that the Philippines expect them to be.  

Wesley So (chess grand master) – he’s the youngest Filipino chess grandmaster, budding to become a super GM. Wesley achieved the GM title at the age of 14 years, 1 month and 28 days, making him the 8th youngest person to achieve the Grandmaster title in the history of chess!  A true epitome of a young genius sportsman. His winning moves in the chess Olympiad are well studied by neophyte chess players like me. According to, his first foray into the international arena was at the 12th International Open held in Nice in 2005, when he scored a creditable 5/7, placing =8th (9th on tiebreak) and adding 35 points to his rating. He finished 2005 at the Singapore International Masters Open, winning the award for the best U12 in the competition and gaining another 37 rating points. In April 2006, he earned his first International Master norm at the powerful 8th Dubai Open. However, news came out recently that there’s a possibility that Wesley might migrate to Canada and the Philippines could lose a potential world champion? 

Henry Sy Jr (retail prince, real estate czar) – he’s the second in command of the Philippines’ richest family. According to, as a management degree holder from De La Salle University, Henry Sy Jr  is responsible for the real estate acquisitions and development activities of SM Land, Inc. and SM Development Corporation which include the identification, evaluation and negotiation for potential sites as well as the input of design ideas. He likewise serves as Vice Chairman of SM Investments Corporation, Vice Chairman and President of SM Land, Inc. and Highlands Prime, Inc., Director of SM Prime Holdings, Inc., BDO Unibank, Inc. and SM Residences Corporation. He is also the President of the National Grid Corporation and Chairman of Pico De Loro Beach and Country Club, Inc. And being the eldest son of the great Henry Sy, he holds various executive positions in other affiliates and subsidiaries. In his portfolio as a business strategist, in 2010 his One Taipan Holding Corp., a privately-held holding company controlled by Sy family, bought out the 30 percent share of Monte Oro Resources controlled by billionaire Enrique Razon, for USD350 million. Along with their ethnic Chinese identity, their prized SMC is also aggressive in retail and property investments in China, the world’s second largest economy and soon to be an economic superpower. 

Luis Antonio Tagle (cardinal) – will he become the first Pinoy pope of the entire powerful Catholic church on earth in the future? Only God knows for sure. But this newly appointed cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI has been educated by the Jesuits and the San Carlos Seminary with a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D) from the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.  In one of online accounts, he was described as a then bishop known for his humility and simplicity. He’s also known serving the communities going around riding his cheap bike. Being an eligible papal contender, he was also quoted by someone as "a rising star in the Asian Church." Some prophesied him to be as quoted "a striking number of people who know Tagle believe that this is a guy who, one day, could be pope." Thus, in one of his sermons, he summoned his flock by saying that, “having a faith means having a sustained relationship with God and that this faith should transform Catholics’ relationship with other people.”

Janine Tugonon (miss universe 1st runner-up) – well this is showbiz and entertainment at its best for this gallery of thinkers! But mind you, if you’re a judge in a prestigious pageant by means of sheer intellect and poise, or beauty and brains – Janine Tugonon actually nailed it! This licensed pharmacist from UST had the best substantial answer among the contestants, but thanks to a serious and well-thought of question asked, compared to an ordinary query thrown to the winner with her honest and simplistic answer.  But hey, raise the roof to her famed “cobra walk!” I never knew that such cat-walk exists and gracefully executed by a Filipina beau. Another brainy beauty queen, famed for her “tsunami walk”, the UP architecture and board top-notcher Shamcey Supsup became a runner-up in last year’s competition. But all in all, Janine exudes a modern Pinay’s grace under pressure. She’s smart, hip and young, sexy yet confident, plus her smile can captivate a great audience. And that’s beauty and brains! 

Jose Ramon Villarin (university president, theologian, physicist) – a.k.a Fr. Jett among the Society of Jesus (S.J.) congregation and to his students at ADMU. A scientist himself who graduated with BS Physics magna cum laude and as a class valedictorian. Subsequently, he entered the SJ and attended the Loyola School of Theology, where he received a BA degree in Phi in Philosophy and received his Bachelor of Sacred Theology  degree, summa cum laude, in 1985. He then did graduate work in the US, receiving a MS in Physics from Marquette University in 1987, and a Ph.D in Atmospheric Physics from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1997. I met him together with ADMU's former president Fr Bienvenido Nebres, SJ, as hosts in the conference on Culture and Leadership at Rockwell Ateneo. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000 and the Outstanding Book Award for "Disturbing Climate" in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations' Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others. However, he recently made news in headlines of leading newspapers; suffered the ire of academics, columnists and civil society, when he misread a memo to his university community on the vexing issue of the Reproductive Health bill, to wit: Together with our leaders in the Catholic Church, the Ateneo de Manila University does not support the passage of House Bill 4244 (The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Bill).

Thursday, December 20, 2012

There's the Rub: Crisis


Of course we’ve every right to be regally pissed off at China and register our outrage in the most vociferous ways. To say that China’s recent moves have been belligerent is to say that Israel’s threats against Iran, and vice versa, have been belligerent. In recent weeks, those have included, in quick succession, issuing passports that trot out a Chinese map claiming the disputed islands, and threatening to board foreign vessels sailing through the area. In the emotionally charged atmosphere between China and Asean today, that’s as open a provocation as you can get.

The government deserves praise for taking a strong role in rallying Asean into taking China head on, if only diplomatically, which may be the only weapon we have but is a weapon nonetheless. The Philippines and Vietnam have already declared categorically that they will not stamp the passports that carry the modern-day reinvention of the Middle Kingdom. And while the other Asean countries haven’t said anything, they sympathize with it. Except for Cambodia, of course.

Just as well, the Philippines and Vietnam have also declared that they would not be cowed into desisting from sailing in the disputed sea but would stand their ground, or water, amid threats of boarding. While neither country, or both, can confront China militarily, they do not lack for other weapons to make China think twice. This is the age of YouTube and instant communication, neither of which China seems to have discovered, and can make acts of iniquity, as much of heroism, viral within minutes. As China will have rammed home to it if it tries clambering onto what it perceives to be offending vessels.

We have every right to be regally pissed off at China, but we also have every reason to be regally careful in our responses.

One is getting the United States embroiled in the fray. That requires a nuanced approach. Do we need to internationalize China’s belligerence? Yes. Do we need to bring the issue to the attention of the United Nations and the international courts? Yes. Do we need to get the American government to issue statements warning China against its encroachments? Yes. Do we need to remind our neighbors we see ourselves as an American protectorate? No.

The first three are a necessity, the last is an embarrassment. It’s not just Cambodia that has the reputation of being the stooge of a foreign power, it’s us, too. Thus far, we’ve done well standing firm with Asean in insisting on multilateral rather than bilateral talks with China. Thus far, we’ve done well taking a prominent, if not lead, role in pushing an agenda of vital importance to Asean. The point is not just to win the battle, it is to win the war. The point is not just to keep our territory, it is to gain the respect of the neighborhood. Let’s not mess that up.

Two is saber-rattling. No one, of course, has seriously suggested that we confront China militarily. The Defense College itself is clear on it, with Chester Cabalza, one of its professors, saying: “We cannot contain the maritime strength of China because we lack the capability. [Lodging] a diplomatic protest is the most we can do.” But some people have suggested that we need to spend more to improve our defense capabilities. That’s just a variation of the “budget Huks,” which was the practice of using the insurgency to jack up the AFP budget.

That’s crazy. At the very least, it’s so because resources being scarce, and even scarcer in poor countries like ours, if we have to spend more it should be on education and not on defense. Nothing secures a country better than an educated and informed populace. Nothing defends a country better than a people who have a stake in it and are willing to die, “ang mamatay ng dahil sa ’yo,” for it.

At the very most, that’s so because our problem has never been national security, it has always been foreign policy. Our problem has never been defense, it has always been diplomacy. It has never been brawn, it has always been brains. We’ve not lacked for the first, the military has always been pampered lest it throw a tantrum, or mount a coup attempt, which has succeeded only in producing national insecurity. We’ve always lacked for a foreign policy and the diplomatic skills to push it through. In lieu of saber-rattling, we can do with sober thinking.

And lastly, fanning anti-Chinese sentiments. I’ve been looking at the reactions to the stories about China’s belligerent actions, and some of them can make you cringe. They rekindle latent animosity against the Chinese, foreign or local. Arguably not as bad as in other Asean countries—Suharto’s downfall was presaged by anti-Chinese rioting and looting—but deeply disquieting nonetheless. “Dugong Intsik kasi,” says one of them, which is not unlike the sangre de Moro of yore, or the not so very yore.

“Komunistang Intsik,” says another, putting together two groups that have had a history of massacre or pogrom mounted against them. “Lahi ni Limahong,” says still another, conjuring the Chinese’s unsavory piratical past with this country.

You cannot always rein in people’s enthusiasms or wrath, but you have to try where they go overboard. Indeed, where they pose not just physical harm to people but also psychological harm to the nation. There’s a difference between being resolute and being rabid, being passionate and being bigoted, being united and being a lynch mob.

In the end, it’s not the threat itself but how we respond to it that will be the test of our character. How we respond to it can make us fall or rise. How we respond to it can make us shame ourselves or surpass ourselves. How we respond to it can kill us or make us stronger.

Take it from the Chinese: A crisis is also an opportunity. How we respond to it makes it the one or the other.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Row with China a ‘reawakening’ for PH defense


MANILA, Philippines—The escalating conflict in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) has brought some good learning opportunities for the Philippines—from revisiting the country’s defense policies to introducing the public to a weighty concept called “national security,” security experts said.
“Our reawakening always starts with a conflict. We have to thank China because its recent movements and strategies in the West Philippine Sea have made us look at our defense policies anew, said Chester Cabalza, a National Defense College of the Philippines professor.
The Philippines has long been confronted with the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea but has had limited capabilities to address this security issue, Cabalza said.
Moreover, the country has been focusing on an internal armed conflict for decades that external defense, such as the tug-of-war over territories in these waters, has been a secondary preoccupation for the government, he said.
China’s new border patrol policy that would allow its police to board and search ships that “illegally enter” what it considers its territory in the South China Sea “greatly impacts” on the Philippines, Cabalza said.
Relying on words
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has said the Philippines should protest China’s plan while Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, chair of the House committee on national defense, urged President Aquino to convene the National Security Council as “China’s move will definitely escalate tensions in the area.”
The Philippines’ strategy has been to use international legal instruments because “that’s the most we can do,” Cabalza, a fellow at China’s National Defense University, said in a phone interview.
“We cannot contain the maritime strength of China because we lack the capability… We are in a stage of denial, that’s why we are heavy on words. A diplomatic protest is the most we can do,” he added.
As for the United States helping, Cabalza said that while the US has always been the Philippines’ “shield,” the country cannot rely much on the US on this particular issue.
“We can’t get their commitment as our knight in shining armor in this conflict because the US also does not want to risk their economic interest with China,” he said.
Wake-up call
China’s most recent muscle flexing to lay claim to the disputed territories in the South China Sea is, therefore, a “wake-up call” for the Philippines, Cabalza said.
“If there is a crisis, it is high time [we] amend some policies,” he said.
For Dr. Gloria Jumamil-Mercado, dean of the graduate school of the Development Academy of the Philippines who has a doctorate in China Studies, the public should be made aware of the West Philippine Sea territorial dispute in the context of national security.
Mercado, a former senior adviser to the National Security Adviser, said Filipinos understandably focus on more fundamental issues like poverty.
“Who really cares among the country’s 90 million people about what’s happening in the West Philippine Sea? If a person is hungry, he would not care about China,” she said in a phone interview.
“But people have to understand that [the territorial dispute] is a national security issue because it impacts on our territorial integrity and because the economic issues in that area would ultimately impact on the welfare of the people,” Mercado said.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Behind the Colorful Village in Baseco Manila

 An Ethnography by Chester B Cabalza 
Copyright © 2012 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

“Poverty is many things, all of them bad. It is material deprivation and desperation. It is lack of security and dignity. It is exposure to risk and high costs for thin comforts. It is inequality materialized. It diminishes its victims. It is also the situation of far too many people in the world, even if the relative number of those who are escaping the worst forms of poverty is also increasing…” – Arjun Appadurai (2004).  

Building a Dream House

March 30, 2002. Jorgie Tonelata remembers the day when his small poor man’s house and other shanty houses built of light materials in a five-hectare reclamation site in Baseco were devoured by fire. Instead of getting upset, he rejoiced exclaiming that this is the beginning of building a new home for his dear family.

Nang masunog ang bahay ko, ako ay sumigaw at masayang-masaya na nasusunog ang bahay ko, samantala ang iba umiiyak; dahil labin-limang taon ko nang pinakinabangan ang bahay ko. Maraming salamat at matagal ko rin pinakinabangan yun at ngayon magkakaroon na ako ng bagong bahay. At trinabaho ko ang bago naming bahay pagkasunog nito bago ako nakarating sa Gawad Kalinga. 

When my house was destroyed by fire, I shouted but rejoiced at the same time because my house was burning, while others wept; I had already lived in that house for 15 years. I am thankful that I utilized that house good enough and now I will own a new home. I worked hard to build a brand new house after that incident through Gawad Kalinga.

The Gawad Kalinga (GK) roughly translates “to give care,” Jorgie refers to is the non-government organization (NGO) that offers help to myriad urban poor informal settlers and homeless families to build modest houses. Many of those helping the GK in building colorful village are donations from different countries worldwide and sizable corporate organizations in and out of the Philippines. It was in January 2004, that GK was invited to help rehabilitate the Baseco compound.

According to GK’s report, together with building and maintaining shelters are the trainings and seminars GK officers and volunteers facilitate. Believing that giving hope to shelter beneficiaries does not end when the final brick was laid, the trainings and seminars were intended to address the residents’ economic and spiritual needs. Livelihood trainings were designed while value-formation talks based on Catholic social teachings and catechism were assembled.

The trainings and seminars were anchored on GK values that can be summed up into three overarching principles: (1) Bayanihan, which is a Filipino trait of becoming a hero to teach other (from the Filipino word “bayani” which means hero) – it hinges on a caretaker system centered on relational building; (2)Padugo, which roughly translates “to bleed for the cause.” This means that one devotes his/her own time and resources to initiate work within the community without expecting outside funding or support; and (3) Patriotism in Action in which working for the poor is equivalent to nation-building. Thus, GK also encourages multi-sector participation and partnerships in eliminating poverty.

According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), Barangay Baseco consists of Engineer’s island and two stone breakwaters that extend out from it into Manila Bay. One borders the Pasig River, the other protects shipping in the South Harbor. The island had been a ship loading and unloading site and ship repair yard for many years. But to Jorgie’s memory, there are two islands within the barangay, namely, Isla Laki (big island) with 200 families and Isla Liit (small island) with 50 families based from their Barangay Statistics Profile.

 Jorgie, 42 years old, married with four kids, is a man of grand vision for his community and family. A leader in his own right; molded by colorful experiences of hardships and challenges that fortified his dedication to serve the Urban Poor Associates (UPA). He got married to Wenelisa, now 40 years old, a church volunteer.

When he was a teenager, he founded a youth organization in Baseco to empower his fellow youth and aspire for the betterment of their community by helping the church and implementing programs for the youth. A migrant himself in Baseco; he started to live in the slum when he was a junior high school. Born in the beautiful Aklan province in the Visayas, he and his mother left for Manila when he was only seven years old due to poverty in the rural.

As a young boy, his mother recounted to him that his father hailed from Cagayan in northern Luzon and came from a wealthy political clan. But his destiny in the topsy-turvy Manila turned unlikely than what he has expected to be.

Nung nandito kami sa Maynila, hirap na hirap ang sitwasyon namin kasi nangungupahan lang kami sa maliit lang na bahay. Pagdating nang tag-ulan, ang tubig baha hanggang tuhod namin, tapos panay putik pa. Yun mga karanasan na ganyan, ang sarap bang balikan. Eto ang nagbibigay sa ‘yo ng motivation na maging matatag at magkaroon ang pagtingin sa hinaharap, na ayokong maranasan yun ng mga anak ko. 

When we arrived in Manila, our situation was a pity because we rented only a very small house. During rainy season, the flood would reach our knees, and it was muddy. Those experiences were quite reminiscing. It gives you a motivation to be strong and have inferential of the future, because I don’t want my kids to suffer the same fate I experienced when I was young.

Poverty has impacted much on him. At a young age, he experienced a life in dire need of basic services and security. Fed up from eating porridge daily; sometimes, going to school without eating enough food, he carried with him the cudgels and went to Divisoria to sell vegetables and earn coins to buy food, while his classmates became addicted to solvent and drugs. On the other hand, he also had a stepfather who was a habitual drunkard.  

Sampung taon gulang pa lamang ako nang makita ko yung buhay namin ng nanay ko na mahirap. Sabi nya sa akin, wala siyang ibang maibibigay na kayamanan sa akin kundi ang pag-aralin ako. Ang edukasyon para sa kanya ang tanging yaman ko pagdating ng panahon. Tumanim ito sa isipan ko kaya kahit bumagyo man kailangan kong pumasok; tuwing umaga kahit nakapikit pa rin ako, kailangan kong maligo para lang makapasok sa eskwelahan. Pati nga mga tiyuhin ko nagagalit sila sa akin tuwing nakikita nila ako na naglalaro sa labas ng bahay at di pumapasok sa eskwela. 

When I was ten years old, I saw how difficult and poor our lives were with my mother. She said to me, the only gift that she could endow me is education. She knew that education is my only gem that I could treasure when the time comes. That instilled in me to persevere and go to school, even during typhoons; every morning even when I still felt sleepy, I need to take a bath to attend my school. Even my uncles scolded me whenever they see me playing outside the house and skipping my classes.

He persevered to finish secondary schooling. His mother would advise him that only education can save them from their misery. This he taught to his four children, that education is a primordial obligation and a gift to them. Of which two of them reached College, studying at a Catholic private school through a vocational scholarship, at the same time as, his two other younger children, are enrolled in a public school.

His awakening to embrace the realities of being a leader began in 2001. He used to be an ordinary person in Baseco; carefree in drinking and sometimes hanging-out with friends. By the time the UPA and Asian Development Bank (ADB) went to their community, they called for a meeting, discussed programs of relocation they implemented along Pasig River, and started to consult them on development. That same year, Baseco was identified by ADB and the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) as a high priority area for urban renewal. Land tenure security is a necessary condition for the bank’s urban renewal work, thus the government has to grant this through proclamation. His inquiries about development programs presented to them turned to be an eye-opener for him, on the possibility of helping his own family and the community. He realized that if he will not cooperate with the NGO and subscribe to their proposed development, how he could help himself build a better home for his family and the community.

As Appadurai would believe in, the poor, no less than any other group in a society, do express horizons in choices made and choices voiced, often in terms of specific goods and outcomes, often material and proximate, like doctors for their children, markets for their grain, husbands for their daughters, and tin roofs for their homes. But these lists, apparently just bundles of individuals and idiosyncratic wants, are inevitably tied up with more general norms, presumptions, axioms about good life, and life more generally.

 His Way to Lead

His vocation to lead became an opportunity at the same time a challenge. Having juggled to all sorts of blue-collar jobs like stevedoring, janitorial service, construction worker, and electrician to support his family – Jorgie thought of becoming a leader at day and stevedoring at night. Albeit, even now he keeps his two jobs as community leader and stevedore; however, his bigger challenge is how to explain his new-found vocation then to his wife and four children.

Hanggang ngayon nagtatrabaho ako bilang istibidor. Ang ginagawa ko noon, mahirap kasi puyat ako sa gabi tapos sa umaga may meetings. Hindi ako maka-focus. Yun Community Organizer pina-follow up ako sa mga proyekto tapos bini-build up ko pa mga ideya ko. Debate sa meetings. Minsan kinakausap ko ang misis ko na liliban muna ako sa trabaho ko dahil dito sa misyon ko kailangan ng sakripisyo. Hanggang sa masanay sya at may challenge ako sa kanya na subukan niya naman magsilbi sa simbahan o sa kahit na ano mang organisasyon para maintindihan niya ako sa ginagawa ko. Sa umpisa, umayaw siya kasi mahirap pagsabayin ang pamilya at pagsisilbi sa simbahan. Sa ngayon, kumakayod pa rin ako para kumita sa pantustos sa pangangailangan ng aking pamilya bilang padre de familia at pagsilbihan ang aking lugar. Kasi kung gaganda ang lugar ng Baseco, gaganda rin ang buhay namin. 

Until now I work as a stevedore. It’s difficult what I do before because I work at graveyard and then attend to meetings in the morning. I can’t get my focus. Sometimes, the Community Organizer would follow me up on certain projects but I am still developing my ideas. There are debates in the meetings. There are times that I would ask permission from my wife to miss my work because in this kind of calling as a leader, there are indeed sacrifices. Until she understood me but before that I even challenged her to serve the church or any organization to experience what I am feeling. At first, she was hesitant because it was hard for her to jive her role in the family at the same time serve the church. Even now, I work hard to provide financially for my family as the head while serving my community as a leader. I deem that if things are made good for Baseco, then our lives will also improve.

After the shanty houses were burned twice in different years by fire, they fought and worked hard for the settlement of displaced informal settlers in Baseco. Now, Jorgie pastes his sweet smiles, inspired to do more for his community and family, upon reaping small victories that pays off from his aspirations to build colorful village in the untitled reclamation site with the help of the community leaders. They negotiated with government officials, welcomed community organizers, and respected social action groups, who became champions in their every fight.  

Iniisip ko yun hinaharap. Minsan naiisip ko na huminto na lang kasi napapagod na rin ako. Pero sino naman yun pwede kong pagsalinan ng aking sinimulan. Nagbi-build up na rin ako ng lider para ipagpatuloy itong pinaglalaban namin. Dati-rati nga walang ilaw, tubig, maayos na kalsada, as in walang basic services noon dito. Pero ngayon maayos na pati cable tv at internet. Parang subdivision na rin dito. Kulang na lang yun sinasabing magbabayad na kami talaga ng land tenure security. Yun na lang ang lunduan ng aming organisasyon. 

I am thinking of the future. Sometimes I want to surrender because I also get tired. I have no person in mind yet to anoint and transfer to him what I started. But I am trying to build-up leaders to continue our fight. Before, we don’t have electricity, water service, and cemented roads, or no basic services at all. But now we have it all including cable tv and internet. We are like a subdivision here now. But what we are lacking is what we call land tenure security. That is what we still aim for in our organization.

There are times in Baseco that during gatherings and dances, it frequently disrupted by drunken brawls or clashes between rival gangs and fraternities. Teenagers live in a disorderly community populated by many bums. There were similarly some negative opinions of physical setting, describing it as unhealthy for young children, with garbage thrown anywhere on the streets and at the sea. Yet, unsightly and inhumane as their landfill island is, they deplore even more its social environment, citing the chaos, violence and dangers they face every single day, as documented by Racelis and Aguirre (2005) then.

Baseco often times is televised for its rampant crimes, illegal kidney trade, and felons. As Cacho (2001) reports, such is the past reputation of Baseco that some taxi drivers still refuse to take fares there, of what might happen to them should they venture into the violent, crime ridden neighborhood. It was a typical ghetto environment common in poor areas in the Metro. To add insult to injury, the compound was a few meters away from the prestigious Manila Hotel (literally at the back) famous for its accommodating tourists and travelers.

That kind of peg is beginning to transform now as two-storey cemented houses, widened roads, parks, talipapa (wet markets), pre-school and primary and secondary school buildings, and churches are mushrooming and plunked in the island. In spite of various legal and illegal trades happening in Baseco, peace and order is also one of the major concerns of Jorgie. He proposes for the creation to ID system to safeguard members of the community, although, the only mechanism for security they gathered in and collated so far is the Barangay District Profile.

Whatever challenges, temptations, vulnerabilities, and uncertainties that Jorgie experiences, his commitment to lead remains adamant and grounded. He gives due respect to the support and monitoring of various NGOs in his acquired leadership skills because they keep on guarding and encouraging him to affect the lives of people in his community. In his mind and heart, he thinks that a genuine leader should have high aspirations for his community and family.  

Ako yun klaseng lider na mataas ang pangarap para sa komunidad at sa pamilya; at isang lider na masasabi kong may commitment. Hindi ko ugali ang mangako ng mangako, pero minsan nararanasan ko yan, Pero higit sa lahat mas gugustuhin ko ang kumilos kaysa sa mangako. Kung napaganda ko man ang lugar ko, masaya na ako sa mga ngiti at pasasalamat. Ang totoong lider ay may puso at takot sa Diyos. 

I am a kind of leader who has high aspirations for my community and family; and a leader who has a commitment. It is not my nature to keep promises, although sometimes I experience that; however, what matters most is to act on my promises than just nail it. If I was able to develop our place, I would appreciate their smiles and thanks. For me, a genuine leader is someone who has a heart and fears God.  

His Capacities to Aspire

According to Appadurai, the capacity to aspire provides an ethical horizon within which more concrete capabilities can be given meaning, substance, and sustainability. Conversely, the exercise and nurture of these capabilities verifies and authorizes the capacity to aspire and moves it away from wishful thinking to thoughtful wishing. Right now, Jorgie together with some other community organizers lobby their advocacy through various channels. They seek audience to local politicians, bureaucrats, national government leaders, corporate sponsors, and international NGOs (INGOs) to support them in their educational and livelihood programs and to their penultimate fight at achieving land tenure security. This ‘survival of the fittest’ strategy is important to them.

In the report of UNESCAP, the People’s Organization (PO) was founded on March 2001, called Kabalikat sa Pagpapaunlad ng Baseco, more known as KABALIKAT. Two months after, President Macapagal-Arroyo called for a meeting with Kabalikat members to visit their area. By the time she visited Baseco in July of the same year, she clarified with Mayor Lito Atienza asking if there are any problems with her proclaiming the land without any legal impediments. The land was not encumbered by titles or leases. It was relatively easy to get the approval of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) that managed the land for the Philippines Estate Authority (PEA) and the PEA itself.

However, leaders remain as most of the informal settlers in Baseco, supporters of former President Joseph Estrada, and suspicious of the woman who unseated their hero. However, in the current administration of President Benigno Aquino Jr, they think that they found new bureaucrats who could help them in their aspirations. Despite the empowering support they receive from various stakeholders, sometimes Jorgie is uncomfortable on how media portrays and projects them to the public.  

Dapat kung media sila, itong konteksto ng kahirapan ngayon ay dapat sila ang nagpapahayag ng mga ideya sa mga manonood na dapat kung ano ang pananaw ng mga mahihirap. Pag-usapan ang mga social services para sa mahihirap. Ang media para sa akin ay bias, minsan magaling sila mag-edit ng interview, market value lang ang pinapalabas nila. Kasi kung walang manonood sa kanila, babagsak ang business nila. 

If they are from the media, they should report poverty in the context that they discuss poverty based from the perspective of the poor. Report social services for the poor. For me, I think the media is bias; they are good in editing interviews, because they only care for the market value. If nobody will watch their [exaggerated] news, then their business will fall.

In his plight as a leader, Jorgie has been inspired by his vocation to lead and aspired for unreachable dreams for his community. Handled by veteran community organizers like Alice Merpi, he opines that there must be a symbiotic relationship of a leader and a community organizer to mentor and help each other; widen their wealth of knowledge and experiences in community organizing, and compare notes with other urban poor communities in some parts of the world through study tours or country visits.

Luckily, he had traveled to Thailand and Indonesia to dialogue with fellow informal settlers. He learned and adopted good programs like Savings Program in Thailand. In there, he realized that savings program is very effective for poor families to loan for their own houses. Because even if they are poor, all of the things they acquire are not for free. They need to pay for their modest houses, electricity, and potable water. Because of this he encouraged women to do micro-financing and their community members to weave hand-made bags creatively formed from wrappers of energy drink bottles and tetra pack juices. They export the beautiful and colorful bags to Europe and were able to deliver best quality bags to various Shoe Mart (SM) malls, one of the largest retailing corporations in the entire Philippines, particularly displayed for sale in Kultura (Culture) souvenir section. The quite expensive recyclable bags are also sold via the internet at and in Baseco’s churches.

He also admired Indonesian urban poor on how they stood up and upheld for their rights and fought for recognition and equality. In his visit to Jakarta, he shared his narratives of Baseco’s major transformations and small victories. Building his confidence as an urban poor leader, there was a time that he had also represented the Philippines at the World Urban Poor in Barcelona Spain, where he spoke before a multitude of informal settlers around the globe in discussing conditions of the urban poor along the Pasig River in Metro Manila.

In his mid-life as a community leader, his view about his mission in life has also become a habit. His voice has become larger, sometimes, linking his principles for the benefit of the entire community. Thus, as Appadurai supports, it is through the exercise of voice that the sinews of aspiration as a cultural capacity are built and strengthened, and conversely, it is through exercising the capacity to aspire that the exercise of voice by the poor will be extended.  

Naniniwala ako sa pananaw ko sa buhay na ang buhay ay parang pamilya rin. Huwag mo ihambing ang iyong sarili sa ibang tao – sila man ay seaman o abogado. Hindi. Ikaw din lamang ang magpapaunlad sa buhay mo, sa mga anak mo, hanggang sa pagtanda mo. Dito naman sa komunidad, huwag ka munang mangarap na uunlad ang Pilipinas, kung di mo nakikitang umuunlad ang barangay mo, na dapat unahing paunlarin. Dapat madisiplina muna ang mga ka-barangay mo. Ituro sa kanila ang mga tamang gawain hanggang sa sila’y matututo at ito’y magsanga-sanga para mapaunlad ang buong Pilipinas. 

I believe in life that our life is like a family. Do not compare yourself to other people – they may be a seaman or a lawyer. No. You can enrich your own self, your children, until you age. In the community, do not aspire for immediate prosperity of the country without enriching the barangay. Fellow community members in the barangay should be disciplined first. Teach them all what is right and this will branch out to the entire Philippines.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Malls & Cultural Consumerism in the Philippines: The Case of SM Mall of Asia

A Class Paper Submitted to Professor Chester B. Cabalza
Professor in Anthropology
University of the Philippines Diliman
Summer 2012


Alver Prince Remolar, Jemaima Anna Javier, Lynell Marie Sta Ines, Mharren Castro, Nikko Ner, Paolo Flores, Regina Sophia Gonzalez, Anthony Brian Cuello, Charlee Myre Mejia, Christina Alexia Castro, Ellaine Rose Tan, Harynd Joshua Pascasio, John Kevin Arcenas, Joselito Arcinas, Joseph Cyrus Santalisis, Mia Galindes, Michelle Robles, Raphael Hernandez, Benedict Martin Caliwara

Copyright © 2012. All Rights Reserved.


The shopping mall has been an edifice of entertainment and leisure, offering a multitude of services and goods from movies to dining to retail. Particularly in the country, specifically in Metro Manila, where there’s almost a mall every fifteen minutes. How does one stand one in the multitude of malls?

Shoe Mart or more commonly known as SM has been answering this challenge. Their most apparent effort is the construction of the Mall of Asia, proudly dubbed as the country’s second largest mall and the fourth largest all over the world.

What does this magnanimity entail? Does its epic difference in size change the experience within the mall? What makes this mall different from the others? Or is it really just the same, only multiplied in volume?
This paper is a compilation of various multidisciplinary analytical views from different essays as written by the members of the class. It aims to evaluate the Mall of Asia not only as a consumer but as an intellectual applying the field of course.

SM Mall of Asia

The SM Mall of Asia Complex is a vast compound of different services and amenities. It all started in the early nineties, when Mr. Henry Sy, Sr., had envisioned building on of the largest malls in Asia. SM Prime and SM Investments Corporation joined to reclaim 100 hectares of land along the Manila Bay. He “envisioned the mall to be more than just a shopping complex. He wanted it to be a premier integrated leisure destination.”[1] In May 21 2006, his vision turned to life as the SM Mall of Asia opened to a welcoming public.
Structures included in this complex are the SM Mall of Asia, One Esplanade, Nido Fortified Science Discovery Center, SMX Convention Center, One E-Com Center, Mall of Asia Arena, and the Concert grounds.

Built on almost four hectares of floor area, the Mall of Asia boasts of 8000 parking slots, 780 shops, 300 dining establishments, and with a total retail floor area of 407, 101 square meters. It is no wonder that it is the second largest mall in the Philippines and the fourth largest in the world. Initially, it had been the largest in the country upon in construction, however due to recent redevelopment of SM City North Edsa in 2008, it has been pushed to second place.

The SM Mall of Asia mall grounds consist of four main buildings: the Main Mall, the Entertainment Mall, and the north and south carpark buildings. Dining and shopping can be found in the Main Mall, whilst the Entertainment Mall is a two-storey complex for well, entertainment. The South Parking building also houses the SM Department Store, while the North Parking building houses the SM Hypermarket. It has been noted that the mall attracts a daily average foot traffic of about 200, 000 people.

The mall boasts of several amenities not usually available to other malls, such as one of the world’s largest IMAX Theater, and the Philippines’ first Olympic-sized ice skating rink. Its transportation station is also exemplary as its design considered all types of public transportation vehicles and the quantity at any given time.


Method in Consumerist Madness: A Look at the Architectural Programming Behind the SM Mall of Asia Shopping Complex

Judging by its façade, the SM Mall of Asia Shopping Complex or “MoA” as it is most commonly known is a juggernaut compared to the malls in the Philippines today. It breaks away from the signature “shoe box” designs of SM malls and goes all out in terms of size and number of shops and restaurants it houses. The mall, after all, is the Philippines’ largest and the world’s third largest.
While going on a less boxy design approach in presenting its retail stores, MoA ups the ante on laying them all out to provide the newcomer with a cohesive idea of the space. On a macro level it attempts on orchestrating order by dividing the mall into four different sectors namely: the Main Mall, the North Wing, the South Wing, and the Entertainment Mall. The Main Mall is strategically located in the center of the complex. It is, in the researcher’s observation, a blown-up version of a typical SM mall sans the boxy layout and with more public spaces. It contains regular SM mainstays, almost institutions in an SM mall, National Bookstore, The French Baker, Ace Hardware, Watsons, and the SM Food Court. The Main Mall serves as the activity hub tying the whole complex together. Aside from a variety of retail shops and restaurants, the Main Mall also houses an ice skating rink and large multipurpose halls to accommodate typical mall events. It is where all foot traffic in the premises converges. The South Wing is mainly occupied by the SM Department Store with restaurants and service shops lining its perimeter. It is connected to the Main Mall through bridges and a sort of arcade walk at the first floor for providing users with a long stretch of restaurants to choose from. The North Wing is somewhat unique in its offering of office space for a call center company at its second floor and the SM Hypermart on the first floor. It serves as a sort of an IT hub for the mall with its clusters of technology related stores. Just the same with the South Wing, the North Wing is also connected to the Main Mall via bridges and the same type of arcade walk for the restaurants. Lastly, the Entertainment Mall stays true to its namesake by housing the cinemas and an enormous music hall for concert type events.
Judging by the mall’s store layout, it is not hard to lose your way around it. Although it divided itself into four parts, each part somehow is identical to the others. It is interesting to note that all four sectors house a mixture of retail and restaurant establishments. The North and South Wings are actually almost identical in its presentation and layout that it is easy to get disoriented and to mistake one for the other. Add to the problem of similarity the issue of a sprawling size and you have yourself a labyrinth full of people spending more time ambling along the paths than actually getting any shopping done. This is attested to by most interviewees who confessed of getting lost in the mall a number of times in their first few visits.
Another interesting thing with the store layouts is SM’s way of clustering together stores with similar offerings. To illustrate, a Penshoppe, Bench, Oxygen, and other types of clothing retail stores are clustered together in the Main Mall. Aside from this type of clustering, the mall also seems to follow a hierarchal pattern in placing stores. To illustrate again, one can find brands such as ZARA, Kenneth Cole Reaction, Marks & Spencer, Lacoste, etc. on the second floor and Penshoppe, Bench, Oxygen, etc. directly below it. It seems to convey a socially stratified way of organizing spaces with stores that cater to the A-B classes located above the stores catering to the C-D-E classes. The seating and general rest areas provided for the second floor with the most high end shops are typically fewer than those on the first floor. This suggests that the foot traffic in the lower floor is greater and thus warrants more rest areas than the one above. It also dissuades people on the second floor to linger and loiter around these high end shops.
In conclusion, it can be inferred that the one who did the layout design of MoA clearly endeavors for the user to be lost and to wander aimlessly around the mall in the hopes of exposing him/her to the most storefronts and therefore be a potential buyer. The clustering of stores may seem to be more chaotic than organized despite the attempts at grouping them in terms of the products and/or services they offer. The sheer size of the mall somehow defeats this purpose. To this end, the mall intends to be chaotic with the ulterior motive of getting the mall visitor to part with his/her cash. 

Wayfinding at the Mall of Asia

Constructed on reclaimed land in Manila Bay and occupying a grand total of 407,000 square meters, SM Mall of Asia (MOA) is popular for being the country’s second largest shopping mall, next to SM North EDSA. The whole complex (which, according to its website, is almost one kilometer in length, and has a perimeter of nearly two kilometers) consists of four main buildings – the Main Mall, the Entertainment Mall, the North parking and the South Parking, respectively – all of which are interconnected by open-air walkways. With its floor area of approximately four hectares, one can only imagine the amount of foot traffic MOA experiences everyday.

Wayfinding is defined by Kevin Lynch as “a consistent use and organization of definite sensory cues from the external environment.” This is crucial for large projects, since the way users perceive the establishment could be how they see it for a long period of time. First impression lasts, indeed; and some of the determining factors would be based on accessibility of the entrances/exits and the walkability of the entire place. MOA is pedestrian-friendly, for it was designed as such – with its paved roads surrounding the whole complex, its numerous walkways, and air-conditioned yet well-lighted main buildings. Entrances and exits are also placed at strategic places, with the preceding wide open spaces and signs clearly indicating their locations. However, the mall’s sheer size is significantly over the maximum walkable distance – a fact which its designers and administration appeared to have considered, because of the provision of seating areas and the offer of a tram shuttle service.

Orientation, however, is a different matter. Navigating through a mall of such size is a daunting task, because aside from its overly large building scale, MOA’s layout is carefully planned out so that almost every usable space is utilized for business and commercial purposes. Thus, it is to be expected that a significant portion of malling time would be spent solely on navigating and walking from one point to another. Some of the students from Sir Cabalza’s class (including myself) had a difficult time finding the meeting place, although it was not their first time inside the complex. The brightly colored store fronts do not seem to help much, what with their similar looking glass facades, and the fact that the colors repeat at regular intervals. Skylights and center islands (complete with foliage and sculptures) are provided where there are large spaces; however, since they are common features of the mall interiors, they also help little with the public’s orientation.

But the architect and the management attempted to compensate for the said problems by means of the following: (1) the use of signs with large bold fonts, which are located almost anywhere that is convenient to the human eye – suspended overhead, on large posts, etc.; (2) the strategic location of entrances and exits – they are placed at a walkable distance from the designated loading/unloading area, and along the walkways; (3) the provision of landmarks such as the ice skating rink and the music hall, which both serve as convenient meeting places and popular places to hang out; (4) the placement of huge mall directories detailing the names, store numbers and locations of all the shops at the entrances, with an assigned female mall employee to assist those who have questions regarding the mall layout; and (5) the presence of numerous mall employees – ranging from maintenance personnel to security guards.

To their credit, the aforementioned methods seem to work fairly well.

Language in Architecture: 'A Semiotic Analysis of Sm Mall of Asia'

We defined architecture as an art; and like all art, it communicates. How and what it communicates varies from every work of architecture and can be interpreted through the use of semiotics – the science of symbols. Thus, an architect must develop the skill of incorporating signs and symbols in his design, and he cannot achieve that unless he first understands well how to interpret these significations in other works of architecture. The intention of symbols is very significant for it greatly enhances the overall design of the building in such a way that it opposes monotony and typicality, and this is where art, creativity and symbolism come in. As designers, to design is to be creative, to incorporate value into our works, and most importantly to make the building a place. Jonathan Hale fascinatingly elaborates:

“I think we have become overly accustomed to the idea that if art is to have any value, it should have the quality of murder. You must kill the routine, kill the expectation. You must kill the normal.”

A good study of this includes a good example, and among others, that would be the city's center - the mall. Here, I looked at considerably one of the top malls here in the Philippines, the SM Mall of Asia, also known as MoA. Without a doubt, there are a lot of signs scattered all over the place, but all of these convey only a single meaning. The SM Mall of Asia, aside from the malls' passive meaning of the modern town plaza (in MoA's case - a place to gather, shop, and even go to church), it also takes pride in its grandiosity and hugeness. The name 'Mall of Asia' itself already tells you its desire to compete with other malls in Asia and in the whole world. Knowing the history of SM Supermalls and its owner Mr. Henry Sy – a business tycoon and one of the richest men in the Philippines, we can say that the erection of MoA served to be the mark or the turning point of malls in the country. Thus, the crystal-clear message was sent to all of us – MoA is now (if not the top) one of the top malls in the country, and it is reflected on how the mall was designed and built.

SM Supermalls so far are consistent with their undying motto, “We got it all for you.”, but this time, they really mean it. The design for MoA was meant to surpass the previously built SM Supermalls and even any other mall in the Philippines. Most SM Supermalls were designed all most the same way that it’s obvious many of them resemble other. They all have the central organization design which is applied to all floors so that it is stacked on one another. The layout is generally the same too, with the supermarket on the ground floor, the department store above it, the movie house on the topmost floor, and all the other shops lined in that straight corridor. And of course, how could we not forget every SM Supermall’s light-colored interiors, plain-looking exteriors and the humongous blue-and-white SM logo on its façade? Typically, this was the normal design of SM Supermalls until SM Mall of Asia came to life. It has fulfilled and far exceeded the expectations people, surpassed the commonalities of the series of SM Supermalls, and breaking apart the typical Filipino mall shopping.

Through experience within the building, I learned that the SM Mall of Asia, as they call it, is a ‘mall of firsts’, simply because it has a lot of features that came into Philippines for the first time. It is the first one to have the overlooking view of the Manila Bay, where people can walk, sit, eat, and ride the 20-seater tram or the ferry cruise while watching its famous sunset. It has the first Olympic-size ice skating rink and the first ever I-MAX 3D movie theatre. It has hundreds of shops and restaurants to choose from. With these, MoA has not just ‘got it all’ for us, it even has more than what we ask for. Furthermore, these perfectly complement the business intent of the mall as it provides people with such attractions more than just buying goods.

The mall was indeed well-placed. Located at the end of EDSA, beside the Manila Bay, and near the NAIA, both the city people and foreigners have an easy access to it. Acting more like a tourist spot than just a mall, not only does it keep the income coming but displays itself to the whole world.  What’s more, the architecture of MoA is rather an interesting one. Its modern architectural design is said to be modeled after a ship, signifying its affinity with the body of water beside it. The mall is divided into four main parts: the main mall at the front for shops and leisure, the entertainment mall for more shops, movie-going and events, and the north park and south park building for the SM Department Store and Hypermarket respectively. This deviates from the standard design of previously built SM Supermalls. The exterior did not need to be plain and dull anymore; as it does not have to keep the people inside since the mall is present in both inside and outside.  Additionally, there is the bay-walk, the esplanade, and the 5,000-capacity parking lot on its outside. At the entrance, there is the MoA’s gigantic globe-like figure, acting as the mall’s trademark and symbolizing its pride and competency in the mall industry around the world.    

The semiotic intent that was embedded in the mall is to tell people that MoA is not your typical mall, that there is such thing as grandiosity in an Asian country like the Philippines and that it can pass the international standards of urban mall industry. It is a complete success in providing people almost everything that a mall can offer, even providing what other previously malls did not. Thus, its message is to showcase itself to be a new mall that can top other malls in the country and compete with the world’s best. Through semiotics and the way it was architecturally designed makes us indeed understand that message very well.

The meanings found in architectural works are surprisingly important for man to live in harmony with his space. It is simply language communicated through a different medium, in this case, art and architecture. Through the science of semiotics, another way to understanding man and his behavior is provided. After all, cultures from different eras in (pre)history were mostly learned and understood through the work of man himself. How we interpret the environment around us and how we understand these meanings shapes our understanding of truth and of ourselves.


SM Mall of Asia, like the rest of the SMs in Metro Manila is an imposing structure that looks nothing like the rest of the buildings in its vicinity. The SM malls were usually named after the places where they were built. North EDSA, Bacoor, Quiapo, and the rest of the innumerable SM malls are often just air-conditioned boxes with retailers inside and the placeless quality of their aesthetic is forgivable because these affixes to the SM brand are just there to tell customers where that specific mall is. Now, naming anything to be of a place implies a sense of belonging to that place and in the case of SM Mall of Asia it has to be asked if the Mall of Asia, beyond the marketing speak, feels of this belonging to Asia. If there was no intent to make Mall of Asia iconic in a cultural perspective, it could have simply been named SM Pasay or SM Manila Bay to follow previous SM malls.

The first unique feature that one would likely notice is the rather different silhouette that the Mall of Asia cuts in the skyline. Regardless of the perforated aluminum embellishments that have been attached to SM Megamall or the tensile fabric tents and sky garden of SM North EDSA, the SM silhouette is generally a rectangle lying on its long side. This is not the case with Mall of Asia. Whether the approach is done by bus, jeep, or car, one would easily spot the slopes of the parapets and the three towering cylinders. It does not evoke any cultural associations and that is understandable because SMs are primarily commercial establishments and a distinct regional recall is not usually a high level concern for businesses such as this. Interestingly there is a large LED-lit steel globe named the Globamaze (Philippine Star, 2009) at the main rotunda in the front of the mall complex; perhaps the intent really is not to be regional but be international -- and the absence of a cultural image recall is in this case a good point for SM.

Moving closer towards and into the mall, the materials that make up the mall come into focus. In architecture, materials are important in placing a piece of architecture in a region. For example, the stonework in houses in Vigan would tell a visitor that one is in Vigan; the mother-of-pearl windows in Capiz would speak of being in Capiz; this is because of the association that materials and craftsmanship  have with the spirit of a place. The materials that make up the Mall of Asia interiors and exteriors are mostly concrete, steel, and cladding. These materials are inherently placeless because of their neutrality and industrial manufacture. Again, the inclination towards an international design is shown in these design choices.

Now, the international leanings are maintained through other design choices that are fairly necessary in a typical mall. There is a strong air-conditioning system which aids in the separation of the customers from the outside world. There are few windows save for the skylights which are not advisable in a tropical country because of the scorching sun and the heavy rain that may cause leaks -- the lack of windows being another mall design staple to remove the concerns of the outside world and focus the customers' attentions on the hundreds of retail outlets.

What is apparent in the design is that SM Mall of Asia is not really an architecture that is uniquely Asian, or even Filipino, but rather an SM that is distinct from the rest of the SMs. However, considering the design limitations in making a successful mall and the desire to create an international feel, it would be fair to say that SM Mall of Asia is unique enough to justify its grandiose name. Despite the idealist notion that places should speak of their locales, the reality is that SM is a business and its architectural design model has worked to forward its aims and has undeniably succeeded repeatedly.

On the Environmental Impacts of SM Mall of Asia

With all the fast-paced developments around us today, there exists a kind of social revolution that calls for a concrete response in saving ourselves from our own impacts to the environment. For architecture alone, such call is a pressing issue as 40% of all the environmental damage can be traced back to the booming construction industry. The concrete jungle of central business districts, and commercial complexes, shopping malls and the like stand as unfaltering evidences of both technological advancement and humanity’s increasing ecological footprint. For that, sustainability efforts in architecture, engineering, and planning arise and are being constantly pushed for to alleviate the dire condition of Mother Earth.

In this light, how can a carefully planned establishment as the Philippines’ largest and world’s third largest mall, the SM Mall of Asia has contributed to the built environment’s condition, implies an initiation of several perspectives towards ecologically responsive design.

Close to two million bags of cement used to build it and 44,000 gallons of paint consumed, it also has 1.9 million floor tiles installed in it – so described, the SM Mall of Asia has a lot more ecological impact than that related to its constructional composition. Its mechanical system is perceivably of centralized mechanical ventilation such that with its kilometric scale, environmental effects are just as much complicated.  Though the design have elements of walk-able landscapes encouraging courtyard passive cooling and natural lighting, the entire development sits on a coastal land area reclaimed whose preceding environments have been  altered drastically for capitalistic potentials. Huge developments similar to this case nowadays are expected to have sustainability initiatives. Some even apply for accreditation from LEED, BERDE, and similar distinctions that practice energy-efficiency methods even at the onset of construction.  For SM MoA, building construction follows conventional-contemporary framework that are not practically at par with the rising crusade.

However, the SM group or chain of malls takes pride of public-known awards like the PCCI Excellence in Economy and Ecology Award in 2009. This particular distinction credits their outstanding efforts in waste management, water conservation, and air quality efficiency among others.

But what are they there for if the truest essence of ecologically-responsive design is not directly felt? SM MoA may be well-maintained but just the fact that the facility operates posing a huge impact to the environment is a critical consideration for the future’s welfare. On a lower scale even, the strolling grounds have little or no trash cans to be used, so some wastes people accumulate welcome you besides the mall’s iconic globe.

It is not only about the future effect of the mall as a melting pot of Filipino culture in the environmental crusade, but the reflection of what people patronize amidst a pressing issue of their generation. It is not only about looking good, but feeling good, and knowing that what one enjoys, as a cultural commercial hub can be guilt free from the larger picture that is, the worsening state of Mother Earth.

Beyond All the Noise: Refining Sensibilities in Public Architecture

It is quite difficult pinpointing the purpose and potential of architecture beyond aesthetics to a majority. More often than not, an architecture student in the Philippines will encounter questions such as, “In what style (of architecture) do you do?” “What do you there, (just) draw?” and other questions go on. These are forgivable in relation to the context or circumstance from which they are asked from. Communicating sensibilities and the derived preferences to one’s surroundings cannot be particularly expected from most of a still-progressing country. A bountiful number are happy simply having a house and lot to live in. But what of those who have the power to manipulate the surroundings of a place, particularly the Metro? Did they perhaps consider the possibilities of the different roles architecture does play in our society?

This piece would like to answer such a question by placing a magnifying glass above the overwhelming grounds of SM Mall of Asia – zooming into, particularly, its concert grounds and the venue called “centerstage” in which international corporate functions may be held. Such would particularly be a curious case due to its scale, its market, and the fact that such places would be catering to the world-known interest characteristic to Filipinos: the art of performing or music in general. How would the venue which offers the largest capacity in terms of market for such events look like? How would the people of the creators of the karaoke determine its space?

SM Mall of Asia is owned by SM Prime Holdings. It is located at the very southern end of C-4 or Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue. Such a position in the city enables permeability as it is reachable by all types of transportation available in the metro – the MRT, buses, jeepneys, and vehicles. Its area is meant to cater to greater than the typical two kilometer radius planned cachment market for commercial areas, especially with its size and people carrier capacity taken into consideration. Its conception had been done with the vision of creating the largest mall in Asia; however, it now presently is known to be the second largest within the Philippines. Strangely, it has been dwarfed by the final product of SM North Edsa located in Quezon City. SM Prime Holdings boasts to “have it all for you” and indeed in a crazily hastened pace with the simultaneous planning and erection of a multitude of other projects. Due to its scale and footprint on a myriad of cities, its presence is a formidable and influential force. Its characteristic box-like image or façade may possibly become the visual definition of a mall for those unexposed to other forms of commercial areas of such a scale.

As a form of public architecture, it carries with it the potential to influence Filipino culture and thinking. Hellman words the relevance in architecture finding reason for it specifically as it is a form of art when he said, “architecture, being art, communicates… and like art, it can be disturbing, inspiring, alienating, transcending… depending on the goals, conscious or unconscious, of the people who instigate and design it.” Such does undermine a political perspective into its conceptualization; this was especially used by those in power or those who craved it. Adolf Hitler saw this possibly function of architecture as he claims it to be “stone documents… an expression of power of the nation.”

Every single physical element of architecture has a corresponding anthropomorphic meaning to those exposed to it. It would be easier for architects, as De Botton mentions in his work, Architecture of Happiness, to have a certain guide which gives forms to its corresponding meanings or intentions that it can render to those it serves. Alas, the diversity of the context from which the character and thinking of people are formed, is an indomitable force that cannot be reckoned with. Of course, there are other considerations in the interpretation and analysis of physical and visual elements which also goes against such an invention. Such leaves architects to rely on the lasting impression their structures may have on its people, that is, if they were to use architecture as a symbol of intention, an artwork that is capable of speaking, eliciting reaction and influence on people.

The experience of architecture and what potential it has in manifesting a certain ideal will rely on the elements which create an impression on a lay person. Here, a lay person shall be the term used for those who are not sensitive to architecture or the power of semiotics in its design. The venue known as CenterStage and the SM MOA concert grounds will be considered as these cater to interesting participants: audience capacity of 70,000 as the highest number recorded for the concert grounds, with 995 accomodation for CenterStage. It is a recommended location thus for international guests and artists. For those attending events in these areas, architecture does not seem particularly at a focus here wherein it can be used as a means of reinforcing identity or an idea. The elements of architecture taken into consideration here, are those which have left obvious impressions on guests such as the stage, the lighting display, the performance of its sound system, accessibility as well as the area in which the guest would be seated or standing by.

The experiences which I have gained in these areas had been in attendance of the David Cook, David Archuleta and the Black Eyed Peas concert held at the outdoor grounds and the Green Global Concepts, an international symposium hosted by Archinet and the University of Santo Tomas last 2011.

Concerts and pedagogical areas are venues in which inspiration, as well as a sharing of interest takes place. Indeed, both venues did serve its function in accommodating a plentitude. But if one were to think towards the details of the experience for the concert grounds, all would particularly agree how different and relevant seating matters when attending concerts. Its capacity of 70,000 strong hold located on the SMX side is too much, as it divides the spaces so far back linearly away from stage.

Despite the presence of two wide-screen, approximately 9 meter high and 12 meter wide screens on either side of the stage set-up, those end up seating on the silver set-up area can barely see a thing (with the following scale which follows large-amount  to lower-amount corresponding to the nearness to the stage: VIP A&B, Gold, Silver, Bronze). Grounds are located in areas with sidewalks, trees, and different levels of grounding making it very difficult for ease and safety of passage especially within a crowd. Having VIP passes do not ensure seating (on monobloc chairs), depending on the type of concert. Albeit, that the area is more level and safe, as it is on a grassy plain. No other shelter is provided in case of the absence of clear skies. According to announcements made for other concerts, if in case the weather is rainy, the entire venue will have to be transferred to the SMX Convention Center on its side.

Lights and sounds vary depending upon the concert, but access to the grounds are always located on the side closest to the SMX area for convenience of those travelling from the road and the mall. On the other side of the grounds does lie the bay area where there are two fountains and some landscaping that may be enjoyed if one decides to go earlier in the afternoon the area before attending the concerts which are usually scheduled in the evening. Though these are elements incomparable to the sculptural and sensual titanium façade of the Walt Disney Concert Hall or perhaps the light show evidently emanating from the LA Staple Center even from afar – all mentioned elements which have been recorded in passing memory are key factors in manipulating experience.  As public architecture, these possess a greater potential in encompassing ideas, reinforcing concepts and experiences. If one were to meet one’s idol in the music world, would it be wonderful to remember doing so tiptoe-ing and stepping on another foot while clinging onto the side of a fence? It is as well, commonplace that in concerts planned in Manila whether in this location or in the Araneta Coliseum, the guests can wait up to an hour or more before the awaited artist makes the grand entrance. Was this perhaps taken into consideration in its design?

Public architecture, particularly in the form of venues which cater to entertainment or of places which house the interests of the people, can speak so much. The blaring and visually liquid impression which Broadway at New York leaves the impression of the glitz, glamour and the reverberating statement “You have arrived”, likewise to how some may find profound sense of resilience, determination and perseverance in the creeping ivy in one’s backyard wall or on the facades of an ivy league school. These can also serve as political and economical solutions as likewise the past generation has observed the “Bilbao Effect” caused by the Bilbao Guggenheim created by Gehry for its city image. SM Mall of Asia’s size obviously draws attention, and boasts of its amenities. But are these worth being so proud of when it comes to its concert grounds and international conference area? These cannot possibly considered innovative or in any way leading towards discovering new experiences for these activities in contrary to the SM Prime Holdings vision.

What we see or are exposed to is not the end all of how things can be. Architecture serves as a visual record of culture. Despite the very dynamic forms in which our Filipino culture evolves into, the sensibility of a Filipino lay person and architect can sometimes be lacking. This as well speaks of one’s open-mindedness and imagination. SM Mall of Asia will be opening its SM Mall of Asia Arena wherein Lady Gaga will grace its halls for its first due performance this May 2012. Would it be a better version of what SM Prime Holdings as currently offered avid music-lovers and academicians? We shall find out.

Malls and the Culture of Malling in the Philippines

The typical meaning of a mall for people is a building that contains a complex of shops that represents merchandisers, with interconnecting pathways to enable the visitors to walk from one unit to another and a parking lot for the customers who will ride their cars to reach the mall. Different stores every floor, a lot of restaurants to choose from where the people may eat and a lot of stores to buy clothes from. Malls also include stores where you can buy school materials, furniture, electronics, foods and grooming products at the supermarket and many more which the stores near your place does not have.

407,000 square-meters. The Philippines’ largest and world’s third largest mall. This is the SM Mall of Asia or MOA as we Filipinos call it. From regular SM Super Malls to SM Mega Mall to SM Mall of Asia, it’s sort of ironic that a third world country like the Philippines holds one of the world’s largest malls and probably the most enthusiastic mallers in the world. We are a developing country yet we have more shopping centers than of those highly developed ones. Glorietta and Ayala Malls caters the upper class and SM caters the middle and lower classes. As Conde (2009) describes the Philippines being a “mall nation” he says, “Malls serve as cultural centers in a nation where many live on less than $2 a day.”             

Malls to the Filipinos are like museums to the Europeans. Filipinos are more fascinated rather addicted to “malling” rather than visiting museums and rediscovering their histories. Filipinos are able to isolate themselves from the opposite realities of society the mall presents. The mall became a social status and at present, in what mall you are shopping in, ranks your social status. Maybe that brings the so-called “malling experience”

Malls in the Philippines these days are no longer for shopping primarily. We asked the people why they were in moa that day and the answers we got were to: “Gala”, spend time with family, to “Pasyal-Pasyal” and “Palamig”, to eat, to bond with friends and date. It’s a place for leisure and entertainment. Or for some people, the tropical climate of our country with the heat magnified by the summer season leaves some of us with no choice to run to these malls. The mall simply provides them a venue to bond and be with each other. Having malls of this size also seem very practical to us. Just go to the mall and everything is walking distance and within our reach. In fact, the first thing most students think of when planning a gimmick is “Saang mall tayo?”

Malls have also been a tool in showcasing Filipino traditional cultures since when there are special occasions in some provincial malls like their festivals; the malls also participate in it by decorating themes that are related to the festivity of the locality where the mall is situated. For example, in SM Baguio, during Panagbenga, there are many decorations inside the mall showcasing major themes in the festival like flowers, strawberries, etc. “Kultura,” one of the boutiques in SM Mall of Asia and other SM malls also showcase some of the traditions of the Filipinos by selling t-shirts, mugs, decorations having some traditional picture or themes printed or engraved in it.

MOA has this different structure which, as we observe it, affects the behavior of people differently compared to the typical malls in the metro. For example, in between its buildings, Mall of Asia has these open spaces where people can chill out while having snack. In a typical mall, the places to rest were the food court, the restroom, or the vacant seats in the department store where shoe buyers would be seated. Maybe it has been anticipated that since the place is large, there must be a place where people could rest after a tiring day of walking. Convenience is brought to the people.

This mall is also a melting pot of people from different levels of society. It’s a place where the rich and not-so-rich share common ground. You may get lost in the huge space but you won’t feel out of place. For SM Mall of Asia, there are those international stores that offer international brands of clothing, jewelries and other luxury items that only those who are part of the high-class customers can afford. One example here are the coffee shops, Coffee shops became mainstream places to pass idle time for our generation and most people in my age bracket would have at least one coffee shop experience. The prices of coffee shop products are not for the general population and that serves as one of the criteria that reserved these food establishments only for those who have the money to spend. Another example, although it doesn’t just cater high class people but also those who are in the middle, In the ice cream parlor, which I judged to be western inspired, the customers were more often foreigners than Filipinos. It can be construed in this particular type of food establishment that it caters more to the westerners mainly because it is their brand and they have a particular taste for their food, how it is prepared and the general culture in which food is served and consumed inside that particular restaurant. The foreigners might have felt a certain affinity for the place, because even the interior design of the restaurant was rodeo/Wild Wild West themed. And also some Filipino cuisine restaurant where most of the time a large Filipino family, the extended one, so it may be composed of six to ten members per table, are the customers. It is very common in these occasions for the restaurants to adjust their tables to accommodate the large group.

But there are also local stores that cater to middle-class customers with reasonably priced items. Like fast food chains, in the fast food restaurant, the customers were of a wider range. The restaurant was full, especially at the particular time when we observed—lunchtime. Customers from different walks of life come and go in the fast food restaurant. There were families, groups, couples and those who are alone. There were Filipinos and foreigners. There were elderly people and youngsters.  Fast food restaurants are for general patronage. They were designed to cater to everybody, there’s always something that a fast food restaurant that would please a certain customer.

In some cases that we believe there is, people spend their time in non-sense window shopping, pretending to be of higher class rather than finding jobs. “Yumayaman lalo ang mga mayayaman at naghihirap ng tuluyan ang mga mahihirap ng dahil sa pangangarap.”

Always spending time in this type of environment may also foster feelings of discontent. Certainly an intent in the malls that advertise “mall walks” is that in browsing past the storefronts a desire will rouse to want something or more bluntly create a discontent for that which you already have. Moreover, it feeds our compulsion. As sociologist Maria Rowena SA Briones stated, “The mall slogan 'We’ve got it all for you',” which the SM mall chain uses, “gives the impression that when you go to a mall, everything is easy and fanciful. (Conde 2009)                

On a bigger scale, SM Mall of Asia revolves around some principles of these struggles for power through capitalism, competition, and neo-colonialism by the force of globalization.

It is like a small society that is structured as a building – the mall owner (Henry Sy) being the top of the hierarchical political structure of the mall society and the customers being the people and the different boutiques/shops being the departments of the mall bureaucracy. There are the policemen that focuses on the mall security, there are also places for baby-sitting, breastfeeding for mothers, sight-seeings, etc. It is like the concept of the Panopticon for almost all of the places in the mall have CCTV cameras that records and watches every actions of its customers.

The economic importance of malls is obvious. It is evident that SM Mall of Asia and other malls employ hundreds of Filipinos (its salesmen and salesladies, cargomen, janitors, etc). On the other hand, It is an apparent ideology that SM Mall of Asia or any of SM Corporations’ branches pursues Capitalism. The latest controversy that went viral on the news was the clearing down of 182 Baguio Pine trees. He eyed on 182 Pine Trees to be turned into a parking lot extending SM Baguio. The society demands for the proper discretionary measure which was to leave the Pine trees still deeply rooted. The market of SM Baguio encouraged innovation in the form of new products and better production process.

Giant food chains versus weakling food chains, branded apparels over locally made shirts, and Jeepneys over buses or even co-jeepneys for commuters. Competition is present on the four corners of the mall. This competition aims for greater pull of customers or purchasers using different marketization techniques. The Philippines practices a free market society wherein government intervention is limited only to some tax, waste, and other regulations based on Constitutional laws. As we (the class) roamed around the mall, stores or retail outlets are mostly franchises from abroad or caters to the mid-to-high class of the society. The concept of neo-colonialism and globalization enters the scene. Globalization affects our preferences and choices in life. Market of globalization has entered the arena because of the goal to promote healthy competition for the benefit of accumulating wealth. But industries that are weak namely our local products are being thrashed aside by the imported products which caused a rapid decline of our nation's industry.

With today’s dynamic changes brought about by these innovations it also somehow serves as a catalyst for the people to be driven to a strongly materialistic lifestyle.

Walking around the Mall of Asia one can’t help but think that every mall is indeed not just another establishment with fancy stores selling fancy stuff and all that but every mall is to be considered as the modern cathedrals of consumerism. In contrary to what people of the past do whenever problems arise or whenever depressing situations come up, people of our modern time tend to substitute churches with malls, prayers with shopping, and deities with aesthetic superficial images of perfection. In times of depression or solitude, people are urged to shop. In times of contentment and pleasure, they are urged to go celebrate and be the big consumers as they are. For many years this has been how people cope up with life, by shopping. Like the traditional notion of religion, everyone is free to choose anything he/she wanted and after achieving self-fulfillment, like a old TV set, discards it.

Because of consumerism, the idea of “holy” and “sacred” for consumers are the brands of items that they own. In Sigmund Freud’s book The Future of an Illusion, he considers religion as a defense mechanism for everyday life. It becomes a defense mechanism for the consumers to shop and shop so they will be able to avoid and forget their loneliness and life’s frustrations. In other’s defense, they consider shopping as something that it therapeutic or something that calms their moods and soothes their nerves but in some cases due to the intense desire of entirely abandoning the reality that is life some consumers get lost and turn into shopaholics.

Malls are structures of illusions. They provide people with uncertain present see, feel, hear and experience the grand and successful future. We see malls as structures of advancement and success. A great example of this idea of escapism is what consumers get in aesthetic cinema that depicts the picturesque world of the alternative.  It’s like an escape for the consumers from their hard lives to see these actors in their perfect world, with their perfect lines, and their perfect lives. In this case, Ludwig Feuerbach’s idea of how people perceive their gods to be their “perfect projection” is the same as to how the consumers or the movie goers feel about the actors in the movie. Consumerism is now the modern religion and the market as the God.

In conclusion, we have observed five factors present in the culture of malling, namely: leisure, escapism, social interaction, social status and of course capitalism. As stated above, one of the most sought after when going to a mall is the leisure, whatever pleasure or entertainment it gives to the person. Malls have become the “parks” of our generation. It has been a source of escape to some people who for a moment wanted to forget what has been happening in reality. Some people might call this distressing, treating yourself for a nice movie or other things you find distressing.

On social interaction, it is possible that “MOA” as a term is associated with convenience, experience, and family. This is how people defined MOA all over the years, and such consciousness has been echoed through social media or by word of mouth. When you hear the term MOA, you might associate different properties that would give you a definition of the term. The definition, however, is dynamic and is relative to our experience with the term.

Another thing, using Sikolohiyang Pilipino as a perspective, one of the core theories lies on the notion of kapwa as the central value inherent to all Filipino people. As defined, kapwa is the shared identity of self & other, the notion that a part of your identity relies on what is not you – that is, what others are. This is regarded as the core value of SP on the basis that it serves as a guide for Filipinos to base their social interactions and cognitive processes on.

First, it seems that social interaction between strangers arises when such an interaction could benefit one party. Taking one side’s point of view, there was benefit obtained from asking someone directions (one would know where to go next). For the other party, he/she would have something to gain from another person moving out of their way as he/she takes a picture (or rather, they would not have to take the picture again in the event that the passing party was caught in the picture as well).

Second, it seems that such interactions are very limited in time and duration. Actually talking to a stranger, on average, took only less than ten seconds to finish. An exception to this would be cases wherein the one person was asking for directions from another person, which usually took longer.

Malls have also become a status symbol, it maybe subtle because technically anyone could go there. But there are establishments that are specifically for the rich, especially when we pertain to prices of goods, whatever goods there are. Most of the time, one look at the tag price and your off the store, if you know you can’t afford it. This is true for almost everything like restaurants, apparel stores, etc. but the most obvious one of them all is the skating rink. Most of the people, skating in the ice were obviously rich kids and some adults, and not to mention the price of that commodified experience.

Of course these are all visible observations what could really be seen, and what they want us to see. As social science student, we also see what they don’t want us to see, that behind these perfect and fascinating structures, capitalism prevails. The market principles of SM Corporation reflect their focus on profit-maximization and self-interest. Because of the capitalist behavior of those of managing SM, and their greed for a larger income, protests and boycotts are done by people; militant groups have criticized them for their unfair labor practices, encouraging excessive consumerism, catering mostly to the affluent, harming the poor by enticing them with things they can’t afford.

Nonetheless, there is nothing inherently wrong with malling. We all need to buy some stuff from time to time but what is wrong with what is happening to our society today is that we buy much more than what we need. We let consumerism take over us. Let us not forget that we are not the only people in this world and not all of us, enjoy the things that we enjoy, even on the basic things such as food. It is bad for us, for the environment, for the next generation, for everyone and for everything. It makes the world go around money and material things and that is never the point of existence. 

SM MOA and its Effect on SME's and other Surrounding Businesses in the Surrounding

SM Mall of Asia (MoA) has been around for 6 or so years. Dubbed as the largest shopping establishment in the Philippines, Asia even, and third in the world when it was completed, it has become a site for almost any kind of activity: shopping, dining, family and individual fun and entertainment. Housing over at least 1000 shops and sites and continually changing, ranging from everything anyone needs, SM MoA proudly boasts that they truly “Got it all for you.” But with everything here, what about existing establishments in the area?

MoA stands at the southern tip of EDSA and parallel to both Roxas Boulevard and Taft Avenue. These are the sites of some once major sites in the Philippines: Cubao, Quiapo, Baclaran, The National Museum, PICC, CCP, the World Trade Center, and Phil Trade Center, to say a few. These landmarks house few of the Philippines’ greatest and historic artifacts and some of the cheapest bargains inside the metro. Sadly, the local market for these sites have drastically decreased since the gates of the MoA complex opened. We now often hear schools arranging field trips to MoA and the kids just loving the idea. Has the mall replaced our national treasures?

To cite a few, the National Museum and Museong Pambata are now rarely seen in itineraries of students. MoA’s Nido Fortified Science Discovery Center and of course other modern day science museums are slowly replacing the home of our national heritages, Spolarium and the Manunggul Jar among other national heritages. The history of our nation is now slowly being forgotten and replaced my modern science in which only few of our own Filipino inventors are recognized.

MoA’s IMAX Theater and its other cinemas, like in other malls in our country, have almost already killed the small movie theatres in the manila area. The mall’s Hypermarket also have seen the downfall of some wet markets and some smalltime supermarkets in the metro though this has not yet been fully seen in Baclaran and Quiapo, Manila’s discount capitals. Good for them, though with the rise of sales and discount stores inside the mall, selling originals not knockoffs, some people now tend to go to these stores rather than risk being pick-pocketed or snatched.

Other areas that have been affected are the World Trade and Phil Trade Centers, and PICC. With the rise of MoA’s SMX, the three have seen less and less conventions and trade shows. Also the nearby Star City is currently slowly losing some of its customers since MoA added some carnival rides, one of which is now the Philippines largest ferris wheel surpassing Enchanted Kingdom’s, and other sport and outdoor activities by the bay. MoA offers both leisure plus site seeing in one minus the risk since they boast that their rides are new.

MoA, in its 6 more or less years, has also seen a lot of events and concerts, local and foreign artists alike. Because of this, CCP and Cubao’s Smart Araneta Coliseum (Big Dome) have seen fewer concerts and events. Now with the upcoming opening of The Arena even sporting events may also be affected bringing the possible downfall of the Big Dome, Cuneta Astrodome and other Sports complexes.

Yes, SM Mall of Asia does have it all for us, but at what cost? Is the aircon and free wi-fi connection they give nowadays much important than our own history and national treasures? The future of the establishments around MoA is certainly unsure. Let’s just hope that it will never come the time that we will call Manila, SM City, Philippines since they already got everything a city needs.

The SM Mall of Asia as the Center of Cultural and Shopping Spree

Shopping is just one of the options from a variety of services that Philippine malls can offer. To many Filipinos, the mall is not only a public space for commercial purposes such as food courts, restaurants, cinemas, entertainment venue, sports and fitness but in addition it became a venue for different cultural activities.

Here in the SM Mall of Asia, the music hall is one of the places where in you can indulge sightseeing on the seaside and a large Ferris wheel, typically a unique experience of enjoyment while listening to the musical concerts. It was located at the Level 1 entertainment section facing the Manila bay. But unfortunately there was no scheduled concert on my visit last Saturday.

Several different Asian-culture restaurants may be found on the entertainment hall's second level. I have sampled the Thai cuisine at Jatujak restaurant. I especially liked their version of "yom yum" which is made with thick coconut milk.

If you're looking for Filipino ethnic products, ranging from musical instruments to clothing, textiles, accessories - "Kultura Filipino" offers a variety of indigenous products of our country.

While whiling my time away, I walked around the main mall of MOA looking at the different clothes, shoes, and things of the sort. I then noticed the newly opened Japanese branded store, "Uniqlo". The printed t-shirt shows the image of the Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Philippine popaular culture.

The mall in the Philippines exercises an important influence on the development of our culture by offering different local products, while at the same time introducing the imported products of our neighboring countries from Asia and other parts of the globe ranging from food to clothes. Thus, the malls have become our parks and squares customized to showcase our new economic purchasing power box commercially our cultural custom and traditions. 


· Appleyard, Brian. “Shopping around for salvation” Obtained from:
·   Conde, C. (2009) Mall nation. Global Post. Retrieved May 19, 2012 from                   ,1
·         Feuerbach, Ludwig. “The Essence of Christianity.” 1841.
·         Freud, Sigmund. “The Future of an Illusion.” 1927.
·        Weber, S. (2011) The tyranny of the discontent. SM Mall of Asia Website. Retrieved May 18, 2012 from
·         Hale, Jonathan. The Old Way of Seeing. New York: Houghtin Mifflin Company, 1994.

Photos from:
·         Nikko Ner