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WATCH: Duterte commissions Red Cross humanitarian ship


M/V AMAZING GRACE. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is accompanied by Philippine Red Cross (PRC) Chairman Senator Richard Gordon for a tour on the M/V Amazing Grace during its launching at the Philippine Navy Headquarters in Manila on May 9, 2017. Malacañang photo

MANILA, Philippines – A day after it was named M/V Amazing Grace by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), the country's biggest humanitarian and disaster response ship was commissioned by President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila.

"With the launching of this ship, we join the PRC in embracing the culture of volunteerism and selflessness. May this inspire us to come together and reach out to anyone who may need aid and comfort," Duterte said in his speech during the commissioning ceremony on Tuesday, May 9. 

The ship is a one-of-a-kind multi-role vessel that can be converted from a barge into a twin-hulled ship, capable of beaching or rolling up to the shore in shallow waters. This will allow the PRC to unload life-saving equipment and vehicles without the need for a deep water port.

Originally called the M/V Susitna, the ship was built in Alaska for the US Navy as a prototype. It was later converted into a ferry but was never used.

According to PRC Chairman and Senator Richard Gordon, the Red Cross acquired the ship at a substantial discount. One of the most hi-tech ships ever built, it costs US$1.75 million.

"I'm glad Amazing Grace is what the Red Cross is all about. It's not the name of a person. It's the name of a value, of an effort, of an energy, of a cause that drives people to do great things without being asked to," Gordon earlier said when the ship's name was revealed.

The commissioning of M/V Amazing Grace marks a milestone for PRC, which celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2017.

When Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the Philippines in 2013, the PRC realized the need to set up an emergency command center, and the need to be able to transport goods quickly across the archipelago.

"Through this, the PRC would be able to complement government forces in providing immediate relief assistance during emergency and crisis situations," Duterte said.

The new Red Cross ship can function as a mobile command center, cargo transport, and evacuation ship. – Rappler.com

Motorcycle riders can't wear helmets in some parts of Bulacan?


NO HELMETS. A proposed bill in the House of Representatives seeks exemptions to the Helmet Act of 2009

MANILA, Philippines – The president of the Bulacan Motorcycles Riders Federation raised alarm over the supposed "no helmet" policy in some parts of the province located north of Manila, a claim that was denied by a local cop. 

Robert Perillo said motorcycle riders are asked to remove their helmets when they enter Malolos City and neighboring Baliuag town, he narrated during Rappler’s Road Safety Forum.

He said they only get to wear their helmets again when they reach MacArthur Highway, a national road. 

Masakit po sa aming kalooban na hubarin dahil naniniwala kami na ang helmet na iyon lang ang makaka-save sa buhay namin pero pilit na pinatatanggal sa amin (It is against our will to remove our helmets because we believe it can save our lives. But they force us to remove it),” Perillo said.

Perillo said the two local government units adopted the policy following the involvement of motorcycle riders wearing helmets in recent incidents of unsolved killings. The suspects could not be identified because helmets covered their faces. 

It is a violation of Republic Act 10054 or the Motorcycle Helmet Act of 2009, which requires motorcycle drivers and back riders to wear standard motorcycle helmets on the road to prevent life-threatening crashes.

Perillo's narration angered road safety advocates present at Rappler's forum. "How can you contradict a national law? Can a local government be more powerful than a national law?" said media practitioner Edwin Go.


A Malolos cop Rappler spoke to denied the city has a "no helmet" policy. 

"Ipapatanggal pero ipapasuot din ulit. Paminsan may hinahanap silang tao, facial verification lang. Kapag ini-implement naman yung 'no helmet,' ipo-post naman po yan," PO1 Isagani Delos Santos of the Malolos Police Station told Rappler. 

(We ask them to remove their helmets but we let them wear it back. We need to do ocassional facial verification if we are looking for some people. An ordinance should have been posted if we're really implementing a 'no helmet' policy)

Most vulnerable users

Motorcycle riders are the most vulnerable road users, based on studies conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority the Metro Manila Development Authority. 

In 2016, Metro Manila recorded a total of 23,105 road crash incidents involving motorcycles. At least 218 riders were killed last year alone while 11,458 others reported sustaining injuries from various road incidents. (READ: Road Deaths in the PH: Most are motorcycles, pedestrians)

The Motorcycle Helmet Act of 2009 was passed to protect the riders, but security concerns pose challenges to its implementation. 

In the House of Representatives, a bill was filed seeking to “allow local government units to suspend the mandatory wearing of motorcycle helmets.” Zamboanga City Representative Celso Lobregat revived the bill he first filed in 2014.

“LGUs with high incidence of crimes committed by motorcycle riders, may, upon recommendation by the local peace and order council, and a duly enacted ordinance, temporarily suspend the implementation of the provisions of RA 10054 for a period of one year which may be extended for another year upon the determination of the necessity for the extension by the local peace and order council," Lobregat proposed.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) opposes Lobregat's bill. 

“We believe there are other ways and we should not compromise the safety of our riders. Especially motorcycle riders [who] are the most vulnerable road users," said Diane Fajardo of DOTr's Road Traffic and Infrastructure Office. (READ: What laws help keep road users safe in the Philippines?) – Rappler.com


JV Ejercito bills seek to stop repeat of Nueva Ecija bus incident


CHILD RESTRAINTS. One of the proposed laws of Senator JV Ejercito is the Child Safety in Motor Vehicle Act of 2017

MANILA, Philippines – Senator JV Ejercito declared himself an advocate of road safety during the celebration of the 4th United Nations Global Road Safety Week on Wednesday, May 10. 

The chairman of the commitees on health and public services hosted in the Senate the forum "Seats that Saves Lives," where he vowed to push for the passage of bills he filed to prevent the repeat of the tragic Nueva Ecija bus incident that killed 27 people

“I love everything that has engines. Not only cars and motorcycles. I love trains. I love airplanes, everything. Rest assured you have a partner in the Senate who understands.” Ejercito said during his opening remarks. 

Ejercito later delivered a privilege speech before the Senate plenary to discuss his proposed laws. They are meant to fill gaps in existing laws on road safety. (READ: What laws keep road users safe in the Philippines)

  • Senate Bill 1446 or the Anti-Overloading Act of 2017
  • Senate Bill 1447 or the Child Safety Motor Vehicle Act of 2017
  • Senate Bill 1375 or the National Transportation Safety Board.

The proposed Anti-Overloading Act of 2017 seeks to criminalize overloading of public utility vehicles by amending the penalties of the Land Transportation and Traffic Code. Violators may be fined up to P1 million, could lose their franchises, and suffer up to 6 years in prison. 

"We do not want another accident such as what happened in Nueva Ecija. That overloaded bus that fell into a 100 foot ravine that took the lives of 31 people and injured 46. It is about time that we update the law because in reality, almost all PUVs have a habit of overloading at the expense of passenger's comfort and safety,” Ejerito said in his bill.

The proposed Child Safety Motor Vehicle Act of 2017 or Senate Bill 1447 seeks to complement the Seatbelt Use Act of 1999. Ejercito said the latter “only protects adults and is not purposely adapted for children and infants.” (READ: What laws help keep road users safe in the Philippines?)

Child restraints are specifically designed to protect children and yound infants during collisions, sudden swerving maneuvers, the opening of doors during vehicle movement or sudden stops. He said the proposed law can significantly reduce fatalities and injuries among children. (READ: Road safety advocates seek passage of child restraint bill )

“The child restraint law is the only law left that can seal the deal in our efforts to promote road safety and in fulfilling the road safety targets as reflected in 2013 agenda Sustainable Development Goals,” Ejercito said.

He also proposed the creation of a National Transportation Safety Board. “The board will be in charge of investigation and determination of probable cause of transportation accidents, issuance of safety recommendations, safety studies directing at preventing recurrences of accidents and evaluating the effectiveness of concerned government agencies as well as their policies in preventing transportation accidents," he said.

Ejercito said the alarming situation of road crashes makes it one of the “most pervasive issues in the country today."

"In Metro Manila alone, 1 person is killed by a road crash every 17 hours. This means an average of 43 people die every month and at least 509 people die every year due to road accidents." Ejercito said (READ: In Numbers: Road crash incidents in the Philippines) – Rappler.com

Rappler columnist receives Hildegarde journalism award


MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Ana Santos, a columnist of Rappler's civic engagement section MovePH, was recognized at the 11th Hildegarde Awards given by St Scholastica College in honor of “outstanding women in communication and media.” 

Santos received the Hildegarde "People’s Choice Award in the Field of Print Journalism" for her articles that seek to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS and reproductive health. Santos has also written for Rappler's investigative unit including stories on Filipino au pairs.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, May 10, Santos quipped that she got the award "for her 'sex work' and feminism."

"I should have known. This is St Scholastica, an institution that never shied away from issues and believed in the holistic advancement of female empowerment," Santos said.

In 2016, former Rappler writer Fritzie Rodriguez received the Hildegarde award for outstanding achievement in the print and online journalism category for her story entitled, "The long road to an LGBT anti-discrimination law."

In 2015, Rappler multimedia reporter Natashya Gutierrez was recognized also for outstanding achievement in the print and online journalism category for her story, "SAF 44: The women they left behind."

In 2014, another Rappler columnist, Shakira Sison, was cited for her essays on gay rights.

The Hildegarde Awards “were envisioned as a way through which women's ways of doing media can be documented over time so that these best practices can serve as models and duplicated by future media practitioners.” It is named after 12th century Benedictine saint Hildegarde von Bingen. – Rappler.com

WATCH: Balangay team sails from Sulu to China to retrace maritime heritage


MANILA, Philippines – From the mountains of the Himalayas to the seas of Sulu, Art Valdez has literally ‘been there and done that’. A former expedition leader of the first Philippine team to summit Mt Everest, Valdez is currently in Cawit, Zamboanga City preparing for the next leg of a journey to China by sea. 

Valdez and other members of the Balangay Expedition team are making the month-long journey from Maimbung, Sulu to China. They will retrace the historic route of Sultan Paduka Batara who, as legend goes, embarked on a trade and cultural mission to China in 1417. On his return journey, Batara died and was buried in Dezhou, a towin in the province of Shandong, where his tomb remains to this day. 

More than just looking at the past, Valdez says the expedition is about what matters to Filipinos in the present.

“We are an archipelago, we are a maritime people. Our real wealth lies in our maritime domain, it was colonialism that made us think that we are land-based people,” Valdez said.

MAIDEN VOYAGE. The Sultan Sin Sulu balangay on its first sea trial. Photo by Fung Yu  

The team, which includes expedition doctor Ted Esguerra, photographer Fung Yu, and members of the 1st Philippine Everest team, are traveling on two wooden boats – the Sultan sin Sulu and the Lahi ng Maharlika – replicas of the balangay boats of yore which were built by Sama Dilaya master boat builders. With no engine and only solar power for their mobile devices and equipment, the crew will have to rely on the wind and Mother Nature to carry them safely across the seas.

An earlier attempt in 2010 had to be aborted due to unfavorable weather. “Naabutan kami ng amihan noon, against the wind, 'di namin kaya umabot ng China,” Valdez said. (We encountered a shift in the monsoon wind. We were against the wind and couldn’t reach China.)

PEACE JOURNEY. Expedition leader Art Valdez receives a peace textile from former Sulu governor Sakur Tan. Photo by Fung Yu  

For Valdez and his team, the mission is both symbolic and purposeful. They want Filipinos to rekindle a passion for the seas and value our maritime culture and economic heritage.

We do this to commemorate the prowess of our ancestors in the maritime theater. We were sailing over the Pacific and Indian Oceans way before the colonials reached our shores. We were really the boat people,” Esguerra wrote in a Facebook post. 

“It (the expedition) can bring home a message to our leaders that this is symbolic of what Filipinos can accomplish to lift this country when we enhance and develop our vast resources,” according to Valdez. 

“We are more water than land,” Valdez said, hoping that the government will improve the country’s maritime infrastructure and create a Department of Maritime Affairs. – Rappler.com

LTO to push for stricter driver's license exams


MANILA, Philippines – To ensure that only responsible drivers will be on the road, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) plans to revamp the current driver's licensing exam, aligning it with the type of vehicle the applicant intends to use.

During Rappler's road safety forum on Monday, May 8, road safety advocates, government officials, and representatives from the private sector discussed issues and problems connected to road safety and public transportation in the Philippines.

Among the solutions they raised include filling in the gaps in the country's existing road safety laws and policies, such as the licensing system.

In the Philippines, both professional and non-professional driver applicants undergo the same exams and processes in the LTO.

Department of Transportation (DOTr) Assistant Secretary Mark de Leon, however, pointed out that this should not be the case, since professional drivers need a special set of skills to properly drive a truck or public utility vehicle (PUV).

LTO chief transportation regulation officer Robert Valera added that the agency is currently preparing reviewer manuals for driver applicants. Each reviewer is specific to the restriction code that applies to the applicant, and is intended to improve driver education.

Valera also said that the LTO is in the process of adding a driver's simulation test into the driver licensing system.

Aside from the usual written exam and practical test, Valera said that adding this third test into the application process will better equip applicants with the necessary driving skills and will also improve their reaction time.

Omnibus Franchising Guidelines

Meanwhile, the DOTr also discussed the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OFG), which will require safety features in PUVs and will allow local government units (LGUs) to set the public transport routes within municipalities and cities.

The LGUs will also ensure that PUVs use only the specified routes assigned to them.

Once the LGUs approve which routes to assign for specific public transport vehicles, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) will then issue the franchise and ensure it complies with local standards.

"The OFG specifies the type of vehicles that we will be using for public transport. It specifies the standards that the jeepneys will have," said De Leon.

De Leon added, "It will really spearhead the modernization of public transport here in the Philippines. Not only in Metro Manila, but in the whole of the country. This sets parameters for what type of public transport will be used for which type of road.” 

PUVs will also be required to install an Automatic Fare Collection System (AFCS), a Global Positioning System (GPS) device, and a speed limiter.

The DOTr plans to release these guidelines by the end of May. – Rappler.com

Ishbelle Bongato and Timothy Gucilatar are Rappler interns.

'I was lucky I wore a seatbelt' – crash survivor


SURVIVOR. Einstein Rojas of New Vois Association Philippines talks about road safety.

MANILA, Philippines – Would you still ride a car if you've been involved in a crash?

Einstein Rojas, 26, shared how he survived a collision sometime in 2013.

He was driving along Cubao in Quezon City with a friend, on their way home. As they were making a left turn, everything went black.

"It was like in the movies when your life flashes before your eyes. It really happened to me," Rojas said in a mix of English and Filipino.

He recalled coming back to his senses when he heard his friend on the passenger seat groaning in pain.

Only then did he realize they were hit by a container van.

He was lucky

As they came from a stop, Rojas said they were fortunate he was able to release the clutch and step on the gas that made the car accelerate.

“Kaya kaysa ma-drag kami palayo, that might have killed us, sa likod kami tinamaan causing us to rotate 180 degrees,” he said.

(That's why, instead of being dragged farther, that might have killed us, we were hit at the back, causing [the car] to rotate 180 degrees.)

He was told that the container van was speeding to beat the red light, as it was in a rush to deliver vegetables from Baguio.

Rojas also said that he was lucky he wore his seatbelt that's why he did not sustain any serious injury.

His friend, however, did not. After the crash, he needed a series of therapies to be able to stand and walk again.

Road safety concerns

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In a forum on road safety held by Rappler, Rojas raised concerns on post-crash response. He said it took a while before responders came to their aid. (WATCH: #SaferRoadsPH Manila: How do we make Philippine roads safer?)

Learning from experience, he said that drivers should always take into account the time left on traffic light counters. He added that roads should have proper lighting as this affects visibility.

Rojas also said they had a hard time looking for help on how to deal and overcome trauma from a crash.

In 2011, the Philippines launched a road safety action plan in a bid to achieve the goal of reducing the number of road crash deaths by 50% in 2020.

The Philippine Road Safety Action Plan has 5 pillars – improving road safety management, safer roads, vehicles, users, and improving trauma care – which should all contribute to a safer road environment.

Currently, the Department of Transportation is updating the action plan to fill in the gaps identified during consultations.

Lessons learned

Rojas stressed how wearing seatbelts can save lives.

“Simula noon, wala na akong pinapasakay na hindi nagsi-seatbelt,” he said. (From that moment, I require my passengers to wear their seatbelts.)

After the traumatic road crash, Rojas became a youth advocate of road safety and is now pushing for passage of the child restraint bill filed in Congress. (READ: What's lacking in our road safety laws?)

Currently, advocates seek to pass the bill requiring owners of private vehicles to install child restraint devices for children 12 years old and below.

The bill will also prohibit infants and children from 6 years old and below to sit in the front seat. 

Rojas believes the best way to inform the public about the benefits of using child restraints is through law, together with the help of media, civic organizations, and netizens to spread awareness.– Rappler.com 

Jonnel Gozo is a Rappler intern.

Being a mother goes beyond bearing children


 MOTHERHOOD. Even if she's never had a child, Erlinor Umali feels she's a mother to the children she helps as a development worker.

MANILA, Philippines – The smile that breaks on her face when she carries a toddler makes you think of how perfect a mother Erlinor Umali is.

Tita Erl, as her family and friends call her, loves children. But she could only wish she had one.

Now 47, Erlinor has been married for 23 years but she and her husband have never had a child.

Her husband worked as a seafarer for the longest time. The changing weather conditions affected his fertility, according to their doctor. Erlinor had her own complications as well.

She admitted that it was difficult for her to accept she couldn't have a child. "Iyon naman iyong pangarap ng mga babaeng tulad ko." (That's the dream of women like me.)

Bur her passion for service opened doors for her to experience motherhood in other ways.

27 years in development work

Erlinor wanted to be a nun or a nurse. But her late father persuaded her to take up an engineering course, telling her these are not the only ways she can extend a helping hand.

Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

She did graduate from college with a degree in computer engineering. But instead of working for the industrial sector, she took the path of development. Her career life was largely spent as a program officer for children's rights organization Save the Children.

In her 27-year stint there, she worked mostly in programs on early childhood care and development. She engages with children and their parents through education sessions about children's rights and the stages of their development.

Her favorite part of the job is seeing how children and even parents grow after their intervention.

"'Pag nakikita ko iyong mga bata at the start of the school year na umiiyak ayaw magpaiwan sa mga nanay tapos ni hindi makasulat ng pangalan o hindi maka-recite ng alphabet, then after 6 months ng intervention... makita mo sila na nasa harap ng stage sa harap ng maraming tao tumutula, kumakanta, o nagre-recite ng poem, doon ako natutuwa," she said.

(When you see the kids at the start of the school year, crying and not wanting to be separated from their mothers, and unable to write their name or recite the alphabet, then after 6 months of intervention, I see them on stage in front of a lot of people, reciting a poem or singing, that makes me happy.)

She also shares the joy that mothers feel when she sees the then-little ones who were once part of the programs she handled now graduating from college.

"Makita ko iyong mga bata before and then graduate na sila ng college ngayon, sinasabi nila ngayon, 'O, Tita Erl, graduate na ko.' 'Ay, very good!' sabi kong ganun," she said.

(I see kids I handled before and now they're college graduates. They tell me now, "Tita Erl, I'm already a graduate." And I tell them, "Very good!")

People often ask her why she doesn't have kids but she proudly tells them: "Libu-libo ang anak ko. Nasa daycare center, nasa community na tinutulungan namin." (I have thousands of children. They are in daycare centers, in the communities we help.)

No regrets

Erlinor and her husband thought of adopting a kid but it never pushed through because she preferred adopting from a relative. Recently her husband again broached the idea of adoption but she said they are too old. 

But even if they did not actually have a child to call their own, Erlinor said she has no regrets as she is perfectly happy devoting her time for service.

"Baka kung nagkaanak din ako, baka wala na ako dito kasi ang priority ko iyong famiy ko pero siguro nandito ako sa kalagayan na ito kasi mas marami akong natutulungan," she said. (If i had a child, I'd probably not be here because my priority would be my family. But maybe I was put here because I can help more people.)

Motherhood is believed by many to be the essence of being a woman. But for Erlinor, birthing is not the be-all and end-all of being a mother. 

"For me, it's my responsibility to ensure that every child – be it my own, my niece, or nephew, or whoever child – will be given the chance to live a decent life," she said in a mix of English and Filipino. – Rappler.com

WATCH: How to join Brigada Eskwela 2017


MANILA, Philippines – Before public elementary and high schools in the country begin classes on June 5, help repair, paint, and clean classrooms in your communities during the National Schools Maintenance Week or Brigada Eskwela.

The Brigada Eskwela, an annual volunteerism drive that brings education stakeholders together before the school year begins, will kick off on May 15 and end on May 20, the Department of Education (DepEd) announced on Thursday, May 11.

The education department is calling on local government units, companies, civic groups, and volunteers to help fix up school buildings during the week-long campaign. 

This year's Brigada Eskwela will also highlight one of the Duterte administration's priorities in the education sector: the Alternative Learning System (ALS).  (READ: DepEd aims to reach out-of-school youth during Brigada Eskwela)

There will be special desks in schools from May 15 to May 20 so ALS volunteers and learners can register for the program. Education Secretary Leonor Briones said on Thursday.

Disaster preparedness

Another goal of Brigada Eskwela is to promote disaster preparedness in schools that are located in vulnerable areas.

In a department memo issued on March 9, Briones called on all DepEd employees to participate in Brigada Eskwela activities.

Disaster preparedness is high on the department’s agenda for this school year. School officials are tasked to make sure learning facilities are safe for learners and disaster management practices are in place.

The memo ordered all schools to:

  • Post a directory of emergency contact numbers of government offices in areas around the school
  • Maintain a supply of drinking water or have alternative sources of water available
  • Coordinate with barangay officials for the students’ safety outside the school

What you can do

There are many ways to be a part of Brigada Eskwela.

You can clean classrooms and school surroundings. You can also help paint the classrooms, tables, and chairs.

DepEd is also encouraging volunteers to distribute emergency kits and school supplies for learners and teachers, but they should first coordinate with the school beneficiary. 

Emergency kits can include first aid supplies, whistles, flashlights, and emergency numbers. 

Brigada Eskwela Plus

On Thursday, the DepEd also announced Brigada Eskwela Plus, a program that will ensure school maintenance activities will happen throughout the school year.

"With Brigada Eskwela Plus, it’s our goal to improve children’s schooling until they finish basic education. The activities during Brigade Eskwela will be practiced throughout the year to ensure continuous community engagement," DepEd assistant secretary Tonisito Umali said in a video message. 

The activities under Brigada Eskwela Plus include the following:

  • Community-led effort to improve student participation and reduce dropouts or enroll in the ALS
  • Community-led effort to improve student performance

Who to contact 

Volunteers should coordinate with the schools and let them know how they intend to help, DepEd said.

Interested volunteers may directly contact the school head or principal of the nearest public school in their communities.

Business groups and non-government organizations that want to lend a hand and join Brigada Eskwela can also contact the Office of Assistant Secretary for Partnership and External Linkages or the following offices:

  • External Partnerships Service in Central Office
    • Rolly V. Soriano, Project Development Officer III
    • Telephone: (02) 638-8637 or (02) 638-8639
    • Email: rolly.soriano@deped.gov.ph
  • Education Support Services in regional offices
  • Social Mobilization and Networking Section under the Schools Governance and Operations Divisions in SDOs

The DepEd reminded the public that there is no fee to volunteer for Brigada Eskwela.

Parents are also not required to participate in these activities to secure their children's enrollment. – With a report from Timothy Gerard Palugod/Rappler.com

Timothy Gerard Palugod is a Rappler Intern from the Lyceum of the Philippines University.

The drug scene, a year after the Close Up Forever Summer party


Rappler file photos

MANILA, Philippines – It was a hum-drum Thursday afternoon at home. Vivian (not her real name) was scrolling through her Instagram feed and her boyfriend was strumming his guitar in the background.

“Here’s another one,” Vivian said. She handed her phone over to her boyfriend and showed him the post of one of their friends: “Palong palo ako now. Sarap ng feeling.” (I’m so high right now. It feels great.)

Vivian, 21, has been a full-time drug dealer for the last three years or so, selling “recreational drugs” like X (ecstasy), Fly High and its close cousin, Green Amore.

She sells through friends and friends of friends, online or at raves and music festivals. Boracay’s Laboracay is a natural magnet for dealers. According to Vivian, she has to hire “additional help” to meet the beach party demand.

Save for a few “hot” periods like the start of the War on Drugs when dealers laid low, raves and music festivals remain a popular selling place where demand and supply can meet.

On the anniversary of the tragic Close Up Forever Summer open air concert where five people died after allegedly consuming an illegal substance, Rappler talks to drug dealers and people who use drugs (PWUD) about the risque mix of drugs and music.

1. Beware of fake drugs

Edge, who has mixed taking “Ecstasy” and going to a rave said, “I don’t know how to explain it but taking E just goes with the music. It heightens the experience of the thumping and the beat of the music. It’s like in your skin.”

Ecstasy (methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA) has been a constant mainstay in the club, rave and music festival scene for a long time. It goes by other names like E, XTC, C, and love drug but its main effects are the same: it’s an upper that has an energizing hallucinogenic effect. Users are said to feel a euphoric “sense of social closeness and bonding” which many say is why the drug is so popular in the club scene.

In its earlier years, the drug was called speed. Today, its new street name is

“Molly” because of its supposed new molecular version of MDMA and has been popularized in songs by Miley Cyrus and Kanye West.

E comes in both capsule or pill form. The pills can be different colors and sometimes have cartoon-like images on them. The pure crystalline powder form of MDMA is usually sold in capsules.

“But if you buy the capsule, you can be sure that it is mixed with something else with like meth, cocaine or sometimes even Viagra,” explained Vivian.

These so-called “extenders” are used by suppliers as a way of marketing an old drug in a new way and to give the user a different, more potent kind of high and. One tablet of MDMA runs for about P1,000* ($20) and up while the capsule about P1,500 – P2,500 ($35 – $40). (READ: How Duterte's drug war has affected rich users)

Capsules can be shared by 2 people and stretched to even 3.

2. Click to buy

Getting high is relatively simple. Pills or capsules are easy to get past security or sniffer dogs at a rave and to avoid that altogether, some pop the pills before going to the party.

Some dealers don’t even have to go to an event to reach their customers and users don’t have to wait for the next rave. They just meet online.

At a Congressional hearing following the tragedy at the Close-Up Forever Summer party, Philippine National Police Chief Senior Superintendent Manuel Lukban explained that “the deals of ecstasy is very different” from other drugs like shabu.

“Ecstasy proliferates through social media, through Facebook,” he said. 

He might as well have included Pinterest. A quick Google search will show that there are Pinterest sites and websites of on-line sellers who can deliver ecstasy right to your doorstep.

In April 2014, the Bureau of Customs and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency seized 500 tablets of ecstasy (with street value of about P750,000 or $15,089) from a big time drug supplier known to be the go-to drug guy for Metro Manila and other neighboring provinces. The suspected dealer in his statement said that traders and suppliers are using the Internet to bring in and sell drugs and using bitcoin as a mode of payment.

Vivian has seen a local Instagram page where you can buy drugs online, pay via LBC or Western Union and have the drugs shipped to you. (READ: Music, drugs, and alcohol: Do young Filipinos party to get high?)

3. The party scene set-up 

Maia* started using drugs when she was 15. She started out with smoking cigarettes and weed and then went on to harder drugs like X and cocaine.

“My barkada were my neighbors. I got my supply from my friends and we would smoke up in each other’s houses,” recalled Maia who is now in her early 30s. The proximity and the familiarity provided Maia the perfect alibi. “Our parents never knew we were all getting high.”

Looking back now, Maia thinks that there was also a built in safety system in doing drugs within the confines of a friend’s house. “You’re in a small group with people you know. They can see if your body starts reacting to the drug and help you.”

Fast forward to today, people use drugs either in “in-house sessions” or small groups in someone’s condo or a rented hotel room or at raves.

“Let's be realistic. If you're at a party or a rave, one way or another, drugs will be available whether you like it or not,” said J, who as a DJ says she sees a lot from her booth.

J says it’s wrong to assume that everyone at raves is doing drugs but admits that she has seen people openly taking drugs and then downing them with alcohol – combined with the heat and body compression at parties can be lethal.

“Outdoor music festivals are sprouting up faster than mushrooms. Back then the rave scene was in a controlled air-conditioned environment. There were stations where people could sit down, rest and drink water,” J explained.

Nicole, 26, a regular raver, has complained about how hard it is to get water at an event. “There aren’t enough water stations in relation to the number of people who go, the lines are so long and water is P100 ($2) a bottle – more expensive than beer. It’s hot. You’re sweating like anything and if you are already high, you can get really really dehydrated.”

According to the US-based National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), MDMA can affect your body’s ability to regulate its temperature “particularly when it is used in active, hot settings like dance parties or concerts”.

Reactions can include hyperthermia which is a sharp rise in body temperature that can lead to liver, kidney or heart failure and in some instances even death.

4. Changes in the music scene  

Migs, a DJ and party organizer says that a new trend in the music scene is the coming together of the world of raves and concerts. “A rave has a DJ playing and people primarily go for the music. At a concert, you go to hear and see someone perform. At a rave, drugs are expected, at a concert not so much.”

But now that DJs are bringing in singers and singers are performing with guest DJs, the scene has meshed together and is trying to capture a wider audience.

Some parties offer discounts for college students and some student organizations sell tickets to raise funds.

“I’ve seen really young looking kids at the raves and I see the drugs being pushed around. I worry about how they are taking in being exposed to drugs so young. Do they know what they’re getting themselves into? I know a lot of folks who don’t do drugs, it’s common but it’s not a must. Do these kids know how to say no?” said Migs. 

Migs has seen many family members and close friends lose their way to drugs and knows the potential harm and damage goes beyond the user. 

And though she comes from the other side of the drug scene, Vivian feels the same way. “It’s your choice to do drugs. And it is your responsibility to educate yourself on the risks involved.”

Maria Inez Feria, Founding Director of NoBox Philippines, says the perception of users in the Philippines is one that is highly stigmatized. The term “adik," for example, carries with it a lot of connotations. Punitive policies on drug use don’t help. 

“When we punish simple drug use, we drive people away from asking for help, wanting to help, and knowing how to help,” said Feria.

NoBox Philippines has been working with different advocacy and legislative groups to push for  harm reduction policies as a response to drug use in the Philippines. Harm Reduction International defines “harm reduction” as  “policies, programmes and practices that aim to reduce the harms” linked to drug use (like sharing needles, for example), rather than on the elimination of drug use itself. 

Feria concluded: “We need to let people (know) that there are better ways to respond to people who use drugs, and it starts with being kinder and more honest about the drug use." – Rappler.com

Ana P. Santos is Rappler’s sex and gender columnist. She is also Pulitzer Center grantee who writes about labor migration. In 2014, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting awarded her the Persephone Miel Fellowship to do a series of reports on migrant mothers in Paris and Dubai.

*$1 = P49.71

Dire Husi Initiative: Kagay-anon artists show art can change lives


ART IS LIFE. Dire Husi Initiative artists perform in Cagayan de Oro to attract customers for their art. All photos courtesy of Rhyan Casino/ Rappler

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – In Cagayan de Oro City’s Plaza Divisoria, across the monument of former President Ramon Magsaysay, a band of dreadlocked and tattooed artists gather on Friday evenings this summer.

Spread over carpets, hanging over makeshift posts are crafts woven by their hands – dream catchers, necklaces, wrist bands, and feathered accessories. With the lively beat of the drums, some of them dance amidst the dim street lights.

This weekly display and performance have become CDO’s newest attraction. Gathering local and foreign spectators, the group responsible for it have become artists by the bond they shared as friends. But before most of them discovered their creativity and found hope in their art, they had once been lost in a life of drug addiction, criminal activity, and extreme poverty.

The Dire Husi Initiative Inc, under the leadership of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ (NCCA) Northern Mindanao Representative for Visual Arts Rhyan Casiño, has inspired them to make the most out of life by the art that they do.

Fellowship of believers

The name, Dire Husi, is derived from the Cebuano word for here (dire) and the Manobo term for friend (husi).

The group exists as a fellowship. Though it didn’t start as one when it began in 2005.

“Dire Husi began as a sole proprietorship,” Casiño recalled. An artist whose works had been influenced by Bukidnon’s Tigwahanon community and whose music was set in tune with the culture of the Talaandig Tribe in Lantapan after his immersion, Casiño originally intended to start a business with his crafts. 

“In one of the many exhibits I conducted after registering my business, street kids approached my display at the Tourism Showhouse in Divisoria,” he narrated. A man of faith after living a tumultuous life as a former drug dependent, Casiño said he prayed that his works will touch lives. The answer came when one street kid wanted to pursue art and, like Casiño, earn a living out of it.

He began to apprentice that child, until more came to him and his business eventually grew into a community of artists who share their creativity and learn from their experiences.

As their mentor, Casiño shifted the kids' focus to creativity – painting soil on canvass, playing tribal instruments and crafting accessories fashioned after the sacred emblems of the indigenous people.

Vices and violence are prevalent on the streets, and unguarded homeless kids are almost often the victims. So Casiño took the initiative to care for them not only as his apprentice, but also like a family.

While their style in music is mainly inclined to Caribbean Rastafarians, and their artworks inspired by indigenous culture and tradition, their occasional fellowship meetings at the Artsville Hub in Upper Puerto, CDO, are centralized on Christian belief. (READ: Street kid turned missionary: The story of Paolo)

The fellowship is also a form of rehabilitation where each member, whether old or new, could share their experiences, help each other cope and relate with their stories, and train one another in their craft.

Some lives have indeed been changed by the company and influence of the group. While other members sought greener pastures by taking scholarships, earning college degrees, and pursuing missionary work, some of the members stayed as Dire Husi continues its advocacy to be the refuge for society’s outcasts. (READ: From street child to Atenean: The story of Rusty

A decade of service

CREATING HOPE. Dire Husi founder Rhyan Casino paints on a canvass in the streets of CDO.

The organization became financially stable when the British Council in the Philippines’ I Am a Changemaker competition recognized Casiño’s project as one of the three winners in 2008, granting P100,000 for implementation.

His project, Dire Husi: Interconnecting Indigenous Young Artisans and Young Urban Fashionistas through Fair Trade (Intercultural Dialogue), along with the active proposal of then-University of the Philippines student Vincent Eugenio, sought to provide its members the start-up money to sell their artworks to local collectors.

The funds also contributed to the construction of their hub in Upper Puerto where they gather for fellowship and training. “We go there to share our ideas, to hone our skills, and of course, we also pray together and maintain devotions,” Casiño said.

This project has become the group’s advocacy to this day – providing stowaways, juvenile delinquents, and marginalized youth an outlet for their expression and creativity, as well as training them to make use of their talents for their livelihood.

“We also plan to bridge local artists to mainstream people,” Casiño noted. “We provide an avenue where misunderstood and stigmatized youth can express themselves in a creative manner that would inspire others.”

Hailed twice as one of the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations in 2009 and 2012, Dire Husi also promotes the culture and heritage of the indigenous people in Northern Mindanao by the works of young artists. 

Overcoming their past

“Are you willing to change?” Casiño would always ask this to new members who seek refuge in the group, particularly those who were previously addicted to drugs or were involved in criminal activity. “The decision must come from the person.”

He added that the group will stand firm with this advocacy as the stigma set against the marginalized continues. “We’re doing art for the community,” he said.

As Dire Husi members overcome their past struggles with substance abuse, they have proven that lives can change for the better. The organization has shown them that one's worth and purpose can be found in art. – Rappler.com

Angelo Lorenzo is one of Rappler's lead Movers in Cagayan de Oro.

For more information about the Dire Husi Initiative Inc., visit their Facebook page here.

#BrigadaEskwela kicks off nationwide


COMMUNITY EFFORT. Parents and teachers of Corazon Aquino Elementary School in Batasan, Quezon City join together in cleaning the classroom during the 2017 Brigada Eskuwela that signal the start of school classes. Photo by Darren Langit/ Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Thousands of teachers, students, and volunteers gathered in various public schools nationwide on Monday, May 15, as the Department of Education (DepEd) launched Brigada Eskwela in preparation for the resumption of classes in June 2017. 

From the Cordillera Regional Science High School in La Trinidad, Benguet to Ipil National High School in Zamboanga Sibugay, teachers, students, and parents took part in cleaning their schools to make facilities ready for learners starting on June 5.

In Rosario Elementary School in Cavite, members of the Rosario General PTA Federation participated in the activity, which drew hundreds of Brigada volunteers.

COMMUNITY. Brigada volunteers pose for a photo in Rosario Elementary School in Rosario, Cavite. Photo by Dom Cueto/ Rappler

"Handa kaming tumulong para sa ating paaralan,” said Mario Buenaflor, president of the federation. (We are ready to help for the school.)

At the Rosario Almarion Elementary School in Tondo, Manila, members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) joined the nationwide drive as they helped clean classrooms and move chairs.

Community effort

Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines help students in carrying arm chairs during the Brigada Eskwela at the Rosario Almario Elementary School in Tondo, Manila on May 15, 2017. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

Launched in 2003, Brigada Eskwela is an annual community-based program that aims to promote "bayanihan" spirit among education stakeholders to prepare public school facilities for the upcoming school year. 

The drive has generated increased support from education stakeholders throughout the years: from P1.5 billion in 2012, generated resources and support has increased to P7.3 billion or 21%, according to the DepEd.

“With these figures, kitang kita po natin kung paano naging matagumpay ang Brigada Eskwela sa pagsulong ng mga taon,” DepEd Assistant Secretary Tonisito Umali said. “For this year, 2017, if we equal what we have done last year, that by itself is already an achievement. But I’m sure that we will surpass it.” (With these figures, we can see clearly how successful Brigada Eskwela has been in the past years.)


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BrigadaEskwela?src=hash">#BrigadaEskwela</a> volunteers&#39; first challenge is to clean up tree debris due to last night&#39;s heavy downpour | Zambo Sibugay <a href="https://twitter.com/MovePH">@MovePH</a> <a href="https://t.co/TMEVbB33S8">pic.twitter.com/TMEVbB33S8</a></p>&mdash; Bong Santisteban (@jievensanti) <a href="https://twitter.com/jievensanti/status/863929396117241857">May 15, 2017</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Student Body spearheads <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BrigadaEskwela?src=hash">#BrigadaEskwela</a> cleaning | Ipil NHS, Zamboanga Sibugay <a href="https://twitter.com/MovePH">@MovePH</a> <a href="https://t.co/Fns0cZtXC7">pic.twitter.com/Fns0cZtXC7</a></p>&mdash; Bong Santisteban (@jievensanti) <a href="https://twitter.com/jievensanti/status/863923171514351616">May 15, 2017</a></blockquote>
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Not just a clean-up drive

This year, it is no longer just the usual clean-up drive for Brigada Eskwela. The program also consists of other activities like anti-illegal drug use campaign, distribution of pencils gathered under the One Million Lapis Campaign, earthquake and fire drills, and tree-planting events.

With the theme “Isang DepEd, Isang Pamayanan, Isang Bayanihan para sa Handa at Ligtas na Paaralan,” this year’s drive also highlights one of the Duterte administration’s priorities in the education sector – the Alternative Learning System.

“Many of our children are still unable to join the formal learning system. With all its improvements and opportunities, meron pa ring hindi nakakaabot dahil sa poverty, school’s distance, early marriages,” Briones said during the nationwide launch in Cebu City.

(With all its improvements and opportunities, there are still those who don't reach school because of poverty, school distance, and early marriages, among other issues.)

Brigada Eskwela runs until Friday, May 20, in all public elementary and high schools nationwide. Deped continues to urge members of the community to join in the campaign in their respective areas. – Rappler.com

Find out how you can take part of Brigada Eskwela here

Share your Brigada Eskwela photos, videos, and stories on x.rappler.com.

How Brigada Eskwela changed a Zamboanga Sibugay community


ONE COMMUNITY. Brigada Eskwela volunteers line up to register for the activities in Ipil National High School in Zamboanga Sibugay. Photo by Jieven Santisteban/ Rappler

ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY, Philippines – Brigada Eskwela may just be an annual clean-up drive for others, but for a community in Ipil town, Zamboanga Sibugay, it’s more than just a school activity.

Beverly Alcoriza, the school principal of Ipil National High School (INHS), noted that before Brigada Eskwela was implemented by then-Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Jesli Lapus, they used to have 2 weeks of school cleaning when classes began in June.

This would cut the prescribed number of school days intended for learning, creating a big disadvantage for students. (READ: #BrigadaEskwela kicks off nationwide)

“No parents are invited to clean back then, only the students. Sa pagpanglimpyu, naay mga parte ng dili mahuman kay init na kaayo, so pagka-ugma napud humanon. There are subjects that will be sacrificed – subjects that should have started already,” Alcoriza told Rappler.

(There are parts of the campus that cannot be cleaned in a day due to severe heat, so they will finish it the next day, or the day after.)

When the first Brigada Eskwela started, parents were elated to observe that classes began on the designated first day of school.

“It is the day that when parents inspect their students’ notebook, they can see something written on it because it was really used for instruction,” Alcoriza noted.

In addition, the school principal also recognized the vital role of the students, parents and stakeholders in the success of this program.

“This is how the stakeholders, and the community as a whole, realized that they also own the school,” she said. “I personally saw that through this activity, the school management, the parents and the community officials developed their partnership and closeness. (This is) the time when they can listen to school programs (and learn) where their services are needed."

Competion and camaraderie

LEADING BY EXAMPLE. Supreme Student Government officers of Ipil National High School lead the cleaning and declogging of school canals on the first day of Brigada Eskwela. Photo by Jieven Santisteban/ Rappler

For 2017, Ipil National High School will compete for the Big School category in the Brigada Eskwela Competition. As the school moves towards this national recognition, Alcoriza is confident that the community will give its utmost support. Just last 2016, the school bagged 3rd Place in Exceptional School Category during the same competition for the Zamboanga Peninsula region.

On the first day of Brigada Eskwela on Monday, May 15, at least 800 parents and students participated in the activity in INHS. This number significantly surpassed last year’s first day registration.

Alcoriza also confirmed that the local Bureau of Fire Protection and Municipal Police Station are set to extend their help in the endeavor. The Zamboanga Sibugay Health Office also pledged to donate health kits containing medicines and first aid materials for disaster risk reduction and management.

Cash donations from local residents also poured in, which is allocated for buying repair and repaint materials.

“This activity will not only prepare the school for the students, but it will also foster volunteerism among the students, parents, and the local officials, not only for this Brigada Eskwela, but to every school activity for the betterment of the community,” Alcoriza noted.

From May 15-20, 2017, All public schools in the country will hold the School Maintenance Week also known as Brigada Eskwela, spearheaded by the DepEd. – Rappler.com

Jieven Santisteban is Rappler's lead Mover in Zamboanga. He is also a writer for JourKnows.

Share your Brigada Eskwela photos, videos, and stories on x.rappler.com.

Thousands of pencils donated to Cebu students on Brigada Eskwela launch


EDUCATION. Council for the Welfare of Children officials turn over a symbolic pencil to Department of Education Assistant Secretary Tonisito Umali (2nd from R). Photo by Apple Grace Danuco/ Rappler

CEBU CITY, Philippines – The Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) turned over thousands of pencils to underprivileged elementary students during the Brigada Eskwela 2017 national kick-off at the Ramon Duterte Memorial National High School in Cebu City on Monday, May 15.

The turnover is part of the CWC's "One Million Lapis" campaign which seeks to collect pencils to be distributed and turned over to different public schools with poor students as beneficiaries.

Ang kampanyang ito ay isang pakilala sa karapatan nang bata sa dekalidad na edukasyon. Ang lapis ay simbolo nang kakayahan nang bata na maipakita ang kanyang saloobin, mga ideya, at kakayahan sa pamamagitan nang panulat,” Marijoy Segui of CWC said during the turnover ceremony.

(This campaign recognizes the right of every child to quality education. The pencil is a symbol of the ability of every child to express their feelings, ideas, and abilities through writing.)

BRIGHT FUTURE. The Council for the Welfare of Children hopes the pencils will encourage underprivileged children to pursue their studies. Photo by Apple Grace Danuco/ Rappler

Since the start of their campaign in April 2016, a total of 300,316,000 pencils were collected through donations from private companies, institutions, national government agencies, non-government organizations, and regional committee and sub-committees from the Welfare of Children with the support of Department of Education (DepEd). 

Ang mga lapis na ito bagama’t simple lang ay inaasahan namin na malaki ang maitutulong sa mga batang mag-aaral ngayong darating na pasukan,” Segui added.

(We expect that these pencils, though simple donations, will make a huge difference to children this coming opening of clases.)

CWC plans to initiate a second part of the campaign that will call "One Million Bags and School Supplies" in 2017. – Rappler.com

Apple Grace Danuco is one of Rappler's lead Movers in Cebu.

Share your Brigada Eskwela photos, videos, and stories on x.rappler.com.

Using cellphones while driving prohibited starting May 18


HEADS UP, MOTORISTS. The Anti-Distracted Driving Act is set to be implemented on May 18, 2017.

MANILA, Philippines – A lot of motorists use their mobile phones while behind the wheel – calling, texting, going online, even playing games. Starting Thursday, May 18, it will be illegal for them to do so.

On Thursday, the Anti-Distracted Driving Act will take effect. Under this new law, drivers are banned from using a "mobile communications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication or to make or receive calls."

They also cannot use "an electronic entertainment or computing device to play games, watch movies, surf the internet, compose messages, read e-books, perform calculations" while the vehicle is in motion or even when stopped at a red traffic light.

Using gadgets, however, is not considered distracted driving if done using a hands-free function or similar devices.

Concerns about implementation

In a press conference of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and Land Transportation Office (LTO) on Wednesday, May 17, concerns were raised about the implementation of the new law.

For one, will it cover the placement of navigation systems on ride-hailing services like Grab and Uber?

What motorists can do, said the authorities, is to set their destination on navigation apps before trips begin. Gadgets with these apps may be installed in a part of the vehicle that will not obstruct the driver's view. If motorists need to find alternative routes while in traffic, they should pull over first.

"Kung kinakailangan mong tumingin sa gadget mo na maalis ang tingin mo sa lansangan, kailangan itabi mo muna," LTO Assistant Secretary Edgardo Galvante said.

(If you need to look at your gadget and your eyes won't be on the road, you should bring your vehicle to the side of the road first.)

Another concern – how will traffic enforcers check compliance if vehicles are heavily tinted?

The DOTr and the LTO reminded the public that there are standards to be followed for window tints.

"[We] will be coming up with a public information campaign for the next 3 months but law [enforcement] agencies will not stop [in implementing] this," said DOTr Assistant Secretary Mark de Leon.

He added that every type of vehicle is covered by the new law, including motorcycles, bicycles, and even horse-drawn carriages. Exemptions will be granted only during emergency situations, fire, or crime. Violators, both public and private vehicles, will face fines ranging from P5,000 to P20,000.

Aside from the DOTr and the LTO, the Philippine National Police (PNP), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), and local government units (LGUs) are authorized to enforce the Anti-Distracted Driving Act.

Road safety

According to Ronnie Corpus of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), they can also issue additional sanctions for public utility vehicle (PUV) operators who fail to educate their drivers about the law.

Ultimately, the law is for the promotion of road safety.

"Ayaw na natin madagdagan pa [ang mga aksidente]. One life lost from this is one too many. Pati 'yung pagtawid sa kalsada, nagte-text or nagbabasa... ie-emphasize natin 'to para ma-remind ang mga tao natin," Galvante said.

(We don't want more accidents. Even those crossing the street are texting or reading. We will emphasize this to remind the public.)

De Leon added: "Kung alam 'nyo na ganito ang batas, 'wag na kayo gumamit ng cellphone. Ang objective ng batas na ito is not on the enforcement, o sa dami ng huli, kung hindi sa naa-avoid na aksidente."

(If you already know about this law, don't use your cellphone while driving. The objective of this law is not to catch as many violators as possible, but to prevent accidents.)

Children on motorcycles

Aside from the Anti-Distracted Driving Act, the Children's Safety on Motorcycles Act will also be fully implemented. It will take effect on Friday, May 19.

Under that law, a child riding a motorcycle must be able to comfortably reach the standard foot peg of the motorcycle and grasp the waist of the driver.

The child also has to wear a helmet.

Violators will face fines ranging from P3,000 to P10,000. (READ: What laws help keep road users safe in the Philippines?– Rappler.com

DepEd, Ateneo, MovePH agree to use Agos for disaster preparedness


SIGNED. Members of DepEd, MovePH and Ateneo eBayanihan teams. At the center are Dir Ronilda Co, Prof Reena Estuar of Ateneo, and Rupert Ambil of MovePH. Photo by Jaen Manegdeg/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – As part of its disaster preparedness program for the new school year, the Department of Education (DepEd) inked a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Rappler’s civic engagement arm, MovePH on Thursday, May 17 at the DepEd Central Office in Pasig City.

The MOA formalizes an ongoing partnership between the Education Department, MovePH, and Ateneo de Manila University’s eBayanihan program on the use of social media and technology to crowdsource critical information in times of emergencies.

The Agos platform, which is powered by eBayanihan, combines top-down government action with bottom-up civic engagement to  crowdsource information and help decision makers  and responders better plan and prepare for disasters. Agos eBayanihan gathers and visualizes reports from social media such as damage to critical infrastructure, rescue call outs, and evacuation centers in real time.

The MOA was signed by Education Secretary Leonor Briones and Rappler CEO, Maria Ressa. A symbolic signing ceremony was held on May 17 with Undersecretary for Finance Annalyn Sevilla and MovePH Executive Director Rupert Ambil.

Dr Reena Estuar, associate professor of the Ateneo de Manila University was also on hand to witness the signing. Dr Estuar and her team were behind the creation of the eBayanihan volunteer management and crowdsourcing platform that has since been merged with Rappler’s Agos platform.

TOPVIEW. Realtime info is needed during a disaster. An aerial view of the devastation brought about by Super Typhoon Lawin in Tuguegarao City. TOTO LOZANO/Presidential Photo

School patrol

Through the partnership, the Education Department will be able to view real time critical information sourced from the public and from the teachers in every school throughout the Philippines. (READ: Civic volunteers respond to call to be Agos eBayanihan volunteers)

DepEd officials and local school disaster coordinators will be given verified accounts on Agos where they can report via SMS, Twitter or Facebook. The reports will be plotted on the Agos Alert Map.

Officials from DepEd will be verified and registered via their division and region. Once verified, education officials can also modify and verify other reports and act upon them.

Users will also be able to see the latest news, particularly when a typhoon or earthquake strikes.

“Isa sa feature nung partnership ay para maging mas madali po sa amin yung determination doon sa ginagamit na evacuation sites” said Ronilda Co, Director of the Disaster Risk Reduction Management System (DRRMS). (One of the features of the partnership is for us to easily determine the status of evacuation sites.)

She pointed out the relay of information is more easy and convenient through the online platform. She also added that the partnership also teaches the students and citizens about disaster awareness and preparedness.

Director Ronilda Co of the DepEd Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Services Office

Aside from the reporting system, MovePH and Ateneo will provide free workshops to DepEd officials on the use of social media and information sharing.

“Nag-i-invvest po tayo sa education, sa mga eskwelahan natin, sa sistema, at sa mga kabataan kasi ang totoo po niyan, if we don’t feel safe in schools, if we don’t protect our children, our students, wala po tayong future,” said Ambil. (We are investing in education, in our school system, and in the youth. The truth is, if we don’t feel safe in schools, if we don’t protect our children, our students, we don’t have  a future.)

He also added that it is part of the advocacy of Agos to raise public awareness and encourage local communities to be active contributors to nation building. with a report from Yedda Marie Alfonso/Rappler.com

What you need to know: Law ensuring kids' safety on motorcycles


MANILA, Philippines – Beginning Friday, May 19, the law banning small children from riding as passengers on motorcycles will take effect.

According to Republic Act 10666 or the Children's Safety on Motorcycles Act of 2015, riders of two-wheeled motor vehicles are not allowed to travel with a small child on board. 

Based on the implementing rules and regulations, children below 18 years old may be allowed to board a motorcycle only in the following cases:

  • If the child passenger can comfortably reach his or her feet on the standard foot peg of the motorcycle
  • If the child's arms can reach around and grasp the waist of the motorcycle driver
  • If the child is wearing the standard protective helmet or gear

Children are also prohibited from sitting in front of the rider.

But there is an exemption: the law won't apply in cases of medical emergencies, if the child to be transported needs immediate medical help.

Violators will be charged P3,000 for the first offense, P5,000 for the second offense, and P10,000 with a one-month suspension of the driver's license for the third offense. For succeeding offenses, the driver's license will automatically be revoked.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is the lead implementing agency of the law, which aims to secure the safety of child passengers.

The Land Transportation Office will deputize members of the Philippine National Police, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, and local government units to enforce the law.

Based on figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority, an average of 671 children died every year in road crashes in the Philippines from 2006 to 2014. Among the children, the most vulnerable are those 5-9 years old, and those 10-14. (IN NUMBERS: Road crash incidents in the Philippines

In 2014 alone, 253 children aged 5-9 and 195 children aged 10-14 died.

Motorcycle injuries are also one of the top causes of road crash deaths, comprising 56% of the total identified transport cases nationwide.

Motorcycle riders have also been the top victims of road crashes in Metro Manila since 2010. (READ: Road deaths in PH: Most are motorcycle riders, pedestrians) – Hannah Mallorca / Rappler.com

Hannah Mallorca is a Rappler intern.

VIRAL: Russian tourist kills endangered sea turtle 'Pawi' with speargun


PAWI. According to residents, Pawi is one of the green sea turtles at the Dauin marine sanctuary in Dumaguete. Photo courtesy of Harold Biglete

MANILA, Philippines – Pawi, an endangered green sea turtle, was killed at the Dauin Marine Sanctuary after a Russian tourist shot it in the head with a speargun on Wednesday, May 17.

Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) have been officially declared endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Officers of the Dauin Bantay Dagat immediately caught the foreigner and brought him to the authorities.

Police filed charges against Russian national Anton Likharev and detained him in the Dauin Police Station.

Likharev violated Republic Act 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. Section 92 of the law states that “(i)t shall be unlawful for any person, natural or juridical, to fish with gear or method that destroys coral reefs, seagrass beds, and other fishery marine life habitat as may be determined by the Department (of Agriculture)."

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Likharev could face a minimum of two years and a maximum of 10 years in prison, along with a fine amounting to as much as P2 million.

Online outrage

News of Pawi’s death has also sparked outrage among online users.

The incident also raised questions about how the Russian tourist was allowed to carry a speargun inside the sanctuary.

Many locals expressed dismay over the incident, urging the public to respect marine life.

Harold Biglete, owner and manager of Harolds Diving Center, took to social media to express his grief, saying that he often saw Pawi outside his diving center, feeding on the algae growing on the ropes.

Apo Island is a tourist destination where activities like snorkelling and scuba diving allow many people to spot sea turtles and other marine life in the area.

But as a marine sanctuary, marine life thriving in the area should be protected and recreational underwater activities should be carried out responsibly. – Rappler.com

Ishbelle Bongato is a Rappler intern. She studied AB Literature at the Ateneo de Manila University

Red Cross taps small cell technology for emergency communications


PORTABLE. The emergency communications equipment can be mounted on emergency vehicles and deployed anywhere. Photo from PRC

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) on May 9 unveiled its portable communications equipment that will enable people to call, text, and connect to the Internet in disaster areas, even when the main communication and power lines are down. 


The equipment utilizes small cellular technology that will power the PRC’s SOS cellular network, even without a connection to a main communications system.


“It is portable, and once fired up in a disaster-stricken area, is capable of connecting our first responders and people in need of help through their mobile phones within a 7-km radius,” said Senator Richard Gordon, who is also Chairman of the Philippine Red Cross.


He adds that deployment of these devices in Red Cross rescue vehicles can be as fast as 30 minutes. It also runs on solar power.


Once this portable cellular network is deployed, disaster-stricken areas that suffer from power outage can access the signal and connect to rescuers and other emergency response teams.


“Some 25 natural and man-made calamities occur in the Philippines every year. These calamities have, over time, also tended to intensify, as we have experienced. Every ounce of creativity and resourcefulness is needed if we are to respond, and respond with equal intensity. This is where we turn to technology,” said Gordon.


The small cellular technology was introduced at the commissioning of the PRC's new humanitarian ship, M/V Amazing Grace. (WATCH: #NameThatRedCrossShip, PH's first humanitarian vessel) The PRC celebrates its 70th year of helping save lives and providing humanitarian relief in disaster and conflict zones. – with a report from Timothy Gerard Palugod/Rappler.com

What you need to know about the Anti-Distracted Driving Act


NO DISTRACTIONS. Distracted driving is finally prohibited under Republic Act No. 10913 starting May 18.

MANILA, Philippines – Do you know that you can't check your phones anymore while driving?

Republic Act No 10913 or the Anti-Distracted Driving Act officially took effect Thursday, May 18 – 10 months after it was lapsed into law in July 2016.

The law defines "distracted driving" as using telecommunications or entertainment devices while in motion or temporarily stopped at a red traffic light.

A 2015 National Statistics Office report cites using cellular phones while driving as one of the top causes of road crash incidents, with a total of 1,290 reported incidents from 2012 to 2014. (READ: IN NUMBERS: Road crash incidents in the Philippines)

Under the new law, drivers of both public and private vehicles are not allowed to use phones to call, text, play games, or surf the internet while in motion or temporarily stopped at a red traffic light or at an intersection.

Watching movies, reading e-books, or performing calculations are also prohibited, along with other activities that will distract the driver while driving.

The law also covers a wide range of other vehicles – wheeled agricultural machinery, construction equipment, bicycles, pedicabs, trolleys,wagons, carriages, carts, the habal-habal or modified motorcycle that seats more than two people, and the kuliglig, a two-wheeled trailer hitched to a hand tractor.

What if I need to call during an emergency?

In case of emergency, motorists are allowed to use their devices to make or take calls to authorities in cases of crime, bomb or terrorist threat, fire or explosions, or when personal safety and security is compromised.

Those in need of immediate medical attention are also exempted.

Can I use hands-free devices like earphones?

According to RA 10913, drivers are only allowed to wear earphones when they are making or receiving calls. Using earpones to listen to music is not allowed.

The law also prohibits mounting devices on areas that obstruct the driver's line of sight. According to the Department of Transportation, no communication or electronic gadgets should be affixed on the car's dashboard or steering wheel.

Can I still use navigation apps like Waze or Google Maps?

Motorists are allowed to use navigation apps like Waze or Google maps as long as the devices are installed in places that will not obstruct the driver's view.

The DOTr is set to release guidelines on where the devices could be placed.

NO OBSTRUCTIONS. The Department of Transportation suggests that devices used for navigation be placed on areas encircled in red. Photo from the DOTr Official Facebook page

If the driver needs to look for an alternative route on the application, he needs to pull over to the side of the road.

What will happen if I get apprehended?

Violators will be penalized with a fine of P5,000 for the first offense and P10,000 for the second offense. Those who incur violations for the third time will be fined P15,000 and his driver's license will suspended for 3 months.

Those who violate beyond the 3rd offense will be fined P20,000 and his driver's license will be revoked. – Rappler.com

Sources: Republic Act No. 10913, Department of Transportation

Learn more about Filipinos' safety on the road by visiting the Road Safety Awareness microsite.