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    In 1986, Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip, along with Dolores Torres, Lorenza Benitez, and other rural development workers founded the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI) to assist landless rural women working on the coconut plantations of Laguna province. With a start up fund of twenty pesos and his “magic” typewriter for writing proposals – the group set to work.

    Taking a page from Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunis, who in 1976 provided small loans to women in Bangladesh through his Grameen Bank, Dr. Alip applied the Grameen micro credit model, and has since transformed the lives of millions in his home province and beyond.

    Today, CARD MRI is a group of mutually reinforcing institutions with a total outreach of more than 1.3 million women clients that is dedicated to ultimately empower the less fortunate by upholding the core values of competence, culture of excellence, family spirit, stewardship, and simplicity.

    As its Founder and Managing Director, Dr. Alip has received many prestigious awards for his program, most notably the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service. Other citations include the Prize for Excellence in Community Economic Development by the Southern New Hampshire University in 2007, the People Power Recognition Award by former President Corazon Aquino in 2005, the Global Excellence for Microfinance by Grameen Foundation USA in 2003, and Flame of Excellence Award given by USAID in 2000.

    Although he now sits as Adviser in the Grameen Foundation, USA, and has had extensive international experience as advisor, expert, and consultant in the field of micro finance and rural development in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Bhutan, East Timor, and Indonesia, Dr. Alip’s roots remain in his hometown of San Pablo. Here, he takes us on a visual tour of the city where he was born, grew up in, and one of the first places he launched his trailblazing program. This is his San Pablo, this is his SM.

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    Dr. Alip at his office with the Ramon Magsaysay Award in the background. CARD MRI was given the said honor because of its “successful adaptation of microfinance in the Philippines, providing self- sustaining comprehensive services for poor women and their families.”

    “Life was simple growing up in San Pablo – eating street food, swimming in the river, going to Church every Sunday. We were not exactly rich, but I knew there were people who had less than what we had. I wanted to make life more abundant for them.”

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    Dr. Alip and CARD MRI officers during a meeting; some products from entrepreneurs that card BDSFI, the marketing arm for fledgling CARD member entrepreneurs is helping; Mr. Ramil Flores of RMM Toys, one of CARD’s successful entrepreneurs engaged in stuffed toy making.

    “If I would bring guests around San Pablo I would opt for developmental tourism. First on the list would be a CARD center meeting where visitors can meet and converse with card clients so that they will understand what CARD does, and how it touches people’s lives.

    Next would be a visit to the business sites of successful entrepreneurs engaged in stuffed toy making, landscaping, food processing, among others. A visit to CARD MRI Bank offices is a must since CARD Bank is the first microfinance oriented rural bank in the country.”

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    San Pablo is known as the City of Seven Lakes, the largest of which is scenic Sampaloc Lake.  Nearly half of the circular lake’s depth has a shallow depression on the lake’s bottom, indicating its volcanic origin.  Located behind San Pablo City Hall, it is dotted with fishpens and small cottages on stilts.  The massive silhouette of Mt. San Cristobal forms a beautiful background on the east.

    “San Pablo City is so close to nature, with its lush vegetation, rolling mountains, and seven lakes.  Sampaloc Lake with its azure sky and calm waters would be my next destination for my guests.  Going around the lake, by foot or car, will be a pleasant way to while away the time.”

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    Dr. Alip and his family – wife Anita, mother Olympia, sons Justin and Julius, daughter Max and Joie and daughter in law Meanne having a seafood lunch a Clydenjosh Restaurant in front of Sampaloc Lake. For photobar: Dr. Alipfs favorite seafood specialties at Clydenjosh: Sinugnog (grilled tilapia cooked in coconut milk and garnished with mustard leaves), grilled hito (catfish), Binusog na Pusit, and Kuhol sa Gata.

    “I would bring my guests to lunch at Clydenjosh Restaurant, with its tree house that offers an excellent view of the lake and its surroundings.  A seafood menu would be great.

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    “Villa Escudero in the adjacent town of Tiaong would give guests a rare glimpse of rural Philippine life with its carabao cart ride, cultural show, museums, and man made falls.”

    Villa Escudero is a self-contained working coconut plantation that was founded as a sugar plantation in the 1880s by Don Placido Escudero and his wife, Dona Claudio Marasigan.  Their son, Don Arsenio, a pioneering agro industralist, began planting coconut in the early 1900s, built the country’s first working hydroelectric plant to supply his dessicated coconut factory, and built the Villa as we know it today in 1929.  His children opened the estate to the public in 1981, and has since become a showcase for the Philippine’s cultural heritage.

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    Sulyap Gallery Cafe, which is owned by Roy Empalmado, brings back guests to the past with its interiors and food.  Sulyap specialty Kulawo is worth the trip.

    “To cap a day in San Pablo, I would bring guests to dinner in Sulyap, where one can enjoy Spanish-inspired dishes such as Beef Salpicao and Pastel; Filipino dishes with a twist like Kulawo (banana heart cooked in burnt coconut milk); and the vast antique collection of the restaurant owner.

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    SM City San Pablo has become a favorite destination in Laguna for family members and friends.

    SM is a one-stop shop, a very convenient place to buy all the things one might need.  It enables people to keep up with the new trends at a price that is affordable even to ordinary people.  It gives families a safe and enjoyable place for bonding, and allows me to meet CARD MRI staff and clients outside the work environment.”

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    Dr. Alip and wife Anita with granddaughters Max and Joie at Kiddos at SM City San Pablo.

    “While the city is rapidly urbanizing, its people have not forgotten old- time values like respect for elders, close family ties, honesty, hard work, faith in God.  When in SM, i bring my granddaughters to the playroom where they simply enjoy interacting with other kids immensely in a safe environment.  It also frees us to do our shopping.”

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    Dr. Alip and his Mom Olympia at Pizza Hut at SM City San Pablo.

    “I enjoy watching movies at SM, and eating afterwards at Pizza Hut.  It is the one place in SM that offers a selection of salads and seafood, which is good for my meatless diet.”