LONDON'S  BORN  FREE JR.  IN  BORACAY

THE VISAYAS
, DECEMBER 27, 2007  (STAR) KRIPOTKIN By Alfred A. Yuson - It seemed incongruous — the balladeer from London singing a medley of White Christmas songs by the pool of a tropical resort, amid swaying palms and other verdant foliage. But then nothing can be out of place in the jumble of a paradise that’s Boracay, especially if the singer is a returnee who’s born free.

Make that Born Free, the monster hit of the ’70s as sung by Matt Monro. And now his son Matt Jr. was reprising the classic as anticipated, before a smartly dressed crowd spread around garden tables at One MGM Resort Village.

The al fresco concert was staged two Saturdays ago, between one-night gigs by Matt Monro Jr. in Cebu and Iloilo. Charming, mock-rakish, free and easy, Matt Jr. teased the Boracay audience right from the get-go, saying we’d be disappointed if we expected Born Free.

But he chortled conspiratorially, and with his longtime arranger Colin Keyes providing the keyboard spark, Matt’s raspy whisky voice went ahead and essayed other old familiar standards: Softly; Walk Away and Go; All of a Sudden My Heart Sings; For Once in My Life; From Russia With Love...

The baby boomers sighed and swooned through the night of nostalgia, while Matt Monro Jr. kept referencing back to how his late father had loved the Philippines, and not just because he had a lot of hits here, but maybe he was telling him that he just had to find himself a Filipina.

It may not have been to that end that he left the oversized green chair on the makeshift stage used for the earlier numbers and proceeded to walk nimbly around the very lip of the pool, circling it while fans reached out for a handshake, or a quick buss. Matt Jr. was in his element, even sharing the wireless mic, and obviously delighted to have such easy rapport with Pinoys.

And maybe he had already found, for the nonce, the Filipina his father had promised him would be alluring and ideal, occasioning a special number he had learned while on his trips here: Be My Lady by Louie Ocampo. “I just love Filipina girls,” he kept enthusing before that number.

Followed other non-Monro tunes, such as Yesterday and My Way. And for a rousing finale, what else but the number he had held back in honor of Dad: Born Free. Christmas carols provided warm closure as an extended encore.

For close to a couple of hours we lounged on our garden chairs around tables full of wine bottles, red and white, enjoying the show, which featured Faith Cuneta as arousing front act. During the break before Matt Jr. came on, I traipsed to my ground-floor room-with-a-view at a cluster called the Villas close by, for a fresh pack of Camels. On the way I managed to photo-op the friendly Faith, who was being besieged by the locals backstage. A chance it was, too, to pour myself a whisky glass to take back to our table. Not that the wine wasn’t enough. Something about a clear night sky full of Orion and twinkling cohorts made me want to raise a more spirited toast.

A freebie weekend in paradise, attended by a top-class music concert, good company, fine dining and wining, plus the usual dramatic sunsets, all added up to gratitude in default mode. I had earned this, after long having had to hack away across thickets of metropolitan traffic for bread-and-butter chores, profitable socials, or reckoning with a Christmas shopping list. Why, this recharge came a mere 35 minutes from mad Manila.

We were guests of Seair of the Dornier jetprops, fastest in the territory, as well as One MGM Resort Village, formerly the Paradise Garden Resort Villas, until it was purchased late this year from the original German partners by a Pinoy consortium. It has since been handed over to GHPIRESORT, Inc. as the new management team, led by Rey L. Fuentes, formerly of Ayala Land Cebu and now One MGM’s COO and general manager.

Happenstance also dictated that we’d be welcomed at the island pier by an early buddy, Manolito “Lito” Ocampo Cruz, holder of many hats, among these being project consultant for One MGM. As he explained, the resort’s new name meant “One of My Greatest Moments.” Mwahaha. Honest. The rest of the company couldn’t help quipping that it was actually a movable feast of an acronym. “Grandest Moments” could also be it, or “One Magical Glorious Moment” — which could well refer to any old Boracay sunset.

Lito also turns out to be co-publishing a fine quarterly magazine billed as Muse, covering the arts and culture scene. With him in the venture is his brother Ramoncito “Chito” Cruz, as co-publisher, and himself a painter who had a recent one-man show. Lito I recalled to have authored a poetry book in his salad days, maybe after DLSU where he batched with Ricky de Ungria. In any case, we had a lot of catching up to do, re art and poetry and muses for an MGM type of lifestyle.

We had flown into Caticlan with Jingjing Romero, who takes care of public relations for Seair. Patrick Tan, the airline’s VP for Commercial Affairs, met us at the Caticlan lounge, and made sure we boarded a boat from Fairways & Bluewater’s private jetty to avoid the bustle of the incoming weekend crowd early that morning. Rina Jimenez David and her husband Pi joined us in the afternoon, as Rina had just come in the day before from Bangkok.

Another quality host was Nikos “Nick” Gitsis, Seair co-founder and director, whom we first met at Mayie Delgado’s Poetic Images book launch some months back. Nick also co-owns Zuzuni, a Mediterranean resto right on White Beach, together with Geni Psinakis. That was where he showed us, on Geni’s pink laptop and over Sunday lunch of Greek fare, the latest aircraft models that Seair intends to associate its pioneering spirit with.

Together with Iren Dornier and Tomas Lopez, Nick had set up South East Asian Airlines (Seair) in 1995 by investing in two nine-seaters plying “missionary routes,” namely Manila to Caticlan as well as Rodriguez and Busuanga in Palawan. Within a decade, despite also servicing light cargo such as fowl and fish, Seair reached the one-million-passenger mark.

In 2005, Seair introduced the state-of-the-art Dornier 328, a 32-seater twin-engine turboprop that takes Caticlan from Manila in only 35 minutes. Eventually phasing out its original LET410 planes, Seair now offers the most flights to Caticlan (28 flights daily in peak season, taking off from Manila in 30-minute intervals) and Busuanga (as many as eight flights daily), as well as other Palawan destinations, for up to 40 flights per week.

Seair has now flown almost two million passengers in 22 routes to 16 local tourist destinations: Manila, Caticlan (Boracay) and Cebu in Visayas; Clark in Northern Luzon; Tablas in Southern Luzon; Busuanga, Cuyo, El Nido, Puerto Princesa and Rodriguez in Palawan; and Camiguin, Cotabato, Pagadian, Zamboanga, Jolo, and Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao.

For his part, Patrick Tan is bullish on the Seair Adventure Pass for frequent flyers and thrill-seekers. A bearer can take an unlimited number of flights to any of Seair’s regular routes within 45 days from date of purchase at a base rate P18,500.

There’s also the Seair Visa Credit Card, which grants holders free flights through privilege points earned for every P40 spent. “Cardholders also earn double points when they buy their tickets at Seair ticketing offices using their card,” says Patrick of the privilege card that goes with a rewards redemption fast-track option. Cardholders also get as much as a 35-percent ticket discount in non-peak periods and 20-percent discount at peak season, except on black-out dates.

Indeed, the second oldest airline in the Philippines, still the only one that maintains its headquarters in Clark, has come a long way since its early days of transporting chickens and fish.

Speaking of which, our last engagement with the merry company was for a drawn-out Sunday dinner, a Spanish-style degustacion, at the Al Andaluz room of Doz Mestizos restaurant at Fairways & Bluewater. Binggoy Remedios, the affable, Crocs-clad owner and chef, plied us with assorted tapas that almost had us crying “Tito” before the advent of paella and couscous with skewered lamb.

Former deejay “Long Tall Howard,” the man behind Matt Jr.’s gigs in these here parts, as well as those by retro/reunion musical artists, kept us entertained with anecdotes dating back to the ’60s. The sangria kept flowing, while the amihan winds whipped away at the patio where Matt Jr. kept finding himself out for a smoke after each distinctive plate. Faith and her company joined us, too, as well as former Congressman and newspaper publisher Toti Cariño, our neighbor in Pasig.

The drizzle turned diagonal then horizontal, so Matt Jr. and Colin were worried about managing to play a round of golf the next day. Now that would be a real holiday break to look forward to before they drove down to Iloilo for the next gig. Both stayed optimistic, however, enough to feign practice swings at the amihan front.

Back in Manila, we heard that the sun shone all of Monday, so that the duo did get to enjoy Fairways & Bluewater’s premier layout. So much so, in fact, that after Thursday’s last stand at Manila Pavilion’s Alegria Lounge, Matt planned to fly back to Boracay and spend Christmas there instead of London. Maybe he had found his lady, as a proper guide to the place he repeatedly called paradise.

As for the rest of our brief time on the world’s best beach, suffice it to say that the night at Summer Place, which has replaced Bazzura as the happening site for late nights of salsa dancing on tabletops, might have been the intermediate coup de grâce. For that Sabado night also featured, other than the Seair band onstage, a company of fire dancers outside. Twirling their poi-style wands ablaze, they were a study in illuminating motion, arc-ing fluid flame to the beat, arrested sparks signifying the persistence of vision.

I have to turn in early, I said to the beer-guzzling rapper son who had served as weekend caregiver. That’s all right, I’ll stay, he replied. And maybe still do Cocomangas. Oh, well. Fine. I walked back alone at midnight towards One MGM, picking up chicken liver barbecue from a stand along the way. Farther down was a beach bar named Charlie’s, where the music blared What A Wonderful World.

Then the persistence of clairaudience took over, guiding me all the way to the Villa suite, where I hummed myself into Morpheus’ arms. Er, make that Louis Armstrong’s.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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