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Zamboanga City bus shooting raises fear among students


HEAVY DAMAGE. Authorities say the suspects used M16 rifles to fire at the bus. Photo from Beng Climaco's Facebook Page/ Amplifier Conam

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Students here expressed alarm over the recent shooting incident in Barangay Buena Vista on Tuesday, February 14, when unidentified men strafed a Pagadian City-bound bus, leaving 8 passengers wounded. 

At around 11:55 pm on Tuesday, unidentified gunmen fired shots at a Rural Transit Mindanao bus with 35 passengers on board. Authorities reported that the bus was shot simultaneously on both sides by still unidentified suspects who used a rifle, as evidenced by M16 shells. 

A bus came to fetch distressed but unharmed passengers who proceeded safely to their destinations, while the 8 wounded passengers were rushed to the Curuan Hospital.

The bus route is used by over 5,000 students from nearby Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Zamboanga del Sur provinces studying in the city to go home weekly.

Dili nalang sa ko mouli kay murag delikado ang dalan," Mark John Sanchez, a student of Western Mindanao State University said, adding that his parents are worried about the safety of the route. He decided not to go home to Titay, Zamboanga Sibugay for the time being. (I think I’m not going home yet because the road is in imminent danger.)

Another student who wished to remain anonymous also raised her concern that if these gun-related incidents continue, her parents might not be able to attend her graduation in March because of fear.

She also cited the shooting incident in Barangay Cainglet in Kabasalan town, Zamboanga Sibugay on Friday, February 10.

Still investigating

According to the Facebook page of Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco-Salazar, OIC-Mayor engineer Rodrigo Sicat held a security meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the current situation of the victims.


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Task Force Zamboanga is currently looking for possible angles and is conducting follow-up operations in the area against the perpetrators of the strafing incident.

"Climaco has ordered no let-up in the pursuit operations against the malefactors," the Facebook post said.

According to the city's Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office and City Health Office, 5 of the 8 wounded commuters who were transfered to Zamboanga City Medical Center have already been discharged while the remaining 3 will go through additional medical observations. One of the victims will undergo a foot surgery.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development Region IX provided P5,000 cash assistance to each of the wounded passengers while Rural Transit Mindanao promised to shoulder the expenses for the patients. – Rappler.com


Jieven Santisteban is a Rappler Mover and Campus Journalist. He is also a writer for JourKnows. 

Bataan community asks Gina Lopez to close SMC coal plant


HEALTH PROBLEMS. Between January and February 14, the Coal-free Bataan Movement has documented at least 649 health complaints that were allegedly caused by the power plants of San Miguel Corp in Limay, Bataan. Anti-coal protesters troop to the SMC headquarters to hold a rally on February 14.  Photo by Voltaire Tupaz/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – With some of their children in tow, about 100 concerned residents of a village in Bataan province trooped to the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) headquarters in Pasig City on Tuesday, February 14, to protest the conglomerate’s power plants that operate in their community. 

They complained of health problems, including skin and respiratory diseases, that were allegedly caused by the plants operated by the SMC in Bataan province. They claimed that many of them fell ill since the alleged ash spill near SMC's power facility in Barangay Lamao in Limay town in early January this year.

"Patuloy 'yung perwisyo. Hindi lang 'yung ash. Pati 'yung amoy. 'Yung amoy gigisingin ka kahit natutulog ka sa hatinggabi. Sobrang nakasusulasok!” according to Derec Cabe of the Coal-Free Bataan Movement.

(It was not only the ash fall that burdened us but also the odor that the facility emits. The smell will wake you up even at midnight. You have the urge to vomit!)

Alvin Pura, who brought his children to the rally, echoed this sentiment.

“'Yung lalamunan namin parang laging may nakabara 'pag nakakaamoy kami ng mabaho,” he said. (It feels like something blocks our throat every time we smell the foul odor.)

Pollutants that are allegedly discharged by the coal plants have triggered his wife's asthma attacks, Pura added.

Between January and February 14, the Coal-free Bataan Movement documented at least 649 health complaints that were allegedly caused by the power plants. More than half of those affected were children and teenagers, aged between zero and 17. They mainly suffer from cough and colds, tuberculosis, and skin rashes. 

Will DENR sanction SMC?

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) earlier gave assurances that it would coordinate with the Department of Health (DOH) to validate the complaints. 

It also issued directives halting the dumping of ash in the shared byproduct storage facility of the SMC-affiliated plants following the reported ash spill.

On Tuesday, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez reiterated that her agency is investigating the incident, but the protesters have grown restless and impatient.

“Isang buwan na ang nakalipas, wala pa ring sagot. Ano ba, may penalty ba? Ano bang sanction ang ipinatupad nila sa San Miguel at Petron?” Cabe asked.

(A month has passed, but there’s still no word from the department. Is there any penalty? Have they imposed sanctions on San Miguel and Petron?)

The SMC Consolidated Power Corporation (SMCCPC) 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant and a 140-megawat plant of the Petron Bataan Fuel Refinery – both SMC subsidiaries – are located in the area. 

COAL PLANT. The SMC Consolidated Power Corp (SMCCPC) plant and a coal-fired power plant of the Petron Bataan Fuel Refinery - both SMC subsidiaries - are located in Limay town in Bataan province. Photo by Voltaire Tupaz/Rappler

‘Best solution in ensuring energy security’

Meanwhile, in a statement, SMC claimed that the reported ash that spilled was limestone dust, which the DENR certified as non-toxic. 

“Local health officials ascertained that isolated cases of skin allergies were scabies, which were not attributable to limestone dust,” SMC said, without addressing other health complaints. 

SMC also clarified that there is no more temporary ash pond in its complex. 

“There is no need for it anymore after the company was granted a permit by the DENR to haul its limestone bottom ash out of the property to the kiln to be used as raw material for cement production,” it said.

SMC added that the cleaner Circulating Fluidized Bed (CFB) technology that its power plants use is "currently the best solution in ensuring energy security and affordability to power consumers while the country transitions to a sustainably clean energy economy.”

Coal-fired power plants remain the Philippine’s largest energy source at 29%. Coal is considered the cheapest source of energy, but it is also one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the culprit behind climate change. (READ: Coal-minded leaders left behind by green energy growth - Al Gore)

‘New clean coal technology'

However, SMC Global Power, the power generation subsidiary of SMC, claimed that continuous testing since January of its new clean coal technology power plant in Limay yielded emission results that complied with government and World Bank (WB) standard limits. The plant started operations in February.

Based on the recent results of government-mandated daily testing, Unit-1 of the Limay Plant consistently produced low levels of sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter.

Sulphur oxide was only at 41 parts per million (ppm), compared to the 245 ppm limit set by the DENR and the 700 ppm limit set by the WB.

Nitrogen oxide was at only 92 ppm, against the DENR’s 365 ppm limit and the WB’s 487 ppm threshold. 

Carbon monoxide was at a mere 4 ppm during the latest testing. The DENR limit is 400 ppm, while the WB does not set any limit. 

In terms of clearness of the air, which is also used to indicate particulate matters, the Limay plant registered just 0.8%, with dust at only 2.4 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/Nm3). The World Bank standard for particulate matters is 50 mg/Nm3 and the DENR’s is 150 mg/Nm3.

CLOSE THE COAL PLANT. Anti-coal protesters urge DENR to stop the operation of the coal-fired power plant in Bataan that is affiliated with San Miguel Corporation. Photo by Voltaire Tupaz/Rappler

No such thing as clean coal

Environmentalists, however, maintained that there is no such thing as clean coal technology.

"Coal plants which utilize CFB technology produce more coal ash than conventional ones since they add limestone to pulverize coal during the combustion process,” Ian Rivera, the national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), said in a statement.

PMCJ argued that since the SMC plants in Limay use the CFB technology, it resulted to a huge pile-up of bottom ash near the area where there are communities.

“We strongly call on SMC to face the music and stop beating around the bush. The real problem is your bottom ash and the question of the legality of your ash pond. So long as this is not properly addressed, the suffering of the people continues,” Rivera said. 

For PMCJ, the only way to address the issue is to stop the operation of SMC's plants in Limay.

"Our demand is for the DENR to immediately order a shutdown of the coal plants' operations, indemnify the affected community, suspend incompetent regional DENR officers, and include both coal plants as priority in the ECC audit to be conducted by the department. – Rappler.com

WATCH: How Filipinos say 'I love you'


MANILA, Philippines – How do you tell your loved ones that you love them?

Words are powerful and their meanings expand when they are translated in different languages.

On Valentine's Day, February 14, MovePH crowdsourced the different ways Filipinos say "I love you." There are more than 150 languages in the Philippines. That's more than 150 ways to express love.

Here are some contributions from our Movers across the country - from the Ilocano's "Ay-ayaten ka" to the Hiligaynon's "Palangga ta gid ka." – Rappler.com

Answering the call for Magis by serving others


MAGIS. XU Student Activities and Leadership Development head Richel Petalcurin, TOSP 2016 awardee Gimar Reyes, and mother Mariza Reyes pose after the TOSP awarding ceremony on February 9, 2017 at the Heroes Hall of the Malacañang Palace. Photo courtesy of Gimar Reyes/XU

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Gimar Alingig Reyes may be far from home for now, but he's never forgotten how far he's gone. 

At an early age, he experienced the value of hard work. The eldest of three children, he was raised by a tenant farmer and a teacher.

"I grew up in a farm. My father had to tend the land for income," he recalled. As a tenant, his father was deeply concern for the family's financial needs. With the rise of urbanization and the gradual conversion of arable lands for commercial use, their family's future source of income was uncertain.

So, his father had to send Gimar's mother to school. A degree could secure her a job, he said. For this, Gimar's father worked twice as hard. 

It was in his mother's school where Gimar was introduced to education. "There were days when my mother took me with her so she could look after me. Sometimes, just to help my father with the expenses, she had to sell bags of peanuts, wrapped yema, and maruya – among many snacks she prepared every night – to her classmates."

On days when her mother had to take exams, little Gimar was left under the supervision of his grandmother. He knew early on that this was the measure his family had to undergo to get their necessities and live within their means. His father farmed, his mother studied, and when the land was ripe with cantaloupe, eggplant, coconut, and cacao, they sold the produce at the Cogon Market.

When his mother finally completed her schooling, it was time to reap the harvest. She became a teacher and was able add to his father's earnings. 

"It was my family's triumph," he stated. 

A call to serve 

Gimar finished his secondary education at Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School (MOGCHS). As an exemplary student in the science class of his batch, he was qualified as a city college scholar upon graduating and went to Xavier University (XU), where he studied for the next 4 years.

But his first year as an Elementary Education major forced him make big adjustments. On days when the uniform was not prescribed, most students flaunted branded clothing that signified their social status. Breaktime was mostly spent in teashops, cafés, and malls. 

"I was shocked," Gimar recalled. "Back then, I was shy to eat at the Magis canteen because I didn't want others to see my meal and compare it with theirs. I remember sneaking into the sixth floor of the library and eating there alone," he recalled.

"I was caught once, and the librarian admonished me. But I told my reason — I had to study right after so I didn't have to go out anymore."

He knew he was in the university for his education, and he wanted to achieve what his mother had. He never took this purpose for granted. Gimar managed to reach out and befriend many of his classmates, and didn't allow anything that could hinder him to get in the way.

In his second year, he was in the dean's list of the School of Education. "I pushed my potential. It reached a point where I embraced the diversity at XU," he said.

He imbibed the Ignatian principle of magis, which means doing things with depth and excellence. Finishing college, earning a degree, then finding a job were not enough to fulfills his dreams that he molded while at XU. He wanted to maximize his potential.

In the second semester of his sophomore year, he volunteered for the Kristohanong Katilingban sa Pagpapakabana - Social Involvement Office (KKP-SIO), the former social involvement arm of XU. It was one among Cagayan de Oro City's active organizations during tropical storm Sendong in 2011. He participated in tutorial sessions, medical missions, and immersions held at Xavier Ecoville, the resettlement site established in Lumbia by the university for the displaced evacuees during the tropical storm. 

"I was able to experience the truest sense of being one with the people," he related. "I hold on to my experiences, and I knew what the people felt because I had been through a similar situation."

It was Gimar's opportunity to improve on his teaching skills during tutorial sessions with the children in the community. But more than his exposure was the fulfilling reality of knowing that kids learned to read, write, identify images, and spell their names because of his and his fellow volunteers' collective efforts.

Since then, he held on to the belief that education, like air and water, should be universally provided. He felt strongly that education is the best way to fight social injustice.

"I will take on the role to make education as a great equalizer to all the marginalized," he proised to himself.

Balancing his academics and extra-curricular activities was a challenge, but he used his talents and channeled his passion in the pursuit of magis.

When he reached third year, the period he recalls as the climax of his college education, he decided to apply for the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines (JVP), the longest-running volunteer service program in the country.

It was also that same year when he had been chosen by KKP heads as the chairperson for the Student-Volunteer Formation Center. He oversaw and organized activities by student volunteers for the community at Xavier Ecoville, along with Xavier Ateneo's National Service Training Program (NSTP) students. 

SERVICE. As a Jesuit Volunteer, Gimar Reyes is currently serving in an Agta Dumagat community in Sitio Maninit, Barangay Tinib in Casiguran, Aurora. Photo credit: Gimar Reyes/XU

In his last year in the university, he was honored as cum laude and the Outstanding Graduate of the School of Education. As this achievement mirrored his family's triumph, particularly that of his mother's similar educational achievement, more accolades came.

With the support of SOE dean Dr Jovelyn Delosa and his teachers, he passed the requirements for 2016's Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP), one of the highest honors in the nation for students who excel academically, lead by example, and conscientiously undertake social initiatives in their community. 

"It was a rigorous process," he recalled. "But being Xavier's representative was already an honor. It was overwhelming." 

More than 300 students across the Philippines were eligible. They were narrowed down to 30, and eventually finalized to 10. The last time a student from XU was part of the final 10 was when the present XU Governance and Leadership Institute director Dixon Yasay represented the university in 1991.

As an outstanding student, Gimar desired to serve just as he did to learn. Currently a JVP volunteer, he has been assigned to Casiguran, Aurora where he immerses with the province's indigenous people, farmers, and fisher folk.

A call to love God back

Gimar believes everything he had been through is part of God's great plan – to love Him back and to follow His greatest commandment with the act of service.

Living with the Agta Dumagat tribe along Luzon's east coast, he advocates for their education and rights. Specifically, he helps with the Nuestra Señora de la Salvacion Parish for seminars and workshops, handling topics such as organic rice farming to make good use of the fields.

He also campaigns against land aggressors, which threatens the farmers' livelihood and will most likely displace the indigenous peoples due to urbanization. He shares the sentiments of the locals as they struggle to keep the land theirs.

In 2007, the Aurora Special Economic Zone Act created the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone without consultation with the tribal groups who tilled the land. What was once a farming community may soon become an eco-tourism zone with resorts and export industries setting up shop. (READ: APECO in Aurora: Chaos and paradaise)

Gimar, having been raised in a farm, knows the plight of the marginalized. "Middlemen take advantage of them. They are often belittled and fooled. This unjust structure struck me at my core and I am compelled to help them. I know them because I know the feeling of having less. That's why I wanted to give back what I have received from the opportunities I have been granted." 

EMPOWERMENT. Gimar Reyes currently helps capacitate and empower an Agta Dumagat community in their respective livelihood needs in the face of aggression from APECO. Photo courtesy of Gimar Reyes/ XU

"The call to service is the call to love God back." He confessed this has been his mantra since second-year college when he started as a student-volunteer.

"Service is a life-long process," he said, likening it to learning. "We have to become men and women for and with others."

This is his call. From selling his father's harvest in a local market to packing bags of peanuts with his mother every night; from tutoring children of flood victims to graduating cum laude from Xavier Ateneo; from treading steep paths and riding rafts on rivers and streams in the province of Aurora to standing at the Malacañang Palace as one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines of 2016 – Gimar Reyes is devoted to a life of service.

Someday, he aspires to take part in the initiatives of non-government organizations for the IPs and the marginalized. For Gimar, who believes that education as a universal right, there is more that can be done by heeding and responding to His call. – Rappler.com

This story first appeared on the website of Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan.

Angelo Lorenzo is one of the lead Movers in Cagayan De Oro.

Plunder cases in the Philippines: Was anyone punished?


MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – While Congress is mulling the idea of reviving death penalty in the Philippines, the reported removal of plunder among the list of crimes in the proposed measure drew sharp reactions on social media.

On February 9, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez Jr said that most congressmen in the House majority bloc agreed to remove plunder from House Bill 4727. 

Alvarez later clarified that the said removal is not yet final, adding that it is still in the current version of the measure. Alvarez said he supports retaining plunder in the death penalty bill. (READ: Alvarez wants House to pass death penalty bill mid-March)

Sanctioned by death or not, was anybody ever convicted of, or punished for, plunder in the first place? What has happened to past plunder cases? Rappler reviewed these cases and this is what we found. 


From the enactment of the Plunder Law in 1991 up to 2016, the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has handled only 13 plunder cases.

Of these, only two people were convicted: Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) cashier Dominga Manalili and former president Joseph Estrada. 

Manalili is still serving her sentence: two terms of reclusion perpetua. Estrada, who was sentenced with reclusion perpetua, was pardoned by his successor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo a month after his conviction.

The list below begins with the 7 pending cases, followed by the 6 resolved cases, sorted by the amount of money involved, in descending order.

Pending cases

PCSO intelligence fund scam
Amount involved: P365,997,915.00
Status: Pending, with 3 remaining defendants

In July 2012, former president Arroyo faced plunder charges along with 7 Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) officials and two Commission on Audit (COA) executives for the alleged misuse of PCSO intelligence funds from 2008 to 2010.

The Supreme Court (SC) in July 2016 acquitted Arroyo and PCSO budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas for lack of evidence. Earlier, the Sandiganbayan had also released 5 PCSO and COA officials. (TIMELINE: Gloria Arroyo – from plunder to acquittal)

The case is ongoing at the Sandiganbayan with 3 remaining defendants: former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte, ex-PCSO director Ma Fatima Valdes, and COA intelligence fund unit head Nilda Plaras.

Maj Gen Carlos Garcia. File photo/Newsbreak

General Carlos Garcia plunder case
Amount involved: P303,272,006.00
Status: Pending

In April 2005, the Ombudsman filed a plunder case against ex-military comptroller and retired Major General Carlos F. Garcia, his wife Clarita, and sons Ian Carl, Juan Paulo, and Timothy Mark. They are accused of amassing over P300 million in real estate properties, shares of stocks, cash, and other assets. 

The Sandiganbayan in May 2011 approved a plea bargaining agreement with Garcia, allowing him to plead guilty to lesser offenses of direct bribery and facilitating money laundering. (Read: Garcia: How the big fish got away)

However, in July 2013, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on the plea bargain deal. Garcia is currently detained at the New Bilibid Prison.

3 pork barrel scam cases vs. senators
Amounts involved: P224.51 million (Revilla), P183.79 million (Estrada), P172.83 million (Enrile)
Status: Pending

In June 2014, 3 senators were charged with plunder for their reported involvement in the 2013 pork barrel scam, an elaborate scheme where public funds for supposed government projects were diverted and pocketed. (READ: Pork Tales: A story of corruption)

A plunder case was filed against then Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr, his staff Richard Cambe, alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, her brother Ronald John Lim, and her employee John Raymund de Asis.

Another was filed against then Senator Jinggoy Estrada, his staff Pauline Labayen, Napoles, and De Asis. (READ: How will Sandigan justices handle plunder cases?)

The 3rd case was filed against Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, chief of staff Jessica Lucila "Gigi" Reyes, Napoles, Lim and De Asis. (READ: Plunder cases: Highs and lows)

Among the senators, only Enrile is out of detention, after the Supreme Court in August 2015 granted his petition for bail.

Former representatives Edgar Valdez and Rizalina Lanete.

2 pork barrel scam cases vs. congressmen
Amounts involved: P112.29 million (Lanete), P95 million (Valdez)
Status: Pending

In February 2015, the Office of the Ombudsman filed plunder cases at the Sandiganbayan against former Masbate representative Rizalina Seachon-Lanete and former APEC party list representative Edgar Valdez in connection with the pork barrel scam. 

Janet Lim Napoles and her driver John Raymund de Asis are named co-accused in both cases.

However, both Lanete and Valdez are out on bail, after the Sandiganbayan granted their petitions in April 2016. 

Disposed cases

File photo by Jedwin M. Llobrera

Erap Estrada plunder case
Amount involved: P4,097,804,173.00
Decision: President Estrada was convicted, son Jinggoy acquitted. One pleaded guilty, 5 remain at large.

In April 2001, ousted president Joseph Estrada, his son Jinggoy, and 7 others faced plunder charges for amassing over P4 billion from jueteng payola (pay-offs), misappropriation of tobacco excise tax funds and other crimes

In September 2007, the Sandiganbayan sentenced former president Estrada to reclusion perpetua. But a month later, his successor Gloria Arroyo granted him pardon. 

The anti-graft court cleared Jinggoy and lawyer Edward Serapio of the plunder charges. Another co-accused, Charlie "Atong" Ang, pleaded guilty to a lesser offense and served out his 2-year probation until 2009. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the defendants – Alma Alfaro, Jaime Dichaves, Delia Rajas, Yolanda Ricaforte and Eleuterio Tan – remain at large. They have yet to stand trial. (READ: Cast in Erap plunder case: Where are they now?)

CLEARED OF PLUNDER. Former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn 'Joc-joc' Bolante on November 18, 2008, listens to questions by congressmen during a congressional inquiry into alleged corruption. File photo by Luis Liwanag/AFP

Fertilizer fund scam
Amount involved: P265,642,930.50
Decision: Case dismissed

In July 2011, 3 officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) were charged with plunder for reportedly getting kickbacks from the P723 million in fertilizer funds meant for farmers under the department's Ginintuang Masaganang Ani program.

Former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-Joc" Bolante, former secretary Luis Ramon "Chito" Lorenzo Jr, ex-assistant secretary Ibarra Poliquit, and 6 private defendants were accused of the crime. One of the defendants later became a state witness.

In December 2016, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the case after affirming its initial finding 2 years ago that there was no evidence against the accused.

2 tax payments diversion cases
Total amount involved: P260,315,481.60
Decision: Transferred to a Quezon City trial court, which found 5 people guilty

Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) cashier Dominga Manalili and 6 accomplices faced two plunder charges in August 1997 for diverting tax payments of government and private employees to unauthorized bank accounts in 1996. This was the first plunder case filed before the Sandiganbayan.

Investigators said the bank accounts were "almost depleted" when they discovered them in late 1996. In November 1999, the Sandiganbayan transferred the case to a trial court, which had proper jurisdiction over the case. 

On May 4, 2001, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 95 Judge Diosdado Peralta (now a Supreme Court Associate Justice) found Manalili guilty of plunder, sentenced her to two terms of reclusion perpetua, and ordered her to return the stolen money plus profits. Four of her co-accused were also guilty but remain at large, while two accomplices were cleared of the charges.

Peralta ruled that Manalili would not face the death penalty "because there were no aggravating circumstances."

Fake vehicle repairs case
Amount involved: P82,321,855.38
Decision: Case dismissed, but many defendants faced multiple graft and estafa charges

"Ghost" or fictitious repairs of Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) vehicles led to the filing of a plunder case in March 2004. The case involved 20 DPWH officials and 10 spare parts suppliers.

An investigation revealed that over 500 vehicles were supposedly "repaired" in just a span of 10 months, from March to December 2001.

However, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the case in January 2005 "for lack of probable cause for the crime of plunder without prejudice to the filing of appropriate charges against the accused-respondents."

Graft and estafa charges were later filed against nearly all of the respondents – with 6 people sued for over 100 counts of each crime – starting in 2013. (READ: Plunder, graft: What's the difference?)

Since November 2016, the Sandiganbayan has promulgated at least 3 decisions, convicting 10 to 11 of the defendants of graft and estafa.

Tax credit certificates scam
Amount involved: P73,762,618
Decision: Case dismissed, but many defendants faced multiple graft and estafa charges

In March 2009, a plunder case was filed against Department of Finance (DOF) officials who were involved in the illegal issuance of tax credit certificates to an unqualified firm between 1994 and 1996.

The case was against DOF undersecretary Antonio Belicena, deputy executive director Uldarico Andutan of the DOF-One Stop Shop Inter-Agency Tax Credit and Duty Drawback Center, two other finance employees, and 4 executives of Filstar Textile Industrial Corporation.

In March 2011, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the case for lack of probable cause. But in recent years, the anti-graft court made rulings in separate but related graft and estafa cases against some of these respondents, as well as officials of other unqualified companies.

For instance, the Sandiganbayan found Andutan and 5 others guilty of multiple counts of graft in June 2016. But it reversed its decision in January 2017 amid new evidence that proved crucial to that case.

Plunder and the death penalty

When it was first enacted, plunder was not punishable by death, only by life imprisonment. (READ: Plunder in the Philippines)    

An amendment to the Plunder Law in 1993 through Republic Act (RA) 7659 lowered the minimum amount of illegally acquired wealth to qualify as plunder – from P75 million to P50 million – and meted out a punishment ranging from reclusion perpetua to death.

During the 13 years that plunder was punishable by death, from 1993 until the abolition of the death penalty in 2006 via RA 9346, none have been sentenced to death for being guilty of plunder.  

Data from the Sandiganbayan show that it took the court an average of 3.2 years to dispose of plunder cases. If pending cases are included, the average duration of proceedings in the anti-graft court is 3.69 years. (READ: Plunder and graft trials: How do cases proceed in the courts?)

The current punishment for those found guilty of plunder are reclusion perpetua and forfeiture of ill-gotten assets in favor of the government. – with Gwen de la Cruz/Rappler.com

Do preventive maintenance of heritage structures before 'Big One' – experts


PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE. Centuries-old churches, like San Agustin Church, are just among the country's heritage structures that should be maintained, according to heritage advocates. Photo from Wikipedia

MANILA, Philippines – The magnitude 6.7 earthquake that struck Surigao on February 10 is a reminder of the need to protect the country’s heritage structures before the “Big One” strikes, according to experts. (READ: What dangers await when the West Valley Fault moves?)

As the Philippines is situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire, it is vulnerable to frequent earthquakes. Many parts of the country, including Manila, are home to centuries-old buildings and churches. (READ: How vulnerable is Manila to earthquakes?)

Escuella Taller de Filipinas Foundation (ETFFI)  and other institutions have organized an international symposium on disaster risk reduction through preventive maintenance from February 27 to March 2. This is expected to bring to Manila more than 40 experts from around the world to share their knowledge and expertise on maintaining heritage structures.

The other organizers are the University of the Philippines College of Architecture, the Manila Observatory, the Archdiocese of Manila, and the Spanish Ministry of Education and Sports.

Simple maintenance

The 2013 Bohol earthquake saw centuries-old structures and churches either heavily damaged or totally destroyed. A huge amount is needed to repair them, according to experts.

Antonio La Viña, Manila Observatory executive director, said the preventive maintenance of heritage sites can help the country in terms of disaster management, as these become less vulnerable to hazards if well-maintained.

Jeffrey Cobilla, ETFFI technical team head, explained that simple maintenance like cleaning, using only a brush and water, can go a long way in the future.

“Simple cleaning – all we use for cleaning the walls are brush and water, and that's it. We don’t use chemicals. For removal of plants, we use a cheap bolo. A brush and a bolo, compared to a scaffolding for example. It’s [maintenance] definitely cheaper,” Cobilla said.

About 30 to 40 heritage structures are found all over the country, according to Cobilla, all vulnerable to any hazards.

“I believe every property is vulnerable to any threat. Again, the vulnerability, as we believe, increases as the maintenance decreases. So all of those are vulnerable one way or another,” he said.

He highlighted the significance of heritage structures.

"They are declared as national interest. It defines, it tells us of our culture, of our history, of what we are….If we don’t maintain them, if we don’t safeguard them, that's a reflection of how we value ourselves,” Cobilla said. – Rappler.com

IN PHOTOS: Cebuano PWDs break barriers through dragonboat racing


DISABILITY PRIDE. Cebuanos with different disabilities not only continuously prove that the sport dragonboat racing is for all, but that they, too, can emerge as its conquerors. Photo by Merry Meldred Bardinas

CEBU, Philippines — In September 2016, around 30 Cebuano persons with different disabilities (PWDs) from the cities of Mandaue, Cebu, and Lapu-Lapu united to form the country’s first ever cross-disability dragonboat racing team.

The Philippines Accessibility Disabilities Services (PADS) Adaptive Dragonboat Racing Team consists of several amputees, polio survivors, blind, and Deaf. In spite of their physical disability, they chose to leave the confines of their homes, pick up a paddle, and pursue their passion for rowing. They also want to foster an inclusive PWD sports community.  

"It's really not about entitlement. It's about what they can do as they are. This is not just for recreation, rehabilitation. This is something bigger — they know it and they are committed to it," said John Paul Maunes, Founder and Team Manager of PADS Adaptive Dragonboat Racing Team.
“Before, they were enclosed in the corners of their home. Now, they’re out here performing just like the other people without disabilities. Dragonboat is a very physical sport, but we don’t talk about disability, but about how we can conquer it and even beat other teams."
Why dragonboat racing? Maunes answered, "On board that boat, there are no such things as disabilities."

With a tight grip on their paddles imprinted with the phrase “Destined to Greatness” on the handles, they call out to others under the same conditions to come out of hiding, reclaim their dignity, and own their lives again. They are out to prove that sports is for all.  

The team's latest recruit, Brylle Arombo, 20 years old, lost his right leg to a road accident in late 2016. Arombo resides in the far southern town of Argao and came all the way to the city to join the team. "I saw them in a Facebook video. I thought it's amazing that such (a) team exists. I wanted to become a part of it, to again be active, and stop just staying at home all day," said Arombo in Bisaya.

And, what's next for the team? They are to compete and represent the country in the Hongkong Paradragon Championships this June 2-5, 2017.

In preparation for the race, the team trains four days a week, undergoing intensive land, pool, and sea training. However, due to the lack of funding, the members shoulder their own expenses. Maunes shared, "They are very admirable because you could see their commitment to the sport... and some of them don't even have income due to [PWD] employment barriers." 

With huge expenses in mind, the paddlers doubt if they could really participate in the Hongkong Race. The team needs sponsors and donors who can provide training equipment and improve their training environment. The team does not even possess its own boats and can only borrow the boats of other teams. 

Here are some photos of the PADS Dragonboat racing team: 

REAKING BARRIERS. Despite every wave of struggles in life, 37-year-old born disabled Owen Luceño encouraged himself to come out, rise from his disability and start paddling the troubling waters away. / Photo by: Richale Cabauatan

ONE-LEGGED DRAGON. Amputee and team captain Arnold Balais added his personal touch of motivational messages onto his paddle and calls himself a one-legged dragon. Photo by: Richale Cabauatan

ROPES OF ENDURANCE. 44-year-old disabled paddler Edilberto Obida takes on battle ropes as part of his team’s land training in order to strengthen their endurance when paddling. Photo by Oliver Julius Lape

A CALL TO PADDLE. A new chapter opens for the recent amputee and latest recruit Brylle Samgel Arombo, 20 years old, as he discovers his new purpose in life by joining the PADS Adaptive Dragonboat Team. Photo by Oliver Julius Lape

CRUTCHES TO PADDLES. As the paddlers board the dragonboat, they leave behind their crutches on the docking area in exchange for paddles and begin their extensive sea training. Photo by Richale Cabauatan

PADDLERS AND CONQUERORS. The PADS Adaptive Dragonboat Racing Team aims to conquer the sports, the cities in the region, and soon the country.  Photo by Jan Moises Alarcon

FUELLED BY PASSION. Team Captains Enrique Rafhael Sanchez (left) and Arnold Balais (right) lead the team through the unforgiving tides of Mactan which are no match against their burning passion to train in order to compete this dragonboat racing season. Photo by Chlei Von Garcia

HOIST THE PH FLAG. Beyond financial constraints, the team hopes to compete and represent the country in the 65th Hongkong Paradragon Championships happening in June this year. Photo by: Richale Cabauatan

– Rappler.com  

Richale Cabauatan is a prime Mover from Cebu.




After an earthquake, what should house, building owners do next?


MANILA, Philippines – Following the magnitude 6.7 earthquake that hit Surigao City on February 10, more than 500 houses were reported to be damaged. 

Cesar Pabalan, national director of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers and former president of the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines, said in a phone interview with Rappler that most of the establishments that suffered damage from the quake were 3- to 5-story commercial buildings.

Among the reasons why these were the ones heavily damaged was because they were made of substandard materials, he added. (READ: Part 1: Can your house withstand major earthquakes?)

"[It's a] matter of construction procedure, sa nakikita namin. Katulad nga nung isang commercial center dito... we were informed na 'yung contractor, kasi 'yung konkretong ginamit, napapowder siya, so substandard ang gamit na materials," Pabalan said.

(It's a matter of construction procedure, based on what we've seen. Just like at one commercial center here... we were informed that the contractor, the concrete used was pulverized, so the materials used were substandard.) 

"We were at the Surigao State College [of Technology], 'yung old building which is mga 2 to 3 stories, bitak siya. Wala siyang magandang pagkagawa. Pero 'yung 5-story nila na building, eh sa tingin ko lang, meron mga construction procedure na hindi nasunod," Pabalan added. 

(We were at the Surigao State College of Technology, and its old building which is 2 to 3 stories had cracks. It was not built properly. For the 5-story building, I think, there were some construction procedures that were not followed.)

With aftershocks still possible weeks after an earthquake, what should building and house owners do next?

Inspect furniture, appliances

Pabalan advises house and building owners to inspect structures for minor damage, like cracks on walls and under beams, as these can still be fixed. Damaged flooring can be fixed through replastering, he added.

Owners should also check their appliances and furniture to ensure that these will not fall or come crashing down if a strong aftershock occurs. (READ: #EarthquakePH: What to do during aftershocks)

"Alam nila na may aftershocks. 'Yung mga dapat bumagsak doon na mga furniture inside the houses – maririnig naman nila – tatanggalin 'nyo para hindi bumagsak o matumba ulit. 'Yung mga ceiling fan, baka mahila sa pagkakauga," Pabalan said.

(They know that there are aftershocks. Furniture which might topple over inside the house – they would hear it – should already be removed so they won't fall. Ceiling fans, for example, might fall from the ceiling because of the shaking.)

This was also emphasized by Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) Director Renato Solidum, who said that "even those things that are not structural in terms of the building should also be made well so that people are not affected by falling debris."

Evaluate the whole structure

Solidum also advised residents to have their homes checked by engineers.

"Coordinate with city or municipal engineers, but we know that there are not enough engineers. The national government offices – regional and our provinces nearby – can help inspect, together with the professional civil engineering society, like the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers and the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines. Of course, there are university professors and students who can also help assess," he said.

"The priority would be the hospitals, schools, offices, and critical facilities... If there are visible signs or effects, then they should consult the engineer. If none, then they're okay," he added.

Pabalan also said that if a structure sustained very little or no damage from a major earthquake, then the owner can be sure it is safe from possible aftershocks.

"Mas makakapag-rely ka [on the structure] because, nasurvive na niya 'yung first earthquake eh. Kasi 'yung susunod na mga aftershocks, merong aftershock na malakas na, within 6 months, one magnitude lower. If that is 6.7, 'pag mag-expect ka ng aftershock, ang pinakamalakas, 5.5. Halimbawa, hindi fully damaged 'yan, minor cracks lang, eh nasurvive niya 'yung earthquake," he explained.

(They would be able to rely more on the structure because it already survived the first earthquake. In the aftershocks that would follow, within 6 months, the strongest would be one magnitude lower. If that is 6.7, you can expect the strongest aftershock to be 5.5. For example, if your house was not fully damaged by the major quake, and it only had minor cracks, then it has already survived the strongest tremor.)

Solidum also called on the public to use the "How safe is my house?" tool that Phivolcs developed – a 12-point questionnaire homeowners can use to assess the earthquake readiness of their house.

One way to prepare is to ensure that the National Building Code of the Philippines is strictly followed.

"It does not say that your house or your building will not suffer any damage. And the reason why the Code specifies that the building or house should not collapse is that so people can get out after the shaking," Solidum said.

While there are engineers and local officials who look into these things, the Phivolcs chief emphasized that it is also important for house and building owners to cooperate.

"I think it's time for us to realize that it would be the engineers and the owners of the houses and buildings that should also be responsible for that. So, I think, to at least make sure that we are protected, house owners and engineers should always make sure that they use the right materials, the right design, and the right workmanship," Solidum said. – with reports from Voltaire Tupaz / Rappler.com

CSC reminds gov't workers: Observe work hours, don't be late


MANILA, Philippines – Government workers who do not observe proper working hours may be dismissed, warned Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chairperson Alicia dela Rosa Bala.

In a press release, the CSC said it issued Memorandum Circular No. 1 series of 2017 on January 31, reiterating the policy on government office hours and penalties for unauthorized absences, tardiness, and laziness.

There were reports that some government officials and employees do not observe prescribed office hours, while others fail to account for their attendance.

"It is the duty of agency heads to ensure that all officers and employees under them will strictly observe the prescribed office hours," Bala said.

Government workers are required to render 8 hours of work from Monday to Friday or not less than 40 hours per week. (READ: Public servants recognized for outstanding work in gov't)


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According to Bala, those assigned in the field have to account for their attendance by accomplishing the forms which serve as their daily time record.

Heads of agencies and presidential appointees may not necessarily "time in and out" on bundy clocks but attendance and absences must still be recorded.


As outlined in Section 46 (B)(5) of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in Civil Service, frequent unauthorized absences, tardiness in reporting for duty, and laziness during regular office hours are regarded as grave offenses and are punishable administratively.

Habitual absence, according to Section 22, Rule XIV of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292, s. 1987, is if "one incurs unauthorized absences exceeding the allowable 2.5 days monthly leave credit under the Leave Law for at least 3 months in a semester or at least 3 consecutive months." 

Government workers may be suspended from 6 months to one year for the 1st offense and be dismissed from service for the 2nd offense.

Those who falsify time records may also face administrative or criminal charges depending on the circumstance, the CSC said.

Habitual tardiness, on the other hand, is regarded as a light offense. It is punishable by reprimand for the 1st offense, suspension of one to 30 days for the 2nd offense, and dismissal from service for the 3rd offense.

The CSC said tardiness is already habitual when an official or employee is late, "regardless of the number of minutes, 10 times a month for the last two months in a semester or at least two consecutive months during the year."

Bala urged government agencies to review their policies on observance of government office hours.

"Frequent unauthorized absences from duty during regular hours constitute loafing, and it results in inefficiency and non-performance of duty which adversely affects the prompt delivery of service to the public," she said. – Rappler.com

WATCH: Young athletes use sports to teach kids discipline


MANILA, Philippines – How are you sparking change in your community?

For the athletes of Youth Sports Advocacy (YSA), it's by teaching children discipline through sports.

YSA is a non-profit organization that uses sports to transform the youth into better individuals. Founded in May 2015, the organization gives free training sessions on various sports to kids from 4 to 17 years old.

TEAMWORK. Youth Sports Advocacy coaches hold basketball drills for children. Photo courtesy of YSA

According to volunteer coach Noel Binalla, YSA initially started with one community in Tandang Sora. The group of volunteers decided to spread their advocacy to other communities because of the impact they saw on the kids.

"Some of the kids are now varsity players in their respective schools. We were able to make them realize that sports is not just sports. They can use it to change their lives, make themselves better individuals, and to help other people," Binalla said.

The same year that YSA was founded, it was named one of the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations in the country. This paved the way for YSA to realize its true potential to be an instrument of social change through sports.

"Volunteerism has been the backbone of YSA's success and we were inspired to promote volunteerism more," the organization said.

MORE THAN MEDALS. YSA holds a mini-Olympics to raise the kids' competitiveness in sports. Photo courtesy of YSA

Binalla added: "We want people to realize that they don't need to be financially stable or to be successful athletes to be able to give back. We always emphasize on our social media posts that they can give back if they have time, passion for sports, and the willingness to share these to the youth."

For YSA, change is all about instilling the discipline of sports in the next generation.– Rappler.com

Youth Sports Advocacy is a partner organization of Rappler's civic engagement arm MovePH. For more information on how you can help or be part of YSA, check out their stories on X. Know more about our other organization partners:

Do you want your organization to be part of MovePH's X Network? Email us at move.ph@rappler.com!

In Rappler, we believe there are many freedoms: to speak, to choose, to love, or just to be. #InspireCourage is our campaign to encourage people to speak up, engage in issues, and continue fighting for the change they want to see. Be part of the conversation!

Families near Bataan coal plant face displacement


COAL PLANT. The SMC Consolidated Power Corp (SMCCPC) plant and a coal-fired power plant of the Petron Bataan Fuel Refinery - both SMC subsidiaries - are located in Limay town in Bataan province. Photo by Voltaire Tupaz/Rappler

BATAAN, Philippines – More than 200 families in a community near fuel and coal-fired power plants in Limay town are being told to leave their homes after they complained of health problems, including skin and respiratory diseases.

The provincial government of Bataan said that it would provide housing for 250 affected families within the next 3 to 5 months, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said in a statement on Tuesday, February 21. 

"Governor Albert Garcia said informal settlers within the SMC's (San Miguel Corporation) buffer zone would be given priority," the DENR said.

The SMC Consolidated Power Corporation's 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant and a 140-megawat plant of the Petron Bataan Fuel Refinery – both subsidiaries of San Miguel Corporation – are located in the area. Both companies have said that the illnesses were not directly caused by the presence of the plants in the area.

In a phone interview, Undersecretary Arturo Valdez said that the families could be relocated "from the industrial zone to Fiesta Homes" in Limay.

However, according to Limay Concerned Citizens, Inc (LICCI), there are not just 250 families but at least 375 in Barangay Lamao who are directly affected by the power plants.


Community opposes relocation plan 

Many of the residents who have lived in the affected areas as far back as the 1950s oppose the plan. 

Sanay na kaming kumain ng bagoong, talbos, maayos ang paninirahan, malawak ang aming iniikutan. Kapag kami nailipat doon sa Fiesta Homes, hindi masaya. Bakit? Hindi libre, mga kapatid. May bayad,” Daisy Pedranza, a longtime resident of Barangay Limay said.

(We’re used to eating shrimp paste and leafy greens, having a proper home, and enjoying wider space. We won’t be happy if we’ll be relocated to Fiesta Homes. Why? Because it’s not free. We have to pay for it.)

Daisy explained that while local authorities promised to pay for their first 3 months under the Community Mortgage Program, the plan could eventually burden poor families who do not have the means to pay for the rest of their stay.

Kaya kailangan maging aware tayo. Hindi ibig sabihin na ilipat tayo doon sa maganda, magarang tahanan, eh, okay na sa atin. Kailangan mag-isip tayo,” she said.

(This is why we should be aware of the issue. We shouldn’t give in just just because they said we’ll be relocated to beautiful, fancier houses. We should carefully think about it.)

Between January and February 14, the Coal-free Bataan Movement documented at least 649 health complaints that were allegedly caused by the power plants here. More than half of those affected were children and teenagers, aged between zero and 17. They mainly suffer from cough and colds, tuberculosis, and skin rashes. – With a report from Jules Matabuena/Rappler.com






Franciscans to Bataan coal plants: Don't get rich at expense of public health


BATAAN, Philippines –The Franciscan Solidarity Movement for Justice Peace Integrity of Creation (FSMJPIC) was alarmed over the rising number of patients with skin and respiratory diseases in a community near the coal-fired power plants in Limay town in Bataan. 

FSMJPIC members who conducted a medical mission in Barangay Lamao on February 20 said that what they experienced in Limay was a wake-up call to learn more about the negative effects of coal and the plight of the affected community. 

The SMC Consolidated Power Corporation (SMCCPC) 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant and a 140-megawat plant of the Petron Bataan Fuel Refinery – both SMC subsidiaries – are located in the area.

“When we first visited here, the smell struck us just as we stepped down the vehicle. Our skin got irritated after a few minutes. What they say that the coal power plant is clean is not true,” Brother Al Villanueva, FSMJPIC chairperson, said in Filipino.

“We all want development. But development should be helpful to others. It’s not right when people or corporations are getting rich at the expense of public health and the poor,” Villanueva said.

Coal-fired power plants remain the Philippine’s largest energy source at 29%. Coal is considered the cheapest source of energy, but it is also one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the culprit behind climate change and health risks. (READ: Coal-minded leaders left behind by green energy growth - Al Gore)

Foul odor and ash

Hundreds of residents lined up during the group's health mission that provided free medicines, dental services, and medical examinations.

They complained of the same symptoms and ailments which were mainly upper respiratory and skin diseases.

Among them was Geron Yelo, a long-time resident of Barangay Lamao. Yello has been suffering from soar throat, cough, and stomach pains. He claimed his ailments were caused by the foul odor and ash spewed out by the nearby coal fire power plants in the town.

“The smoke smells really bad, especially when it comes with ash. It feels painful when you smell it. I don’t know if it’s boiled metal or other chemicals but it doesn’t feel good when we smell it,” he said in Filipino.

Yelo added that before the power plants were built, they didn’t have any health concerns.

“Before the plants were built, we didn’t have to worry about our surroundings. Now, it’s become unbearable. We’re worried about our children because their bodies cannot take it,” he added in Filipino.

Between January and February 14, the Coal-free Bataan Movement documented at least 649 health complaints that were allegedly caused by the power plants. More than half of those affected were children and teenagers, aged between zero and 17. They mainly suffer from cough and colds, tuberculosis, and skin rashes. 

According to Derec Cabe, coordinator of the Coal-free Bataan Movement, the health problems among the residents of Barangay Lamao started in December 2016 when the San Miguel Power Corporation (SMC) and Petron power plants dumped their bottom ash near the communities. 

“So when the northeast winds blew, the ash was blown to the surrounding residents. That’s when we started documenting health complaints from upper respiratory complications like cough, colds, and flu to skin diseases, rashes, pneumonia, and bronchities,” Cabe said in Filipino. 

"Coal is carbon intensive. There’s really a lot of harmful by products and minerals produced when you burn it,” Cabe said.

More than 200 families in the surrounding communities are being told to leave their homes after they complained of health problems. But the provincial government of Bataan assured its residents that there will be available housing for 250 affected families in the next 3 to 5 months.  

Mitigation measures are underway

COAL PLANT. The SMC Consolidated Power Corp (SMCCPC) plant and a coal-fired power plant of the Petron Bataan Fuel Refinery are located in Limay town in Bataan province. Photo by Voltaire Tupaz/Rappler

However, the SMC subsidiaries have said that the illnesses were not directly caused by the presence of the plants in the area.

Petron also told the Environment Management Bureau (EMB), a line bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), that mitigation measures for odor nuisance and relocation for affected families are currently under way for the PLT Cove area.

In a statement released on Tuesday, February 21, the EMB in Central Luzon reported that two areas within the Petron Bataan Refinery (PBR) complex in Limay are no longer used as bottom ash dump facilities. 

Based on its recent inspection, EMB,said both the temporary ash disposal facilities of PLT Cove and SMC are “now covered with soil, compacted and sprinkled with water to prevent ash dispersion and deposition to nearby communities.” 

The EMB said that tests were conducted to ensure that the air and water in the area are safe.

A 24-hour monitoring for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) was conducted from January 26 to 27. The sampling, which was conducted by the CRL Environmental Services, was witnessed by concerned local government units, community members, and other stakeholders, the EMB said.

Results of the sampling showed that VOCs and H2S were not detected at the sampling stations identified by the Limay Concerned Citizens, Inc (LICCI), according to the EMB. The test also showed that the coastal water along the PLT Cove was not contaminated with substances that could be attributed directly to Petron's dumping of bottom ash in the area, the agency added.

Meanwhile, the result of the sampling conducted at the monitoring well, which was installed to monitor the water quality in the area, was within acceptable pH levels.

Coal-free Bataan Movement and LICCI, however, doubted the outcome of the test.

"We believe it is misleading as the statement is not a result of an epidemiological study by the health department but of a twenty-four hour monitoring by a private environmental firm."

On Monday, February 27, affected residents will march to the Limay municipal hall to call on the local government to shut down the coal-fired power plants.

– With a report from Voltaire Tupaz/Rappler.com


The Spark Project to offer new crowdfunding methods in March 2017


CROWDFUNDING. The Spark Project Team, headed by CEO and Founder Patch Dulay (leftmost), is ready for its ‘best year yet’, 2017. Photo by Angela Casco/ Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Local crowdfunding platform The Spark Project is set to offer new ways of crowdfunding "creative, innovative, and passion-driven projects" to kick-off its 5th year, the organization announced on Wednesday, February 22.

Additional crowdfunding methods and changes in the user interface will be available for project creators and "backers" or donors by March 2017. These crowdfunding modes for non-profit groups or causes, and scale-ups include donations-based, and investment-type methods.

The Spark Project CEO and Founder Patch Dulay said introducing the investment-type and equity-based methods to Filipinos excites him the most because his team wants to be at the forefront of these crowdfunding methods.

“Investment type and equity-based crowdfunding is more complex. With investment-type of funding, these are lenders. They get the money back over time. With equity-based funding, it’s like you’re investing in a company,” he detailed.

In its 4 years of operations, the company has sparked a total of 45 projects and raised P4.7 million ($93,600). Since Dulay’s team started crowdfunding in 2013, all of the projects showed a 63% exceed rate, which means that project creators have either reached or exceeded their target start-up fund. (WATCH: A crowdfunding platform for PH startups)

A new look

Bolder and stronger colors will greet project creators and backers once they visit the Spark Project’s website in March.

“Before it was mostly white but now we want to put some color to it. Stronger colors like purple,” Dulay explained.

Dulay said the idea of a new look is for a fresh start since not much has been done to the website since it was launched 4 years ago. Some of the most notable changes will include bigger header photos, Instagram-like, project tiles, and the use of profile pictures.

“We just really wanted the website to be user-friendly,” said Dulay, noting that their experience the past 4 years gave them insights on what to change or improve.

Making it happen

One enterprise that has successfully grown out of the Spark Project is the Steep Coffee Bags.

Wanting more convenience for his everyday coffee, social entrepreneur Justin Bereber came up with a innovative way to brew coffee. He described his products as "your ground coffee in a tea bag."

Bereber said the idea was to make brewing coffee faster and possible even without a brewer.

“We only have instant coffee at home so when a friend gave me ground coffee,I used mug, cheese cloth, and rubber band to filter it,” Bereber shared in Filipino.

INNOVATIVE. Entrepreneur Justin Bereber’s Steep Coffee Bags offer a genius way to brew coffee in as fast as 2-3 minutes. It is an example of a successful start-up out of the Spark Project. Photo by Angela Casco/ Rappler

With this method, brewing one cup took 10 minutes. "I got late going to work because of that method," he added. His coffee in a tea bag takes only two to 3 minutes to brew in hot boiling water.

Since launching his products more than a year ago, they have become available in 55 stores nationwide, including the Kultura section of the SM Store.

Bereber said he was inspired to launch his own product as he previously worked with Gouache waxed canvass bags, one of Spark Project’s successfully crowdfunded start-up enterprise.

Through the Spark Project, Bereber was able to raise more than P200,000 ($3,900). With this money, he was able to put up his own production facility. It also gave jobs to unemployed mothers in a community in Laguna. (WATCH: Project MOVE: Entrepreneurship guide for millennials)

“Spark helped me raise funds for my project that later helped my community as well,” Bereber shared.

The Steep Coffee Bags are set for export to Australia this year. 

‘Best year yet’

“We want 2017 to be our best year yet. We want to make it now,” Dulay said, introducing this year’s mantra, #SparkItNow.

One event he is particularly excited about is the first-ever Spark Festival, a reward project of the team for all the backers and a celebration of "the best of the Spark Project to date."

The team has cooperated with its alumni projects for the rewards, which include a "mystery box" that will contain special products from various Spark brands. Another reward is a collaboration with Spark brand, Gouache, which is a bag that can be worn 3 ways – as a backpack, a handbag, or a sling bag – for the creative entrepreneur.

The festivity will happen in June and will feature booth exhibits and inspiring talks from creative entrepreneurs out of the Spark Project.

The Spark Festival started to crowdfund in January 2017 with a goal of P150,000 ($2,900). With 6 days left until backing ends, the team has exceeded its target by almost P40,000 ($800).

The Spark Project is also looking into helping out entrepreneurs through education. Themed learning events to encourage realizing ideas into action will be continued through the Spark Series.

Dulay concluded: “We want to really create a bigger community for all these creative entrepreneurs, all these change-makers who have an idea and want to make something happen. We want to be with them every step of the way."– Rappler.com

Angela Casco is a Rappler intern. She is studying at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Batanes: Facing the new normal of climate change


ITBAYAT, Batanes – Batanes has endured centuries of strong typhoons as it lies along the typhoon belt in the Pacific but the intensity of super typhoon Ferdie (international name: Meranti), which hit the picturesque island province in September 2016, caught communities there off-guard. 

Dito sa Batanes, sanay na kami sa bagyo. Bahagi na ito ng buhay namin, kaya ang paghahanda sa bagyo ay isang mahalagang bahagi din ng kultura namin,” said Faustina Cano, an Indigenous Ivatan leader.  

Pero kahit sanay na kami, nakikita ko na palakas nang palakas ang mga bagyong dumadaan sa amin. Hindi na namin ma-predict ang panahon ngayon, at kahit kami nagulat sa lakas ng typhoon Ferdie – never ko naranasan sa buong buhay ko ang ganun kalakas na bagyo,” she said.

(Here in Batanes, we are used to typhoons. It is part of our life, and so preparing for storms is also an important part of our culture. But even if we’re used to typhoons, even I have noticed how much stronger they’ve been getting. We can no longer predict the weather these days, and even we were shocked by typhoon Ferdie’s strength – I have never in my entire life experienced a storm that strong.)

For Nanang Tinang, as she is fondly called in the community, this is climate change. 

CHANGE IS COMING. Nanang Tinang, a community elder in Itbayat, Batanes, talks to Clara Magasing and her two children in Barangay Yawran, Itbayat, one of the worst-affected villages by Typhoon Ferdie. Photo by Airah Cadiogan/Oxfam

Beyond the postcard-perfect cliffs and rolling hills that have made it a popular tourist destination, Batanes is also known for traditional Ivatan stone houses that are designed to resist strong winds and rains – living testaments of indigenous knowledge on adapting to harsh weather conditions. (READ: Beyond the postcards: Batanes and climate change)  

Although most local residents have since constructed modern concrete houses, many of the poorest communities, such as Barangay Yawran in Itbayat, still use huts made out of wood and cogon, making them vulnerable to strong typhoons. 

Ferdie damaged Php835-million (US$16.6-million) worth of houses and infrastructure, and agricultural crops such as garlic, the main source of livelihood for most farming families in Batanes. (READ: Time to implement DRR and adaptation plan on agriculture

Batanes recorded zero casualties from Ferdie, thanks to centuries of building resilience to climate change and continuous preparations, but the effects of the typhoon highlight the need to proactively deal with small-scale and medium-scale emergencies, and prioritize funding for climate change adaptation initiatives. (READ: Duterte signs Paris climate deal)

In this virtual reality video, Nanang Tinang takes us on a tour of Batanes and tells us how climate change is affecting communities.

The video was produced by Rappler in partnership with Oxfam in the Philippines. 

To view the video using virtual reality goggles, open this video on your mobile phone and click on the goggle icon at the bottom right corner. - Rappler.com 


YOU can help raise the voice of people in Itbayat, Batanes and other climate-vulnerable areas by urging the Philippine government to uphold and implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and prioritize funding for climate change adaptation initiatives.

Sign the petition: https://act.oxfam.org/asia/philippines-ratify


VIRAL: Tricycle driver receives award for his honesty


MANILA, Philippines – Honesty is a rare find these days. You're likely to lose your valuables if you leave them unattended. But this is not the case in a town in Rizal, where Rannie Nunag, a tricycle driver, returned a bag full of money to one of his passengers. 

For his honesty, Nunag received an award from San Mateo Mayor Tina Diaz during the flag ceremony on February 27. 

This is the story behind the commendable act. 

February 20 was a busy day for Facebook user Justine De Guzman's mother who had to withdraw money from a bank, buy groceries and food, and take care of her niece.

Hindi available ang sasakyan namin [kaya] kahit hindi sanay si Mama, nag-commute na lang siya because we needed to use the money,” De Guzman shared in a Facebook post on Wednesday, February 22. (Our car wasn't available, but because we needed money, my mom commuted even if she wasn't used to doing it.


De Guzman's mother left her sling bag while commuting but only realized it an hour after she arrived home. Her bag contained more than P20,000, 3 phones, and identification cards.

De Guzman then began calling the cellphones while her sister looked for the driver who took her mom home.

“After endless calls, finally, someone picked up the phone,” De Guzman said. The person on the other end of the phone said: Ma'am, sa inyo po ba 'yung bag? Saan ko po ibabalik 'to? Sa pinaghatiran ko po kanina?"

(Ma'am, is the bag yours? Where will I return this? Should II return this to the place where I dropped you off?" 

Nunag's honesty gave her enough reason to restore her faith in humanity, De Guzman said.

“I honestly trust these people more than those who have more in life. Naniniwala rin kasi akong may mababait pa rin talaga (I also believe that there are still honest people out there),” De Guzman said. 

Other tricycle drivers told De Guzman that this was not the first time Nunag returned lost items. 

As of posting, De Guzman’s online post generated more than 188,000 reactions and has been shared more than 57,200 times. – Rappler.com  

Do you have a similar inspiring story to share? Spread the word and write about it on X

Angela Casco is a Rappler intern. She also studies at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP)  

WATCH: The long road to Palarong Pambansa 2017


ANTIQUE, Philippines – For many young athletes, Palarong Pambansa 2017 is a jumping board to greatness. It's an opportunity to prove themselves in the sports that they are passionate about.

From April 23 to 29, more than 12,000 young athletes from all 18 regions will be competing in 21 regular sports events and 3 demonstration sports. Everyone is eyeing for gold – from volleyball players in Mindanao to Iloilo beauty queen-turned-athletes.

UNITY. Athletes from 18 regions light the Palarong Pambansa flame. File photo from Rappler

The 60th edition of Palaro, for the first time in history, goes to the province of Antique, which has vowed to showcase "youth power" with the theme "Converges Youth Power, Builds Sustainable Future.”

The road is long and difficult for many young athletes. Many of them have to hurdle financial challenges while striking a balance between sports and academics. But it is all worth it, they say, because the event has jump-started many athletes' careers.

Watch all the action from the Palarong Pambansa, where the future of Philippine sports begins. –Rappler.com

Follow Rappler's coverage of Palarong Pambansa 2017 on X and via the hashtag #AntiquePalaro2017.

READ: Palarong Pambansa 2017 stories by campus journalists

'Several factors' behind Nueva Ecija bus crash – road safety advocate


CRASH SITE. The site of the bus crash in Carranglan, Nueva Ecija, that killed over 30 people. Photo courtesy of PNP Carranglan

MANILA, Philippines – Authorities are eyeing overloading as a possible cause of the bus crash in Nueva Ecija that killed at least 31 people, with initial reports showing the vehicle was carrying 77 people – more than its capacity of only 45.

But Jason Salvador, former Land Transportation Office spokesperson and now the manager of a global road safety project of the Ateneo School of Government, said there may have been other causes behind the deadly crash.

"There are several contributory factors. One is the road condition, the driver condition, and of course the vehicle condition. We have to study all of these," Salvador said in a Rappler Talk interview on Thursday, April 20.

The Leomarick Trans bus had plunged into an 80-foot ravine in Carranglan, Nueva Ecija late Tuesday morning, April 18. 

Based on survivors' accounts of the incident, one of the bus' front tires exploded, causing it to overturn, and then fall into the ravine. (READ: Why road crashes are no accidents)

Salvador said the conditions of the road, the driver, and the vehicle must always be taken seriously, as these may endanger the lives of passengers, as seen in the tragedy that happened in Nueva Ecija.

"We have to look at the roads: are there enough safeguards on the road? Because in the Nueva Ecija incident, there were reports that [it] crashed because there were not enough barriers, that's why they fell into a ravine. And then there were also reports that the bus was kind of old and the tires were worn out. And you also have to look at the condition of the driver," he said.

But aside from this, Salvador said it is also important to look at the mindset of those riding and driving the vehicle.

"There are reports that [the bus] was overloaded. They should have realized that this puts them at risk. You have to inform people that they should be able to learn about the red flags," he said.

"For example, before they board a public utility vehicle, they themselves should know that they should look at the conditions of the vehicle – if this is safe enough, the way the driver is handling the vehicle, and [if] there are enough seats so that they can be properly secured," he added.

'Road safety is a public concern'

Whenever there are reports of road crashes, Salvador said people tend to look immediately at what the government can do. But he said the public should also be engaged.

"People should have a paradigm shift in their thinking that road safety is not just a government concern. It is everybody's concern because lives are being lost," he said.

He also pointed out that road safety is a global public health issue, with 1.3 million lives lost every year. (READ: IN NUMBERS: Road crashes in the Philippines)

"I think that the numbers are increasing and we have to mitigate this in more ways than one," said Salvador. – Kurt dela Peña / Rappler.com

Kurt dela Peña is a Rappler intern.

Campus journalists to cover Palarong Pambansa 2017


SPORTS REPORTAGE. At least 80 students from across the country undergo a multimedia training in preparation for the coverage of the 2017 Palarong Pambansa. All photos by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

ANTIQUE, Philippines – Standing less than 4 feet, 11-year-old Jaspher Aspiras and 10-year-old Ivan Jake Villanueva stood out from a group of elementary and high school students at the the 60th Palarong Pambansa in Antique province on Thursday, April 20. But neither of them are athletes. 

Aspiras and Villanueva are the youngest of the 80 students under the Palaro Movers Program who will be covering the biggest youth sports event in the Philippines. 

For the first time in Palaro history, the Department of Education (DepEd) in partnership with MovePH, Rappler’s civic engagement arm, tapped winners of the recently held National Schools Press Conference (NSPC) in Pagadian City to cover the event. 

MovePH is conducting a three-day multimedia workshop in Antique from April 20 to 22 to arm campus journalists, mostly high school students, with the necessary skills and tools to cover the prestigious multi-sports event. Palaro has produced world-renowned athletes like Lydia De Vega, Elma Muros, and Onyok Velasco. 

YOUNG. Cavite native Jaspher Aspiras, 11 years old, aspires to write for a large news publication when he grows up. Photo by Leanne Jazul/ Rappler

Small but terrible 

Aspiras and Villanueva proved that they can keep up with their older peers. 

"I don't feel any pressure because I know that I have already proven myself. Why should I be shy? I believe I have the potential," Aspiras, a sports writer from Rosario Elementary School in Cavite, said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Aspiras won 5th place in the English sportswriting contest at the NSPC 2017 in Pagadian City. His school paper adviser, Domingo Cueto, described the budding sportswriter as a diligent and curious student. 

"Every day, he goes to the library to train with us. Most of the time, he likes to read newspapers. He would browse the sports pages then he would be asking very good questions about sports articles," Cueto said in a mix of Filipino and English.

The same could be said about Villanueva, a student photojournalist from the UN Semirara National High School in Bugasong, Antique. 

SHUTTERBUG. Ivan Jake D Villanueva, 10 years old, is one of the youngest students who will be covering the 2017 Palarong Pambansa in Antique. Photo by Leanne Jazul/ Rappler

Villanueva showed interest in photography when he was 3 years old. According to his mother and school paper adviser, Cheryl Villanueva, he was put on the spot to document the victory of his region during the NSPC 2010 in Tagum City, Davao del Norte when he was just a toddler. 

"When our student won at the NSPC, there was no one else who could take a photo aside from him. I requested that he take a photo of us. To our surprise, people cheered him on when they saw this very small boy taking our picture," Villanueva said in Filipino.

The shutterbug fever never left him since then.

"Nung binilhan ako ng camera, masaya ako kasi may sarili akong camera; at kahit saan ako pumunta, meron na akong dala. Hindi na ako kailangan manghiram. Kung may makita akong maganda, madali lang kumuha ng litrato," the 10-year-old said.  

(I was so happy when they bought me a camera. I did not have to borrow a camera. I can freely take photos whenever I see good subjects.)

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Palaro coverage 

For Aspiras and Villanueva, their coverage of the Palarong Pambansa serves as a platform to apply what they learned from the NSPC, also dubbed as the "Olympics of Campus Journalism" in the Philippines. (WATCH: The long road to Palarong Pambansa 2017)

"I believe that the trainings and actual hands-on coverage provide great opportunities for the students so they can apply what they have learned in school," Cueto said. 

More than 12,000 student-athletes from elementary and secondary schools of the country's 18 regions will converge in San Jose de Buenavista City from April 23 to 29 to compete in 20 regular sports events and 3 demonstration sports.

The province of Antique, which is hosting the Palaro for the first time, has vowed to showcase "youth power" with the theme “2017 Palarong Pambansa: Converges Youth Power, Builds Sustainable Future.” – Rappler.com 

READ: Palarong Pambansa 2017 stories by campus journalists

Automation in licensing can help screen responsible drivers


MANILA, Philippines – The April 18 bus crash in Nueva Ecija that claimed the lives of at least 31 people is the latest deadly road incident in recent months. (READ: IN NUMBERS: Road crashes in the Philippines)

To prevent more road crashes from happening, what can government agencies do?

For Jason Salvador, former spokesperson of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and now the manager of a global road safety project of the Ateneo School of Government, automating processes in regulatory agencies is needed to help ensure road safety standards are met and followed.

In the case of the LTO, which oversees the issuance of drivers’ licenses, automating this process can weed out unfit drivers.

“If you automate everything, then you would eliminate the possibility of [missing out on] something, especially in the issuance of license or the permits to operate a vehicle,” he said in a Rappler Talk interview on Thursday, April 20. 

“Lives are lost here, so they should be stricter in issuing permits, especially to drivers,” he added.

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Discretionary factor

Salvador explained that there are several contributing factors behind the cause of a road crash, including the conditions of the road, the vehicle, and the driver.

To operate a public utility vehicle, a driver must have a professional driver’s license. To get this, he must have passed a practical exam and possess either a valid non-professional driver’s license or student permit.  

But Salvador acknowledges that there are still problems in the process of acquiring driver’s licenses at the LTO, notorious for the many fixers that offer applicants an easier way to get a license for a fee. (READ: Corruption at LTO, LTFRB: Unfit drivers, vehicles on the road)

Salvador said streamlining the process and automation can curb this problem, because it would take out the discretionary factor among employees screening driver’s license applicants.

“You automate, so that you don’t give a certain employee or certain group of people the authority to pass or fail anyone who wants to secure a license,” he said.

“If you eliminate this, you automate this, then you can be rest assured that only all those who are qualified will get to be given a driver’s license,” he added. – Rappler.com

Philippine Red Cross raises P37-M as it celebrates its 70th anniversary


THANK YOU. Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon (6th from L) and PRC Secretary General Oscar Paabyab (5th from L) are flanked by volunteers from the Philippine Red Cross. Photo courtesy of PRC

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) announced that it has raised a total of P37.79 million in pledges and donations since it launched on April 19 its 70th anniversary Fund and Membership Kick-Off drive.

PRC Chairman and Senator Richard Gordon thanked the organization's donors for their generous donations.

"These pledges will go a long way in the service of the Filipino people. Thank you to everyone who pledged their support to PRC so we can serve humanity together," said Gordon. 

The PRC is a humanitarian organization that does not receive government funding but relies heavily on private donations to carry out its programs.

Among PRC's donors include Abott Diagnostics Transfusion Medicine, which pledged P7.2 million pesos and Wilcon Builders which pledged to give P1 million annually. The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office also pledged P8.72 million for the Red Cross' Blood Samaritan program for indigent patients in need of blood.

Gordon also thanked Red Cross volunteers throughout the country and reminded them that each Red Cross chapter needs to be ready, be first, and be where they are needed.

PLEDGE. The PRC board thanks a representative from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) for pledging to donate P8.72 million for the PRC's Blood Samaritan program. Photo credit: PRC

New ship

The PRC has come a long way since it began independent operations on April 15, 1947. It has been at the forefront of response efforts during the worst natural disasters and conflicts that affected the country, providing humanitarian relief and other services. 

Following Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the PRC along with its affiliate Red Cross organizations worldwide, were able to build 77,066 houses and provide livelihood assistance to 62,683 families. 

The PRC has also improved its capability to respond to any disaster by building logistics warehouses all over the country and acquiring the latest technology and emergency equipment, which include 132 ambulances, fire trucks, and amphibious vehicles.

It recently acquired a humanitarian ship that's capable of bringing relief supplies to the remotest island in the archipelago. The ship's name was crowdsourced and will be revealed at the launch on May 9.

Million volunteer run

More than raising funds, the PRC hopes that it can motivate Filipinos nationwide to volunteer and become first aiders. 

On May 13, the PRC will stage the 4th Million Volunteer Run in Manila to promote volunteerism and its benefits. Registered runners will automatically receive a membership card as Red Cross volunteers. 

PRC Secretary General Oscar Palabyab called on PRC chapters and volunteers to be "pillars of hope, dignity, and inspiration" in times of disasters and emergencies.

"Human life is immeasurable, and by being a part of the Red Cross, you become a live saver vicariously." – Rappler.com

MovePH, Rappler's civic engagement arm is a media partner of the Philippine Red Cross