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Index

Editorial

Community News
RP probes Sino fishers’ death
4 Sinos deported
Nicole defense campaign launched
Campos, 84
McDonald’s 65-year-old fan
Kidnap Watch
Drug Watch

Opinion
Tsinoy Beats & Bytes
Gems of History
Comic relief

Business
168 shopping mall reopens
Sino firm eyes hybrid corn project
Illegal Chinese traders in Mindanao
Business briefs

Cover
To win the call center game

Feature
Principals guide with principles, compassion, vision

QUICK INFO

The ethnic Chinese number 750,000 to 1 million, or roughly 1.2%-1.5% of the Philippine population. Of this number, 90 percent are native-born and belong to either second, third or fourth generation.

 

 

May 9, 2006 Vol.18 No.23

tulaycov-05-09-06To win the call center game
Tsinoys turn to American strategies

By Charlene Dy

"Wala kayong energyyyyyy!” yells Joel Antonio. Rock music blares over the speakers, a few 20-somethings wearing denim and funky T-shirts dance nearby, and in the corner, there’s a Spin-the-Wheel game where winners pocket P50 or P100. It could be a party or a noontime game show, except for the rows of computers and cubicles that dominate the room. It’s where the outbound campaigns for Sterling Global Call Center take place. As Antonio, the 28-year-old team manager, says, “We’re a serious company with a fun attitude.” read more...

About the Cover: The booming call center industry prompts more and more Tsinoys to jump on the bandwagon.

Editorial

Jobs: Best gift for the nation

Our workers are our national treasures. The nation comes to a standstill without them. They’re the force that fuels the economy and moves industry and business engines. They are the transport workers, gas boys, drivers of jeepneys, buses and cars, market vendors, and kargadors who bring produce, factory workers, airline pilots, ship captains, and office workers who type our reports and handle phone calls. read more...

Opinion

Tsinoy Beats and Bytes by Teresita Ang See

Safeguarding our basic rights

Three recent court rulings call for celebration: the junking of Malacañang’s Executive Order 464 and calibrated preemptive response by the Supreme Court and the Makati regional trial court’s reversal of the justice department’s resolution downgrading the charges against three Marines charged with raping 22-year-old “Nicole” in Subic. read more...

Gems of History by Go Bon Juan

Earliest Chinese portraits
I recently “discovered” three portraits done in oil of Chinese in the Philippines in the 19th century from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas painting collection. Of the three, the portrait of Ming Mao Lo might be the earliest identified portrait of the Chinese in the Philippines. One of the less than a dozen known works of early Filipino painter Severino Flavier Pablo, it was signed and dated 1852. read more...

Community News

Other News

read more...

Kidnap Watch: An Update

Kidnaping up 70%

Kidnaping cases in the Philippines have risen by 70 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year, Senior Supt. Prudencio Bañas, deputy chief operator of a special police task force, said on May 2.
He said 17 cases of kidnaping were reported by the end of April, up from 10 cases recorded for the same period last year. read more...

Feature

Awardees clear hurdles from discipline to tight finances
Principals guide with principles, compassion, vision

By Sining Marcos-Kotah 

Love of education clearly runs in the family. Two sisters, close in their growing-up years, today serve as principals of two Chinese-Filipino schools in Metro Manila. Their dedication to educating the young has earned both of them the Cebu Anonymous Don Henry Sy Gaisano Most Outstanding Principal Awards. read more...

Cover Story

To win the call center game
Tsinoys turn to American strategies

By Charlene Dy

"Wala kayong energyyyyyy!” yells Joel Antonio.
Rock music blares over the speakers, a few 20-somethings wearing denim and funky T-shirts dance nearby, and in the corner, there’s a Spin-the-Wheel game where winners pocket P50 or P100.
It could be a party or a noontime game show, except for the rows of computers and cubicles that dominate the room. It’s where the outbound campaigns for Sterling Global Call Center take place. As Antonio, the 28-year-old team manager, says, “We’re a serious company with a fun attitude.”
Over the past five years, call centers have certainly demonstrated how “serious” they are for the Philippine economy. According to George Yang, CEO for SM eVentures, part of Philcomsat Holding Co and an affiliate of Henry Sy’s SM department stores, call centers and other BPO (business process outsourcing) are a “sunrise industry” experiencing its first major growth spurt.
In 2001 there were only eight major call center companies with over 120 seats. Now there are 90, producing about $1billion a year in revenues.
The spurt is unlikely to continue for much longer, but the government hopes to capitalize on the window of opportunity with plans to develop more jobs to triple revenues to $3 billion.
Overseas call centers are attractive to U.S. companies because these allow them to cut costs on service-based industries. The Philippines, in particular, with its “neutral accent” English, familiarity with American culture and trainable workers, is particularly appealing, and has already captured 5 percent of the global outsourcing market.
Seventy-five percent of call centers remain inside the U.S. India, with 13 percent of the market, is the Philippines biggest overseas competitor, though China and Central America are catching up.
To Filipinos, call centers are hugely attractive because they offer relatively high pay, don’t require any degree and provide a casual work environment.
Chinese Filipinos view the call center industry as an investment opportunity. According to Yang, “They want to invest through kids, because they think it’s a next generation business. They think this is the ‘next wave.’”
However, 85 percent of call centers in the Philippines are branches of American multinationals, while 95 percent are run by American experts. In comparison, the Tsinoy community owns less than 10 percent of call and BPO centers, and has “no track record, no technology, and no management experience,” says Yang.
However, lack of experience is not the biggest setback to the Chinese-Filipino community—it’s their attitude. General wisdom says the Chinese-Filipino community has created wealth largely through cost-cutting and low-level tax evasion. But Yang says this is a major mistake.
“We’re so good at managing our costs. If you look at eight out of 10 successful companies, their main strategy is cost. Everything is cheap, cheap, cheap,” he says.
But the salary for an average call center agent hovers between P15,000 and P20,000 per month, and the industry is so labor-intensive that 70 percent of costs are payroll or people-related expenses.
Yang says, “The Chinese Filipino cannot swallow the amount. We want to pay workers 8,000 a month and hope they’ll work themselves to death. Chinese Filipinos know how to invest in hard assets, but when it comes to intangibles and soft assets, they know nothing. They don’t know how to motivate or manage people to perform. They don’t have a clue. Their style is exactly what will hurt their business.”
Yang himself was raised in Ontario, Canada, where he received an MBA, while Gerry Lim, president of Sterling Global call centers, earned an American MBA at the University of California at Los Angeles. Both he and Yang agree that their own management styles are “Americanized” and significantly differ from their predecessors.
Lim’s Chinese-Filipino family has years of experience in consumer products, most famously for the Sterling brand of paper supplies. But he says it took a bit of adjustment for his clan to fully understand how call centers work. Lim says call centers are an “alien” concept for anyone who hasn’t lived in the U.S., where telemarketing and 1-800 customer service lines are the norm.
Gerry Lim and his brother Henry came to the call center industry “by accident.” Sterling had branched out in many different interests, including real estate, and partially owned the Gold Raffles building in Pasig. In 2000, the property market went down, and the company didn’t know what to do.
Meanwhile, they also had an office furnishings business, and a client who couldn’t pay his furniture bills. He offered them his call center business instead, so they promptly hired an American consultant and opened in 2001 with 50 seats. Soon, they expanded to 500 seats, with branches in Baguio and Los Angeles, California.
Currently, their business comprises 20 percent local clients like Jollibee and Chowking, and 80 percent international clients.
Of their international clients, 20 percent are “inbound” calls from the U.S., in which they provide customer services like complaints, IT support, and billing. The other 80 percent are outbound calls, which are essentially telemarketing: companies hire international callers to pitch direct-dial sales to U.S. customers—anything from credit cards, to a new insurance plan, to Tupperware.
Lim worked in the U.S. for six years after getting his MBA, and says he “acquired American management.” Like Yang, he agrees that quality personnel are the key ingredient to success in the call center industry, but qualified people are getting harder to hire – and keep, due to competition from foreign multinationals.
“When they step outside the door,” he says, “there will be 10 headhunters waiting for them. If you keep on losing good people, your business cannot prosper.”
To stay competitive, he’s taken to running Sterling Global like a “family.”
“Here, they’re sure they will be taken care of,” even though the pay might be 10 percent lower than what multinational companies like Ambergris or Sykes can offer. Instead of using money as an incentive, Lim tries to offer fair benefits and says, “I make the agents inspired to come to work every day.”
According to Babylyn Aquino, another Sterling trainer, the company regularizes their agents. In contrast, many other competitors hire agents contractually on a short-term basis in order to cut costs by avoiding benefits like health and dental insurance.
Furthermore, Lim emphasizes the importance of team-building. He cooks up activities to develop supportive company culture. Last year, Sterling held an “Amazing Race,” where company members trekked from Manila to Baguio, selling items along the way in order to make enough money for transportation.
And to keep his sellers motivated, there’s a bell in the room to ring when an agent closes a sale, the Sping-the-Wheel cash bonuses, and free trips to Hong Kong, the U.S., or Singapore for top sellers.
One of these top sellers is PJ, a former rapper who comes to work in a baggy velour shirt, nose stud and diamond earring. Last year, he went to Hong Kong, a trip he thoroughly enjoyed.
“They’re treating me well,” he says, rattling off an endless list of perks: medical insurance, personal loans, sick leaves, vacation leaves, and cash bonuses. He adds that Lim is the “coolest president I’ve seen.”
Archie Sy Reyes, a team leader at only 23, agrees. “Sir Gerry? He treated us not as employees, but as his siblings or children. For personal matters he always there. He’s one of my motivators.”
Over at SM eVentures, Yang experiments with similar strategies. The walls of his center in SM Binondo are plastered with posters announcing the achievements of top sellers: “20 accepted sales, Jemuel De Castro!” When he walks in the door, agents enthusiastically clap in rhythm before chiming, “Good morning!”
To foster community spirit, he holds once-a-month inspirational meetings on Saturday mornings, coaching his young staff on everything from sales tactics to romance. During his speech, his employees cheer and whistle. He grins. “My management style isn’t very Chinese-Filipino.”

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Editorial

editorial_05-09-06Jobs: Best gift for the nation
May 9, 2006

Our workers are our national treasures. The nation comes to a standstill without them. They’re the force that fuels the economy and moves industry and business engines. They are the transport workers, gas boys, drivers of jeepneys, buses and cars, market vendors, and kargadors who bring produce, factory workers, airline pilots, ship captains, and office workers who type our reports and handle phone calls.
They carry the heaviest loads to shoulder the national burden of helping us move. 
Sadly, we remember them and pay tribute to them only once a year on Labor Day. On their end, they take this one day a year to air their grievances to the government, which often fall on deaf ears.
One day a year, the government promises them goodies to sweeten their plight and supposedly ease their burdens. And they’re the patient lot that have no choice but to bear their burdens when government fails time and again to keep its promises.
With the recent fuel price increases, the transport sector has been agitating for fare increases. But wage earners who have not even recovered from the last fare increase and expanded Value Added Tax are reeling from the adverse effects of higher fuel costs.
This Labor Day, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo again promised a package of goodies for the workers. She also promised 8,000 new jobs for the unemployed—a PR campaign to clean up Metro Manila.
We wonder where the one million jobs she promised in 2004 went? The new graduates are jobless too; are we reducing them to become street cleaners? Or maybe we should resign ourselves to sending them abroad.
The best gift the government can give both to the workers and to the new graduates is job creation. But no new jobs can be created without new investments, which come only if the business climate is good and conducive to investments. Political stability and peace and order are the top criteria that investors look for. Unfortunately, both are lacking, and no amount of promises and sweeties will give our workers the break that they need.

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Tsinoy Beats and Bytes by Teresita Ang See

Safeguarding our basic rights
May 9, 2006

Three recent court rulings call for celebration: the junking of Malacañang’s Executive Order 464 and calibrated preemptive response by the Supreme Court and the Makati regional trial court’s reversal of the justice department’s resolution downgrading the charges against three Marines charged with raping 22-year-old “Nicole” in Subic.
I’ve always maintained that our Criminal Justice System badly needs an overhaul. These recent rulings are a big consolation. We do have decent judges who are not afraid to go against the administration and stand up for what is right.
Judge Benjamin Pozon must be commended for disapproving Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez’s resolution downgrading the charges against S/Sgt. Chad Carpentier and Marine Lance Corporals Keith Silkwood and Dominic Duplantis. It was the three who egged on Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith while he was raping Nicole. They cannot be construed as mere accessories.
***
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has again done an excellent job documenting and comparing the Marcos people’s initiative with that of President Arroyo. From whom else can Arroyo learn a better lesson on how to consolidate her stay in power if not from the very person who defeated her father, Diosdado Macapagal?
PCIJ has always done its job of investigative reporting, no mater who the president is. We recall their reports on the PEA-Amari and the independent power producers scams during the Ramos regime. We recall the meaty and informative reports on Estrada and his mistresses’ wealth, as well as the money trail in the graft and corruption charges against him.
This time, the PCIJ took another big risk by taking on Arroyo herself. First, by the excellent and most exhaustive report on the scandalous “Hello, Garci” tapes and now, the ongoing people’s initiative. The big difference is that the PCIJ has never been so persecuted and harassed as it is now. One case after another is being fielded against them in various courts. There’s no way to explain this except that they have antagonized people in power, Arroyo especially.
What these instances of harassment have succeeded in doing is to make the journalists even more determined. The cases are a nuisance because the journalists have to waste precious time facing the fiscals, meeting their counsels, preparing counter affidavits. But fortunately, these have not deterred the PCIJ from continuing to do its job. The center’s report on the people’s initiative is one solid proof that our journalists are a tougher breed and cannot be intimidated by the nuisance court cases hurled against them.
But what scares us is that Arroyo is following Marcos’s footsteps. Before martial law was declared in 1972, Marcos cracked down on journalists. People say Arroyo is worse than Marcos. We say not quite, but we must to continue be vigilant. She really is fast becoming a Marcos and the repression and persecution of journalists may be a precursor of worse things to come.
***
A friend of mine read Tulay’s April 11 issue and sent these reactions and information on the 168 controversy. He confirms the news about the two Chinese nationals arrested for extorting from the 168 store owners and added that there were numerous complaints about extortionists taking advantage of hapless stall owners who did not really understand what hit them.
My friend was involved in the 168 controversy because several officers of the supposed 168 Tenants Association approached him for help. Besides, he wanted to gather information to better guide the association.
Even before the raid, my good-hearted friend already tried to change the tenants’ ways of doing business and admonished them to start paying taxes. Word is that more than 400 tenants “settled” (i.e. paid really low taxes) on April 21, while the goods of the remaining 200-plus tenants remain impounded at the Bureau of Customs. 168 partially re-opened on April 26.
Unfortunately, we also heard that a lot of the stall owners got off cheap. They paid so little in fines as part of their “settlement.” If government officials do not shape up, the stall owners will simply be emboldened to do what they are doing. After all, the proprietors “can always get away with it.”
Inside information indicate that the current “price” for importers is P60,000 per container, while another P60,000 goes to government coffers as taxes. Multiply these by 500 to 1,000 containers arriving every month. My source says that this is still cheaper than paying taxes on the actual value of the goods.
My friend’s concern is whether the tenants he has talked to would follow his advice. To maintain the legitimacy of their operations, my friend advised them to: [1] file for investor’s or retiree’s visa even if there is word that government will declare an amnesty in mid-2006; [2] stop their current door-to-door basis of importing (which is extremely cheap because they escape paying any sort of tax) and set up a common importing firm and pay more legitimate customs duties and VAT. A common importing firm is more economical than individual importing; [3] pay their taxes—the additional VAT and income taxes for the retail store and the personal income taxes of the employees. The problem often stems from the tenants’ desire to sell at rock-bottom prices. However, paying 10 or 20 percent tax will not affect their pricing. Their goods will still be cheaper than those in the big department stores; and [4] avoid selling fake branded merchandise so the National Bureau of Investigation will not raid them anymore.
At the end of the day, we hope that the effort to raid and fine the illegal sellers are not “drama” or pakita lang. There really should be genuine effort to clean up these businesses, and not turn them into a new crop of milking cows.
***
The recent fuel price increases have made our drivers restive. They have been agitating for fare hikes again. If they think they have problems, then they better know that others are worse off.
To and from the Changi Airport in Singapore, the taxi drivers had only one lament: They can’t make ends meet because fuel prices have increased 10 times but the flagdown rate has stayed unchanged for 10 years. However, the drivers are not asking for a fare increase because it may just discourage people from taking cabs. What they want is for government to regulate the taxi rentals. “If you increase the flagdown rates, it only goes to the owners of the taxis and not to us. They’ve become very rich because the profit from the taxi they bought is a thousand times in five years,” two cab drivers—one Chinese and other Indian—told me. They lamented that being uneducated, they are unskilled to do other jobs. The elderly drivers have all quit because it is so taxing to drive a taxi and the income is too small because of the prohibitive cost of renting a taxi.


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Gems of History by Go Bon Juan

Earliest Chinese portraits
May 9, 2006

I recently “discovered” three portraits done in oil of Chinese in the Philippines in the 19th century from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas painting collection. Of the three, the portrait of Ming Mao Lo might be the earliest identified portrait of the Chinese in the Philippines. One of the less than a dozen known works of early Filipino painter Severino Flavier Pablo, it was signed and dated 1852.
But the significance of this portrait has to do not only with its age, but with the subject itself. Information about the portrait revealed that Ming Mao Lo is not only the ancestor of the prominent Paterno family of Quiapo, but also of the equally prominent Madrigal and Zamora families. Ming Mao Lo arrived in the Philippines in the 18th century and adopted the name Jose Molo on his conversion to Christianity.
The title of this portrait is “Man with a Queue.” It shows Ming Mao Lo in his pigtail and piña barong tagalog, an interesting mixture of the Chinese custom then (under Manchuria rule) and Filipino culture. Truly a Chinese in the Philippines of the 19th century.
The other two portraits are also of significance and interest. Put together, they represent three generations of a Chinese family of 19th century Philippines: Sy Jao’s portrait circa 1890 as the second generation; his mother’s portrait with Sy Jao’s son, painted in 1860s, as the first and the third.
The portrait of the woman is rare, considering there were very few Chinese females in the Philippines at the time. In 1870, official records showed only 193 women in a Chinese population of about 23,000.
The portraits of the Sy Jao family used to belong to the Paterno family collection. Which makes us wonder if Sy Jao had any connection with the Paterno family just like Ming Mao Lo.

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Community News

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Kidnap Watch

Kidnaping up 70%

Kidnaping cases in the Philippines have risen by 70 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year, Senior Supt. Prudencio Bañas, deputy chief operator of a special police task force, said on May 2.
He said 17 cases of kidnaping were reported by the end of April, up from 10 cases recorded for the same period last year.
Most victims were Indian nationals lending money to small businessmen, he noted. “They are kidnaped and released on the same day, sometimes only for P60,000 as ransom.” Such Indian businessmen usually negotiate the loans and collect the payments personally, making them vulnerable to abduction.
Bañas attributed the rise in kidnaping to the police force’s preoccupation with destabilization threats and antigovernment protests aimed at President Arroyo.
Anti-crime groups have claimed that many kidnapings go unreported because victims are reluctant to report the crimes as they suspect rogue policemen are involved.

Other Developments

Killed: Cris Orsal, Jimboy Guigue, Rolando Fatalla and Ronnie Fernando, alleged members of the Abuyog kidnap-for-ransom gang, in a shootout with Philippine National Police and Traffic Management Group agents, in Sta. Maria, Bulacan, on May 3. Police said the slain suspects were involved in the kidnaping and murder of Coca Cola executive Betty Chua and the abduction of one Erlinda Cruz.

Arrested: Brothers Jericho, Eric and Derick Bondoc, separately in Valenzuela City and Cavite, on April 29. The Bondocs are suspects in the abduction of Japanese national Anna Matsuura, 8, in Las Piñas City on April 25. Matsuura and her cousin, Vanessa David, were walking inside the SM Southmall when the latter lost sight of Matsuura. At about 11:30 p.m. the victim’s aunt received a telephone call from the suspects demanding P1 million ransom. On April 27, the suspects left Matsuura inside a fast-food chain in San Fernando City, La Union. The following day, Matsuura identified her abductors through a profile from the Friendster site in the Internet.

Arrested: Karutin Montawal alias Kautin Mamangkong, alleged member of the Pentagon kidnap-for-ransom gang, by the Regional Intelligence and Investigation Division of Central Mindanao, in Koronadal City, on April 26. Montawal, who has a P175,000 bounty on his head, is facing a string of kidnaping with serious illegal detention cases and car theft. Police said Montawal was part of the Pentagon gang that abducted Chinese national Zhiang Zhuong Quiang in 2001 in Matalam, Cotabato, and was reportedly involved in the kidnaping of six Philippine National Oil Company employees in January 1997, Manuel Ang of Tacurong City in 2003 and Zoila Kansi of Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat in 2004.

Sentenced: to death, cousins Jovel, Renato and Rolando Apole, by Judge Romeo Buenaflor, for kidnaping and robbery, in Cantillan, Surigao del Sur, on April 26. Buenaflor also ordered the Apoles to pay the victim, Yasumitsu Hashiba, P75,000 in moral and exemplary damages. The Apoles were among the 10 people charged with the 2003 abduction of Japanese national Hashiba. Their seven co-accused were cleared for lack of witnesses. Hashiba, who is married to a local, was kidnaped on Jan. 23, 2003 in Barangay Bunga, Lanuza, Surigao del Sur. The kidnapers, armed with pistols and a hand grenade, entered the Hashiba residence and forced the Japanese into a waiting vehicle. The kidnapers also fled with the victim’s cash and jewelry worth P150,000. They later got in touch with the victim’s family and demanded P3 million in ransom. The victim’s wife, Emelie, instead filed charges against her husband’s abductors, which forced them to free Hashiba.

Freed: Caridad Vergara, 70, in Jolo, on April 26. The fate of her 41-year-old son, Bren, is unknown. Suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf group seized Vergara and Bren near Kakuyagan village also in Jolo while on their way to the family pharmacy on April 12. The kidnapers demanded P2 million in ransom.

Arrested: Sharie Amiruddin, alias Abu Omar, in Zamboanga City, on April 24. Amiruddin, suspected member of Abu Sayyaf group, has a standing arrest warrants for 13 counts of kidnaping and serious illegal detention charges issued by a court in Jolo, Sulu and Basilan. The charges stemmed from the abduction of 20 foreign and local tourists at the Dos Palmas beach resort in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan in May 2001. Amruddin had allegedly helped in the surveillance of Dos Palmas prior to the abductions.

Arrested: Fernando Cader and Gyamadel Latip, suspected members of the Pentagon group, in Tacurong City, on April 18. The suspects were linked to illegal activities like kidnaping, extortion and series of bombing in Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and the cities of Tacurong, Koronadal and Cotabato.

Unreported: Release of Tsinoy businessman, after ransom payment, in Quezon City, on April 20.

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Feature

Awardees clear hurdles from discipline to tight finances
Principals guide with principles, compassion, vision

By Sining Marcos-Kotah 

Love of education clearly runs in the family. Two sisters, close in their growing-up years, today serve as principals of two Chinese-Filipino schools in Metro Manila. Their dedication to educating the young has earned both of them the Cebu Anonymous Don Henry Sy Gaisano Most Outstanding Principal Awards.
They are Elizabeth Chua Co, the compassionate and innovative principal of Philippine Buddhacare Academy in Quezon City, and Margarita Chua Gutierrez, the energetic and devoted principal of Philippine San Bin School in Binondo, Manila. Entering the field of education was a choice they carefully made with the encouragement of their mentor and teacher, the late Marcos Chua. Chua was their teacher in Philippine Cultural High School.
The Chua sisters were among his prized students. Eventually, Elizabeth became this writer’s school adviser and high school geometry teacher in Iloilo. Her students then often spent the nights together with her doing extra geometry lessons. Margarita, on the other hand, has always been like a big sister to this writer, sharing her experiences in education.
The Chua sisters have touched the lives of many young minds. And they continue to do so.
“Trust extended to me, coupled with a certain level of responsibility, is how our principal transformed me,” says Shane Ryann Lim, a Buddhacare graduating student.
Elizabeth and Margarita are the fourth and fifth of six children of the late Chua Yee Bun and his wife Yao Kim Luan. Both were educated in Manila schools, and started their basic education at Uno High School, and later transferred to Philippine Cultural High School when they were in their third year of high school.
“When I was in the kindergarten, I was so scared to be with people I did not know, that was why I got promoted to the class of my sister, Lisa because I felt at ease to be with her,” said Margarita with a smile.
Elizabeth graduated magna cum laude from then Philippine Normal College with a degree in Bachelor of Science in Elementary and Secondary Education, major in Mathematics. She then took her Master of Arts in Guidance and Counseling at De La Salle University, completing 15 units. She earned her Master’s degree in Education, major in Educational Administration from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
Before she became the principal of Philippine Buddhacare Academy in 1998, Elizabeth was a classroom teacher and assistant registrar of Iloilo Central Commercial High School; a classroom teacher, disciplinarian, and secretary to the director of Philippine Pasay Chung Hua Academy; head disciplinarian and guidance counselor of Philippine Cultural High School Main campus; and English coordinator and registrar of Philippine Cultural High School Caloocan campus. Her impressive work experience, dedication and innovative ideas made her the Cebu Anonymous Don Henry Sy Gaisano Most Outstanding Principal for school year 2005-2006.
Margarita finished Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Far Eastern University in Manila. She obtained 18 units in Education from the Philippine Normal College and started teaching at Philippine San Bin School in 1984.
She subsequently became the assistant to the principal in 1987. She became acting principal in 1990, and principal six years later. Her 22 years of unwavering service and commitment to Philippine San Bin School earned her the Cebu Anonymous Don Henry Sy Gaisano Most Outstanding Principal Award for school year 2000-2001 and the 2005 Teodora Alonzo-Huwarang Ina Award for Education.
For Elizabeth and Margarita, school has become family to them. They believe that fate has tied them to their respective schools which they regard as home. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Elizabeth and Philippine Buddhacare share the same birthdate: Sept. 19. Meanwhile, Margarita and Philippine San Bin School both celebrate that special day each year on Feb. 20.
In these conversations, the two sisters share their thoughts on education, their visions, and what the future holds:

What is your guiding principle in education?
Elizabeth: I believe each child should be given the opportunity to improve and excel in his own way. However, society imposes certain norms on students. We usually consider academic performance as the yardstick of success, neglecting other aspects of development. At present, the so-called “problem students” are increasing. When they have done something wrong, we punish them by excluding them from the school, forgetting that we are here to educate. If an erring student realizes that he has done something wrong and willingly accepts his mistakes, I always see to it that he gets another chance to prove his worth. For me, success is being able to stand up after a fall. The true measurement of success for a student is being able to go one level up from where he used to be.

Margarita: Each child has the potential to shine if given the opportunity. In molding a child, it is vital to boost his self esteem and build up his confidence. Since many of our students in San Bin belong to the middle- and lower-income families, we make sure the education we offer equip them not only with the knowledge but also the skills and competencies needed for future development. It is our duties as educators to help our students grow up to be enthusiastic contributors of nation building, individuals who see social duties as personal and moral obligations.

What is the most difficult situation that you have encountered so far?
Elizabeth: Because society imposes its norms on us, these norms condition our actions. There are schools that accept only good students so that they can maintain performance levels. At Buddhacare, we give the so-called “problem students” a chance. Actually, we do not consider them as problems but as challenges. We accept them, hoping that a new environment will be able to change them. The dilemma is going against the norms by accepting these students who have difficulty adjusting. Adhering to the true meaning of education may sometimes be a very difficult choice. We have to constantly assure our parents that we do not compromise the quality of education we offer to our clientele with the entrance of these challenges. Another thing I find very challenging is introducing innovations. It really takes time and effort to make people, particularly parents, understand and accept them.
Margarita: The most difficult situation was having to face the reality that our school has no property of its own. There is always this feeling of insecurity for we never know how far the road ahead can extend. As early as year 2000, the owners of our property had notified us that they would give us a grace period of five years after which they might take the property back. In the past few years, due to the economic crisis and due to news mongering that the school might soon close down, the enrollment in San Bin dropped drastically. And now we have to come to a decision if the school will just close down or merge with Philippine Tiong Se Academy for the coming school year 2006-2007. San Bin has been in existence for more than eight decades, and soon it will just be a part of history. I have to say that such a decision is indeed not easy to make.

How do you make your students unique from others?
Elizabeth: Learning at Buddhacare is not confined within the four walls of the classroom, but in all corners of the school and community. Our students regularly visit the orphanage, homes for the aged and unwed mothers, drug rehabilitation center, etc. The main purpose for such activities is to expose them to the realities of life at an early age, so that they will acquire the virtues of love and compassion towards the less privileged, and learn to be responsible for the consequences of their actions. Last February, we had an outreach program for the special children of The Child’s World, a school for special children, entitled Special Love for the Special You. We involved the students, and in the process, they learned to love and respect their newfound special friends for they too possess talents. The activity gave students the opportunity to apply in real life situation what they have learned inside the classroom. They performed song and dance, wushu, hand mime, etc. They made cookies and chocolates. Together with their special friends, our students made some artwork, which they sold. The proceeds were donated to The Child’s World. After the activity, the students learn to respect others and cherish what they have. This is what our education is all about, nurturing not only thinking persons, but feeling individuals as well.
Margarita: Aside from the regular academic offerings, we have many extra curricular activities like scouting, and Chinese folk dancing. We have a very strong art program. Our students always excel in different art contests. Actually, we have successfully conducted visual art exhibits twice, showcasing art pieces of our students. These were considered unprecedented among the Chinese-Filipino schools. Regardless of their economic status, our students have a strong sense of adaptability. Our education makes them resilient, and they are able to cope with the different situations in life. Worth mentioning is the fact that our students always come back to us after they have become somebody in their respective fields. They have this profound feeling of love and gratitude to the school which once served as their home. I am proud to say that although our school is small, we have produced lots of successful graduates including a topnotcher in the 2005 CPA exam.

How do you prepare your students to face their future?
Elizabeth: We want our graduates to become conscientious and productive citizens, not only of the Philippines, but also of the world. They are trained to be proactive rather than just reactive. School activities are very varied, providing students opportunities to enhance their creativity, resourcefulness, leadership, and teamwork. Each student has his chance to showcase his talents, hence, developing his confidence and self-esteem. And since learning is a lifelong process, we nurture their love and interest for learning.
Margarita: I have always reiterated to my teachers that in educating a child, we have to project into the future. Since our school does not offer secondary education, we must produce elementary graduates who can also excel in other schools. It is a must that we equip them with the necessary skills so that they will have the confidence to face the challenges of the next level. We must be concerned not only with how they behave under our tutelage, but how they will work and adapt to other schools. Thus, we need to shape them well in all aspects, for them to become well-rounded individuals.

What do you think is your greatest accomplishment so far?
Elizabeth: My greatest contribution is molding service-oriented individuals who possess the virtues of filial piety, patience, diligence, love, and compassion. More than acquiring knowledge, our students learn how to live as persons. They have their sights set not only within the Philippines, but also beyond it. I always emphasize that everyone deserves to be given a chance. As long as we can open the door to a struggling young person, touch his life and transform him (for the better), then I can take pride in saying that we at Buddhacare have done our part as an educational institution.
Margarita: Many of our students come from financially unstable families, and it is in sincerely helping them look for financial assistance that I feel I have done beyond the call of duty. Even after they have graduated from our school, I make sure that we find sponsors for those who need further assistance to make it through high school. I feel exceptionally happy when we are able to help fulfill the dreams of an aspiring youth. This feeling gets stronger now that San Bin is destined to merge with Tiong Se. I know we can continue to do our share to help more needy students finish their studies.

How are you able to achieve all the things that you have done?
Elizabeth: Utilizing and maximizing the potential of every individual brings about high-level performances. We will never be able to do great things all by ourselves, we have to allow others to help us. Recognizing the worth of our co-workers and mobilizing them to strive towards a common goal spell wonders. We have to learn to use all kinds of resources to our benefit. I am really grateful that I have very supportive people around me, the Dharma Masters, the Board of Trustees, my colleagues, the parents, friends, and philanthropists. We share the same conviction: teaching with love makes a difference.
Margarita: No one person can be most competent and skillful enough without the help and support of his fellowmen. I always believe that each one of us has a magic wand and possesses the ability to shine amidst all hardships. Through the years, with a heart that does not yield and with much faith, determination, love, and patience, I was able to share my dreams and success with people who embrace the same vision. Whatever accomplishments I may have now, I achieved with the help of those enthusiastic people surrounding me, including our teachers and staff whom I called my team, our students and their parents, the generous members of our Board of Trustees and all our benefactors. I rely and draw strength from these people who have become my family. I can proudly say that the past 22 years of my life have been most fulfilling and rewarding.

What is your personal dream or vision in education?
Elizabeth: To prepare the students in such a way that they will be able to apply whatever they have learned in school as they try to be of service to the society. Our students should first learn how to conduct themselves before they are able to handle things. After all, existence is not only about obtaining skills for survival. Education is not all about how much we teach or how well the students perform in examinations, but how far and how deeply we have touched the lives of others. Good students are not those who merely excel academically. Having a bit of common sense is far more beneficial than acquiring a basketful of knowledge.
Margarita: The education that I envision is one that bridges the gap between the rich and the poor, giving them equal opportunity for a better life ahead. Although it is nearly impossible to totally eradicate poverty, I hope that through education, we can help elevate the economic conditions of the poor, equipping the less privileged ones with the necessary skills and providing them the needed confidence to prepare them to become productive citizens of our country.

What are the challenges that lie ahead of you?
Elizabeth: Life is a constant process of learning. What is important to me is to see my students continually change for the better. To know that they are more improved today than yesterday is enough consolation. Actually, I grow unmindful of the social standard. What I firmly adhere to is never to give up on any child. It might be a tedious process to undo what a misled young mind has acquired, but we at Buddhacare are always here to walk the extra mile with him. The major challenge to me is to make the transformation a less painful experience for the child. The Buddhacare education aims to realize the teachings of Buddha and perpetuate the cycle of love.
Margarita: For the past 22 years, I grew and matured with San Bin. Now that San Bin is merging with Tiong Se, we are facing greater challenges ahead. The biggest challenge is to see that our students get the best education they deserve. After careful thoughts, I decided to take the helm at Tiong Se precisely because I believe I still have social obligations to fulfill. I hope to help more struggling students pursue their dream of a better education by tapping more sponsors to help them. Since Philippine Tiong Se Academy is the first Chinese-Filipino school in the country and Philippine San Bin School has its share of 84 glorious years, many people feel that the merging of both schools is a significant move, and definitely a good decision made. Just like what my Chinese name “lsuggests, we hope that we can provide proper sunlight and water needed to nourish the little grass and flowers, together with the three hearts of compassion, confidence, and patience. I know we can make a difference.

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