Sunday, December 26, 2010

Secluded Cavite inn offers more than just bed and breakfast

By Karen Lapitan
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 06:31:00 12/26/2010

Filed Under: Philippines - Regions, Hotels & accommodation,business, Tourism

INDANG, CAVI-TE—A secluded inn here is enticing guests and tourists who want to experience tranquility away from the bustling city. And it makes itself distinct from the usual concept of bed and breakfast that most tourists know.

Aptly named as Balay Indang, guests can expect to feel at home while inside the area.

General manager Marge Tan says guests can feel as they own Balay Indang during their stay.

“We are not your usual bed and breakfast as we operate 24/7, and we offer more,” she adds.

According to Sonia Garcia, staff supervisor, some tourists who want to visit Tagaytay City sometimes opt to stay in Balay Indang for their accommodation.

Balay Indang is located a few minutes away from Tagaytay City where most tourists flock.

Garcia adds that staying in Balay Indang is like owning a rest house for a day. “We let our guests explore the four-hectare land. They will never run out of activities here. It doesn’t end in sleeping inside the room, eating and going home.”

Guests may need to bring mosquito repellant with them as they roam around as the area is full of plants and trees, making them vulnerable to mosquito bites, Garcia advises. “The idea behind this is to let our guests be closer to nature.”

Unlike the usual accommodations trying to invite guests, Balay Indang does not have a prominent sign that tells passers-by what it offers.

Balay Indang can only be distinguished by the house number “88” hugely painted on its gate, making it a seemingly concealed inn.

Tan recalls that Balay Indang started as a vacant lot in year 2000 that was later transformed into a retreat house with only a few rooms.

“The owner was wondering then what to do with that vacant lot. Then, he decided to build a house that soon turned into a retreat house,” he says, adding that this four-hectare property was developed in year 2004, and became open since then to accommodate guests who want to experience the laidback ambiance they offer.

Balay Indang started as a retreat house with a capacity of 35 until the demand increased, prompting them to build more rooms for at least 70 persons.

Some guests are already booked for their stay in April in time for the Holy Week, according to Garcia.

Tan clarifies, however, that Balay Indang does not have plans of expanding further as they just want to share the place. “Balay Indang is not meant to work in a ‘mass production’ mode. We want our guests to be relaxed and feel as if they own the place.”

No fixed menu

Guests staying in Balay Indang are not given a menu during meal time.

Garcia claims that the dishes they prepare are very flexible. “We prepare what we want, but we make sure our guests would like it.”

In some cases, the staff of Balay Indang needs to conduct research on what food to prepare whenever they have foreign visitors.

“We had some Korean guests who stayed here for almost a month. We wanted to make them feel at home by preparing the food they are used to. Marge and I researched on Korean dishes,” says Garcia.

Another reason she cites for not having a fixed menu is for the guests to be not tired of the food Balay Indang offers.

Asked on Balay Indang’s best seller, Garcia says each dish they prepare is considered a best seller. But guests often request for their famous Halo-halo Turon and baby back ribs.

Garcia says they make sure that they prepare balanced meals all the time. Meals are always composed of vegetables, fruits, seafood, chicken and pork. All meals are accompanied with fresh juice.

Guests staying overnight will be served with five meals. On every meal, each dish served is “refillable.” This offer of Balay Indang keeps guests coming back.

“Minsan, guests ang nasuko sa dami ng pagkain,” claims Garcia.

Homey feeling

Guests can feel that they own a rest house for a day as they can use most of the facilities within Balay Indang.

Some of the facilities include a swimming pool, tree house, playground, pavilion, secret garden and billiard hall.

The rooms are named after Biblical characters as it is intended to be a retreat house.

“No double decks are inside the rooms since we want our guests to feel at home and not to be inside a dormitory,” says Garcia.

A room service may not be needed as everything a guest needs is right inside each room—mineral water, toiletries, spare towels and blankets.

The rooms offer a rustic ambiance with the capiz-made windows, wooden sliding doors and high wooden ceilings.

Although the area is already naturally airy, most rooms are air-conditioned for the guests to be fully comfortable.

Balay Indang boasts of its main house that has a spacious living room and dining area where guests can also stay.

The interior is filled with pieces of furniture, projecting a fusion of different cultures—mostly countries from Southeast Asia.

Guests are also allowed to pick the fruits from the fruit-bearing trees scattered within the area, says Garcia.

Balay Indang is a favorite hangout place of popular cyclists, reporters and politicians.

Randy David, Representative Sonny Belmonte and some TV reporters are frequent visitors of Balay Indang, according to Garcia.

The place is ideal for seminars, retreats, team buildings and yoga sessions. Balay Indang has also been a favorite venue for weddings.

“Annually, there are around 8 to 10 weddings held here,” says Tan.

Without having to spend on marketing and advertisement, Balay Indang has gained a positive reputation through word-of-mouth and blogs of their previous guests.

The fee for an overnight stay is pegged at P2,500 which mainly go to the food served. Day tours are also offered.

Balay Indang is located along Mendez Avenue in Indang, Cavite, about 30 kilometers south of Manila. Reservations can be made through the general manager (0917-8665825).

Friday, December 24, 2010

GK residents make money through Christmas ham

By Karen Lapitan
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 21:54:00 12/23/2010

Filed Under: Entrepreneurship, business, Christmas

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines—Loreta Perez, 55, enthusiastically rubbed the meat with curing salt as she, along with her neighbors, prepared kilos of ham for the smoking phase.

She manifests excitement as she knows it is an opportunity to earn extra money this Christmas season.

Perez is among the trainees of the Rotary Club Los Baños Makiling Chapter in its livelihood program. The trainees are residents of the Gawad Kalinga village in Barangay (village) Putho-Tuntungin. Most of them are housewives.

Perez, a mother to 10 children, tells the Inquirer that she is really glad that certain groups like the Rotary Club are reaching out to indigent families like them.

“I had no definite source of income before their help came in. My husband and I would just depend on our son who worked as a janitor in a hospital,” Perez says in Filipino.

Now, she also runs a sari-sari store inside the GK village. She borrowed P2,000 from the Rotary Club Los Baños Makiling Chapter, which she uses as capital for her small business.

Rotary Club Los Baños Makiling Chapter president Elisa Ronan says their group is opening opportunities to the needy families like those inside the GK village to start a better life.

“We don’t believe in doleouts so we decided to help them acquire skills they can apply to make a living,” she says.

The training on ham making started in October with about 20 trainees in preparation for the Christmas season.

Even before the hams are made by the trainees, a sorority based in the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) has already been tapped to purchase the products.

The hams will be included in the Christmas baskets the sorority will give away to the families living in the GK village.

Iluminada Gomez, former product development officer of the UPLB Dairy Training and Research Institute and a Rotary Club member, provided the training on ham making.

Ronan says they are still thinking of other livelihood means to help the residents. From the P50,000 seed money that her group got from Rotary Club Makati, the money has grown to help more families in Los Baños town.

Some victims of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” have been helped by the group through some livelihood programs.

“We offer a lending program in which the beneficiaries can borrow money at a very minimal interest. They can use the amount to start up a small business,” Ronan says, adding that “while Gawad Kalinga helps the residents acquire a decent shelter, our group wants each family inside the village to have sustainable sources of income.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Newsboys’ kids also came for storytelling

By Inquirer Southern Luzon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:23:00 12/08/2010

Filed Under: Children, Youth, Philippines - Regions, Education,Language

The event was also one way for the newspaper to celebrate its partnership with families of newsboys in their localities. Their sons and daughters attended in all the session areas, except for Marinduque.

Naga City

A perennial guest brought his family to Naga City’s Read-Along, which he believed was the reason his children excelled in school.

One of the many Inquirer newsboys in the Camarines Sur city for the past 20 years, Bert Cayonte and his wife took along their six children at SM City Naga for an encounter with “Mr. Beetle’s Many Rooms,” written by Robert Magnuson, and Christine Bellen’s “Felimon Mamon.”

They joined some 50 pupils of Trianggulo Elementary School in listening to Sonia Roco, widow of the late Bicolano Sen. Raul S. Roco, who imparted the importance of sharing and generosity in the story of Mr. Beetle.

Once reluctant to have as neighbors such insects as fireflies and crickets in a tree where he found a room to stay, Mr. Beetle later learned to value his newfound friends.

Vic Nierva, writer, photographer and educator shared how Filemon Mamon, an obese boy, learned the value of proper diet and exercise.

Partners in the Read-Along were SM City Naga, McDonald’s, Shell, Raul S. Roco Library, Triangulo Elementary School, Vibal Publishing and Ramon Sia.

Legazpi City

The session in Albay’s capital, Legazpi, drew some 150 pupils, including children of newsstand operators. Their enthusiasm for reading was fanned by school owner Aveline Averilla-Jung and beauty titleholder Yvethe Marie Santiago.

Also called “Teacher Bey,” Averilla-Jung of PiaMont Science Oriented School for Kids in Daraga town echoed the benefits of being sensitive to others in the story “Mr. Beetle’s Many Rooms.”

Santiago, 17, who won Best in National Costume in the 22nd World Miss University in Seoul, read Richard Reynante’s “Ang Huling Puno,” which tells of the last huge shady tree in the middle of a fast-developing city and how it is threatened to be cut down to give way to the construction of a huge building.

Sponsors were Junior Chamber International Daraga and Legazpi chapters; Playland at Embarcadero de Legazpi; newspaper dealers Cathy Sendin, Vivian Galvan and Benito Chan; Jebson; Justin Naron; Vibal Publishing; and McDonald’s.

Sta. Rosa City

Children of parents who were mostly overseas Filipino workers listened to stories of sharing and how to conquer fear at SM Sta. Rosa in Laguna.

Around 80 children, mostly those of members of Athika, an organization of OFWs based in Laguna, gathered around Cory Quirino, Inquirer columnist and natural health and beauty advocate, who asked them to sing some songs before starting to narrate the story of Mr. Beetle.

Theater artist and host Tony Yanza got them glued to the story of Aleli Dew Batnag’s “Si Ching na Takot sa Dilim.”

Others participants were pupils from Sta. Rosa and the towns of San Pedro and Biñan, who were tapped by Athika through the local government units.

Session partners were SM City Sta. Rosa, McDonald’s, Shell, Atikha, Vibal Publishing and newspaper dealer Benny Agnazata.

Lucena City

Some 170 children in Lucena and the nearby town of Tayabas in Quezon found two worthy causes to embrace during the Inquirer Read-Along session—the joy and wisdom of reading and protection of Mother Earth.

Lawyer Asis G. Perez, chair of Tanggol Kalikasan (Defense of Nature), a public interest environmental law office, engaged the young audience gathered at SM City-Lucena activity center, with his reading of “Ang Huling Puno.”

Annabelle Malvar, a mountaineer and teacher of Tayabas East Central School 2, and her two daughters, Marianne and Ma. Denise, read a story about a local environmental landmark, Mount Banahaw.

The youngsters were all ears as the mother and daughters alternately read “SSBB (Samut-Saring Buhay sa Banahaw),” a comic book story with mountain animals as characters who faced risks due to man’s continuous destruction of their natural habitat.

The story was written by Carmen Cabling-Alcala, an ardent protector of the mystical mountain.

The session here was supported by SM City Lucena, Team Energy, Tanggol Kalikasan, Tayabas Mountaineers, Lucena Public Information Office, Tayabas East 8 Central School, McDonald’s, Shell, Vibal Publishing and newspaper dealers Frank Anggulo and Nonie Macandile.

Sta. Cruz

The public library of Sta. Cruz town in Marinduque became a beehive of sorts, teeming with 80 pupils and teachers of Santa Cruz South Central Elementary School and members of Marinduque Youth Volunteers Corps.

Panchito Labay, an environmental science professor of Marinduque State College (MSC) and deemed the country’s Professor Butterfly with his researches and studies on the insect, was the celebrity storyteller.

He, however, did not talk about butterflies but the endangered pawikan (sea turtles). He read “Pilandok sa Pulo ng Pawikan” by Victoria Añonuevo.

Interactive storyteller Arianne Kaye Sager, an AB English student of MSC, read “Ang Huling Puno” in front of thrilled students.

The Read-Along was realized with help coming from the municipal government of Santa Cruz, Junior Chamber International-Marinduque Morion chapter, Marinduque Youth Volunteers Corps, Vibal Publishing and Jacquelyn Alandy Guevarra. Rey M. Nasol, Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Shiena M. Barrameda, Pau John F. Barrosa, Juan Escandor Jr., Karen Lapitan and Gerald Gene R. Querubin

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Laguna couple earns meaty profits

By Karen Lapitan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:05:00 05/15/2010

Filed Under: Food, Small Business

NAGCARLAN, LAGUNA, Philippines – When Manny and Virginia Valencia got married in 1993, they spent almost all their savings on their wedding.

Fortunately, they decided to keep P2,000 from the P7,000 they received from their principal sponsors and put that amount in a small meat processing business.

They never thought that Joshua’s Meat Products (JMP) would penetrate a significant number of stores and households in Southern Tagalog and nearby regions with its longganisa, tocino, hot dog, bacon and ham, and other meat items.

Manny, 42, says the biblical “Joshua” was the name he gave to a son.


When they were just starting, Manny says he just wanted to bring enough income to his family so they could make both ends meet.

“My wife and I tried making longganisa (native sausage) on our own without any formal training,” he recalls, adding that he would simply buy ground pork from a nearby wet market in Nagcarlan, one of the top sellers of pork in Laguna.

“Our initial buyers were our neighbors,” Manny says.

Nine months later, the couple acquired a house from their earnings.

In 1994, Manny met a businessman from San Pablo City who was looking for someone who could produce P20,000 worth of longganisa. He accepted the job, and the influx of more buyers began.

Since then, the Valencias have developed more products to address a wider number of target buyers.

Higher demand

Now, JMP distributes products not only in Laguna and Metro Manila, but also in Bicol and other places in northern Luzon.

With 70 employees, it currently makes six to seven tons of meat products—a far cry from its starting output of 20 to 50 kilos.

“We also buy raw meat from local sellers, so we’re helping Nagcarlan townsfolk through JMP,” Manny says.

He remains hands-on in managing the business, and imposes strict rules on food safety and sanitation. The welfare of buyers always comes first, he says.

“It was perhaps a combination of luck, perseverance and faith,” says Manny, when asked on JMP’s formula of success.

Monday, May 10, 2010

CamSur to wait until Monday to test connectivity of vote machine

Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 19:15:00 05/09/2010

Filed Under: Eleksyon 2010, Elections, Politics

PILI, Camarines Sur, Philippines -- The testing of the satellite signal from the province to the consolidation canvassing center of Smartmatic and Commission on Elections in Manila has been postponed to election day despite the insistence of the Smartmatic technician to hold it on Sunday.

Lawyer Romeo G. Serrano, Camarines Sur provincial election supervisor, decided to postpone the connectivity testing upon review of the general instructions from the Comelec, which required that the consolidation canvassing system (CCS) box be sealed upon the convening of the provincial board of canvassers.

“Opening of the CCS box must be in the presence of all parties and the general public according to Section 26, page 13 of the general instructions on consolidation of canvassing,” Serrano said.

He said the CCS box contained all the electronic gadgets and laptop computer, which would be used in the consolidation canvassing from the municipalities, for the provincial and congressional positions.

Serrano said the consolidated canvassing results, which would be transmitted from the provincial center here, would be the bases of the proclamation of winning candidates for the governor, vice governor, board members and congressmen.

Ricardo M. Gamurot Jr., CCS technician of Smartmatic in Camarines Sur, said that testing the satellite signal on Sunday would give them time to resolve any problems.

Based on the protocol provided to Gamurot, the testing of the connectivity is when “the CCS technician will connect the laptop to the transmission media to be used on election day. If there is connectivity, the equipment will be registered in the DNS server so we will be able to validate that the site is okay.”

Gamurot said that in other provinces, the connectivity testing had been done from May 3-7.

But Serrano stood firm on not pushing through with the connectivity testing here because that would violate the general instructions from the Comelec.

He said the connectivity testing was finally set 12 noon Monday upon the convening of the provincial board of canvassers—composed of the provincial election supervisor as chair, provincial prosecutor as vice-chair and the provincial schools superintendent.

Serrano said the opening of the sealed CCS box must also be witnessed by concerned parties and the public.

In Los Baños, Laguna, the testing of the precinct count optical scanning machines, the machines designed to scan and record the votes for automated counting, generally went well with some “tolerable problems,” said election officer Randy Banzuela.

The testing and sealing of the 70 PCOS machines to be used by the town’s 14 voting centers was scheduled to start 9 a.m. Sunday, but some were delayed as the machines were set up late.

In Los Baños National High School (LBNHS), poll watchers and board of election inspectors of cluster 54 had to wait for about 30 minutes as the PCOS machine did not immediately work.

A message in the LCD read: “application terminated unexpectedly.” This happened twice before the PCOS machine worked smoothly.

Paper jam happened for the first two ballots fed into the PCOS machine.

Cesar Medina, poll watcher of Bangon Pilipinas, said “We had to wait for the machine to function well. I hope this will not happen tomorrow, but I think it’s just a minor glitch.”

Banzuela said there were no discrepancies when the tallied votes were counterchecked through manual checking, according to the reports he gathered.

Also in Los Banos High School, one of the mock elections participants mistakenly voted for 13 senators, when only 12 were needed.

The last senator voted in that ballot was not counted by the PCOS machine, but was read during the manual counter check. Hence, a difference in the results was recorded.

In Barangay Bagong Silang, the testing and sealing was delayed for at least an hour since there was no source of electricity.

Banzuela clarified, however, that the batteries that came with the PCOS machines should be sufficient for the actual elections.

The signal for the transmission, he added, was not an issue.

Barangay Bagong Silang is located in Mt. Makiling in Los Baños.

Banzuela said he expected the elections to go smoothly on Monday.

“There are technical support personnel who will be on standby to assist the teachers if problems arise in any of the PCOS machines,” he added.

The Comelec provincial supervisor in Laguna has expressed optimism that the automated elections Monday would succeed because all the PCOS machines were already in place in 29 municipalities while the mounting of the memory cards were also being worked out the whole day on Sunday.

Lawyer Dioscoro Pajutan, Comelec Laguna provincial supervisor, said he was optimistic the elections would go on smoothly based on his observation of the successful testing of the PCOS machines in Cavinti and Luisiana in last few days.

Pajutan was positive that the other PCOS machines in the rest of the towns in Laguna would also work out well.

He said his personnel in the Comelec were working overtime in the weekend side by side with the workers of Smartmatic to ensure that elections paraphernalia would be tested and ready for the automated voting.

A PPCRV coordinator in San Pablo City, however, expressed sadness that the PCOS machine in one of the barangays failed the testing because the serial number of the document being fed into the machine did not match.

Romeo Narciso, PPRCV coordinator in San Gabriel Parish, said that in Barangay Santiago 2, also in San Pablo City, the testing of the PCOS machine did not materialize in the morning due to power failure in the vicinity of the elementary school, the localation of the polling precinct.

An electrician in the area was tapped to fix the problem so that the PCOS machine could finally be tested and be ready for the elections.

Reports filed by Juan Escandor Jr., Karen Lapitan and Romulo Ponte, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sarilikha does RP proud with unique high-end bags

By Karen Lapitan
Inquirer Southern Luzon

Posted date: May 01, 2010

VICTORIA, LAGUNA—CESAR PASCO, 60, still exudes enthusiasm when talk turns to business or training potential entrepreneurs.

A former head of a Laguna-based nongovernment organization (NGO), Pasco has not lost interest in extending help to those in need—particularly those who are unemployed.

In early 2009, Pasco, with partner Renel Batralo, 29, put up a venture called Sarilikha to produce native bags and accessories.

Sarilikha products have already started to penetrate the international market.

It took only P255 to start up the venture. The amount covered the raw materials they needed.

Sarilikha products are made of indigenous materials, such as water hyacinth and pandan leaves. There is a showroom in Barangay Balite, Victoria, Laguna, where products are on display.

But the venture does not only produce native bags and accessories. Since its inception, Sarilikha has also trained budding entrepreneurs, most of whom come from impoverished communities.

Affiliate trainers

It was an exhibit in 2008 that started what turned out to be Sarilikha.

Pasco was still with an NGO that he had established himself, when he decided to join an exhibit in Sta. Rosa City, Laguna.

The exhibit had a theme that called for a cleaner Laguna Lake and the development of economic opportunities in the vicinity of the lake. It was a year before the issue of the overflowing lake was brought to the public’s attention.

Pasco says that even before the onslaught of Tropical Storm “Ondoy,” he was already concerned with the problems not only of Laguna Lake but of other lakes in the province.

He was referring to the seven lakes in San Pablo City, where he used to initiate employment opportunities for residents.

“Several years ago, I observed how certain factors had affected the means of living of those who were dependent on the lakes. One of their problems was the presence of too much water hyacinth,” Pasco says.

He then thought of how he could help the residents get rid of the problem. One solution was to turn the surplus of water hyacinth into a profitable venture by using the material to produce bags.

According to Pasco, the main issue then was massive job loss.

The government at the time was trying to provide jobs for displaced workers, so an emergency employment program was relevant back then, he says.

Pasco and Batralo decided on promoting their water hyacinth idea in an exhibit. Their booth caught the attention of provincial officers of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

“DTI saw the potential of our projects and products to help displaced workers,” Pasco says.

This also signaled the start of Sarilikha.

Eventually, the two were tapped as affiliate trainers of the government agency. From then on, they would be frequently invited to train people how to produce native bags and accessories.

They have also been tapped by a number of private institutions and nongovernment organizations such as the Child Fund International (CFI).

After the devastation of Ondoy, Pasco and Batralo were asked to train CFI beneficiaries in Laguna. Most of the trainees were badly affected by the storm, but they were taught how to make native bags, which helped them earn additional income.

“Orders from our clients are outsourced to our current and former trainees so they could apply their acquired skills and earn at the same time,” Batralo says.

The products that were bought by clients were actually the result of a collective effort of Sarilikha and their current and former trainees, he explains.

Sarilikha keeps in constant touch with their trainees, past and present. In this way, Batralo says, the trainees are given the opportunity to apply what they have learned.

He clarifies, however, that students are highly encouraged to start ventures on their own, with the guidance and support of DTI and Sarilikha.

High-end native bags

Pasco claims that he feels both humbled and proud that their products are now starting to penetrate the international market.

Sarilikha has become a partner of Cora Jacobs, a designer based in the United States with an eye for high-end bags made of water hyacinth.

Now, Sarilikha is into producing native bags with a leather look.

Batralo shares that it merely takes trial and error to come up with products that will sell.

Sarilikha blazed the trail in producing native bags with a leather look, Batralo claims. The bags have caught the attention of buyers from other countries like the United States.

Pasco and Batralo continue to share their innovations with their former and current trainees.

“Through motivation and values formation, we were able to create jobs for people,” says Pasco.

They have also asked their trainees to share their ideas and designs with others, he adds.

Sarilikha buys raw materials like water hyacinth and pandan leaves from residents around Laguna Lake, helping them earn extra income, according to Pasco.

“Your talent is useless if you don’t know how to share it with others,” adds Pasco, who cites self-fulfillment as the greatest profit a man can get from his business.

“In a way, this venture can also be considered financially rewarding. But this did not make us filthy rich. Still we are happy how this effort has turned out.”

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Retired exec offers escape from the city

By Karen Lapitan
Inquirer Southern Luzon

Posted date: February 20, 2010

PAGSANJAN, Laguna – Far from the corporate world that he used to rule, Mars Aaron, 59, now enjoys sharing the joy of living a simple rural life through his agri-eco village and farm resort here.

Instead of a formal suit and black leather shoes, he now often wears plain shirts, jeans and boots while enjoying the serenity of the place.

Aaron is a retired chief executive officer of Unilever Philippines’ subsidiary Unilever Best Foods before he developed an 11-hectare land that he bought from his mother-in-law in 1997, which he later named Villa Socorro, after his wife.

“I was just seeking for a place where I would retire, a place where I would age,” he says.

Aaron adds that when he bought the land, he was thinking of some activities that would keep him busy after retirement.

The time he bought the 11-hectare land, he and his friends started planting a number of trees already, even the full-blast development had not started yet.

In 2004, he focused on developing the piece of land since that year signaled his retirement from work. At the age of 54, he became a budding entrepreneur.

Escape from the city

Villa Socorro agro-eco village and farm resort offers a relaxing escape from the busy metropolis.

Located at the foot of Sierra Madre and adjacent to Banalac River, Villa Socorro promises lush vegetation and ranch-style accommodation.

Guests are allowed to pick the fruits and vegetables in season, and have them for their meals, says Aaron.

The couple takes pride in the brand of hospitality they offer to their guests.

“This may not be the business I am familiar with when I was just starting, but rest assured that guests get the treatment they deserve. We consider each guest as a family guest.”

“When there are guests coming here, we personally entertain them as much as we can,” Aaron says, citing the same reason they do not accept walk-in clients.

They also encourage their children to meet the guests staying at Villa Socorro.

He says: “We want to give the best to our clients by preparing for their stay here.”

Villa Socorro has eight cottages and a pavilion, and eyes expansion in the coming years. Each of the cottage is named after local vegetables like “sitaw’’ (string beans) and “kalabasa’’ (squash).

The place is ideal for camping, team-building activities, trekking or any form of bonding.

“Our guests can have a different kind of bonding here. We want them to be closer with nature,” Aaron says.

Instead of the usual team-building activities, he suggests rafting and jungle survival training to their guests.

The agro-eco village and farm resort can accommodate up to 50 people at a time.

Aaron chose not to develop the other parts of the 11-hectare property. “I want nature to grow things on its own.”

Helping the community

When Typhoon “Milenyo” hit Laguna in 2006, the trees Aaron nurtured for almost a decade fell. Instead of wallowing in despair, he decided to turn the fallen trees into pieces of furniture.

He asked some residents in the village to help him transform the fallen trees into pieces of furniture, which he later used for his agri-eco village and farm resort.

In return, the residents living near his place had income.

“It’s interesting how this farm resort managed to help the residents here. From time to time, we provide the community some sources of income so they could do something worthwhile,” Aaron relates.

After the furniture venture, Aaron, with his wife, came up with another activity that engages some more residents living near their place.

“We have planted hundreds of banana trees here, so we thought of producing banana chips while employing some local residents,” he says.

Villa Socorro’s banana chips manufacturing venture is helping an average of 10 people, aside from the other workers that the couple hire from time to time.

“We also hire additional people if there are guests coming here. It’s our own way of helping the community,” Aaron says.

He considers this business venture as a rural immersion and corporate social responsibility program.

Villa Socorro is located in Barangay (village) Dingin, Pagsanjan, Laguna. Call 852-6484 and 0917-6282139 for inquiries.