At Large

Bring Jamby to the Senate

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The report in yesterday’s (Thursady’s) Inquirer that departing senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson is endorsing “balik-Senate” Jamby Madrigal, and handing over to her the “mantle” of graft-buster in the Senate, reminded me of the lone member of Team PNoy still languishing in the outer margins of the winners’ circle.

It had puzzled me no end why Madrigal, then a senator who still had three years of her Senate term left, risked everything to run for president in 2010. And even then, she seemed not so much determined to win the top slot in national politics as all-out to destroy the chances of winning of her nemesis, outgoing senator Manny Villar.

I still haven’t gotten entirely satisfactory answers for Jamby’s motivation, but apparently, her “do or die” attitude won her the support of many P-Noy stalwarts.

That’s an attitude that Jamby brought to many of the exposés and investigations she launched while in the Senate. Lacson himself says he and Madrigal “fought side by side” in exposing the many sins of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, particularly the NBN-ZTE deal.

But I remember Madrigal particularly for the support she lent to the passage of the “Magna Carta of Women.” The task of shepherding the bill fell into her hands when she took over the committee on women in the Senate, and she expended so much time, effort and her relations with her fellow senators to get the bill passed. This, despite the efforts of other senators—Sen. Aquilino Pimentel comes to mind—to derail the bill. Eventually the Magna Carta became law, but I think Jamby’s role in its passage has been overlooked.

Well, I hope this mention makes up for it, and that it’s not too late to bring Jamby into the winners’ circle, where she belongs.

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From the office of Agriculture Secretary Proceso “Procy” Alcala came a bag filled with produce made from native cacao. A Department of Agriculture staffer had explained that the secretary was “very excited” about the products he had sampled while on a visit to Cebu, and wanted to do all he could to promote these native delicacies.

But when the bag arrived, we were hardly prepared for the wonders within—“tablea” discs that are dissolved in hot water and whipped up for a warming drink, both in the “original” flavor and in variants like vanilla, orange and cinnamon; cookies, truffles, pralines, rice crisps; and even chocolate-flavored peanut butter.

Despite our diabetes, the hubby and I dove into the cookies and truffles, and we have been hard put resisting their goodness, even if we know we will have to pay for the consequences. We look forward to enjoying the other products soon, even if, all for the sake of research, we are putting our blood-sugar status at risk!

The native chocolate products are from “Ralfe Gourmet,” based in Mabolo, Cebu City. Founder and president Raquel T. Choa explains that she got her love for cacao and for tablea from her grandmother, who “was always full of passion in everything she did.” Aside from teaching the young Raquel how to prepare a “proper” pot of tablea chocolate drink, her grandmother, writes Choa, taught her “the many surprises about tablea… how seemingly simple it is yet complex at the same time. It is unbelievable how one needs to undergo a litany of steps to capture the best it has to offer.”

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Today, Choa says, she is a cacao planter and a tablea maker. But judging from the variety of Ralfe Gourmet’s products, it seems the company has branched out to many other permutations of food products based on the humble cacao bean.

“My grandmother said everything starts with the beans,” recalls Choa. “It is crucial that the cocoa beans are carefully selected, cleaned and sorted. Once they are ready, the beans are roasted to perfection with controlled heat and specific amount of time. The smell and taste of the tablea largely depends on this important process.”

But it doesn’t stop there. “Following the roasting is another crucial stage—the roasted cocoa nibs are pounded very carefully to produce what we call cocoa liquor or cocoa mass. Cacao lovers fondly call it unsweetened chocolate. The cocoa mass is then shaped into plumps, its form resting on the creative mind and artistic hands that mold them.

“With these plumps, the gastronomic concoctions are simply endless—from luscious chocolate drinks to sumptuous chocolate cakes, each sip and bite is one delicious experience. But mine and my friends’ undying favorite—a generous, unadulterated cup of good old tablea brewed just like my Lola loved it.”

* * *

Well, I must say my family has been enjoying Ralfe Gourmet’s chocolate products since the bag—fashioned from native weaves, another special touch—was delivered to our home.

The flavor is rich and unforgettable—slightly bitter that speaks of its genuine cacao origins, but sweetened just enough to take the edge off. They say chocolate has aphrodisiac properties, and is good for regulating blood pressure since the bliss that chocolate brings counters stressful feelings and transports one to thoughts of romance and, well, whatever follows it. No wonder all of us have been rather mellow and affectionate toward each other these days!

More important, Ralfe Gourmet’s chocolates prove that you don’t have to shop at the Duty Free stores, or visit the “imported goods” aisle at the supermarket, to get your chocolate fix. Ralfe Gourmet is just one of many homegrown chocolatiers, although it outdoes the others for sheer variety and creativity. But it does my heart good to know that we Pinoys can do just as well in the business of high-end, flavorful chocolates as Europeans, Americans and even Japanese. Life, indeed, is like a box—or bag—of chocolates. One never knows what riches lie within!

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