Xaverians Awarded Merit in Int’l Urban Planning Tilt

SINGAPORE — A team of Xaverians was awarded Certificates of Merit, while Xavier School was awarded a Certificate of Merit for Overall Performance at the 2015 International Urban Planning and Development Competition.

Alfonso Jose Bautista, Anthony Theodore Chiang, Karl Zachary Corro, Jeremy Matthew Gemzontan, Alejandro Go, John Nikolo Lim, Christian Edward Limsui, Anthony Daniel Tan, and Antonio Lorenzo Tan, all from the Xavier School Class of 2015, represented both Xavier School and the country at the 2015 International Urban Planning and Development Competition — Planning a Clean and Green Township Young Mayor Competition held in Singapore last April 11 and 12, 2015. The team, mentored by Mr. Martin Gomez, landed as one of the 30 global finalists from more than 80 participants hailing from different countries.

Competing against junior colleges, polytechnics and universities, the team received rave reviews from both judges and organizers for their pitch and presentation held last Saturday, April 11 at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. School President Fr. Aristotle Dy, SJ, who was also in Singapore for another conference, joined the team, watched, and supported the presentation.

On Sunday, April 12, teams were asked to turn their ideas into scale models where the teams had to build them on the spot at SCAPE located along Orchard Road. Xavier School’s model was selected to be exhibited at the SM Mall of Asia last April 18.

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On its fourth year, the 2015 International Urban Planning and Development Competition is an annual competition that aims to facilitate the understanding of the current and future challenges that developing countries are facing under the pressure of rapid urbanisation and swelling populations. The competition also engages its participants to take on 21st century challenges of global warming and climate change, social inequities, unsustainable lifestyles and the urgent need for proper management of natural resources like forests and energy.

The panel of judges for this year’s competition included Amb. Berit Basse from the Embassy of Denmark to the Republic of Singapore, H.E. Roland Van Remoortele from the Embassy of Belgium to the Republic of the Philippines, Amb. Pavlo Sultansky from the Embassy of Ukraine to the Republic of Singapore, Amb. Simon De Cruz from Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Professor Leo Tan Wee Hin of the National University of Singapore and founder of the NUS Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Professor Berlinda Yuen of the Singapore University of Technology and Design, among others.

Sponsors include ABB, AES Philippines, SM, Total Petroleum, GT Metro Foundation, Singapore Airlines, Bonifacio Estate Services Corporation, The Mind Museum, and Jollibee. Supporting organizations include the City of Manila, Centre for Liveable Cities Singapore, It’s More Fun In the Philippines – Dept of Tourism, Bases Conversion and Development Authority, Urban Land Institute Philippines. Partners include National Library Board Singapore, Singapore School Manila, Ateneo de Manila University. The event was co-organized by Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

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The team would like to thank the following for their assistance for this competition: Xavier School Administration, Faculty and Staff, our parents, the government of the City of Manila, the City of Manila City Engineer Robert Bernardo and his staff, the City of Manila Building Official Roger Legazpi and his staff, Sean Su ‘05, Kevin Kho ‘10, Jeremy Kho ‘10, Weston Lee ‘10 and Migi Laperal ‘13.

Below are insights and reflections on the experience by some of the team members:

Antonio Lorenzo Tan

Editor’s Note: Antonio Lorenzo Tan is one of the two recipients of the Xavier Award during the 2015 High School Graduation.

There are essential questions to ask when meeting a stranger: for example, “What’s your name?”, “How old are you?”, and “Where are you from?” A glimpse into one’s identity is, to some extent, tied into the type of environment that one grew up with. Whether you actually reside in Mandaluyong, Makati, or even San Juan, when responding to a foreign guest, it’s much easier to say, ”I’m from the Philippines.”

We have yet to explore the very city that has housed us for years on, but would have gladly chosen any other around the globe as an alternative. Why? Primarily because Manila is not perfect, nor does it suit the taste of numerous that are taught to believe that the outside world is better than what we have around us. Due to this, it’s interesting that some Manileños would confuse the streets of Tondo and Ermita to be the same, but are actually not.

Prior to the competition, our team faced these problems, not knowing street from street, which landmark seemed to be where, and a general surprise to have actually experienced the downtown area during our mini explorations. At that point, we had yet to understand what we were dealing with. Relying heavily on memory, we were able to piece through the problems and propose feasible and sustainable ideas as appropriate solutions.

Arrival into Singapore was met with extensive preparation: purchasing construction materials in Bras Basah, enhancing the pitch, last-minute shopping in Mustafa and so on. Finally, the day of the presentation had come. Navigating through Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s vast campus early in the morning to find the exact venue was a bit of a challenge, but we arrived in the most presentable and appropriate attire that truly gave us a grand entrance: the Barong.

Listening to the various teams presenting, most of us were inspired by the sustainable, eco-friendly, and innovative potential that these emerging ideas could offer Manila. It wasn’t simply a competition to raise awareness, but was a gathering of young leaders to share and contribute to a city most have just heard of, but have never even been to. The will that the global community places upon our city had surely engaged participants, especially Filipinos, to reflect on their and our current position and be challenged to take action.

The extensive research that international teams had made were clearly seen through their proposals.  While some of the ideas were rather grand, everyone was reminded to look into Manila’s heritage and identity. Manila is distinct in its culture because of its rich historical background. In this regard, the judges proposed to highlight this uniqueness rather than to turn the city into another Singapore.

The title of Manileño is not, to an extent, knowing everything about Manila’s cultural series of change and neither is it extreme nationalism: we are not historians nor are we anthropologists, as yet. Manileños are unique in that we hold a unique bond with this city: it is through memory and experience that gives a personal meaning towards a somewhat unfamiliar home.

It is impossible not to have mixed emotions on juxtaposing the efficiency and livability of a city to another, but the fact that some of us have been living in this city for more than half our lives would be enough reason to realize that there is love towards this home; otherwise why stay?

We live in a world where information is easily accessible, providing gateways into understanding the world through words and imagery. However, we cannot deny that our thought processes are still heavily reliant on personal experiences. Any person would be able to gain knowledge over Manila, but we somehow understand it in different ways which makes it a little more different. What we have today is a generation of new possibilities to age-old problems. The promise and potential that this new generation could offer would surely bring about true change ahead, to which one day you would overhear a guy say, “Yes, I’m from Manila…and I’m proud of it.”

John Nikolo Lim

Editor’s Note: John Nikolo Lim graduated from Xavier School with First Honors.

It’s amazing to think that a group as unexpected and as diverse as ours was able to collaborate and compete as finalists in an international competition. Admittedly, prior to the competition, I hadn’t previously worked with half of the team on any project. We weren’t even close friends and we had no idea if we would work well together. But we had similar ideas which kept us together – batchmates from completely different walks of life – and ultimately forming a group I will never be able to forget.

The research paper was our first step. We spent hours consulting with each other, as well as with other experts, so that we could come up with a substantial and forward-looking paper. We knew that we were going up against renowned international universities, but the competition was about the City of Manila. We had home court advantage.

Weeks before the team left for Singapore, we began preparing for the presentation and the 3D model. It was tedious business, because given our limited presentation time, every minute detail had to be planned and taken into account, practiced over and over. It was because of this that the team received rave reviews about the presentation later on.

We didn’t win the competition, but for me, being finalists was enough. In the end, I was immensely proud of the team and what we achieved; what mattered most to me was that we were inspired after the competition. Now, still a team, we’re even more motivated to succeed in our future endeavors; this competition to me was a first step – a launch pad – to even greater things.

Jeremy Matthew Gemzontan

Editor’s Note: Jeremy Matthew Gemzontan received the Brother Ritchie Fernando Service Award during the 2015 High School Graduation.

No one likes to be the second option, the fallback; the backup. The negative feelings typically stem from the idea of being the last resort, knowing that had things gone differently, there would be someone else in your spot, someone who would probably be considered a “better fit”. And though having the title of being the backup option doesn’t necessitate a poor performance or a lack of skill, oftentimes it will leave a bitter taste in your mouth, a taste that your heart’s palette isn’t typically equipped to handle.

I’ve experienced the feeling of being a backup a number of times prior to this Singapore experience, so it is to no one’s surprise that I was initially hesitant to accept the invitation to be a part of the team. I had no initial say in the makeup of its members, and nor was I really aware of who exactly was a part of it. Who could say that we’d end up working well together, or that we’d even get along in an out of work setting? I was also basically clueless as to what the whole contest was about. I was going in blind. And above all of these things, those memories of being second best continued to plague me as I reluctantly accepted the call to partake in the Singapore Young Mayor: City Beautiful Manila competition.

I can’t deny that I was a bit scared going into it.

I also can’t deny that I’ve come out of it with no regrets.

The competition itself proved to be quite a rigorous one. From researching about the city of Manila, to preparing and planning a formal pitch and finally constructing a scale model of our vision for the capital of the Philippines, the whole experience was a monumental challenge. There was a point in time where a number of us had to go almost three straight days with minimal sleep, simply in order to accomplish the task at hand. Designing and organizing our presentation in such a way that would help us properly convey our message to the judges was truly an eye opener for us. Never before had we been exposed to such a level of professionalism in terms of presentations. The pitch itself was a product of preparation spanning more than a week wherein the team would regularly meet (almost on a daily basis) to ensure that our whole piece was cohesive and flowed well as a collective. Finally, constructing a scale model that had to be true to the city of Manila whilst also doing our ideas justice was truly a struggle. We’d spend hours carving out replica buildings and structures, whilst also trying to accurately map out the city itself.

And while looking back it all felt like such a large amount of time spent, the whole experience flew by me like a flash. What has remained, however, are the memories and the things I’ve learned from all the people I’ve come to meet and gotten to know there.

From our mentor I was able to encounter a whole new way of thinking, one that I was not accustomed to. Working with him proved to me that great things can be achieved, and that all you really need is some motivation, determination and sometimes, a helping hand. He pushed us to our very limits, and because of him we were able to maximize our potentials and produce something incredible. He was the difference in our team, simply because he was so blatantly different that we were all encouraged to let loose and be ourselves as well.

My teammates, on the other hand, served as my comfort zone whilst I was away from home. In them I knew I had a support system, a group of friends who brought about a sense of familiarity that I was so accustomed to from my thirteen years in Xavier School. They provided me an avenue to share my ideas, and also gave me the pleasure of hearing theirs as well. Together, we worked as a team to develop kickass concepts and innovative ideas. The greatest thing about them though? It never felt like work. We’d always find a way to incorporate fun into everything we did, be it through our jokes or the thinly veiled insults we threw at each other.

Finally, the whole competition served as the catalyst. Because of it, we’ve become so much more aware of the things happening around us and all so encouraged to go out and make a positive change as well. And whilst we didn’t win or bag the top prize, we came back to the Philippines humbled, enlightened and eager to make a difference.

At the end of the day, maybe I wasn’t the best fit. At the end of the day, I’ll still always be the backup; the last resort.

But give me another opportunity like this one, and rest assured I won’t hesitate to take it.

Karl Zachary Corro

Editor’s Note: Karl Zachary Corro has been offered a place at Fordham University’s Class of 2019 in New York.

It all started out with a science project in XCE Beijing.  Given China’s growing pollution problem, and the current lesson on sustainability in the 21st century, my team and I were tasked to propose solutions to make a cleaner and more beautiful Beijing. However, we never knew we would be doing the same for Manila for an international audience as finalists in a Singaporean international competition.

At first, our main selling point was an invention called Pavegen. A pavement slab that converts energy from footsteps into electrical energy. I shared the idea with my group in Beijing because I thought it would give us an A, but my teammate Alfonso saw more than that. He saw an idea that could potentially be an amazing business opportunity, and a way to revolutionize the Philippines. I have to give him credit, he’s the one who brought us all together. We also had Mr. Gomez as our mentor to guide us and to prep us for a competition of this scale, and I’m thankful he constantly reminded us to work harder.

We had to work on the proposal two days before the deadline because all of us were swamped with finals before we could start.  He bought us some time, and we were able to finish a full proposal in one night. We didn’t just use Pavegen. We had so many ideas to improve Manila’s infrastructure, transportation systems, water supply, and parks and recreation.  We wanted to find ways to bring Manila back to its former glory using innovation that was built on tradition. We proposed ways to use already existing ideas from other countries to Manila so that we could give the people a better and more prosperous life. All that brainstorming in one night, and I believe most of the credit belongs to Xavier for teaching us how to make quality work in a short amount of time.

Even before we got to Singapore, our team was already spending days meeting the Manila City Engineer, exploring Manila to understand the city on a personal level, and spending several days in Cops n’ Robbers consuming countless bowls of cheese french fries and sisig while we practiced our oral presentations.

The work didn’t end there because when we arrived in Singapore before the competition, we spent the entire day — well, most of the day — preparing.  We created the PowerPoint presentation. We spent an entire afternoon buying supplies for the model, and we even had business cards printed out because Mr. Gomez said they would come in handy. However, we did get sidetracked because our school president, Fr. Aristotle Dy, SJ, came to visit us in Singapore to go sightseeing and have black pepper crabs for dinner. Who says you can’t mix business with pleasure? However none of that can compare to the ten hours we spent practicing for our oral presentation the night before the competition.  We trained ourselves on what to say, how to say it, and what we could do to carefully deliver an informative yet entertaining speech to these judges.  We realized at 5:00 am that we had to sleep because we noticed Ale (one of my groupmates) had fallen asleep on the staircase.

It was all worth it once we had given the presentation.  Fr. Ari still came to show his support and we never felt better. We even saw the judges smiling. Believe me, if you’ve made one of the scariest judges smile (who also happens to be the professor of Marine Biology at NUS) you know you’re doing something right. He even dropped by to compliment us when the presentations were over.  We left that room feeling very confident and also very sleepy.  I’m not proud to say that a few of us had fallen asleep, but I’m quite amused because Limsui and Antonio took pictures. (Thanks guys *sarcastic undertone*)

Unfortunately, despite all our efforts, we didn’t win. Sure our presentation was one of the best, but we were competing against universities. Singaporean universities no less.  I guess it’s a small consolation that the judges believed we were on their level.  It was hard to face Mr. Gomez and Fr. Ari after that loss, but I cannot be more thankful that ‘Cher patted us on the back and said “Never give up. Would you rather bring home that trophy which is just a piece of metal? Or would you rather see a developed Manila as your trophy?”

He cheered us up by taking us to the best xiao long bao restaurant in the country. Once you’ve had foie gras and black truffle xiao long bao, you’ll find it impossible to feel sad about anything. We spent the next several days eating Turkish ice cream, biryani, prata, hainanese chicken, shrimp, black pepper crabs, and foie gras burgers. Good food heals all wounds, and we needed plenty of healing. Either that or we were hungry pretty often.

But food wasn’t the only thing Mr. Gomez showed us in Singapore.  After all, he is a teacher, and we were students. However, he isn’t a conventional teacher; he taught us by showing us what we could learn in Singapore.  As they say in the well-known Xavier China Experience (XCE), “This city is your classroom.” We explored Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Department of Design where we saw how the students imagined Singapore’s architectural future. We also went to the NUS startup building, and I could see the faces of my teammates light up as they thought of all the possible ideas they had that could become business opportunities. Of course a trip to Universal Studios, Sentosa, and Marina Bay Sands didn’t hurt as well.

Six days in Singapore has been an eye-opener for us. We sought to embrace something that was bigger than ourselves.  It wasn’t merely a prize. We aimed to travel well in order to broaden our minds with new ideas from Singapore; but more importantly, we sought a way to create a better Manila by gaining publicity to put these ideas out in the open for everyone to consider.  So what if we didn’t win? If the other teams had better ideas, I hope that they’re eventually brought to Manila improve what we can.  My team and I will also continue to dream and work towards an innovated city built on its original tradition. It’s okay that we didn’t get a trophy, because if I grow up to see a better Manila similar to the one my team and I dreamed about, that’s a win for me.

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