How they do it in Jakarta
GLOSS THE RECORD - Marbbie Tagabucba (The Philippine Star) - February 18, 2018 - 12:00am

They have conditions and problems like ours. Here's how they solve theirs.

It's a room full of Indonesian and Philippine aviation bigwigs in batik and barong in the heart of Jakarta, all gathered to fete AirAsia's inaugural direct flight from Manila to the Indonesian capital, and heads turned only for Maan Hontiveros as she rose to the stage, in part because she is the Philippine subsidiary's powerhouse of a chair, but also because her choice of dress is one we haven't seen before.

 “The bartik symbolizes precisely the ties between Indonesia and the Philippines. The fabric is made in the Philippines, sent to Indonesia for batik, then sent back to the Philippines to be made into barong,” Maan says in describing the portmanteau of national costumes. “Philippines and Indonesia go a long way back. Before the Spanish discovered the Philippines, way before the Dutch found Indonesia, we were already trading with each other. I mean, we look the same. I can pass for an Indonesian.”

That's just the beginning of our similarities. Manila is the world's selfie capital while Jakarta is Instagram's most geo-tagged location in the world for 2017. Locals and tourists post remnants of the independent-minded first president Soekarno's passion for Socialist architecture, from the Patung Pemuda Membangunjokingly nicknamed “The Pizza Man” by a growing expat population; Dutch colonial architecture and their ethnic Indonesian interiors in the original downtown of the capital, Kota Tua; to the gleaming marble pillars and sleek stainless steel lines of the Masjid Istiqlal, a modernist mosque. Then there are newer additions to the skyline, like entrepreneur Haryanto Adikoesoemo's three-month-old Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara a.k.a. Macan, built from his 800-piece personal collection (and trading and distribution monies) of previously unseen important contemporary art from Yayoi Kusama and Keith Haring to seminal figures in Indonesian contemporary art FX Harsono and Entang Wiharso. The ASEAN Secretariat, now focused on instilling collective ASEAN pride, is here. The third-wave cafes that have also influenced Manila's F&B scene are here too, but multiplied by hundreds. Inside, the country's teakwood, suar and mango wood are displayed in silhouette from midcentury to ’50s tropical, just as their beans find versatility in flat whites as well as kopi luwak in artisanal clay mugs. Both say squarely — pun intended — to the rest of the world: “We are here.”

 “With a huge population of 262 million plus and the Philippines' 103 million, we now have 57 percent of the total ASEAN population. That should tell you something. You can guess what my message is,” Maan continues in all seriousness. “We should be leading the pack.”


Connecting ASEAN: PT Jasa Angkasa Semesta Tbk CEO Adji Gunawan, AirAsia Philippines CEO Capt. Dexter Comendador, PT Jasa Angkasa Semesta Tbk CFO Marianne Ludwina, AirAsia Philippines chairperson Maan Hontiveros, AirAsia Group Indonesia CEO Dendy Kurniawan, and Embassy of The Republic of Indonesia in Manila Charge D’Affaires Budi Dhewajani.

AirAsia Philippines CEO Captain Dexter Comendador isn't just looking at a few flights a week to draw business from Filipino millennials on vacation, the biggest market of our travel industry’s digitalization. “We want to open up the Philippines to more ASEAN countries as AirAsia positions itself as an ASEAN airline. We're the only airline that can fly to almost all ASEAN cities. We need to expand beyond the domestic market because it's already doing good,” he says, moments before the pilot and heritage architecture enthusiast flew the maiden flight on one of AirAsia Philippines' 17 Airbus 320s; the fleet's uniformity allows economies to scale. Five more aircrafts are on their way, Dexter reveals, as the airline opens up direct flights to farther destinations Seoul, South Korea and Osaka and Tokyo, Japan within the first half of the year.

On the ground, motorbikes weave through Jakarta traffic, mostly driven by riders under locally preferred, homegrown GoJek, a smartphone app born of the Indonesian o’jek culture of asking for help, not unlike Filipinos calling out to a kuya or manong and colloquially translating to the same thing. Through one app, you can book a backseat ride on a motorbike or the backseat of a sedan or an SUV. An o'jek can deliver documents and items, even food from hole-in-the-walls to the city's finest restaurants to wherever you are. You can book a licensed masseuse — male or female — to come and knead the ails of the day away. It's a very localized solution, and from inside its Central Jakarta office founded and run by young Indonesians, they are formulated in a work setting that includes an open workspace (just like the AirAsia Philippines office), a playroom, and a nap room where your conscience sets the time limit.

    Communal workspace GoWork co-founder Peony Tang says Indonesia has the most number of start-ups in Southeast Asia. “It grew from 242 in 2012 to 1,633 — and that's only in 2016. Sixty percent of the population (a staggering 162 million) is below 35 years old; 133 million of them are active internet users, 92 million of them are on social media, with 60 million small-medium entrepreneurs.”

 “If you look at the companies that scale rapidly, it's because they address inefficiencies in Indonesia. They focus not on something big but on trying to make a difference in the Indonesian day-to-day life,” says banker turned GoWork co-founder Richard Lim. The mid-century space and its tropical ’50s expansion offers third-wave cafes, a central location in Central Jakarta, and nice views, but their most valuable amenity is the diversified tenant base of tech start-ups, media (such as Rappler), e-commerce (like Carousell), and design firms. “We consciously reached out to media and design companies. For resources to be relevant, they need to come from different backgrounds.”

ASEAN founding fathers: The Signing of the Bangkok Declaration in a painting by Filipino artist Peter Paul Blanco to commemorate ASEAN’s 50th anniversary hangs in the ASEAN Gallery.

Social enterprise Javara's Helianti Hilman is the perfect example. The lawyer and foodie is CEO and founder of the premium food brand which improves the biodiversity of local agriculture. “We had 7,000 heirloom rice varieties in the ’70s,” she shares. Javara currently sells over 700 products, “Not because we are aggressive or ambitious. That’s how many problems we must solve with our products.” Perishable vegetables like turmeric are turned into tasty, chewy, flat noodles. For additional income, farmers can plant blue pea flowers without using up land plots and turn them into teas — a sweet purple brew that has alkalizing benefits.

 “We don’t want people to buy because they felt sorry for the farmers but because it tastes good. To create a sustainable market, we need a sustainable solution. I tell the farmers, if you want to be part of the solution, do not settle for less,” says Helianti, who found her network of farmers during food-oriented trips around Indonesia. From being a non-profit organization three years ago that “no professionals wanted to work for nor give purchase orders to,” this mindset grew Javara in just three months. In Jakarta, culinary institutions like top restaurant Nusa Gastronomy, known for its introspective take on Indonesian cuisine served inside a renovated Dutch colonial home, buys from Javara.

Helianti emphasizes that the salability of products isn't the end goal. “More transactions does not make the younger generation want to continue farming; pride and dignity do. That's why we are keen on building the branding of the farmers,” she says. “When children see their farmer parents get recognized, that's when they think farming is sexy.”

AirAsia Philippines is also an example of providing unconventional solutions to recurring issues. The team’s experiences in transit definitely inform these. Maan, who’s been traveling the world since “a time when luggage didn’t have wheels,” can attest that travel is a special kind of education in more ways than one: “Travel shaped my worldview. It influenced the paths that I went through. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t have that kind of experience.”

The award-winning Philippine subsidiary of the ASEAN low-cost carrier is able to offer full service while still being low-cost by fostering a work culture that breeds proactivity regardless of designation. Its decision-makers themselves are in the frontline. Dexter has been flying since he was 20 and still flies the planes when he can, not only to monitor operations as CEO but because it's a passion, a perspective that permeates the company. It's what makes all the difference. “In 2012, Maan (then the CEO) called me up and said let's start an airline in the Philippines. I was so happy with the management interview,” Dexter shares, at the time connected to an airline in Vietnam. “They told me, 'We're not starting an airline. We're starting a family.' Sabi ko, ‘Sige, uuwi ako.’”  


AirAsia Philippines flies direct from Manila to Jakarta and Manila to Bali. Follow @AirAsiaFilipino on Twitter and Instagram and @AirAsiaPh on Facebook for updates. Book your flights at

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