The Printed Word in the Philippines

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One of the things I did enjoy doing when I was in the Philippines was scooping up as many magazines as I could get my hands on. Content-junkie that I am, I love love love anything to do with news, gossip, info…anything printed. I used to get several newspapers a day when I lived there many years ago, but the magazine industry has boomed tremendously since that time, with glossy pages, high-quality color photography, and more sophisticated content finally making their way onto the newsstands. Newspapers just seemed a little too boring, ya know? (Especially since I could get the same stuff online, especially the Philippine Daily Inquirer.)

Some of the magazines I picked up were Enterprise (local business), Marie Claire (local franchise of the American title), Metro (beauty, fashion and society), Sense & Style (ditto), and Yes! (like OK!, the entertainment/gossip rag). I was disappointed by Enterprise, which was poorly written and even more badly edited. Articles about outsourcing and the call center biz in the Philippines were interesting enough, but it could’ve used more profiles about successful entrepreneurs instead of stuffing a bunch of numbers and statistics into each article.

Marie Claire, Sense & Style and Metro were, as expected, glossy, gossipy and glamorous, if a bit over the top in its fawning articles about the celebrity du jour. I know that all fashion magazines, to some extent, are mere catalogs for the products advertised, but the Philippine versions seemed more so, with content including interviews with product managers of global brands such as Lancome, Shiseido and Shu Uemura on what makes their respective lines so “powerful.”

Yes! was unexpectedly good, as far as celebrity mags go. The in-depth story of concert queen Pops Fernandez‘s fantastically bad marriage to balladeer Martin Nievera, was surprisingly interesting and intimate. Granted, I was appalled that Pops (of whom I was once a big fan) would choose to open up really, really old wounds (c’mon, girl, it’s been nine years since your annulment — ever heard of the term Let sleeping dogs lie?), especially since she kept harping about how she was only thinking of her two kids with Martin, Robin and Ram. Martin did a despicable thing, but can’t you guys just be adults and move on, for cryin’ out loud? Did I mention that it’s been nine years?

What I don’t like about magazines in the Philippines is that they’re almost always encased in clear plastic cellophane. The better to discourage squatters from engaging in some free reading at the newsstand, I suppose, but it makes it more difficult to judge the quality of the writing and content, ya know? Nearly all new books at the shops were given the same ultra-secure treatment up until a few years ago, but thankfully it appears that practice is slowly being phased out. If only Barnes & Noble or Borders could step in and shake things up a bit…

I did buy a couple of books while I was there:

a) A biography of John L. Gokongwei, Jr., by Marites A. Khanser. Gokongwei, one of the richest men in Asia, started out as a dirt-poor, fatherless boy in China and now commands an enormous empire throughout the Southeast Asian region. The book, John L. Gokongwei, Jr.: The Path of Entrepreneurship, narrates his life story as well as his philosophy on entrepreneurship. I love reading about self-made men and women, and this particular bio can’t be found here in the U.S. It’s also rare in the sense that this is the only biography I know exists of a Chinese-Filipino mogul.

b) Killing Time in a Warm Place, by Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr. Never heard of the book, but I’ve heard of the author. A novel set in the Philippines during the Marcos years, the story centers around a young, male, middle-class protagonist who finds himself involved in the events and places that defined that era.

c) Tw7sted, by Jessica Zafra. I’ve read a few of Zafra’s columns, but wasn’t really wholly familiar with her humor and intellect. I found this at Powerbooks in Robinson’s Mall (owned by the aforementioned Gokongwei) in Malate and bought it on impulse. She seems just like the person I’d enjoy hanging out with.

I think I’ve started reading more collection-of books by columnists because of my own current gig at the local paper. While I haven’t read Zafra’s book yet, my hunch is that she has a similar sensibility to mine, so I can’t resist but take some inspiration from this remarkable woman’s ouevre.

M.