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This article was written by a BGC resident on March 11, about one month after Covid-19 became a global concern, and a few days before the start of the Community Quarantine of Metro Manila on March 15, 2020.

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The effect of COVID-19 has seeped into our daily life in Manila. All three of my children have started distance learning due to the school closure. While I feel fortunate that our children can continue to learn amid school closure, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the load handed over to parents. Distance Learning is not as hands-off as you may imagine. In such disruptive environment, parents are required to stay strong in order to support our children.

Meanwhile, the fear seems to have taken over the minds of people all over the world. In such unstable time of news filled with negativity, I saw a light of hope when I encountered the following statement posted on a Facebook account which went viral.

Below is the Facebook post about COVID-19 that was written and published by Dr. Abdu Sharkawy in Toronto, Canada. I find it important that everyone read his message. Thus, I decided to share it here.

You might have already read it, but in case you haven’t, here it is.  If you don’t have the time, maybe you can see his interview on CBC.

Facebook Post That Everyone Should Read

I’m a doctor and an Infectious Diseases Specialist. I’ve been at this for more than 20 years seeing sick patients on a daily basis. I have worked in inner city hospitals and in the poorest slums of Africa. HIV-AIDS, Hepatitis,TB, SARS, Measles, Shingles, Whooping cough, Diphtheria…there is little I haven’t been exposed to in my profession. And with notable exception of SARS, very little has left me feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed or downright scared.

I am not scared of Covid-19. I am concerned about the implications of a novel infectious agent that has spread the world over and continues to find new footholds in different soil. I am rightly concerned for the welfare of those who are elderly, in frail health or disenfranchised who stand to suffer mostly, and disproportionately, at the hands of this new scourge. But I am not scared of Covid-19.

What I am scared about is the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic, stockpiling obscene quantities of anything that could fill a bomb shelter adequately in a post-apocalyptic world. I am scared of the N95 masks that are stolen from hospitals and urgent care clinics where they are actually needed for front line healthcare providers and instead are being donned in airports, malls, and coffee lounges, perpetuating even more fear and suspicion of others. I am scared that our hospitals will be overwhelmed with anyone who thinks they ” probably don’t have it but may as well get checked out no matter what because you just never know…” and those with heart failure, emphysema, pneumonia and strokes will pay the price for overfilled ER waiting rooms with only so many doctors and nurses to assess.

I am scared that travel restrictions will become so far reaching that weddings will be canceled, graduations missed and family reunions will not materialize. And well, even that big party called the Olympic Games…that could be kyboshed, too. Can you even imagine?

I’m scared those same epidemic fears will limit trade, harm partnerships in multiple sectors, business and otherwise and ultimately culminate in a global recession.

But mostly, I’m scared about what message we are telling our kids when faced with a threat. Instead of reason, rationality, open mindedness and altruism, we are telling them to panic, be fearful, suspicious, reactionary and self-interested.

Covid-19 is nowhere near over. It will be coming to a city, a hospital, a friend, even a family member near you at some point. Expect it. Stop waiting to be surprised further. The fact is the virus itself will not likely do much harm when it arrives. But our own behaviors and “fight for yourself above all else” attitude could prove disastrous.

I implore you all. Temper fear with reason, panic with patience and uncertainty with education. We have an opportunity to learn a great deal about health hygiene and limiting the spread of innumerable transmissible diseases in our society. Let’s meet this challenge together in the best spirit of compassion for others, patience, and above all, an unfailing effort to seek truth, facts and knowledge as opposed to conjecture, speculation and catastrophizing.

Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts.

Our children will thank us for it.

By Dr. Abdu Sharkawy

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The article was originally posted in www.chuzailiving.com on March 11, 2020.


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Community Events
newbie

Every year, there is a February 14, which is named Valentine's Day by the commercial establishments, and on that day and weeks before it, the media will bombard the public with love messages, telling every one to show love to their loved ones. Movies of lovey dovey couples are the only options you can find in cinemas.

If you are happy to be on your own, you may probably just be a little annoyed at the lack of entertainment options or the double-down nagging of friends and relatives during that time. If you are single but wish you were not, then it could be stressful. 

Luckily, there are organizations that organize events for singles, so that they can have some fun, or even find a partner, in the so called Love Month. Last February 15, a Singles Valentines Masquerade Party was organized in Venice Piazza, McKinley Hill, Fort Bonifacio. 

According to the organizer, Singles Events Manila, almost 80 single professionals in their 20s and 30s participated in the event. Free-flowing drinks and snacks were made available by their sponsors.

Two singles from the event were also awarded with Php 15,000 worth of gift certificate each from a gym. 

The 3-hour event, which started with fun getting-to-know you activities followed by active games, ended with a romantic slow dance with some singles mounting love-locks with their new found love interest in designated places at Venice Piazza. 


A masquerade party is a great format for singles' parties. It is less awkward, and you can pay more attention to the other attributes of the prospects, such as personality or manner, instead of being focused on the appearance.

If there are singles events in Fort Bonifacio, you can find them in the "What's Happening" section of this website. If you want to join gatherings for single professionals or go on private  blind dates, either in Fort Bonifacio or outside, you may visit SINGLES EVENTS MANILA on Facebook and Instagram or email them at singleseventsmanila@gmail.com. 

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Work Life
newbie

We have a small startup that operates in BGC. So we need to have our business permit renewed every year at Taguig City Hall. In previous years, we hired an agent to do that, but this year, the agent did not respond, so we decided to do it by ourselves. 

From press reports, we learned that the registration period was between January 1 to 20 only, but the City Hall of Taguig had set up a Business One Stop Shop (BOSS) at the main office and its satellite office at SM Aura Office Tower. Naturally, we wanted to do it all in one place, so we made sure we would do it within the operation of the BOSS period, and went to the office located at 9th floor of SM Aura office tower.

But before going there, we prepared all the documents needed, which are detailed below as needed at various stages of the process.


First Visit

We arrived at 9th floor of SM Aura office tower at 9.44am on a week day in the second week of January 2020. We asked the receptionist about the steps and were given a number and told to go to the windows designated for our company's barangay clearance, which is the barangay of Fort Bonifacio.

Step 1. Barangay clearance

Documents needed were the original and photo copy of previous barangay clearance.

We were told and paid P1,500 at Counter 25 for Fort Bonifacio's barangay clearance. Other counters were avaialble for other barangays.

There was no display of the fee, so we do not know if it was the standard rate for all companies or not.


Step 2. Insurance

We were instructed to fill in an application form for business permit renewal (obtained for free from the receptionist), and then go to Counter 114. There, we showed them last year's insurance policy and paid P1,800 for the new insurance policy for the company. It was an increase from just over P1500 last year.

After that, we had to go back to Window 21 to get a chop on the application form.

Step 3. Show application form at Window 17 or 18

There, we showed them the completed application form, and were then told to go to Window 16.

Step 4. Assessor's Window

At Window 16, we got a chop from the assessor on the application form.

After seeing the chop from the assessor, the receptionist told us to go to the window for notary public to notarize the app form. Time: 10.21am.

Step 5. Notarize the application form

Window 13 is notary public. We gave them the application form and then waited. After about 10 minutes, we paid P200, and got the notarized application form.

So, after five steps, our accomplishment was that we got 3 stamps on the application form, obtained new insurance policy and had the application form notarized. The next step was the big one, as we had to go up one floor to the Business License office on 10th floor.

Photo : checklist that accompanies the application form, and one of the number tags. We got at least two number tags during the Day 1 process.

Step 6. Document check at Business License Office

On 10th floor, we got a number, and waited for our turn. When called, we went into a big room with a row of tables. At one of the tables, a lady asked us to provide the prepared documents, which were:

- completed and notarized application form;

- Copy of old business permit and sanitary permit, and official receipt

- Copy of new barangay permit

- Copy of VAT returns for first 3 Q of 2019

- Copy of 2018 audited financial statements

- Copy of insurance cover, already provided by insurance company on 9th floor.

- Certificate of Employees. Name and age of each employee.

- Lease of office space, and all the related documents such as tax return of the leased space, location map of the place, and photograph of the building

For documents that we only brought the original, we could get them photocopied for free right outside the room. It was pretty convenient. Free snacks were also provided.

After examining the papers, the lady stapled them together and filled in a checklist, and gave them to us. It appeared that all the documents that they needed were there, hooray!

Step 7. Assessment

A staff at the Business License Office guided us back to a room on 9th floor, where about 30 people were waiting. Time check: 10.42am

In that room, there was no queue number, so you had no idea where you were in line. They just call out your company name when it's your turn. We peeked behind a partition, and saw about 10 employees of the City Hall engaged in the processing of the applications. Our paper was probably assigned to one of the employees.

In that room, not only free coffee and biscuits were provided, but also free massage. Quite a few people took advantage of the free message. 

After one and a half hour in that room (12:10pm), we were called and given the bill for the business permit.

We paid what we were told to pay at the counter 5 there. Then we went to counter 2 to get the cedula, which is another fee for the barangay.

We took a look at the bill. They asked us for gross sales in 2019, then they add about 50% to it, and multiply it by a percentage. Apparently, the rate for Information Technology is 1.5%. 

We were told the business permit would be ready in 5 to 7 working days

Second Visit : Jan 20

We arrived at 9th floor of SM Aura office tower at around 2pm, on the last day of the business permit registration period. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of people who wanted to submit their renewal application before the deadline.

Upon arrival, we were given a number at the reception after we told the receptionist that we were there to collect our business permit. Knowing that our English may not be understood very well, I went up to the window for Fort Bonifacio business permit and asked where I could pick up the new business permit, instead of waiting for our number to be called, which probably was meant for people submitting the application, instead of picking up the new permit. We were told to go to window 32 to 34. There, we were told to bring a pile of paper to Window 11.

At Window 11, we were told to photocopy 2 pages and write contact name and number.

We lined up 2:26pm for photocopy. Fortunately, they already provided photocopying at the same office, and it was free of charge. Photocopying done at 2:36pm.

We brought the required copies to counter 11. The officer kept the copies and told me to go back to Counter 33. There, we waited for 5 min and got the permit. Magic!

We share our experience here so that people considering starting a business can have an idea what they need to do every year. But note that the process may change year to year, and may depend on the type of business that you plan to operate.

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newbie

It is probably like living in a desert city. Like sand, the ash can be felt if you are on the street and a vehicle passes by, disturbing the ash on the ground.

Taal Volcano in Batangas, 90 kilometers from Fort Bonifacio, has been recording tremors as early as 11 am on Sunday, January 12. It started spewing thick ash from 5pm on January 12, 2020. It erupted at 3AM the following day.

We were playing near De Jesus Oval in Bonifacio Global City, near Pacific Plaza Towers, at around 4 pm on Jan 12, and did not feel anything unusual.

We went home and then only went out for a little at around 8 pm. At that time, we could feel something like a light drizzle on our hair, but ash fall was not visible. We went to a pharmacy at 1st Street to buy something, and kept seeing people asking for masks. They were told that masks were sold out. At night, we received news that there would be no school in the whole of Metro Manila the next day. 

This morning, we looked out of the window, and did not see any ash fall. We waited until 11am and decided to take a walk around BGC.


Some people were still wearing masks to filter out the ash.

A thin layer of ash could be seen on the street.

But we saw workers had started washing away the ash in some areas.

In the One Bonifacio Park, plants looked unaffected. Only a thin layer of ash covered the art installations.

In the swimming pool of our condominium, we could see and feel the ash that sunk to the bottom of the pool.

Then we went to lunch at One Bonifacio High Street, and saw the impact of the volcanic eruption in the retail sector. About 40 percent of the shops were closed. At the food court at basement, which usually would be packed with lunch goers, there were still a lot of empty tables. We had no trouble in getting a table.


In all, the impact of the eruption of Taal Volcano on the Fort is small, and hopefully it stays this way.

We actually checked the air quality a day after the volcanic eruption.



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Community Events
cywong

A few days ago, I spotted a water dispenser in a sports equipment shop. It was accompanied by a banner that says "#Refill and Refrain - Say No to Single-use bottles". Wow. Someone (The Primer Group) is actually giving out free water in the Fort! Some people may dismiss it as a marketing gimmick to get customers into the shop. Maybe it is, but I wish more shops would do the same, spreading a message that promotes public benefit and spending their money to support the message.

Then, this morning I attended a networking event organized by Fort Bonifacio Development Foundation Incorporated. Several social enterprises briefed officers from different corporations located in the Fort about the projects that they did that could contribute to a better society.

Businesses need to make money to survive, and to reward investors and employees. Some are so successful that they make much more than is needed to survive and to give investors a decent return. These businesses are often geared to be lazer-focused on making more money, with no regard to anybody or anything other than the financial gain of their owners or shareholders. It is about beating the competition.

How much monetary rewards do corporations need?Do the shareholders and top executives really need that much money? Is success measured merely by how much more money one makes compared to our peers?

More and more successful business owners seem to feel the emptiness that a focus on pursuing a pure monetary goal brings. The satisfaction of owning more luxury goods diminishes with each additional item. The missing element is our value to others.

We have heard of corporate social responsibility. CSR encourages corporations to think about doing something for the benefit of society, after or while making money. Another, more recent, approach for corporations and individuals to contribute to public well-being is Impact Investing. According to Wikipedia, Impact investing refers to investments "made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return". It allows corporations to contract out the actual work of delivering deeds that benefit the larger society, and more importantly, focus on the performance of the investment.

I guess impact investing is an approach that corporations may feel more comfortable in explaining to shareholders when they want to do something good for the society. The familiar term of return on investment can still be used, but that investors will seek return not just in monetary terms.

Photo above: Project Inclusion speaker, Mr. Grant Javier, explains the work of Project Inclusion to CSR officers from companies in BGC

At the first BGC Social Development Network Forum held on November 14, three non-government organizations presented their projects. Apart from Project Inclusion, which promotes the hiring of people with disability, there were Adarna House (promotes literaracy development) and HERO Foundation (donations for orphans of Army personnel).

At a personal level, I definitely am drawn to the #Refrain and Refill Project, since single use bottles are so prevalent that the problems that they create are enormous, yet they can be tackled by individuals. Plastic bottles pollute the sea as well as our food source. With #Refrain and Refill, all we need to do is carry a reusable bottle. In fact, if there are water vending machines, I think many people will not mind paying a little for the water and reduce the number of bottles discarded into the landfill or ocean.

Businesses should start seeing social returns the same way that they see economic returns, at least after they made it above survival level. That's the difference between an ordinary company and a great company, in my view.

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Community Events
greenurban

Several of us from the Green Urban Network were invited to the inauguration of the BGC Greenway today. Many of us have been using the BGC Greenway since 2016. This inauguration marks the next phase of development of this well-loved amenity of BGC. It will add several pocket parks and some length to the existing walking/jogging path, as well as lots of greenery.

The inauguration ceremony was done as part of a joint meeting of the Makati and BGC Central Rotary Clubs, since the clubs were two of the sponsors of the project, and Mr. Charlie Rufino, the major proponent of this project is the Makati Rotary Club member who chairs this project in the club.

Two speakers at the event really got our attention because they shared information that is quite relevant to our advocacy.

Photo above: Ms Aileen Zosa of BCDA elaborates on the Metro Manila Greenway Project

Ms. Aileen Zosa, Bases Conversion and Development Authority, updated us on the progress of the elevated walkway that would link Buendia MRT to Bonifacio Global City, which is one of the segments of a big linked walkway and park project for Metro Manila. She said that they recently awarded the engineering design component of the project. This is good news, as we really want to see this project move forward. It should reduce demand for vehicles coming in or going out of BGC.

Photo above: Mr Alcazaren, environmental planner and landscape architect, highlighted the green space projects that he has been involved in.

Mr Paulo G. Alcazaren of PGAA Creative Design Inc. shared his experience in designing green spaces overseas and in the Philippines. We were particularly thrilled about his new project which aims to improve the sidewalks and street corners in Metro Manila.


We could all relate to the photos of unsightly and obstructed sidewalks that scatter around the streets of Metro Manila outside of Fort Bonifacio that Mr Alcazaren showed us, and could not hold back our laughter when we read the acronym of the proposed action group to improve these street corners and sidewalks.


We learned that this second phase of the BGC Greenway is sponsored by Aboitiz Power, BDO, Leechiu Property Consultants, Inc., Neo Projerty Management Inc., Philippine Stock Exchange and Transnational Diversified Group.

After the presentations, we walked to an upgraded section of the BGC Greenway, where a plaque has been installed to thank the partners and sponsors of this project.


In addition to the donations made by these sponsors, other entities have come forward to do more, notably Norman foster Development, which has adopted a pocket park adjacent to the greenway on 26th Street; the Bonifacio Arts Foundation which has agreed to refurbish Kasalikasan Park; and Pacific Plaza Towers will be furnishing Balanghai Park with electrical power for lighting.

We, members of the Green Urban Network, were grateful for being invited to the inauguration, which was sponsored by the two Rotary Clubs. We managed even to have a photo taken with the two major proponents of the BGC Greenway project, Mr. Charlie Rufino and Mr Michael Keppler, without the efforts of whom the BGC Greenway would not have been possible.

Side note: rocks of the Fort


A week or two ago, we noticed that a big piece of rectangular rock was dug up from a ground of a future pocket park. We now see it being made part of the pocket park in its original, natural form, which is very nice. The rocks kind of remind us of the little bits of beauty of nature around us.


Read more about BGC Greenway or Buendia Elevated Walkway here (Resilient and Safe BGC), here (Launch of Greenway 2016), and here (Greenway to health 2016).

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Blog
greenurban

There is a looming waste management crisis in Metro Manila and if we do not do something about it now, one day when we wake up, we will find trash rotting at our doorsteps.

The best action is of course to reduce the production of waste. When that cannot be done, the next approach is to reuse or recycle the materials that we do not need any more. Many residents in the Fort are environmental conscious, but lack the information about the places that support recycling.

This blog is prepared by the Green Urban Network, a residents' group based in Bonifacio Global City, as a resource page for residents in the Fort who care about the environment.

Places to Recycle

In most buildings in the Fort, there is no proper garbage separation facilities. Thus, materials that, if kept clean and dry, could have been recycled are instead being transported to the landfills. Luckily, there are places in the Fort that we can bring our used items to, so that less goes into the landfill.

Plastics and Paper

1. SM Aura Premier

Materials to recycle: cardboard, paper, plastic bottles, metallic cookware

Collection point: "Trash for Cash" project, basement 1 of SM Aura Premier, first Friday and Saturday of each month during mall hours (not 8am to 2pm as shown in the banner). 

They pay a small amount for the materials accepted for recycling, such as 5 pesos per kilogram of plastic water bottles, 2 pesos for each kg of cardboard and so on.

They also collect Eco-Bricks, which are plastic bottles stuffed with shredded plastic wrappers and packaging that will be used as construction materials.

Next collections:

November 1 and 2, December 6 and 7, and subsequent first Friday and Saturday of each month.


2. R.O.X.

Materials to recycle: plastic wrappers and packaging materials. They need to be stuffed into used plastic bottles for use as Eco-bricks.


R.O.X. has a collection box for Eco-Bricks. SM Aura Premier Mall also collects Eco-Bricks on the first Friday and Saturday of each month. 


Clothes recycling

2. H&M store at Uptown Mall

Matierials accepted: H&M Foundation accepts clothings of all makes, not just their own.

Collection point: H&M at ground floor, Uptown Mall.


Printer cartridge


3. Canon at 4th floor of SM Aura accepts empty ink cartridges of their own brand.

4. Brother at Marajo Tower, 26th Street, BGC, takes back empty toner and other printer consumables from their printers.


Tetrapak recycling

5. Collection point is in Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf's Bistro at 26th Street. See featured photo.


General Household items

6. Segunda Mana at 2nd floor of Market!Market! mall.

Segunda Mana accepts the following items:

– OLD ITEMS that can still be used

– USED ITEMS that still have value

– NEW ITEMS

– OLD STOCKS and NON-MOVING INVENTORIES

They will resell the items and then use the proceeds to fund their charitable projects.

For inquiries and scheduling of pick up of the items you want to donate, you may call them at (632) 564-0205 to 562-0020 to 25 or email them at segunda_mana@yahoo.com.


Schools that facilitate recycling

Many schools in the Fort have set up mechanisms for students to practice recycling.

For example, Chinese International School Manila at McKinley Hill accepts clean and empty tetrapaks, plastic bottles, and cardboards. Plastics will go to Plastic Flamingo and Unilever. Paper and metal wastes will be given to Tsu Chi for recycling.

British School Manila has a Green Team After School Club. They collect and sort clean plastic for shredding, melting, sanding and these are made into new products. Email: communications@britishschoolmanila.org if you want to give them cleaned plastics.

If you have friends whose kids go to such schools, you may be able to give them your clean and dry empty tetrapaks, plastic bottles, paper and cardboards.


Visit the Facebook page of the Green Urban Network to participate in the discussion or work for a green environment.




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Memorable Events
newbie

I blogged about my encounter with the author of Nas Daily (Nuseir Yassin) two and a half years ago, after I accidentally attended his meetup with fans in Bonifacio High Street. Read it here.

This time, I was invited to meet with him as one of the media people at the press con held just before his latest Philippine meetup at SM Aura Premier Mall's spacious Samsung Hall.


Photo above: James Deakin was the host and Alyne Tamir tossed out mini pillows to work up the crowd

In fact, there were so many people who wanted to attend the meet up that the organizer decided to split the two-hour meetup into two sessions, each for a group of about six hundred people.

Photo above: Nas received a portrait of himself from a fan

Same

Same as two and a half years ago, Nas was friendly, straight-talking and humble. Many questions asked were also the same as those asked before, and the answers mostly remained the same, like when did he start Nas Daily (2015), where he got his inspirations (from the people he meets).


Different

Two and a half years ago, he had 3 million followers on the social media. This time, he has 13 million. More people went to his meet up.

Last time, he was the only speaker. This time, his two travel companions, Agon Hare and Alyne Tamir (Nas' girl friend), also answered questions and interacted with the crowd.


Funny and awkward moments

One fan asked Nas when he was going to get married. He said probably never, in the full presence of his girl friend. Then the fan asked them to 'kiss'. Alyne thought the fan said 'kids', and jokingly replied, 'there is so much work just handling friends like you guys..'. They eventually did a peck in the cheek. 

Another fan complimented Nas: "I really liked your video on Iran." Nas looked puzzled. "I never went to Iran." The other fans suggested that he meant North Korea.


Photo above: Nas' tongue needs air after too many interviews. He actually has updated his T-shirt. Last time he was here, the shirt says 32%. Quiz: Since the number has increased by 4% in 2.5 year, what his life expectancy is?

Serious moments

Nas explained why he came back to the Philippines. He was invited by the Department of Tourism to do another video on the Philippines. He decided to do one about efforts being made to reverse the environment damage done to the Philippines so that it will become cleaner and more beautiful. As he mentioned in his first visit, he does not see himself as a travel blogger.

A fan asked Nas whether he would consider slowing down. Nas answered that he told himself that he would probably only live to 40 years old, and this thought made him determined to get a lot done every day. He replied that the fan should consider picking up the pace of his life instead.


Will Nas visit the Philippines again?

I do not recall any one asking him that question. He will start his company in Singapore, this means he will not be living far from the Philippines.


I don't usually attend meetups, but Nas is not the usual celebrity. Nor is he a travel vlogger that just takes beautiful videos. He uses videos to give messages about social issues, so that people start thinking or discussing about those issues. 

Since I noticed that many of his fans were young people, some of them were not even teenagers, after attending the meetup, I started watching some of his videos with our pre-teen daughter, in the hope that she will spend less time watching slapstick/funny/prankster videos. If that happens, this meetup with Nas would be the most well-spent time I had with a celebrity.

A special thanks to SM Aura Premier Mall for inviting me to the event, and informing us of the many efforts that it has put into supporting environmental sustainability. We did not know that it is the first mall to accept eco-bricks, but we have seen the herb garden that it maintains.