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18-year-old Aeta dreams of becoming her community's doctor


ASPIRING DOCTOR. Mary Rose Alejo (left) is a Magbukun Aeta set to study community health work in the University of the Philippines Manila School of Health Sciences this August. Photo by Dr Fresthel Climacosa

MORONG, Bataan – Eighteen-year-old Mary Rose Alejo is no stranger to tough journeys. Bearing her people’s characteristic curly hair and dark complexion, she’s undeniably an Aeta through and through, with all the weight and burden that come with it. (READ: Simple life is a sustainable life for Aeta community)

Now she’s on a journey far more challenging than the steep pathways that lead to her home in the highlands of Morong, Bataan. Who would have imagined that an Aeta like her would have a chance of obtaining the post-nominal MD – from the country’s national university no less? (READ: The long road to education)

Sunday, as she’s fondly called, is the studious type. One of the first from the Magbukun Aeta community to finish high school under the K-12 program, Sunday persevered in her education against all odds.

“I knew that this was the only way to uplift our family from poverty. My father is now deceased and I have 5 younger siblings,” recounted Sunday. “So I knew that I had to take my studies seriously.”

She initially wanted to become a midwife like her aunt, as this was the only realistic option for people who had no financial means. Even then, her family was hesitant as they really had no stable source of income. Her stepfather, though extremely industrious, was only a contractual employee in the local wildlife rescue center and occasionally foraged for honey to sell, while her mother ran a small sari-sari store.

When we told them about the community health work program of the University of the Philippines Manila School of Health Sciences (UPM-SHS), the news seemed heaven-sent.

The first in Asia, UPM-SHS’ innovative step-ladder program “integrates the training of the broad range of health manpower from the midwife, nurse, nurse practitioner, and Doctor of Medicine in a single, sequential and continuous curriculum.” 

Sunday and her family were ecstatic when we told them that there was a chance she could go on to become a doctor one day.

“No Aeta had imagined that they could become a doctor. We’ve been experiencing discrimination in the lowlands for so long that we’ve grown to fear studying with non-Aetas,” lamented Sunday.

“In high school, some of my classmates used to call me names just because I looked different from them. I could not forget when one of them used to shout 'basta kulot, salot (if you're curly-haired, you're a pest)' when Aetas were around,” Sunday added.

With UP Manila Associate Professor Fresthel Climacosa and a few friends from the academe, we painstakingly compiled the requirements for her admission to UPM-SHS. One requirement was a petition signed by the community endorsing her admission to the program.

For an entire day, we went with Sunday to each of the Aeta households and watched her explain that by signing the endorsement, they were betting the future of the entire community on her. She promised them that she would return as a doctor to the community and never forget that she’s one of them.

“Kailangan na kailangan natin ng doktor. Umaasa kaming babalik ka rito at dito ka maglilingkod, Maraming nakakalimot; sana hindi ka isa doon,” reminded Magbukun Aeta chieftain Belen Restum.

(We are in dire need of a doctor. We expect that you will return to serve the community. Many forget; I hope you won't be one of them.)

Sunday vowed to never forget. And her return service agreement (RSA) with UP would compel her not to. For every year of study in her program, she is obligated to render two years of service in return. 

“Entering UP is the fulfillment of not just my family’s dreams, but of the community's. Malaki ang pressure (The pressure is huge), but this drives me to prove to everyone who believes in me that I can succeed; that we can succeed,” said Sunday.

School starts on August 12 for Sunday at UPM-SHS’ Baler campus. She will be facing yet another challenge, this time carrying the weight of the Aeta’s hopes and dreams. 

For those interested in helping with Sunday’s education, you may coordinate with the author or with Dr Fresthel Climacosa at the UP College of Public Health in Manila (fmclimacosa@up.edu.ph).  Rappler.com

Nicolas Czar Antonio is a Rappler intern and Psychology major at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He tweets at @Nicolas_Czar.

‘Honor before excellence’: Students condemn cheating in U.P.


MANILA, Philippines – “Academic dishonesty has no place in a university that prides itself in promoting honor and excellence,” said the University of the Philippines School of Economics (UPSE) Student Council in a statement in response to the acquittal of several students who reportedly cheated on an exam. 

Last December 2018, 3 students were said to have compared answers during an Economics 122 (Financial Economics) test, which prompted two separate investigations from the UPSE College Disciplinary Council. 

The council found the students guilty of academic dishonesty after several witnesses came forward to testify against them.  UPSE Dean Orville Solon endorsed the decision which the University Council’s executive committee confirmed.

However, when the cases reached the office of UP president Danilo Concepcion, he decided to overturn the verdict for one of the cases and acquit one of the students of academic dishonesty.

Eight UPSE-based student organizations issued a joint statement on Tuesday, July 30, condemning this case of academic dishonesty and called on the university administration to uphold justice.

“We call for the university administration to uphold the 2012 Code of Student Conduct of UP Diliman wherein it is stipulated that this act of copying or providing the means or accessing means to copy exam answers has corresponding consequences,” said the Alliance of School of Economics Organizations. (READ: UP Engineering student council condemns alleged board exam cheating)

Sean Angelo Thakur, UP Diliman University Student Council chair, blasted the acquittal and ensured that they will take the necessary steps to hold the erring students accountable.

“We’ll continue to stand firm with our belief that UP is a university that upholds both honor and excellence,” said Thakur.

“Academic dishonesty should always be dealt with proper sanctions to preserve the integrity of our academic institutions,” he added.

“Integrity serves as the foundation for honor and excellence, and in order for this foundation to remain intact, there must be no question that the highest governing body of the university will uphold its policies and champion intellectual honesty,” the UPSE Student Council concluded. 

Rappler has reached out to the Office of the UP President for comment, but it has yet to respond as of this posting. – Rappler.com

Nicolas Czar Antonio is a Rappler intern and a Psychology major at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He tweets at @Nicolas_Czar.

Maguindanao IDPs struggle with flooding in evacuation sites


KEEPING DRY. Improvised foot bridges made people navigate the flooded evacuation center in Barangay Pagatin, Shariff Saydona Mustapha in Maguindanao. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – Families seeking refuge from armed conflict in at least two evacuation centers in Maguindanao faced a new struggle after their temporary homes got submerged in floodwater following heavy rains.

An evacuation site with 70 families in Barangay Pagatin in Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao, has been flooded due to heavy rains since Sunday, July 28.

Oxfam's Philippine office said that  internally displaced persons (IDPs) displaced by armed conflict are also exposed to risks like flooding.

To walk around the flooded property, families built makeshift wooden bridges. Some also opted to wade through the ankle-deep floodwater, while others use a kuliglig, a hand tractor attached with a trailer.

KULIGLIG. The kuliglig, a hand tractor attached with a small trailer,  help people get around the flooded evacuation site in Barangay Pagatin. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

WADING THROUGH THE FLOOD. Some IDPs wade through the ankle-deep floodwater in an evacuation center in Barangay Pagatin, Shariff Saydona Mustapha in Maguindanao. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

RESILIENCE. A woman tends to her baby  in a flooded evacuation center in Barangay Pagatin. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

PLAYTIME. A child walks on a makeshift bridge while playing in their flooded evacuation site in Barangay Pagatin. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the Kitango Elementary School in Datu Saudi Ampatuan faced a similar struggle, as the school had been flooded since Saturday, July 27. The school is located about minutes away from Barangay Pagatin.

Based on data from Oxfam in Philippines’ project partner Community Organizers Multiversity, 89 families were evacuated to the Kitango Elementary School earlier this year as part of a mass evacuation from armed conflict in the area in March.

Five families from Pikeg in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town stayed the Kitango Elementary School because they had no means yet to rebuild their homes that were destroyed because of military operations.

“They are staying there because they have nowhere to go. Their houses in Pikeg were already destroyed and there is an ongoing military operation in the area,” said April Abello Bulanadi, a media officer at Oxfam in the Philippines.

“Based on our interviews with the people in the community, their situation in the evacuation sites have worsened further because of the flooding. But they have learned to live with it because they had no choice,” she added.

Meanwhile, other families displaced by armed conflict in the province have built makeshift shelters outside the school’s vicinity and other evacuation sites in the community. (READ: 'Host families': A home for IDPs in Maguindanao)

FLOODED. The Kitango Elementary School in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao, surrounded by ankle-deep flood. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

MAKING DO. Children play in the flood at the Kitango Elementary School in Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

The IDPs preferred to stay in the flooded evcuation sites. Military operations against armed groups, and clan wars have created a climate of fear in Maguindanao and continued to displace families in conflict areas.

According to a report from the provincial office of the Ministry of Social Services in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,  7,395 families (approximately 36,975 individuals) have been displaced in 7 municipalities of Maguindanao as of April 4, 2019.  (READ: [OPINION] Maguindanao is a forgotten crisis)

Aside from armed conflict and disasters, IDPs also struggle with the lack of decent shelter, food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, among other necessities.

To help improve their situation, Oxfam in the Philippines along with their partners have provided the IDPs with food, cash, hygiene kits, water kits, hand pumps, shelter materials, sleeping kits, toilets, solar lamps, and solar lighted posts in communal areas. – Rappler.com

LOOK: Heavy rain floods areas in Metro Manila on Friday, August 2


FLOODS. Motorists and vehicles wade through floods brought by heavy rain at UN Avenue, Manila, on Friday morning, August 2, 2019. Photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines– Several areas in Metro Manila were quickly flooded following a downpour brought by the southwest monsoon on Friday, August 2.

The southwest monsoon, which had been bringing heavy rain in the western part of Luzon, was further enhanced by a tropical storm located outside the Philippine Area of Responsibility.

In Metro Manila, the downpour caused floods, triggering traffic, making commuting difficult, and leaving some passengers stranded.

At 3 pm Friday, Malacañang suspended work in government offices, as well as classes in public and private schools in all levels across Metro Manila.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno did a Facebook Live broadcast to show the public what streets were flooded in Manila. At around 11 am, while on the road, he told his followers to avoid Taft Avenue, España Boulevard, Quezon Boulevard, Estrada Street, Santa Mesa, among other areas because of the heavy flooding.

He also shared other possible routes to take for those going to Pasay City, and urged people to stay home if possible. 

At around 4pm, Moreno announced on his official Facebook page that España Boulevard was no longer flooded.

Meanwhile, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte continued clearing operations at Muñoz Market and kept a close eye on Balintawak to maintain cleanliness and order of the said road.

As of 5 pm, there were 5 areas that had yellow rainfall warning, which means heavy rain would persist in these areas for the next 3 hours, and flooding in low-lying areas was possible. 

These areas are Metro Manila, Zambales, Bataan, Cavite, and Batangas.

Below are some photos and videos of the flooding in Metro Manila:

UNITED Nations Avenue, Manila City. Photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

SAN Marcelino Street in Manila. Photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

SAN Marcelino Street in Manila. Photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

SAN Marcelino Street in Manila. Photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

COMMONWEALTH Avenue, Quezon City. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

RIZAL Avenue, Sta. Cruz, Manila. Photo by Twitter user @MMPFajardo

FLORENTINO Street in Sta. Cruz, Manila. Photo by Twitter user @travelferdie

ESPAÑA Boulevard in Manila. Photo by Twitter user @PieIncha

QUEZON Boulevard in Manila. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler QUEZON Boulevard in Manila.

QUEZON Boulevard in Manila. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

A house in Barangay UP Campus was destroyed by an uprooted tree, killing a female resident. 

WRECKAGE. Residents of Brgy. UP Campus sift through the wreckage of a house that
was destroyed by an uprooted tree. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

WRECKAGE. Residents of Brgy. UP Campus sift through the wreckage of a house that
was destroyed by an uprooted tree. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler


Sparking joy and fearing shame: The irony of Singapore's National Day Parade


American writer Mark Twain once wrote, “Dance like no one is watching, sing like no one is listening, love like you’ve never been hurt and live like it’s Heaven on Earth.”

This free-spirited, cast-your-care attitude hardly describes Singapore, but for just one day of the year it actually does – at the National Day Parade (NDP).

Singapore loves to show the world we can host events on a global scale, but we save the best for ourselves. The NDP is the biggest party by Singaporeans for Singaporeans, and the organizers make sure we know it. My ex-classmate was one of the 25,000 spectators who knows this and even towed his new Canadian wife to the parade so he could show Singapore off.

But there are many who don’t attend or watch the NDP. Fear of crowds? Unimpressed by the same old, same old but enhanced story line? Or have they simply stopped believing? Nonetheless, there’s no denying the NDP hype lives on, so much so that many ballot for tickets just to watch the previews. So, all this got me thinking: "Is the NDP hype a form of patriotism we are embarrassed to admit, or is it just one big party of an excuse for family time?"

I think the answer is all of the above, but also in the unspoken. 

I am a media consultant and counsellor, which gives me ringside seats to the thinking behind strategic messaging but also its impact. I can’t think of any other event or occasion in Singapore than the NDP which elicits such unadulterated joy. Just listen to the lyrics of the most popular NDP theme song "Home," written by Dick Lee, which captures some of this joy:

Whenever I am feeling low 
I look around me and I know
There's a place that will stay within me

Can you see how the opening line already makes this song a winner? Singer Kit Chan tells us it’s perfectly alright to feel down. It’s okay to feel you are not enough because you are not alone and can always count on Singapore.

The NDP is that one evening of the year when we can truly celebrate our achievements, but also feel accepted and belonged, because Singapore is home truly and it’s where I know I must be. "Home" and the NDP celebrates our vulnerability and the courage to be imperfect.

All this is accompanied by a deep, warm voice describing our rise to economic success, set against the backdrop of military might, multimedia wizardry, and rousing songs on nation building. Then, it climaxes with fireworks exploding in the night sky, followed by gasps of awe. The NDP is the birthplace of belonging and acceptance, and transforms Singapore into heaven on earth.

 POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE. Singaporeans watch helicopters holding up the national flag on Singapore National Day.

But where is the sense of belonging and acceptance the rest of the year? Are there remnants of this joy or variants of it after the music dies, the fireworks fizzle out, and the realities of living in Singapore kick in? What emotions are evoked when the chips are down?

On complaints made against our unreliable national rail, we are told there is still a need to raise transport fares because it has financially burdened the operators and the government. On fears of the expiring 99-year lease on Housing Development Board (HBD) flats, we are reminded how HDB and upgrading is already heavily subsidized. On frustrations of the rising costs of living, we are told there is still a need to raise the Goods and Services Tax (GST) because there is a gap despite our reserves doubling, and we should just use public Wi-fi. And when we actually do well, we are reminded not to get complacent but to strive even harder. 

In the recent case of Singaporean Suriia, whose wife is suffering from late-stage cancer, desperate pleas for the Central Provident Fund (CPF) board to allow him to transfer his savings to save his wife were turned down because they are under 55.

The general motivation suggests prudence and pragmatism, but it also shames. Shame specialist Dr Brene Brown from the University of Texas defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of belonging and acceptance. Brown says it’s hard for us to even talk about shame as there is no language for it, but it’s probably even harder in the Asian context of Singapore, where the pursuit of social class and keeping up with appearances are rampant.

The closest term to describe shame here is “kiasu-ism” or the fear to lose. Brown says that when we experience shame, we are steeped in the fear of being ridiculed, diminished, or seen as flawed. Could "kiasu-ism" really be the fear of being ridiculed and shamed?

I found out later that my ex-classmate had another motive for attending the NDP. He was planning to sing his own song at the NDP – a swan song to be precise. He chose the NDP to capture his final Kodak moments of Singapore before packing up to Vancouver for good.

I think the NDP sparks joy, no questions asked, no strings attached, and everyone wants a piece of it.

This year’s NDP theme is “Our Singapore,” and it celebrates the collective ownership of the country. Its theme song is “Our Singapore,” also written by Dick Lee. I think it’s going to be another hit. As in "Home," you can find themes of vulnerability and acceptance in the opening line too:

It isn't easy building something out of nothing
Especially when the road ahead's a rocky one
But if we gather all our courage and conviction
And hold our dream up high
The challenge will be won

Filipino Claire Miranda and family are some of the many foreigners who once called Singapore home. She spent 13 years here and counted those days as one of the happiest seasons of her life before giving up her Permanent Resident status in 2013 to care for her ailing in-laws back in Manila. She explains, “I felt belonged and found sanctuary in Singapore’s infrastructure, but I now realize the work of making home is a partnership, and I wonder whether governments could inject some empathy in their nation-building efforts.” 

Despite the disconnect, the NDP will continue to endear. This song could surpass "Home," and the fireworks could outshine last year’s, driving even more to the NDP.  How could it not when all we want is to feel belonged and accepted – even if it’s for just one evening of the year? Many will wish for Singapore to stay strong and united, but my wish is simply for the NDP to show some of that love, belonging, and acceptance the rest of the year too.

Happy 54th Birthday, Singapore! – Rappler.com

Singaporean James Leong is a media consultant for the social service sector, as well as a counsellor who runs his own practice Listen Without Prejudice to address fear and anxiety in the Lion City.


[OPINION] One woman's journey from Christianity to agnosticism


I was born in one of the quiet districts of Zamboanga, a peninsula of different people with different ideologies. It was like a common ground for a variety of religions—Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism, and many others. There were occasional conflicts that would surface among them, but they were inevitable and infrequent. 

Although I was born in such an open place, I was raised by a family of Catholics, and they were very religious. Anything that contradicted what was written in the Bible would be considered immoral. There was an unspoken rule in the family that everybody should latch on to God for salvation and fortune, and as such, my whole life revolved around this influence. I used to accompany my mother to church every Sunday, took my first communion at a local church, and had valued a divine figure more than my own emotions.

I joined a church organization when I was 15, encouraged by my peers who were also devoted Christians. We would huddle together after school with fellow churchmates and share our deep thoughts about the Bible and God in general. During Sundays we would go to church and assist the pastors in preparing for the upcoming mass. 

This went well for a while, until we found out that one of our peers was secretly engaging in a same-sex relationship with another member of the church. Our organization's leader was clearly against it; she even invaded their private lives, asking them to stop whatever they had and have themselves "fixed" immediately.

That was my epiphany. 

I started asking questions. The leader told us that the relationship contradicted the Bible. A man is for a woman, a woman is for a man – it’s not rocket science, she claimed. And as she preached how God forbade these types of human connections, it became clear to me how the Almighty invalidated His people’s emotions. It did not make sense for me that a loving God could also be responsible for this suppression. Day by day, I opened my eyes and slowly saw the imperfections in the Bible, in the deity Himself. There were many, and these fueled my transition into agnosticism even more.

So much happened in the following years. The loss of my father threw me into months of depression. It was not only Papa that I lost on that particular night, but an irretrievable part of myself as well. I also had problems with my grades at school, and this gave me anxiety attacks and depressive episodes worse than before.

I was already seeing a professional counselor at that point, but I was still close to the friends I had back in the organization. (I left years ago, uncomfortable with devoting my efforts to someone whose existence was still debatable.) They told me my depression was fine, that it happens. God had a reason for everything, and my depression would vanish if I'd only go back to church. I gave it a try, and as expected, the attempt went down the drain.

I left the organization once again, knowing that it wasn’t the appropriate type of comfort that I was looking for. By this time, I was already certain that I did not believe in God, nor believe there was someone high up in the skies looking down on me and making sure of my welfare. I became fond of thinking that humans weren’t even significant, and that our existence was not something that would last forever. Eventually, we would go extinct, and the universe would keep shining on long after we did. I fancied nihilism, thinking that it was the only ideology that mattered.

It wasn’t.

My mother moved to Cebu a year later with her newfound partner. I tagged along and finished my final year of senior high school in the city. Cebu was the start of something new and refreshing for me; I could finally perceive the world with neutrality.

Currently, I am narrating this essay as an accounting student in Manila, and the experiences I had in my past would forever shape me as an individual. My departure from Christianity does not mean that I will cling to the arms of blasphemy. Atheism should only be defined as the absence of a divine belief.

While some aspects of nihilism could still ring true, we can still go on holidays, fall in love, fulfill our dreams, and even think of our impending death while remaining optimistic about it. This is what I’ve always admired in Catholics or in religious people in general: How they stay faithful despite such uncertainty. 

There is good in each one of us, no matter our different beliefs. I have learned to accept that people are not beholden to my opinions. They are entitled to their own opinions and can do whatever they want, as long as it does not impose on others' freedom. – Rappler.com

Nicole Rebollos is an accounting student fulfilling her dreams at National University. A native of Zamboanga City, she prides herself in speaking 5 different languages, and loves literature and cats.

Groups seek unity, action to help end killings in Negros Island


LIGHT. The forum at the University of the Philippines Asian Center ends with a candle-lighting ceremony remembering the victims of the killings in Negros Island on Thursday, August 1. Photo by Patricia Angela Echano/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – After a spate of killings in Negros Island, advocates and various groups echoed on Thursday, August 1, the call to put an end to the senseless bloodshed.  

Defend Negros #StopTheAttacks Network led the discussion on the current situation in Negros Island in a forum at the University of the Philippines Asian Center. 

In Negros Oriental, at least 21 people have been killed from July 18 to 27, including a lawyer, a barangay captain, a city councilor, a former mayor, and a one-year-old child. Rights groups say at least 87 people have been killed in the two Negros provinces since 2017.

The spate of killings has led Malacañang to consider declaring martial law in Negros Island. (READ: Monitoring Negros: What rulings say about NPA and martial law)

“The ultimate objectives of this forum are for us to be educated on the true state of Negros [Island], and after knowing the situation, if we can have final decisions on what kind of actions we can take to help the families in any small ways and to stop the impending martial law in Negros [Island],” said Gretchen Velarde, one of the organizers of the forum. 

Oplan Sauron

Angie Ipong of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) tackled Oplan Sauron or the Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations (SEMPO). The joint operation between Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police is part of the government’s efforts against illegal drugs and loose firearms in Central Visayas. 

Ipong mentioned that this highly coordinated military and police operation is against human rights as it “targeted and employed illegal and brutal acts against unarmed civilians belonging to legitimate peasant groups, farmers’ associations, and village level government units.” 

DEFEND NEGROS. Angie Ipong of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura discusses the situation of Negros Island under Oplan Sauron and urges the public to help in the quest for justice for the victims of the killings on Thursday, August 1. Photo by Patricia Angela Echano/Rappler

A string of deaths in Negros Island has been making headlines in 2019. On March 30, 14 farmers were killed during simultaneous police operations in three municipalities across Negros Oriental. Just recently, 15 people were shot dead in a span of one week in the province. (READ: Death comes unprovoked upon Negros Island)

Putting the blame on the New People's Army, President Rodrigo Duterte warned that he will use all powers of the presidency under the Constitution to quell "lawless violence" in Negros Island. The Central Visayas police chief, however, has already appealed to the public to refrain from linking all killings to the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

In a statement, Makabayan's Neri Colmenares pointed out the weak foundation of Duterte's plan to use his emergency powers in Negros.

"Out of the many killings in Negros the police have no clear conclusion as to the perpetrators, except to point at the usual suspects – the NPA – even without evidence, in order to derail public attention from the AFP and the PNP.  And yet they are planning on imposing martial law when they have not even gathered evidence on the identity of the suspects," he said.

In the forum, Ipong listed several ways that ordinary citizens can do to help end the killings in Negros Island.

“What can we do to help? We must push for an independent investigation regarding human rights violations committed in the course of Oplan Sauron, issue statements to express solidarity, and organize activities to help victims and survivors psychosocially, morally and financially,” said Ipong.

Ipong also urged the public to fight disinformation by spreading awareness and helping create healthy and critical discourse on human rights violations not just in Negros but also elsewhere in the country. 

Tolling of bells

Fr Christopher Ablon from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines stressed the need to help people be more aware about what’s happening in the two provinces, and encouraged churches to toll their bells as a symbol of protest against the rising killings in Negros Island. 

Mahalaga na ipagpatuloy natin ang pag-toll ng bells hanggang ang mga bells ng lahat ng simbahan sa buong Pilipinas ay makisabay sa protesta, panawagan at pakikisimpatya sa mga biktima ng patayan sa Negros [Island],” said Fr Ablon. 

(It is important that we continue to toll the bells until the bells of all the churches in the Philippines join to protest and sympathize with the victims of killings in Negros Island.)

Four Catholic bishops in Negros Island have condemned the killings and called on parishes to toll their bells every 8 pm until the murders stop.

Unity and action

Bayan Muna Representative Eufemia Cullamat, also a member of the Makabayan bloc, mourned with the families of the victims and urged fellow Filipinos to unite and take action in expressing condemnation of the killings in Negros Island. 

"Bilang kinatawan sa Kongreso, limitado lang ang magagawa natin doon. Ang ating hinahangad na pagbabago ay wala sa Kongreso, kung hindi nasa ating mga kamay. Ipagpatuloy natin ang ating pagkilos at pagkakaisa para makamit ang tunay na demokrasya sa ating bayan," said Cullamat.  

(As a representative in Congress, what we can do there is limited. The change we want to see is not in Congress but rather in our hands. We should continue to take action and unite for us to achieve true democracy for our country.)

Naneth Castillo, a mother of a victim of Oplan Tokhang, echoed the call to seek justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings in the Duterte regime.

"Ang pagdamay po sa kapwa natin ay gawin nating instrumento upang mamulat tayo at ‘yung iba pa. Tumindig tayo, ‘yun ang panawagan ko. Hustisya ang kailangan natin, hindi po patayan," said Castillo.

(We must use our sympathy to our fellow men as an instrument for us to be aware. My call is to stand in solidarity. What we need is justice, not killings.)

Aside from sharing of sentiments from human rights advocates and various groups, artist groups Alay Sining UP Diliman, The UP Repertory Company and Philippine Educational Theater Association also showcased performances tackling farmers’ rights and the call to seek justice for the victims of the killings in Negros Island. – Rappler.com

Patricia Angela Echano is a Rappler Intern and an incoming senior student taking BA Communication Arts at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

[OPINION] Jefferson Estela, changing the climate for strikes in the Philippines


26 years ago, the Supreme Court recognized the doctrine of intergenerational responsibility, which states that future generations have the right to a balanced and healthful ecology. Today, the future has arrived and is fighting for their world.

Jefferson Estela, a 21-year-old architecture student, joined this fight after the onslaught of super-typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban. While volunteering for an architectural firm, he realized the value of his field in designing and building resilient structures for vulnerable communities. However, he also saw an issue that needed to be addressed.

“It’s not enough to do these things because it should also coincide with informing these communities about why these disasters happen and why we need to protect the environment,” he said. 

The anatomy of a strike

Inspired by the actions of Greta Thunberg and other climate youth strikers worldwide, Estela and 4 other youth leaders convened in late 2018 to bring the movement to the Philippines. However, the group had to deal with the negative public perception of strikes in the country.

“In the Philippines, when we say strike or rally, it has a bad connotation. We have this backwards thinking that rallies are bad, while in other countries, people are joining because it’s their way of saying there’s something wrong with the governance in their areas,” he said.

Estela emphasized the value of strikes in democracy, adding that “It’s a public declaration of pressuring our leaders and institutions to solve this crisis. This is what gives the push forward or follow-through for the government leaders to act.”

Last May 24, more than 1000 participants across 15 cities and towns around the Philippines joined the first nationwide youth climate strike, which Estela co-organized. From Laoag to General Santos, the strikers called for the phase-out of coal and other fossil fuels, a just transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050, and climate justice for indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups, among others.

Per Estela, the strike was successful in conveying its core messages for climate action, which received support from the members of Congress and student leaders around the Philippines. Establishing relationships with the latter, according to him, is necessary for mobilizing more youth. 

“We are building this connection and rapport that student leaders are not just doing advocacy works in the campus. They should be pushing climate-related advocacies for communities,” he added.

However, Estela also acknowledged the difficulty in giving their strike a non-political tone due to both the negative public perception of strikes and the "aggressive" messaging by some of his group’s partners, which he hopes to address in future strikes. 

“When we present it to the people, we need to change our approach because otherwise, it will just be the same people, same peers, same faces that we see every strike. We won’t be able to mobilize the people because they will see it as too aggressive,” he said.

Beyond the strike 

While strikes can help raise awareness on a wider scale, Estela understands the need to go beyond streets and signages to show the urgency of climate action and remove the negative reputation of strikers in the Philippines. 

He is involved in lobbying for legislation for strengthening climate change policies and protecting the welfare of the youth. The Youth Strike for Climate Philippines, as his group is now known, is also organizing a series of learning workshops on climate science and justice, in partnership with student organizations nationwide. This would help in mobilizing more youth for future events and laying the foundation for empowering the leaders of tomorrow in sustainable actions.

This is important, considering the general lack of proper understanding among government officials when it comes to climate change. 

“LGUs still do not understand what climate change is. They are misusing or not utilizing their funds for climate-related projects. How can we trust the government if they themselves do not know what to do?” Estela said.

The group will hold another nationwide strike on September 20, joining thousands worldwide in demanding more urgent climate action. The group will also call for a declaration of a climate emergency across the country, albeit with a catch.

“We cannot declare a climate emergency just for the sake of declaring. If we are going to declare, we make sure people would really act to solve this crisis. We need to make sure they will make solutions to mitigate these problems,” he said. 

Estela hopes that the May climate strike showed to the youth that they have the power to help solve the climate crisis and join his group in September.

“It’s about time for the youth to stand up and act now. We can maximize that force to create positive change. We need to show them the importance of each and every one’s participation since this is about our future,” he said. – Rappler.com 


John Leo Algo is the Program Manager of Climate Action for Sustainability Initiative (KASALI) and Science Policy Advisor of Living Laudato Si Philippines. He earned his MS Atmospheric Science degree at the Ateneo de Manila University. 

Class divide: Filipinos slam MMDA for ‘anti-poor’ EDSA policy


MANILA, Philippines – Were you stuck in traffic today? You're not alone, as Filipinos took to social media to slam the attempts of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to ease Manila's traffic congestion.

On Wednesday, August 7, netizen Karl Mercado posted a photo on his Facebook account, showing the traffic situation along EDSA due to MMDA’s yellow lane policy, which allows buses to use only the two outermost lanes in EDSA. The policy has resulted in traffic gridlocks, affecting mostly city buses.

Mercado’s photo, which circulated soon after it was uploaded, showed the city bus gridlock, barely moving, and extending to an end hardly in sight – in stark contrast to the lane for private vehicles, which was almost empty, except for a traffic enforcer’s motorcycle parked comfortably in the middle. 

The traffic situation also coincided with the dry run of MMDA's controversial provincial bus ban along EDSA, which pushed through despite a Quezon City court's preliminary injunction against the policy last week. 

Pointing out how MMDA's solutions to the traffic only seemed to worsen it, netizens expressed their outrage over MMDA's overt lack of consideration to Filipinos who take public transport on a daily basis.

For many netizens, one need not take a hard look at the photo to see what the policy really is about and who the policy is for: the line drawn between the rich and the poor has never been so apparent.

Noting the clear disparity between the lanes for buses and private cars, netizens lamented how the "anti-poor" policy doesn't prioritize the needs of commuters. 

This is not the first time the MMDA has been labeled as “anti-poor” for its policies. The provincial bus ban, especially, inconveniences the commuters from the provinces more than anyone else.

Many reiterated that most of those who take the buses are workers who cannot afford the convenience of private cars and are left with not much choice other than public transport. 

Netizens lamented how MMDA's policies seem to prioritize the comfort of the rich at the expense of the poor.

Some also suggested regulating private vehicles as well, instead of burdening only the commuters.

5-minute travel time? Sure, if you got a car

In March and June this year, President Rodrigo Duterte promised to reduce the Cubao-Makati drive to 5 minutes. (READ: DPWH claims 5-minute Cubao to Makati drive 'possible' by December)

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Duterte are not entirely wrong, though. Judging from EDSA’s holiday-like situation for private vehicles, netizens think that the 5-minute drive does seem probable…if you have a car.

Commuters, however, might take a longer time, with some netizens pointing out how the travel might take as long as 5 hours due to the intense traffic. 

At the expense of the poor

Meanwhile, some who got caught in the gridlock shared their horrendous commute experience, with others being stuck in traffic for more than 3 hours.

The Duterte administration has long promised to ease the metro traffic. But with policies that harm the less privileged, which comprises a good fraction of the urban population, the people beg the question: will the administration prioritize the welfare of the masses? – Rappler.com

IN PHOTOS: Ormoc City kicks off 3rd nationwide earthquake drill for 2019


PREPARED. The Abuyog Community College in Leyte participates in the 3rd quarter nationwide simultaneous earthquake drill headed by the Abuyog MDRRMO at the ACC ground on Thursday, August 8. Photo by Jessica Alvero/ Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Kicking off a series of simulation exercises across the Philippines, Ormoc City in Leyte led the 3rd quarter nationwide simultaneous earthquake drill (NSED) for 2019 on Thursday, August 8.

The 3rd quarter NSED in Ormoc City simulated the impact of a magnitude 7.2 earthquake with the epicenter along the Leyte segment of the Philippine Fault Line, somewhere between Albuera and Burauen areas, in its sports complex.

In July 2017, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake rocked Leyte, affecting 4,130 families, injuring 493 persons, and resulting in 3 deaths due to its impact. It also incurred more than P220 million worth of damage in Leyte, according to a situational report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

Leyte was also the hardest hit when Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck in November 2013, bringing torrential rains and storm surges. Yolanda left 6,300 people dead and 1,062 others missing. (READ: IN NUMBERS: 3 years after Super Typhoon Yolanda)

According to Supervising Science Research Specialist Jeffrey Perez, the NSED earthquake simulation in Ormoc City is an effort to prepare Leyte for an earthquake of the same magnitude which is set to happen sometime in the future.

Mas malakas pa siya kaysa noong 2017 (This is stronger than the one in 2017). This exercise is a good practice for us not only in Ormoc City but for the whole region 8,” Perez said.

Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez added how the timely conduct of the NSED in Ormoc City helps Leyte assess the capability of its disaster risk reduction and management offices when faced with the looming earthquake.

This is very good not just for us but also to show the whole Philippines na kailangan at importante itong mga earthquake drills na ganito. Napakalaking tulong nito sa atin because we will never know when this earthquake is going to hit us,” added Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez.

(This is very good not just for us but also to show the whole Philippines that earthquake drills like these are needed and important. It’s a big help to us because we will never know when this earthquake is going to hit us.)

The NSED is a quarterly drill that seeks to improve local communities’ preparedness for disaster management and promote disaster awareness. It’s also done to evaluate the effectiveness of the local governments' contingency plans and protocols in relation to earthquake scenarios and other similar events. 

So far, the nationwide simultaneous earthquake drills done in 2019 have been kicked off in Iloilo City and Agusan del Sur.

As part of the 3rd nationwide simultaneous earthquake drill, government employees, students, teachers, and police officers from various city and municipal stations held their own simulation exercises to better prepare their communities. 

Below are some scenes of the earthquake drills done across the Philippines:

Ormoc City, Leyte

ACLC College of Ormoc. Photo from ACLC College of Ormoc's Facebook page

ACLC College of Ormoc. Photo from ACLC College of Ormoc's Facebook page


ACLC College of Ormoc. Photo from ACLC College of Ormoc's Facebook page

Abuyog, Leyte

Abuyog Community College. Photo by Jessica Alvero/Rappler

Abuyog Community College. Photo by Jessica Alvero/Rappler

Abuyog Community College. Photo by Jessica Alvero/Rappler

Ditale, Aurora

Ditale, Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Jeffrey Pedroza

Ditale, Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Jeffrey Pedroza

Ditale, Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Jeffrey Pedroza

Ditale, Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Jeffrey Pedroza

Boliney, Abra

Ditale, Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Jeffrey Pedroza

Ditale, Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Jeffrey Pedroza

Cagayan Valley

RJDAMA Christian Academy Inc. in Centro Sta Ana, Cagayan Valley. Photo by Bebz Gadot

Lucban, Quezon

Barangay 7 in Lucban, Quezon. Photo by Kath Omlas

Barangay 7 in Lucban, Quezon. Photo by Kath Omlas

Barangay 7 in Lucban, Quezon. Photo by Kath Omlas

Barangay 7 in Lucban, Quezon. Photo by Kath Omlas


Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. Photo from Red Cross Youth MSU-IIT Council

Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. Photo from Red Cross Youth MSU-IIT Council

Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. Photo from Red Cross Youth MSU-IIT Council

Nueva Ecija

Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology- Sumacab Campus. Photo from NEUST University Student Government

Tagaytay City

Days Hotel in Tagaytay City. Photo by Sixto Caisip Jr.

Days Hotel in Tagaytay City. Photo by Sixto Caisip Jr.

Days Hotel in Tagaytay City. Photo by Sixto Caisip Jr.

Days Hotel in Tagaytay City. Photo by Sixto Caisip Jr.

– Rappler.com

[OPINION] Unsent letter from a person living with HIV to his mom


Dear Mom,

You don’t know, and it breaks my heart that I can’t allow you yet to love me more because I might scare you. Do you remember one time I got terribly sick, quivering with cold sweats? You woke up and whispered, “Stop doing that. You are scaring me.” You are so brave.

One Saturday morning I went to an HIV hub and got myself tested out of curiosity. That the rapid increase of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) cases among males here made me anxious, but knowledge is more empowering, I thought.  

I was confused when the counselor told me I got a reactive status. I hadn’t shown any terrible symptoms we saw on some sensationalist dramas. My awareness on HIV and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is thorough. Most of all, I have never remembered a recent unprotected sexual encounter, except for my ex-boyfriend who is HIV-negative, and a very few guys 10 years ago.

I couldn’t help but ask, “Sir J, when shall I die? Can I join you for lunch?”

Sir J sighed and said my imagination on HIV being a death sentence is far from what’s really happening.

The 3 of us ate at the nearest eatery. With their low voices, they told me to think of my next phase as a form of self-care, not as a survival mechanism. When we’re done, Sir J offered to pay the bill for us.

My dark, self-deprecating humor set in, so I said, “You won’t let me pay my meal and my fare because I will die soon.” They didn’t laugh.

Mom, that day was overwhelming for me that I went back to the hub and joked to them about how my life was a wreck: that I might be fired from my job; that my ex-boyfriend whom I still love might stop talking to me once I disclose this to him; that my virus will sever my dreams of going abroad, my wish to be a triathlete, and my quest to find someone who will love me.

Sir J and Ma’am A reassured me that people living with HIV now are leading healthier lives, and my overthinking isn’t helping me. Besides, even if the test is very accurate, the confirmatory result from the laboratory can only declare my being HIV-positive.

Sir J stalked my Facebook account and came across your picture with dad. You took me back to childhood, Mom, and suddenly I wailed and hyperventilated, my face buried on Sir J’s shirt.

He embraced me, told me it’s okay, and said, “Do you want to know a secret? I have the virus too. But now I’m undetectable.” He showed to me the bottle of antiretroviral (ARV) pills inside his bag.

I held his hand and thanked him for letting me know I am not alone, but he needed to leave me to attend to some clients. I just needed to cry it all out and compose myself so you wouldn’t see a trace of pain as I arrived home.

My ex-boyfriend once visited our house, but you knew him as my friend. We lasted for many years, in spite of me being away from him and being a cheat. You sometimes ask where he works now, because of all my friends who had dropped by my house, he hadn’t come back. I assure you he is by far the kindest, most tender, most fragrant person I know. And I will not replace him as my best friend.

Against my peer counselors’ advice (they told me it’s safer that I would only tell this to one person, and that’s you), I told him everything. I joined him in the hub where I was tested, because the one nearest to him was reported to have rumor-mongering counselors.

He tested negative, Mom. He had moved on with someone else too.

We hadn’t talked since and I felt pushed away, but to be seen by him was my greatest privilege.

One Sunday morning, I saw Sir L, one of the peer counselors in the hub. He said he only had two hours of sleep because of his schedule. He paused and said, “By the way, the laboratory sent us your confirmatory results already.”

“So HIV-positive, huh?” I expected for the worst, but wished for him to say another.

He nodded.

“Can I see the paper tomorrow?” I had no plans on knowing my body was in shambles. I just wanted to sound unaffected.

“Sure.” He offered me water and bread, but I refused and walked home.

The new reality was something I can’t handle, so I went home not meeting your eyes. I sulked in my room the entire day, both lightheaded and wanting to vomit.

The walls of my room separated your oblivion from my depression, Mom. It’s a dark place in here. It’s embarrassing to admit I had often thought of ending myself. I had known abandonment too well, and I had known debilitating isolation too.

With all the precarities I had grown, I never claimed to dare greatly at this. But it sometimes surprises me to not betray myself by choosing courage.

You would’ve been proud if you knew my first essay on HIV had saved lives and forged strong bonds among HIV-positives, and even HIV-negatives who have nonetheless suffered almost the same sadness as mine. We both could have drowned in the anonymous display of love and prayers my new friends had offered.

The world has its way of surprising me too. I see how nourishing the world is when I wake up without discomfort from flu. I see beauty on the sidewalk when a blind street musician continues playing with a friend assisting him. I see hope with every news on HIV research. I see self-worth as I share my insights to my friends, bright-eyed and nodding.

I can’t wait to be ready to tell everything to you, Mom. I’m excited to tell you what I have read on one AIDS survivor with only one CD4 count but is now healthy because of effective treatment. I’d be clear on explaining to you what it means to be undetectable, and I'm leaning towards that.

I didn't wait for a year to be an HIV activist, because in one way or another, I had advanced the cause through writing. I would like you to visit the hub and get to know the people who have helped me cope with the disease.

Despite all these favors, I can’t promise to get any better. There are still times I shrink and hurt myself. But I believe I am enough, Mom, and that’s enough.


Your son

The author’s email address is fearlesslypositive2019@gmail.com. He is 25 years old, takes his antiretroviral drug daily, and champions for public health. The author has requested that his identity not be revealed.

[OPINION] We are young and we choose to fight back


After declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorist organizations last year, the Philippine government is now going after youth organizations. They are brandishing terror to families and their children, taking the spotlight in “reuniting families” when they are the ones destroying it.

On August 7, Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa vowed to “clamp down” on all leftist groups recruiting minors to be part of their activities and as members and fighters. They narrowed this down to Anakbayan, League of Filipino Students and Kabataan Party list.

Dela Rosa now chairs the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs. It is not only ironic but is also utterly disgusting and downright preposterous.

In his words, minors joining so-called leftist groups are worse than drug addicts.  Dela Rosa  says that drug addicts can be rehabilitated. Is he just a complete idiot or do the Filipino people need to remind him that he is the architect behind the death of more than 30,000 lives?

Dela Rosa says that he wants “to know the real score in order to ferret out the truth.” Well here’s the truth: the tyrannical and murderous regime is the one creating its enemies. The real score is in the blood on your hands.

The military and the police preyed upon problems faced between youth activists and their families. While these are serious concerns, they ensured that this will prosper and develop following President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 in 2018 establishing a whole of nation approach in ending the local communist armed conflict through a national task force.

 We will never forget the names Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan, and their mothers Concepcion and Erlinda, who fought for their daughters until the end. Army officials were found guilty of kidnapping and serious illegal detention over the two students' enforced disappearance. Karen and Sherlyn were also accused as members of the CPP. This government tore their families and they didn’t even have an ounce of regret.

We also need to retell the story of Mark Welson Chua’s murder by his fellow cadet officers which sprung from the mercenary traditions of the Philippine military taught under the Reserve Officers’ Training Program. 

From these instances, it is clear that the police and the military are not interested in reuniting Filipino families. It is clear that they are the ones destroying it. They are digging deep for their reputation that can never be found. They were tasked to control the insurgencies but hasn’t won a single war against the NPA and foreign nations posing external threats like China.

 Of course, Dela Rosa will support intensified visits of the Philippine National Police (PNP)  and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in schools and universities. Regular monitoring and military and police presence in schools and universities will lead to heightened attacks against the democratic rights of students. This is a no-brainer. For him, protecting them means outright suppression to stifle the ever-strengthening patriotic movement of the youth. 

In October 2018, the military through AFP assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Brigadier General Antonio Parlade released a list of universities where the CPP-NPA allegedly recruits students. They paraded their imbecility by including the non-existent Caloocan City College and failing to provide evidence. 

Just this July, two youth volunteers from Katipunan ng Samahang Magbubukid ng Timog Katagalugan and National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates Youth were abducted by elements of the 76th Infantry Battalion.

Nadaline Fabon and Ray Malaborbor were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives and are currently detained at Sta. Cruz Police Station in Laguna. Fabon and Malaborbor were helping peasants in Occidental Mindoro as a state of calamity was declared in the area because of drought.

What needs to be addressed is why thousands and thousands of youth find the path of activism justified. But the military, the police, and the government will never address this because they are the purveyor of the economic and human rights crisis in the country. 

They waged war against the poor and claimed thousands of innocent lives, they reformed the tax law and put the burden to millions of low earning families. They cry for nationalism but do not have the courage to defend our patrimony and sovereignty. They are the ones stealing hectares of land from farmers and indigenous people, selling it to foreign corporations.

This is why the youth’s patriotism will never be quelled for we continue to embrace the struggle of workers, peasants and other sectors of the society. Outside learning institutions, we have learned to relate our struggle to the struggle of the exploited masses, especially the workers and peasants.

And through time we have made the streets, factories, farmlands, and organizations devoted to a patriotic and democratic cause our sanctuary and a place for learning. This is something that Dela Rosa and this fascist government can never take away from the youth.

The Duterte regime needs incessant reminding that rebellion and resistance are in the Filipino people’s DNA. It is not the critical mass that encourages rebellion, it is this government and its inability to solve basic problems like hunger and employment that pushes people to tread the armed revolution—a reality demonized by those in power perpetuating a corrupt, murderous and poverty-plagued society. – Rappler.com

Daryl Angelo Baybado is a graduate of Journalism from the University of Santo Tomas (UST). He was a former Associate Editor of The Varsitarian, UST's official student publication. He is currently the National President of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, the broadest and oldest alliance of student publications in South East Asia. 

After MMDA’s faulty policy, netizens suggest ‘solutions’ to Metro Manila traffic


MANILA, Philippines – What the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) initially thought was a solution to ease traffic congestion, the Filipino commuters have experienced otherwise. 

On Wednesday, August 7, MMDA’s yellow lane policy, which allowed buses to use only the two outermost lanes in EDSA has gained traction online as the policy only resulted in traffic gridlocks, affecting mostly city buses.  (READ: Class divide: Filipinos slam MMDA for ‘anti-poor’ EDSA policy

Pointing out this policy implemented by MMDA was merely a ‘trial and error’, netizen Diomedes Racelis cited the need for a scientific data that would serve as a basis in enforcing policies and use of computer models to determine optimum traffic schemes. 

Facebook user Benj Ligot also insisted that those whose expertise were anchored on the scientific approach for traffic management should be offered the job. 

Limit private cars 

MMDA also wanted to implement the controversial provincial bus ban to which netizens previously considered “anti-poor and anti-commuter.” In fact, the dry run of the said ban along EDSA, which pushed through despite a Quezon City court's preliminary injunction also added to the commuters' struggle. 

Netizens also emphasized that the problem was not on the number of buses but the volume of private cars. 

“Bakit di nila subukan ang ‘Odd/Even scheme’ sa private cars only sa Edsa? (Why not try the odd/ even scheme for private cars in EDSA)” said Facebook user Jimmy Nueca.  

Banning private cars in EDSA on a designated time, cleaning up alternate routes or side streets so private cars can use it instead were among the suggestions made by other netizens. This is to give way for buses to take more lanes especially during rush hour. 

Proper implementation

Another Facebook user also pointed out that “enforcement of proper loading & unloading area should be observed by educating the people and the traffic engineers as well.”  

Moreover, netizen Cocoi Base also noted other suggestions that could solve the traffic woes in Metro Manila such as the implementation of rapid bus transit systems.

“We can just add more trains so each MRT and LRT station can just have a 2-5-minute intervals between rides to avoid long queue and crowded stations; we can also explore on utilizing our waterways for alternative transportation - as some basic achievable part of the solution,” Base stressed. 

He also mentioned that for a long-term solution, it would also be a good idea to “consult urban planners and designers in making our cities more livable - from decongesting, rethinking of zoning, to pedestrian-friendly planning, etc.” 

Here are other suggestions from netizens:





 – Rappler.com 

[OPINION] Constructing a Muslim identity in a predominantly Christian society



I grew up Christian

Unlike a lot of students who "lose" their faith and become skeptical of organized religion as they step foot in University of the Philippines-Diliman, it was in UP that I fully committed to converting to Islam.

Actually, "converting" is not the proper word for embracing Islam as a previous adherent of another religion. We Muslims believe that everyone, regardless of race or nationality, is born a Muslim, but that we come to adopt any religion or faith that is predominant in the society or community to which we are born. So Christianity was a religion that was, for all intents and purposes, forced upon me. That's why "reverting" to Islam as a faith and a way of life was something that I chose for myself. I started reading about it long before my decision, but it was only about 5 years ago that I felt the freedom to choose a religion that was going to lead my way moving forward.

Since I am not Muslim by birth, and I only proclaimed my "shahada" in 2014, I have been taking slow, tentative baby steps in learning my new faith little by little. For some weird metaphysical reason or another, it just appealed to my curiosity, and I was fascinated with the finer points of the religious traditions and habits that a Muslim should follow. Needless to say, have embraced the Pillars of the Faith, including prayers and keeping other religious obligations such as abstaining from food and drink that is considered "haram."

My first years as a new Muslim were definitely tough. I was previously unaware of how difficult life was as a Muslim, because it was a struggle that I could not relate to as a Christian. However, upon converting, I was confronted by many issues such as the lack of public prayer spaces. Often, mushallahs or prayer rooms in public establishments are hidden in embarrassing, dark corners or moth-eaten nooks, such as a dead end in a shopping mall hallway or a quiet corner at the end of a row of cell phone repair stalls. Keeping with the commandment to pray at prescribed times was definitely a struggle, and I often found myself in cramped department store dressing rooms because I initially tried to pray and stick to the ever-changing schedule of the 5 daily prayers. I just gave up in the end, and consolidated my prayers at home every evening. This is in great contrast to the ubiquity of prayer rooms and mosques in other countries. Speaking of mosques, the only mosques in the city are dilapidated and run-down; again, a great contrast to the beautiful and well-maintained churches that are located all over Metro Manila.

Another aspect of Muslim life that is made difficult by the lack of provisions is sticking to the halal diet. Actually, unless you buy in select butchers and meat sellers in specialty halal stores, most Muslims in Manila are resigned to buying supermarket meats that are not completely halal. Most Muslims prefer to eat meats that were slaughtered with the halal method, but because of the lack of readily available halal meat options, most of us would just shrug and say, "Well, as long as it's not pork. Similarly, there are limited dining options for those who are strict on halal restrictions, as deeply devout Muslims would not dare venture into restaurants that also serve pork, fearing cross contamination through vessels, utensils, and serveware that also come into contact with food that is prepared with non-halal ingredients.

To other Filipinos, these concerns are not even a blip on their radar and most of our countrymen are blatantly unaware of these struggles. That is mostly why most Muslims like to keep together in tight-knit communities, where they could access halal food and prayer facilities, among many others logistical concerns.

It has become my advocacy to spread more awareness about these issues. One of the biggest reasons why Filipino Muslims are so disenfranchised and so disregarded in the Philippines is primarily because a lot of people don’t even know some of the basic principles of Islam. There’s a lot of bigotry, hatred, and biases that have permeated our people’s culture, breeding animosity towards a minority that has been fraught with violence, outright war, and displacement. As a Muslim convert, part of my advocacy is to bridge this gap and provide even just the most fundamental knowledge about how our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters live amongst us: In plain sight but hidden under a veil of mystery and misunderstanding. 

As a Muslim convert, one of the ways in which I immersed in the culture was by discovering Quiapo and imbibing in its culture. It was an educational experience for me, getting to know my new brethren in the faith, and it is my hope that the same process will be instrumental in bringing about more awareness and appreciation for the faith. In line with my work as a tour guide in Manila, I organized a tour that alllowed people to acquaint themselves with Islam and its fundamental teachings. I discuss the struggles of Muslim Filipinos with the goal of spreading more awareness, and with the hope of influencing change. – Rappler.com

Nonito Cabrera is a guide for walking tours in Quiapo and Intramuros. He will soon be joining the Department of Foreign Affairs as a Foreign Service Officer, having recently passed the FSO exam.


[OPINION] 'Ikaw ang unang Muslim na nakilala ko'


If you were to ask a Muslim to share his or her experience living in a predominantly non-Muslim community, you would often hear stories of difficulty assimilating to the local culture or experiences of constantly explaining the norms and practices common to the Muslim population. Mine is a bit far from that. 

Born and raised in Metro Manila to a Muslim father and a Muslim-convert mother, I was given early on the opportunity to be surrounded by relatives who have diverse sets of belief. Growing up, I did not feel the need to adapt to certain cultural norms because being different from the majority seemed normal and being unique is valued.

My parents who are active participants of interfaith dialogues would often let me and my siblings tag along to their engagements. That allowed us to have playmates who were Christian, Hare Krishna, Buddhist, Hindu, among other faiths. The constant exposure to diversity helped us appreciate the uniqueness of every individual – and that what matters in any human interaction is the mutual respect we can offer to one another.

All along I had no problems expressing and practicing my faith as the basic teachings of Islam were deeply inculcated in us. That was until news broke out in 2005 that some members of the terror group Abu Sayyaf (ASG) were trying to escape Camp Bagong Diwa.

Our school being near the camp, classes were cut short. The day after everything was settled, one of my classmates looked at me as if I did something wrong and that I owed him an explanation. He then repeatedly called me "terrorist." To my surprise, the only response I came up with were tears that would not seem to stop. I could not believe that a girl roughly 13 years of age would be considered a threat.

I know I am not guilty of harming anyone, but the motivation to change people's tendency to paint a group of people with the same brush grew on me. From then on, I promised myself to try my best to never misrepresent my religion in ways that would result in this stereotyping.  

In college, I stayed in a dormitory occupied by people from across the country. Each of us there had our own distinct religious conviction, but that didn’t stop us from observing our spiritual obligations. In fact, praying my evening prayer became a go-signal for my dormmates to perform their novena. During the month of Ramadan, they also wouldn’t eat dinner unless it was time for me to eat. For them, it was simply dinner but for me, it was actually iftar or the breaking of the fast. This chapter in my life restored my faith that humanity can co-exist amid our differences.

Now, I’m a community worker who often goes to different places to implement programs and activities that benefit the less privileged members of the community. There are moments when non-Muslim beneficiaries would come to me and say, “Ikaw ang unang Muslim na nakilala ko” (You're the first Muslim I've ever met) or “Mababait din pala ang mga Muslim.” (I realize Muslims are actually kind.) 

I know some people do not intend to stereotype; rather, they were conditioned to think of people who do not belong to their group only in a certain way. On the other hand, the Muslims from the community would sigh in relief, saying, “Pwede rin palang tayo ang nagbibigay." (It's actually possible for us to be the donors this time.) These expressions of disbelief and relief made me think that a change in mindset would mean a lot to us who are continually shown in a negative light.

As an archipelago of more than 7000 islands with more than 170 languages and diverse sets of belief systems, I am positive that we can become a nation that can rise beyond the idea that we should all be similar, and that we need to change those who do not fit our standards. Rather, we should recognize, appreciate, and respect the innate diversity within our borders and use that to our advantage to live harmoniously, because it is possible.– Rappler.com

Jannah Basman is a Muslim community development worker who traces her roots back to Pangasinan and Marawi City. She has been speaking in various interfaith dialogues here and abroad to share her experience as a Muslim living in a heterogeneous society.

[OPINION] A young Muslim's notes from Manila


It was June 2015. A crystal-blue sky hovered above me as I inched in a taxi through EDSA’s legendary traffic.

It was my first time to work in Manila.

I was both excited and nervous at the same time. I was hired to teach at a prestigious private school in San Juan, and as such, felt the challenge of meeting great expectations in my first year of teaching.

The possibility of working at an international school meant that I would get the opportunity to meet people of many faiths and cultures throughout the school year. I wondered how people would view me as a person. Would they accept me as a co-worker? Would they view me as the “other”?

As my imagination slowly drifted, a conversation between my ate and a random taxi driver came to mind.

Taga saan po kayo, madam?” (Where do you come from, miss?)

Taga Zamboanga po.” (I come from Zamboanga City.)

Muslim po kayo?” (Are you a Muslim?)

Opo, Muslim po ako.” (Yes, I am a Muslim.)

Maam, di naman po kayo nakakatakot, ‘di ba?” (Miss, you're not scary at all, are you?)

My sister, who is an administrative assistant at a multinational development company in Papua New Guinea, just laughed at the remark. After all, how could she think of harming her own compatriots, when her family comes from a long tradition of civil servants who served the city?

This point of view may have been reduced over time, but I know for a fact that many people in Manila still consider Zamboanga to be a dangerous place due to the various kidnappings, bombings, and security incidents during the past few years.

My father is a Muslim, while my mother is a devout Roman Catholic. I am lucky to have come from a family who values pluralism and progressive ideas; as such, I did not have any problems mingling with people of various creeds and ethnicities in my day-to-day life. As a kid, my parents taught me the importance of respecting different religions and having an open mind.

My co-workers ask about why Muslims fast for 30 days in a year, or why we slaughter animals for the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid’l Adha). We sometimes eat iftar (evening meals) together. I feel lucky to work in a company where there is goodwill and harmony between believers of distinct faiths.

Being a Muslim in Manila can make for a very interesting experience. Between people’s perceptions of Muslims and the difficulty of obtaining halal food outside our homes, there are quite a number of challenges that I personally faced during my first few years here in the capital.

I once went to an upscale chain restaurant in Greenhills in order to try a chicken barbecue dish.

When I asked whether pork and chicken dishes were prepared separately, the manager asked in response:

Muslim po ba kayo?” (Are you a Muslim?)

Just a couple of years ago, one would be hard-pressed to find halal restaurants and goods here in Manila. As a result, eating outside was not an easy task; I would have to ask managers whether it was possible to consume a dish (i.e. if it was chicken, fish, etc.), let alone if it were halal.

At the time, even the establishments that served halal food did not necessarily display their certificates unless the customer asked for it.

As a result, my friends and I opted to buy food and cook it at home instead. Of course, there were times when this was not simply feasible; we were all working professionals.

However, I saw a lot of improvements over the past few years.

I can see that people are more tolerant and are actively supportive of inter-faith dialogue. 

At the same time, there are a lot of suitable food items available, and the government is leading initiatives for Muslims in the country, such as supporting halal trade and promoting multiculturalism in Mindanao, among others. In addition, restaurants post notices which state that pork and other dishes are prepared separately. Furthermore, there are even restaurants that proudly display that they serve halal food.

Most importantly, people are free to practice their respective religions: Greenhills Shopping Center contains a parish and a mosque in the same complex. There are more business establishments that open up rooms for worship and even allow employees to take a break for the Friday congregational prayers at noon.

Sometimes, one just has to listen in order to foster understanding, for this the only way to build peace and harmony. No good would ever come from bigotry and violence.

This is the plain truth: There is no other way. – Rappler.com


Earl Carlo Guevarra, 25, is a teacher of English at an international school in San Juan City. When he’s not teaching writing or grammar, he likes to drink fruit shakes and dabble in poetry.

Groups to QC gov't: Enforce anti-discrimination ordinance


MANILA, Philippines – In a twist of irony, transgender woman Gretchen Custodio Diez was discriminated from using a woman's restroom in a city that passed an ordinance preventing incidents exactly like this

This was pointed out by various groups and non-governmental organizations that condemned the harassment against Diez in a Cubao mall on Tuesday, August 13. 

Her arrest has triggered public outcry and calls for change not only from politicians but also from businesses alike. (READ: Trans woman Geraldine Diez: I didn't think I'd be treated like a criminal)

In a statement, Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce urged Philippine companies to create safe spaces for the lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and queer community (LGBTQ+).  

"As many businesses worldwide are now realizing, promoting diversity and inclusion is not only (and fundamentally) an act of compassion and empathy, but also good business practice," the group said.

'Enforce the ordinance'

But beyond creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ in businesses, Diez said that "it's about time that ordinances that we want to implement are not just on paper or just on social media, but felt."

Quezon City is known to have one of the most progressive anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination ordinance, tracing its approval way back to 2003. Since then, several local government units have followed Quezon City's lead and passed their own local versions of the ordinance. 

The incident, however, raised doubts over the proper enforcement of the ordinance. 

"We call on the Quezon City government to enforce its Anti-Discrimination Ordinance to its full power to safeguard the right of everyone against any and every form of discrimination, including those on the bases of one's  SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics)," the Philippie Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY) said in a statement posted on Facebook.   

"This is an apparent violation of the local Anti-Discrimination Ordinance of Quezon City, stating that it is illegal for business establishments to discriminate people based on their SOGIE," PNU Katolonon, a student organization based at the Philippine Normal University, echoed in another statement. 

According to Open Table Metropolitan Community Church (Open Table MCC), a group that identifies itself as a progressive and ecumenical Christian Church, what Diez "experienced was one of many and daily forms of harassment and discrimination that many transgender persons experience in the Philippines."

Responding to the incident and these calls, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte already condemned the discrimination incident and said that the Farmer's Market mall in Cubao, Quezon City violated the city's ordinance. 

Belmonte assured that the Quezon City Business Permit and Licensing Department (BPLD) will check all establishments' compliance with the ordinance.

"We assure the members of the LGBT+ community that Quezon City will always protect their rights and be a home for their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. We do not support any kind of violence and discrimination in our city," Belmonte added.

'Pass the bill'

Beyond strengthening the enforcement of the local ordinance, the groups also agreed that the incident proved the need to pass the SOGIE Equality Law. 

The Philippines is known to be one of the more tolerant countries in the world to the LGBTQ+ community, but it has yet to pass a bill prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression

"We call the attention of our legislators to recognize the urgency of passing the SOGIE Equality Bill. We will not be silenced while various cases of discrimination continue to happen all over the country," PANTAY said. 

Geraldine Roman, the first transgender woman elected to the House of Representatives, vowed that there would be a probe into the discrimination incident. On the other hand, Senator Risa Hontiveros, who sent one of her lawyers to assist Diez, also renewed her call to pass the SOGIE equality bill 

"For those who say that we donot need a SOGIE Equality Law because LGBTQ+ people are accepted in the Philippines.... LGBTQ+ persons face harassment and discrimination every day. This must stop!" Hontiveros said in a mix of English and Filipino across her accounts. 

For so long, the LGBTQ+ community in the Philippines has lobbied for the passing of an anti-discrimination bill. The legislation can be traced back to 1995 when congressman Rey Calalay filed a bill proposing to recognize the "third sex" as a sector. – Rappler.com 

#SOGIEEqualityNow: Transgender restroom issue sparks call for passage of SOGIE bill


MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos online called for the passage of the anti-discrimination bill following the the arrest of transgender woman Gretchen Custodio Diez, who was prevented from using the women's restroom in a Cubao mall in Quezon City on Tuesday, August 13. 

The hashtag #SOGIEEqualityNow was among Twitter's Philippine trending topics early morning Wednesday, August 14, as netizens urged lawmakers to push for the sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE) equality bill. 

The SOGIE bill seeks to protect the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community from discriminatory acts.

For some Twitter users, what happened to Diez is not an isolated case. They stressed that this will continue to happen without a law protecting the LGBTQ+ community. Others believe that what happened to Diez all the more intensifies the need for the immediate passage of the SOGIE bill. 


LGBTQ+ advocates have been lobbying for the enactment of the anti-discrimination bill for more than two decades already. It was debated over for 3 years by the 17th Congress only to go back to square one when the same Congress failed to pass it. 

Fighting for gender equality 

Diez eventually walked free after the janitress who prevented her from entering the restroom decided to drop her complaint. The janitress, in a written letter to Diez, apologized and said she was "willing to learn LGBT rights." 

Other netizens said that the passage of the SOGIE bill isn't enough, that there is also a need to focus on educating people about gender equality. 


Marketing strategy? 

Netizens also slammed the management of Araneta Center, where the mall is located, for not teaching their employees the right way to treat the LGBTQ+. The mall issued a public apology to Diez. 

"We would like to apologize to Ms. Diez for the treatment she has received from a member of the cleaning crew. We also would like to extend the apology not just to the LGBTQ+ community but to the public in general for the actions of said crew member," Morriel Abogado, the property general manager of Farmers Plaza mall, said in a statement.


Netizens also posted a throwback photo of Araneta Center's rainbow pedestrian lane and other rainbow structures painted in honor of Pride Month last June. They pointed out that Araneta's support for the LGBTQ+ community was only a marketing strategy, done for clout. 


Here's what other netizens had to say: 

Do you think the SOGIE bill will be passed anytime soon?  Rappler.com 

EXPLAINER: What you need to know about SOGIE Part 2


MANILA, Philippines – Paminta? Kingkong Barbie? Butch? Femme? Queer?

In part 1 of our two-part explainer video, we discussed the elements of SOGIE by way of the Genderbread Person. (WATCH: What you need to know about SOGIE)

So why do most people still get confused?

While a person cannot help but be born with the sex organs he or she was born with, a person's gender does not exactly depend on that. Gender can be influenced by upbringing, cultural influences, social norms, and life choices. (READ: Sex, gender and SOGIE)

In this video, we show you how SOGIE can be mixed and matched in so many ways. So the next time you look at someone, don't make assumptions right away. (READ: Gender and Sexuality 101: Learn before you discriminate)

On August 13, for instance, a transgender woman who was prevented from using a woman's restroom in a Cubao mall in Quezon City was arrested. This caused an uproar among LGBTQ+ advocates, and while mall management has apologized, the incident was a clear indication that many Filipinos still grapple with the many layers of gender and sexuality. 

The LGBTQ+ community in the Philippines has lobbied for the enactment of an anti-discrimination bill, but progress has yet to be made. Fortunately, officials such as Senator Risa Hontiveros foresees positive change with regards to this. 

In a statement sent to media, Hontiveros said: "We have gained new allies, we have gathered momentum, we are inspired more than ever to fight and hope. There is a rainbow wave coming."

Hopefully, this video can help equip you with the knowledge to join this wave and fight for gender rights. Remember: There is a genderbread person inside every one of us. – Rappler.com  

LGBTQ+ partylist urges SOGIE awareness after Araneta restroom incident


SOGIE. LGBTQ+ Partylist calls for the passage of the SOGIE equality bill after the arrest of trans woman Gretchen Custodio Diez in a protest on Wednesday, August 14. Photo by Samantha Bagayas/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Should the janitress of the mall who stopped transgender woman Gretchen Custodio Diez from entering the women’s bathroom in a Quezon City mall be fired after the incident?

LGBTQ+ Partylist slammed the notion, pointing out how the incident only showed a need to improve training and education about sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE) in the Philippines during a protest outside Farmers Plaza on Wednesday, August 14.

They added that Araneta Center should be held accountable for the incident and emphasized its role in making public spaces free from discrimination and harassment against LGBTQ+ by providing adequate SOGIE trainings to its employees.

Hindi natin kinokondena si Ate Janitress, kinokondena at gusto natin panagutin ang Araneta management dahil una nga po, nakakagalit po ang pag aresto kay Gretchen Custodio...Lapastangan ito sa karapatang pantao ng ating mga LGBTQ+,” Danmer John de Guzman, the spokesperson of LGBTQ+ Partylist, said.

(We are not condemning the janitress; we’re condemning and holding the Araneta management accountable because firstly, the arrest of Gretchen Custodio is infuriating... This is trampling on the rights of the LGBTQ+.)

The day prior, the janitress of the mall stopped Diez from entering the women’s bathroom, insisting she use the men’s restroom instead. Diez tried to document the harassment. This angered the janitress enough to have Diez arrested.

Farmers Plaza has distanced its mall from the janitress at the center of the issue, Chayra Ganal, who has since then personally apologized for her action.

Ang panawagan natin sa Araneta management: Huwag po natin tanggalin si Ate Janitress. Kung hindi, bigyan ng malawak na pag-unawa at seminar sa isyu ng sexual orientation and gender expression,” De Guzman added.

(Our call to the Araneta management: Don’t fire the janitress. Instead, provide a wider understanding and hold a seminar on the issue of sexual orientation and gender expression.)

LGBTQ+ Partylist chairperson Bing Concepcion stressed that Diez’ arrest in Quezon City, an area which has had a Gender Fair Ordinance since 2014, shows that the ordinance needs to be implemented better to improve SOGIE awareness both in the area and in the Philippines. Businesses and workplaces especially have a role in making their employees more aware about SOGIE.

You are in a hospitality and service business. Dahil kayo, negosyo niyo 'yan, you have to provide proper education and training sa mga tauhan ninyo...2014 pa 'yung ordinansa na ito naipasa, 2019 na po. Lahat tayo kailangan maging aware sa mga pagbabago nangyayari sa ating mga batas,” she said.

(You are in a hospitality and service business. Because it’s your business, you have to provide proper education and training for your employees...the ordinance was passed in 2014, it’s already 2019. We all need to be aware about the changes in our laws.)

Taking off from the incident, LGBTQ+ Partylist echoed calls for the passage of the SOGIE equality bill, which aims to protect people from discriminatory acts.

In the 17th Congress, the House of Representatives passed the SOGIE equality bill on the third and final reading. Its counterpart measure languished in the Senate and did not even make it past the second reading.

They also called on Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte to enforce a stricter implementation of its Gender Fair Ordinance.

Belmonte has since ordered the Quezon City Business Permit and Licensing Department (BPLD) to check the city's establishments' compliance with the ordinance.

Nanawagan na din tayo sa mga kongresista at senador na panahon na ngayon na ipasa ang mas matibay at may pangil na batas. Ito po ang ating panawagan kay Mayor Joy Belmonte, isabatas po lagyan ng pangil ang implementation rules and regulations ng ating gender equality ordinance sa Quezon City,” said De Guzman.

(We remind our congressmen and senators that it’s time to pass a stronger and more effective law. This is our call to Mayor Joy Belmonte, to enforce and give more teeth to the implementation of the rules and regulations of our gender equality ordinance in Quezon City.)

Annie Alejo, the public relations manager of Araneta Center, said that their management conducts trainings for employees on how to treat customers, though they’re not specifically focused on SOGIE.

Hindi pa specific on that pero usually how to treat customers and papasok din kasi doon yun, pati PWDs (persons with disabilities) and the elderly. 'Yung training po namin although hindi specifically sa mga sitwasyon na ganyan, but we do train them to treat people the way we want to be treated...I guess narealize din namin that we still really need to step up,” she said.

(It’s not specifically on that but it’s usually about how to treat customers and PWDs and the elderly also fall under this [training]. Although it’s not specifically for situations like that, we do train them to treat people the way we want to be treated... I guess we realized that we still really need to step up.)

In its statement, the management vowed to “improve” the training of their personnel. – Rappler.com