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Can we please stop the Hitler comparisons?


When you’re about to make a comparison to Hitler, stop. Don’t. You can do better than that.

Whatever compelling argument you have is lost the moment you invoke his name. It ends dialogue. More than just a PR nightmare or a discussion about semantics, when we Filipinos include him in our vernacular, we diminish the lives of millions who died under Hitler. (READ: LOOK BACK: Hitler and the Holocaust )

And yet, on my Philippine news feed, I have been nonplussed by the casual use of Hitler and Nazi imagery by Filipino politicians, celebrities, and netizens. Here’s a short list: President Duterte’s remarks about his drug war and Hitler; Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella’s maladroit justification of said comments; Miss Philippines Earth Imelda Schweighart comparison of Duterte to Hitler (she also apologized but added she was part German, as if that would make her “soft joke” with Miss Austria ok); Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations Teddyboy Locsin’s tweets about the Nazis; Professor Walden Bello’s “Fraternally yours: Adolf’s message to Rody” (tone-deaf satire, IMHO); or the picture of Arroyos’ attorney Ferdinand Topacio in his office, standing in front of Hitler's portrait – a juxtaposition simultaneously scary and absurd.

These stories unintentionally confirm what the media has recently been showing the world about the Philippines: that we have a profound misinterpretation of history and of human rights. From the New Yorker to The New York Times to Buzzfeed, the stories coming out of our country, while insightful, have shown the Philippines through only one dark, violent lens.

I have had to explain to friends stateside that what they see in the news is not the Philippines I miss. (What you see, I’ve often had to say to them recently, “is not the full story.”)

When we use those analogies, we erase others’ suffering. We erase their terror and pain.

More specifically, when we Filipinos use them, we ignore what is, to me, the most inspiring example of leadership in the Philippines’ young history.

From 1937-1941, the Philippines was a haven for more than 1300 European Jews. President Manuel Quezon opened the Philippines to them when other countries – including the United States –  turned them away. Had the US State Department allowed the Philippines, the former US commonwealth would have allowed as many as up to 10,000 more.

Today, Manila has its own small schul (synagogue), a beautiful and haunting reminder of the intimate connection between European Jews and Filipinos. That our archipelago stood on the right side of history and took them in, even giving them work visas and President Quezon donating his own land in Marikina and Mindanao to them, makes me so proud of our former president. I am stunned that, at one time, the Philippines was a world leader.

“That was like a rebirth," said Noel Izon, the filmmaker of the documentary, An Open Door: Jewish Rescue in the Philippines, said of the European Jews’ resettlement in the Philippines. "They went from certain death to this life."

As a teenager, I watched Schindler’s List and in high school and college, I studied World War II, but I did not know about this part of Philippine history until 6 years ago.

When my Jewish boyfriend visited the Philippines, my father taught us about it. My father, a history buff, called us over after lunch and I remember sitting at our dining table, reading over my father’s shoulder and wondering why it was the first time I had heard about it. The section about the Philippines was only a brief chapter in my US textbooks, with some mention of being the US’ “little brown brothers.” For years, I internalized our country’s smallness, with little idea of its greatness, our heartbreaking courage.

Since learning about President Quezon, I have studied as much as I can about this part of Philippine history. I’ve revisited my saved links and watched the documentaries more times than I can recall, and, after each viewing, I hold my head higher, my heart beats stouter.

A monument in Rishon Lezion Memorial Park in Israel, appropriately named “Open Doors,” commemorates this historical link. When the Philippines was hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan, Jewish communities worldwide mobilized to help. "For me it was like coming full circle and I couldn't help but think of what it must have been like when my grandparents and mother arrived 76 years ago," a man named Danny Pins said in a CNN interview. "My going to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan was very special. I was repaying a debt to the country that saved my family."

I am reminded of this connection between strangers from different shores every single day, “their foreignness,” as Ondaatje writes, “intimate like two pages of a closed book.”

Reader, the Jewish boyfriend who visited the Philippines – I married him.

We have a Jewish daughter.(She had her mikvah, her conversion ritual, on her father’s birthday). Her first Christmas Eve with my family is the first day of Hanukkah. At my sister Lisa and husband John’s home, a mezuzah greets my family at the front door. I catch myself smiling when I imagine telling our girl about the thread that connects hers and her father’s religion with my country. What an amazing history we come from and how little I knew of it. How humbling to think of how we shared our little space when we were needed.

My hope is that we become that country again: even if no one will notice, let’s be the place that is the model for bravery and generosity. When others more prosperous and richer are closing their doors and pushing others out, let’s be the country that makes room. When other parts of the world are dangerous for the the Other, let’s become that diverse place where they feel included and safe(r) in their skin, in their faith.

Oh, Philippines.

We are better than we seem and much kinder than we appear. – Rappler.com

Kristine Sydney was born in the Philippines, raised in Saudi Arabia, and has studied and worked in the United States for the last 23 years. She teaches high school English at a private school in Rhode Island. Follow her on Twitter at @kosheradobo.

Are you an OFW with a story to tell? Send contributions to balikbayan@rappler.com

#NotOnMyWatch Laguna: Fight corruption with vigilance


NO TO CORRUPTION! Participants of the #NotOnMyWatch forum in Laguna on December 2, 2016, say no to corruption. Photo by Gemma Mendoza/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – How do we fight corruption?

If you ask those who attended Rappler's #NotOnMyWatch caravan in Sta Cruz, Laguna, they will say it is by increasing our vigilance and being armed with accurate information.

Students, local sectoral groups, and government officials got together on Thursday and Friday, December 1 and 2, at the Asiablooms Hotel to exchange ideas on how to end the menace of corruption.

In one of the sessions, Commission on Audit (COA) supervising auditor Ethel Gervacio shared that there is a COA regulation requiring local and national agencies to publicize information on their projects, including those under the bottom-up budgeting (BUB) scheme. 

There should be signboards posted where the projects are, she added, containing details like the implementing agency, the contractor, the project cost, and the date of completion.

Gervacio then invited the public to take photos and report discrepancies in project implementation, based on the details outlined on the full disclosure signboards.

"Sa simpleng paraan, pwede po tayong makatulong na ipaabot sa awtoridad para ito ay mabigyan ng kaukulang aksyon," she said. (In a simple way, we can help report these to authorities so that they could act on it appropriately.)

CITIZENS' AUDIT. Supervising auditor Ethel Gervacio of the Commission on Audit urges people to help in monitoring government projects through the Citizens' Participatory Audit.

This is similar to COA's transparency initiative called the Citizen's Participatory Audit (CPA), which likewise involves the public's help in checking government projects. 

"This is based on the premise that public accountability can prosper only with a vigilant and informed citizenry. Tayo po ito. [Kapag] nandiyan ang information pero wala tayong aksyon, walang saysay," she said. (This is us. If the information is there but we don't take action, it is pointless.)

Gervacio urged the public, especially those who report anonymously, "Makakatulong po kayo sa amin (You can help us). Give us complete information." 

Ethics and good governance

Citizens should also look out for ethics violations by public officials.

"Hindi lang pagnanakaw ng pera angcorruption (Corruption is not just about stealing money from public coffers)," said Rappler editor-at-large Marites Vitug in a keynote speech. 

Vitug mentioned previous reports where some elected officials live lavish lifestyles beyond their means, do not avoid conflicts of interest, receive gifts or favors, as well as lie about their educational background.

In other countries, the discovery of these actions would merit the officials' swift resignation or dismissal from service, said Vitug.

Weak accountability and transparency mechanisms, the public's high tolerance for ethics violations, and light or non-existent sanctions against these acts all contribute to letting these kinds of wrongdoings go unpunished in the Philippines, she added.

"We [should] demand more from our public officials because we pay their salaries through our taxes," Vitug said. "That's why we have a right to let them know that we're watching them."

'VIGILANCE PA MORE.' Rappler editor-at-large Marites Vitug tells the audience at the #NotOnMyWatch forum in Laguna on December 2, 2016, that increased vigilance is key in the fight against corruption.

She then mentioned some laws that govern the conduct of public officials. Republic Act 6713 lays out the code of conduct and ethical standards, while Republic Act 3019 lists down corrupt practices and hands out punishment to errant officials.

"Ethical leadership is the foundation of good governance," said Vitug. "Public officials' compliance with ethical standards should be improved."

Ultimately, Vitug reiterated the adage, "public office is a public trust."

In addition, she urged the public to be more discerning and be more careful with what they read online or on social media. "Fight fake news and lies. We should stand up for the truth."

Pledges versus corruption

Using social media as a tool in fighting corruption also took the spotlight in Rappler's 4th stop in the #NotOnMyWatch caravan. 

Through www.fightcorruption.ph and via Move.PH's Facebook Messenger bot, online users can report corrupt activities and provide evidence, with an option to remain anonymous or withhold their identities.

These online platforms were demonstrated in Thursday's reporting workshop and Friday's #NotOnMyWatch anti-corruption forum.

Students from the AMA University-Sta Cruz Campus and the Laguna State Polytechnic University attended both activities, as well as Laguna fisherfolk and members of local transport groups and women's groups.

Francisco Carandang of the Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council-Los Baños, and Ric Abina of the federation of tricycle operators and drivers associations (TODA) in Laguna even shared the typical cases of corruption they experience in their respective communities.


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Local leaders share corrupt practices they have experienced. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NotOnMyWatch?src=hash">#NotOnMyWatch</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CorruptionPH?src=hash">#CorruptionPH</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/MovePH">@MovePH</a> <a href="https://t.co/GfFicHlCMW">pic.twitter.com/GfFicHlCMW</a></p>&mdash; Michael Bueza (@mikebueza) <a href="https://twitter.com/mikebueza/status/804589234149421057">December 2, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>



Pakil town Vice Mayor Melody Cabañero-Familara and representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman and disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) offices in the province likewise participated.

To highlight their commitment to the fight against corruption, participants posted their pledges online using #NotOnMyWatch.

"I will influence people to join me, I'll influence them to be more vigilant and be accountable. Change begins with ourselves," said student Alia Janiel Sultan on Facebook.

Lonwell Pagkaliwagan tweeted, "Bilang isang estudyante, lalabanan ko ang korapsyon sa pamamagitan ng pagsusumbong sa mga nagaganap na kamalian sa aming bayan!" (As a student, I will fight corruption by reporting anomalies in our town.)

Here are other #NotOnMyWatch pledges:


<a class="twitter-timeline" data-height="700" data-partner="tweetdeck" href="https://twitter.com/mikebueza/timelines/805020460127645698">Laguna vs. corruption - Curated tweets by mikebueza</a> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

<iframe src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Faliajaniel.sultan%2Fposts%2F1284023491664200&width=500" width="500" height="218" style="border:none;overflow:hidden" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowTransparency="true"></iframe>



The #NotOnMyWatch caravan has had successful runs in the cities of Cebu, Iloilo, and Cagayan de Oro. – Rappler.com

Reporting corruption gets you better government service. Tell us about your experience on www.fightcorruption.ph or chat with us through Facebook messenger

Help fight corruption. Share this story with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and help spread the word about how we can fight corruption together. 

To help us track the ripples of this campaign, use #NotOnMyWatch.

Interested to partner with us? Email notonmywatch@rappler.com.

Int'l groups to Duterte gov't: Death penalty isn't effective


IN FAVOR. Members of the House subcommittee on judicial reforms vote in favor of the reimposition of the death penalty for heinous crimes on November 29. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Various human rights advocates and international organizations have added their voices to the growing clamor to stop the revival of the death penalty in the Philippines. (READ: A lethal mix: Death penalty and a 'flawed', corrupt justice system)

This came after the justice panel’s subcommittee on judicial reforms of the House of Representatives approved on Tuesday, November 29, a bill seeking to reimpose capital punishment for all heinous crimes. (READ: 'Have a deadly Christmas'? House subpanel OKs death penalty bill)

"We categorically and absolutely oppose the death penalty in any and all circumstances and consider its use to be a violation of the right to life and freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment," about 67 signatories of a statement released on Monday, December 5, said.

"It cannot be emphasized enough that significant and overwhelming evidence shows that the death penalty is not effective at deterring crime at a greater rate than alternative forms of punishment," the groups which include the human rights group Amnesty International said.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, one of the co-authors of House Bill Number 1, expects the House of Representatives to pass the death penalty bill on 3rd and final reading by December. (READ: Death penalty method? 'Whatever is cheaper' – Alvarez)

PH was leader in fight vs death penalty 

They argued that the Philippines is a state party to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which means that it is obliged not to carry out executions within its jurisdiction and not to reintroduce the death penalty.

"The Philippines has always been viewed as a regional and global leader in the drive to abolish the death penalty around the world. Bringing back the death penalty into its laws would be an enormous step backward for the country," they reminded members of Congress and the Duterte administration.

They warned authorities that the revival of the capital punishment "would affect the notions of justice and human rights in the country."

The UN General Assembly has repeatedly adopted resolutions by overwhelming majorities, calling on all States that retain the death penalty to impose a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing it.

The groups are proposing that the government instead improve detection and investigation techniques, along with the capacity and the effectiveness of the justice system.    

The measure is one of the priority bills of President Rodrigo Duterte, who counts more than 250 congressmen as his allies.

Arroyo opposes death penalty

The Philippines was the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty under the 1987 Constitution, but it was reimposed during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos to address the rising crime rate.

During the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now Pampanga congresswoman, the Philippines signed the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. Capital punishment was eventually abolished under her watch in 2006.

Arroyo reiterated her position in a press conference on Monday, December 5.

{source}<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Deputy Speaker Gloria Arroyo: I recognize he is President, I am not. I am against death penalty personally. Decision to run admin is his.</p>&mdash; Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) <a href="https://twitter.com/rapplerdotcom/status/805626108183908352">December 5, 2016</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>{/source}

List of groups and individuals opposing death penalty

Below is a list of 67 individuals and international groups that signed the statement against the reimposition of the death penalty in the Philippines.

  • Alcohol and Drug Foundation (Australia)
  • Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance Against Mining) (Philippines)
  • Amnesty International
  • Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice (Russia)
  • Artikulo Tres Human Rights Alliance Inc (Philippines)
  • Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  • Ateneo de Davao Legal Aid Office (Philippines)
  • Bernice C. Mendoza, Lawyer (Philippines)
  • Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (Canada)
  • Centro de Investigación Drogas y Derechos Humanos (CIDDH) (Peru)
  • Charles Hector, Human Rights Defender and Lawyer (Malaysia)
  • Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific
  • Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Puerto Rico
  • Collectif français Libérons Mumia
  • Commission on the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) (Indonesia)
  • Death Penalty Focus
  • Defend the Defenders (DTD) (Philippines)
  • Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM)
  • FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights
  • Focus on the Global South
  • Forum Droghe0Italia (Italy)
  • Housing Works (United States)
  • Human Rights Online (Philippines)
  • In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (Philippines)
  • Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (Indonesia)
  • Indonesian Legal Roundtable (Indonesia)
  • Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) (Indonesia)
  • International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP)
  • International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  • International Drug Policy Consortium
  • International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT)
  • Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (Australia)
  • LBH Masyarakat (Indonesia)
  • M.Ravi, Human Rights Advocate (Singapore)
  • MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)(Malaysia)
  • Malaysian Bar
  • Mamamayan Tutol sa Bitay (Philippines)
  • MARUAH (The Working Group on an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism-Singapore)
  • Mary Jane N. Real, Women"s Human Rights Advocate (Philippines)
  • Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity, and Nationalism (MABINI)(Philippines)
  • NGO 4 Life (Montenegro)
  • Observatory of Crops Declared Illicit (Colombia)
  • Penington Institute (Australia)
  • Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
  • Philippine Human Rights Information Center PHILRIGHTS
  • Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights (LILAK)(Philippines)
  • Reprieve (Australia)
  • Reseau d’Alerte et d’Intervention pour les Droits de l’Homme (RAIDH)
  • Ricardo Fernandez, Lawyer (Philippines) 
  • Romanian Harm Reduction Network (Romania)
  • Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) (Philippines)
  • Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC)
  • Social Watch (Benin) 
  • Syndicat national des agents de la formation et de l’education du Niger (SYNAFEN)
  • Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (Taiwan)
  • TB/HIV Care Association (South Africa)
  • Todung Mulya Lubis, Lawyer (Indonesia)
  • Tyrell Haberkorn, Political and Social Change, Australian National University
  • Union contre la Co-infection VIH/Hépatites/Tuberculose (UNICO)(Ivory Coast) 
  • Vietnam Independent Civil Society Organizations Network (VICSON)
  • Vietnamese Women for Human Rights
  • WANEP GUINÉE-BISSAU (West Africa Network for Peacebuilding) (Guinea Bissau)
  • We Believe in Second Chances  (Singapore)
  • West Africa Drug Policy Network (Ghana)
  • World March of Women (Philippines)
  • Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (Zimbabwe)

Local human rights groups and some lawmakers had earlier objected to the reimposition of capital punishment in the country, saying it is not a deterrent to crime. Others plan to take to social media to protest the measure using the hashtag #StopBitayBill (Stop the Death Penalty Bill) – Rappler.com 

Advocates vow to stand vs U.S. anti-immigrant policies


CALIFORNIA, United States – Filipino Americans advocating for equality vowed to remain steadfast in their efforts to uphold the rights of the disenfranchised in this country.

Still reeling from the results of the last presidential elections, Filipino Advocates for Justice (FAJ) declared support for populations that they fear are in the next regime’s firing line.

“We come together to share our fears, support each other, reject the racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic politics we just witnessed on a national scale and to assess what the immediate and long-term impact will be on our community,” the 35-year old nonprofit agency declared on its website. It named “immigrants, Muslims, blacks, Latinos, native people, LGBTQ, women and disability communities” as the incoming administration’s targets.

FAJ, in its post-election statement of solidarity, recalled the anti-immigrant sentiments trumpeted during the campaign by president-elect Donald Trump.

At risk, they say, are policies such as the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and Lawful Permanent Residents also called Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, focus of 2014 executive orders by President Obama.

The first policy gives opportunity for naturalization to the undocumented brought into the country as minors, like Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas. Vargas was an adolescent when he flew into the United States with an uncle from the Philippines. He was unaware that he was unauthorized to work until he applied for a driver’s license was told at the Department of Motor Vehicles that the document he had presented was counterfeit. (READ: 'For the undocumented Fil-Am: Living in fear' )

Trump has blasted "sanctuary cities," or those that prohibit law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status and turning in crime perpetrators to immigration authorities. Proponents say the sanctuary policy encourages community cooperation with police while opponents say it harbors criminals. Mayors of 18 cities including Filipino-concentrated San Francisco, San Jose, New York, and Chicago responded defiantly to Trump’s threat to block billions in federal funds from sanctuary cities, assuring residents of safe refuge.

Trump also promised to deport at least 2 million people he describes as “criminal illegal immigrants” and stop immigration from terrorist-exporting regions. He has cited the Philippines as among those countries.  

First on Trump’s chopping block is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare," but he has not proposed a plan to provide health insurance to the 20 million covered by the program.    

Eliminating ACA would affect Filipino Americans and many recently-arrived or low-income families whose children 26 years and younger may be covered on their parents’ plan. The health care reform law established Covered California, a “marketplace” for private plans where qualified clients may get financial assistance to pay for those plans. To qualify, clients must meet set income limits.

FAJ is unfazed despite these looming challenges.

They mobilized in 1994 when voters approved California Proposition 187. Pushed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, the 'Save our State' initiative required public institutions such as schools and hospitals to verify immigration status and report suspected undocumented immigrants to the Attorney General and immigration authorities. A federal judge blocked implementation of the statute, which drew sharp criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.  

The controversial policy “built a movement that challenged all anti-immigrant policies and eventually booted some of the worst anti-immigrant legislators out of office,” according to FAJ.  

“We will power back from this seeming brink of disaster,” FAJ said, pledging to organize, educate and coalesce with kindred groups.

“By resisting locally, we inspire resistance nationally,” said the team led by Lillian Galedo, who has been at the forefront of community organizing since the 1970s.  

Meanwhile California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon – both Democrats – said the new administration will not alter Golden State values.

“California is – and must always be – a refuge of justice and opportunity for people of all walks, talks, ages and aspirations – regardless of how you look, where you live, what language you speak, or who you love,” the legislative leaders said in a joint statement. “California has long set an example for other states to follow. And California will defend its people and our progress.”

Trump may have won the electoral contest but Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular race, getting over 2 million votes more than the billionaire who has not held an elected seat.

Clinton’s platform included comprehensive immigration reform that would set “pathways to full and equal citizenship” by upholding Obama’s executive action on DACA and DAPA. 

FAJ urged those despairing over the election outcome to express themselves constructively, effectively, and visibly:  “Show up in the streets, in the offices of legislators, and the voting booth. Register and use your vote in every election.”

The team invoked the ancestral Philippine philosophy of “bayanihan” that upholds social justice and human rights for all.”

LEAD Filipino

Silicon Valley-based Fil-Am organization LEAD Filipino said that “liberal, progressive, and inclusive California” was “somber” after Trump's win.

Organization founder Angelica Cortez said that Trump's victory has "really emboldened people to come out with their prejudice, bias and not be fearful of any kind of consequence."

Founded in 2015, LEAD or  Leadership, Education, Activism & Dialogue, promotes local engagement, social awareness, and public service among younger FilAms.

The group has scheduled a town hall meeting 6-9 pm on January 6, at the San Jose City Hall, to help build solidarity among FilAms and other minority groups to stand up against Trump and some of his supporters' “hatred, bullying and xenophobic rhetoric.”

Regarding statistics showing Filipinos as the biggest Asian American group supporting Trump, Cortez said: "We have a high number of Filipinos who do identify as Republicans – and if you look at the core values of the GOP it’s about business, profits, less taxes. And for a lot of Filipinos who are conservative, who came here, who might have started their own businesses, who put in hard work and then went through the whole citizenship process and abided by that system – they feel strongly that there should be no exemption regardless of the traditions of your home country, or what you’re fleeing from, or if you’re seeking refuge, asylum." – Rappler.com


Filipinos and the politics of acceptance


I find myself at the front of the crowd when the march begins. My shoulders heavy with a backpack full of books and papers, I step forward, gingerly at first, until the crowd begins to chant in an unrelenting wave, "Whose streets? Our streets."

It is 7 pm on a Tuesday and I have come here straight from work. But tonight, as the American election season finishes off with a landslide win for Donald Trump, the day has developed its own weight, far greater than any I could ever carry alone.

My footsteps, gaining conviction, are among the first to arrive at the steps of the State House in Boston, Massachusetts. "When human rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!"

Little did I know that just one week later, Filipinos too would spill out into the streets in protest: this time, for the return of a dictator long dead, yet still able to cause so much pain. (READ: Marcos buried at Libingan ng mga Bayani)

For someone who was born and raised in the Philippines, it took me a long time to develop an interest in my country's history. In fact, it was only after living in the US for 4 years that I learned of Manila's status as the second most devastated Allied city after World War II; that of the events which took place in those 6 years, perhaps none was so damning as the Battle of Manila in 1945. It was during this time that the Americans, perceiving that Filipinos would experience untold suffering if left to the hands of rogue, bloodthirsty Japanese troops, decided that they should instead lay the city to waste with their own heavy artillery.

Today, I wonder how many Filipinos were let in on this decision. Today, I remember this city of my birth, and wonder what it could have looked like had it not been destroyed.

What I have learned from history is that often, Filipinos have been asked to accept the very tragedies which have defined us. Resilience is a word we have used to shape our narrative in times of war, times of slavery; resilience, one could say, is what has kept our people alive. 

A history of acceptance

This is as true today as it was in the past, when the Philippines was not yet our Philippines. Each year, as typhoons and floods hollow us of homes and loved ones, relentless in their greed, we have been asked again and again to simply make peace with the things we cannot change. Our gift is that our past has prepared us to do just this. Our curse, however, is that while there are many who use this strength to rise up from times of struggle, there are just as many who would use it as a way to keep us in our place.

Take the Battle of Manila. Though this is just one example of Filipinos being forced to accept the will of a "higher power," it is surely one of the worst. That said, as a once-colonized people, our history is full of such moments. In history class, Filipinos are taught to be thankful to our Western colonizers; for giving us their religion, their language, their intervention in times of need. And yet what is often overlooked is the sacrifice of Filipinos themselves. Who can blame us? The idea that we have no say, that our sacrifices are a "necessary evil"... these have been forced upon us since the day Magellan's ships set anchor along the shores of Cebu.

These were habits borne of desperate times. Yet today, as a Filipino living in Trump's America, watching my countrymen protest the burial of a dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, I find I am unable to accept the things which others tell me I cannot change.

ANTI-TRUMP. A demonstrator holds up a placard during a protest against Donald Trump's US presidential election victory, at City Hall in Portland on November 11, 2016.  Photo by Ankur Dholakia/AFP

When acceptance becomes dangerous

When news first broke about Trump's win, thousands of people in the city of Boston flocked to the Massachusetts State House in protest. In person and online, there were fellow Filipinos who told me that our protests would not change the results of the elections, that all we could do was "accept" this new establishment which had been built on a foundation of hatred and hostility.

But what they did not understand was that this protest had not been made to mourn what had already happened. No, what these protests stood for, what we stood for, was a collective message to the new establishment: that racism, sexism, and bigotry would not go unchecked. That moving forward, we, the people, would fight to ensure our rights were being respected and protected.

Existential philosopher Simone de Beauvoir once said that often, marginalized people are reluctant to renounce their alliance with a "superior caste" for fear of giving up "all the advantages conferred upon them by [that] alliance." I find that in the case of many Filipinos who voted in this election this has been proven, unfortunately, all too true.

Filipinos were the largest group of Asian Americans to vote for Trump. But we are also the largest group of undocumented Asian immigrants, and the Philippines is just one of the countries labeled a "terrorist threat" by Trump himself. What many of us do not realize – and I say "us" because I am still, in body and blood and upbringing, very much a Filipino – is that by accepting such a man as world leader, we are also validating all the claims he has made about our people, and condoning the suffering our fellow Filipinos are apt to face in the next 4 years.

Now, news is steadily being broken of the violence and harassment faced by women, the LGBT+ community, and people of color all over the United States, at the hands of those emboldened by Trump's victory. This, my dear Filipinos, is when the all-encompassing culture of acceptance becomes dangerous. To accept such things is to put ultimate trust in the government and its function as the hand of the people. But what happens when that function has been compromised?

CONTROVERSIAL BURIAL. The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos is buried at the Heroes' Cemetery on November 18, 2016.

Similarly, what Marcos' burial has proven to the Filipino people is something many have known all along, but have not yet been willing to accept: that the government, at times, will act contrary to the will of the people. Our country's collective amnesia is simply one more symptom of that contradiction.

When it was announced that Ferdinand Marcos' son would be running for vice president, it was often the millennial generation who was blamed for not understanding the atrocities of Martial Law. But what this rhetoric does is simply shift the responsibility to those who are easiest to blame: the generation that was not there to experience it. And while it is true that we may not have seen or heard these things firsthand, we have seen the pictures online and in our history books. We have heard the stories of our parents and grandparents, some of whom may have been victims themselves of that merciless regime, and taken their lessons to heart. (READ: #NeverAgain: Martial Law stories young people need to hear)

What's more, the protests which have erupted in universities and high schools, spilling out of social media and into the streets of Manila, are hard proof that our generation has indeed learned from history. I hear these young people's frustrations, their demands and angry cries, and I see Filipinos who are beginning to realize that we no longer need to accept the things that hurt us. Now, instead of placing the blame on the poor, the young, or other marginalized peoples, we are the ones who are willing and able to enact change. Now, as American activist Angela Davis wrote, we are working to change the things we cannot accept.

According to my father, as hundreds of thousands of people came together for the People Power Revolution in 1986, military tanks and troops began to surround the protesters on all sides. He said that these men had been ordered to shoot, but by some miracle, had chosen instead to retreat and leave the protesters be.

And the rest, as they say, is history. The events that followed saw the birth of a new Philippines: free of a dictator, but most importantly, free by their own hand. Today, Filipinos await that same freedom. But to achieve it, we must fight for it ourselves. – Rappler.com

Frankie Concepcion is a writer from the Philippines living in the US. Visit her site here.

Are you an OFW with a story to tell? Send contributions to balikbayan@rappler.com.

What it's like to study in Europe


Copenhagen Airport. I was bound for Stockholm when airport personnel stopped me at one of those sinister scanning machines. Apparently they found "explosive" substances on my laptop and fingers, so they had to run some tests. I stood there more amused than afraid, wondering how that could've happened. I imagined myself a lone secret agent crossing European borders, maybe chasing hoodlums of the Panama Papers fame.

After realizing that the substance was probably from the hair mousse I had used that morning, they let me – and my action fantasies – go. 

I am, after all, just a graduate student from the Philippines, enjoying the flexibility of a Schengen visa.

Study-work balance

Studying in Europe sounds glamorous because of the many travel opportunities, but it is expensive especially for non-EU students who have no full scholarship or sponsor.

In my case, I had to rely on my savings and freelance work to survive. There were nights when instead of going to student bars or pubs, I'd spend hours editing the USAID coffee table book that covers the agency's work in the Philippines, hard-pressed to finish it quickly so the team in Manila could submit it to Washington. Sometimes I had to beg off from parties or trips because I needed to manage a group of writers for a community website that features Bonifacio Global City. Another time, I even wrote an article on beauty tips for a US-based women's e-magazine, as if I have a right to talk about beauty.

I guess the silver lining here is, I do not stop trying to make my way as a writer in a world of hyper-connection and 10-second attention.

Dressing up for the weather

After a month in Denmark, I became equipped for pain, especially of the homesickness kind. But another challenge appeared – the weather.

Denmark's weather blows me away, literally, with unexpected rains, gray skies, and angry winds. Denmark's Nordic cold is a bit of a shock. When temperature dropped from 20 to 10 degrees and lower, I wasn't prepared.

I was wearing jeans, a shirt, and a pretentious, good-for-nothing white coat during a trip to Hans Christian Andersen's hometown when I caught myself shivering while waiting for the Eurolines bus. That was the day I gave up any delusions that I can survive without proper layers of clothing. 

Naturally, after that, I got used to wearing thermal leggings, socks, boots, a wool sweater, gloves, scarf, and headwear. Imagine the energy of having to do and undo this look every day.

Moving from Point A to B

And what about commuting?

I bought a secondhand bike. It was only logical to do so in a biking city where public transportation is expensive (P3,000 for the monthly bus card). I used my bike once, on my way to the nearest supermarket. But since I live in an area 30-40 minutes away from the university, I thought it impractical to continue any meaningful relationship with my bike. In my second month, I sold it to a German classmate.

Occasionally, I ride in a car.

The Filipina I'm staying with drives her own wheels. She's been living in Denmark for 10 years and speaks fluent Danish. She takes me and another Filipina housemate with her when she goes to supermarkets and Asian shops. The maximum speed on most streets is 60 kilometers per hour, and sometimes there is light to medium traffic early in the afternoon, when Danes leave their offices altogether at 3 pm and satisfy their work-life balance needs.

Compact and subcompact hatchbacks and sedans dominate the roads, I notice, and I learned that this could be because of the weight tax on automobiles: the heavier the car, the higher the tax. Perhaps the Philippines could copy this taxation to help ease its Carmageddon.

Without a car and without a bike, I survive transportation through Denmark's neat bus system. If politicians back home could throw away unchecked greed and the lack of political will, Filipino taxes might be able to inject some first-world improvements into the Philippine public transportation system.

Sharing the world 

Graduate studies abroad aren't complete without food stories. The memorable meals to me are not expensive, lavish ones. In fact, my favorites include the adobo meals shared with classmates, a "Running Dinner" in which about 20 of us transferred from one dorm to another to finish a full-course meal, and a quiet meal of pasta and beer while watching a horror movie.

For sure, these memories of bonding with "international" strangers are going to stay with me, especially at a time when the world is besieged by threats of closing doors to one another and turning inwards.

Living in Denmark presents many challenges because of its high living standards, and I would be lying if I said everything was a breeze, but it is the university city of Aarhus – a community of curious seekers – that makes the global community thrive without erasing one's national identity. – Rappler.com

Aileen Macalintal has been an editor in Singapore and has written for Australian magazines. She also can't stay in one place for too long. She's now studying Erasmus Mundus MA in Media, Journalism, and Globalization.

Are you a Filipino abroad with a story to tell? Send contributions to balikbayan@rappler.com. 

VIRAL: ‘Wait, what?’ – American kids try Filipino food


American kids try balut for the first time. Screenshot from WatchCut video

MANILA, Philippines – "Wait, what? Pig’s blood?"

Filipino food once again takes the spotlight on American media, this time with kids trying out some of our local favorites like dinuguan, balut, and taho 

WatchCut, home to the famous ‘100 Years of Beauty’ videos, published the video as part of their ‘American Kids Try’ series on Tuesday, December 6. It quickly went viral, getting more than 86,000 shares on Facebook as of this writing. 

The video features American kids, some of them of Filipino heritage, trying out some Filipino cuisine for the first time. The kids showed diverse, amusing reactions to each dish. 

"Blood can’t be solid, it’s liquid. Sorry, I don’t believe you," said one of the kids after learning that the dinuguan he just tried is made of pig’s blood. 

"It reminds me of something my mom usually likes," said one of the kids whose mom is a Filipina. 

Watch the video above and tell us your what you think in the comments! – Rappler.com

Senator Bam Aquino calls on public to fight misinformation online


KEYNOTE. Senator Bam Aquino says government needs to be more open in sharing information to the public. Photo by Patricia Coronel/Asia Society

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Paolo Benigno 'Bam' Aquino called on the public to fight the spread of misinformation and for the government to ease access to information in a forum in Makati City on Monday, December 5.

Aquino said that putting out information is not enough as many people can easily twist the truth. "There are a lot of misinformation and fake news out there which seeks to twist the truth in any way. We have to defend the right information and the truth," he said.

With fake news spreading on the world wide web, the senator also took a swipe at black propaganda, which, he cautioned, "creates misinformation on a larger scale." 

Speaking at Transparency 5.0: From Theory to Action, Aquino asked the day's central theme: What can the government, the media, and the citizens do to promote transparency and open access to information?

"What we need are champions in government, in traditional media, in new media, in politics, in business who will say: We will not stand for misinformation. We will push for transparency, and we will do our best to make sure information is used for the good of the country," Aquino said.

“We are surely living in a time of dramatic change and we must remain steadfast with our values and aware of responsibilities as citizens,” said Suyin Liu Lee, Executive Director of Asia Society Philippines. “Calls for greater transparency and accountability are manifesting itself in countries around the world, not just in the Philippines, and we believe there is a dynamic transformation occurring across our world, where citizens can push the envelope of civil discourse in new and more historic ways than ever before.”

The forum is the 5th annual public forum on good governance, transparency, and accountability co-sponsored by Asia Society Philippines and the International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov).

Freedom or restriction of Information?

With the Executive Order (EO) on Freedom of Information (FOI) and the recent launch of the FOI website, the onus is upon the Philippine government to act more transparently. (READ: FOI to take effect on November 25: What you need to know)

Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan said that FOI is for everybody and not just for the media or the academe.

Some critics, however, argue that the FOI EO does not go far enough to give open access to information, citing national security and presidential communications exceptions that could be used to block access to information. 

Journalist Howie Severino called the restrictions a possible 'fence on freedom of information.' He added that the burden of proof should come from government agencies and not the individual seeking the information.

FREEDOM. Gang Badoy of RockEd, Happy Ferraren of BantayPH and Rappler, and John Nery discuss the rise of trolls in a panel moderated by Rappler's Glenda Gloria. Photo by Patricia Coronel/Asia Society

Rise of the trolls

In the post-fact age where social media affects public perception in hyper speed, a discussion facilitated by Rappler's Managing Editor, Glenda Gloria, focused on how citizens could channel near unlimited access to information offered by the Internet into actual social good. Panelists included Founder and Executive Director of Rock Ed Philippines Gang Badoy Capati, Inquirer.net Editor-in-Chief John Nery, and Bantay.PH Co-founder Happy Ferraren.

The discussion inevitably focused on the rise of online trolls.

Nery said that trolls have greatly affected the level of discourse on social media. Even if facts can easily be accessed online, false information in the form of memes and Facebook pages gains traction because they are shared organically or by organized groups. (READ: Propaganda war: Weaponizing the internet)

"Trolling intimidates real people who want to converse intelligently," Gloria said, adding that many journalists have received threats from trolls and real people just for reporting the facts.

"It's an online massacre. It is difficult because they are anonymous and omnipotent," she said.

The panelists agreed that the challenge for the millenial generation to overcome is how they will use information and technology to promote social good.

For Feraren, the world wide web is a good enabler for social movements. She mentioned how the anti-pork barrel protest 'Million People March' in 2013 successfully capitalized on social media to bring thousands to the streets.

Feraren said it is easy to spark an online campaign but sustaining interest in the fight for good governance remains a challenge.

The event also featured keynote speeches from public affairs consultant and commentator Karim Raslan, who spoke about the regional implications of an open society, and Facebook Head of Public Policy for the Asia Pacific Elizabeth Hernandez, who talked about Facebook’s initiatives to better connect people. – Rappler.com

The entire forum can be viewed on the Asia Society Facebook page. Rappler is a media partner of the Asia Society

Rappler Talk: 'Scholar ng Bayan' speaks out vs summary executions


 Photo courtesy of Aliona Silva

A few months ago, UP students lit candles for the victims extrajudicial killings in the country at the Palma Hall steps. Youth organizations and students strongly condemned President Rodrigo Duterte's "war on drugs."

A girl caught international media's attention as well as pro-Duterte critics and trolls. She hung a cardboard around her neck, mimicking the fate of many Filipinos who died by summary executions around the country: a cardboard over their bodies claiming they were drug pushers.

The girl's carboard said, "We could all be drug pushers."

The rhetorics of the cardboard message eluded many. Comments under the post harshly lambasted the girl, calling her stupid, incensed at the suggestion they could be drug pushers as well.

Some jumped in to explain: Even if you are innocent and have nothing to do with drugs, someone can just put a sign on your corpse and it's "case closed."

As of December 3, there have been over 5,800 deaths, both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings.

A day before Human Rights Day, MovePH's Voltaire Tupaz talks to the girl with the cardboard – fourth year University of the Philippines student Adrienne Onday. Rappler will ask her about her views on the war on drugs, her fears as an ordinary citizen on the streets and her hopes for her country and her people. - Rappler.com

Ombudsman: Failure to uphold rule of law disregards human dignity


KEYNOTE. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales speaks at the International Anti-Corruption Forum on December 9, 2016 in Quezon City. Photo by Happy Feraren/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – On International Anti-Corruption Day, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales stressed the need to uphold the rule of law, as failure to do so would disregard human dignity.

Speaking at an anti-corruption forum in Quezon City on Friday, December 9, the Ombudsman said that the rule of law allows an independent judiciary to safeguard the rights of everyone – may it be the innocent, the accused, or even the guilty. 

According to Morales, the building block of the rule of law is integrity, which entails having the courage to do the right thing no matter what the consequences will be.

"The moment you disregard rule of law is the moment you disregard human spirit and dignity. Consequently, anarchy and tyranny follows," she cautioned.

Her statement comes days after President Rodrigo Duterte announced he would not allow the cops involved in the operation against the late Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr to go to jail, despite findings by the National Bureau of Investigation they are liable for murder.

From the day after Duterte assumed office, over 5,800 deaths have been linked to his "war on drugs" as of December 3. Of this number, 3,841 are victims of vigilante-style killings.

Days before Duterte's inauguration in June, Morales urged vigilance in upholding the rule of law. In November, the Ombudsman called out "blind loyalty" among supporters who continue to cheer human rights abuses rather than condemn them.

Leaders needed

In her speech, the Ombudsman said that the rule of law and citizen participation serves as the foundation of public service.

What we need, according to her, are leaders who are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice to preserve human dignity and basic human rights.

As the rule of law goes hand in hand with citizen participation, she described the kind of leaders our country needs:

"We need more public servants in all levels of the bureaucracy who have integrity. We need leaders who put premium on the rule of law more than anything else. We need leaders who uphold the rule of law regardless of the times. We need leaders who strengthen public institutions, who serve as a moral compass, and the beacon of righteous public service. We need leaders who provide a sanctum of inspiration and a motivation to decide and to do what is right even when no one is watching."

Morales explained that she was not only referring to the heads of government agencies or head of institutions. Everyone is a leader, she said.

Fighting corruption

Many policies and initiatives had been done in the past to prevent corrupt practices but clearly, more needs to be done.

Morales said the Office of the Ombudsman needs the support of every Filipino in combatting graft. "We can totally eradicate corruption by ourselves," she said.

"Change is not coming because it has always been there. Change is the only thing that is constant," stressed Morales as she invited everyone to work together to combat corruption.

"Let us be the change we want for the good of our nation," she said.

Since the passage of the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2003, International Anti-Corruption Day has been observed annually every December 9.

Every year, the Philippines loses billions of dollars to corrupt practices. Money lost could have been used instead to provide vital basic services, reduce poverty, or build infrastructure. (READ: IN NUMBERS: Impact of corruption on the Philippines)

Toward the end of her speech, Morales said: "Let rule of law and participatiory governance be the cornerstone of Philippine democracy. This is the challenge to all Filipinos." – Rappler.com

Balikbayan boxes tax-free starting Christmas


MANILA, Philippines – Good news for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Starting Christmas Day, December 25, balikbayan boxes sent by Filipinos abroad will be duty-free and tax-free.

This is after the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Department of Finance (DOF) signed the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) covering a portion of the Customs and Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA).

The tax exemption will cover only balikbayan boxes sent through consolidated shipments by Filipinos abroad to their families and relatives in the Philippines. The Customs administrative order lists the following Filipinos abroad who can qualify or avail of the duty and tax privileges on balikbayan boxes: 

  1. Holders of valid passports issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and certified by Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) or Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) for overseas employment purposes regardless of profession
  2. non-resident Filipinos who have established permanent residency abroad but retained their Filipino citizenship
  3. resident Filipino citizens who temporarily stay abroad (may include holders of student visa, investors’ visa, tourist visa, and similar visas which allow them to establish temporary stay abroad). 

The following requirements must also be met or submitted by a "qualified Filipino while abroad" (QFWA):

1. Supporting documents:

    • Photocopy of a page of his/her Philippine passport with personal information, picture and signature, or photocopy of his/her foreign passport with personal information, picture and signature plus proof of copy of dual citizenship; and, 
    • Invoice, receipt or equivalent document covering the goods in the balikbayan box, if any.

2. A filled up, signed and submitted information sheet, which will be issued by BOC and will serve as the packing list.

3. The international forwarder/consolidator should submit these information sheets and supporting documents via a secure electronic format to a local (Philippine) forwarder/deconsolidator. 

4. The local forwarder/deconsolidator should transmit to the Bureau the information sheet and supporting documents via a secure electronic format before the arrival of the balikbayan boxes in the Philippines and within the period prescribed:

a) For consolidated shipments by sea:

  • For shipments that will take 3-day shipping time: 24 hours prior to arrival
  • For shipments that will take 7-day shipping time: 48 hours prior to arrival
  • For shipments coming from America, Europe, Middle East, and other parts of the world that do not fall under the above shipping times: 10 days prior to arrival

b) For consolidate shipments carried by aircraft: 

  • For those coming from Asia – 1 hour prior to arrival
  • For those coming from other countries – 6 hours prior to arrival

5. A QFWA should also certify that only personal effects and household goods, which shall not be in commercial quantities, are sent through balikbayan boxes. 

Expedited clearance

BOC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon called on all international and local forwarders, foreign consolidators, and local deconsolidators to strictly follow these guidelines, to enable Customs to expedite clearance procedures. This will also allow them to ensure that all balikbayan boxes are delivered to receivers with utmost care.

"We value the importance of each balikbayan box. They symbolize the hardship of our overseas Filipino workers, and the love of Filipinos abroad for their families here in the country,” he said.

Faeldon earlier reminded all port officials and personnel to follow the Bureau's "no opening of balikbayan boxes" policy, and to expedite release and handling of the boxes.

In November, Senators Ralph Recto and Juan Edgardo Angara urged the BOC to immediately implement the CMTA in view of the expected high number of OFWs coming home for Christmas.

“Pasado ng Kongreso, pirmado ng Presidente. Mukhang nadale ng red tape sa agency level. Kung ganito ang sitwasyon, baka puwedeng ipakiusap natin na kahit yung sections lang sa balikbayan boxes, ipatupad na kaagad,” Recto said.

(It was already passed in Congress, signed by the President. Looks like it was hit by red tape at the agency level. If this is the situation, maybe we can ask that at least the sections on balikbayan boxes be implemented immediately.) 

Under the CMTA, the government increased the value of balikbayan box items that should be subject to tax.

This law revised the tax ceiling to P150,000 ($3,060) from the previous P10,000 ($200). This means that balikbayan boxes with a value below P150,000 will be tax-exempt.

Then president Benigno Aquino III signed the CMTA on May 31, a month before he ended his term. – Rappler.com


LOOK: Left's 1st effigy under Duterte depicts fascist monster


HUMAN RIGHTS DAY. On December 10, 2016, a child looks at a pile of 'dead bodies' that forms part of an effigy depicting the culture of impunity in the Philippines and the authoritarian tendencies of President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo by Voltaire Tupaz/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – For the first time since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed power, militant groups will feature, and burn, a monstrous effigy said to embody the "authoritarian tendencies" of the new leader.

The effigy, which illustrates the thorny issues that increasingly test the endurance of the alliance between the Duterte administration and the Left, will be the centerpiece of the groups' parade marking International Human Rights Day on Saturday, December 10.

Measuring 12 feet high and 30 feet long, the effigy bears elements that symbolize, among others, the growing human rights concerns of local advocates and the international community, spurred by the rising number of deaths in the government's war on drugs.

"The effigy depicts the political rehabilitation of the Marcoses and continuing state fascism, including extrajudicial killings, the non-release of political prisoners, and continuing military operations,” militant rights group Karapatan said.

The effigy features the head of dictator Ferdinand Marcos attached to a skeleton to symbolize the “resurrection and rehabilitation of the Marcoses” under the Duterte administration, according to artist Luigi Almuena, spokesperson of UgatLahi, which created the centerpiece of Saturday’s protest.

This is in reference to the dictator's burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani which Duterte had allowed in fulfillment of a campaign promise to the Marcoses.

One of the figure’s hands is ironclad, dripping with blood. Below it are piled-up bodies symbolizing impunity and the spate of alleged extrajudicial killings linked to Duterte’s drug war.

The corpses also represents continued military operations despite an indefinite ceasefire declaration from the government to boost peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF).

"Despite a unilateral ceasefire declaration from the Duterte government, there has been no let-up in combat operations in rural communities,” Palabay said.

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'Kalansay na nga, binuhay pa’

The use of the late strongman’s head in the effigy highlights the issue that has recently mobilized thousands of young people and various groups – Duterte’s ties with the Marcoses that paved the way for the burial of the dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. (READ: Youth leaders to Duterte: Shame on you for 'cleaning Marcos' image‬')

Kalansay na nga, binuhay pa (He resurrected the dead),” a young activist said as she stared at the effigy. 

She is appalled that a hero’s burial was given to Marcos while Martial Law victims are still crying for justice.

Based on estimates of Amnesty International (AI), 70,000 people were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured, and 3,240 were killed during Martial Law.

The Marcoses had been accused of amassing ill-gotten wealth with various estimates pegging the loot between $5 billion to $10 billion. (READ: Recovering Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth: After 30 years, what?)

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Imprint of martial law

Karapatan also called on Duterte to release about 400 political prisoners from the administration of Marcos to the present.

"Political prisoners, a vivid imprint of Martial Law, exist to this day despite commitments and agreements in the (government and NDF) peace process,” Palabay said.

Relatives of political prisoners reminded Duterte that their call is long overdue.

Matagal ko nang ninanais ang paglaya ng aking asawa. Alalang-alala ako sa kalagayan niya kasi may karamdaman siya,” Gloria Almonte said. 

Almonte’s 59-year-old husband, Dionisio, who is detained at Camp Bagong Diwa, suffers from hypertensive cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Almonte participated in the 7-day “solidarity fasting” with other relatives and supporters of political prisoners that dramatized their call to free political prisoners on humanitarian grounds. 

The President had said that he would not release political prisoners as they were the government's leverage in the peace negotiations.

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‘Full fascist monster’

Karapatan urged Duterte to listen to the growing clamor to stop impunity in the Philippines allegedly caused by his so-called "war on drugs.”

“People will eventually brand him as a full fascist monster. Time is ticking for him to act on these human rights issues,” Palabay said, warning that protest actions will intensify if the President would refuse to address human rights violations.

Between July 1 and December 3, there have been over 5,800 deaths linked to the "war on drugs" – both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings (including deaths under investigation). (READ: IN NUMBERS: The Philippines' war on drugs)

The Philippine National Police (PNP) calls its campaigns against illegal drugs Oplan Double Barrel and Oplan TokHang. (READ: Warning to drug dealers: PNP has 'double barrel' plan)

After holding hearings on extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration, the Senate committee on justice and human rights recently concluded that Oplan TokHang violates the people's constitutional rights. However, it noted that neither Duterte nor the state is sponsoring the killings. (READ: Draft Senate report on killings: Oplan TokHang unconstitutional)

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Karapatan also blasted Duterte for appointing Lieutenant General Eduardo Año as the new Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff. 

A veteran intelligence officer, Año scored some of the biggest arrests of communist leaders including Communist Party of the Philippines leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, now temporarily freed from detention as NDF consultants in the peace negotiations. 

"Año is expected to adhere to the same counter-insurgency framework that results in more human rights violations,” Palabay said referring to Oplan Bayanihan. 

About 10,000 protesters are expected to converge at Liwasang Bonifacio where they will hold a program late Saturday afternoon. After the program, they will march to the historic Mendiola bridge near Malacañang where they will torch the effigy.

In July, militant groups broke tradition when they shunned the usual effigy of the sitting president and featured a peace-oriented mural as the centerpiece of their State of the Nation Address rally – a reflection of their alliance with the Duterte administration. – Rappler.com

Thousands protest across PH vs Duterte's 'worsening human rights record'


NO CELEBRATION. Militants burn an effigy of President Rodrigo Duterte in the streets of Manila to commemorate human rights day on December 10 2016.

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) Thousands of human rights activists and advocates across the Philippines slammed President Rodrigo Duterte's "worsening human rights record" on Saturday, December 10, during the commemoration of the International Human Rights Day.

“As the whole world commemorates International Human Rights Day, the Filipino youth is in rage because of the dire situation of human rights in the Philippines. From bad, the violations in our human rights, has gone to worse under the Duterte regime," the League of Filipino Students (LFS) said in a statement.

For the first time since Duterte assumed power, militant groups also burned a monstrous effigy said to embody the "authoritarian tendencies" of the new leader in a protest in Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila, which was attended by around 10,000 protesters.

From July 1 to December 3, there have been over 5,800 deaths linked to Duterte's "war on drugs" – both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings (including deaths under investigation).

“Duterte’s remorseless extra-judicial killings in his crusade against drugs is unacceptable... Duterte has been using this campaign to sow fear among the people,” LFS  national spokesperson JP Rosos said.

Luzon takes action

Local chapters of human rights groups joined the main protest in Manila.

In Legazpi City, Albay, a prayer brigade was held at the Albay Cathedral on Thursday night, December 9, to protest against the proposed revival of death penalty and the lowering of minimum age for criminal responsibility.


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In Baguio City, a protest was held in Igorot Park. One of the issues raised was the continuous militarization of indigenous communities in Cordillera, where state forces allegedly harass IP women.


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Mass movements in Visayas

In the Visayas, around 11,000 protesters marched on the streets of Panay, Negros, and Cebu islands, led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) the Inquirerreported.

In Iloilo City, around 3,000 protesters decried the heroes burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose regime was marred with human rights violations, and the growing number of extra-judicial killings (EJKs).


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In Bacolod City, around 1,500 protesters marched from the Provincial Capitol Park and Lagoon and Lupit Church to the public plaza in the afternoon while 200 rallyists, including millenials, held a torch parade from the Capitol to the Fountain of Justice in the evening.

“As a temperamental brat, I take liberty to exercise my right to express my thoughts freely which people in the past fought for, against the suppressive and oppressive Marcos government. Marcos was outright a human rights violator whose iron fist rule killed at least 7,000 individuals,” said Alvin Ballares of Akbayan Youth.

In Roxas City, protesters led by BAYAN burnt an effigy of a crocodile in the public plaza to slam corporate greed.

"We prepared an effigy of a crocodile depicting the greediness of big mining corporations and their local cohorts who are hell-bent in pursuing large-scale commercial mining in the province," BAYAN Capiz spokesperson Kashmer Diestro said.

NO TO MINING. Protesters in Roxas City decry corporate greed and mining on the commemoration of International Human Rights Day on Saturday, December 10. Photo courtesy of BAYAN Capiz


In Tacloban City, protesters led by Karapatan also slammed the militarization of their communities.

"We call on the President to categorically order the military, police and para-military units to stop the killings. We urge him to immediately abide by his commitment to release all political prisoners. He must put an end to Oplan Bayanihan which perpetrates state terrorism on civilian communities," Karapatan, an alliance of human rights groups, said in a statement.


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Mindanao wants peace

In Duterte's hometown Davao City, around 2,000 activists joined the protest reminding the president of his promise of change.

"In Southern Mindanao, there has been 67 victims of extrajudicial killings in the previous US-Aquino regime. In Duterte's administration, there has been 7 victims of EJK with the continuing program of Oplan Bayanihan pushed by the 10th Infantry Division and Eastern Mindanao Command, and there is still no justice achieved for the people," Karapatan Southern Mindanao spokesperson Jay Apiag said.


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Further south, in General Santos City, Lumad and Moro groups marched for their right to self-determination and called for the release of political prisoners.

According to Karapatan, there are around 400 political prisoners that Duterte has refused to release


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The Left has been in alliance with the Duterte administration, with the president giving them control over key government positions. (READ: The Left's unity and struggle with Duterte)

"We urge President Duterte to pursue with vigor the positive commitments he has made like ending contractualization, shifting to an independent foreign policy, negotiating for just and lasting peace, battling corruption in the bureaucracy, and the likes," Karapatan said in its statement.– Rappler.com

Citizen journalists and advocates bring technology to communities


YOUTH EMPOWERMENT. MovePH Executive Director Rupert Ambil talks to students from UP Manila about citizen journalism. Photo by Abigail Abigan/ Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Technology and social media can change a person's life and his community. A viral photo helped a street child pursue his education. A Facebook post opened up opportunities for children in conflict areas. An online clamor helped saved the life of an overseas Filipino worker

This is why MovePH, Rappler's civic engagement and citizen journalism arm, harnesses technology and online platforms to tell stories and advocate issues.

From September to November 2016, Rappler and MovePH members went around the Philippines for an anti-corruption drive dubbed #NotOnMyWatch caravan. They trained civil society groups, government agencies, and academic institutions on how to report corruption through the #NotOnMyWatch platform. 

During their trips to CebuIloiloCagayan de Oro, and Laguna, the team also conducted workshops on disaster communication through Agos eBayanihan and citizen journalism through X, Rappler's free self-publishing platform.

The power of technology

During these workshops, MovePH equipped participants with important tools that will enable them to engage in civic action and storytelling. 

Those who completed the Agos eBayanihan test and had the best #NotOnMyWatch pledges were given MyPhone units which they can use for their advocacies and stories. 

STORYTELLING. Annie Rafio of PHINMA University of Iloilo says she will use her new phone to spread the right information. Photo by Abigail Abigan/ Rappler

"In times of disasters, information is as critical as food and shelter. People are always looking for ways to communicate with their families," according to MovePH Executive Director Rupert Ambil.

The participants also used the smartphones to report corruption to MovePH's #NotOnMyWatch bot via the Facebook's Messenger App. 

"It's very easy to use and very reliable when I'm using the Internet. It's very sturdy so I can use it for my school work," according to Annie Rafio, a student from the PHINMA University of Iloilo, who won a phone.

"This will help me communicate faster and better with other people. It would be easy for me to pursue my advocacy and practice responsible social media behavior," Rafio added.

For AJ Sultan from AMA Sta Cruz Laguna, smartphones help him spread the right information.

"This will help me to become updated with the current events and to share relevant updates to my classmates," he said.

Based on a survey conducted in Metro Manila, respondents said that the top uses of smartphones are for messaging and interaction apps. Meanwhile, up to 73% of the responders take photos or video using their smartphones. Around 45% browse the Internet, 44% join social networking sites, and 37% check their emails via smartphones. 

DISASTER INFORMATION. Through Rappler's Agos-eBayanihan platform, the public can use SMS to send disaster information that are used by various government agencies. Photo by Vina Salazar/ Rappler

The Philippines is the fastest-growing smartphone market in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), according to the International Data Corporation.

Innovation in storytelling

In his conversations with citizen journalists and advocates, Ambil shared how Rappler was built on a smartphone.

"Everyone, even the editors, had to learn how to use a smartphone for storytelling. We shot, edited, and wrote our stories using our smartphones," according to Ambil, who is one of the pioneering members of the social news network.

MOBILE TECHNOLOGY. An ROTC officer in Iloilo uses a smartphone to tweet critical information for disasters. Photo by Vina Salazar/ Rappler

This innovation gave birth to Rappler's first multimedia reporters in the Philippines who used smartphones for their stories. 

Five years after, smartphones have become an important tool for both reporters in the field and citizen journalists in communities. – With a report from Abigail Abigan/Rappler.com

Things to know about balikbayan boxes


MANILA, Philippines – There’s no doubt about it: overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) contribute much to the Philippine economy. 

More than anyone, their families are the ones who feel the benefits of their sacrifices the most – and also understand the emotional toll that comes with them.

A buzzword among Filipinos, 'balikbayan boxes' have played an integral role in OFWs and their families' lives. As early the 80s, Filipino families have been looking forward to these big boxes of joy that their OFW relatives work so hard for.

In celebration of the month for overseas Filipinos, learn more about these special boxes here:

What is the balikbayan box?

According to the Bureau of Customs, balikbayan boxes are "packages of personal effects and/or 'pasalubongs' sent by Filipinos residing or working abroad to their families or relatives in the Philippines.”

An overseas Filipino is allowed to send one balikbayan box every 6 months. 

This culture started as early as 1980s, when there was a surge of Filipino workers going to the United States. Two Filipino-owned freight forwarders, Ren International and Port Jersey Shipping International, pioneered the delivery of balikbayan boxes.

These boxes, however, were taxed like other imported goods, until the late President Corazon Aquino issued Executive Order No. 206 to amend the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines to make balikbayan boxes duty- and tax-free to "recognize the magnitude of the contribution of the overseas contract workers whose lonely sacrifices in foreign lands bring in a considerable amount of foreign exchange annually.”

But there's a catch: boxes then must only contain non-commercial goods and not exceed $500 or P10,000 value. 

This remained unchanged until May 2016, when the Customs Modernization Act (CMTA) was signed by President Benigno Aquino III into law, increasing the tax-exemption ceiling from Php 10,000 to Php 150,000.

On December 10, 2016, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Department of Finance (DOF) signed the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) covering a portion of the Customs and Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA), rendering the new tax-exemption ceiling effective starting December 25.

DO NOT OPEN. Balikbayan boxes are no longer subject to random and arbitrary inspections by the Bureau of Customs. File photo from the Bureau of Customs

The Bureau of Customs cannot open balikbayan boxes

The Customs was criticized in 2015 after Commissioner Albert Lina warned OFWs against abusing their balikbayan box privileges, and said that the BOC was allowed to open the balikbayan boxes for inspection.

OFWs from around the world turned to social media to express their anger and fear of reports of items in balikbayan boxes being stolen or damaged upon inspection. (READ: 'OFWs: Hands off our balikbayan boxes!' )

This prompted the bureau to issue the Customs Memorandum Order 27-2015 on August 2015, changing the customs procedure for balikbayan boxes.

In the new rule, balikbayan boxes cannot anymore be subjected to random or arbitrary physical inspection by Customs inspectors. Instead, they will be inspected through x-ray scanning. 

In case a balikbayan box is suspected to contain flagged items, Customs examiners will only be allowed to open and inspect the box in the presence of a representative from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), a designated officer of an OFW association, apprehending officers, and the freight forwarder consolidator.

When do most Filipinos send balikbayan boxes?

According to a 2015 data from the Port of Manila, the largest international shipping gateway to the country, Filipinos abroad send the most balikbayan boxes during Christmas when they send gifts to their families.

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The surge starts as early as September, which is the start of the Christmas season for many Filipinos.

The majority of all these balikbayan boxes sent through the Port of Manila come from Asian countries, followed by Canada and the United States.

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Are you also a Filipino working abroad? Tell us about your experience in sending balikbayan boxes in the comments! – Rappler.com

McDonald's ad features Cebu street boy's story


VIRAL PHOTO. Daniel Cabrera studies in deep concentration along a sidewalk near McDonald's branch in Mandaue City in Cebu. Photo from Joyce Torrefranca's Facebook account

MANILA, Philippines – The street child whose photo while studying outside McDonald's in Mandaue City at night became viral is now featured in the fastfood chain’s online advertisement. 

The advertisement, which runs for 3 minutes and 20 seconds, retells the story of Daniel Cabrera and how it inspired college student Joyce Torrefranca, who took the picture and posted it on Facebook, where it became viral and connected donors to the child and his family.


The advertisement ends in a touching reunion between Torrefranca, Cabrera, and his mother.

"As a student, it gave me an inspiration to work harder. I'm fortunate my parents were able to send me to school. I seldom go to coffee shops to study, but this kid just hit me. You really don't need much, you just have to be determined and focused on the things that you want to achieve," Torrefranca told Rappler back in 2015.

Cabrera, now 11 years old, is currently in 4th grade at Subangdaku Elementary School. He and his family no longer live in the streets of Cebu. They now have a house and a reliable source of income. (READ: #InspireCourage: The education of Daniel Cabrera)

The world helps Daniel

MovePH, Rappler’s civic engagement arm, looked for Cabrera after the image went viral. When it found Cabrera and his family, it linked them up with Dilaab Foundation, Solidarity and Communion Committee (SCC), and the Ugnayan nga Barangay at Simbahan (UBAS), which are local groups helping street children in Cebu. 

MovePH and its partners in Cebu also launched a campaign to help Cabrera. (READ: Can you help this kid studying on Cebu sidewalk?)

The call for help inspired many netizens to help Cabrera and other street children. One of them, Bayanihan Project, launched a crowdfunding effort which surpassed its target amount more than 4 times.

Cabrera’s story has also caught the eye of former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Gordon Brown, now the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education. (READ: Cebu street child story gets UN education envoy’s attention)

Brown said that the boy’s viral image "encapsulates the great paradox of global education today: more young people than ever before realize the importance of the right to education but too few adults are making that right into a reality."  Rappler.com.

New Zealand, PRC inaugurate relief warehouse in Tacloban


WILLING TO HELP. New Zealand Ambassador to the Philippines David Strachan (L) and Philippine Red Cross Secretary-General Oscar Palabyab (R) officially open the new disaster logistics warehouse in Tacloban. Photo by Jazmin Romero/ Rappler

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – New Zealand Ambassador to the Philippines David Strachan and Philippine Red Cross (PRC) Secretary-General Oscar Palabyab inaugurated the new PRC logistics and multi purpose center in the city on Wednesday, December 14.

The center is part of New Zealand's P159 million (*$3.184 million) donation to the PRC.

According to Palabyab, the newly-constructed warehouse and training center is meant to strengthen PRC's capacity to quickly and efficiently respond to disaster and calamities in Eastern Visayas.

"This will serve as the hub of operations during emergencies and natural disasters in Leyte and other nearby provinces," Palabyab said.

The construction of the warehouse was done through funding support from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

Tacloban was one of the hardest-hit cities when Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) battered the country in November 2013.

Committed to help

RECOVERY. The new Philippine Red Cross warehouse will be used for logistics purposes in times of disasters. Photo by Jazmin Romero/ Rappler

The ambassador reaffirmed that New Zealand is committed to strengthening resilience through improving the preparedness of the country's ASEAN partners to manage and recover from disasters. 

"We recognize the threat of climate change and New Zealand is committed to helping our ASEAN neighbors mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change," Strachan said.

"Our support to the PRC is an example of our commitment to disaster risk management and humanitarian relief in the Philippines," he added.

The PRC and the New Zealand MFA signed a 3-year grant fund agreement. This program funded the construction of the Tacloban warehouse and reftrofitting for 8 other warehouses in Mandaluyong, Subic, Cebu, Ilocos Norte, Batangas, and Cagayan de Oro.

PRC and New Zealand MFA have also provided non-food items for 14,000 families; purchased material handling equipment like metal shelves, plastic pallets, forklifts, semi-electric stackers, and digital weighing scales; purchased computer hardware, flat and low bed trailer and tractor head; and have conducted logistics trainings for PRC staff and volunteers in Leyte and other provinces. – Rappler.com

*$1 = P49.94

WATCH: Ateneo students help kids with disabilities through dance


CIVIC MOVERS. I'MPOWER helps kids with disabilities through dance moves. Photo courtesy of I'MPOWER

MANILA, Philippines – Meet this year's Civic Movers for the Move Awards.

I'MPOWER started out as a class project for a Global Health and Innovations class that would eventually change the lives of children with motor-related disabilities, mostly with cerebral palsy.

A group of then 3rd year college students from the Ateneo de Manila University – Arlyze Arenaz, Ramon Cajucom, Hannah Chua, Ariza Francisco, Adie Sison, Gab Tangco, and Joyce Tiam-Lee – was assigned to develop a solution to a problem in a community-based rehabilitation facility – the Samahan ng mga Magulang na Iniingatan ang Lahat ng Batang Espesyal (CBR-SMILE) in Payatas, Quezon City. 

Cajucom said I'MPOWER stands for wellness, empowerment, and rehabilitation.

"It also plays on the word empower because we want to empower these kids to do the things that we can do, and to make them feel that they can live the lives that we all live. At the same time, we want to empower the community. We want to make sure that the community is able to help these kids grow up to be productive members of society," he explained.

COMMUNITY. The group aims to reach out to more communities and eventually turn over the program to the parent officers of the CBR centers. Photo courtesy of I'MPOWER

The group created an aerobics-style video that integrates physical therapy methods into dance movements that children can associate with day-to-day functions. This allows both the kids and parents to enjoy the process.

Today, all of the group's members have graduated from college and are busy with their individual commitments, mostly pursuing their medical degrees. But they still make time to run the program, inspired by its impact on the community.

The group hopes to eventually turn over the project to parent officers of other CBR centers.

Chua and Cajucom shared advice for those wanting to push for their own advocacies.

"You really need that love to keep you going," Chua said. "For us, we're in medical school and it's so easy to get lost in the workload because you really have to study, day in, day out. But it's not even [just] passion anymore. The commitment for us to make a difference, to make a change is really strong [enough] for us to keep on going."

Cajucom added: "It's also important to keep on looking for connections, looking for people to partner with. It's important that you know the right people to talk to, the right people to approach and at the same time you keep pursuing the different opportunities that can actually help your project grow."

How are you moving the Philippines? For I'MPOWER, it can be as simple as teaching kids dancing. – Rappler.com

Why I still believe in Santa


At a dinner party I attended a few years ago, a librarian who looked like Vincent Schiavelli, the subway spirit in the movie Ghost, asked me apropos of nothing, “When you have kids some day, are you going to pretend you’re Santa?” 

“Yes, of course,” I said blithely.

“Isn’t that lying?” he said, with surprising anger. “You’re going to let them think that a man with a weight problem is going to slip down your chimney and drop off presents?” I had only spoken several words to this relative stranger. “You’ve agreed to this?” he asked my husband.

“Yes,” Jacob said, of our unborn children’s Christmas future.

Why this man cared, I don't know. But this part of parenting was something my husband Jake and I had already discussed. We would raise our kids Jewish but they'd get Santa. It was a given. It was important to me.

I believed in Santa for longer than most children, a pixie fiction that affected me enough that I wrote one of my college application essays about him. “Ah, the classic tension between faith and science,” said my English teacher Mr. Scott as he perused it, but the essay wasn’t allegorical. The poet Coleridge would probably call my whimsical meditation my “willing suspension of disbelief,” but that’s not exactly accurate, either. For me, there was no disbelief to suspend. I believed in him literally, not symbolically. 

I had grown up watching Miracle on 34th Street and Santa Claus: the Movie (I learned the word “puce” from it). My parents read The Polar Express to my sisters and me in July. I researched St. Nicholas of Myra. My father clipped newspaper articles for me about how Santa Claus actually lives in Finland, not the North Pole. At one time, I had a xerox copy of the 1897 editorial “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” tacked to my bulletin board. Had the Santa tracker been around when I was a child, I would have been up late watching him fly from continent to continent, too.

I was savvy enough to know that the guy who stopped by the Filipino potlucks every Christmas wasn’t him. One year, some kid swore it was our pediatric dentist Dr. Hutchinson, an athletic man, who had wrapped his torso with pillows to fill out the costume.

I learned from my encylopedia research that the popular Santa with the sanguine complexion and the matching suit was popularized by Coca Cola. Like every kid in Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia, I sat on the lap of the “Jolly Old Elf,” and picked out some age-appropriate toy from the black sack, like a teddy bear or a pack of Uno cards. Though I knew that that Santa was fake, I pretended, anyway, for the Polaroid opp and for the other younger kids in line.

When my friend Anna said, “If Santa were real, why didn’t he get me tickets to Disneyland?” 

I countered, “I think he knows you were testing him.” 

And that was that. And so it went. 

The real Santa, I asserted, was invisible. For whatever reason, though I didn’t believe in the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny, I thought Santa Claus was as real as the gifts that showed up under our plastic tree.

I suppose I should have figured it out earlier. There were clues:  Like that time I left a Lion bar for Santa and the “Thank you. Love, SC” underneath my note had generous loops that looked uncannily like my dad’s signature. Or that year Santa knew to drop off our presents the day before we flew home to the Philippines, ten days before Christmas. Or that December a neighbor received a box of crackers and a Voltron that she didn’t even want. 

But, my parents made it easy to ignore the signs. My sisters and I didn’t get Christmas gifts from our parents. Instead, when we saw something we liked at Toy Town in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, my parents would say, “Ask for it from Santa.” They would even add, “We can’t afford that. Ask Santa.”

When we got the big ticket items like the Barbie Dreamhouse; the latest US toys like Tuba-Ruba and Popples; or perfect presents, like the chocolate and Reader’s Digest I received in 1991, we thanked Santa.  It wasn't just about the gifts. 

It was the letters, too. I wrote him notes that our father mailed – real postage stamps on letters to nowhere! – at the Saudi post office. (Some of them, like the one I wrote him during the Gulf War, must have been painful to read.) When I was 6, I left a letter on my desk, imagining that it would float off on a road of glitter (my mother called it “stardust”) into Santa’s hands – just like in the movies. Never mind that I penned it in March.

They didn't take credit for any of it and, even when I should have been too old to have to ask my mother if Santa were real, she kissed the top of my head tenderly: “I thought you already knew.”

As I recall that moment, I laugh at the sentimentality of it all, how I wept into a pillow afterwards. But, as a parent now, I’m grateful for it, for their encouraging us to believe in the impossible, for keeping that hope going.

Years later, I would ask my mother why they worked as hard as they did to keep Santa alive. Why didn’t they write their names on our amazing gifts? We would have loved the presents just the same.

“We wanted to give you something to look forward to,” she said. “It’s nice to have magic sometimes.” – Rappler.com

Kristine Sydney was born in the Philippines, raised in Saudi Arabia, and has studied and worked in the United States for the last 23 years. She teaches high school English at a private school in Rhode Island. Follow her on Twitter at @kosheradobo.

Are you an OFW with a story to tell? Send contributions to balikbayan@rappler.com

UAE Filipino community prepares for Duterte visit


President Rodrigo Duterte during his meeting with the Filipino community in Laos on September 5, 2016. KING RODRIGUEZ/PPD

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Preparations are now underway for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s planned visit to the United Arab Emirates, with a tentative date set for January 27, 2017, according to Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes.

Reliable sources from the Philippines and the local Filipino community revealed that plans are already in place for the president's visit to the Middle Eastern country, where he won by a landslide in overseas absentee voting last May.

In an interview with The Filipino Times, Cortes said a stadium with a capacity of up to 30,000 people is being eyed for his visit. 

“The Filipino community is working as early as now on the logistical arrangement for the proposed (visit) of PRRD,” Cortes said.

“We are setting in motion committees to work out the venue, security registration, program, technical requirements and everything related to the meeting,” he added.

Dubai is one of places around the world with the largest concentration of overseas Filipinos at approximately half a million, next only to Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong.

Officials privy to the ongoing preparations said they are expecting up to 60,000 Filipinos to attend the event.

“A community leader said we could get a huge venue that would accommodate all those who wish to see, meet and hear the president speak, which would mean that it is large enough to hold a huge crowd… majority of the over 500,000 Filipinos in Dubai who voted for the president,” said Cortes.

Duterte is currently in Singapore on a scheduled two-day visit. He was in Cambodia prior to his Singapore trip. 

In the UAE, Duterte got 51,879 – or 83.5% – of the total 62,103 actual votes cast in the during the 2016 May presidential election. Actual voters’ turnout was 31.74% of 195,651 registered voters, according to the Philippine Embassy.

Mar Roxas, the former administration’s bet got the second highest votes but was still far behind at 3,985. The late Sen. Miriam Defensor- Santiago got 3,483.

Duterte followers in the UAE are upbeat about the news, with The Filipino Times’ Facebook post on the matter generating 2,500 likes, 925 shares and a reach of around 152,000 people two days following the  posting. Comments were mostly about praises that the president may be coming to UAE on a visit.

“Malamang nito kahit umabsent ako o tumakas sa trabaho para lang makita ka, sir President Digong,” said Arnold G. Ortiz in a Facebook comment. (I will most likely be absent or escape from work just to see you, President Digong.)

“My whole family will see you soon Mr. President,” said Checklet Robert. “Sana wala kaming masyadong customer para makita naman naming si tatay Digong," wrote Janna Torres Bacha. (We hope that we don't get too much customer so we get to see you.)  – Rappler.com

This story was republished with permission from The Filipino Times of the United Arab Emirates.