April 30, 2004  (STAR) GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc - This summerís hot event is turning out to be not the election but Andrea Bocelliís one-night concert tonight at the Araneta Coliseum. News has it that music buffs from north and south of Manila, and Asian capitals, have flown in to watch the tenor whom Luciano Pavarotti has described as "my successor". Rose Marie Arenas, who spent all of three years to stage Bocelli Live in Manila, says it will be a mix of classical, opera and pop.

"If God will have a voice, it would be Andrea Bocelliís," Celine Dion once gushed when they taped The Prayer a few years back. Barbara Sinatra agreed, "Your voice is a gift of God," after watching a performance. "Tender tenor," he is called in America. But itís not just Bocelliís voice and easy ability to cross over from classical to modern that have made crowds sit up and listen. Itís his very life.

Born in 1958, Bocelli could play the organ at age six at his parish church in Italy. This, despite bad eyesight due to congenital glaucoma, which led to total blindness after a bad hit in a soccer game when he was 12. Bocelli did not let the handicap deter his life plans. He partly financed his way through law school at the University of Pisa by playing piano at bars. He spent only a year practising the legal profession, though. The allure of his first love Ė music Ė was too strong.

Italyís top rocker Zucchero discovered Bocelli while enticing Pavarotti to duet in an album. Zucchero made a demo tape with the blind upcomer and sent it to the world-acknowledged maestro. Upon hearing the unknown tenor who "sings with his soul," Pavarotti added: "Who is this fellow? You donít need me. He can do better." A gold record for his debut album earned Bocelli in 1994 the right to duet with the maestro in the benefit concert, Pavarotti International, in Modena. That same year Bocelli made his debut opera role in Macbeth, which played before the Pope at St. Peterís Basilica.

Soon Bocelli was performing with world-renowned sopranos like Sarah Brightman, and with pop queens like Celine Dion. Among famous fans is Elizabeth Taylor, who specifically requested Bocelli to perform in a television tribute to her.

Young Tuscan soprano Maria Luigia Borsi will perform with "the tenor of the times." Prof. Mercello Rota will conduct an all-Filipino orchestra, whose 80 members auditioned for the honor.

In enticing Bocelli to Manila, Ms. Arenas bested many other concert organizers, including one who wanted him this same weekend in Madrid. "I convinced him that Manila is safer," she beams, "and that our charity beneficiaries need him." These are: Padre Pio Lend-a-Hand Foundation, Red Cross, Mt. Pinatubo Hidden Shrine Foundation, Bantay Bata, and Ateneo High School í79 Foundation.

"We invested in audio technology, so that what you hear up front is the same as that out at the back," Ms. Arenas assures. Higher priced tickets (P2,000, P3,000, P5,000, P10,000, P15,000) will subsidize general patronage seats (P500). A mother who awoke from long coma to Bocelliís songs will be in tonightís audience.

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The corporate motto "You can be sure of Shell" used to be a statement of fact about the European firmís management and products. Now it seems the opposite, The Economist tsk-tsks, as Royal Dutch/Shell reels in shame worldwide from a series of revelations.

The oil shock hit in March with Shellís announcement to reduce its declared gas reserves by a hefty fifth. This sent prices of fuel soaring and shares sinking, since sworn reserves are bases for supply and company strength.

US Securities and Exchange Commission probers swiftly moved in. Days later Shellís dual Anglo-Dutch boards pushed Walter van de Vijber to resign as head of exploration and production. Van de Vijber went public that his ouster from the No. 2 post was "without credible explanation." It turned out that he had been arguing for months with chairman Sir Phillip Watts, his predecessor in the post, to come clean once and for all about Shellís real reserve position.

Watts had climbed to the top largely through a myth of finding and booking new reserves that boosted the firmís stocks. But van de Vijber had discovered discrepancies, and wanted these corrected. Wattsís reply was for him to maintain the existing figures and, as coverup, do everything to increase real reserves. Van de Vijber cried in a final memo: "I am becoming sick and tired of lying."

Watts resigned soon after van de Vijberís exposť. Shellís chief finance officer followed suit. The US-SEC is sniffing at evidence of fudged financial reports. Watts and Shell, according to The Economist, face prospects of state and investor lawsuits. In one case, Watts was found to have ordered the destruction of a memo that had warned that Shell was breaking the law.

In Manila, Shell is facing a parallel suit for illegal dismissal. Victoria Medina, former PR manager, complained to the National Labor Relations Commission that the firm she faithfully had served for 18 years abruptly dumped her days before last Christmas. Impleading country president Edgar Chua and general manager Robert Kanapi, Medina said her two immediate supervisors conspired to ease her out, first by cajoling her to take a lower position, then by abolishing her last one.

"It was clear discrimination," cried Medina, who is noted for public relations projects that had won Shell numerous awards. "They disregarded my experience and performance records." She said it was apparently due to orders from higher-ups. Other managers had been given sufficient time to leave from redundant positions; not in Medinaís case. Two hearings were set in March for the case filed in January. Shell snubbed both.

The head office and Manila affairs may be unelated. Or they could reflect flawed management. Urging reforms, The Economist twitted Shellís culture of "inertia and deference to the boss (that) smothered debate... Even formerly high-placed Shell insiders describe an inward-looking, conceited company which did not believe (in) complying with the rules."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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