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ONE BIG FLIP: A Dilapidated House turns into a Dream Home

By Vanessa Velasco

(published in Manila Bulletin, 26 October 2008)

It was once a house you would not normally buy. Old and abandoned, its white walls were stained with a dull gray color, and the interiors were a muddle of rusty metal posts, cracked lumber walls and torn wallpaper. The garden was even reminiscent of a mini-jungle scene of crawling vines and tall wild grass. But 26-year-old Justin Austria saw beyond the old dilapidated house and found a business opportunity.

"The structure was already there," he explains, "we just needed to repair and renovate." With his mom as the financier and interior designer, he purchased the seemingly long-forgotten house and started to transform it into something habitable.



Renovations started last July. Justin described it as an ideal time to work on the house: "The rainy season has ended and the house was set to be finished just before the holidays," he says. By mid-October, the shabby old bungalow acquired an entirely different image: a refreshing sanctuary with tall glass windows, well-ventilated rooms and cosy verandas.

Except for the main structure, the old house was almost unrecognizable. The ceiling of the living room was raised a few meters above the original edifice, and a floor-to-ceiling glass window was set against a backdrop of a carefully landscaped garden. The tall windows welcome sunlight into the room, painting the interiors with a bright and cheery ambience.

They did away with wallpapers in the kitchen. "Wallpapers present a disadvantage when it gets old," Justin explains. One example is this particular kitchen, once wrapped with wallpapers which eventually got torn and stained. They opted for a simple and classy look by painting the walls with an ecru color and adding a dark marble counter that would inspire the chef in anyone who works on it.

A veranda was added to the den on the second floor, just above the carport. Overlooking the garden, it gave the room a more refreshing atmosphere and relaxing scenery. There was also a small bathroom placed on the second floor, next to the den, making it an ideal venue for entertaining guests and hosting small parties.





"And to think that when we bought the house, I saw a snake in it!" Justin laughed. He reveals that this house is his "first flip" – LSJ Corporation's venture into the buy-flip-and-sell business.

LSJ stands for Loy, Sari and Justin – the three members of the Austria family. The company was founded by Loy Austria, who built houses on vacant lots he purchased. When Loy passed away four years ago, his wife Sari and their son Justin continued the legacy by taking on reigns of the business.

Since both mother and son were not experienced in building houses from ground zero, they shifted to remodelling and renovating houses for other people. They also ventured into buying condominium units in Alabang, modifying the interiors of these units, and renting them out.

The mother-and-son team operated as contractors until Justin started his "flip business". This is a major move for their company since it presents greater risks than simply being contractors. They have, in a way, become real estate developers, just like the original intention of the founder.





"We used funds from the units that we rent out to finance the purchase of the old house in BF," Justin reveals. Once this house is sold, Justin will continue his search for more houses to flip. He will start in BF Homes Paranaque, which he says is "the biggest subdivision in the country, with more than 4,000 houses."

He describes it as a good location for real estate development since it is situated in between three municipalities: Paranaque, Alabang and Las Pinas. BF Homes is an old middle-class subdivision with an established community. There is an abundance of commercial establishments and amenities along its main avenues, giving its residents access to grocery stores, banks, spas, and restaurants.

The houses in BF are also more affordable than its neighboring plush villages in Alabang, which makes it a natural choice for families who want a new home. Besides, it is the subdivision where Justin has found a lot of old, aging and dilapidated houses. "Just the kind that I would want to flip," he says.


OLDER THAN ANTIQUE: Home Furnishings Made of Prehistoric Materials

by Vanessa Velasco
Photos by Humprey Cogay

(published in Manila Bulletin, 4 October 2008)

This piece of petrified wood from Oregon is one part wood and one part stone.

"You have to look closely to behold its beauty," the curator said as he held a magnifying glass over what seemed like a collection of colorful stones. And in looking closely, you can actually see an intermingling of colors, images and textures that evokes a m̩lange of emotions, as any piece of art would. But in these exceptional pieces, the emotion was mostly of awe Рfor there we were, gazing upon pieces of large stones that were once a trunk of a tree or a bone of a dinosaur that lived millions of years ago, whose lines, textures and colors were painted not by human hands, but by the earth and its elements.

This was part of a collection that Larry Gotuaco acquired from different countries in a span of ten years. It was an intriguing assortment of ammonite fossils, petrified wood and dinosaur bones – acquired from different parts of the world, and brought together to find their place in the home of the Gotuacos in Makati Bel Air.

Larry and Pat Gotuaco in their home in Makati Bel Air.

Fossils as Furniture

The fossils donned different colors, shapes and sizes – and can make an extraordinary display in every home. Some can even be turned into furniture since they are, in reality, wood, shells and stones, which are common materials that we use in furnishing our houses. The only difference is that these materials have been in existence millions of years ago. And their unique shapes and colors were not fashioned by any interior designer or craftsmen, but were carved by the elements of this planet.

The twirl of the ammonites' shell has caught the interest of some interior designers. Larger ammonite fossils – colored blue, pinkish gray or silver – can be turned into lamps; while the smaller ones that are about the size of a fist can be turned into ash trays. The pieces of petrified wood make a great display in one's living room, and a coffee table can even be made out of cross-section slices of a 230-million-year-old tree trunks. And if you are adventurous enough, you can even have a large piece of dinosaur poop for a small stool which you can place in your veranda or living room.

In their dining hall, the side table is lined with petrified wood from Burma.

Petrified wood from Burma has an opaque white color due to the silicon dioxide in Burmese soil.

A table made of different petrified wood trunks from Madagascar.

Mr. Gotuaco explained that the distinctive colors of the fossils were produced through the chemical interactions of minerals in the soil and groundwater where the fossils were buried for millions of years. The vivid red, orange and yellow colors of the Arizona tree trunks are by-products of iron oxides in the region. Wood found in Myanmar are colored with an opaque white due to silicon dioxide, while those in Indonesia are likely to be black because of the high level of carbon and manganese in Indonesian soil. Some ammonite fossils actually look like metal because they have been filled with pyrite, which gave them their silvery metallic look.

The shapes of the wood, on the other hand, are fashioned by the wind. The ones found in Argentina have a smooth outer layer because they have been exposed to coastal winds, while wood dug up from Nevada has distinctive waves due to hot desert winds that may have deformed the tree trunks.

Wood found in Nevada shows distinctive waves and a peculiar shape due to the winds that may have deformed the tree trunk.

You can still see the rings of the tree from this piece of petrified wood from Oregon.

The collector's items

Mr. Gotuaco is no paleontologist, he said. "I am an insurance person," he chuckled, "but I have been a collector practically all my life." He started his hobby of collecting when he was in his thirties when his doctor, concerned about his rising blood pressure at such an early age, advised him to take up a hobby that would give him the relaxation he needs.

He started by collecting seashells from the different shores in the Philippines. "Seashells were in abundance in the country," he said, "and I was attracted to the different shapes and colors that I found in Philippine shorelines." After twenty years of collecting seashells, he shifted to collecting antique 14th century china ceramics excavated from the earth's different continents. He even co-authored a coffee table book with Rita Tan and Allison Diem featuring an assortment of 14th century blue and white china wares found in the Philippines. Now he found a passion for fossils.

Most of his collections were bought from trade shows, one of the largest being in Tucson Arizona where over 5,000 traders come together to sell their wares. "There are traders from France, Africa, and even Russia," he recounted, "they bring together their specialties in one large trade show. And that's where I get most of my collections."

His Encounter with Fossils

Mr. Gotuaco first heard of the term "Jurassic" in 1993 when he watched the movie Jurassic Park. He became interested in the reality of dinosaurs and how they lived and roamed the earth for 150 million years before they became extinct. A few years later, he saw a piece of petrified wood that was over 200 million years old, and realized that this was once a tree that lived with the early dinosaurs. This started his infatuation with dinosaur bones and petrified wood.

His fascination with fossils has stirred in him the desire to share his knowledge and passion about prehistoric earth. So he decided to exhibit part of his collection at the Ayala Museum. He finds joy in conducting tours for kids and adults alike, to show them the beauty hidden in each piece of stone. "I wanted to bring these fossils here so young people can get to see and touch them, particularly those who do not get to travel," he said.

Different species of petrified wood form part of the Gotuacos' collection.

The Gotuacos' collection of petrified wood excavated from different parts of the Philippines.

The driving force of his passion

Larry Gotuaco's delight for these fossils stem from a deep spirituality and belief in a Creator whose great artistry is embedded in the details of his collection. "The driving force of this passion is my belief in Christianity," he reveals. "I am convinced that God created all of these things through the evolution process, and allowed science to discover what He did and how He did it."

And as he held the magnifying lens over the fossils to show the tiny details of the interaction of colors and textures, one can actually see an intricate artwork in each square centimeter of a stone. It is undeniably a work of art, showing the great imagination of a Creator who put the elements together within a span of millions of years to create one intriguing work of art.

Keep the Music Playing

by Vanessa Velasco
Photos by Deo David

(published in the October 2005 issue of Enterprise Magazine)

The two-century old cello, formerly owned by cellist Vicente “Tiking” Lopez Jr., quietly rests on the right side of the stage during the “Bach to Metallica” concert at the PhilamLife Theatre.

The 200-year-old cello, prominently propped up on two chairs on the stage of PhilamLife Theatre, gave a prelude to what was in store for the audience. Then, as the hall lights began to dim, the old cello became more resplendent. One by one the cellists came, and took the audience through a sweeping musical journey from the Baroque period of the late 1600s to the high romantics of the 19th century. It is a fitting occasion, ancient and new cellos making music in this concert organized in honor of the late Vicente Lopez Jr., the former owner of the two-century old cello.

At program’s end, music shifted to 21st century heavy metal – except that eighteen cellos were playing in lieu of electric guitars – resulting in a finer and gentler sound. “Bach to Metallica”: that’s a fitting name for the concert, as eighteen Filipino cellists gave the audience a taste of music that spanned several musical eras. When the music ceased, the crowd who were silent all throughout the program burst into a jubilant applause.

One of the country’s premier cellists, Renato Lucas, opens the program with a prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach.

After the Performance

In one fleeting moment, these artists revel in the admiration of the crowd. But once the applause dies down and the stage lights dim, they return to the reality many classical musicians face: the struggle to make a living. Classical music artists receive very little recognition – and compensation – compared to pop artists. In reality, many classical musicians receive only around 10% of what their pop counterparts actually earn.

Similarly, cultural organizations are experiencing difficulties. Among the country’s orchestras, only the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra has a regular season this year. Other orchestras have virtually stopped staging their own concerts – some even started to accept bookings for non-cultural events such as weddings and debuts just to make both ends meet. Many classical artists have even gone overseas to seek greener pastures: to countries where their music is more appreciated, and they themselves are better compensated.“Classical artists are not faring well in the country because there is not much media exposure for their music,” says Martin Lopez, executive director of Sinagtala, the foundation that staged “Bach to Metallica”. “We only have a few venues where we can promote classical music. There's DZFE, the only classical radio station in the country. And yet, even DZFE is not spared from financial crisis and in fact has reduced its broadcast hours due to budget constraints. This effectively reduced the exposure for classical music.”

Diminishing Audience

Tiffany Joy Liong, DZFE’s station manager, says that the station's reduced broadcast hours may have indeed affected the reach of classical music. She explains: “It is through DZFE that many people hone their appreciation for the classics and the reduction of broadcast hours by 40% may have diminished our reach, and may have resulted in losing some listeners.”

But the few listeners who remain are a captive audience. These are the discriminating crowd – those who have an ear for fine music, and who can discern what is good and what is not. That explains the applause of the crowd in the concert hall of the PhilamLife Theatre. The applause was not that of the uninitiated, but the educated taste – classical enthusiasts who know the fine distinction between a good and a so-so performance. And classical pieces are not the monopoly of grown-ups.

Pianist J. Greg Zuniega recounts how the students in his music appreciation programs would respond to classical music. “You only need to educate people what the music is all about,” he says. “Once they have a grasp and an understanding of the music, they keep asking for more.”

One Step At A Time

These artists, committed to uphold the legacy of classical music, will not stop until they have shared such fine and beautiful heritage. Martin, noting that the effort is long and arduous, summed up in one sentence how artists will propagate classical music: “We will get there, one step at a time.”

Eight cellists from various orchestras in the country perform a work by Brazilian composer Heitor Villalobos.

One artist at a time. Sinagtala supports the classical artists by helping them find bookings abroad. "There are opportunities outside the country where the artists can gain recognition, and at the same time, have higher compensation," says Martin, "our purpose is for them to perform outside of the country, but they must be back in their native soil; their base should still be here in the Philippines." This has somehow helped our artists cope with financial difficulties without having to reside abroad.

One barrio at a time. World-class violinist Gilopez Kabayao and his wife, pianist Corazon Pineda-Kabayao, have traveled from barrio to barrio – from small schoolhouses to barangay streets to cockpits – to perform and organize simple classes on music appreciation. They have been conducting these classes for years – free of charge, with travel expenses paid out of their own pocket.

One school at a time. Concert pianist J.Greg Zuniega takes with him other artists from one school to another to hone student appreciation for Filipino music and culture. He calls this “audience development,” where he gives free performances to non-classical music listeners and then educates them about the music’s history, plus its significance to our culture. “They actually like the music – and even requested us to come back and perform for them,” Greg says. “It is just a matter introducing them to ‘something finer’.”

One instrument at a time. Concert flutist Ray Sison, for his part, sources out instruments from abroad and deals with manufacturers directly, then makes them available to orchestras. "Good musicians will still sound good even on student model instruments," he points out, "But, of course, they will sound much better with better instruments."

An ensemble of the Philippines' best cellists in their rendition of Metallica's "Fade to Black" composed by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich; and arrange for eighteen cellos by Alvin Castillo.

Corporations Support the Arts

Money-making corporations support classical music through their own foundations, or they include sponsorships for concerts and art exhibits in their yearly budget. Interestingly, the business sector has come up with ways other than cash sponsorships to help propagate the legacy of culture and the arts.

For instance, San Miguel Corporation has established its own orchestra and choral group – the San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra and the San Miguel Master Chorale. The initial reaction of the other orchestras and choral groups was one of disapproval when several of their members have left the group to join San Miguel. However, this move is generally seen as a development in the classical scene since San Miguel has given musicians and vocalists a chance to earn a little more.

Some of Manila’s better concert halls are owned by corporations, which they have built in their own head offices. Somehow, their support for the foundations dedicated to classical music takes the form of their allowing concerts staged in their halls free of charge. Thus, through this kind of sponsorship, we get to enjoy fine performances at the PhilAmLife Theatre, at the Equitable PCI Bank’s Francisco Santiago Hall, the Meralco Theatre and RCBC’s Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium.

Company sponsorships may also take the form of supporting individual performers. Wyeth champions promising young musicians through their Gifted Child campaign. Aside from giving these kids publicity through television commercials and events, Wyeth also sponsors concerts that feature their roster of gifted children.

Other corporations – like the Ayala Corporation, Petron, Metrobank, and Toyota, among others – have established their reputation as staunch patrons of the arts. For years, they have partnered with cultural organizations and enabled them to continue propagating classical music.

In a manner of speaking, foundations are the driving force in the development of classical music; the corporations constitute the enabling force that allows these foundations to play their role well. This partnership between businesses and non-profits keeps the classical music scene moving forward, albeit slowly.

Eleven-year-old Pocholo Ramirez gives his rendition of a sonata by Benedetto Marcello, accompanied by pianist Harold Galang, Dean of the PWU Conservatory of Music.

A Timeless Legacy

After the concert at PhilamLife Theatre, several kids – all scholars of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra Foundation – went onto the stage, each with a lei of flowers. All of them were violin students, and two have been identified as potential cellists.

With quick small steps, they walked up to the performers, who then gamely bowed so the kids can place the leis around their neck. The children’s eyes sparkled, before the older cellists who stood towering over them. The thought is inescapable: Someday these kids will be performing on that same stage – and the devotees of classical music shall have come full circle.

As the artists made their exit and the audience started to leave, there on stage, still quietly resting on two chairs was the old cello. And like the old cello, classical music is, too, supported by two sectors – the businesses and the foundations. Take away one of the chairs and the cello will fall. The same thing will happen to classical music if either the businesses or the foundations would cease to play their part in upholding our classical heritage.

And the compelling reason why they should not stop: "Classical music reminds us of our ideals,” says Tiffany, “telling us that there is something better, something more excellent than what a passing era or what society in general dictates.”

Martin articulates what these ideals are: “It is upholding our sense of culture. Classical musicians don’t go around promoting empty songs like otso-otso. We promote something more meaningful: the culture and harmony that can be found in classical music.”

Just a look at the young scholars should be enough motivation to propagate the legacy of classical music. They represent the next generation of those who will help shape the culture of this country. Let it be then a culture that our artists are working hard to preserve – one that is marked by harmony and excellence.

After the program, the young scholars of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra Foundation come up on stage to present leis to the performers.

A Different Tune on Air

by Vanessa Velasco

(published in the October 2005 issue of Enterprise Magazine)

A surge of musical genres has hit the airwaves – radio stations have tried to find their niche to capture a particular audience. In surfing the channels, one will come across the usual beat of drums and reverberation of electric guitars that is commonly used in the various genres – until you hit that station when the music is distinctively different. One of violins and cellos and flutes.

These finer and softer sounds will go by unnoticed to the untrained ear. Only those who have an appreciation for the finer art will keep their dials tuned in to the station. For more than half a century, 98.7 DZFE has been dutifully, without fanfare, playing the classics in the airwaves. Amid the proliferation of the more popular tunes of pop and rock, the station maintained its identity as the only classical music station in the country.

The station has long served an important role in the classical music scene. When people cannot attend concerts or buy CDs, DZFE brings classical music right to their own homes, offices, or cars. One can enjoy the “natural imagery” in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or imagine the countryside charm in Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, while negotiating across Metro Manila’s traffic. The stress of office work becomes bearable when listening to the soothing symphonies of Beethoven or Mozart or Rachmaninoff. People can listen to performances of artists in the concert halls of Europe without leaving the comfort of their homes or the privacy of their cars.

While most of the station’s listeners are top executives, professionals, and the academe, there are, surprisingly enough, also a number of cab drivers, motorshop mechanics, and sari-sari store owners who listen. This defies the perception that classical music is only for the elite. Even the common tao can develop a taste for the fine and the elegant.

One of them wrote to the station, giving a glimpse into the very diverse audience of DZFE: “I grew up in the dumpsites, in the squatters’ area. I began listening to your station when you were on the AM band when I was in sixth grade. Only the music of the masters helped me keep everything in balance. My neighbors were wondering what this music was that I was listening to! I just love your station.”

Reading these responses from the listeners is enough to motivate the people in DZFE to continue their work despite the difficulties. Like all non-profit organizations, the station faces financial challenges that started with funding problems in the later part of the year 2000. Fund generation was at a downhill trend, compelling DZFE to reduce broadcast hours by 40 percent. Tiffany Joy Liong, DZFE station manager, assures listeners, however, that the cut in broadcast hours is temporary. Once the funds come in regularly, the station will resume its afternoon and weekend programs.

The station needs to raise more than P400,000 a month to cover operational expenses. Because of its non-commercial license, DZFE does not solicit advertisements from organizations; they survive only through the donations of radio listeners and other partner organizations who have offered to help the station financially.

The station has also partnered with corporations through sponsorships of fundraising concerts. But while these donations help in pushing forward DZFE’s projects, the station has yet to get regular funding to sustain broadcast operations.

To date, DZFE’s mother network, the Far East Broadcasting Company, still subsidizes a portion of the station’s operational costs, but other funding revenues are being explored with the goal of establishing a donor base that can regularly support the station. “We need to get regular donations, even if it is as little as P100 a month,” Tiffany says. “As long as it is continuing, it would help us continue our broadcasts.”

Many sectors believe the broadcasts should indeed continue, pointing to DZFE’s programming that does not compete for the passing interest of the majority, but remains faithful to what is timeless. DZFE represents the artist’s resistance to what is merely popular, so that it remains faithful to its advocacy to promote what is excellent, and thus elevate its audience’s taste.

Better still, it is the kind of programming that makes people experience what this listener articulated: “In moments like these, when I feel the world is bearing down on me, and when it has become so difficult to live life peacefully, I tune in to your station.

“It is always like a breath of fresh air that has come into my troubled soul. It is not just the tranquil music from our classic composers, but the quiet, almost prayerful quality of your programming that gives me a certain calm. For these precious moments of tranquility in a world of noise, I am grateful.”

DR. RUTH CALLANTA: Her journey to eradicating poverty

by Vanessa Velasco

(published in the May 2006 issue of Enterprise Magazine)

It all started with a single question: “Why are there poor people in a country with so many resources?” And her search for answers launched a two-decade-long journey for Dr. Ruth Callanta, taking her from the comforts of a middle-class home in Manila, to development studies in universities and higher learning institutions, and finally, to the founding of an organization that supports the micro-businesses of the entrepreneurial poor. Now the founding president of the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) and 2005 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, Dr. Callanta shares her journey of finding the answer to poverty alleviation.

“I was raised in a middle-class Christian family where everyone lived in harmony,” she started. It was a very ideal family setting where there was an abundance of food on their table, where it was common for people to share possessions and resources with one another, and where generosity went beyond the walls of their home to outsiders who were in need.

So when the young Ruth took an undergraduate degree in Anthropology in the University of the Philippines, she was surprised to discover a world where suffering existed, where poor had nothing to eat, and no homes to stay in. So started her search for a way to help these people out of poverty.

“I thought I could help by volunteering in a charitable organization,” she said. But she soon realized these organizations may only provide short-term relief for poverty – the donations of food and clothes to the poor may be enjoyed for a while, but when the food is consumed and the clothes worn out, they would once more feel the hunger pangs. It seemed like an endless cycle. She knew then that short term solutions are not enough for long-term problems such as poverty.

Soon, she pursued graduate studies and academic work in higher learning institutions. She enrolled in a master’s degree program in Community Development and Social Work in UP and afterwards, while working as research assistant at the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP). Later, she took a Master in Management at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), the same institution where she became part of a team that developed the curriculum for their Master in Development Management program.

Through these two institutions, Ruth learned the languages of both business and social development, allowing her to “unite the concepts of business with the heart of social work.” She then introduced this model to the poor by establishing micro-finance programs among them, and equipped them with the skills in money-making.
“But I soon realized,” she recalls, “even when you if you lend money to the poor without any real transformation in the hearts of these individuals, the money will only be used for their selfish interests.”

The founding of the Center for Community Transformation

Ruth’s teaching job at AIM provided several opportunities for service, one of which was a stint as CEO of the Asian Resource Center. When the Center closed down after a year of operation, she incorporated the Center for Community Transformation in 1992, and absorbed the 13 staff of the Asian Resource Center – paying their salaries initially out of her own pocket.

The first funding for CCT came when San Miguel Corporation (SMC) hired the organization as consultant during a time when SMC was reducing its manpower. CCT provided entrepreneurial training for the retrenched SMC employees, equipping them with the necessary skills needed to generate income for themselves and eventually establish their own businesses.

Soon, they entered into another contract with SMC’s subsidiary, La Tondena, whose factory in Tondo was about to transfer to Pangasinan. CCT was commissioned to do a research study on the effects of the factory’s transfer on the immediate community where it operated. Results showed that the community surrounding the factory was dependent on the workers for their livelihood and income – the sari-sari stores and carinderias of the community members were established to cater to the La Tondena employees.

With the community’s micro-businesses in peril of closing down due to the factory’s transfer, CCT started its own community-based program that equipped the micro-entrepreneurs with tools that will enable them to find other ways of generating income. Seeing that CCT can already sustain its own operations and start its own community-based programs, Ruth enrolled in UNDP’s micro-finance program, which led to the formation of the CCT Credit Cooperative.

The micro-finance programs of CCT soon gave birth to several other ministries that provide a holistic approach to poverty alleviation. A scholarship fund was set up for the education needs of the beneficiaries’ children. A housing program was initiated where men are trained to do carpentry, plumbing and electrical works – with the possibility of landing in contractual jobs for CCT’s corporate partners in its housing projects. Trainings are provided to the poor to enable them to live sustainable lives – continuously earning income for their families through the capital provided by CCT’s micro-finance program. A trading company was established to provide low-cost products to the poor, making available to them quality products at affordable prices. And, CCT provides a way for the poor to have social security and medical benefits by facilitating for them their contributions to Social Security System (SSS) and Philhealth. “As we help increase their income,” Ruth explains, “we also help decrease their expenses, and give them access to social security for their future.”

The Heart of the Problem

Beyond the poverty alleviation programs that she started through CCT, Ruth made sure that these communities who benefit from their programs would experience real transformation. “No real transformation can take place unless the heart is changed,” she says, “and the only person who can change the hearts of men is none other than Christ.”

It is through the values formation programs of CCT that all its members have been faithful in paying their loans and their contributions. Because of this, the organization is highly liquid, enabling it to expand its operations. Each membership meeting starts with a Bible Study, where the values of stewardship, honesty and integrity are taught to the CCT members.

The organization also partners with Christian churches that conduct the Bible studies and assist in CCT’s community programs. Now, CCT sites have become thriving communities of micro-entrepreneurs who are honest and ethical in their deals, and trustworthy in their partnerships – which eventually made them prosperous their small businesses.

What Ruth then started as a small organization with only 13 staff in 1992 grew to an enterprise with around 850 full-time workers, 130 branches and more than a hundred thousand beneficiaries nationwide. The rapid expansion and growth of CCT and the blossoming micro-businesses of its beneficiaries validate Ruth’s claim that “the poor can pay for their own development and non-profit organizations can achieve sustainability without having to rely on grants and foreign funding.”

The Road Ahead

Even after the success of CCT’s work among the entrepreneurial poor, Ruth’s journey did not stop there. She continues to look for ways to expand the organization and reach more urban poor communities. Part of her future plans for the organization includes the construction of the CCT Training Development Institute building where micro-entrepreneurs can be equipped with skills that will enable them to sustain their businesses.

“If those who work in big business corporations can avail of education such as MBA and graduate studies that allow them to be effective managers,” she explains, “the Institute will do the same for the entrepreneurial poor.” The Institute will train the micro-entrepreneurs with livelihood skills that they need in operating – and possibly, expanding – their small businesses.

CCT also partners with big business corporations who can provide low-cost products, training and other business opportunities to the micro-entrepreneurs. “There are a lot of possibilities for the micro-businesses,” Ruth says, “they can be both the market of the big businesses’ low-cost products, or they can also be the suppliers – just like what Cityland is doing, when they contract the people they train in some of their housing projects.”

There also exists a plan to develop the industries that produce Philippine-made products such as weaving, dyeing, and pottery. This program by CCT seeks to develop the indigenous industries in the provinces by promoting products that are distinctively Filipino. The program is a response to the current trend of purchasing affordable imported products from other Asian countries, which has significantly reduced the interest of Filipinos in the country’s native products. In patronizing Philippine-made products, indigenous people can earn additional income from crafts that can actually compete in the market.

A Vision Fulfilled

Both Ruth’s passion and innovation may have won her the title of the 2005 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. But what causes her to continue her pursuit of poverty eradication? “It’s a vision I received while reading Isaiah 65,” she replied. Quoting the verses from that book, she mentioned of “a world where no infant will die of malnutrition; that the old will live up to a hundred years; that people will live in houses they built and eat the fruits of their labor.” She added that all these things are actually indicators of development that are used by several non-profit organizations. She points out: “The concept of development has been there even during Old Testament times.”

Her journey may have been long and challenging, but in stepping out of the comforts of her middle-class home to embark on a search to eradicate poverty, Ruth transformed depressed areas into thriving communities of micro-entrepreneurs – and enabled these people to experience for themselves, that same comfortable life and ideal home that she knew as a child. Now these people have homes with enough food on their tables, a shelter to protect them, and a spirit of sharing among the community members – just like the kind of home where the young girl named Ruth grew up.

And, inheriting the generosity of her parents who shared the food on their table to needy strangers, she shared her life so that people need not ask for food from strangers again.

Transforming Communities

Vanessa Velasco
Photos by Greg Morales

(published in the February 2006 issue of Enterprise Magazine)

That particular weekday morning started out with a trek along what was obviously a place of commerce. It is not the usual scenery that greets office workers in the larger business districts where stylish glass buildings tower above a wide avenue. It does not have the sophistication of Ayala where sedans and SUVs form part of the business landscape.

Here, at Kalayaan Street behind the Commonwealth market, the road is narrow and covered with mud. The edifices you see are but small structures made of shoddy coco lumber. The only vehicles that can pass through are bicycles, motorcycles and wooden karitons.

Walking along the street, however, one can notice that the place is bustling with several small businesses. Sari-sari stores are sporadically scattered along the main road. Several people are seen having merienda at small tables and benches where the only meals on the menu are ham sandwiches and orange juice. Women shop for ten-peso clothes in the small ukay-ukay shop while kids enjoy a five-minute virtual battle with spaceships just by dropping a peso coin in a rusty amusement machine.

It is a community of micro entrepreneurs. Some have already sought expansion by venturing into several other micro-businesses: a registered midwife has her own sari-sari store and rooms for rent; the owner of the small gaming shop also operates her own FX unit; and the ukay-ukay shop proprietor has already established three store branches.

What is the moving force behind the proliferation of their small businesses? They had one answer: “The Center for Community Transformation has greatly helped raise capital to fund our businesses.”

Some of the women microentrepreneurs at Kalayaan Avenue.


For several years, the Center for Community Transformation (CCT), through its micro-finance programs, has helped support the small businesses and housing needs of poor families. It owns one of the largest credit cooperatives in the country, having 97 branches nationwide and supporting more than hundred thousand families through their livelihood programs. Micro entrepreneurs are able to sustain – and even expand – their businesses, allowing to have modest living conditions and pay for their children’s college education.

“Eradicating poverty cannot be done by the government alone,” says CCT president Ruth Callanta, “We have to do our part so that those living below the poverty line – which comprises 70% of the country’s population – may be given a chance for a better future.”

In one of CCT’s membership meetings, members pay their dues for their loans or deposit money for their savings accounts.

The future has indeed been brighter for the cooperative members when they joined CCT. Cora, a sari-sari store owner, managed to make all her children graduate from college by simply maintaining a sari-sari store which CCT helped finance. Ofelia was able to build a second floor for her house which she now rents out to people who need a place to stay. Pichie used the small amount she loaned from CCT to establish her third ukay-ukay branch in another barangay, which eventually helped increase her income.

But the micro-finance programs are just part of CCT’s bigger effort in community transformation. Values formation and character building are at the core of their operations, where they require their members to attend Bible studies at the start of their membership meetings before they proceed with the actual business transactions. This is one way that CCT achieves its goal in transforming communities – by instilling in each individual member, a genuine love for God and for their fellowmen.

“Real transformation should start from within the individual,” Callanta explains, “Once they have gained the right attitude and the right heart, their changed lives can ultimately transform communities.”

Values formation is part of CCT’s membership meetings where attendance of the Bible studies and prayer times are a requirement.

The role of corporations has been increasingly significant in helping CCT achieve its mission. Aside from helping CCT finance the businesses of more than a hundred thousand micro-entrepreneurs, corporations have also been essential in giving support through technology training and commodity trading.

Cityland Incorporated, aside from financing the housing loans of the members, also lends its expertise in real estate development in CCT’s housing projects. Moreover, the corporation provides computer training to enable the CCT staff and members to gain additional skills that can earn them more opportunities in developing their businesses.

Several companies have been active in providing low-cost products to CCT members. Through its trading company, CCT purchases basic commodities such as soap, detergents, cooking oil and other products at discounted prices from its corporate partners, and then re-sells these products to the community members at very affordable prices. This way, the poor has access to quality products at prices within their budget.

Companies such as DLI Generics provide medicines and vitamins to the communities for as low as one peso per tablet.

Maya Advertising donates used tarpaulin billboards and banners to the micro-entrepreneurs, who then transform these tarps into bags that can be sold at their stores.

Other companies such as United Neon and Stateland Condominium help fund the business and housing loans of the micro-entrepreneurs and the scholarship of their children.
“CCT serves as an intermediary between the corporations and the poor,” says Callanta, “our role is to match what the corporations could offer with the present needs of the poor.”


And what are indeed the pressing needs of the poor? A CCT staff who left a high-paying job in the corporate world to join CCT in its mission sums it up in one sentence: “They don’t need to be given fish, they need to be taught how to fish.”

And that is what organizations like CCT has been doing for years. The scene along Kalayaan Street revealed a different kind of business landscape. It may not be as glamorous as Makati or Ortigas, but its beauty lies not in what is seen – it is felt in the community’s spirit. A restless energy that is trying to catch up with the rest of society; where its constituents are continuously exploring the vast ocean of opportunities before them.

As the day came to a close, what started out for us as a trek on the muddy street behind the Commonwealth Market ended on the high-end district of Makati City. The day’s excursion showed us a sharp contrast between two worlds – from coco lumber houses and karitons on a narrow dirt road to towering glass buildings and the latest automobile models along a wide and paved avenue.

But, perhaps, nestled somewhere in these modern buildings are companies that once started out as micro-businesses. And it is through cooperatives like CCT that the entrepreneurial poor are given access to resources and skills that have brought their more affluent counterparts to the larger business districts.

Who knows, maybe one of these days, because of the efforts of the cooperatives and the support of the bigger business corporations, one of these micro-entrepreneurs will find themselves in the same journey: from a small coco lumber structure on that muddy street, into a bigger and better office space in one of the skyscrapers of Makati and Ortigas.

It is a dream that we can all share with them.

Cooperatives: The Enterprise of the Masses

By Vanessa Velasco

(published in the February 2006 issue of Enterprise Magazine)

For years, cooperatives have played an important part in the country’s development. It is the sector that finances the small businesses of the masa and gives purchasing power to the poor. It is through these organizations that wealth is created on the lower levels of society – particularly those who cannot afford to loan in banks or invest in stocks or bonds.

A cooperative – more popularly known as the co-op – is an enterprise that gathers people to pool in their resources as capital. The most common of cooperatives is the credit cooperative, which has the basic functions of a bank, except that its services are limited only to its members. Its primary function is micro-finance where members can loan an amount as low as P2,000 and settle it on easy payment terms. Other cooperatives pool in the agricultural products of their members, which are sold to the community or to traders and exporters. Any income earned by the cooperative is given back as dividends to its members.

In a way, a cooperative is like a business enterprise on another level – where the stockholders are the masses; where even the poor and marginalized can be empowered to make business and investment decisions. At present, there are around 64,000 of these organizations all over the country – and their numbers are continually increasing.


The growing number of cooperatives has prompted the National Confederation of Cooperatives (NATCCO) to work on professionalizing the sector. NATCCO is one of the biggest networks of cooperatives in the country, with over 1,200 member co-ops. They play the role of intermediary among their members, as well as an enabler for the cooperatives to achieve a level of competency and productivity.

Cris Paez, chief executive officer of NATCCO, relates how he wants to see the cooperatives in the future: “We want to turn them into world-class institutions,” he says, “so that the officers and staff are competent in handling the transactions and the cooperatives have their own business centers to keep them connected with the rest of the world.”

Under his leadership, NATCCO has provided training and consultancy services to the officers and staff of the cooperatives, enabling them to acquire skills to manage their co-ops well. After the training programs, NATCCO goes a step further by providing technical assistance in setting up the systems of the cooperatives.

“We go with them to the communities to help them set up their business centers,” says Paez, “through this, the cooperatives are connected to the world through facilities that gives them access to telephone and the internet.”


As part of NATCCO’s efforts to inter-connect the cooperatives, a more standardized system is being developed to unify the software applications being used by its members.

Wilfredo Dimamay, chairman of the Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) Multi-Purpose Cooperative, is helping NATCCO establish its information technology systems. “We are creating inter-cooperative business by unifying their savings and credit applications software so that all co-ops will be inter-connected,” he says, explaining that this move will allow ATM-connectivity among the cooperatives and facilitate more money transfers and inter-cooperative lending.

The new standardized system will also allow efficient retrieval of records, financial ratios analysis and resources management. Eventually, a central cooperative bank will be established to enable members to make transactions through ATM machines in any of NATCCO’s banks.

The technology of the commercial banks is being used to achieve this inter-connectivity. Dimamay says that eventually, the systems of the cooperatives should be like that of the banks. “The only difference is,” he points out, “whatever profits these cooperatives earn are distributed to the masses.”


With the growing number of cooperatives and standardizing of systems comes the need to continually equip the leaders on how to manage their organizations. “Cooperatives are growing and there is a need to train and equip the leaders to handle the expanding organization,” says Romeo Villamin, chief executive officer of the Institute of Cooperative Excellence (ICE), an organization established as a response to NATCCO’s mandate to equip its leaders and officers.

Now, formal education on Cooperative Management has been made available to directors and officers of NATCCO’s member cooperatives. The Ateneo Business School has now offered Cooperative Management as an elective in its MBA program. Other schools all over the country are being invited to follow suit, and include the elective in their business courses.

Soon, the program will be developed into one whole course that can be offered in colleges and universities. Villamin, optimistic about the response of schools to the program, says he hopes to see the course moving beyond a mere elective to a whole college degree. “Like an MBA major in Cooperative Management,” he muses.

Negros Oriental Rising

(published in the August 2005 issue of Enterprise Magazine)