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Rx: Determined thoughts, good feelings

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SURVIVING CORONAVIRUS. Dr Mary Ruby Palma (wearing a face mask) made a pact with her three hospital roomies that they would stay alive and tell their stories. They called themselves the Delta Force Girls. Photo courtesy of Emmie Velarde

Home after two weeks in the hospital as a COVID-19 patient, Dr Mary Ruby Palma was interviewed by local government health officers about her successful treatment. On top of therapy and medication, she wanted to tell them how she managed her thoughts and feelings throughout the confinement. It was, she believed, crucial to her recovery. But no one asked.

Half of that eventful time in April was spent in one “Room D” at V. Luna General in Quezon City with 3 other women half her age. At 69, Ruby is a published poet and author, a doctor of public administration and a reserve officer of the Philippine Army. She headed the QC Brigade’s civil-military operations under two mayors.

Her roomies were an army nurse, a pediatrician, and a sports journalist. They formed a quick friendship, named the room “Delta Force” and themselves “Delta Force Girls,” and promptly applied themselves to a leave-no-one-behind mission: “To prevail and tell our stories.” (They would all recover.) On Tuesday last week, in “Lusog-Diwa,” a mental health webinar hosted by Brahma Kumaris Philippines, Ruby – first of the 4 to be discharged—told hers. 

She was one of two senior-citizen COVID-19 survivors picked as guests for the Zoom series; the other was Corazon Sandico, 89, former merchandising manager of the family-owned Manila COD Department Store, once Cubao’s most famous landmark.

Dorm room, war room

Ruby described Delta Force: “A dorm room, a sorority room, a war room.” They looked out for each other like sisters, she said, and when necessary, like troops on a battlefield with a clear-cut strategy. The younger women paid special attention to her because if she made it, they figured, they simply had to follow suit.

“Accepting that everything else was beyond our control, we agreed to carefully watch our minds,” said Ruby. Meaning, no thoughts of fear or gloom. “When we were not telling stories of encouragement, we were praying individually or busy with our hands. I started writing a journal.” That journal is now “Diary of a Covid+,” just waiting to be published, her sixth book. As much as it details her physical treatment, it also narrates the acute loneliness that nearly defeated her and how she fought it. 

Though she never got close to intubation, she crossed the line to depression. “I could not eat or get enough sleep. I missed my family terribly although they were always on the phone. In my PUI (person under investigation) stage, I had a whole room to myself but that brought little comfort. I would wake up at 3 am, sure that I had been forgotten. I made lists, including names of people who should be at Holy Mass following my cremation. I had a week of that. One night I heard a man singing ‘Mandy’ in the next room. It was like being reconnected! I started singing along but he suddenly stopped and I felt disconnected again.”

She had her own TV set, which was enough distraction for a while. But soon she was looking out the big windows more often, admiring a small orchard. “It was like seeing mango and star apple trees for the first time!” Infusions of poetry crept into her journal. “Sadness soon melted into the words.”

At this point, Ruby was declared COVID-positive. Curiously, she is convinced that her healing started here. “I was moved to Room D and by that time I was thinking straight, and there I found very positive company in my new friends. For the first time in days, I felt hopeful.”

Seven days later, on Easter Sunday, she was discharged, COVID-free. 

House calls for mom

From the start, eco-fashion advocate Fernandina “Ditta” Sandico, was firm about keeping her mother in the family’s Quezon City home until she was well.

Corazon had herself checked at St. Luke’s QC on April 24 for a chronic throat infection. Back home after a few hours, she announced that she was found with “mild pneumonia.” She also said she had taken a rapid COVID test and that the result was negative. When she didn’t seem to get better after a few days, Ditta called two of her mom’s doctors, who both advised immediate confinement. “Very scared” at this point, Ditta consulted her siblings, but made clear her strong reservations. “For starters, I said, mom could not be left on her own in the hospital at her age.”

Ditta found a physician who had treated several COVID patients and who made house calls! She narrated during the webinar, “I learned he had caught the virus in January, and had medication in stock as well. He took one look at mom and said she was very likely positive. We had mom tested again and the doctor suggested that we immediately give her hydroxychloroquine.”

Ditta and her siblings worried about the drug’s known side effects but saw that they had dwindling options. The day after they agreed to the first dose, the second test result came in. It was positive.

“It was sort of good to know that we were on the right track and possibly one step ahead,” Ditta said. Corazon was put on hydroxycholoquine for 10 days.

STRENGTH. Spouses Fernando and Corazon Sandico at home: Where they pray daily together, they healed together. Photo courtesy of Emmie Velarde

But this hectic chapter in their lives had just started. Corazon’s husband, Fernando Hizon Sandico, 94, was not informed of her condition, since he had health issues of his own and was in fact isolated in another room. The signals were not lost on Ditta.

She recounted: “A good full month before the public health emergency was declared in the country, I had embarked on a juicing regimen—vegetables, mostly malunggay, and fruits—and discovered healing teas made from local herbs. With this new development in the household, I went on overdrive and started everyone on the juicing, including my dad who had developed a bad cough. He was on it for 3 days, 3 times a day. His body reacted to the juices with a bout of diarrhea, which alarmed me. But when we stopped, the cough went away! Instead he caught a cold, and I decided not to push it.”

In a confounding twist, the doctor caught the virus again and had to stop his visits. Then the part-time nurse and one of the help came down with fever. Ditta was flustered. “I thought, this is never ending—everyone is crumbling!” Which she also took to mean that she had to stand her ground. “I could not lose the battle. I had to face it or I would simply end up in tears.” She had the whole household of 14 members, including herself, tested. “It was a miracle; we were all negative!”

On May 22, Ditta posted on Facebook three photographs of Corazon taking in the morning sun in the front yard. The caption read: “Hallelujah! The Lord heard her prayers, as well as yours and mine.”

Parallels and intersections

Webinar panelist Rebecca “Becky” Ortega, a meditation teacher for more than 30 years, pointed out cross points in the parallel tales. “Dr Palma and Mrs Sandico were both infected, but one was treated in a hospital and the other recovered at home. Both grappled with loneliness, and both turned to faith. Nurturing relationships pulled both of them out of the darkness. At their most uncertain, they put the welfare of others ahead of theirs.”

LESSONS LEARNED. Corazon and Ditta, Dr. Mary Ruby Palma, BK Rebecca Ortega, and moderator Juan Luis Pimentel. Screenshot from the 'Lusog-Diwa' webinar

Corazon said she had prayed fervently for “another chance” but only because, “as I told God, I had not finished writing my will. If I died at this time, it would be difficult for my children.”

Her mother had always been a patient person but these past two months had further highlighted that quality, Ditta said. “She did not complain about any part of her treatment—not about the medicines or any physical discomfort.” In the FB post, Ditta said that Corazon, who had lost her appetite, was “delighting” in new recipes coming out of the kitchen.

Ruby and Corazon had pluck and the smarts to start with. Ruby recounted, “I have looked death in the eye 3 times—twice my own, but those were nothing compared to the third, when my eldest child died at age 25.” She insisted that this fortitude was boosted by her commitment to the Delta Force Girls’ solemn mission.

“With them around when my family could not be there, I paid deliberate attention at every step to how I was feeling and what thoughts were creating those feelings,” she said. “I excised the negative with my pen and replaced it with their caring.”

As a concept and guideline, “new normal” does not impress Ruby. “Hygiene, discipline, consideration for others—these are not new, especially not for seniors like me.” What do concern her about the imminent future, are “touch-less” relationships and interactions. “That will never be natural for me, and surely for all human beings. We are a touchy-feely species. Every single day I long to embrace my little grandson.”

Becky noted that time and technology had surely helped man devise many other ways to “touch” loved ones. Corazon just might support this viewpoint. She recently got to walk all the way to Fernando’s door.  He called out and asked her to come in so they could pray the rosary together. She did not hesitate. Ditta was conflicted about that. “Clearly, my dad missed her very much.  But I could not help reminding her to take extra care against any new infection.”

She said her mother had fixed her with such a quizzical stare that she ended up simply giving in. “Oh, well, I thought, praying together has long been their thing, and they look forward to it. In fact, maybe that’s what pulls them through every single time.”

(The Lusog-Diwa webinar series is a community project of “Pause Muna, Peace Muna,” a peace and wellbeing initiative of Brahma Kumaris Philippines.)


#StepUpUAP: Another school faces complaints of sexual harassment

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MANILA, Philippines – The University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) is among the latest in a string of colleges and schools facing a wave of sexual harassment complaints, following the rise of viral hashtags #HijaAko and #MCHSdobetter.

Several students and alumni have come forward to detail alleged abusive sexual patterns of former and current teachers of UA&P.

Going so far as to show alleged screenshots of their interactions, some former students of the university also shared how an old teacher of the university would reportedly try to perform sexual acts with them, as well as start conversations about malicious topics. 

Meanwhile, others alleged a current employee of UA&P is exhibiting sexist behaviors and leading unwanted sexual advances on underage students.

The issue was raised both on Twitter and in several Facebook groups including UA&P Voice-Out, which seeks to bridge concerns of UA&P students to the Center for Student Affairs and the rest of the university community.

According to former students, they were either too scared to speak up or their complaints fell on deaf ears.

Addressing the issue

By June 27, the UA&P broke their silence and acknowledged the reports of alleged harassment.

While the university only mentioned reports about alleged harassment by a former teacher, it asserted how it is already looking into the matter closely and taking the necessary action to resolve the issue.

They added the university did not receive any complaints about the teacher throughout the duration of his employment with the UA&P from 2009 to 2011.

UA&P said a filed complaint would have allowed the university to start an investigation, take necessary interventions, and mete out appropriate disciplinary sanctions to protect its students.

Nevertheless, the university promised it will review its systems and processes to safeguard the welfare of the students and create safer spaces for them to provide feedback on similar incidents.

“We will not condone reprehensible behavior, especially acts that gravely undermine human dignity. We further acknowledge the University’s responsibility for the safety of those who are subjected or were subjected to such misconduct,” they said.

UA&P encouraged victims to come forward and file their complaints with the Office of Student Mentoring, Guidance and Counseling (MGC) at mentoring@uap.asia for prompt action. Students may also report to the program directors and members of the operations committees.

It likewise reiterated the responsive measures they have in place, including counseling from the MGC and possible referral to qualified professionals to help them move towards recovery, which will be available even to former students affected by sexual harassment.

Alumni take action

Further bolstering calls to have safer spaces for students, a group of concerned alumni dubbed the UA&P SOS (Safeguard Our Students) have led an online petition on change.org in a bid to start a dialogue with the university on sexual harassment.

This later spurred the creation of #StepUpUAP, as students and alumni call for stronger action from the UA&P administration in addressing sexual harassment among its ranks.

Many have spoken up about their own stories of sexual harassment using viral hashtags, with some creating iterations for their schools such as #TimesUpAteneo, #SPCPSQUAREUP, and #MARISCIDOBETTER to call out the inappropriate behavior of teachers in their institutions.

The UA&P SOS, through its petition, urged the university to address reported cases properly, and provide proper support to victims.

“Looking forward, we also ask more proper safeguards and policies are put into place to ensure that present and future students are safe from any form of sexual harassment,” they said.

At least 537 individuals have signed the petition as of Monday afternoon, June 29. – Rappler.com

MovePH webinar: How fact-checking is done in investigative reporting

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MANILA, Philippines –  As online disinformation becomes widespread, truth becomes a casualty. In this fact-finding mission, journalists are at the forefront of debunking lies. 

To fight disinformation, fact-checking and research are critical skills to get to the truth. In investigative reporting, journalists do a lot of digging to expose corruption, lies, injustices, abuses, and report the truth. 

The identities of some sources, especially whistleblowers in investigative reports, are kept secret for their own protection and safety. As much as possible, this is a last resort. A similar principle also applies to fact-checking suspicious claims except that primary sources are revealed to prove their reliability and factual accuracy. 

How is fact checking done in investigative reporting? What are methods used and how difficult are they? Are they similar to debunking suspicious claims? Is corroboration needed to come up with something more solid? How long do these processes usually take?

To answer these questions and more, MovePH, Rappler’s civic engagement arm will host a fact-checking webinar on Friday, July 3, at 4 pm. 

Head of Rappler's Investigative Desk Chay Hofileña and Gemma Mendoza, Rappler’s head of research, content strategy and partnerships, will join the discussion.

The webinar is free but slots are limited. You may register here. – Rappler.com 

[OPINION] Ang pagbaba mula sa tore ng akademya

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Higit na lumala ang masamang persepsyon ng publiko sa agham sa pagkapanalo ng mga populistang lider sa iba’t-ibang bansa sa mundo. Sa tingin ng marami, ang agham ay elitista – nakakubli sa tore ng akademya at pag-uusap ng iilan. Parang hindi malinaw ang kaugnayan nito sa pang araw-araw na buhay ng mga mamamayan. Mas lalong lumitaw ang persepsyong ito ngayong nangyari ang COVID-19. Maraming siyentista ang dismayado na hindi sila pinapakinggan ng wasto ng mga lider ng kanilang bansa. Isa na rito si Presidente Jair Bolsonaro ng Brasil na tinawag ang COVID-19 na isang maliit na trangkaso o ang Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte na kahit nagpahayag ng kumpyasa sa agham ay ipinagkatiwala ang estratehiya ng pamahalaan laban sa pandemya sa kamay ng militar. 

Marapat naman talaga ang kristisimo laban sa mga polisiyang taliwas sa agham. Subalit hindi rin dapat ipagsawalang bahala ang mga kritismo na kulang sa pakikipag-ugnay ang mga eksperto sa mga mamamayan. Totoong kumplikado na ang lenggwaheng akademiko ngunit mas napapalawak pa ang hindi pagkakaintidihan sapagkat Ingles ang ginagamit na wika sa akademya. Kaya naman ang mga diskyusyon ay limitado lamang sa iilan at hindi naibabahagi sa mga ordinaryong mamamayan. Imbes na maging instrumento ng pagkakaisa at pag-angat ng sambayanan, ang mga pamantasan pa minsan ang nagpapalala ng dibisyon sa pagitan ng mga taong marunong mag-Ingles at doon sa mga hindi. Sa lipunan ngayon, para bang ang kakayanan sa pagsasalita ng Ingles ang batayan ng katalinuhan at indikasyon ng marangyang pamumuhay. (READ: [OPINYON] Buwan ng Wika: Hindi bawal umingles, basta ayusin mo)

Hindi ibig sabihin nito’y hindi matalino ang mga Pilipino o ang galing sa pagsasalita ng Ingles ang batayan ng makabuluhang kaisipan. Alam ng mga batikang akademiko na lubog sa pagbaba sa laylayan na maraming matutunan mula sa mga tao sa pamayanan. Marami silang makabuluhang ideya na dapat ding pakinggan. Mahirap kunin ang tiwala ng mga tao sa lipunan kung mababa ang pagtingin ng maraming siyentista sa kanila. Marami kung bumaba sa komunidad ay parang sila lang ang magaling o sila ang tagapagligtas ng sambayanan mula sa dagok ng kahirapan. Hindi ito lapat sa kulturang Pilipino kung saan ang tiwala, kababaang loob at pakikisama ay mahalaga sa pakikipag-ugnayan sa kapwa. Pakiramdam din ng ibang mamamayan ay kuhanan lamang sila ng mga datos. Sa kabila ng maraming mga pag-aaral na ginawa sa kanila ay parang wala rin namang pagbabago sa antas ng kanilang buhay. Kaya hindi nakakapagtaka na mas may tiwala ang maraming Pilipino sa mga populista tulad ni Pangulong Duterte, Mocha Uson, at mga kaalyado nito dahil marunong silang makibagay at makisama sa mga ordinaryong mamamayan.

Malaking dagok ito sa isang demokratikong bansa kung saan mahalaga ang pagkakaroon ng mamamayang may kakayanang mamili gamit ang sapat na kaalaman. Ang kaalaman sa Agham Panlipunan at Makabayan ay makakatulong upang mas maging mapanuri ang mga mamamayan lalo na sa panahon ng eleksyon – kung ang mga pangako ba ng mga kandidato ay totoong makakabuti sa bansa o ito’y pawang kasinungalingan lamang? Mahalaga ang pratikal na kaalaman o “common sense” subalit marami sa mga suliranin ng mundo ay bago at kumplikado tulad ng COVID-19 at pagbabago ng klima na nangangailangan ng higit na pang-unawa mula sa agham. Hindi magkasalungat kundi magkatulong ang agham at praktikal na kaalaman sa pagpapalakas ng demokrasya at pag-unlad ng isang bayan. (READ: [OPINION] How our native languages benefit society)

Kailangan magkaroon ng intelektwalismong pampubliko sa Pilipinas kung saan naisasalin sa pang araw-araw na wika ang malalim na akademikong karunungan. Hindi ito tungkol sa isa o iilang intelektwal lamang. Kailangan itong maisa-kultura at maipalaganap. Ito ay hindi lamang boluntaryong gawain kundi obligasyon ng bawat intelektwal na maiparating ang mensahe ng agham sa kanilang kapwa. Ang multidisiplinaryong agham ay nakakahiyakayat tulad ng paggamit ng sining sa pagpapalaganap ng kaalaman tungkol sa agham. Subalit kung ang usapan ay sa pagitan pa rin ng mga disiplina sa akademya, ito ay gumagawa lamang ng mas maraming akademikong pag-uusap na wala pa ring makabuluhang partisipasyon ang masa.

Ang mga transdisiplinaryong agham ay isa sa mga posibleng paraan upang maiugnay ang akademya sa mga mamamayan. Sa pagtingin ng transdisiplinaryong agham, ang mga mamamayan ay hindi lamang pinagkukunan ng datos kundi kabalikat sa pagbubuo ng kaalaman. Ilan sa mga ito ang Ekolohiyang Pantao kung saan kinikilala ang papel ng mamamayan sa pagbuo ng mga konsepto tungkol sa kanilang pagkakakilanlan at pag-unawa ng mga kumplikadong suliranin sa lipunan tulad ng pandemya, pagbaha at pagbabago ng klima. Hindi lamang ito pag-aaral ng relasyon ng ugnayan ng lipunan sa kalikasan. 

Subalit ang mga ito ay hindi kayang gawin ng akademya ng mag-isa. Malaki ang papel ng midya, pamahalaan, pribadong sektor, mga komersyo, at lipunang sibil upang maisakatuparan ang mga ito. Totoong marami at kapuri-puri ang mga kolaborasyon sa pananaliksik at ekstensyon na nangyayari sa mga pamantasan na pinopondohan ng mga iba’t-ibang organisasyon. Subalit kailangang maipaunawa sa taumbayan sa wikang naiintidihan nila ang mga kaalaman mula sa mga laboratoryo, teknikal, at akademikong mga publikasyon.

Upang mangyari ito, kailangan na ma-intelektwalisa ang wikang Filipino. Tulad nga ng sabi ng batikang manunulat at kritiko na si Rosario Torres-Yu, mangyayari ito kung gagamitin ang Wikang Filipino ng mga Pilipinong intelektwal sa pagbuo ng mga kaisipan, kaalaman, at karunungan na nakabatay sa lokal na tradisyong intelektwal. Subalit mukhang hindi prayoridad ang Wikang Filipino sa ngayon. Kamakailan, ito ay tinanggal bilang kurso o sabjek sa kolehiyo sa ibang mga pamantasan sa bansa. Maling pananaw sa globalisasyon ang pagtalikod sa sariling wika. Ang totoo, habang mas lalong nauunawaan nating mga Pilipino ang ating sariling wika, mas lumalago ang ating pag-intindi sa mga kalakaran, konsepto, at pamantayan ng mundo. Maging ang pagkatuto ng ibang wika ay hindi lamang memorisasyon. Higit na mahalaga ang pang-unawa sa mga batas sa gramatika na mas mabilis matutunan gamit ang pang araw-araw na wika. Hindi pagtalikod sa pandaigdigang wika na Ingles ang pagkatuto ng Filipino. Magkatulong ang mga wikang ito upang higit na matuto at maging mapanuri ang mga Pilipino.

Malaki ang papel na ginagampanan dito ng midya. Upang masugpo ang mga kasinungalingan, short termism, at populistang naratibo, kailangang mailimbag ang mga komentaryong intelektwal sa wikang ginagamit ng masang Pilipino. Lalo na sa panahon ngayon na marami ang gumagamit ng internet, malaki ang ambag ng midya sa pagpapalaganap ng mga ideyang may saysay at makatotohanan na siyang gigising sa konsensya ng taumbayan na pinatulog ng maling impormasyon — na ang pasimuno mismo ay ang kataas-taasang sangay ng pamahalaan.

Hindi kayang baguhin ang demokrasya sa Pilipinas ng isang araw lamang, at mali rin na isipin na ang mga rekomendasyong ito lamang ang sagot sa malalim na mga problema ng lipunan. Subalit hindi tuluyang lalaya ang kaisipan ng taumbayan kung nakakubli ang agham sa wikang ginagamit lamang ng iilan. Hindi rin sapat ang intelektwal na naratibo upang baguhin ang isip ng bayang tulog sa katotohan. Kailangan ang agham ay tumagos sa puso ng mamamayan gamit ang wikang nagmula sa ating bayan. Marapat lamang na pagtibayin ang tulay ng ideya at mapagpalayang kaalaman na siyang magiging pundasyon ng bayang maunlad at may katuwiran. – Rappler.com

Si Ron Jay Dangcalan ay Ekonomistang Politikal at Katuwang na Propesor sa Departamento ng Serbisyong Panlipunang Pangkaunlaran, Kolehiyo ng Ekolihiyang Pantao, Unibersidad ng Pilipinas Los Baños. Email: rpdangcalan@up.edu.ph

Si Bryan Elijah Trajano ay mag-aaral ng MA Araling Filipino – Wika, Kultura, Midya sa Pamantasang De La Salle Maynila. Email: bryan_trajano@dlsu.edu.ph

[OPINION] I can’t breathe: How racial justice is connected to climate justice

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When we see society as structures of oppression rather than as clusters of people, it becomes easier to understand why the biggest battle is about changing how the system works instead of fashioning exemptions that work well within the system.

Violence in our culture and climate: All cops are bad, all coal is dirty

When we say “All cops are bad,” we hope to show how police brutality is central to the system. The killing of George Floyd captured on camera is not law and order in action, it is murder carried out by our state. The narrative that there are good cops makes not only justice difficult to chase, but removes the necessity of changing a system by citing a few exceptional performers.

Violence, however, is not only in the police system, it is entrenched, reflected, and largely reinforced in our economic system. When indigenous peoples claim that “coal kills,” coal corporations that take social responsibility seriously provide a counterexample only to debunk minorities. This is a reinforcement of the dominant violent system using the cloak of exemptions.

It is not a coincidence that petrol companies set up their plants near black communities. The coal plants and mines in the Philippines are owned by foreigners who erect them in underdeveloped areas. Garbage dumpsites are situated in urban poor communities. Capital expansionists target ancestral lands. (READ: Amazon indigenous land loss threatens climate – study)

Climate violence is linked to racial inequality. The violence inflicted on our environment affects us disproportionately, and it affects the culturally marginalized the most.

Racial supremacy is eco-imperialism

The idea that one race is superior than another can be traced back to the period of colonialism and slavery. In our context, the Spanish Mestizos and the “indios” were polar opposites in society. A high regard for white skin and blue eyes as measures of universal beauty are vestiges of the deep roots of colonialism in our consciousness.

Who should have access to resources?

The colonizers believed that their existence was more important than that of the slaves; hence, the resources of their colonies are all for them. Eco-imperialism goes hand in hand with colonialism as imperial powers control and manage natural resources outside of their own.

This dominant culture of eco-imperialism persists even in our modern times. Racial supremacy still bubbles up to the surface as evident in the Rohingya and issues of stateslessness in Southeast Asia, in the refugee crisis all over Europe, in the abuse of migrant workers in the Middle East, and in how white people’ trash are shipped to developing countries.

The global eruption of the Black Lives Matter campaign is an encapsulation of years of issues of racial supremacy.

While BLM and other racial issues are cultural, these are also economic (who has the access to resources) and these are also ecological (whose resources can they extract).

In the picture of how racial supremacy and environmental decay are put together, violence is front and center. A classic example is the case of blood diamonds mined in Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa.

The diamonds are mined by local slaves who are coerced to dig into the mud using their bare hands. In their uncut raw form, these diamonds are shipped to rich white people, often sold illegally to fund war chests of invading foreign countries, civil wars, or tyrannies such as those alleged of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

But more than this trade, the ecological cost includes damaged river systems that led to deforestation, forcing local populations to relocate, and killing its fish and other wildlife. Some river systems are re-directed into topsoil areas that causes their erosion, and later on when pits are created by this re-routed stream of water, it becomes infested with mosquitoes that causes malaria and other diseases. 

“I can’t breathe” is a cry for help from black communities who are choking under colonial powers, capitalists, and military forces while affluent white people comfortably wear shiny diamonds around their necks.

No climate justice without racial justice

The concept of an "environment" was made to externalize the accountability of historical oppression in our ecologies so that environmentalism pertains only to making your surroundings clean and green. Environmentalism has historically been the agenda of white people to clean their parks, green their communities. 

Climate justice, on the other hand, goes above that by calling to account white people for the damage they have inflicted on the ecology – not only our natural resources, but our culture, our history, our peoples. (READ: Indigenous peoples to world leaders: We carry burden of climate change)

The call to transition to renewable energy from coal is not just ecological. This also means ending the life-threatening health risks to indigenous communities where coal plants are situated, to start democratizing energy.

The call to divest in fossil fuels is also a call to prioritize the safety and health of black communities that suffer the most the harmful effects of coal yet benefit the least from fossil fuel industries in their communities.

Climate justice cannot be without racial justice. The cultural is ecological. – Rappler.com 

Chao Cabatingan is a young socialist leader of Akbayan Youth and a founding member of the EcoSocialist Working Group. He is currently working in an NGO. All views in this article are solely his. 

MCHS family council 'alarmed' by high number of sexual harassment complaints

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MANILA, Philippines – The Miriam College High School (MCHS) Family Council Parent Representatives urged the school administration to speed up its investigation on the alleged sexual harassment experienced by several students and alumni from faculty members. 

“It is the school’s obligation to protect and uphold the rights of every child. We urge the administration that the conduct of the investigation be swift and impartial and those guilty of these despicable behaviors be held accountable,” the group said in a statement released on Tuesday, June 30. 

As several MCHS students and alumnae came out in the open online, several youth, student and women's groups denounced the alleged sexual misconduct done by teachers to its students.

“It is alarming to note the high number of complaints being reported,” the family council said in a statement adding that that turn of events have been extremely concerning to parents and the rest of the MC community. (READ: After #MCHSDoBetter goes viral, other schools urged to act on sexual harassment)

With MCHS as their children’s second home, the group added that the school should have zero tolerance for abuse to guarantee “a safe space for our children to grow and achieve their full potential.”

“Hence, there is no room for predators teaching in any school system,” the group added. 

It also lauded the students for their bravery in speaking up. 

“We commend and support the children who brought these abuses to light. It had taken them a lot of courage to come out in the open and recount their terrible experiences. We, as parents, must support them lest they be doubly traumatized by our inaction,” the group added. 

The surge of reports online have led the school administration to form a committee to investigate incidents of sexual harassment. 

Students from different institutions in Metro Manila also took to social media as they voiced out their own experiences of assault, harassment, and pedophilia. – Rappler.com 

'Kapit, kapamilya’: Netizens rally support as ABS-CBN faces new shutdown threats

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MANILA, Philippines – "Kapit, kamilya." (Hang in there, kapamilya)

Addressed to all kapamilya, a term ABS-CBN calls its employees, supporters, and loyal viewers, Filipino netizens shared statements of support for the network's employees after the National Telecommunications Office (NTC) ordered Sky Cable Corporation to stop its direct broadcast satellite service and ABS-CBN to stop operating digital transmissions in Metro Manila using channel 43.

#ABSCBNFranchise trended on Tuesday after netizens used the hashtag to air their anger about this latest development.

On Tuesday, June 30, the agency released a cease and desist order to Sky Cable and asked them to explain within 10 days why the radio frequencies assigned to it should not be recalled for lack of the necessary congressional franchise.

Sky Cable Corporation is a subsidiary of embattled media giant ABS-CBN. 

In a separate oder, the NTC also ordered ABS-CBN to stop broadcasting in Metro Manila using Channel 43 where the network operates on a block-time basis. 

Online, netizens echoed what Agusan del Norte Representative Lawrence Fortun said during the hearing at the House of Representatives when he pointed out that the move to deny the network a  franchise would only further disenfranchise thousands of employees at a time when the country is struggling with high unemployment rate amid the pandemic. 

"We don't want, as much as possible, unemployment na unnecessary. Ito kasi mangyayari dito, kapag nagsara itong ABS-CBN, this is unemployment resulting not from the pandemic. This is unemployment resulting from refusal to renew or grant a franchise," Rep. Fortun said. 

ABS-CBN has at least 11,000 employees, including regular and contractual workers. (READ: Without a franchise, ABS-CBN may start laying off workers by August

Some employees of the company also took to Twitter to remind their colleagues to stay strong and positive.

Nararamdaman ko yung lungkot at panghihina ng karamihan sa mga katrabaho ko. Kahit ako naaapektuhan. Pero wag tayo papatalo sa mga Dinosars nato. KAPIT KAPAMILYA. This too shall pass," DJ Chacha said in a tweet. 

(I can feel the sadness and loss of hope of most of my coworkers. I too am affected. But we should not let ourselves lose to these ‘Dinosars’. Hold on, Kapamilya. This, too, shall pass.) 

ABS-CBN news reporter Jeff Canoy also expressed his frustrations with the recent order of the NTC through a tweet:

“Dapang-dapa na pero gusto pa nila duraan. Kapit mga kapamilya.” (We’re already down on our faces, yet they want to spit on us. Hold on, Kapamilya.)

Below are some tweets made by netizens to support ABS-CBN employees during this difficult time: 

Netizens also expressed their anger over this recent move made by the NTC. According to them, the move looked like an attempt to push the giant network further against the wall. 

ABS-CBN went off the air on May 5 after the Congress did not renew its franchise on time. 

Some are even questioning the priorities of the officials tasked to resolve the franchise issue, like Twitter user @jeansebastina who tweeted: “The hearing on ABS-CBN's case, which is becoming more of a circus, is a clear manifestation of how the government can waste public money just to intimidate and silence any news outfit or individual that is deemed critical of the government.”

Below are some tweets by Filipinos online, reacting to the NTC order and the House of Reprsentative hearing: 

The CDO issued by the NTC has unclear provisions regarding Sky’s broadband internet services. – Rappler.com

NUJP slams new 'determined effort' to shutter ABS-CBN

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MANILA, Philippines – “This must not go unchallenged.”

The message of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) was clear and emphatic as it condemned the cease and desist orders stopping ABS-CBN’s digital broadcast on TV Plus in Metro Manila and Sky Cable’s satellite broadcast nationwide.

The National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) issued the 2 cease and desist orders on Tuesday, June 30. The government regulatory agenct ordered ABS-CBN to stop broadcasting in Metro Manila using Channel 43 and halt Sky Cable Corporation's direct broadcast satellite service.

The orders came a day after the Office of the Solicitor General advised the commission to close down ABS-CBN TV Plus and Channel 43 because of the network’s expired franchise.

The move is the latest in a series of attacks against ABS-CBN. The embattled media network was ordered to stop operations last May 5 after legislators blocked its franchise renewal.

In a statement, the NUJP described the new cease and desist orders as the “logical next step in the determined effort of this administration and its minions to silence the network in compliance with the wishes of President Rodrigo Duterte.”

Far from being neutral, the President has long been making repeated threats to block ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal throughout his term. 

According to ABS-CBN CEO Carlo Katigbak, the shutdown of ABS-CBN’s digital broadcast on TV Plus in Metro Manila and Sky Cable’s satellite broadcast nationwide could affect an estimated 11 million homes.

NUJP pointed out how this could effectively deprive Filipinos of their right to know and choose how they’ll access their news, information and entertainment, especially at a critical time when the country is in the throes of a pandemic.

“It is clear that the end goal of this administration is not only to shut down ABS-CBN but to send a message throughout the media industry that other news organizations may face the same fate unless they surrender their watchdog role, the critical and independent reportage that is an essential part of the media's mission,” said NUJP.

Asserting the need to speak up and close ranks, NUJP called on news organizations and other journalists to come together and demand government to “stop this persecution of ABS-CBN and allow it back on air in the name of freedom of the press and people’s right to know.”

They also urged advocates and Filipinos to raise their voices and refuse to stand idly by in the face of attacks to rights and liberties. – Rappler.com


[OPINION] We need to treat informal workers better from now on

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A man in his late twenties tends to a bright yellow wooden cart, displaying assorted street food and plastic containers of spiced vinegar, outside the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman’s Shuster gate. Students and workers alike flock the cart, pointing to their choice snacks on wooden skewers, which will be deep-fried in a steel wok.

Trodding Palma Hall (AS) grounds in his flip-flops, a six-year-old boy rests a plastic tray of food on his head. He offers students turon (banana spring roll), lumpiang togue (beansprout spring roll), and karioka (sticky rice ball). Nearby is his grandmother, Nanay Celia, tending to the same food in a small wooden kiosk. Adored by AS regulars, it is common to see class-bound students and faculty greeting her. The mother of the boy, Ate Amor, was a vendor too. Multiple organizations pitched in for her bypass operation. She passed last year.

Manang Sol, a sweet elderly woman, sells a wide range of skewered snacks in her kiosk. Beside her sits a cloth-lined basket filled with balut and penoy (both variations of incubated duck egg). Kuya Bon sells taho (soy bean curd) – often with a generous serving of arnibal (molasses syrup) – and bottled soy milk. He and Manang Sol have been a mainstay for whole batches of student-athletes looking for a quick bite before training in the College of Human Kinetics gym.

I’ve depended on them on an almost daily basis, and so have many others. Before the pandemic broke out, I would routinely buy food from Nanay Celia between classes. When my day concluded, I would stop by Manang Sol’s to grab a snack before crossing over to the other side of Commonwealth Avenue for my commute back home. I’d buy bottled soy milk from Kuya Bon for the road, too.

I cannot imagine UP without these people, and I’m sure neither can my fellow Iskos.

Beyond UP, you will find many others like them: along busy highways, in narrow residential alleys, underneath footbridges, in public markets. People from all walks of life depend on these workers.

They are our informal sector.

The International Labor Organization defines the informal sector as “independent, self-employed small-scale producers and distributors of goods and services.” According to the Labor Force Survey, actors in the informal economy make up 38.3% of all workers. Most of these people have no access to social protection and benefits afforded to workers in the formal economy. This means no “work injury, sickness, disability, maternity, retirement, and death benefits.” No safety nets, in short.

This leaves them vulnerable to shocks: COVID-19, for one. (READ: Over 1 million Filipino workers displaced due to coronavirus)

To be fair, we do have comprehensive social protection programs in place. To name a few: the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), a conditional cash-transfer program for poor households which provides subsidies for rice, health and nutrition, and education; the Kabuhayan Program, which provides capital to kickstart small businesses; and the Social Pension for Indigent Senior Citizens, which provides a monthly stipend of P500 to the elderly indigent. (READ: When cash aid is not enough: Helping displaced farmers, informal workers)

The problem is not lack of well-structured programs per se, but lack of coherence and inclusive coverage. Faulty inter-agency coordination has led to duplication of data and ineligible beneficiaries instead of coherent and cohesive efforts targeting intended beneficiaries. In 2017, 31,389 households received benefits from the 4Ps program despite being non-poor, thanks to data errors. Completely preventable bureaucratic mishaps like these ultimately spoil good intentions.

But these fall on deaf ears.

Make no mistake: the representative form of government we have is not truly representative. How could it be, when many of our congressmen hail from political dynasties holding on to familial privileges? According to the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center, members of political dynasties occupied 33% of party-list seats in the 17th Congress. How could it be, when government officials rarely see abject poverty firsthand? (READ: 29% of local posts now occupied by 'fat' political dynasties)

True democratic governance encourages participative decision-making. It lends an ear to those on the fringes of society, and works alongside them in crafting solutions to address problems long present. It does not merely toss half-baked solutions from official chambers.

We talk about our new reality in terms of wearing face masks, observing social distancing, business operations, and switching to cashless payments. These are well and good, but let’s delve deeper. Let’s talk about a new reality where an elderly street vendor need not worry about funding their daughter’s bypass operation. Let’s talk about a new reality where our elected officials meet them eye-to-eye, converse with them, grant them a proactive role in the policymaking process, and address their immediate needs.

Informal workers are key players in the urban ecosystem. Many, myself included, depend on them on a daily basis. It is only right that we stand alongside them to topple towers of old, and atop the rubble, build a kinder normal. Our informal workers deserve better.

After all, tao rin sila katulad natin. – Rappler.com

Jay Sebastian is a journalism student from UP Diliman whose research interests include: sustainable development in the Global South, human rights, social movements, and social protection. He hopes to foster discourse on social inequalities through his writing. 

[OPINION] Bakit walang forever? The impermanence of scientific knowledge

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It’s now the 107th day of our stay-at-home order in Los Angeles, California. This means more video games than usual for my kids while my wife and I work from home. One of the games that my 14-year old son plays is Civilization 6, sort of a historical take on empire building and cultural development. Since I am an archaeologist, my son usually asks me questions about some of the themes in the game. Recently, he asked about how archaeologists know what they know and if we ever change our perspectives if new information arises. So, the question was about knowledge production, data analysis, and changing attitudes – all because of Civ6 .

In the age of COVID-19, science and data have been thrust into the limelight as they guide our government officials in making effective decisions to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. There is, however, a common misunderstanding about the nature of science: that science seeks that truth. Questions regarding authenticity have been around for thousands of years, and people did use the scientific method to try to find the truth. Still, we know now that scientific knowledge is only good as the data that support it — walang forever (there is no forever).

Science does not really provide an answer to what the truth is. It gives us tools to understand observable – even intangible – phenomena, but it never commits to offering the truth. Instead, it tests hypotheses, which, if supported, become the best explanation until refuted by a new set of data or models. So, science is a method for asking and answering questions. And it relies on data, testability, and replicability. (READ: Filipino scientists abroad join PH frontliners vs coronavirus)

As an example, our current theory of evolution is not Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection; it is now the Synthetic Theory of Evolution. Darwin’s model was not able to explain trait inheritance. It was only after the discovery of Gregor Mendel’s publications on pea plants that Darwin’s theory became viable. The Synthetic Theory of Evolution that we follow today emerged in 1930 and has incorporated genetic inheritance into Darwinian evolution.

Thus, science is dependent on data. Without data to support them, explanations are just anecdotal or hearsay in legal speak. COVID-19 has once again exposed us to the nature of science. In the absence of data (or rejection of data), COVID-19 was dismissed as similar to the flu and no big deal. Even if history has given us fair warning about pandemics, particularly the 1918 Spanish Flu (which was first documented in the United States), misunderstanding or sheer ignorance of how science works have contributed to the unabated spread of the virus, particularly among vulnerable populations around the world. For now, there is much that we don’t know about COVID-19. Scientists are working around the clock to help us understand the disease by gathering data, developing hypotheses, and running experiments. That is science: it starts from observation, hypothesis, testing that hypothesis, then providing explanations. Without this process (scientific method), elucidations are just anecdotal thoughts. (READ: What science tells us about COVID-19)

Dating of the Ifugao Terraces

We recently wrote about the dominant narrative of the 2,000-year-old origin of the Ifugao Rice Terraces and the Waves of Migration Theory. We showed that these were examples of anecdotal modeling – they are not testable nor replicable. They are devoid of testable data. To argue for the inception of the terraces, you need data to develop a model.

To date the rice terraces we developed a testable model, support or disprove the hypothesis with actual contextual data, and link it with prior explanations (60+ years of data including 50 radiocarbon dates from Kiangan, Banaue, Hapao, Burnay, Nabyun, Poitan, Lugu, Banghallan, Bintacan, and Bontoc). However, radiocarbon dating does not date a historical event. It dates when an organism died, and that specimen becomes incorporated into the archaeological record. 

As such, we do not just look for organic samples for radiocarbon dating. The context (the three-dimensional context, including location and stratigraphic relationships to other samples) has to be established to determine the probable utility and relative age of the sample. For us to use radiocarbon dates, it means that we have to explain the circumstances of when, where, what, how, and potentially, why that sample was used as a specimen for dating. We record this contextual information because archaeological excavation is destructive by nature and the result of radiocarbon dating in a contextual vacuum is invalid.

That is the reason why we dig as slowly and carefully as possible to observe and record any changes in the soil layers, their constituents, and the finds that we uncover. This contextual record, in the form of maps, images, and field notes, is the basis of our reports. Reviewing such documents and maintaining the collected finds and samples make archaeological research replicable. It is a methodology that provides you with data. What you do with that data (interpretation) is the more significant part of science; facts do not speak for themselves – scientific rigor does.

Modeling from contemporary terrace constructions also gives us a glimpse at the speed with which the terraces expanded in the region. Jared Koller’s spatial and energetic model is based on a combination of the number of workers, the workdays, earth moved, stone-walling, and construction. When applied to Batad, the model suggests that the whole system could have been constructed within 180 years by 4.5 persons, working 7.5 hours a day, 6 days a week. Of course, more than 4.5 people would have been working in Batad. 

More importantly, community memory appears to support scientific datasets. Time reckoning and genealogical reconstruction are valuable tools in understanding the Ifugao since time reckoning is by generation and not by years. An example of this is the origin story of Batad. The story goes that Batad was discovered by brothers from Cambulo (a nearby village) while hunting. One of the brothers started a swidden field and subsequently brought his family to Batad. The terraces were constructed soon after.  This origin narrative presumably occurred within the last 6 generations. To say that oral history is not a valid source of data is a severe misunderstanding of ethnographic methods and disrespectful to Ifugao community stories and heritage.

Tentative truth

The recent discoveries of evidence of early hominin presence in Callao Cave, Cagayan, and Rizal, Kalinga, also correspond to the rigorous scientific reasoning. Researchers analyzed multiples datasets to explain the data recovered from these two sites. In the case of Callao, a detailed analysis of skeletal morphology suggested an early hominid form. The identification of stone tool cutmarks on rhinoceros’ bones from Rizal, Kalinga, also indicates the presence of hominins in Luzon as early as 700,000 years ago. Clearly, these new datasets offer fresh information that changes our ideas of how humans arrived in the Philippines.

For the terraces, the current modeling and interpretation of the archaeological data from the Cordillera are the closest we can get to the truth. Unless new data refutes the model, it stands as the most plausible explanation. Practitioners of science do not feel sad when their models are disproven. It means that their experiments were not replicable or that new data has arisen. It means that scientists need to address the failures of their model, re-analyze, and re-interpret the available data to get as close to the reality that we perceive. 

For COVID-19, there is still a lot that we don’t know about the disease, but that doesn’t mean that our scientists are wrong. Every bit of new information gives us hope that we will gather enough data to develop ways to eventually defeat the virus. But for now, what we know is that we should all wear masks, avoid crowds, wash our hands, and listen to science as it develops. Even if there is no forever truth in science, it reflects the truth as we know it, for now. – Rappler.com

Stephen Acabado is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at University of California, Los Angeles. He directs the Ifugao Archaeological Project and is an advocate of a community-engaged archaeology. He can be reached at acabado@anthro.ucla.edu.

Marlon Martin is the Chief Operating Officer of the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement, Ifugao, Philippines. He is on the forefront of Ifugao heritage conservation and has spearheaded the establishment of the Indigenous Peoples Education Center in Ifugao. He can be reached at marlon.martin12@yahoo.com.

 

Iskolars ng Bayan band together to help stranded students during pandemic

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STUDENTS' NEEDS. Sagip Kabataan volunteers distribute food packs and female sanitary items to help stranded students at the University of the Philippines Diliman and Polytechnic University of the Philippines. Photos from Star Jhane Caparas and Kevin Mangayan

 

MANILA, Philippines – What started out as a mere conversation between a dormer at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman and a member of a mass organization of Filipino youth has evolved into a donation drive that has benefitted at least 600 stranded students in Metro Manila.

Sagip Kabataan was born after a UP Diliman student, who was stranded in Metro Manila because of the months-long coronavirus lockdown, shared his story to a member of Youth for Nationalism and Democracy (YND).

According to YND, the student had been stranded in his dorm for nearly two months and had no money to buy pre-paid mobile phone load to call his family. He chose to stay in Metro Manila during the lockdown to complete his academic requirements – he knew that if he had gone home, his parents would have to spent on his internet needs.

Food supplies at UP dorms were also estimated to last only until the end of May. (READ: Para sa bayan: U.P. lends expertise, resources in fight vs coronavirus)

This spurred YND to raise funds through Sagip Kabataan to provide food packs for stranded students in UP Diliman while they wait to get home through the Hatid Probinsya programs.

"Bilang mga Iskolar ng Bayan, danas namin at kita ang hirap ng sitwasyon natin wala pa man ang pandemya ng COVID-19. Kaya ng ideklara ang lockdown ramdam namin ang paghigpit ng sinturon dala ng kawalang trabaho, tumindi ang kahirapan at laganap ang gutom sa mga tahanan," said Sagip Kabataan volunteer Star Jhane Caparas, who is the spokesperson of Kaisa Ka Youth, a member organization of Sagip Kabataan.

(As Iskolars ng Bayan, we have experienced and witnessed such difficulties prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. So when the lockdown was declared, we felt the impact of belt-tighetning caused of loss of jobs, worsened poverty, and widespread hunger in homes.)

The group especially wanted to focus on the stranded dormers for the relief drive because they were neither listed as barangay beneficiaries for relief nor seen as heads of the family to even have a quarantine pass.

Maraming pamilya, estudyante, at mga indibidwal hindi pa naabutan ng tulong (There are many families, students, and individuals who have not received help),” Caparas said.

Getting started

Hoping to pull in more support, Sagip Kabataan volunteers reached out to Millennials PH, the youth arm of the Office of the Vice President (OVP).

Soon enough, the OVP sent in one ton of squash from Nueva Ecija to be given to 258 stranded students and 100 families residing in the UP Diliman area on May 19.

Tapped by the OVP, the I Am Hope Foundation also helped in distributing 500 packed meals personally cooked by Bea Alonzo, Vhong Navarro, and Rina Navarro to UP Diliman dormitories and stay-in staff on May 21. 

Reaching out

While they were focused on UP Diliman, Sagip Kabataan volunteers heard about the struggles of stranded students at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Sta Mesa, Manila.

YND  tapped other youth organizations so they can pitch in and bring the initiative to their own schools. 

Kaisa Ka Youth, Teatrong Bayan PUP, College of Social Sciences and Development PUP Independent Student Party, Young Human Rights Defenders UP Diliman and UP Alyansa quickly joined Sagip Kabataan’s ranks to help their fellow Iskolars ng Bayan. (READ: While classes are on hold, students find ways to help affected communities)

Fundraising to help more Iskolars ng Bayan

To bring in more help for stranded students, Sagip Kabataan led the "Saan aabot ang P100 piso mo (How far will your P100 go)?" campaign to encourage even small donors to pitch in. A P100-donation was enough to feed one student for a day. 

The group also led an online concert on June 2, “TugtugPatakPatak” featuring artists and bands like Village Idiots and Ja Quintana of Lapis.ph to pull in more donations. Never forgetting their advocacy, they even featured a song composed and performed by Simon Cruz, a stranded student at PUP, during the concert.

Through these efforts, Sagip Kabataan was able to raise a total of P80,500 from fellow Iskolars ng Bayan, alumni, Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino Sa Canada (UKPC), and the British Columbia Government Employees Union (BCGEU), among others.

With the gathered donations, they were able to give relief packs to PUP students and UP dormitories Kalayaan, Ipil, Centennial 1, and Centennial 2.

The OVP also donated 300 packs of pandesal to 274 stranded students in PUP.

Aside from food, Sagip Kabataan reached out to the Sewers Organization in Taguig, which committed to make 300 face masks for UP and PUP students.

The group also distributed 100 packs of sanitary napkins to stranded female students and community members of Purok Aguinaldo, UP Diliman, and Sta Mesa, Manila.

HELP. A stranded students gets food and a face mask from a Sagip Kabataan volunteer. Photo from Youth for Nationalism and Democracy-Philippines Facebook page

 

Addressing students' needs

Sagip Kabataan volunteers know that providing meals to stranded students is not enough to help them through the pandemic. Caparas said the group is also exploring ways to improve students' access to gadgets and free public wifi for their online classes. (READ: How to help students in need cope with distance learning)

The group is planning to work with local government units, the OVP, and the private sector to provide gadgets and address other learnin needs of students.

Hindi man namin maalis ang patung-patong na problemang pinansyal, sikolohikal at emosyonal na dinaranas nila sa gitna ng lockdown, makagawa man lang kami ng paraan upang maibsan o mabawasan kahit papaano ang pasanin ng mga kapwa namin Iskolar ng bayan,” said Caparas.

(We may not be able to solve all their financial, psychological, and emotional problems that have piled one after another in the middle of lockdown, we would have at least found ways to ease the struggles of our fellow Iskolar ng Bayan.)– with reports from Cris Vilchez/Rappler.com

'Tributes' lend a hand: How a group raised funds for Metro Manila jeepney drivers

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HELPING TOGETHER. Facebook group Quarantine Tribute Tips called for donations after spotting a viral post of an old jeepney driver begging for help. Photos courtesy of Ayla Conda

MANILA, Philippines – For this thriving Facebook group, the odds were definitely in their favor as they raised over P136,000 in just a few days to help struggling jeepney drivers in Metro Manila.

The initiative had started when a member of Facebook group Quarantine Tribute Tips called for donations after spotting a viral post of an old jeepney driver begging for help along Rizal Avenue, Manila, on Father's Day. The drivers have stopped operations ever since Manila was placed under community quarantine, leading to loss of livelihood.

Ayla Conda, 22, shared how the viral post was enough to make her go last June 23 from Bulacan to Manila with her aunt and cousin to find the old jeepney driver named Tatay Alberto.

It was easy to find Tatay Alberto, she said. When they arrived at Rizal Avenue near LRT 1 Blumentritt station, they found several jeepneys that lined the street. After a while, they spotted Tatay Alberto. 

Hoping to help the jeepney drivers, Conda talked to Tatay Alberto and the other drivers parked along the street to ask about their needs.

Due to quarantine restrictions, jeepney drivers are unsure when they can go back on the road. Tatay Alberto is only one of the hundred jeepney drivers in that area who lost their source of income and livelihood due to the coronavirus. They used to ply the Blumentritt-Sta. Cruz route.

Since the quarantine started, Tatay Alberto has been living inside his jeep alone, without his family. During her talks with Tatay Alberto, Conda found out he was a former hinete or horseman, and was more known by his alias "Jockey." He was separated from his wife, and did not talk about any children. 

Arrest of Tatay Alberto, other drivers

Aside from their struggle in finding a livelihood during lockdown, Tatay Alberto and other drivers were also arrested by the police while they were eating lunch around the last week of May. The police knocked down their door and arrested them without warrant. 

FREED FROM PRISON. The drivers are released after a few days in prison. Photo courtesy of Ayla Conda

They were detained for a few days in Sta. Cruz Police Station 3, unable to post bail. 

According to documents, the drivers were arrested for violating Section 9 of Republic Act No. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act. It is still unclear for the drivers what exactly their violation was.

When they were freed from prison, the police warned them that there will be a hearing on their case. A month has passed and they still have not heard back. 

Help is on the way

Not wanting to stand idly by, Conda posted on the Quarantine Tribute Tips' Facebook group to start an initiative seeking to provide food packs to Tatay Alberto and other affected jeepney drivers.

Each food pack contains 10 kilos of rice, vegetables, eggs, canned goods, face masks, alcohol, and toiletries.

While the Quarantine Tribute Tips was made for "tributes" who share tips on running errands during quarantine, the Facebook group has become a platform for initiatives as well. It was in the group where funds were pooled to buy the customized Voltes V cake for the Independence Day grand mañanita held at the University of the Philippines-Diliman – a jab at Metro Manila police chief Major General Debold Sinas, who had a birthday get-together during quarantine.

Conda had also previously turned to the Facebook group to gather donations to help dialysis patients in Caloocan. Having seen the tributes' unrelenting support to help others during quarantine, she knew they can pull in donations for affected jeepney drivers like Tatay Alberto.

A day after Rappler posted about Tatay Alberto, Conda and the Quarantine Tribute Tips' Facebook group were able to raise over P136,000.

On June 25, Conda, her aunt, uncle, and cousin went back to Manila to give Tatay Alberto solar panels, lights, and a fan for his jeep, as well as groceries and some clothes. The relief also included Tatay Alberto's favorites and special request: tinapay (bread) and palaman (stuffing).

A member of the Quarantine Tribute Tips' Facebook group lent her truck for the initiative, which made the handling and delivery of relief easier. Around a hundred jeepney drivers received groceries and toiletry kits that day. They were "super happy, thankful," Conda remarked, for the help that came from concerned citizens.

IN GRATITUDE. Tatay Alberto and Ayla hold a banner thanking the group for the distribution of relief to 100 jeepney drivers. Photo courtesy of Ayla Conda

After photos of the Quarantine Tribute Tips' initiative made rounds on social media, the Department of Social Welfare and Development also reached out to Tatay Alberto and gave him a food pack. The other drivers, however, did not receive any. 

Helping Metro Manila jeepney drivers

There are still many jeepney drivers like Tatay Alberto who need help. (READ: How to help jeepney drivers affected by the coronavirus lockdown)

The group has continued the initiative, having recently distributed food packs at the University of the Philippines Diliman for SM North drivers. Donations are coming in from people outside the Facebook group as well. 

Conda shared how they plan to cover C3 Caloocan, Monumento, Divisoria, and Sangandaan soon. 

Asked what prompted them to act for the jeepney drivers, Conda gave a simple answer: "Kami po may makakain, sila wala. Kung 'di kami gagalaw ngayon, paano po sila? (We have food on the table, they do not. If we're not going to act now, what will happen to them?)"

If you are interested to donate for the jeepney drivers, you may do so via the following:

  • BDO - Jotham Russel C. Campo, 0044 5066 4801
  • GCash - Ayla Conda 0916 761 3095; Jonathan Campo 0961 769 2456

Rappler.com

[OPINION] Biting the hand that feeds you: Thoughts of a gov't worker under Duterte

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The painful part of being a government worker in the time of Duterte is that you are expected to be either neutral or loyal to your employer. At the same time, however, you owe it to yourself to speak freely and stand up for truth. 

One year before Rodrigo Roa Duterte assumed presidency of the Republic of the Philippines, I entered the civil service as a college instructor in a state university in La Union. Many people embrace the notion that civil service is an honor. For me and my family, who for the longest time were fed by years of civil service thanks to my father’s work in the military, it has always been the wiser choice. 

Job security, generous compensation and benefits, and an excellent opportunity for personal growth and development. Who would not want these boons of working in the government? But at what cost? 

In September 2018, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque reminded Mechanical Engineering professors of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, who called President Duterte a “tyrant,” not to forget that while freedom of expression is a right, state university professors are still government employees and are bound to follow civil service laws. 

Early this year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources released a memorandum advising their employees, including contractuals, “not to comment or post negative in (sic) the social media against the government.” It further reads: “As a government employee, we should exemplify discipline to (sic) the community and promote cooperation to (sic) the government.” For contractuals, obedience to this kind of memorandum is crucial to their survival. 

Roque and the DENR’s messages are the same, and both are clear. They insinuate that government employees must respect their employer: the very organization that hires them, pays them, and feeds them. Never bite the hands that feed you, they say. Respect those whom you depend upon. But I find this problematic, especially in the context of free speech.

Our right to free speech is guaranteed and protected by the Constitution (Art. III, Sec. 4), which posits that “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievances.” Government employees being asked to filter their thoughts or mellow their criticisms against the government or the president means they have to surrender their freedom of speech the moment they enter civil service. (READ: [EXPLAINER] Can government employees post criticism of the anti-terror bill?)

It alarms me how certain government agencies make efforts to stop civil servants from airing criticism. But what bothers me more is how these efforts try to equate being a civil servant with being a loyal, faithful servant of the government, and most especially the president. In the fundamentals of political science, it is clear that the government and the state are two different entities. In fact, the government is just one of the 4 basic elements of the state, together with territory, people, and sovereignty. As civil servants, our loyalty lies with the state, in the service of the public, and not with the current government. My political science lessons also remind me that governments can change after every election, but not the state. This basic differentiation somehow informs my decision to speak my mind sometimes, including criticizing the government and even the president. 

For a rank-and-file civil service employee like me, conversations about Duterte’s government are hard conversations. Duterte is the Lord Voldemort (he-who-must-not-be-named) of our institution. Nobody dares to discuss him, unless it is about something positive. Sometimes, there is also a moral agency that keeps me from posting my thoughts against the government or the president.

Plus, in our family of civil servants, it is imperative not to criticize the very agency that feeds us and gives the family dignity. My last debate with my family regarding the ABS-CBN shutdown did not end well. I was reminded that I must respect the government’s decision because it is from working for the government that we were able to graduate from college. Politics must be the Lord Voldemort in every home. 

It is difficult not to speak up in the face of a bloody drug war; of the President's obscene language towards the UN, his critics, the Pope, and the Catholic Church; of the lack of transparency and accountability; of the special treatment and double standards that prevail; and recently, of the glaring incompetence in our COVID-19 response. It is especially difficult not to speak in these weird times, because we owe it to ourselves to speak up and defend our rights. We owe it to ourselves and our future as a country that we do not condone and sponsor violence, profanity, double standards, and incompetence. And it is especially hard and challenging because I am an employee of the government I bash. (READ: Tony Leachon miffed Duterte himself)

I have always believed there is prudence in silence, but never speaking up about anything at all is not prudence, but fear. When we choose to remain silent despite threats to our democracy and rights, we choose for injustice to grow and propagate. (READ: Dismay, disgust, dissent: How Filipinos online reacted to issues during Duterte’s 4th year)

Borrowing the words of Justice Marvic Leonon in the 2020 virtual oathtaking of new lawyers, “Our silence, when we fall victim or after we serve as accomplices to corrupt acts of the powerful, is also our own powerful political act. Our silence maintains the status quo. It ensures that others will also be victimized. Our silence in the face of abuse skews power to the system in favor of those with resources and against those who need the law more. Our silence legitimizes greed and undermines the power of public trust. Silence about corruption and abuse of power is not only in itself unjust; our silence when we have the ability to speak is in itself a cause of injustice.” – Rappler.com

Ronald Bracero Bustos is a college Social Science instructor at Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University-South La Union Campus. He holds a Master of Arts in Social and Development Studies from the University of the Philippines-Baguio and a bachelor's degree in Secondary Education, Major in Social Studies from Saint Louis University. His views here do not reflect those of said institutions.  

UP Visayas fraternity under fire after leak of lewd messages

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MANILA, Philippines – A fraternity from University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) found themselves in hot water after an alleged leaked group chat of their members surfaced on Twitter.

Dubbed the #ScintillaScandal, Twitter account Manyaks of UPV posted alleged screenshots of a group chat with some UPV Scintilla Juris members on June 26, where they can be found sharing nude videos and photos of women, with some reported to be of their past romantic partners.

The alleged conversation also featured the members describing gay people as “snowflakes,” making lewd comments about women and their sister sorority, and going so far as describing looking at other girls’ profiles as “window shopping.”

Minors were not spared from the alleged group chat, as members sexualized them, saying #ManamitSHS (Yummy senior high school students).

Aware of their actions, the alleged members even raised the possibility of experiencing a "Lonsi leak," referring to an unverified chat linked to Upsilon Sigma Phi that went viral in 2018 and featured sexist, homophobic, and Islamaphobic remarks.

The screenshots have pushed other people to come forward with their own experiences of sexual harassment by quotetweeting the allegations or sending their stories to Twitter account Manyaks of UPV.

#BantayBastos, a campaign that seeks to address misogyny and gender-related violence by holding public figures accountable for their words and actions demeaning women, called on UPV Scintilla Juris and the UP Visayas community to address the issue.

“We cannot discount this as ‘locker room’ talk or that boys will be boys...This toxic masculinity among fraternities must end now...The only way we can prevent this from happening again is to hold them accountable,” they said.

Meanwhile, UPV Skimmers, an academic organization composed of students from the Division of Humanities, College of Arts and Sciences, urged the community to hold the perpetrators accountable and "discontinue the prevalance of a culture that objectifies and disregards others' rights."

"We call for a fair punishment to those who have done these atrocious deeds and are guilty of committing such actions. Nothing could be said to excuse the contents of that group chat," UPV Skimmers said.

 

‘No place to justify nor tolerate malicious conduct’

By Thursday, July 2, the UPV Scintilla Juris broke their silence to apologize to those who were “harassed or violated by the actions taken by the members involved.”

 

In a separate statement, UPV Scintilla Juris' sister sorority UP Stella Juris said they “strongly condemn all forms of harassment and blatant disrespect against minors and people regardless of gender affinity.”

“There is no place to justify nor tolerate any malicious conduct identified by Twitter account Manyaks of UPV and allegedly committed by certain individuals who were identified as members of UP Scintilla Juris fraternity,” they added.

 

UP Stella Juris and UP Scintilla Juris assured that fact-finding and disciplinary action committees have been established by the fraternity to ensure accountability at the soonest possible time.

The sorority added that further appropriate measures will be taken to rectify this form of behavior and hold accountable those who will be proven to be involved in the group chat.

“The system we are trying to abolish will never be eradicated if this practice is perpetuated even in small circles,” UP Stella Juris said.

The sorority asserted in their statement that women – especially minors – “are not objects” and along with the LGBTQ+ community are deserving of respect. – Rappler.com

LIST: Groups that offer counseling for sexual harassment victims

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MANILA, Philippines– Several stories of sexual harassment from different schools and universities circulated on social media during the quarantine period.

Hashtags like #MCGSdobetter, #StepUpUAP, #TimesUpAteneo, and #HijaAko trended online, igniting the courage of some victims and enabling them to speak up about the abuse they've experienced in their schools. 

These hashtags also placed sexual harassment and rape prevention in the spotlight again as netizens called for increased protection for women in all places of the society.

During the lockdown, abused women and children are more vulnerable as reporting these abuses is harder due to the strict implementation of quarantine rules. (READ: During coronavirus lockdown: Abused women, children more vulnerable)

“A moment of pleasure for the harasser cannot make up for the lifetime of pain for the victim,” writes Philippine Wrestling Revolution champion Crystal in an opinion piece for Rappler. 

Some groups providing counsel for those who are sexually abused or harassed aim to relieve pain for the victims – even if it's bit by bit. 

Here’s a list of groups offering online counseling and safe spaces for victims of sexual abuse:

The Sanggunian: Commission on Anti-sexual Misconduct and Violence (CASMV)

The Sanggunian CASMV is a part of Sanggunian’s gender thrust and aims to provide counseling and legal services to victims of sexual harassment. 

You may reach out them through their social media accounts listed below:

Likhaan Center for Women’s Health Inc.

Likhaan Center for Women’s Health was established in 1995 to “respond to women’s expressed need for sexual and reproductive rights and health services.” Likhaan offers reproductive health and counseling services for women in different areas of the Philippines. They have clinics in Manila, Pasay, Navotas, Eastern Samar, and Bulacan.

To enlist, you may go to their Facebook page or email them at office@likhaan.org.

PNP Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC)

The WCPC is the PNP unit tasked to handle cases on violence against women and children and trafficking in persons. They launched the Aleng Pulis hotline, which will provide help through listening and legal help. 

You may reach them through their Facebook page or at  0917-777-7377.

Philippine General Hospital Women’s Desk

The PGH Women’s Desk has recently launched their online counseling services as the enhanced community quarantine made it harder for their constituents to go personally to the clinics. 

You may reach them through:

Mobile Phone: 0922-793-9266 (for Smart and Sun subscribers), 0915-375-3742 (for Globe and TM subscribers)

Lunas Collective

The Lunas Collective is an online chat support service aiming to provide a safe space for victims of gender-based violence, as well as support for reproductive health concerns.

You may reach them through their Facebook page. The online chat support service is active every day, from 1pm to 4pm. – Rappler.com


'Leaderless movement' urges Filipinos to join #VetoTerrorBill email protest

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 MANILA, Philippines – In less than a week, House Bill No. 6875 or the anti-terrorism bill will lapse into law, unless President Rodrigo Duterte signs or vetoes it before Thursday, July 9. 

Various groups, personalities, and students are opposed to what they described as a “draconian” bill as it is seen to institutionalize abuse of power and would further curtail the right to freedom of expression once enacted into law. Critics of the bill suggested that the government should focus on providing aid to those affected by the cononarvirus pandemic instead. (READ: [ANALYSIS] The Anti-Terrorism Act: Duterte will have all dissenters’ necks)

At a time when physical gatherings are discouraged due to the pandemic, what can Filipinos do to express their opposition to the bill? 

A non-partisan group of protesters, who remain anonymous, has formed a #JunkTerrorBill Telegram channel where they can connect with other groups opposed to the anti-terror bill.

“We do not believe there is One Leader to the movement; we work as one in opposition of this bill. We believe that all Filipinos who must stand for democracy against this bill that edges us closer and closer towards tyranny – in any way, shape, or form that is possible in spite of the pandemic," the #JunkTerrorBill group said.

They have come up with an organic online protest that aims to exert public pressure on the government against the passage of the bill.

The group behind the #JunkTerrorBill email protest pointed out that they oppose the bill on the grounds of its unconstitutionality. They also said they are doing this protest because of their “distrust in this administration, which has done nothing but abuse and fail the Filipino people.”

They said they are hopeful that something will come out of the initiative. And even if the bill is signed into law, the group said they would not relent in protesting against the measure.

“We hope that our current protests to Malacañang and DOJ are heard as well, and we are ready to make our voices heard should this bill be signed into law," the group said.

Here’s how you can join their email protest:

Step 1. Check the directory for the email addresses of the DOJ and Malacañang officials

Look for the email addresses of senators, DOJ officials, and Malacañang officials. Here are their email addressed or links to their directory:

To make the protest impactful, you may CC all of the email addresses on the list. 

Step 2. Compose the email

In composing your email, make sure to use the recommended subject lines or any of their variations:

  • Veto Terror Bill
  • Protect Filipino Right to Freedom of Speech

  • Review the ATB

  • ATB Implementing Rules and Regulations

  • Dura lex, sed lex

  • Junk Terror Bill 

  • Anti-Terror Bill and Its Violation Of The Constitution

You may also personalize the subject line as long as it is related to the recommended list.

For the body of the email, you may voice out your concerns regarding the anti-terror bill – how your freedom could be challenged if bill is signed into law.  You may also point out how you think the bill is unconstitutional by citing the 1987 Constitution. 

Step 3. Urge friends, groups, and influencers to join the campaign

There is power in numbers! Inform your friends and relatives who share your concern about how they can join the email protest. You may also post the instructions or share this article on your social media accounts to further amplify the cause.

You may also encourage institutions and organizations to take a stand against the bill and ask community leaders, celebrities, or influencers, to use their platforms to keep the spotlight on the issue.

Rappler.com

 

'We will not be silenced': Campus press denounce signing of anti-terror law

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MANILA, Philippines – Campus publications on Friday, July 3, denounced the signing into law of the anti-terrorism bill despite widespread opposition from the public. 

In a unity statement of campus publications, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) referred to the law as the administration's "draconian measure" posing a threat to press freedom and freedom of expression.

"Instead of addressing the people's demands, Duterte resorted to a 3-month military lockdown where attacks on human rights have been intensified. This fascist gimmick exposed its administration's eager intention to trample the democratic rights of the Filipino people," the CEGP said. 

It added that the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte proves that the "government prioritized the excessive enabling of stable forces" while the country is imperiled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Duterte signed the bill into law on the same day that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Philippines breached the 40,000-mark. 

"The administration has turned a blind eye to what we truly need because of its conceitedness and hunger for validation," the CEGP said. 

Mispaced priorities

Impulse, the student publication of the University of the Philipines (UP) College of Engineering, also condemend the signing of the law, citing how this could prevent Filipinos from calling out the anomalies and corruption in the government.

“The signing of the anti-terrorism bill into law further proves to us that the priorities of this administration are misplaced," Impulse added in a statement.  

It said that the law is a threat to democracy as it further intensifies the administration’s ongoing crackdown on is critics and activists in the midst of the ever-increasing cases of COVID-19 in the country, the loss of livelihood, and the unemployment of millions of Filipinos, among other problems. 

"In this time of crisis, we call for concrete, comprehensive, and humane solutions for more important problems, not a draconian measure to stifle dissenters," the group added. 

Not for the people

For the Manila Collegian, this move proved that Duterte is "not a president, but a dictator."

"With the signing of this bill comes the grave dangers that it contains which, when coupled with a fascist government, becomes a draconic weapon to suppress any form of dissent. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, his actions make clear the fact that he believes that the use of force is a cure-all for every kind of malady there is," it added.

The Angelite echoed this, stressing how the law was pushed despite public clamor against the anti-terror bill. 

"As President Duterte signed the anti-terrorism bill into law, he has once again proven that he is not for the people and democracy. The Filipino masses have aired out their opposition against its implementation, as it is deemed unconstitutional and prone to abuse," The Angelite added. 

Fighting back

Despite the threats that the new law poses to free speech, campus publications pledged they will not cower in fear but continue to stand firm in upholding their rights. 

"The alliance of campus press will never be an instrument of this regime's attempt to intimidate and curtail the freedom of the press or even ordinary citizens," CEGP said. 

Days before the law takes effect, The Angelite urged campus publications and ordinary citizens to use the time to strengthen alliances, unite, and stand their ground.

"This is only the start of an unwavering vigor to fight for our freedom and democratic rights that were taken away from us on this very day. We are all [under] threat of being labeled as terrorists, but we know very well who is the true terrorist among us," it said. 

Flat Lux, the official student Publication of the National Teachers College, reiterated that  the public should remain vigilant.

"Despite intensified crackdown, we will not cow down. Collectively, we will remain vigilant and continue our resistance to put an end to the state fascism and tyrannical ruling of the Duterte regime," Flat Lux said.

Meanwhile, Heraldo Filipino, the official student publication of the De La Salle University-Dasmariñas, urged the public, "Keep your eyes open now that they have turned the lights out."

"We fight for the day our rights are fully guaranteed and not embattled. We will not be silenced," it said. – Rappler.com 

Youth groups vow to fight implementation of anti-terror law

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YOUTH FIGHT BACK. Student activist from various schools join militant groups for the Grand Mañanita protest rally at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, QC on June 12, 2020 as the contry celebrate its 122nd Independence Day. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Hours after President Rodrigo Duterte signed the anti-terrorism law, youth groups across the country held an online indignation protest on Friday night, July 3, to condemn the move.  

"Despite the opposition from a broad array of sectors, it is clear that Duterte doesn't listen to the Filipino people," said Student Christian Movement Spokesperson Kej Andres during the impromptu online protest.  (READ: ‘The demise of democracy’: Filipinos denounce signing of anti-terror law

Several youth groups took part in the online protest, including the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines, National Union of Students of the Philippines, Kabataan Partylist, Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, League of Filipino Students, University of the Philippines Los Baños - University Student Council, University of the Philippines Diliman - University Student Council, YACAP, STAND-USC, Tulong Kabataan and Youth Act Now Against Tyranny Cagayan Valley.

During the protest, youth groups stressed that the anti-terrorism law is a misplaced priority of "a country being ravaged by a pandemic," adding that the administration must exert its efforts on uplifting the lives of marginalized groups instead. (READ: House of terror: How the lower chamber let slip a 'killer' bill

"Nananawagan ang kabataan sa pagbasura sa bagong anti-terror law, lalo na sa gitna ng pandemya na kung saan ang dapat bigyan ng prayoridad ay pagpapalakas sa kalusugan at kabuhayan at pagtatanggol sa soberanya," said Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago.

(The youth want the anti-terror law junked, especially in the middle of a pandemic when the priority should be on boosting public health and livelihood, and defending our sovereignty.)

Fight continues

The fight is not over for youth groups, who affirmed their commitment to exhaust all avenues to challenge the law all the way to the Supreme Court. (READ: 'We will not be silenced': Campus press denounce signing of anti-terror law)

"Kakalampagin natin ang Korte Suprema. Lalaban ulit tayo sa Kongreso. Muli nating aangkinin ang parliyamento ng lansangan (We will ask the Supreme Court. We will fight in Congress. Once again, we will own the parliament of the streets)," said Katapat Spokesperson Bryan Gonzales. 

At least two groups have expressed their intent to file petitions before the Supreme Court to challenge the anti-terror law – one led by the National Union of People’s Lawyers and one to be joined by former senior associate justice Antonio Carpio. ([ANALYSIS] The Anti-Terror Act is worse than Martial Law)

Here are statements of youth groups condemning the signing of the controversial law: 

– Rappler.com

 

 



[OPINION] Stranded scholars: An inconvenient truth

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Challenges and misfortunes such as this pandemic can be an opportunity to bring out the best in someone. In fact, one of Isaac Newton's most productive periods as a scholar was during the Great Plague of 1666. As a PhD student, I couldn't help but speculate the circumstances surrounding Newton at that time. Was he out of funding? Did he attempt to go home? How did he survive?

But maybe events like this pandemic also bare the truth about your status and privilege. As a scholar stranded abroad, the consequences of COVID-19 elucidated what it means to be vulnerable and insecure as the world grapples with a crisis.

Hopeful years

The opportunity of studying abroad lives with you for long. You embrace a new way of thinking, learning, and living, and you enhance your potential through a diverse set of experiences and environments, which can incubate scholarly ideas. It is even more thrilling when students are awarded with funding, because it turns an impossible dream into a reality. 

Everyone arrives in their host countries very hopeful. I still remember that day in 2016, when I first came to Japan, full of hope and possibilities. I thought that in 4 years, I would be able to contribute to my discipline and improve my perspectives. But all of these expectations are assumed within favorable conditions. 

My life as a scholar was also filled with ups and downs, but they were all predictable. I knew that funding would never be enough; that publishing was a painful process; and that people often don’t finish on schedule. There sure were a lot more questions than answers. My PhD was not only an academic journey, but also a life lesson.

Yet nothing prepared me for being stranded and in limbo during the pandemic.

Diverging privileges: Not all scholars are the same

COVID occurred during the most stressful and hectic time of the academic calendar year. When the spread and the threat of lockdown were imminent, even just to pack up and leave was not a privilege for all scholars. Last-minute plane tickets were unfamiliar options even before the pandemic, and it always will be for students who are under limited funding. In that fateful moment, the world closed its doors, leaving thousands of people with no choice but to stay where they were. (READ: [OPINION] Studying in the U.S. in the middle of a pandemic)

We cannot say that the pandemic affects everyone in the same manner. Some may only be inconvenienced by the (temporary) school closures and halt to their experiments and data gathering activities. Educational institutions were quick to adopt the online mode of learning, but as seamless as it seemed for those with developed infrastructures for learning, it wasn't for those who don't have a decent internet connection.

Learning was just one aspect where students were inequal. Not all students experienced the same financial woes as well. Some were stranded without funding or had no opportunity to get a part-time job. I was unfortunate to be caught in the crossfire of the pandemic and the tail-end of my scholarship. It wouldn’t have been a problem if I was done with my studies, but with my pending requirements, the end was far from sight: graduation, going home, and the death of this pandemic.

Universities and schools give as much assistance as they can to those affected by the pandemic. Still, help isn’t as universal as it seems. It entails a lot of work to be eligible for assistance. In some instances, students first need to prove good academic status and a decrease in income. Undoubtedly, institutions want to be prudent in giving help, but falling short of these qualifications doesn’t mean a student is not affected by the pandemic. 

Who takes care of us?

Filipino students abroad during this crisis are in a liminal space. We are not considered OFWs nor do we have their privileges. We might be closer to a long-term tourist, ultimately classified as an Overseas Filipino (OF). This truth was revealed when OFs had to pay for their own quarantine and testing. And shouldering our own financial expenses is just one aspect of our vague status. (READ: [FIRST PERSON] Diary of a Filipina who survived coronavirus in Berlin)

Identity matters to survive in this pandemic. Asking for assistance also means going through a lot of bureaucratic lingo – “Who is your coordinator?” “Who provides your scholarship?” – in order to pinpoint what kind of assistance you deserve. 

The host country can only provide so much assistance at this point, but who then takes the responsibility when this assistance runs out? What do Filipino scholars abroad, in this time of the pandemic, mean for the Philippines, regardless of their scholarships and universities?

Hopeful, still

As I wait for our repatriation flight to the Philippines (after 7 ticket cancellations), I remain hopeful and try to remember that day I arrived as a scholar. This experience has taught me more about how your privilege can dictate your entitlement for welfare, and how well you will fare in this crisis. Coincidentally, my dissertation focuses on the politics of gender and the redistribution of cash transfer programs. 

Despite all the glamor, opportunities, and titles they enjoy, Filipino scholars abroad are mired in liminality and uncertainty. Their sense of security is usually found within the 4 walls of the classroom, so when everyone and everything is affected, this security comes into question. I hope this pandemic helps us recognize the inequality and insecurity Filipino scholars experience abroad. We, too, are affected. We hope to keep our well-being intact in this crisis, so we can bring home contributions that will be beneficial to the country. – Rappler.com

Tina Alinsunurin is a PhD student at Nagoya University, studying International Development. Follow Tina on Twitter (@ciaobetina) for discussions on gender and welfare.

[OPINION] The coronavirus and the countryside

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Every narrative has a counternarrative. In the prevailing urban-centric discourse on the COVID-19 pandemic, stories from the provinces are often filtered through the optics of the central government and Metro Manila’s experience of the crisis. No wonder the national government responded to the surge in the COVID-19 cases in Cebu with stricter, highly militarized quarantine measures. For the government, the pasaway (disobedience verging on recklessness) in Manila is the same pasaway in Central Visayas and elsewhere in the country. And when rural areas get sustained attention from mainstream media, people in the countryside are often reduced to "frontliners" anointed to feed the largely urban population in the time of a pandemic.   

When our diverse narratives of COVID-19 — that is, our stories of what the pandemic is, who the main characters are, and how the story should unfold — are simplified into a single plot by an all-seeing state or a powerful group of people, authoritarian measures that benefit some while making others more vulnerable tend to be justified. 

In the 1979 groundbreaking book of Filipino rural sociologist par excellence, Gelia T. Castillo, titled Beyond Manila: Philippine rural problems in perspective, she underscored the importance of "rural mindedness," i.e., taking into account the experiences, emotions, and social location of people in the rural areas, in the pursuit of a more just and equitable path to national development.  

Four decades after and as the country struggles to survive a pandemic, Dr. Castillo’s advice still rings true. We need to be more mindful of how people and local institutions in the countryside respond to and are affected by the pandemic. This is paramount particularly now that COVID-19 accelerates in some regions in the Visayas and Mindanao. (READ: [OPINION] Rural societies and the coronavirus pandemic)

But how would the pandemic look like if viewed from the countryside? 

Conjoined fates

Hours after President Rodrigo Duterte declared a Luzon-wide lockdown on March 16, groups of migrant workers in Metro Manila, mostly men employed in construction work, began to travel on foot in an attempt to return to their provinces, miles away from the country’s capital. The exodus of Filipino internal migrant workers typifies the conjoined fates of cities and the probinsya even in the time of a pandemic. 

It is not a connection that springs from an imagined faraway place where rich urbanites and artists go for solace and inspiration. Rather, it is a place born out of decades of neglect, the birthplace of many who have left to write their own destiny elsewhere, and the only place they can go back to when a crisis as deep as the COVID-19 pandemic exposed society’s perverse development trajectories. 

When COVID-19 brought the Philippine economy to a near-standstill, the crisis laid bare the fragility of a consumption-driven service economy that thrives on cheap, precarious labor of internal migrant workers. With no jobs and network of social support to keep them afloat, and with very limited rights to demand for city government subsidies, many of these informal workers scrambled to go home. 

But it would take the demise of Michelle Silvertino for the national government to heed the call of tens of thousands of stranded workers in the country’s capital. For many informal rural-to-urban migrant workers who have endured the harsh realities of being second-class citizens in cities, the protection from a pandemic is far from being a public good. (READ: [OPINION] Can Balik-Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa help stranded Filipinos?)

Outside the cities 

But the tragedy of those who fled is only part of a bigger story that COVID-19 is unraveling about the countryside. Some rural communities find strength in traditional sources of social cohesion and shared experiences of responding to crisis. In the town of Sadanga, Mountain Province, Mayor Gabino Ganggangan refused to receive relief food packs from the national government as the local officials uphold the long-held tradition of the Sadanga Indigenous people of having the kadangyan or the wealthier members of the community open up their rice granaries to the poor in times of crisis. (READ: [OPINION] Putting the 'community' back in the enhanced community quarantine)

The pandemic also revealed people’s attachment to a place and sense of belonging, which ignited countless examples of collective action to help the most vulnerable groups in the villages, towns, and provinces where they come from. From the Filipino word ambag, which means one’s share to a collective affair, the Batch 2011 graduates of Oriental Mindoro National High School mobilized an online fundraising Ambagan para sa Kalusugan (Ambagan for Health) to provide rice and fresh vegetables to hundreds of poor families and personal protective equipment to frontline health workers in their home province. 

For Eric Balois, a barista in a local coffee shop just outside the University of the Philippines Los Baños where I teach, the COVID-19 crisis made him rediscover assets that he possessed all along after losing his job and was forced to return to their hometown of Infanta in Quezon province. 

During the lockdown, Eric kept himself busy growing vegetables around their house. Even the roadsides are lined up with trellises of beans. “Mas maganda dito sa Infanta at hindi binibili ang pagkain, fresh pa. Talagang ‘pag diyan sa Los Baños lahat ay bili,” he said. 

(It’s better here in Infanta. You don’t have to spend for food, which always comes fresh. In Los Baños, everything has a price) 

While these accounts somewhat defy the tropes of vulnerable, disaster-stricken rural areas, one can find unequal levels of resilience and vulnerabilities within the rural communities, just like in any other places in the country.

For Marlon Dalipe, a construction worker who walked for 5 days from Cavite to his hometown of Gallego in Camarines Sur, the pandemic felt worse than the typhoons that frequently hit the Bicol region. It took weeks before the fatigue and the soreness of his feet went away. For almost 4 months, he ekes out a living from fishing and sometimes from river sand quarrying. Because he earns very little compared to his araw or daily wages from construction work, he doesn’t consider fishing a real job. “Para lang akong naglalaro,” (It’s like I’m playing) Marlon said in a disheartening tone. 

Some technocrats prefer the likes of Marlon to shift from the agricultural sector in the rural areas to another low productivity sector in the urban areas. They equate such action to resilience. But such view of resilience elides social injustice and inequality that many communities in the countryside have endured for decades. How is he supposed to react to the Balik Probinsya program for the urban poor when he himself could not even find a job in his birthplace? 

Amid the uncertainties of whether he can still go back to construction work in Manila or in the Calbarzon region, Marlon still hopes for a better future. “Sana magkatrabaho na ako, ‘yung pangmatagalan. Kung mas malapit, mas maganda.” (I hope to find a job, one that is more permanent. If it’s here [in Bicol], the better). 

Whole-of-nation approach…whose nation? 

There is much to learn about the link between COVID-19 and the demographics, geography, local politics, and culture in places beyond the confines of Metro Manila and urban Luzon. 

In areas that are not so well connected to road networks and digital infrastructures, fewer jobs might be amenable to the modern notion of "work from home." Thus, local governments should vigorously support home-based industries and community-driven livelihoods by providing organized groups and networks of households with financial and technical assistance and connecting them to wider markets. 

These efforts to promote local resiliency should be complemented with national-level policy changes that are protective of our rural economies. 

The Department of Agriculture’s emergency response to the pandemic along with new forms of social solidarities that emerged to make agricultural supply chains more fair suggest that better alternatives to the anti-poor neoliberal policies of the past are possible. 

The "whole-of-nation approach" that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases constantly invoke in its resolutions will only have meaning to the entire nation if the values, experiences, and stories of diverse communities, especially those historically disempowered by existing social and institutional structures, are reflected in the governmet responses to the crisis. Only then can the protection from a pandemic be a public good. – Rappler.com

Winifredo Dagli is an assistant professor at the Department of Science Communication, College of Development Communication, University of the Philippines Los Baños. He’s also a PhD candidate in rural studies at the University of Guelph. 

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