Mandaue Unboxed

Small city that’s big on homegrown surprises

Mandaue City is home. I’ve spent four decades of my life here, seeing it evolve from a laid-back, tightly knit community to a small but dense city of vibrant economic districts.

And yet like a tightly wrapped package, Mandaue City continues to surprise.

Ironically it is during the pandemic when we found ourselves getting “boxed” in one place that I got to know about my beloved city even more.

Like many developing cities, Mandaue is not perfect. But I’ve seen many good things here over the years, thanks to a citizenry that continues to support forward-thinking leaders both in the public and private sectors.

Such a healthy dynamic between the government and its people has been crucial for Mandaue to deal with the unprecedented challenges that the pandemic has brought upon.

Such a healthy dynamic between the government and its people has been crucial for Mandaue to deal with the unprecedented challenges that the pandemic has brought upon.

So when I was asked to support an initiative to promote homegrown enterprises in Mandaue, I didn’t think twice.

And today, June 25, the Mandaue Investment Promotions Action Center (MIPAC), the investment and promotions arm of the City of Mandaue, will launch “Experience Mandaue” to help boost the City’s economy.

This is the second edition of the #ChooseMandaue campaign that was launched last year, and one cannot stress the importance of its role to promote Mandaue City’s local products and services, particularly Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) that have been badly affected by the pandemic.

Now, I’m aware that Mandaue, despite its small size, is host to numerous business enterprises, mainly commercial and industrial. But I only had a clearer grasp of what the city produces and how diverse it is when MIPAC sent me a package with a #TatakMandaue label.

Guess what’s inside the box?

But before I get into that, I’d just like to point out to you that Mandaue City lies in the heart of the island of Cebu.

And the metaphor is apt: everyone passes through Mandaue. Vehicles from the north that want to get to Cebu City and further down south need to go through Mandaue, and vice versa. Airport arrivals and departures to and from mainland Cebu must transit through Mandaue.

Mandaue is at the center of everything.

In short, Mandaue is at the center of everything. No wonder then that commerce and industry has flourished in this city of barely 35 square kilometers, the smallest among five cities in Cebu.

So what does Mandaue have to offer? That package of #TatakMandaue goods that found its way to our doorstep several days ago offers several clues.

All these goodies are certified Tatak Mandaue!

Upon unboxing, I saw a sampler of Mandaue’s homegrown food products, many of which I didn’t realize were produced in this city.

Some of the #TatakMandaue goodies inside were all-time favorite pasalubongs like Cebu’s famous dried mangoes from FPD Food International Inc. (7D brand) and Profood International Corp. (Philippine brand).

These two brands got me thinking: Mandaue isn’t big on direct tourism, but when it comes to tourism-related sales, the city is a pasalubong colossus.

Mandaue isn’t big on direct tourism, but when it comes to tourism-related sales, the city is a pasalubong colossus.

Not only that, I also learned that Mandaue hosts another huge food enterprise, Prifood Corp., which produces a sizeable range of popular snacks such as Super Crunch.

Then there’s Mandaue’s iconic delicacy called masareal, particularly Didangs Delicious Masareal, as well as excellent Polvoron from Mandaue’s Nutricious and addictive Baked Squid Bites from Baker’s Mill.

The box also came along with a package from Mama’s Little Secret Creative Burgers, which was quite a filling treat.

  • Samplers…

Of course, the best of #TatakMandaue cannot fit in a box, so I’d like to make a shoutout to homegrown faves such as Vcente’s classic La Paz Batchoy and Bebong’s to-die-for Mango Cake.

The list of #TatakMandaue brands is quite a long one, and we’ve barely touched the surface. I suggest you head out to this side of Cebu and get yourself a good old #TatakMandaue treat.


Travel Through Coffee

Explore the Philippines through its quality local beans without leaving home

Since the quarantine lockdowns began, I now have amassed quite a considerable coffee bean stash I bought online . I kept the bags with gas valves so I can reuse them for the green coffee beans I roast old school from time to time. Most of the coffee I buy are whole roasted beans, which I manually grind before brewing. This way I get to save a lot of money since four of us in the family are coffee drinkers.

But there’s another reason I’m sharing this post: all of these single-origin coffee beans are locally farmed. And from this stash, I have my favorites. More importantly, this is one of the best ways to support our local farmers: by patronizing the coffee they’ve grown with expertise and care, whether it’s the beans in a bag or the fresh brew from your go-to coffee shop.

For a family of 5 coffee drinkers, brewing quality local beans at home saves us money

The Philippines, which belongs to the Coffee Belt, is one of the most bio-diverse places on earth, and because our soils are so rich and fertile, from the Cordillera highlands to the volcanic slopes and plains of Batangas to the mountains of Davao, we get all those distinct, delightful flavors and aromas in our local brew.

Anyway, here are some of the different Philippine coffee beans I’ve brewed so far during the pandemic:


Tublay, Benguet

Kibungan, Benguet

Itogon, Benguet

Dapliyan Farm, Sagada

  • Kibungan, Benguet
  • Itogon, Benguet
  • Sagada
  • Tublay, Benguet

Mt. Apo, Bansalan, Davao

Atok, Benguet

Mt. Kitanglad, Bukidnon



Sulu (Kahawa Sug)

  • Lipa Liberica



I also ordered beans from Basilan’s Kahawa Tagime but they never arrived. A visit to a well-known coffee farm in Tuburan, Cebu will definitely happen as soon as they allow younger kids with the easing of quarantine restrictions.

Mt. Apo Arabica beans I roasted myself…

Stealing Imagery

Photography, plagiarism and the trappings of instant validation

I am writing this post as a photography enthusiast in light of a photographer who got outed for submitting another lensman’s photos to online contests (and won tens of thousands of pesos). But I’ll get to that later…

The screenshots below are a series of individual shots of a single subject I got enamoured with during a family trip in Vang Vieng, Laos. Here, I would wish to explain the work process in mobile photography that is often taken for granted. But I will also get into that later…

Wading through the Nam Song River for a good shot of the karst mountains…

As some of you already know, I have loved photography since my student days, using old school SLR cameras (film). And when I started working in a media company, I submitted feature stories with photos I myself took, still using my Canon AE1, until it eventually broke down. That time, the DSLR was king, but since I couldn’t afford it, I stopped taking photographs. It was only until the advent of mobile photography that I freely took photos to my heart’s content, both for work and leisure.

Mother and Child (2000, Canon AE1)

When I started immersing myself in phoneography (that’s what I called it) in 2009, industry professionals looked down on the craft. So I daresay I was one of the first to publish photographs using a mobile phone, mostly light subjects. But one of the photos I took of a police operation that unfolded right in front of me landed on the front page of the paper, and has since been used as evidence in court (to which I had appeared twice to testify). This (appearing in court as witness) is common among full-time photojournalists, but I was an editor of a leisure magazine when I took the photos of armed police operatives arresting a man suspected of possessing illegal firearms.

While the technology behind mobile photography was obviously revolutionary, it was at this point I realized that the phone camera had changed the game not just in journalism but in content creation as a whole. Still, both photographers of the old school frowned upon the images that came from such newfangled contraptions. Disruption, though, was inevitable.

When I became editor of a print magazine in 2012, phoneography made perfect sense to me, so I published photos shot with mobile cameras, and devoted the entire glossy inside back cover page for contributed quality themed photographs, again many of which were “phoneographs.” Every contributing photographer whose work got published in that section was given an honorarium. The amount wasn’t much, but from what I gathered, many of the contributing phoneographers appreciated the gesture. It wasn’t just the person that got recognized but the craft of phoneography as well.

Sabang, Palawan (2012, Sony Xperia)

In my phonecam journey, I met kindred spirits such as the multi-talented professional photographer Crisanto Entoma of Campo Santo Design Studio. Together, we founded Phoneography Cebu, a mobile photography group on Facebook that now has 10,000 members. Abuzz with posts and actual physical activities such as workshops, contests and exhibits, the group and its members helped promote phoneography not just in the curated spaces of social media but in all of Cebu as well.

Meanwhile, the importance of mobile photography could no longer be ignored. Late in the decade, photojournalists, armed with their long lenses and state-of-the-art DSLRs, found mobile phone cameras as indispensable tool in the profession. Other industries had gone through similar sweeping changes, albeit earlier. Meanwhile, I pursued travel photography with a passion, using whatever phone camera I had, of course.

Coron Canine (2017, Samsung Note 5)

And this brings us back to the screenshots of the astonishing karst mountains of Vang Vieng in Laos, with the Nam Song River in the foreground, during the family’s first trip abroad. The moment this view revealed itself during a foggy early morning walk with the family, my lungs filled up with lightness that buoyed me straight down to the river bank, and as I waded in knee-deep roiling waters, I found a good spot to hunker down and take shots.

Now, all I had was a phone with a camera — no tripod, no lens, no waterproof gear. But as they say, the best camera is the one you have in your hands. Slowly, holding the Samsung Note 5 with using my thumbs and forefingers barely centimeters above the flowing waters, the other fingers spreadeagle so as not to spoil the frame, I took one shot after the other, careful not to drop the device or else it would be game over, crouching all the while, my lower extremities immersed in the murky river that rushed on during Vang Vieng’s rainy low season for white tourists.

For close to an hour, I tried different settings on my phone camera…

One seldom goes wrong with using auto features, but some of the photos here, like the ones with bluish hues, were shot using manual settings (f/1.9, 1/125, 4.30mm, ISO50) of the Samsung Note 5. I just stayed mostly in one sport for more than half an hour but finding different angles and timing the eddies and bubbles that the restless river made. I was about to haul my drenched behind out of the water when I spotted a colorful object slowly descending from the upper right corner of my screen.

It was a lone hot-air balloon — during high season, I reckoned dozens of these tourist aircraft would hover lazily above the otherwise majestic karst mountains. Had there been two, it would have been one aircraft too many. But the appearance of this one hot air balloon offered the scenery a different dimension: minor intrusions into the wilderness.

Would the tourist aircraft be considered a photographic punctum as Barthes defined it, I thought? But what the heck, I caught these images on film, I mean, on file, and I’m happy. After roughly an hour shooting a single subject in the river, it was time to leave.

Click after click after click, a welcome “intruder” descends into the mountains… (2016, Samsung Note 5)

My family — the wife and three kids — had quietly left much earlier, back to our bed and breakfast. While I was excited to show them my work, I was struck with an epiphany of sorts. We were on a family vacation, and an hour spent alone with my camera is an hour lost. The minutes and the seconds will eventually add up, and while I will have more photographs in my laptop, in the end I will have fewer and fewer shared memories of sights and sceneries, the ones that really matter.

It was that very moment that I walked away from the Nam Song River that I decided that from now on I will take only the essential and compulsory photographs when we travel, the ones that grab me by the hand or seize me by the throat. The fewer the clicks, the better. Instead, I will store all these images in my head, the same images that my pack of five witnessed all at once but through different pairs of eyes.

These Lao kids know how to live the moment… (2016, Samsung Note 5)

True enough, the number of photographs I took in our succeeding trips through the years was reduced to a tenth of those taken during my manic phoneography days. Of course, I will always be drawn to beautiful images and I will photograph it the best way I can, but now I am no longer a slave to the perfect shot and the compulsion that comes along to capture it. It’s quite a liberating feeling, actually.

And this brings us back to the issue of plagiarism: while the practice is as old as art itself, social media has created new breeds of plagiarists like the image thief. One thinks he just seeks perfection despite a lack of talent, but what he really longs for is instant validation. With just a few clicks of the finger, the plagiarist takes someone else’s labor of love, and lays claim to the perfect shot as his own.

While the practice is as old as art itself, social media has created new breeds of plagiarists like the image thief.

The most recent accusations of such brazen plagiarism involves the “grand prize winner” of a Philippine telecom firm’s photo contest that awarded P50,000. His winning entry? An image downloaded for free from a stock photo site. It was later learned that a Vietnamese photographer, Quang Nguyen Vinh, took the beautiful image of a fisherman casting his net into the sea as the sun was setting in 2017 yet. My good friend and blog consultant Max Limpag provides more insight about the scandal.

But what’s more alarming than the ease with which these acts are made is the plagiarists’ lack of remorse when the truth comes out. The apologies they mutter are as empty as the excuses they make. Worse, they try to wriggle out of the mess they’ve made by portraying themselves as victims, to which their friends and followers offer generous support.

The Vietnamese photographer must have felt a mix of emotions upon learning of someone claiming his work and profiting from it: from flattery to outright disgust. Another photographer who joined the contest using his original work offers us insight: “It’s not about the prize, it’s about robbing someone of their efforts and dedication put into their art.”

This image of Batanes was used without my knowledge… (2015, Samsung S4)

As someone who is passionate about photography, I can relate, although to a lesser extent. Many years ago, someone pointed out that a travel agency used my photographs of Batanes on their Facebook page without my permission. I should have called them out, but I didn’t.

Part of me said the world needs to see those images, another wanted the travel agency go out of business. It did.

Another photo of mine used without my permission…. (2015, Samsung S4)


The ‘Parang Hindi Pinas’ Syndrome

And why such toxic insecurity has no place in this beautiful country of ours

“Wow, parang hindi Pinas…”

If there’s a toxic Filipino trait that I really wish to put an end to right now is the propensity to name the country’s beautiful spots after more popular — though not necessarily more impressive — destinations. It’s not only condescending, unimaginative and at times idiotic (e.g. “Little Amsterdam” in Sirao, Cebu, good heavens), it reinforces a people’s misplaced sense of low self-worth and heritage of smallness.

Mount Pinatubo Crater Lake

Here are more examples:

● “Little Baguio” (referring to Mantalungon, Dalaguete or the Don Salvador Benedicto in Negros, Occidental)
● “Little Guam” (referring to Guyam Island, heard this in the late 80s)
● “Maldives of the Philippines” (Manjuyod Sand Bar)
● “The New Zealand of the Philippines” (Ilocos or Batanes)
● “Little Amsterdam” (Flower garden in Sirao, Cebu City)
● “Boracay of the South” (Bantayan Island, Cebu)

Kapurpurawan Rock Formations in Burgos, Ilocos Norte

I’m sure there’s more, but this subliminal belittling of ourselves and of our natural treasures has got to stop. That means we should start asking ourselves why is it so hard for some Filipinos to acknowledge that this country is blessed with plenty of spectacular sceneries, and yet we belittle them by making ridiculous comparisons to validate their existence?

Why is it so hard for some Filipinos to acknowledge that this country is blessed with plenty of spectacular sceneries, and yet we belittle them by making ridiculous comparisons to validate their existence?

Crystal-clear waters at the Manjuyod Sand Bar in Negros Oriental

By saying that X is the Y of the Philippines/locale or X is Little Y suggests that Y is superior to X. I’ve said this many times on social media, but if this is for marketing purposes, then it’s lazy, unimaginative and misguided. It’s some sort of “reverse appropriation” but driven by a deep-seated inferiority complex towards the West and the First World, or anything more affluent or famous. While not unique to this part of the world, it is almost instinctive as much as it is prevalent among Filipino netizens.

White sand beach at Kota Point in Lawis, Bantayan Island in northern Cebu. Lawis, which means promontory, is the old name of the municipality of Madridejos.

I embrace celebrating similarities and differences, but this kind of mindset that imposes and, on the other side of the coin, blindly accepts hierarchical comparisons reflects how insecure and ignorant some of us can really get.

In the end, the thing — the Philippine Islands — speaks for itself, and I am just thankful when it is seen for what it’s really worth: appreciated, and not appropriated.


Tiny Guyam Island off Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte