Malay Municipality Vice Mayor Wilbec Miralles Gelito

The Boracay Sun is proud to present to you part II of the Sons & Daughters feature on Vice Mayor Wilbec Gelito

The Notorious 80s:
Fast-forward to the 80s and the arrival of the tourists, Wilbec shifts in his seat in excitement and begins his nostalgic walk down memory lane. In the early 80s, Boracay became a popular budget destination for backpackers mostly from Europe. Wilbec flew back and forth to Manila for school and back to Boracay to work at Willy’s Place.

While the rest of the world was glued to the betamax machine, playing Game & Watch by Nintendo and cutting classes to go to the video arcades, bopping their heads in a Walkman, dancing in the streets with a boom box, fussing around on the personal computer, and recording it all on their camcorder, Wilbec and his friends were oblivious to the cultural revolution that was taking the world on a whirlwind and radical ride. Back in Boracay, they had their own decadent evolution – the golden age of the tourism.

At the age of 22, he had his priorities straight. He manned his father’s Willy’s Place during the day, cooking, lighting the lamps and pumping water for the cottages – chores that he enjoyed doing. With a mischievous smile, he says he didn’t mind having to pump water for the lady guests who wanted to take a bath. He also loved providing the entertainment, playing his guitar for the guests. It was the most fun job in the world, he tells us, because the guests became his buddies.
He recalls, “Actually I would sleep at Paolo’ cottage (referring to Paolo Occhionero from Italy who now owns Aria, Hama, True Food and True Home), the biggest one in the cluster of about five or six cottages. Miguel (referring to Miguel Walsdorf from New York City who now owns Jammers Boracay) used to pay for six months rent in advance. Anyway, whatever they were up to, I was there!” And in the true spirit of the 80’s, they were all out to have “FUN” (yes all caps), from day to night to day, everyday!

Wilbec and his band of Boracay brothers were fixtures at their friend, Andree Abriam’s Beachcomber Bar from when it first opened in 1982. In the first of this “Sons and Daughters” series, we asked Andree Abriam what his bar’s biggest draw was aside from the cold drinks and cool music. He says, “Because Wilbec and I were not there to make a profit. Actually we put up the bar just to pick up girls! We turned the red light on to pick up girls, and turned it off when we got the girls, all topless at that, and when people would come, we’d say “sorry we’re closed!” It was everyone’s landmark and at night it was the only thing you’d see aside from the stars. Sometimes we’d move the light just for fun to throw people off!”
According to Wilbec, the New Year’s Eve party in 1984 ended at 12 noon, but only because they ran out of booze. So they headed to Paolo’s place at Nora’s. He also remembers partying for 24 hours straight with Ralph Gasser (a Swiss-German who now owns Ralph’s Place in Bulabog Beach). Everyone, he says, started drinking early, “because what else would you do?” Favorite poisons were rum-Coke and gin, and they would even fire it up. He continues, “We went paraw sailing, had lunch, started drinking, playing the guitar, and then we would head to the bar. Ralph and I wanted to see how long we could last and before we knew it, we ended up at Marcus Schönenberger’s Swiss bakery by morning. I think it was a full moon.”

Enter Bazura Bar
By 1986, Wilbec was fully settled back on the island and that’s when he ventured into his own business, the famous Bazura Bar (“basura” is colloquial for trash). This was the same year that President Marcos was ousted by the “People Power Revolution” that seated President Corazon C. Aquino, President Benigno Aquino III’s mother. So as the country went into transition, Wilbec went into high gear and the Boracay “party” scene went into full throttle!

One lazy afternoon, another foreigner friend who lived at Willy’s Place, a happy-go-lucky Swiss by the name of Peter Ravioli suggested, “Why don’t we open a bar?” He would put in the capital and Wilbec and Filme would run it. And so they opened Bazura Bar, which was a restaurant by day and a bar all day and night. Wilbec admits that it wasn’t a serious business venture really, but was just for fun, and unintentionally turned the mundane into money. And since there weren’t much people back then, about 200 foreigners at most (mostly between the ages of 18 to 25, mostly European – Swedish, Swiss, German, French, and a lot of Israelis who were the most stingy, and some Canadians), everyone just went back and forth from Beachcomber to Bazura, which explains the red light at Beachcomber and the green light at Bazura. By 11pm, people were already plastered and heading home.

By 1987, they started hosting parties that brought in the crowds. Whenever there was a party, everyone on the island was there. Bazura was the first bar to use a generator, which was a great big deal. They had fluorescent lamps wrapped in cellophane, and they had the very first turntables, giving rise to the island’s very first island DJ, Wilbec himself! He started his night playing music at Beachcomber and when the place got packed, he would head to Bazura to DJ. Dance floor favorites were reggae music, ZZ Top, Grace Jones, U2, and the era’s anthem that got everyone to their feet was the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”!

Rafel recalls, “Boracay’s nightlife then was so different compared to now. After Bazura, you could stay on the beach all night long and feel safe, not worried about strangers, because we knew almost everyone at the time.”

Bazura Bar was the “it” place for both locals and tourists, who would make reservations for that evening, very early in the day, afraid they would run out of tables. A group of regular Swedish guys even called themselves the “Bazura Beer Boys”. We ask Wilbec what people loved most about it, and he admits that he was “liberated” with the customers, or in short, whatever they wanted, they got. They were free to play their music at the DJ’s booth, they were free to decorate the place and move things around, and basically, “anything goes” was the management’s policy, as long as they paid their bill. It peaked in 1988 and it lasted for ten solid gold years.

The 90s
In the mid 1990s, Peter unfortunately, had passed away from what they believe was a drug overdose, while the boys were on their usual weekly trips to Caluya Island at the northernmost tip of Antique. Around the same time, an Australian guy invested in the business, so Wilbec and his friend Jose “Otik” Macavinta went all the way to Capiz to find wood and had it delivered by boat.

They renovated the place to extend the first floor and to add a second floor VIP area. They bought brand new speakers and a Technics DJ system that Wilbec learned to use in no time, even teaching Beachcomber’s bartender Glen Mariano how to DJ, to free himself from the booth to mingle with the ladies, of course! Disco music turned into House dance music introduced by the Germans. The Germans knew how to party and even had “underground” parties in the jungles at Yapak (where Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa now stands).

By 1996, Wilbec opted out of Bazura to focus on True Food, an Indian restaurant he put up with Paolo Occhionero in 1988 which is still the only authentic Indian restaurant on he island. In 1997 he put up KO (short for Knock Out) Lechon Manok. According to Rafel, tourists started looking for air-conditioned rooms so they demolished the native cottages at Willy’s Place to build concrete structures and named it Willy’s Beach Resort.

It was then that Wilbec met his future wife Myleen, who was then working at the resort’s front office. Wilbec adds kiddingly, “Habagat kasi!” (It was habagat season that’s why!) He would take her on dates to Lorenzo and to Bazura, and the following year, they were married.

The 2000s to the Present
By year 2000, they changed the name from Willy’s Beach Resort to Willy’s Beach Club Hotel. In 2003, Wilbec and Myleen opened their own restaurant bar, sort of their lovechild, where they poured their time and devotion, called Club Paraw.
Club Paraw

Since Wilbec was organizing paraw (native outrigger sailboats) regatta racing on the island, Club Paraw was conceptualized as a clubhouse for those with privately owned paraws, sort of like the Manila Yacht Club. All the races started in front of Club Paraw, and since there weren’t many boats at the time, White Beach’s waters were ideal for sailboat racing. Organized with friends Otik, Nanding, Andree, Manong Dioni, Manong Thelmi, and Roco, the races were just for fun. Wilbec also organized the summer Gallery of the Sea to showcase the beautiful and colorful sail art. The sails were so amazing, all hand painted with rainbows, corals, and underwater reef scenes. Former Congressman, Senator and Minister of Agrarian Reform, Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez’s wife Cecile Gidote sponsored the cash prize of ten thousand pesos, and Wilbec fed all the participants, about 60 of them. He plans to revive the event in the future.

Club Paraw’s famous boat bar was its landmark and they moved it around several times. And since tables and chairs were not allowed on the beachfront during the day, they found a brilliant solution and pioneered the use of “fallen” coconut tree trunks as low tables and benches, and throw pillows on the beach, with huge banigs (beach mats) on the sand. Pretty soon their neighbor Baby Susan Sual of Cocomangas followed suit.

Since husband and wife were foodies who also loved to cook, it was really more of a restaurant at first but their guests got too comfortable and stayed all day to drink. They adapted KO’s well-loved menu of Filipino favorites such as crispy pata, bulalo, kangkong adobo, and sinigang na bangus or lapu-lapu. This attracted both the Filipino and foreign tourists, and when they added a barbecue grill – also another first, it attracted everyone that passed-by.

By 2004, they added a roof and renovated it, Balinese-style. Myleen managed the place while Wilbec took charge of the kitchen, and well, the entertainment. He hired the bartenders and trained them also to be DJs. Wilfred introduced hip-hop music while Wilbec and their guest DJs played House. Myleen also took her turn on the decks, and loved to play the music of Lighthouse Family. For Rafel, Club Paraw has always been a great place to hangout with friends, to treat their staff at Willy’s, and a great place to celebrate events.

The Road to Public Service
Unlike many prominent and political families, Tay Willy Gelito’s clan took not the road to riches, but the rough road of public service. Rather than building a political dynasty to amass more power and wealth like royals, they worked hard and served the people.

Rafel tells us what it was like growing up in a high profile, prominent and political family:
“Growing up in a political family brought us exposure to the public. Everyone knew who we were and when we would go around, people said, “Anak ni Vice ‘yan.” (Those are Vice’s kids.) But for us, our status did not affect our ways. I don’t feel like we belong to a high profile family. At home, we’re just like any other family, we lived simply, and we did not regard ourselves as a politician family that was special in any way. I grew up in a community service oriented family. My mother was a nurse, and our home was like a hospital. Once we had seven helpers working for our family because we had a store at the time. We were not spoiled kids at all, and we did all the household chores, and our helpers were happy with our help. I am very grateful to our Auntie, Nay Oking, who taught us how to do housework and field work, instilling in us the value of hard work. And since both our parents were always busy with their work, Nay Oking looked after us.”

The People’s Man: Following in His Father’s Footsteps

We ask the Vice Mayor how he got into politics in the first place, and if it was by choice.

VM Wilbec: “During the Marcos era, I was the first to be appointed to the Kabataang Barangay simply because no one was running so they placed me in the position. I was 16 years old so my reaction was, ‘Ok!’ But it was what I liked to do from a very young age. I was always actively participating in all the activities at the plaza, from basketball tournaments to fundraising events.

I ran for councilor in 1998. Kulang ng kandidato yung ticket nung tatay ni Mayor John Yap (Jose S. Yap) who was running for mayor. Sabi ng father ko kung gusto ko daw tumakbo ng konsehal. So sabi ko, ok lang, why not?” (Mayor John Yap’s father’s ticket was lacking a candidate for councilor. My father suggested that I run so I said ok sure, why not?)
“I won. Actually, when I was councilor, we built the basketball court, including the cement benches. We solicited funds and I donated my own money, and before my term ended we completely cemented the plaza.”

Balancing Politics and Pleasure
VM Wilbec: “At the time I ran Bazura Bar, I was councilor. Ok lang, our meetings were held at Bazura Bar, because it was a big enough venue. And then I built the second floor that could accommodate about 50 people.

Some of the issues we resolved back then included the boat setback and the need for loading at the boat stations. Before, you could drop your passenger right at the beachfront of their resort but it became a problem so we created the three boat stations. We also started garbage segregation on the island.”

We reminisce for a bit about what an awesome experience it was to arrive in Boracay and see the island for the first time as you approached the boat stations, and feeling the powdery sand for the first time as you got off the boat, and the drama of leaving the island, seeing it slowly diminish as your boat left the station.

The Party Boy Turned People’s Man
Known on the island as the “friend ng bayan” (everybody’s friend), his priorities drastically changed when he entered public service, and yet remained everybody’s friend. With no big political ambitions in life, his ambitions remain within the municipality of Malay. We ask him what his greatest concern was for Boracay and its people.

VM Wilbec: “Kelangan naka focus sa bayan mo ang concern at nasa right direction, dahil growing e. And kapag dumarami ang tao, dapat you have the proper plan for the next ten years ahead. Dapat naka plano na at may direksyon yung magiging development.” (We should focus our concern on the municipality and stir it in the right direction, because it’s growing. And especially when arrivals are increasing, all the more you need to plan ten years ahead. There should be a plan and direction for its proper development.)

“But if you plan ahead eventually yung mga ibang workers, doon na talaga titira yan, otherwise mas marami pa sila sa turista. They occupy the beach, which is for the guests diba? Ginagamit nila yung water e mahal din yung tubig dito samantalang kung nandun sila at least mas mura. Kung ililipat mo sila doon, paano mo sila papapuntahin dito? Paano pag may typhoon? Everybody wants that idea pero papaano? At saka may mga shifting e, paano yung mga pang gabi, paano mo gagawin?” (But if you want to plan ahead eventually some of the workers will live on the mainland, otherwise there would be more of them than tourists. They occupy the beach, which is for the guests, right? They use the water and it’s very expensive here whereas if they were there, it would be much cheaper for them. But if you move them all there, how will you transport them here? What do you do when there’s a typhoon? Everybody wants that idea but how? And then they have shifts, what happens to the night shift, how will you do it?)

We ask our newly elected Vice Mayor:

As Vice Mayor, what are your goals and immediate plans for Malay and Boracay?

VM Wilbec: “We should encourage investors to invest in the mainland. We will provide them an incentive of five years, tax-free, para yung mga tao hindi na pupunta dito para magtrabaho. There must be a link sa dalawa, yung island at yung mainland, so we will discuss what’s the best way.” (…so that the people don’t have to come here looking for work. There must be a link between the two, the island and the mainland, so we will discuss what is the best way.)

“To solve decongestion, unang una yung mga hardware. Why do you need hardware here, for what? Tourists don’t need hardware. So ipwesto natin sila doon, yung mga truck, doon lang sila and when you need it, just call them and that’s the time they come her. Nakikita mo diyan puro hardware nakatambak lahat diyan – hindi siya tourist-oriented business.” (…So let’s position them there, the trucks, and when you need them just call them and that’s when they come here. You can see them all over, just piling up by the roadside – they’re not a tourist-oriented business.)

“Marami pa ang kailangang ayusin, tulad ng basura natin at mga waterline.” (There is so much more to fix, such as our garbage system and waterlines.)

What do you want to change during your term?

VM Wilbec: “We will first look for important things that need to be done immediately. We should sit down with the business sector and get their inputs, not just the LGU, because marami dito gustong makisawsaw. (…not just the LGU, because there are many who just want to grandstand…) Why don’t we put all our ideas together as one and then implement it? I think that’s much more effective. We should agree on our priorities. Bringing in more visitors is not the problem right now. The problem is in providing them with a pleasant and unique tourist experience. That is the first thing we should do.

Kanina dumaan ako sa jetty port, ang sikip nung papasukan mo at nagsisiksikan yung mga tao. (Earlier I passed the jetty port, and it was so tight so everyone was crowding.) And they pay how much? One hundred pesos when they arrive and another one hundred pesos as they depart. So instead of inviting more friends to come to Boracay, they’d rather not because their first impression was not good. The beach is beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. But as soon as you arrive at the jetty port, they’re knocked out already.”

How do you see Boracay 10 years from now if it all works out as planned?

VM Wilbec: “I want to see Boracay’s development going in the right direction and in order, and those who own property here, they should understand, they should give way and make a little bit of sacrifice because yung konting nawala sa kanila (the little they lose) it will come back to them ten times.

Halimbawa kung may mga kalsada tayong gagawin, dapat naman mag give way sila. At dapat yung mga structure natin, nasa tamang setback na. (For example, if we are building a road, they should give way. And our structures must all be within the right setback already.) Our objective here is to make it relaxing and convenient for our visitors to move around, otherwise they will feel stressed out and find it too congested. Let’s give them space to relax so that although there are a lot of tourists, they won’t feel suffocated. Everyone uses the beach all at the same time. Eventually there will come a time that they will not encourage other people to come. Sure it’s a beautiful beach but in one square meter, there are five of us, we won’t even be able to move.

With all the things that need to change, what do you hope never changes about Boracay?

VM Wilbec: “The attitude of the people here, that they will not say ‘I am from Boracay, I can do this or I can do that,’ that’s not nice. You are from Boracay, you should be the host, and you should welcome everybody. We are all ambassadors of Boracay. It is our job to entertain the guest, make them feel welcome and safe. If you give service to them the tip is not a problem. In my experience, when I used to wipe tables, the guest always left a tip. If you were the tourist, wouldn’t you feel bad to not leave a tip? It’s teamwork. Let’s continue to work together to provide the best tourist experience.”

What life lessons did your parents pass on to you that you would you like to pass on to your children or the next generation?

VM Wilbec: “The most important lesson I learned from my parents is discipline. I realize now that their strictness guided me to do what’s right. As a father, I try to instill discipline with my daughter in a democratic way.”

What legacy do you hope to leave for Boracay?

VM Wilbec: “They will remember me because I played a vital role on the island of Boracay and in the municipality of Malay, which is for the common good of the people and as much as I can help them, I will help them in my own capacity. And when I’m out there, I’m hoping this municipality will continue to grow and will be in order, and the next generation will enjoy what I have done for Boracay and for Malay and that it will benefit them. I hope that they will see and remember the good things that I have done, as simple as that.”

What is your most fervent goal or prayer for Boracay?

VM Wilbec: “God is always there to assure that no catastrophe will happen here like a tsunami or an earthquake. He’s always there to remind people that Boracay was given to them and we should take care of it, to make sure that it will not be destroyed, that it will remain as Boracay even though it has become developed. That people from Boracay will be the first ones to take care of it as its stewards. Yung ibinigay sa iyo ng Diyos na napakagandang isla, ikaw ang nasa Boracay, (What God has given the people of Boracay) you should be the stewards to take care of it.”

Nay Oking: “Na sana ang mga tao dito ay magkaroon naman ng unity para kung ano ang mga problema madali masolba.” (I pray that the people here will unite so that whatever problems that may arise, it could easily be solved.)

What would you advise future investors?

VM Wilbec: “My advise for the investor is, before they decide to invest on the island, make sure that what they will invest in will be for the common good of everybody, not just vested interests and not just for themselves, and that it will compliment other businesses.”

For this writer who has had the pleasure of Vice Mayor Wilbec’s friendship since meeting him sometime in 2004, there is not one bad bone in his body. What you see is what you get, and the man’s heart is completely in the right place. It is easy to see why he is beloved by the people, and in this true son of Boracay’s hands, our God-given island will be in the hands of a true leader who is in touch with his constituents, a genuine guardian and steward of its shores and its people, and the land he inherited from his ancestors who built it. We look forward to witnessing the “peak” summer season of his life and the dawning of another new and brighter age for Boracay! Congratulations Vice Mayor Wilbec!

{jcomments on}

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrDigg thisEmail this to someone