Game changers | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., flanked by grandsons Anton Huang and Donnie Tantoco


The teleserye—Family squabbles? Extramarital affairs? Tearful confrontations that have provided televiewers endless hours of catharsis and entertainment? Nothing has gripped the imagination more than teleseryes, ongoing drama series that have blown TV ratings through the roof and made household names of generations of stars in blockbusters like “Pangako Sa ’Yo” and “Ang Probinsyano.”


Angelique Songco and the Tubbataha Marine Park Rangers—Songco, aka “Mama Ranger,” was the very first manager and remains the protected area superintendent of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, the biggest and most important marine protected area and dive site in the country, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Angelique Songco

The park turned 30 years old last August, and it was undeniably through the dogged determination and tireless efforts of Songco and her dedicated composite team of rangers that the park, once bombed out and damaged, has bloomed back to life as a remarkable conservation model and Philippine success story.


Weekend markets—Never before had weekend mornings out meant shopping for fresh and organic produce or special dishes in a happy, fiesta-like garden setting before the weekend markets opened in Manila. Early versions were in Greenbelt and Salcedo, but they’ve since mushroomed all over the metro.


Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala— The cofounder and moving force (with fellow survivors Bet Lazatin, Crisann Celdran and Becky Fuentes) behind ICanServe Foundation, established in 1999, has lit the way for thousands of Filipino women who are facing or have survived breast cancer.


Before the foundation, little was known about this now widespread illness, and a diagnosis was feared as a virtual death sentence.


Today, Alikpala and foundation volunteers spread the word on early detection, available resources, and hope for survivorship.


Auction houses—In recent years, auction houses like Jaime Ponce de Leon’s León Gallery have turned art auctions into a big fortune, much-awaited events, bringing prime collectors’ items to the block, creating a new market for fine acquisitions, and keeping the local art scene alive and kicking.


Jeannie Goulbourn—It took the death of her daughter, Natasha, by her own hand to lead the accomplished fashion designer to establish the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation in 2007. It now offers scholarships for mental health professionals, and has pushed for the creation of a crisis hotline for people contemplating suicide.


While mental illness is now a mainstream subject in the Philippines, Goulbourn broke down barriers and was talking about it long before anybody else wanted to.


Rockwell —Time was when condo living was reserved for the rich, who could reside in high-rises with elevators, such as the pioneering Legaspi and Ritz Towers on Ayala Avenue.


Rockwell Land’s classy development in an area once occupied by a power plant immediately gentrified the neighborhood, including as it did a trendy mall at its heart. Thus began the trend on aspirational condominium living, and a model for mixed-use development.


Nita Hontiveros-Lichauco—Known as Tata to family and friends, this avowed animal lover was an original member of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) when it was founded in 1954 by a British national living in Manila. Lichauco took over and reorganized PAWS in 1986, turning it into a leading light for animal rights in the Philippines. Lichauco, who remains a beloved adviser, was succeeded as leader of PAWS by her protégé, Anna Cabrera, and the organization continues to file animal cruelty cases, spread awareness on the importance of spaying and neutering, and advocate adoption of rescued dogs housed at their Quezon City shelter.


They have also almost single-handedly won for the “asPin” (or asong Pinoy) new status as a breed worthy of love and attention.


Megaworld townships—Shophouses, offices, residences. Living where one works and plays—it’s a masterstroke of lifestyle design that Filipinos have been buying into.


Bench and Ben Chan—Billboards, SRO shows that fill the coliseum or arena, hot list of global endorsers, trailblazing projects. When the Philippines is seeing the influx of luxury brands, Ben Chan not only has turned Bench into a global brand, but has also espoused #lovelocal. This is one Filipino brand that has yet to blink in the face of foreign competition.


Artisanal fairs—Local artisans and producers of lifestyle and fashion items too specialized for department stores—and certainly not mass-produced—found a retail haven in fairs that popped up seasonally in prestigious venues. Fairs like two of today’s most popular, ArteFino and Maarte, made it ultra-hip to patronize everything proudly Philippine-made.


SM Supermalls—Mall developers and operators changed the landscape of the metropolis in the last 30 years, bringing about a mall culture that has spread even to the farthest provincial cities. SM Supermalls alone has 71 shopping malls all over the country. Going to the mall has become part of the Filipino lifestyle: it’s where we go to shop, eat, find recreation, get a motley of services, even hear Mass. For better or worse, malls have become surrogates for the parks and town plazas of our past, places that are increasingly becoming extinct in our modern life.

SM Supermalls have made malling part of the Filipino lifestyle.

The Tantocos of Rustan’s and SSI Group—The pioneers of luxury retail have brought to our shores hundreds of global brands that previously were accessible only to Filipinos who traveled overseas—from fast-fashion behemoth Zara to luxury brand Cartier. The family has been in business for over 65 years, and through the decades has refined not just the variety of their offerings but has also maintained the exceptional service that has been the company’s trademark.

Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., flanked by grandsons Anton Huang and Donnie Tantoco

The Zobels and Ayala Group—For many decades now, they have been designing the country’s business, commercial and residential districts. They have planned the cities and suburbs that generations of Filipinos have come to live in.


Art Fair Philippines—This marketplace for modern and contemporary art has created a democratic venue for both art enthusiasts and tyros, serious buyers and kibitzers alike, to have a better appreciation of the local art scene—and visual art itself—as proven by the blockbuster attendance every year since its founding in 2013.


Aesthetic center pioneers Marie France, Belo, et al. These trailblazers have made beauty-enhancing procedures and services widely acceptable. Liposuction, botox, lasers and fillers have become part of the daily lexicon, the procedures themselves considered part of self-care more than capricious undertakings.


Virgie Ramos—From Gift Gate, Hello Kitty (before she gave it up) to Swatch, this entrepreneur whiz has been building and marketing brands in a maverick manner—and doing so, has raised the bar for Philippine retail.


Manila’s vibrant theater scene—In the beginning, there were few stalwarts championing Philippine theater, from Peta and Rep to Bulwagang Gantimpala, Teatro Pilipino and university-based groups. In the last few years, however, idealistic theater visionaries established their own groups, led by the likes of dynamic Atlantis Productions of Bobby Garcia. Today, weekends are crowded with theater productions all over town, a testament to the overflow of thespian talents.


Yoga —It was only a matter of time before this ancient Indian philosophical system, once the province of hippies and new age fans, burst into the western fitness scene—and Manila would follow. From small classes held in private homes to dedicated yoga studios offering various styles all over the country—from Ashtanga and Iyengar to Bikram and Kundalini—it’s become a mainstream wellness practice that’s here to stay.


Concertus Manila—Founded by Bambi Verzo in 2004, Concertus and their partners have been bringing to the country international touring productions of shows like “Wicked,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Sound of Music,” “Les Miserables,” “West Side Story,” “Chicago,” “Cats” and more. Filipino theatergoers have enjoyed watching Broadway- and West End-worthy productions without having to fly abroad. Bambi left us in 2016, but her family and the Concertus team carry on her legacy, with Concertus continuing to stage fantastic shows.


Korean everything—We’ve been enjoying a Korean invasion in many forms—from K-pop and K-drama to skin care brands and even food. Who hasn’t eaten at a Korean BBQ joint in the past month? We enjoy it and we say, just like we do when given another serving of samgyeopsal, “Gomabseubnida and please keep it coming.”


Budget airlines—Travel is no longer a luxury just for the rich, thanks to low-cost carriers and piso-fare promos and seat sales. Filipinos are seeing more and more of the world, and that’s a wonderful thing.


Smartphones—Our computers are literally in our pockets. It’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have the world in our hands.

Badminton—Remember when everyone and their titas were swinging rackets after work, holding tournaments and booking courts for fast and friendly games that pushed many into better shape? We do, too.


Streaming sites—Gone are the days of waiting week after week for new episodes of your favorite show. The name of the game is now binge-watching whenever, wherever you want, using streaming sites like, Netflix, Hooq, IFlix and ABS-CBN’s IWantTV.


Pet-friendly malls—Pets found their rightful place with their owners when Eastwood Mall opened its doors to dogs and cats in 2004. The first pet-friendly mall in the metro, and quite possibly in the entire country, Eastwood Mall was designed specifically to accommodate pets. It has plenty of open spaces and wide walkways. The air flows freely, allowing plenty of legroom for people and their pets. People from as far away as Baguio came to drop by the mall with their pets.


The mall, then managed by ERA Real Estate Exchange Inc., was awarded the Golden Paw Award by the PAWS and inducted into the Order of the Platinum Paw for being the first pet-friendly mall.


Kevin Tan, then ERA director for commercial operations, told Inquirer Lifestyle in 2004, “This is our service to pet owners. Walking pets around the village is so restrictive and confined. What if you want to do things together?”


Conceptualized at a time when there was no clamor for pet-friendly malls, Eastwood Mall first conducted an informal study on how shoppers would view having pets around the mall, and the results were positive. Consumers were willing to share their space with pets. Today, dozens of malls welcome pets.


Running —We watched as running—from 5k fun runs to grueling ultramarathons—became the hottest fitness trend of the last decade or so. People found every reason to take to the road: a good cause, a protest, a company fitness program, a big party. After all, anybody could do it, and all you needed was a path. They also bought millions of pesos worth of gear, though.


A vibrant music and nightlife scene—In the past 33 years, the evolution of music nightlife in the metro—from cosmopolitan cafés in Manila in the ’80s, to seedy rock dives in Quezon City in the ’90s, to the current mushrooming of countless clubs and bars in Makati and Taguig—has depended on the passion and entrepreneurial spirit of the establishments’ owners.


Similarly, the country’s transformation into a regular stop for major international music artists’ world tours has been the result of the drive and skills of concert promoters.


Likewise, the wide choice of drinks in bars and restaurants has been an effect of ideas and decisions of mostly young people.


Joey and Marco Viray—These brothers are responsible not only for the popularity of craft beers, including their own brand Joe’s Brew, but also for opening dining spots and clubs in Makati’s Poblacion district.


The Virays have partnered with like-minded youth in bringing, for instance, a New York vibe to their latest venture, the three-story restaurant/club/bar they named NoKal—North of Kalayaan—after its location on the main street that bisects Poblacion.


But for quite a long time now, two nightlife destinations have stayed open when lots of others have closed down or reopened with new owners.


Mari Lagdameo and partners—They have proudly maintained Strumm’s on Jupiter Street, Makati, for 25 years.


Wowee Posadas—The musician-lawyer has made his own club, 19 East in Sucat, Muntinlupa, a favorite hangout for a long time now.


They don’t seem to have a business secret or formula, but maybe just a stubborn belief in their love of music—and trusted managers.


Rhiza Pascua of MMI Live—In the concert scene, she has become the top promoter of virtually all major contemporary music acts for the past several years.


Renen de Guia of Ovation Productions—He has been fulfilling the wishes of baby boomers through concerts featuring mostly retro acts.


Mark Ghosn—Monologues, or theatrical performances almost like spoken word or standup, are a new nightlife choice. One of its proponents is Ghosn.


Ghosn heads Monologista Inc., which has been staging a series of shows dubbed Ampalaya Monologues, featuring a roster of performers in 10-minute acts.


A video of Ghosn doing his own act, “Trolling in the Deep,” has drawn attention for its mix of sarcasm and insight.


Chef Margarita “Gaita” Forés —Named Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2016, she was knighted by the Italian government as a Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia (Order of the Star of Italy) just last month.


This distinction was granted to Forés by Italian President Sergio Mattarella for her remarkable efforts in promoting Italian cuisine in the Philippines.


Forés was only 10 years old when she first set foot on Italian soil, and her love affair with Italian food has never ended. This marks her 31st year in the culinary industry.


Forés is the brains behind Cibo, Lusso and Grace Park restaurants. Forés also put up Casa Artusi Philippines, the first offshore school of the prestigious culinary academy and center of Italian gastronomic culture.


Madrid Fusion Manila (MFM)—An important gastronomic event in recent years that put Filipino cuisine on the culinary map, when the world’s top chefs fly to Manila for interaction with our own chefs and leading food purveyors. Madrid Fusion has become a gathering that gourmets, gourmands, foodies, the media and culinary students look forward to for learnings and sharing ideas.


Our very own stellar chefs who have participated in the past three MFM include Gaita Forés, Myrna Segismundo, Chele Gonzalez, Miko Aspiras, Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, Mike “Tatung” Sarthou, Glenda Barretto, Claude Tayag, Sandy Daza and Jessie Sincioco.


Lea Salonga—Celebrating her 40th year in the business this year, the singer and actress who stole hearts as a cute little “Annie,” and who first put Filipino musical talent indelibly on the world map via her dazzling West End and Broadway stints as “Miss Saigon” remains, the pride of the Philippines.


Jessie Sincioco—She rose above the challenge in the male-dominated world of hotel kitchens and made an indelible mark in haute cuisine. She has paved the way for Filipino women into the professional kitchen. But she considers her greatest achievement serving as personal chef to His Holiness Pope Francis during his 2015 papal visit to the Philippines.


Antonio “Tonyboy” Escalante—The award-winning chef won Filipino foodies’ hearts and stomachs when he opened his posh restaurant Antonio’s in Tagaytay, which later made it to the Miele Guide’s Top 20. In 2015, he added a feather to his cap—the most prestigious yet—when Antonio’s became the first Filipino restaurant to be included in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, a list compiled by the same people behind The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Guide, considered an alternative to the Michelin Guide.


Vicvic Villavicencio—Give it up for the mastermind behind the phenomenal “eat-all-you-can” but “no-leftover” restaurant. It was he who started buffet meals. It became so popular that other restaurants jumped on the bandwagon. That’s so typical of Villavicencio, a genius when it comes to innovation. Kamayan, Saisaki, Sambokojin and Ogetsu Hime remain industry leaders in the culinary scene.


Cecile Licad—The Philippines’ most accomplished concert pianist and international classical music superstar has never stopped coaxing magic from those keys—while still making time to do concerts in the provinces during every trip home.




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