Barely two weeks after I posted my piece titled “When Hank Met Lea,” our
good friend Lea Ramos-Hiraishi breathed her last in the afternoon of July 18th.
Exactly 10 days after her 38th birthday, and 39 days short of
what would have been her first wedding anniversary with the love of her life,
We hoped and prayed for a miracle, but God had better plans for her.
And so we grieve because she’s gone. She left a void so deep and very difficult to fill. But even in death, Lea – our sunshine girl, our poster girl for Hope and Courage – taught us many lessons about life.
Thank you, dear friend, for showing us how to appreciate the gift of time. True, life is too short and should not be wasted on things that do not add value to its beauty.
Thank you for reminding us to make as many wonderful memories as possible with the people we love.
Thank you for making our lives brighter – with your smile, your inner strength, your devotion to family and friends, your strong faith, and God-loving ways.
You will be missed; but your memory lives on.
The day God called you home
God looked around his garden And He found an empty place. He then looked down upon this earth, And saw your tired face.
He put his arms around you
And lifted you to rest.
God’s garden must be beautiful
He always takes the best.
He knew that you were suffering
He knew you were in pain
He knew that you would never
Get well on earth again.
He saw that the road was getting rough.
And the hills are hard to climb,
So He closed your weary eyelids
And whispered “Peace be thine”.
It broke our hearts to lose you
But you didn’t go alone
For part of us went with you
That day that God called you home
Hiraishi, a Japanese-American based in Hawaii, met Lea Ramos, a Filipina,
through an online dating site in August 2016. He was instantly charmed not only
by her dainty features, but more importantly, by her honesty. Lea disclosed in
her profile that she was battling cancer. Despite her illness, Lea found the
courage to share her story to inspire others. She also didn’t consider her
condition as a hindrance to finding true love.
believed that people dealing with cancer could either become so humble or
become very bitter because of the challenge. In his mid-50s at that time, he
was looking for someone with a humble heart and he sensed that in Lea.
He initiated messaging her but got disappointed when he did not get any reply. Unknown to him, Lea was undergoing medical check-ups for her health condition.
When he finally got a message from her after a few days, their first online chat lasted all of five hours. “We shared about our past relationships, family and some personal problems. We talked about her cancer, about what we were looking for in a partner, and where we have traveled to,” Hank fondly recalls.
Both felt so comfortable with each other after sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings even though they have not physically met. “The funny part is that the next day, we talked even longer for about seven hours!”
exclusively chatting for two months, Hank decided to visit Lea in the
Philippines. On their first meeting, Hank remembers that Lea arrived late. ”But
then, I saw her beautiful smile and she had that certain glow about her. I
could tell that she was cautious and nervous.” He gave her a hug and she
responded by giving him a pat on the back which, of course, he found strange. A
few days after his visit, she told him that she didn’t like his mustache.
Before that first visit was over, Hank had his handlebars shaved off.
Going mustache-free was the least of Hank’s many selfless gestures to show Lea that he was serious in his intentions. Within their two-year long distance relationship, there were bumps along the road—mostly owing to Lea’s cancer recurrence. “I thought he might not want to be with me if he learns about my cancer coming back,” Lea shares. “To my surprise, he returned to the Philippines and stayed with me for two weeks during my radiation treatments.
Ultimately, things led to something that was reminiscent of a line from the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” with the character Harry telling his loved one: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Hank and Lea announced their engagement in July 2018. On August 26, 2018 they had their Christian wedding at The Blue Leaf Events Pavilion in McKinley Hill, Taguig City, witnessed by close family members, work colleagues, and Lea’s friends at Carewell and ICanServe – her cancer support groups.
Emotions ran high when they exchanged vows. Hank, between sniffles, promised Lea: “Mahal, I will love you and honor you and cherish you with all my heart. “I will always be true to you, support you, stand by you, care for you, and walk with the Lord with you.”
The delicate-looking Lea showed her inner grit and solid faith when she declared:
“No matter what, I will fight. I’m not going to give up. I know the Lord
is here with me…I am going to survive, I know.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
The commitment came with tough choices. Hank was prepared to bring Lea
to Hawaii, but she didn’t want to leave her family, being its main breadwinner.
Hank thus decided to move to the Philippines, which meant quitting his job and
selling off many of his stuff. His move took longer than expected because his
mother got sick and eventually passed away.
Meanwhile, Lea was in and out of the hospital because of the
complications of her illness. In her most recent confinement, visiting friends
saw a complete opposite of the perky Lea they have known. Her debilitated frame
could hardly move, and her eyes, which used to sparkle when she smiled, now
could only give blank stares. Yet, when Hank tends to her, those eyes soften in
Lea was recently taken off all her intravenous medications and other contraptions.
The word ‘miracle’ was invoked several times in the context of her recovery.
She is now being taken care of at home. Friends and family are still hoping and
praying for that miracle.
Through it all, Hank and Lea never wavered in their faith. “My strength
comes from the Lord. Only God knows when one will die. If you believe that you
are going to die, in six months your body will shut down. Just stay positive,
be happy and live life to the fullest,” Hank says.
In these times mostly ruled by cynicism, it may be difficult to find
people capable of caring in such a deep, all-giving way. Hank and Lea are such
rare finds. Lea has defied expectations and continues to fight for her life,
for her family, and for Hank.
Hank has chosen to live up to his promise to Lea during their wedding: “We don’t know what will happen in the future. We live day-by-day, living life, enjoying each other. Every second of each day, I will always be there for you, my love.”
(As published in the June 2019 issue of Yes Philippines UK magazine)
In an event several years ago, top media personality and Asia’s King of
Talk Boy Abunda once introduced her to a huge audience as “The Philippine Feng
Shui Queen.” Roar of cheers filled the
hall as guests welcomed international feng shui master Marites Allen. The title
is most apt and has remained uncontested to this day.
Marites will be the first, however, to disclaim that the appellation
came purely by luck. She has earned the title through dedicated feng shui
practice that spans nearly two decades. To hone her skills in the art of
geomancy, Marites went through rigorous mentorship by respected masters in Asia
and other parts of the world. Her quest for new learning has led her to seek
audience several times with the Dalai Lama in India. “In Central Asia and Egypt,
I discovered how symbology and luck-enhancing practices were used in Sumerian
and Egyptian cultures—centuries before the Chinese practiced feng shui,“ she
To date, she is the first and only Filipina to be awarded the
prestigious title of “Master in Feng Shui” by the International Feng Shui
The Perks of Her Craft
As the public face of feng shui in the Philippines, she has cultivated a
huge and avid following from the local business, entertainment, and political
“Never in my growing up years had I imagined myself rubbing elbows with
highly influential people,” she chuckles at the thought. She has fond memories of her encounters with
many important personalities, a virtual A-list of Philippine society, including
two former presidents (Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada), friendship with SGV
founder Mr. Washington Sycip, and meeting with American heiress Alice Walton. Those are occasions that she considers the
perks of her craft.
As much as she is inspired by the examples set by these personalities,
she continues to influence a wider base of followers through her generous
sharing of her expertise in numerous talk shows, annual conventions, mall
talks, and through her active online and social media presence. Her expertise
is sought after by audiences composed mostly of overseas Filipinos in different
parts of the world. Year after year, avid followers continue to contribute to
an already long list of testimonials on how feng shui applications have helped
change their lives for the better.
Frigga Charmed Life
In 2004, she successfully brought an international feng shui franchise
chain to the Philippines. She broke new ground in retail in 2012 with Frigga
Charmed Life, a unique fashion brand that is designed by a renowned London
fashion team that now includes Frigga Home, a special line of auspicious lifestyle
products for the home and office. Frigga has boutiques in Manila and Cebu, and
offers online shopping through its website http://www.frigga.co.uk shipping to 16
countries to date.
The fashion brand was inspired by Frigga, the Norse goddess who is
believed to possess the gift of discerning fate and working within that
structure to bring about change. A fitting model for Lady Luck Marites herself.
Those who are familiar with the life story of the Feng Shui Queen would perhaps
agree that she best typifies how we can charm our lives to success and
prosperity. She has been very open about how she conquered adversities in her
personal life — growing up sharing resources and provisions with a big family,
going through a marital crisis, and losing her mother because of a sea accident
— to become the internationally recognized feng shui expert she is today.
Feng Shui and Technology
step into the digital world, Marites has been working with Synergy88 Digital,
Inc. and ABS-CBN Publishing, Inc. (API) in producing the Marites Allen Feng
Shui app, a one-stop daily feng shui guide to planning auspicious activities.
Synergy88 is the Philippines’ first Microsoft-accredited co-development partner
that provides high-end digital creative solutions to top companies. API is an
initiative of ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ largest
entertainment and media conglomerate, which is rapidly transitioning into an
agile digital company. The Marites Allen mobile app is now available via
Google Play for Android users and App Store on iOS.
the works is Frigga Shopping App, an enhanced online shopping application
designed to provide feng shui followers, no matter where they are in the world,
a more convenient way to source a wide selection of luck enhancers and fashion
Mutya Pilipinas UK
While constantly seeking ways to connect to her growing audience and
enhance her professional advocacy, Marites seems to be led into fateful paths.
In a recent development, she has forged a partnership with her good friend Cory
Quirino, the newly appointed President of Mutya Pilipinas. Mutya is a pioneering
beauty pageant search for
exceptional Filipinas to represent the country in international competitions.
As the new franchise owner of Mutya Pilipinas UK,
Marites and her own group are tasked with the search for an exceptional
Filipina based in the United Kingdom to be its representative in the national
pageant slated in August in Manila. A most daunting task given the short lead
time as the winning UK candidate will have to fly to Manila by July 20 to train
and prepare for the finals.
“We are aware of the time constraints, and it
might come to a point where we may not be able to find our candidate at this
time and instead set our sights realistically to next year, but that should not
stop us from doing our best to make this project work now,” Marites says. “What
is clear to me is my all-out support to the organization’s cause and provide
the opportunity for a young Filipina to join the search, which could be the
break she needs to fulfill her dreams.” The Feng Shui Queen also sees her
latest challenge as an opportunity to do charity work as a way of paying
forward for all the blessings she has received through the years.
Bringing harmony, health, and auspicious fortune to people’s lives has
been Marites Allen’s boundless privilege and enduring passion. Whether as feng
shui master, author, publisher, entrepreneur, beauty pageant sponsor, loving
wife and mother, she combines professional excellence, style and heart to make
people’s life aspirations come true.
Follow her on
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (Marites
Allen) and marites.allen.com, frigga.com.ph.
For pageant-crazy fans, the long wait ends on June 9 when six
beauties from all over the Philippines will be named the country’s fairest. During
the Bb. Pilipinas 2019 coronation night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, the next
set of Filipina beauty queens will be chosen to represent the country in six
different competitions abroad, including the Miss Universe and Miss
International beauty pageants.
Interestingly, Bicolandia is well represented with at least
six of the 40 official candidates coming from this region. Probably the
influence of Catriona Gray, the reigning Miss Universe, who traces her maternal
roots to Oas, Albay. Ms. Gray has clearly upped the standards for missosology not
only with her beauty of face and form, but more importantly with her wit,
confidence, and social awareness. And yes, her lava walk.
Wanting to follow Catriona’s footsteps, these Bicolanas are out to prove that beauty contestants can also be relevant and essentially ‘woke’ to current local and global issues.
And of course, our local bet from the Happy Island!
Two other contestants, Sigrid Grace Flores and Joanna Rose Tolledo, also have their origins in Catanduanes, but are representing Iloilo and Caloocan City, respectively.
I feel inclined to ask the question again: Do Bicolanas have more fun?Please click here for some insights.
have reached a crossroads and must choose: Would you rather be happy in love,
or enjoy a successful career in the Year of the Earth Boar?
after much thought, you have decided to prioritize your career over your
romantic interest in 2019, don’t entertain doubts and go right through it.
Choosing to focus on your career will have its rewards. It will help you be
self-sufficient and lead the lifestyle you have always dreamed of.
is nothing wrong in choosing to go after your own interest over somebody else’s
for now. Think of it as an investment in being the person that you’ve always
wanted to be and gain success in your chosen field.
If you decide to take this path, consider getting some feng shui help. Take it from international feng shui master Marites Allen: These suggested charms and enhancers will do no harm and may even increase your chances of manifesting success in your decision.
the other hand, if you would rather take the route towards a more serious
relationship, then don’t fret. If you feel sincerely that this is the choice
more meaningful to you, do whatever it takes to make sure that you won’t regret
taking this option.
Again, put feng shui into the picture and enhance your chances of having a loving and harmonious relationship with your partner.
Of course, the ideal situation is to have both
aspirations met without compromising one or the other. And feng shui, being the
art and science of creating balance in our lives, comes as a source of relief
when one is faced with tough choices. It takes a good understanding of how the
energies around us work, and how they can be harmonized to attract good fortune,
and avoid – or at least diminish – unfavorable influences.
Feng shui master Marites Allen, who is also the President
and CEO of Frigga Charmed Life (a fashion brand rooted in the concept of
prosperity and luck) sees 2019, the Year
of the Earth Boar, as a year of Balance, Opportunities, Abundance, and Rewards.
And yes – Marites stresses – these types of luck can be enhanced to achieve fulfillment
in BOTH love AND career.
Connect with Marites Allen at maritesallen.com or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (Marites Allen). Visit your nearest Frigga Shop or call SM Megamall (4707661); Glorietta IV (8188858); SM Mall of Asia (09224241219); SM City North Edsa (7360512); SM Seaside Cebu (032-3432062) or shop online at frigga.com.ph.
In 2011, and again in 2016, The Cochrane Library (a collection of databases that contain high-quality, independent evidence for healthcare decision-making) published reviews of studies on the psychological and physical effects of music interventions on people with cancer.
The reviews covered 52 studies with 3731 participants, with some studies involving sessions with trained music therapists; other cases involved medical staff playing pre-recorded music. The findings suggest that music therapy and music medicine interventions may have a beneficial effect on anxiety, pain, fatigue, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure in people with cancer. Given that no negative side effects are associated with listening to music, it is certainly one healing modality worth trying.
Segue to an actual Philippine case: Alexa Kahn may not be a music therapist, but she sings, dances, and plays the piano. Music is in her DNA. While pursuing her passion, she found a way to channel her talents into making people happy and empowered. She started AKapella, where she uses her singing voice to inspire, uplift — and yes, heal people with physical and emotional pains.
Alexa shares her story: “I believe music has a very powerful healing ability. I first experienced its power when I was very young. When my grandfather was dying of cancer, it came to a point where he was in so much pain that he could barely open his eyes or talk. Whenever we visited him, we would sing to him his favorite song, “Amazing Grace.” Every time we sang to him, he would hum along and smile.”
The sense of fulfillment that she got from that experience left a huge impact on Alexa. The benefits of music made itself felt once more on another unfortunate occasion; this time with her ninang, who was dying of cancer. “She asked me to sing “The Prayer” to her because she said it made her feel unafraid to die. I was amazed how a song could make someone feel so empowered.”
These experiences with two of her loved ones became the spark that led to the creation of AKapella. To date, she has volunteered to share her gift of music with such organizations as the Jeremiah Foundation, Kythe Foundation, and the Carewell Community Foundation.
During her sessions with Carewell, she and her friend Monet Ganir, together with other AKapella volunteers, serenade members with songs the members themselves choose, which are mostly about struggle, acceptance, hope, as well as love and longing for departed loved ones.
Carewell volunteer Oscar Legado describes his feelings while singing along with Alexa as “magkahalong tuwa at lungkot.” Oscar lost his wife Lerry, a Carewell member, to cancer last year. Though still heartbroken because of his loss, he has learned to accept that it also meant finding new meaning and purpose in life. Today, he helps the foundation in its advocacy by volunteering to put his skills in reflexology to provide relief to other Carewell members.
A member who requested anonymity explains her reason for requesting Alexa to sing “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera. “In many cases, cancer takes away physical things – a body part, perhaps lustrous hair after chemotherapy, which could make one feel less beautiful; but during the healing journey, one discovers beauty in more meaningful forms, such as support from family and true friends, improved relationships, self-love, and stronger faith. After my breast surgery, I found Carewell, and that’s a huge blessing—to be with kindred spirits who laugh and cry with you, and with whom you can feel at ease without fear of being judged because they fully understand what you’re going through.”
The Carewell Community Foundation, true to its mission, simply leaves no stone unturned in providing programs to enhance the quality of life and the healing journey of people affected by cancer. Carewell members engage themselves in activities that are all part of an integrative and holistic plan to manage not only their physical, but also their mental, emotional, and spiritual issues.
Healing modalities at Carewell come in conventional forms, including medical and psychological counselling, support groups, and wellness talks. Meditative activities such as centering prayer, yoga, qigong, and gong sound therapy help in stress management. Its recent programs allowed members to experience Theta and millennium healing to address emotional concerns, and acupuncture for detoxification. Carewell members dance and express their creativity in arts and crafts classes. Fun is very much part of the equation, which members get a lot of, during field trips to respite destinations.
Persons affected by cancer, and even their loved ones, may join these wellness activities free of charge.
In partnership with Alexa and her AKapella team, the foundation is set to hold another session of mood-uplifting music on December 14, 2018 at the Carewell office in Makati. To know more about Carewell and its cancer-support activities, please call 815-1294 or visit www.carewellcommunity.org/
The tourism tag ‘Happy Island’ suits the province of Catanduanes to a T. It is blessed with unspoiled beaches, rolling terrain, and many idyllic spots that continue to attract foreign and domestic visitors. Its latest tourism figures showed an increase of 11.31% from 2016 to 2017 driven by visitors seeking new travel experiences.
Catanduanes also takes pride in being the country’s top producer of abaca. The Bicol region contributes about 40% of the roughly $130.3 million annual abaca exports to major global markets. At least 90% of the regional share comes from the rich soils of The Happy Island.
Abaca has been traditionally turned into twine, cordage, textiles, and handicrafts. Its more modern applications now include manufacturing various items such as automotive parts, paper and currency notes, and many fashion and lifestyle products.
The quest for organic and eco-friendly raw materials has further contributed to the preference for abaca over synthetic materials. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI) has recently developed a technology that combines abaca and resin to form a composite that is lightweight, cheap, and corrosion-resistant. ITDI used this technology to form the roof and sidecar of a motorized tricycle to demonstrate the unique qualities of the composite.
The global demand and prospects are obviously huge; but the challenges faced by abaca industry players in meeting this demand are equally daunting. There has to be massive expansion and rehabilitation of abaca farms throughout the country. The aging population of abaca farmers needs to be addressed by encouraging the younger generations and convincing them that farming can be profitable. Economic losses have been reported owing to low productivity and deteriorating fiber quality resulting from viral-borne plant diseases. Thus, new methods are needed to improve not only the yield but also the quality of the fiber.
During the recently held Abaca Festival in Virac, Catanduanes, local farmers had a chance to convene with Catanduanes Governor Joseph Cua and Mr. Kennedy Costales, Executive Director of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA), for vital updates affecting their trade. In this gathering, 107 farmers from the 11 municipalities of the province were awarded cash incentives to help rebuild abaca farms that were devastated by Typhoon Nina in 2016. The awarding was part of the PhP50-million ‘Cash for Work’ program set by the Department of Agriculture aimed to benefit around 15,000 Catandunganon farmers.
For his part, Governor Cua assured the farmers of government support in propping up abaca planting in Catanduanes while reminding them of the need to improve the quality of their produce. Noting the loss of interest in farming among millennials, he said that initiatives are being taken to make farming easier, requiring less brawn activity, but with the potential for workers to rake in decent income.
Ceremonial awarding of cash incentives
Representing PhilFIDA, the attached agency of the Department of Agriculture tasked with developing and sustaining the fiber industry in the country, Executive Director Kennedy Costales cited the latest initiatives to double, even triple, the country’s abaca output in the following years. As stated on its official website, PhilFIDA “pursues a range of programs particularly for the development of disease-resistant and high-yielding planting materials, sustainable disease management program, improved fiber extraction machines and the acquisition of sustainability certification for the production of high-quality abaca fibers.”
Director Costales reiterated PhilFIDA’s vision to mechanize abaca production in Catanduanes and the rest of the country. Additionally, in the next few years, abaca farmers in the province will be organized into cooperatives to be run corporate-style by professional management teams.
This is the core of the Abaca Tuxy Buying Special Project (ATBSP), a new trading system meant to eliminate the traditional “all-in” buying scheme where unorganized farmers sell their produce in an individual and fragmented manner. The farmers are at the losing end of this arrangement, as the grades and standards of abaca are applied only at the level of the Grading and Baling Establishments (GBE), who get the premium for high-quality fibers. The farmers are thus constrained from improving the yield and quality of their products.
The ATBSP aims to improve the marketing arrangement by clustering farmers into cooperatives with 50 to 100 members each. The project takes half the burden off the farmers’ back by simplifying abaca processing from the traditional 12 steps down to 6, allowing farmers to focus on the quality of the fiber. They will be trained in all aspects of production, including warehousing and fiber trading, grading and classification of fibers that meet market standards. “This shifts their mindsets from being mere farmers to being entrepreneurs,” says Dir. Costales. The cooperatives will handle the rest of the steps, including stripping the fibers using spindle-stripping machines, drying, classifying, bundling, and selling the fibers in bulk directly to GBEs and local processors.
The farmers present were then shown how a spindle stripping machine works. Compared to hand-stripped abaca fibers, which are coarse and priced at PhP55.00 per kilo, fiber produced mechanically are of higher quality and can be bought at PhP110.00 per kilo on average.
A ceremonial turnover of heavy equipment (a 6-wheeler and a 10-wheeler), a forklift, weighing scales, among others, to the Pinoy Lingap-Damayan Credit Cooperative (PLDC) capped the day’s event. These were funded by the Philippine Rural Development Program (PRDP) of the Department of Agriculture (DA).
Earlier this year, Congressman Cesar V. Sarmiento, Representative of the lone district of Catanduanes, filed House Bill No. 7369, declaring the province as the Abaca Capital of the Philippines. The Bill seeks to promote and support the abaca industry in the province, while safeguarding it from destruction caused by plant diseases and calamitous events.
The Bill also stipulates the creation of an Abaca Research and Development Center attached to the Catanduanes State University – College of Agriculture and Fisheries. The Center shall conduct researches and studies on the development, production, management, and marketing of abaca fiber; provide technical assistance and support to abaca farmers; and develop technologies beneficial to the abaca industry.
Favorable events are coming together for the benefit of the soil tillers and the parahagot (abaca strippers) of Catanduanes. It’s about time they got their share of good cheer on The Happy Island.