Ernest Escaler: The gentleman farmer is also an innovator | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Ernest Escaler: The gentleman farmer is also an innovator
ESCALER FAMILY. Frank & Ditas Khouri, Rico, Tessie & Pancho Escaler, Therese Dabao,
Frank and Ditas Khouri, Rico Escaler, Tessie and Pancho Escaler, Therese Dabao,Ernest Escaler, Michael Escaler, Ambassador Ching Escaler, Andrew Escaler, Joel Dabao —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS
Frank and Ditas Khouri, Rico Escaler, Tessie and Pancho Escaler, Therese Dabao, Ernest Escaler, Michael Escaler, Ambassador Ching Escaler, Andrew Escaler, Joel Dabao —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

In 2014, Ernesto Escaler, visionary entrepreneur, gentleman farmer and arts patron, became the first Filipino to be conferred with the Order of the Star of Italy. This award was bestowed by the President of Italy to expatriates and foreigners who have contributed to Italy’s advancement.

Ten years later, Escaler receives yet another Order of the Star of Italy, but of a higher ranking, Commandatore (signified by a collared medal), from the Italian government for the service of his business processing outsource, Philippine Interactive Audiotext Services Inc. (Piasi).

The conferment acknowledges Piasi’s 24-year assistance to the Italian government, not only for its outstanding visa outsourcing services, but also for the long friendship. Escaler has been going the extra mile to help the Italian embassy, whether it was introducing the new envoy to prominent personalities, sponsoring embassy events, providing concierge services to the consular section or just lending a helping hand.

“We can provide drivers, janitors and other services for their needs,” he said.

Setting the bar

A pioneer in the visa appointment system in the world, Escaler first offered the United States embassy assistance with the huge volumes of visa applications in the early ’90s. “We stopped the long queues in the US embassy, which started at 3 a.m., by providing an appointment system,” he recalled. During the five-year engagement given by the US embassy to Piasi, visa appointments made the embassy’s services more efficient.

Other countries were impressed that the lines in front of the US embassy on Roxas Boulevard disappeared, while their embassies struggled to cope with the increasing number of applicants.

“We gave them a proposal which they accepted,” said Escaler.

Since 2000, Piasi has been the visa outsourcer for Italy. Over time, it served the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. Piasi helped embassies in visa application management, document checking and collection, biometric data collection and passport return.

“We cut down on the administrative work. The cost was passed on to the applicants. These applicants pay for our services, not their governments,” explained Escaler.

Piasi equated personalized service with reliability. It guided Filipinos in applying for and getting a visa every step of the way. As a plus, Piasi introduced the walk-in service and a VIP section.

“We know the customers, their likes and dislikes. This is not a plug-and-play operation. We have a face-to-face transaction,” he said. Unlike governments with restricted budgets, an outsourcer could get more staff to receive the increasing number of visa applications.

Escaler is flanked by Rosaria and Italian ambassador Marco Clemente
Escaler is flanked by Rosaria and Italian ambassador Marco Clemente


There were requests for Escaler to make a bid for Italy’s visa outsourcing in other Asian countries. The judicious businessman didn’t pursue and preferred to do business on familiar territory.

“I don’t know the businesses and personalities in those countries,” he said.

Eventually, other countries centralized the visa processing by hiring multinational providers.

Last year, the Italian government contracted a global outsourcing and technology company, which specialized in government and diplomatic missions. The visa applications for Italy have since moved to the multinational’s office in Taguig from the Piasi office in Makati.

“Piasi is still operating the same way, but we are not dealing with the Italian government, but with the global partner. We have been subcontracted by the global partner to continue this service. We are still running the basic show. Our people still do the paperwork because they’ve been doing it for years. But the VIP and walk-in services are now handled by the partner,” said Escaler.

He observed that the continuous advancement of technology could replace manpower in visa application and processing. Still, Escaler keeps his options open. “Piasi will remain a BPO to whoever wants to engage us. Our team is intact,” he said.

Home on the farm

In the end, Escaler’s commitment is to remain the Philippines’ purveyor of fine coffee through his company Gourmet Coffee.

Likewise, as founder and CEO of his food company, Gourmet Farms Inc., he has been expanding his property. When Gourmet Farms in Silang, Cavite, was covered with ash fall after the Taal Volcano eruption in 2020, it took two months to clean up. Meanwhile, he and his team searched for a property to put up a satellite farm that was a safe distance from the volcano’s activities.

A few months into the pandemic, he bought a property in Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo (formerly Bailen), a 20-minute drive from Tagaytay City. A separate company, Isadore Farm Management, has since been running this 9-hectare property that is planted with chilis, herbs, vegetables and fruits.

Although his company continues to buy coffee beans from local growers, this satellite farm now cultivates 4 ha of coffee and experiments with new technologies and biofertilizers. It also includes a coffee bean drying facility.

During the pandemic, when friends expressed their dream of living in a farm, Escaler allowed them to buy 1,000-square meter lots. “This offer is exclusive only for friends. The lots are limited,” he said. At this writing, nine lots have been purchased.

To create a visually harmonious community, the houses would be designed only by the architect approved by the company. Instead of fences, the houses are bordered with vegetable plots and lawns. The farm also provides them with housekeeping services and fresh harvests. Homeowners can also pick from over 300 fruit-bearing trees, vegetables and herbs or contact Gourmet Café to whip up a picnic menu.

Asked what’s next for the 75-year-old creative thinker, Escaler replied with a shrug, “Whatever comes my way.” —CONTRIBUTED INQ

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