Sunday, June 21, 2009

Extracting gold from grass

By Karen Lapitan
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 00:31:00 06/21/2009

Filed Under: Economy and Business and Finance, Entrepreneurship, Corporate social responsibility

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SAN PEDRO, LAGUNA – Four siblings here have struck gold by spinning out a whole line of natural wellness products from “tanglad,” or lemon grass.

Lilia Baligod-Pelayo, 61, with her brothers Romeo, 71; Jose, 68; and Bienvenido, 67 – all surnamed Baligod – put up Gold in Grass Corp. (GIGC), which produces Essencia, natural care products made from lemon grass.

Widely known as a culinary herb, “tanglad” has other significant uses most people are not aware of, according to Pelayo.

“We’ve read so much about lemon grass and we thought it would be a good idea to introduce its healthy benefits through a business,” Pelayo said.

The idea of starting a business out of lemon grass made more sense to the siblings because they were all eager to help farmers in rural areas.

“We were born in Kalinga, and we initially planned to establish a business there to help one of the province’s poorest communities,” said Pelayo.

The siblings also wanted to come up with a worthwhile venture after retirement.

“We didn’t want to be idle after retirement and maintaining a business was a logical option,” said Pelayo.

Planting GIGC

With P10 million, GIGC acquired its first five-hectare plantation in San Francisco, Kalinga, in 2001, hoping to help the farmers in the area, according to Pelayo, a retired accountant.

After preparing the land, they started to look for distilling equipment, which they would need to process the lemon grass extract.

It took some time before GIGC had a proper distilling equipment in place.

Bienvenido, an engineer, came up with an innovative distilling machine, especially designed for their business, in 2003.

The distilling equipment can process a ton of lemon grass in 1.5 hours. It can produce 2.5 liters of oil per ton of lemon grass.

This same distilling equipment was included as a finalist in the 2003 Asian Innovation Awards in Singapore.

This made the siblings more confident in their distilling equipment.

“The land we bought would be useless if there was no efficient distilling equipment to come with it,” said Pelayo.

However, the first few years of the business were not easy for the four.

The research and development phase took almost three years.

They also had to transfer to another area as their aim of helping the community did not turn out well.

“Some community residents thought we were literally digging for gold [at] the plantation,” Pelayo recalled. “It is not something good for the business, so we decided to look for another ... plantation.”

In 2004, they transferred to Lasam, Cagayan Valley, where they still maintain a four-hectare plantation.

But the lemon grass extracts produced in the plantation were not enough to cope with the demand at that time.

Three years after they transferred to Cagayan Valley, they were able to acquire another four-hectare piece of land in Sariaya, Quezon, and proceeded to expand production.

Safe products

The lemon grass extracts gave way to the development of a number of Essencia products produced by GIGC. These natural care products include massage oil, reed diffuser oil, insect repellant, foot scrub, foot lotion, shampoo, conditioner and soap.

They also introduced the lemon grass hydrosol (lemon grass water extract) which, according to Pelayo, helps in lowering one’s cholesterol level.

Lemon grass oil is also said to have antiseptic, antimicrobial and analgesic properties.

“It also helps combat stress and exhaustion,” said Pelayo, who developed most of the products through trial and error. “These are safe since we do not mix harmful chemicals in our products.”

Essencia products have found their way in a number of day spas not only in Laguna and Metro Manila, but also in the Visayas and Mindanao.

GIGC now plans to sell their products in the international market.

Social responsibility

With the success of GIGC, the siblings never fail to give back what is due to the community.

They continue to help landless farmers living near their plantations.

Apart from its 12 regular employees, GIGC has also provided livelihood opportunities to more than 40 farmers.

Pelayo also shared that they are doing their fair share in helping the environment.

“While providing employment in rural communities, planting aromatic herbs like lemon grass helps in maintaining balance in the ecosystem.”

According to Pelayo, they are now in the process of introducing more aromatic herbs like ilang-ilang to be used in their products.

GIGC maintains an office at the family home on Gladiola Street, Sampaguita Village, San Pedro, Laguna. It also has a showroom in Makati City.

Couple finds fortune selling ‘lugaw’

By Karen Lapitan
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 00:29:00 06/21/2009

Filed Under: Food, Economy and Business and Finance, Entrepreneurship

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SAN PABLO CITY – While most local households consider “lugaw” (porridge) an alternative meal in times of financial woe, a couple here has found fortune in selling this affordable food.

Sherwin, 27, and Beverly Aquino, 28, started their porridge business, which they named Lugaw Queen, with only P1,100 as capital. Now, they have nine branches and are in the process of putting up even more.

Lugaw Queen has been a favorite stop of people looking for a combination of affordability, cleanliness and good taste in each meal.

Just for extra income

The couple used to have a computer shop but had to close it down in 2006 since earning from its operation was no longer that much.

Beverly recalled that they wanted to put up a business then to have an extra income since they felt that their combined salaries would not be enough for their needs.

After they decided to close the computer shop, they started looking for other means to earn some extra money.

Sherwin, who was working for a fast-food chain then, was offered by his boss to rent the vacant four-square meter space beside the fast-food branch for P6,000 a month.

“I initially declined the offer. I thought a P6,000 monthly rental was too much. Only three people can be accommodated in the space being offered,” Beverly related.

But they were consistently convinced by the owner, and the couple decided to give in. They chose a food business since Beverly was really into cooking.

Beverly thought of just selling porridge since it does not require a big investment.

She bought 12 pieces of eggs, 1 kilo of rice and the other ingredients needed in cooking porridge. They only had three chairs for the customers.

The couple convinced the owner of the space they rented that they would pay P200 a day instead of P6,000 a month, which they thought was easier to pay.

In November 2007, the first branch of Lugaw Queen was put up in San Pablo City.

“Our initial cost was P1,100,” Beverly said, adding that the first pot they used in cooking was not yet fully paid when the store opened.

“We paid 100 a day for that pot,” according to Beverly, who up to now could not believe how their business succeeded.

Stunning success

“We were surprised how the customers kept on coming in. From three chairs that we had, we had to buy 10 more chairs and tables to accommodate the customers,” Beverly said.

Barely two weeks after the couple opened their business, they had to put up another branch in San Pablo City just to accommodate the hundreds of customers who wanted to try their product.

Sherwin and Beverly were forced to resign from their respective jobs since they wanted to focus on their growing business.

“The number of customers increased, and our capital was literally doubling every day,” Beverly shared.

Lugaw Queen offers a meal for as low as P12.

“Aside from the price and taste, I think customers like our products since we value sanitation in our operation,” Beverly said.

Sherwin’s former boss at the fastfood chain, Eugenio Cheung, 29, also joined the business and helped the couple expand it further.

Months after, four more branches were opened in San Pablo City, Los Baños and Sta. Rosa City in Laguna and in Manila.


Despite the success, the couple also faced some problems in running the business.

Beverly said some barangay (village) officials used to complain about their business since it added to the town’s traffic problems.

She added, “There was a time that I wanted to give up the business since I felt too tired, but the people’s patronage of our products is just too overwhelming.”

Sherwin convinced Beverly not to give up the business since aside from helping their family with their finances, they are also giving employment to at least 50 people, whom they value for their hard work and diligence.

“In maintaining a business, you need to value your employees for them to render the service that you want,” Beverly said.

Couple shot in Laguna; wife dies

By Karen Lapitan
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 15:40:00 06/21/2009

Filed Under: Crime

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—A lone gunman shot a couple Sunday morning in their residence in Sitio (sub-village) Palua, Barangay (village) Canlubang, Calamba City, police said.

Senior Superintendent Manolito Labador, Laguna provincial police director, said Elizabeth Saturno, 35, died in the shooting, while her husband Mar, 46, was brought to the trauma center of a local hospital for treatment.

Labador said suspect Andy Gabinete was arrested after the couple's son identified him as the shooter. Gabinete voluntarily surrendered to the authorities.

A 9mm caliber gun was recovered from the suspect, who is now detained at Canlubang police station.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Protest leader gunned down in Dumaguete

June 11, 2009 02:38:00
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Public indignation over the constituent assembly (Con-ass) took a violent twist in Dumaguete City when unidentified men shot and killed a peasant leader shortly after he addressed a crowd at 4 p.m.

Fermin Lorico, leader of the militant Kahugpongan Alang sa Ugma sa Gagmay’ng Mag-uuma sa Oriental Negros (Kaugmaon), was ambushed along San Jose Extension in Barangay (Village) Taclobo, said Supt. Leopoldo Cabanag, the city police chief.

Lorico, a native of Bayawan City and active Catholic lay minister, was on his way to the office of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) to meet members of human rights organizations, Kaugmaon spokesperson Juliet Ragay said.

Like in Metro Manila, protest rallies and marches in key cities nationwide Wednesday condemned President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her allies in the House of Representatives for pushing through with their plan to amend the 1987 Constitution through a Con-ass.

Protest actions elsewhere were generally peaceful. Some groups even tagged Charter change (Cha-cha) as a more dangerous threat to the people than the Influenza A(H1N1) virus, while others vowed to come out in even bigger numbers on Independence Day on Friday.

Lagdameo in black

Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), urged lawmakers who are insisting on Con-ass to heed the nationwide protests.

“The rallies show the strong sentiments of the people. They do not want our present government to tamper with our Constitution without a signal from the people themselves,” Lagdameo told the Philippine Daily Inquirer at the sidelines of the rally at the provincial capitol in Iloilo City.

“They should harken to the protests of the people because they are (supposed to be) the representatives of the people,” said Lagdameo, who came in an all-black clerical attire in line with the “Black Wednesday” theme of the protest action.

In Pampanga province, Bro. Eddie Villanueva, leader of the Jesus is Lord Movement, asked Ms Arroyo to restore sanity in her administration amid moves by her allies to tinker with the Constitution and corruption scandals hounding her.

‘Better word for shameless’

House Resolution No. 1109, which authorizes the lower chamber to convene a Senate-less constituent assembly, was a “shameless display of arrogance,” Villanueva told reporters in the City of San Fernando on Wednesday.

“If there’s even a better word than shameless, I will not hesitate to use it just to say that the resurrection of Charter change is a no-delicadeza move,” he said.

Villanueva, who ran for president and lost in 2004, said the protests around the country was an occasion for all democracy loving Filipinos “to show unity and solidarity against the threat on the nation’s soul and spirit.”

“Let us turn this deplorable manipulation around and make it an opportunity for us to show that we are going to stand up for our rights and freedom, and nothing is going to stop us,” he said.

Bacolod church bells toll

In Bacolod City, about 1,000 people marched to the plaza amid the tolling of bells from the San Sebastian Cathedral that was decked in red cloth as a sign of protest.

Bishop Vicente Navarra came with priests and nuns for the protest led by the coalition Negrenses United Against Constituent Assembly (Nunca).

In Baguio City, about 100 people led by the Tongtongan Ti Umili and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance marched on Session Road.

Members of the Metropolitan Community Church-Metro Baguio shouted: “Imbyerna ang masa, tsugiin na si Gloria (The people are angry, President Macapagal-Arroyo should go)!”

Manuel Loste, Bayan Muna national vice chair, said people should not trust the Arroyo administration when it promised that no proposal for term extension would be introduced in Charter amendments.

He said Ms Arroyo had lost her political credibility after she turned back on her promise made in Baguio City in 2002 that she would not run for president in the 2004 elections.

Police checkpoints

Bayan members in Central Luzon, as well as Pampanga Gov. Eddie Panlilio, went to the protest rally in Makati City. The Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya will hold its protest actions on Friday in major cities in the region.

In a phone interview, Panlilio challenged legislators and other local officials supporting Con-ass to turn the controversy as a “time to restore faith.”

He urged officials to be the “voice of the people, to abandon personal interests and cast patronage ambition aside.”

Police checkpoints were set up in major thoroughfares to screen illegal firearms and weapons, said Chief Supt. Leon Nilo de la Cruz, regional police director.

Southern Tagalog

Protesters in Southern Tagalog had props depicting Ms Arroyo and pro-Cha-cha congressmen as pigs infected with a new strain of swine flu dubbed “Influenza G (C-H-A-2)” or the “Gloria forever virus.”

Christine Macabetcha, Bayan deputy secretary general in the region, said Cha-cha was worse than any flu outbreak that every Filipino should be warned of.

“During Ms Arroyo’s term, almost 1,000 activists, journalists, and government critics have been extra-judicially killed,” she said.

Bicol region

In Legazpi City, militants marched on Washington Drive toward Peñaranda Park in front of the provincial capitol. They held placards bearing the faces of Albay Rep. Al Francis Bichara and Rep. Reno Lim with “X” marks.

In Naga City, about 200 people gathered at the Plaza Quince Martires, built in honor of the 15 martyrs of Camarines Sur, to protest against HR 1109.

They also denounced Bicol lawmakers who signed the resolution, but excluded Rep. Liwayway Vinzons-Chato of Camarines Norte, Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella of Camarines Sur, Sen. Francis Escudero of Sorsogon, and Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay.

In Sorsogon City, some 500 people joined the street march, according to Paul Vincent Casilihan of Karapatan-Bicol.

Members of the party-list youth group Kabataan in Cebu City wore masks saying “No to Cha Cha virus” during a march from Fuente Osmeña to the Malacañang sa Sugbo at the port area.

Former Mayor Gilbert Wagas of Compostela town in Cebu sported a bald head to express his dismay over Con-ass.

Nineteen organizations launched a coalition that would come up with measures to stop the House plan.

Tacloban City

In Tacloban City, protesters wore black T-shirts to express their indignation.

Jebril Gil Sida, Kabataan regional spokesperson, said a signature campaign had been started at the University of the Philippines-Tacloban.

Torches lit up Davao City as militant, religious, student and nongovernment groups marched. They were joined by thousands of farmers from Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur, Davao del Sur and Compostela Valley.

Davao concert

A concert by artists and students under the umbrella of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) was scheduled later in the evening.

Councilor Angela Librado-Trinidad said the people should “act now, otherwise, we would be waking up to a day without the sunshine of our freedoms.”


In General Santos City, hundreds of people led by Bayan, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente marched around the city and staged a rally in front of KCC Mall.

Edward Flores, Bayan spokesperson, said a bigger rally would be held when Ms Arroyo visits Koronadal City Friday.

Hundreds of people also joined the rally in Cagayan de Oro City. Reports from Romy Amarado, Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Carla P. Gomez, Jhunnex Napallacan, Iste Sesante Leopoldo and Joey Gabieta, Inquirer Visayas; Charlene Cayabyab and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon; Desiree Caluza, Inquirer Northern Luzon; Karen Lapitan, Maricar Cinco, Jonas Cabiles Soltes and Rey Nasol, Inquirer Southern Luzon; and Aquiles Z. Zonio, Carlo Agamon and Riza P. Acac, Inquirer Mindanao