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AVEL MANANSALA

General Santos City

Communications and Marketing Director

Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, 2001-2005

General Santos Foremost Blogger

Manager, Google Business Group-General Santos

“It’s more fun working in the Philippines!”

J. Dela Torre

manansalaIf I were to put a label on Avel Manansala, it would be that he’s a natural blogger. And by natural blogger, I mean a person who has itchy feet, smiles easily, writes well, has an open mind and is continually wondering, or wandering, about the world, all the better to discover new things, or look at old things from a new perspective, to blog. He was heavy and tall, wore a mischievous paunch, and was informal and jovial about his approach and delivery. His sense of humor was unexpected, and was a welcome relief from the staid and depressing stories I’ve listened to over the past two months that I’ve been interviewing.

He spoke with ease, picking up on the story every time we changed the memory card of our camera. We were seated in one of the nooks of Green Leaf Hotel, Gensan’s newest and spankiest, with its 1920s Art Deco style represented by its chrome-plated columns, tall ceilings, rectilinear furniture and décor, its modestly lavish ornamentation, and its marble floors and walls.

The Manansalas were like many settlers from the Visayas and Luzon—looking for a better life in yet unexplored and fertile brush and valleys of Mindanao. Just before the war, the elder Manansala, along with his siblings, and their father, migrated from Macabebe, Pampanga to General Santos, then called Dadiangas. The pre-war wave of settlers followed the original 62 Christians led by the city’s founder General Paulino Santos in 1939, thus the present name of the city.  

Growing up to become a tailor, Avelino Manansala became the city’s youngest outfitter with his own shop. In 1960, he met a young teacher from Samar, Maria Ortega, and the following year, they married. Seven months after, Avel came out into the world premature, and had to be incubated. He says he was the size of a large bottle of Coca-Cola. I suppressed the urge to crack a joke that there wasn’t a lot of difference between his shape then and now.

A sister and a brother followed not long after.

Asked to describe his growing up years, Avel looked up to the ceiling for a second, as if the memory was etched on a piece of high concrete:

“We had a simple and frugal life. We didn’t have the usual trappings of a wealthy family. We were dependent on the earnings of my parents as tailor and teacher. But we had what we needed and we didn’t pine for what we couldn’t have. We weren’t rich but we had a comfortable life. My father even managed to invest in some real properties.”

But things went downhill after Avel’s sister, Maravel, took ill, so serious the doctors gave up on her. She was brought to Davao and was well for a while after that. But her illness recurred and was sick for the larger part of two years. Then, the doctors decided she’d be better off being treated at the Quezon Institute in Manila. The family was so hard up Avel’s father had to ask for help from his Lions Club and Knights of Columbus colleagues for money to pay for her transportation to Manila.

Eventually, she recovered, but the family’s finances were shot. They literally had to start from scratch. Avel and his brother and sister helped out by selling garlands. Their father had turned the front yard into a sampaguita garden and harvested the flowers before dawn every day. To save on fuel expenses, they collected scrap wood from the local Coca Cola plant, which threw away broken softdrink wooden cases. The family also had a menagerie of ducks and chickens which they raised for their eggs and their meat. To save on feed, they went to a nearby corn mill where they picked discarded corn cobs off the ground which had a few grains left on them.

Despite the harshness of their life following the sister’s prolonged illness, they made sure they excelled in school. Avel took first honors from grades 1 to 5 and was valedictorian when he graduated. His brother, Orman, not to be outdone, was also in the top 5 of his class. They did the same feat in high school, and in college, Avel was a National State Scholar at the UP College Cebu. Already showing itchy feet at an early age, he wanted to see other places outside General Santos City, so he made sure he made good in the school entrance and government scholarship examinations. His brother was also a scholar at the University of San Carlos in Cebu. To prepare for college, they reviewed hard for scholarship exams, and their mom even hired a reviewer to help them with the review. As a result, Avel passed almost all the scholarships on offer at that time: Cocofed, the State Scholarship, UPAA Grants-in-Aid, the Knights of Columbus Scholarship and the MSU Marawi Scholarship.

Avel finished his Business Administration degree at the UP College Cebu, and promptly began working for Procter & Gamble. After 11 years with the company, he decided to quit, collected his separation pay and invested the money in a mini-grocery store. The business thrived but the Asian financial crisis hit the country in 1997 and 1998, and the business folded. The banker came knocking on their doors to foreclose on their property, which was offered as collateral for the loan they had taken as additional capital for the store. The last straw that broke the camel’s back was when Avel’s mom was jailed overnight for issuing bum checks to cover some of the store’s obligations to its suppliers. This was the turning point: Avel was so distraught he resolved to do everything in his power to ensure the incident will never be repeated. In October 2001, he joined the Royal London Circus based in Malaysia as Communications and Marketing Director.

But the Asian financial crisis wasn’t over yet. It followed Avel everywhere he went, like an unwanted cold virus. The circus didn’t do well either, drawing in the crowds only in the first few days, and then the audience would thin out slowly after that. But Avel was grateful for the experience because he managed over a hundred people from all over the world: Mexicans, Brits, Chinese, Russians, Indians, Malaysians, Indonesians, Burmese, Nepalese and, of course, musicians from the Philippines. It helped Avel acquire a more sophisticated world view and turned him overnight into a veritable diplomat. His parents had always believed in the goodness of human nature, and it is this belief which put Avel in good stead as he adroitly navigated himself through the maze of inter-cultural tension and different value systems among the workforce of the circus. In 2003, he decided to return home after learning his Dad was ill.

Then Mayor Pedro Acharon, Jr., who was a family friend, asked him to join the local government unit. He was wary about working for an LGU because all his life, he had worked for the private sector. Later, he realized there wasn’t much difference between working for the private sector, like the circus, and working for the government because you had to “deal with different kinds of animals.” This off-the-cuff remark was so sudden and so hilarious we burst out laughing for a long time, and had to temporarily stop taping. But work-related stress from the high profile of his boss and the demands of a 24/7 job did Avel in. He developed hypertension and weak lungs leading to asthma.

Further, the pay was not very remunerative, and soon his savings from his work in Malaysia dried up. To make matters worse, his Dad’s health was getting worse. At this point, a friend advised him to apply for a job in Papua New Guinea. The job was in a tuna processing plant which a large fishing company was planning to build. In 2004, Avel found himself in Lae, Papua New Guinea. He planned and executed a massive training program for PNG fishermen. But work was slow in PNG because the bureaucracy as an institution has not yet matured, and so license and permits took ages to obtain. Avel spent his free time on Sundays bonding with the sizeable Pinoy community in Lae. In April 2005, his Dad died and Avel asked permission to attend the burial, but seeing that his Mom also needed attention, he decided to resign from his PNG job. The following year he rejoined the LGU in the same capacity working for Mayor Acharon until 2010. He was retained by the new mayor, Hon. Darlene Antonino, until 2013.

Today, he is a freelance Social Media Consultant and a Manager of Google Business Group-General Santos.

How did he become General Santos’ foremost blogger?

While in KL and in PNG, every time he missed home, he turned to the internet, but he was disappointed to see that all he found in the internet were negative news, such as bombings, killings and kidnappings. He realized something had to be done about it, and it is at this point that he discovered something which he could use to counter the negativity being portrayed in the news about General Santos, and this was blogging.

With five other bloggers in Koronadal and Saranggani, they formed a group called the The SoCCSkSarGen Bloggers, whose aim is to erase people’s negative perceptions about Gensan in particular, and the region in general.

After he started blogging regularly, Avel realized there was money from blogging. He discovered Google AdSense, which basically remunerates publishers based on the number of subscribers to the blog—the more subscribers, the better the money. He claims to have earned as much as US$500 a month. He decided not to return abroad anymore because aside from earning money, he was helping his community. His blogging became an advocacy. He was pleased that his group was teaching the young bloggers about what they knew best, and about their locality.

Avel also organized the Google Business Group-General Santos and because of his work and that of his SoCCSkSarGen Bloggers group, he was awarded an all-expense-paid trip to California in 2014. Google Business Group-General Santos is ranked no 1 in Southeast Asia and no. 2 in the world.

Another way he found to earn money by blogging is by renting out space his blogging page to local business establishments.

“I went abroad twice and failed twice. But the important thing is that every time I fell, I got up and learn my mistake. I didn’t realize I didn’t have to go abroad to earn money,” Avel’s eyes shone with discernment, and his smile widened.

“I learned that there is still life after being an OFW if only we put into good use what we have learned from our experiences when we were working abroad and mix these with a plenty of dose of the lessons from our parents and elders. Being an OFW is a good thing but living and serving in our own native land, and in our local community where our support family and friends are, is even sweeter. With the Pnoy Administration leading the way for more jobs, the Philippines is the best place to be at now. The world is getting smaller through the Internet, and here one can be an online worker, whether in the BPO Industry or Social Media Industry, and earn good money. There's really no need to go out and work outside of the country. Indeed, it's more fun to work and serve in the Philippines.”

With Avel and his group promoting General Santos to the world, it’s just a matter of time before the city would become a major destination of choice for domestic and foreign tourists. When that happens, I suspect Avel will find it easy to again reinvent himself.