Honoured by the Senate of the Philippines




Last March 16, 2015 I was invited to attend a women’s month celebration at the Philippine Senate by Senator Pia Cayetano. Her staff told me that I had been chosen to be among 15 women who would be celebrated for our achievements in different fields. I knew there would be a Women’s Month exhibit entitled “Empowered Women: Raising the Bar,” highlighting women who’ve made valuable contributions in different areas of society. But I didn’t really know that there would be an entire ceremony that would formalize and legalize our “honours.”

I was allowed to bring three guests, so I brought both my parents and my eldest daughter, Sophia. My parents are here for a few more weeks and I thought it would be a treat for them to see something they only get to see in ANC televised hearings. I brought my daughter so she could meet the other honourees. It’s important for young girls to have different and good role models. Since my husband had seen many events at the Senate as a journalist, I figured he could miss this one.

After the ribbon-cutting moment with Senator Pia Cayetano and Senator Cynthia Villar, we were escorted to the Senate Hall. I was seated right in the middle of the VIP gallery across the table and stage of the Senate President. Beside me were fellow awardees prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, social entrepreneurs Anna and Camille Meloto, first Filipina to climb Mount Everest Noelle Wenceslao, 4-time world champion in bowling Bong Coo, and soprano Rachelle Gerodias.

Senator Pia Cayetano read her “Senate Resolution No. 1237, which honours fifteen women for their invaluable contributions. These women are achievers in their respective fields. They inspire the whole nation, especially young girls to excel despite adversities, despite obstacles.” Source: Pia Cayetano. I heard words like “trailblazers”, “drivers of change”, and “bringing honour to the country.” I was stunned.

I am so thrilled that my parents and my daughter got to see me get honoured by the Philippine Senate. I came to the Philippines in the mid-90’s, not to be in media, but I took on an assignment as project manager of an urban planning program in the Visayas, funded by the government of Canada. Even back then, I was aware of the need to participate in nation building. Before I joined Philippine media, I went to Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, and volunteered on medical missions. And as I got “side-tracked” to the worlds of broadcasting, blogging, and entrepreneurship, I had always found ways to try to make a difference, mostly by telling stories. Moving here cost me a lot – my family, my education, my career in international development and urban planning. I wanted my move here to make sense. I know it does because I met my husband and had our family here. But I wanted my work to make sense. I eventually found my voice when UNICEF appointed me as Special Advocate for Children in 2010. It sort of formalized what I had been doing – advocating for marginalized mothers and infants, for the awareness of heritage conservation, for the need for urban parks and other environmental causes. But I haven’t really done anything concrete, nothing tangible. I still want to be able to do more. Like I always say, no one needs a fancy title just to make a difference. We can all do.

I pray for humility. But this is a really big deal for me. So thank you for allowing me to share my story. I dont know if I really deserve this honour. But at that moment when I stood up and Sen Pia read my name and my contributions, the only thing I could think of was “Thank you God for leading me down this path. It wasn’t always making sense. It still doesn’t sometimes. But I am just following your path.” When I calmed down, I kept whispering to Camille, Lisa and Rachelle, “Wow, this is so awesome. Our how amazing that our parents are here to witness this.” Then I turned to Noelle, “Our names are in a Senate Resolution!” Then Noelle says, “Can you believe it? We are so legit!” Chuckles.


20150316_SENATE SESSION_0013
On the Senate floor before formal session began. From L-R, Noelle Wenceslao, Lisa Macuja-Elizade, Anna Meloto, Senate President Franklin Drilon, Camille Meloto, Senator Pia Cayetano, Bong Coo, me, and Senator Bongbong Marcos.


My view


I am amazed with this group of women who have achieved so much and serve as inspirations and role models.


There’s my 3-person cheering squad. Nothing but love.


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My moment. I don’t know why I have a pseudo-duck face. I was really nervous and in disbelief. Plus one of my senator friends tried to make me laugh. (Oh, by the way, I am totally aware it was a bad hair day. I arrived with my hair pulled back in a tight pony tail. After my first photos, my mother tells me that the pony tail made me look old. She suggested I take it down. So I did. And this is what happened. Disaster! Haha.)


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I love this about us Filipinos. That we stand and put our right hand to our heart when we sing our national anthem. This meant a lot to me.


Holding the actual Senate Resolution.


In her privilege speech, Sen Pia Cayetano read, “In this light, I rise to sponsor P.S. Resolution No. 1237 which seeks to honor fifteen women for their invaluable contributions. These women are achievers in their respective fields. They inspire the whole nation, especially young girls to excel despite adversities, despite obstacles.” This is for my daughters.


I thank UNICEF for the trusting me with this great platform, for giving me a means to affect change, for creating programs that protect the rights of children everywhere.


At the Women’s Month exhibit.


Lisa Macuja brought her ballet shoes.


With Senator Cynthia Villar and Sen Pia Cayetano.


Dr. Fe Del Mundo, first woman admitted to Harvard Medical School in 1936.


Four-time world champion Olivia Bong Coo.


Also given honours were White House Chef Cristeta Comerford, entrepreneur Sheila Marcelo, and world-renowned fashion designer Monique Lhuillier.


Lang Dulay, famous T’boli dreamweaver.


The Empowered Filipinas: Raising the Bar exhibit is still on at the Philippine Senate until the end of March.


Girl power at Senator Pia’s  little reception.


Soph collected autographs from the women awardees. Here she is with mountaineer Noelle Wenceslao. Soph, in her young age, has already trekked Mt Pinatubo.


Sophia telling Senator Cayetano that she was part of the school group that went to the Senate months ago to talk to her about the Torre de Manila issue. Sophia wrote her opinion editorial on Torre de Manila (destroying the view of the Rizal Monument) in her school’s newspaper.


The actual resolution.




Thank you Senator Pia Cayetano for recognizing the role of women in nation-building (and for the cake from Slice). Thank you to the Senate of the Philippines for the honour. You made my parents so proud.



Did you meet the Pope?





My parents arrived in Manila the night after the Pope did. On the ride home from the airport, my Mom asked me, “So will you meet the Pope?” My Mom thinks I am as famous as Oprah or Kris Aquino. She doesn’t live here. She is, of course, my biggest fan. “Mom, how could I meet the Pope? I don’t even have passes to any of the scheduled Masses.” Then she said, “I don’t know. You have many friends. You’re in media. The government. The church. Fr. Dennis. Your dad’s Air Force friends.” I remembered why I didn’t ask anyone for tickets or passes. I told my Mom, “Pope Francis is not like that. He’s not about using privilege and connections. He’s here to see the people who suffered during Yolanda.”


I spent the first three days of Pope Francis’ visit glued to the TV screen watching and listening to him. I must have freaked out my kids because one minute I’m sobbing when his plane lands, then I’m laughing between tears when his beanie cap gets blown by the wind. I listened to all his homilies and speeches with tears in my eyes. Touched by every single one of them.


The events in Tacloban did it for me — the storm, the pilgrims in raincoats, the survivors, the Pope’s silence, the unfortunate death of Kristel and the crash/mishap. I wanted to see the Pope, even for a split second.


I had no means of getting ID’s or passes to get close to the Pope. I didn’t use my contacts in media, church, government and military. I just wanted to go out and catch a glimpse of him in the motorcade along his route. My husband couldn’t come with me. He’s a journalist and he was manning the fort in his station. My Facebook feed was starting to fill with Pope sightings from privileged friends who found their way in to ticketed events. I wanted my own Pope story. I have never seen a Pope in person.


Luckily, my cousin Joan had plans, and more importantly she had the will to go Pope-stalking. In photo: my cousin John and his wife Sheila, Joan and her friends Jeanne, Hazel, TJ and Joan’s husband Ace. This was at the first corner we found in Quirino on the wrong side of the street.


Our strategy was simple – find the best site where the Pope will surely pass. Our goal was not to go to Luneta. We didn’t have IDs for it and the periphery would be too crowded. TJ had a Cherry mobile phone with a TV and monitored the morning UST events. We knew Luneta would just be jam-packed, so we didn’t even try to get near it.

It was raining the entire time. We parked our car in Harrison Plaza then walked along Quirino Avenue as close as we could to the Nunciature. We didn’t actually go near the Nunciature because it was too crowded.


Pope Francis
We found space in the elevated planter island on the middle of Quirino Avenue. We knew that eventually he’d have to pass Quirino Ave to get to Luneta. So from 10:30am to 3:00pm, we sat under the rain using just a raincoat and some plastic garbage bags lining the muddy ground. For almost five hours, the rain didn’t stop. But we didn’t move from our spot. We didn’t eat or drink.


The road was still relatively empty. There were some moments we doubted ourselves. What if they changed his route? Where were the cops and the human barricade? But we didn’t move. We were determined to wait it out.


That weekend coincided with the feast of Santo Nino.


Around 1pm the PNP troops started to come to our area. That’s when we knew for sure that we were in the right spot. The mood along the motorcade route was celebratory. Even the cops were in a light and friendly mood. People shared food with them. We gave them water.


The PNP-issued rain capes were cool. Unfortunately not all the troops got raincoats. Some had to wear garbage bags.


It was by far one of the most illogical things I’ve ever done — to wait in the rain for 5 hours with no umbrella. We were told via news media not to bring umbrellas. We sat on plastic garbage bags directly on top of soil, so after about an hour, the mud started to seep into our “seats”. We got up and stood the rest of the time. Mud seeped in to my shoes. But none of us complained. And the wait didn’t seem that long at all. It was fun being there. People were kind and funny. There was a man who was the town-know-it-all, a pushy old woman who was oblivious to danger, and children who didn’t whine or complain. Ang saya! It’s more meaningful in Tagalog.


By now you have read hundreds of Pope encounters. I will say what everyone has said. The feeling was electric. My hands and legs were shaking. In the few seconds that he was in our (unobstructed) line of vision, he was facing our direction and waved his hand in a blessing gesture. I saw his wonderful smile and his eyes… I will never forget. I lost my composure – tears, screaming, jumping. My cousin and I settled ourselves into a big hug and cried to each other.


A video posted by DAPHNE® (@daphneop) on




Pope Francis 2015
After seeing Pope Francis. Drenched but so happy.


After five hours in the rain, no rainwear is totally waterproof. I wore two layers – a hooded raincoat from Uniqlo and a thicker navy coat from Muji.


We had to get back to Harrison Plaza from Quirino/Taft. On our walk back, we found a pedicab and asked him to take us.


My feet were soaking in mud inside my Toms. It was the end of my favourite pair of Toms. I bought rubber flip flops and alcogel at Bench Harrison Plaza.


Here’s our pedicab cyclist. Everybody happy.


I know that the Pope is just a man. He is not God. We do not worship him. But we like him a lot. He has been able to spread the word of Jesus in the most attainable and understandable way. He’s shown compassion and goodness. And we like good stuff.

The whole experience was amazing. It was an incredible feeling being with the people and walking the streets of Manila in the rain. I got to see my Pope without VIP connections, special ID’s or privileges. We just waited patiently, and he came. It wasn’t so much about seeing him than it was about being together. In the eyes of God, we are all equal — rich or poor, sick or healthy, good or bad. Of course now, I wish the world would just be like that… no poverty, no corruption, no inequality, no suffering. But that’s all up to us now.


“Allow yourselves to be surprised by God. Don’t be afraid of surprises. They shake the ground beneath our feet and make us insecure, but they move us forward in the right direction.” — Pope Francis, UST Jan 18, 2015.



Happy new year




Happy new year, friends. Pardon me. My mind is still on vacation. Working on a few posts. Including my reflections from the same beach we go to every year. Never gets old.



The homefront





It’s been a while since I posted stories about my home and my family. I have to admit that this blog has taken on a different turn from what it used to be like. I remember when my blog was still Daphne’s Diary and only a handful of people were blogging, it was filled with random little nothings about my life. And you were all there to keep me company. As the blog grew, it somehow became a product of my “work” like part of the official brand DAPHNE®. Collaborations came in and with top retailers! The luxury bed linen line with SM Homeworld and Our Home, my furniture line that retailed in Rustan’s and Dimensione, and of course my pride and joy, the DAPHNE x Bench collaboration. I am so grateful and still floored that all that happened and continues to happen. Hint, hint.

Somewhere along the line I feel like I detached myself from the blog a bit too much though. Or am I over-analyzing? Maybe it was because Instagram became too accessible that all my little random diary entries went there instead of here. I didn’t find time to sit down and actually write. Heck, I even stopped using my micro four-thirds camera and DSLR. Today I am drowning in press kits, product samples, event invitations which I appreciate but I also feel like that’s not just what Daphne’s Diary is about. Yes, I talk about products, but I used to share more stories about things I’ve discovered or learned without any marketing or PR activity involved. All authentic stuff. I feel like I owe it to you and myself to get back to my roots. At the very least, all my marketing campaigns are identified. And I also have not partnered with nor supported any campaign that didn’t fit in with my aesthetic and principles. I have declined quite a few.

So I will attempt to balance — business and real life. And please let me know how you feel about it. This is not and never was a mommy blog. So I’m not going that direction. I’m also not an expert on food but admittedly, I am in the process of discovering my inner home-cook talents. Join me on that discovery process. Travel is also a big part of our lives now. Though my 10-week stay in Toronto last year almost went un-blogged. There’s so much I didn’t share about that trip because I was so busy living life at the present moment. Design is still in my vocabulary especially since we are working at doing more home tours. Health, wellness and spirituality make up a huge chunk of my new life now. I won’t preach, but I may tell stories from this journey. Then there will be little anecdotes about my daughters. When I started blogging, I had only one kid. I was pregnant with my second baby, Lily. Now these girls are growing into their own versions of themselves. I’d like to include some of their stories in my blog. Of course security and privacy is an issue, so I can only do so to a point that we are comfortable with.

I guess what I’m saying is, there’s a lot of noise out there. I want this site to continue to be my happy place so I’m regrouping and things are going to change. You are always welcome here.

I just did a fun shoot at home with Xeng Zulueta as the makeup artist and Sandro Paredes as photographer. Xeng and I have worked with each other for a long time. She did some of my most amazing cover shoots. This was totally random and fun. We didn’t even have a hairstylist. I just washed and dried my hair myself. Sorry for the unkempt hair.

But this is what real life is like at home — minus the false lashes.


This is the hallway where my girls’ little feet stomp all over. The house is never quiet when we are home. It is filled with voices, footsteps and laughter. All three daughters are wearing Gingersnaps. My dress is from Sfera, shoes are Repetto.


My masterpiece. Haha. I worked with Rafael Calero of Kitchen Studio. He executed all the ideas I wanted and presented me with more options that I didn’t know existed. I’m loving my kitchen floors. These are treated wood from Matwood. Rafael stained them a certain way so they wouldn’t look too red. In real life they’re lighter. I’m particularly proud of my ceiling. I had this brilliant idea of knocking down the existing ceiling and exposing the roof and beams. But at the time, I didn’t know what lay beneath the ceiling lining. Surprise, surprise… a beautiful structural beam. Oops, it’s hardly in photo. I must show it to you at another occasion.


My kitchen took forever to finish. The reason was because my sink had to be brought in from Kohler, Wisconsin. Yes, Kohler is not only a brand but also a place. It is beautiful. Here are stories from when I visited the Kohler sites in Kohler, Wisconsin. My sink is made of enamelled cast iron. I absolutely love it. P.S. We had to make adjustments to the cabinetry in order to make the sink fit. We initially didn’t know we could have this sink, until I had a “love affair” with the brand officially. My windows are pretty special too. It’s a huge treat to have new windows like this. These are tempered glass and PVC from a German brand called Veka from Fourlinq. As many of you know, the rest of the house has wooden capiz windows. Balance and irony. Haha. Oh, if you’d like to see the video of my kitchen renovation, click here. Top from Sfera, jeans from Uniqlo, shoes from Repetto.


My throne. Seriously. Because every woman must be the queen of her home. Ha!


This Raina chair was a special birthday gift to me by Vito Selma. He sent it to my house right after he showed it in Manila Fame, March of this year. It is, by far, the largest present I’ve ever received. Look at it going through our door on Instagram. I love it! And I adore Vito!  P.S. Dress is from Sfera.


Oh dear, the kitchen beam is still not visible in this photo. Oh well. Here are my three bunnies. We purposely bought three un-matching stools. You can see a bit of a mess behind me. Proof that the kitchen is not “for show.” It’s a real working kitchen. Perhaps only Pinoys will know what I mean about that. Haha. So we dressed up a bit in this shot. I’m wearing a silk dress I bought in Bali from Magali Pascal. Sophia is wearing Rajito by Rajo Laurel. Lily and Stella are wearing Gingersnaps.


The most photographed part of our house is the red door. Every time I have press people over they think they have the “money shot” with the red door. I have to disclose that it’s been done many times. I can actually do an entire series just filled with red door shots! Hmmm, that’s an idea. Future blog entry perhaps. Well, the story here is that the house is really old. It’s the house my husband grew up in. And when we got married, we wanted to give it a bit of a facelift, but slowly. So we began with paint. I wanted red from day one. We also played with colour inside the house — pink hallway, green living room. My advice is, if you don’t have much budget but you want to give your home a boost, start with paint. Don’t be afraid of colour.


All photos by Sandro Paredes.
Make up by Xeng Zulueta.



Study in Canada



Graduation, University of Toronto
When I was awarded my degree at the University of Toronto.


I was recently invited by the Canadian Embassy (Manila) to join a roundtable discussion with media and the Canadian Ambassador to promote post-secondary education in Canada. It brought me back to my years in university, where I had the best years of my life. To this day, I still value not just the quality of education I received, but also the wealth of experience I gained by living and studying in a dynamic city like Toronto.

I must say that I did not choose to study in Canada. I’m Canadian and it was just a natural progression. I graduated from a Canadian high school. I always wanted to study at the University of Toronto. I worked hard in high school, got involved in leadership positions, and I got in to all three universities of my choice. I wouldn’t know what it’s like as a foreign student. The Study in Canada Fair hopes to address questions regarding international students.

Tomorrow, October 4, 2014 from 10am to 6pm at the Fairmont Hotel, the Embassy of Canada is hosting the Study in Canada Fair. There will be representatives from some Canadian colleges and vocational institutions. Everything you need to know about studying there will be available. Register online here, it’s all free.

I will answer the most common question I receive about Canadian education. No, the Embassy does not give scholarships or grants. They are hosting this event to give information and support for those considering an education overseas. However, universities, colleges and organizations give scholarships to individuals based on merit and need. First things first, put in your application to a university and get in. Then try applying for financial assistance.


University of Toronto graduation
The day I graduated from the University of Toronto. I was 23 years old and my sisters were still in high school. Both of them also went to U of T. Both did very well. Hanni even graduated “With Distinction” (cum laude).


Every time we are back in Toronto, I make it a point to visit my old campus. The kids love it there because it reminds them of Harry Potter.


University of Toronto is Canada’s #1 university. It is ranked in the top 20 of the world. I say that not to show off, though it makes me very proud that I got in to such a prestigious institution (and completed my degree). I’m proudly sharing this fact because in Canada, you can get top quality education at a fraction of what one would pay in the UK or the US. All our universities are subsidized. We do not have private universities. Because of this, competition is really tough getting in to the top schools.


University of Toronto is the largest university in Canada. It is divided into three campuses – St George campus (downtown, where I went), Erindale College (in the west of Toronto, Mississauga) and Scarborough Campus (eastern side). St George is huge and spans across many blocks of the downtown core. As a student in St George, you are either affiliated with a professional faculty (Engineering, Architecture, etc.) or a college (for those in the arts and sciences). I chose to be in St Michael’s College. I didn’t live in official on campus residence because I found my “family” in Pi Beta Phi, the first women’s fraternity established in 1867 in the US. I lived in my women’s fraternity house, which was in the periphery of the university and just a corner away from the Art Gallery of Ontario.


Within the UofT St. George campus (downtown), there are seven colleges. Each arts and science student must choose one college affiliation. I chose St. Michael’s because it was Catholic. But once you’re studying it hardly matters which college you belong to, except if you’re paying tuition or changing courses (which I am sure is all online now). The college system is a distinct feature of UofT, to give students the chance to feel the smaller college community life with its own traditions. This photo shows Knox College, a postgraduate theological college of the UofT, founded in 1844. It is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of Canada and the church of Scotland.


I love going to Knox College, because it’s just so pretty. I don’t really have interest in theology or divinity, but if I did, I would love to study and live in this kind of environment.


Sophia is smitten by UofT, St George campus. This is at the University College (UC), established in 1853. UC has no religious affiliation. The building reflects a mix of styles including Norman, Romanesque Revival, and faint traces of Byzantium and the Italian palazzo. It is located in the centre of King’s College Circle, making it the most recognisable landmark of the university.


Convocation Hall last spring 2013.


Under the bell tower
The hero’s memorial outside Hart House.


Hart House, University of Toronto
This is Hart House, our student activity centre established in 1919. In my freshman year, this is where my friends and I ate lunch every day. I love the Gothic revival style of architecture. I used to do my aerobics classes and swimming laps in the indoor pool with vaulted ceiling. Really beautiful place.


Med Sci building
Not all buildings at UofT are from the 1800’s. There are some very interesting 60’s modern and post-modern architecture as well.  This is Lily when she was 4. At the Medical Sciences building.


Living in the heart of downtown Toronto gave us access to a lifestyle that was rich in culture, social activities and dynamic urban issues — very important for a student of urban planning. The Royal Ontario Museum ROM was within our vicinity. One of my Art History courses in East Asian Art was held at this museum. The ROM has since undergone an expansion by Daniel Libeskind.


Just a block from where I lived (Pi Beta Phi house), was the Art Gallery of Ontario and Toronto’s famous Chinatown. Again, as a student of art history, living near the AGO was a real privilege. In 2008, the AGO was redesigned by my favourite, Frank Gehry.


The new City Hall of the City of Toronto, where I was an intern for two years. As a student of urban planning, I got my practical experience as an intern for a city councillor. We dealt with the city’s growth issues, heritage conservation, and our local ward’s neighbourhood concerns – from a resident complaining that a neighbour is not mowing his lawn (creating an unsightly streetscape), to the study of deep lake water cooling, to gentrifying neighbourhoods and preserving heritage structures, and the possibility of a Metro government. Fast forward to now, Toronto city government has moved to the Metro Hall as all the cities within the Toronto area amalgamated and formed one metro-wide government. Think, one Metro Manila government as opposed to 17 city halls.


It was also this internship at Toronto City Hall that paved the way for me to get hired by the Canadian Urban Institute’s International Programs Office, which eventually led to my working overseas — in Mexico and the Philippines. And the rest, as they say….


A couple of weeks ago, upon the invitation of Canadian Ambassador Neil Reeder, I attended a round table presentation to media about our Canadian education.


With Ambassador Reeder to launch the Study in Canada Education Fair were other prominent Filipino alumni of Canadian schools. From left, Chef Sharwin Tee who graduated from the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, Miss International Bea Rose Santiago who studied at York University, SEAOIL Philippines President and CEO Glenn Yu from University of British Columbia, me from University of Toronto, entrepreneur Christopher Tan from University of British Columbia, and musician artist Nykó Macá of McGill University.


So, yeah, I talk with my hands. Haha. Here’s a light moment with Ambassador Reeder. On the left is the President and CEO of SEAOil Philippines Glenn Yu who graduated from the University of British Columbia on full scholarship from the federal government. Bea Santiago, current Miss International, studied in York University. Amb. Reeder studied at University of Saskatchewan and Carlton University.


The Study in Canada Fair, tomorrow, October 4, 2014 from 10am to 6pm at the Fairmont Hotel. There will be representatives from some Canadian colleges and vocational institutions. Learn everything you need to know about studying in Canada. Register online here, it’s all free.