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#StoryOfTheNation: Mindanaoans a year after Marawi siege


RUINS. Municipal councilor Jalil Mamailaw comes home to a burnt house, Saturday, April 7, in Marawi City. Photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines - One year after the ISIS-linked Maute Group attacked Marawi, the city and its people are still recovering from the 5-month war that left thousands homeless.

Damage to properties was estimated at P11 billion while about P6.6 billion was lost in terms of economic opportunities.

Around 33 barangays and 24 villages were affected by the fighting, with majority of the buildings there now in ruins.

Nothing is left of their homes

Residents of Brgy. Daguguban and Brgy. Tulali returned home to almost nothing five months after Marawi City's liberation, Saturday, April 7. Evacuees from the city were given 3 days to retrieve whatever they can from the rubble of what used to be their homes starting April 1 to May 10.

From the two areas that have been granted access so far, residents found their life's work either destroyed, burnt, or looted.

Jalil Mamailaw, a municipal councilor living in Brgy Tulali, Marawi City walked with dismay as he entered his house which was gutted by fire. 




"Ito nangyari. Wala na, wala nang natira. Wala na," he mumbled.  (READ: Marawi rehab prioritizes clearing of buildings, residents' return)

(This is what happened, it's all gone.)


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"Wala akong nakuha sa bahay namin, kahit isa. Lahat nasira. Hindi namin alam kung sino sumira," said Isham Dianalan, who works in a local school nearby.

(Everything inside my house was destroyed. We don't know who destroyed it)


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For Naima Abdurahman Palawan, her investments from decades' work as a dressmaker in Saudi is now all a shambles.  "Tingnan mo yung mga motor, pinaghiwa-hiwa yung mga makina (kopantahi). Anim na makina ito," Palawan said. (READ: IN PHOTOS: When Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi)

(Look at the sewing machines. They're torn into pieces. These were 6 sewing machines)

Though everything is in ruins, Marawi City residents still want to go back to their homes if given the chance. 

Calls to pass BBL

In the aftermath of Marawi siege, several Mindanaoan youths called for the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law. 

Ellyssahanna U. Espinosa, from Cagayan de Oro City, said that BBL should be passed because it will protect the people's rights and dignity.

"And we fear that if BBL will not be passed, another rebel group will rise or another siege will happen. God forbid," Espinosa said. 

Here are their stories:


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– Rappler.com

In 360 video: Hope for Marawi a year after the siege


ONE YEAR AFTER. Key sites during the Marawi siege. Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

MARAWI CITY, Philippines –Thousands of families from Marawi and neighboring communities left everything behind when armed conflict broke out on May 23, 2017.

Five months of war displaced more than 353,000 people. Most of those who fled moved in with relatives in nearby towns and cities. Others turned to evacuation centers. They had to put their lives on hold during the intense fighting that lasted for almost half a year. Breadwinners lost their jobs and livelihood. Children were forced to stop schooling. (READ: Marawi stories: One year after the siege

A year after the siege, though many of them have returned to their communities, thousands of families are still displaced. They need sustained assistance to get back on their feet.

Help them rebuild their lives in safety and dignity through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency. (READ: How can Filipinos share the gift of hope to millions of refugees?

A year after the conflict, UNHCR remains present on the ground– in Marawi City and neighboring municipalities –  to address dire humanitarian needs. The UNHCR conducted a survery to gather the thoughts and concerns of affected families, as well as identify their urgent needs.

Along with other humanitarian groups, UNHCR is supporting the government-led response and helping displaced families and communities bring back normalcy to their lives.  (READ: NGOs helping rebuild Marawi City)

 Make a donation now to give hope and to empower the thousands of displaced people of Marawi.

Visit https://donate.unhcr.ph/ - Rappler.com

Production specialists: Adrian Portugal, Jaen Manegdeg 

In fight vs plastic, 'challenge is changing people's mindset, lifestyle'


LESSEN PLASTIC. Environmental advocates, government officials and NGOs proudly shows their reusable CleanSeas tumblers as they urge the ban of single-use plastics. Photo by Bong Santisteban/Rappler

MANILA, Phillippines – Government and non-governmental organizations on Saturday, May 26 launched the CleanSeas Pilipinas campaign, in hopes of addressing the country's emerging problem of plastics in Philippine seas. 

CleanSeas Pilipinas aims to mobilize the government and private sectors, as well as academic institutions, civil society organizations, international organizations, communities, and individuals to address the problem of plastics in the country's oceans. (READ: Investing in biodiversity is investing in our future)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB), and Planet Cora were behind Saturday's launch. 

A study by Ocean Conservancy in 2015 showed that the Philippines generates 2.7 million metric tons of plastic garbage every year. From this number, 521,000 tons leak to the oceans, making the country the 3rd top source of plastic leaking into oceans globally. 

"With these alarming facts, it is important now more than ever that we take action to save our seas. I encourage everyone to do their own little part, as marine conservation is, after all, everybody's concern and responsibility," said Ola Almgren, resident coordinator of UNDP.

Almgren also noted that the top 5 plastic polluters in the ocean are all ASEAN countries: China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

He said if these countries improve their solid waste management, the ocean's plastic problem could be reduced by 45%, at least (READ: ASEAN region to lose 70-90% of habitats by 2100 – report )

DENR-BMB Director Crisanta Marlene Rodriguez said this campaign would hopefully raise awareness on Filipinos's use of plastics.

"Our biggest challenge is changing the mindset and lifestyle of the people. Hopefully, through CleanSeas Pilipinas, we will be able to be conscious of our plastic usage," Rodriguez said. 

The launch of CleaSeas Pilipinas kicked off the Philippines' first ever Biodiversity Festival happening at Rizal Park on Saturday to Sunday, May 26 to May 27. 

On Sunday, there will be cultural performances, environmental talks, and an "Ocean Jam" featuring musical artists Maude, Up Dharma Down, and DJ Tom Taus. Entrance to the festival is free and open to everyone. – Rappler.com

'Sponge boy': 13 years of selling dish cleaners pays off


SPONGE BOY. Melvin Chua did not let the ups and downs of his life to dictate what he would become in the future. Photo by Naoki Mengua/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The nickname will stick but Melvin Chua, 22, is no longer the "sponge boy" of Taguig and Makati.

Thirteen years of hawking dish sponges on the streets ended when he marched to receive his college degree from University of Makati in April. He is now an office worker – just as he dreamed of – in posh Bonifacio Global City.

Chua is an inspiring story of triumph over poverty. The young boy whom his relatives almost gave away to adoptive parents worked hard to become the family breadwinner.

He was 9 years old when he started roaming the streets, rain or shine, to earn money for his family and for his studies. (READ: InspireCourage: Stories that inspire courage and resilience)

His perseverance and cheerful disposition endeared him to his customers. They treated him like family.

Chua fondly recalled how his customers bought his sponges if only so he can stop by a few hours and join a birthday celebration.

"Talaga pong pinakanta nila ako, pinakain po nila ako, and then pag-uwi ko po sa bahay ay may dala dala na akong mga handa (I sang and I ate with them. They even packed food for my family)," Chua told Rappler.

Chua's customers made sure to buy from him to support his dreams.

"Madalas po na sinasabi sa 'kin ng mga suki ko, 'Kaunting tiyaga lang. Kaunting tiis lang. After  niyan, kapag nalampasan mo yan, makaka-graduate ka rin at makakahanap ka ng trabaho. Lahat ng mga pangarap mo matutupad,'" Melvin recalled.

(My customers often told me, "Persevere and endure the hardships. You will get through it all, and when you're able to graduate and find a job, all your dreams would come true.")

Difficult childhood

Unknown to most of his customers, Chua had a difficult childhood. His parents separated and the relatives who took care of him almost gave him away.

While Chua's single mother tried to find work in Manila, she left him and his 3 siblings to the care of relatives in the province. Chua said the brief time with his relatives only evokes bad memories.

At one point, they decided to give him and his siblings up for adoption. But his mother disapproved of it, and took them back to Manila. (READ: WATCH: Nanay Ely, the 82-year-old crocheter of Tayuman)

"One day before po kami kuhanin nung mag-a-adopt sa amin, tinakas po kami ni mama mula sa province papunta ulit dito sa Manila (One day before we were supposed to be sent out for adoption, our mother came to sneak us out and brought us here in Manila)," Melvin shared.

In Manila, Chua became family breadwinner.

"Walang walang ho kami. Sa mga kaibigan po kami ni mama nakikitulog, nakikitirauntil one timepo naisipan na po namin na magtinda po (We came to Manila with nothing. We had to live with my mother's friends until we decided to sell some goods)," Chua said.

They first ventured into selling coloring books, second-hand clothes, and rags. He observed later, though, that no one else was selling dish sponges in their area. He found his niche.

Selling and schooling

Melvin did not abandon his studies despite the toll of being the breadwinner. He adjusted to the school schedule. He sold his dish sponges in the afternoon if his classes were in the morning and vice versa.

It got hectic when he became a college student. He spent time in school during weekdays and could only work on weekends. 

"Sa weekend, whole day po ako nagtitinda kasi po kailangan mabawi ko na 'yungallowanceko, 'yung pambili ko ulit ng paninda (I'd work the whole day on weekends to earn my allowance and have extra money to buy more dish sponges sell)," Chua said.

It was a difficult juggling act. "Sobrang mahirap po talaga maging breadwinner ng isang family po. Lalo na kami po na 6 po kaming magkakapatid. Kailangan maaga akong makauwi. Hahabulin ko pa ring magtinda para yung mga kapatid ko may pambaon para makapasok sila," Chua said. 

(It's really hard to be the breadwinner of a family of 6. I had to go home immediately after school so I could sell and earn for my siblings' school allowance, too.)

He worked with a clear goal in mind: So that someday, he wouldn't need to sell sponges anymore.

Chua said he took up Bachelor of Science in Office Management in college because he wants to experience a working environment different from the streets he grew up with. (READ: Boy Tsinelas: Crafting action figures out of flip-flops)

"Noong nakita ko po 'yung office management, sabi ko, gusto sa office naman ako magtatrabaho. Gusto ko sa opisina naman ako magwo-work," he said. (When I saw the course office management. I told myself, "I want to work in an office.")

'Thank you, suki'

Just before Melvin graduated in April, his post thanking his patrons went viral on Facebook


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It got more than 40,000 reactions and over 12,000 shares. Many netizens were inspired by his story.


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Melvin said selling dish sponges influenced him positively in so many ways. "Selling at a very early age, I was able to understand the harships in life... Selling sponges will always serve as a reminder for me to be humble, to be grateful in life, and be thankful to God," Melvin ended.

He now works as an operation specialist in a multinational company in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.

In 2017, Quezon City 5th District Representative Alfred Vargas filled House Bill 1825 to institutionalize night classes all over the country to address rising dropout rates among college students who are forced to find employment to support their family.

If passed into law, working students like Melvin can perform their responsibilities without the need to leave their studies.Rappler.com

How #NoToDoctorShaming posts highlight gaps in PH healthcare system


MANILA, Philippines – On Saturday, May 26, photos and videos of sleeping nurses from a public hospital in Metro Manila went viral on social media.

The same content was picked up by several Facebook pages, triggering an online conversation on the responsibilities of nurses and doctors and the overwhelming gaps in the Philippine healthcare system. 

Why people are angry

When the photos went viral, some netizens quickly argued that as medical professionals who took an oath to help save lives, they should not be "sleeping on the job" regardless of the circumstance.


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Many of those who echoed this sentiment are relatives of patients who have undergone horrible experiences in Philippine hospitals.  Aside from their observation on doctors and nurses sleeping, netizens also raised how some medical professionals tended to be rude to their patients. 


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Other netizens, however, have risen to the defense of doctors with the #NoToDoctorShaming posts. "Doctor shaming" was once the term used to describe the blame hurled at doctors by family members who have lost members in the operating room. In recent years, this term has evolved, referring to criticisms against medical professionals.  (READ: Why our nurses our leaving

The recent brickbats thrown at doctors for taking breaks in between shifts has provoked demoralization and pity from members of the medical community. They have a common plea: Do not generalize all doctors and nurses. 

Many of those who posted using the hashtag pointed to the bigger problem that needs to be addressed: poor healthcare system in the Philippines. According to them, many Filipino nurses actually live a life characterized by long shifts and low pay. 


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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">We chose to be in a profession that saves human lives - equipped with knowledge, perseverance, compassion, and empathy. <br>However, we are not super-humans.<br><br>Do not dehumanize us and turn us into robots at your disposal.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NotoDoctorShaming?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NotoDoctorShaming</a> <a href="https://t.co/FIhCcOnzHw">pic.twitter.com/FIhCcOnzHw</a></p>&mdash; Gaks (@psychokenetics) <a href="https://twitter.com/psychokenetics/status/1000728053096435712?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 27, 2018</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">We chose to serve knowing we will miss countless family gatherings, once in a lifetime events, and having a life for ourselves. Don&#39;t be surprised if Google can&#39;t treat your loved ones someday because you just ruined someone who had the heart to serve. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NoToDoctorShaming?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NoToDoctorShaming</a></p>&mdash; Alfie Calingacion (@alfieRMT) <a href="https://twitter.com/alfieRMT/status/1000616329685098496?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 27, 2018</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Shame on me for finding 1 hour to sleep from 5am to 6am, 23 hours into my 34-hour shift, in between monitoring the vital signs of 10 patients every hour, coming in to work unpaid at 7am, not leaving until 5pm the next day, so we can help you get better.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NoToDoctorShaming?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NoToDoctorShaming</a> <a href="https://t.co/S9KNXYH1Zi">pic.twitter.com/S9KNXYH1Zi</a></p>&mdash; Marvin Wynant (@mwynant) <a href="https://twitter.com/mwynant/status/1000383363134308354?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 26, 2018</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">After assisting several ORs and to assist on more. Sleep is a basic human need and not just some privilege only other jobs can enjoy. Despite everything, we can assure you that our bodies may fail but our minds will still be damn sharp the minute we wake up. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NoToDoctorShaming?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NoToDoctorShaming</a> <a href="https://t.co/ApGvdfBOlz">pic.twitter.com/ApGvdfBOlz</a></p>&mdash; Ibn Aris (@ibenzimidazole) <a href="https://twitter.com/ibenzimidazole/status/1000655799033610240?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 27, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Bigger picture 

The average Filipino doctor will take on several 36-hour duties to compensate for being understaffed and more importantly, having under-qualified staff. In 2016, a news report said that the ratio of doctors to patients in the Philippines was 1 to 33,000.

Many of the doctors who have taken part in the #NoToDoctorShaming movement, are not from private healthcare facilities. The health care system in the Philippines, has been described as "fragmented" as the divide in access to medical resources between the rich and poor has only widened further the equality. 

The desire to work as a doctor has diminished over the years, as the poor healthcare system, and lack of benefits have tarnished its title as a stable career. 

Because of the decrease in number of medial professionals, doctors tend to be overworked and even underpaid. With this, netizens argued, that those who remained in this career are those motivated by a genuine drive to save lives. 


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">One day all the physicians in the PH will just say: &quot;Screw it, I&#39;m done, I&#39;m tired, and I&#39;m not appreciated for all the sacrifices. Let&#39;s all go on strike. Better yet, let us all just stop being physicians because everyone else seems to know better than us.&quot;<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NoToDoctorShaming?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NoToDoctorShaming</a></p>&mdash; Chan Udarbe (@ChanUdarbe) <a href="https://twitter.com/ChanUdarbe/status/1000700286363582464?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 27, 2018</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">No, I’m not a doctor. But my mom is and I’ve seen her sacrifices. One of which is she doesn’t sleep till she knows all her patients are ok. And I believe she’s a hero for that. People are throwing rocks at Doctors for sleeping? Damn. What a world.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NoToDoctorShaming?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NoToDoctorShaming</a></p>&mdash; Jasper Choy (宝石) (@KouhaiChoy) <a href="https://twitter.com/KouhaiChoy/status/1000664395687514113?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 27, 2018</a></blockquote>
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What is your take on this issue? How do you think should the problems in the Philippine healthcare system be addressed? Share your thoughts on X!  – with reports from Simona Gemayel/Rappler.com 

[Right of Way] On the road with GakiMoto


There are many ways to get around Metro Manila, and while we've tackled the challenges of motorists and commuters alike, we have yet to hear from another fixture on the streets: motorcyclists.

In this episode of Right of Way, road safety advocate Vince Lazatin goes on a motorcycle ride with Gaki Azurin, who runs the motovlog GakiMoto and plays drums for rock band Flying Ipis. The two ride to Binondo and Intramuros, and talk about motorcycles, traffic, and road safety in between.

Got any traffic, transport, and road safety woes? Send them to rightofway@rappler.com. – Rappler.com

Bangketa Eskwela: UE student sets up foundation to teach street kids


NEXT LEVEL. Dara Mae Tuazon with her Bangketa Eskwela students. Photo by Gaby N. Baizas

MANILA, Philippines – In a makeshift tent along an alley in Bambang, Manila, children are bent over worksheets, not minding the honking cars and chatter that surround them. In front of the kids is a petite teenager with a warm smile.

“'Asan ang mga mata 'nyo? Saan dapat nakatingin ang mga mata? Kay teacher  (Where are your eyes? Where should those eyes be fixed? At teacher)!” 19-year old Dara Mae Tuazon sing-songs.

What started off as a  3-student tutorial along the streets of Gastambide has now grown into a full-fledged sponsored foundation that teaches close to a hundred street children from various barangays in Manila.

Founded by Tuazon, Bangketa Eskwela organizes outreach programs in different barangays. The focus of these programs ranges from literacy programs to seminars on good parenting and child-rearing skills. (READ: How is education being disrupted by technology?)

Tuazon is an elementary education major at the University of the East (UE). She has found her calling in teaching street children how to read and write.

From May 28 to June 1, Tuazon and the Bangketa Eskwela team held their first week-long literacy course, complete with a graduation ceremony at the end of the program. They coordinated with Barangay 265 Zone 24, and Barangay 257 Zone 23 in Tondo, Manila.

The literacy classes were held from 9 am to 12 noon every day, and focused on values formation and basic teaching. Meals were provided. Tuazon’s students from are aged 3 to 10 years old.

Children who completed the week-long literacy program were given certificates of completion on their graduation day on Saturday, June 2.

Humble origins

THE TUTOR. Dara Mae Tuazon oversees the students’ worksheets and gives them words of encouragement to do their best. Photo by Luisa Jocson

Tuazon began teaching street children a little over a year ago.

She chanced upon two children singing songs to customers while she was eating at a food stall along Gastambide. Inviting them to join her, she fed the children and found out that they did not know how to read and write.

The education major decided to spend her free time teaching the street kids, setting up  her mobile classroom along the noisy, bustling streets of Gastambide. Tuazon initially struggled with the unfavorable learning conditions and her personal time management. (READ: WATCH: Giving hope for a brighter future to street children)

Despite this, Tuazon persevered, and her class of 3 students grew to 30 in just 4 months.

She spent the whole summer teaching street children from Gastambide, as well as from other areas such as Blumentritt and Lope De Vega in Manila, and Porac in Pampanga.

Education in the Philippines

Tuazon presents one way to respond to the problems surrounding elementary education in the Philippines.

In a report released by the World Bank Group, net enrollment rate for Filipino elementary students increased from 90% to 95% between 2009 and 2012. However, the completion rate, or the percentage of first-year enrollees who complete the full education cycle, rose to just below 75% in 2012.

This is typically caused by the financial problems of  Filipino families. A study released by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies said that Filipino parents often prioritize food and shelter over education, and have to consider potential returns on investments when they cannot afford to send all children to school.

The Department of Education got P553.31 billion in the national government's P3.8-trillion budget for 2018. This budget will be used for educational facilities, teaching and non-teaching personnel, and learning materials for students.

Tuazon’s vision for her classes, as well as her plans for future endeavors,  aims to help improve the access of poor families to education from a micro perspective.

Future plans

Tuazon plans to support a total of 15 scholars – 5 of her original students in Gastambide, and 10 from her students in Bangketa Eskwela. Scholars will be sponsored for uniforms, school supplies, and monthly allowances.

The scholarships aim to further motivate the children to undergo formal schooling and to give them the “feelings [and] experiences of being in a classroom,” according to Tuazon’s mother, Amparo.

“Our goal for them is to be inspired to go to school and learn. We want all of them to be in school after this; we want all of them to be motivated to love going to school,” Amparo explains in a mix of English and Filipino.

For school year 2018–2019, Tuazon will shift from teaching daily classes to conducting outreach programs every Saturday instead, in order to make more room for academics during her final year in UE.

Tuazon is the first recipient of The One Philippines Humanitarian Award, which comes with a P1.5-million grant for her advocacy. She will represent the Philippines in The One International Humanitarian Award in Hong Kong, where over 30 awardees have been recognized for their advocacies in their respective countries.

Tuazon expressed her satisfaction with the progress of her students, some of whom are already enrolled in formal schools, as well as her personal progress as an aspiring preschool teacher.

“Ang first students ko is 3 lang. Doon lang ako nag-start. Tapos ngayon, sobrang blessed ako kasi na, eto na, nabibigyan ko na sila ng food, ng school supplies, and sobrang happy [ako] na ngayon, nasa next level na kami,” she said.

(I only had 3 students at first. That was where I started. Now, I feel very blessed because I can give them food and school supplies, and I’m very happy that we have taken things to the next level.)  – Rappler.com

Luisa Jocson and Gaby N. Baizas are taking up AB Communication at the Ateneo de Manila University. They are Community interns at Rappler.

Report urges UN to 'recognize human right to healthy environment'



MANILA, Philippines — "To achieve sustainable development, it is necessary for us to recognize the fundamental importance of protecting the environment and of the rights that depend on it."

This was the key message of the joint statement released by United Nations (UN) Environment Programme Executive Director  Erik Solheim and Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment John H. Knox ahead of World Environment Day on Tuesday, June 5 2018.

They said that the “interdependence between human rights and the environment has become undeniable.”

"A healthy environment is necessary for the full enjoyment of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and development. At the same time, the exercise of human rights such as information, participation, remedy, and freedom of expression and association, is critical for the protection of a healthy environment," their joint statement said.

The UN officials also highlighted the increasing threats posed by climate change and the increasing risks faced by environmental advocates, adding that  “an average of four environmental defenders (are) killed every week, somewhere around the world.”

In the Philippines as of 2017, at least 12 environment advocates have been killed under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. This figure still does not include the death of  indigenous and environmental activist Ricardo Pugong Mayumi who was shot dead earlier in March 2018 in Sitio Angadal, Ambabag, Kiangan, Ifugao, by at least two assassins. 

The Philippines was ranked in 2015 as the world's 2nd most dangerous place for environmental campaigners, with more than 100 killed in the past 15 years. 

Challenge to United Nations

 Over 100 countries and states have already included the right to a sustainable and healthy environment in their national constitution, and a few acknowledge it in legislation and some regional agreements.

But these are not enough. More than these individual efforts, Knox and Solheim said that it was time for the United Nations, as an international institution, to take the challenge of recognizing the human right to a healthy environment.

"Recognition of the right could take various forms, including the adoption of a resolution by the General Assembly. The adoption of a resolution recognizing the right would follow the path taken by the rights to water and sanitation, which were recognized by the General Assembly in 2010," they said in their statement.

Knox is expected to submit a report to the UN General Assembly on this proposal to institutionalize the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment in October 2018. 

While this proposal aims to start momentum on a global scale, there is still a need to keep environmentally healthy on a local level. 

One of the biggest environmental issues faced in the Philippines is plastic pollution.

In September 2017, Greenpeace named the Philippines as “the third worst plastic polluter of oceans.” They reported that, every year, the Philippines contributes to 1.88 million tons of “mismanaged plastic waste.”

According to environmental groups Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and Mother Earth Foundation (MEF), multinational brands such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, and Coca Cola are some of the top 10 plastic polluters in the country, generating large amounts of waste that cannot be composted, or even recycled. (READ: Multinationals are top plastic polluters in the Philippines – report)– with reports from Simona Gemayel/Rappler.com

Simona Gemayel is a Rappler intern. She studies Media Culture Communications at the New York University.

How groups are bringing the fight against hunger to schools


KALINGA KIDS. In this photo taken on May 30, 2018 students from Timoteo Policarpio M. Elementary perform a short number during the press conference. All photos by Luisa Jocson

MANILA, Philippines – In a survey conducted in 6 schools in Norzagaray, Bulacan, the malnutrition rate is pegged at an alarming rate of 14%. 

The national figures even offered a more grim image: according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in 2013, 20% of preschool-aged children in the Philippines are underweight, while 30.3% are stunted. 

With this figures, how can advocates start the fight against hunger in schools?

This is the question that Gawad Kalinga’s (GK) “Kusina ng Kalinga” project aims to address. Specifically, the goal of the project is to nourish elementary public school students in Norzagaray, Bulacan by providing them nutritious in-school lunch meals to be distributed to 4 beneficiary schools for 120 days.

“Hunger plays a key role in making our students stay in school. Most drop-outs are [caused by] hunger. At first level, we are addressing that with this partnership, but at a more macro and lasting one, we are actually addressing education itself," Gawad Kalinga executive director Jose Luis Oquiñena said. 

According to GK, at least 1,500 public school children are going to benefit from this project, with student recipients ranging from kindergarten to Grade 3, targeting the age gap of children most vulnerable to malnutrition.

The student recipients range from kindergarten to Grade 3, targeting the most vulnerable age gap of children prone to malnutrition. (READ: Why are feeding programs important in the fight vs hunger?

"It’s not just about every meal we give to the children, it’s an opportunity for these children to be on the platform for education," Oquiñena added. 

The plans were officially cemented on Wednesday, May 30, in a ceremony for the signing of the memorandum of agreement. Stakeholders involved were Oquiñena, representatives from Republic Cement Services Inc and members of the Norzagaray government. Republic Cement, a cement manufacturing and distribution company, is supporting the project by funding the building of a central kitchen in Timoteo Policarpio M. Elementary School. It will be providing funds of about P3 million to P4 million for the project.

Once the kitchen is completely constructed, feeding will begin in July.

Highway to health

Launched in June 2017, Kusina ng Kalinga’s first kitchen was founded in Taysan, Batangas. In just 5 months, they were able to reduce the malnutrition rate of 11% to zero among the beneficiary schools. 

Taking off from the success of their Taysan location, the Bulacan Kusina was established to address the malnourishment problem in Norzagaray.

Preliminary measures are also being executed to make the program top-down cohesive. The children are set to be dewormed and will be weighed for the BMI measurements to serve as a post-evaluation of the program’s effectiveness.

Kusina ng Kalinga multitasks its nutrition agenda by also supporting the existing farmers of Norzagaray. Around 90 households in Barangay San Mateo were tapped to supply vegetables and livestock for the kitchen’s inventory.

“Sustainability is one of the most important elements in the Kusina ng Kalinga project,” said Nabil Francis, president of Republic Cement. “In the long run, we want to empower our community partners to be self-sustaining and become stronger catalysts of progress within their respective communities.”

SET IN STONE. Representatives from Republic Cement, Gawad Kalinga, and the Norzagaray government sign the memorandum of agreement for the building of a new kitchen.

While the central kitchen will be set up at the Timoteo Policarpio M. Elementary School, students from other schools like the Banahaw Elementary School, Apugan Elementary School, and Bigte Elementary School will also be involved. 

The meals to be served will be malunggay-based, rotating 24 recipes for variety.

GK is also partnering with the local government units (LGUs) in the logistics and distribution of the meals throughout the schools. 

Hunger situation

Ultimately, the project aims to make a dent in the worsening problem of hunger in the country. (READ: PH 'not performing well' in fight vs different forms of malnutrition

Studies have shown that, as children grow older, the chances of being malnourished become even more likely. In the same study by FNRI, it reported that 3 out of 10 children ranging from 5 to 10 years old were found to be underweight and stunted.

In another study by Save the Children, countries with higher rates of child mortality were usually found among disadvantaged groups, especially poor families and ethnic minorities. In the Philippines, the “under-5” mortality rate stands at 28%, where the poorest children are 3 times as likely to die before age 5 as the wealthiest. (READ: Philippines losing over P220 billion a year due to child undernutrition – report

As the numbers of malnutrition rise, the swelling inflation could even worsen the hunger problem of Filipinos. Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs convened the committee last March to tackle the rising inflation caused by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law (TRAIN), and its effect on the ability of Filipinos to provide food for the family.

"The biggest component of the inflation we are experiencing now involves food prices. This is a cause for concern because studies show that higher inflation, especially if driven by rising food prices, is related to higher hunger incidence among the poor and working-class sectors,” said Gatchalian.

“We need to identify and implement a strong plan of action to get this inflation under control and make sure our countrymen have enough food to put on the table for their families,” he added. – Rappler.com 

Luisa Jocson is a Rappler intern. She is taking up AB Communication at the Ateneo de Manila University.  

DSWD: Relief goods ready for Tropical Depression Domeng


MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said it was prepared to distribute relief goods to the different local government units (LGU) that might be affected by the Tropical Depression Domeng, which is brewing off the country’s east coast.

At least 11,532 poor families or 188,334 persons are exposed to a high susceptibility of flooding and rain-induced landslide in the next 72 hours based on DSWD's Predictive Analytics for Humanitarian Response.

The DSWD Central Office (CO), Field Offices (FOs), and National Resource Operations Center (NROC) have stockpiles and standby funds amounting to P1,155,540,517.90.

Family food packs (FFPs) amounting to P169,742,460.28 and Non-food Items (FNIs) amounting to P778,574,135.77 are readily available for immediate distribution.

Of the said amount, a total of P207,223,921.85 serves as standby funds in the CO and FOs, while P165,181,069.00 is the available Quick Response Fund in the CO.

“Although local government units (LGUs) are the first responders in the occurrence of a disaster, the DSWD is always ready to provide augmentation support in the conduct of relief operations.” Acting Secretary Virginia N. Orogo stated.

According to the latest bulletin of the state weather bureau, Domeng maintained its strength on Wednesday morning, June 6, as it continued moving over the Philippine Sea. (READ: Bicol, Eastern Visayas alerted vs. Tropical Depression Domeng)

Domeng was spotted 805 kilometers east of Catarman, Northern Samar, moving north northwest at 15 kilometers per hour (km/h) as of Wednesday morning. PAGASA also emphasized that heavy rainfall, not strong winds, will be the main threat due to Domeng. — with reports from Dane Dagatan/Rappler.com

$1 = P52.30

Flood-prone Dumaguete braces for storms with a map


NEGROS ORIENTAL, Philippines – Whenever Pablito Baguio hears loud rain, he begins packing up.

He first grabs for the plastic-sealed chips he sells at the ground floor of his two-story home, then, when it pours louder, he works his way up to the second floor, where he keeps his clothes, gadgets, and cash savings.

Once the loading is done, he sets off, walking around 100 meters toward a hypermart, which allows him refuge. When the water flows back to the river, he returns to his home, left dirtied with debris from the downpour.

He cleans up, waits for the floors to dry, then unpacks his baggage. Overnight, he is back at selling snacks, bracing for the next torrent to come.

Baguio is just one of hundreds who live by the riverside in Dumaguete, a city in southern Philippines. They have adopted this routine of dispersing to their own safe places when the water rises, and returning when it subsides.

But where will they go if a storm comes and the water rises to their safe places, too? How will help reach them if they get lost? Baguio admits he does not know.

Basta kung saan mataas at p'wedeng silungan,” he says. (Wherever there's higher ground and where we can take shelter.)

But where is wherever? He does not know.

Mapping the city  

LOCAL. Pablito Baguio faces floods when it rains intensely. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

To give exact answers on where residents can flee and where help could meet them, the city’s Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Office (DRRMO) is looking at mapping the entire city online, pinning down the best places people could go to when the unexpected comes, and where responders are ready to accept distress calls from those who are lost.

“Right now we are geotagging the different vital government installations as well as the location of the different evacuation centers,” the DRRMO’s chief, Rizal Binatiro, told Rappler.

The map, based on the Ushahidi application, is accessible through a web browser in any desktop computer and in an application for mobile phones.

Ideally, the application would work like this: the local government has an access to an online map of Dumaguete projected live. The spread will contain pins that point to critical locations, such as evacuation centers and landmarks, during disasters. 

When disaster comes – a flood for example – lost residents can send reports through their phones where they need help, and authorities can easily find them.

DRRMO CHIEF. Rizal Binatiro at his office. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

Residents can send a report either through the application or even through SMS. With residents turning on location services on their devices, the government can spot their approximate location and send help in a matter of minutes.

With institutions and landmarks pinned in advance, the government can locate people faster.

The DRRMO is developing the application with veteran crisis mapper Kirk Morris, an American who has worked with international relief organizations for years before settling in Dumaguete.

Morris said the map aims to end the practice of sending help to places like “beside this or that tree,” or “near the school by the left.”

Any disaster responders from the local military to International humanitarian organizations who are not familiar with the terrain would find the map essential, Morris said, as exact coordinates of where help is needed can simply be relayed to them.

“This will shorten the time for disaster response considerably,” Morris said.

And for most, if not all, disasters, arriving even just a few seconds late could mean lives.

Dumaguete’s geography

WATERWAYS. This map shows Dumaguete City's and waterways, highlighting flood-prone areas. Photo from Dumaguete City Planning and Development Office

Dumaguete City, its chief planner Leony Caro described, is a “catchment area” when it rains. Many locals simply describe their city as “bagsakan ng tubig” (where the water gathers).

This is because Dumaguete is a lowland area, just like many coastal towns. A neighboring municipality, Valencia, meanwhile, enjoys high elevation.

When it rains, the water from Valencia rolls straight down to Dumaguete through the two rivers that bond them. Riverside resident Baguio lives along the banks of Banica River.

In the east, meanwhile, Dumaguete faces the Tanon Strait, which has restless waves on windy nights.

Napagitnaan tayo (We are surrounded). And with that…especially with heavy rains, we have problems of flooding and typhoon,” Binatiro lamented.

The waters breach the shore during strong downpours and storms. Because of this, 9 of its 30 barangays are considered vulnerable to storm surges.

But while vulnerable to flash floods, Caro said, Dumaguete’s land makes up for it by being an “almost flat city,” making mobility, and also geotagging, easier.

“So, you have no problem regarding vehicle, and if you want to geotag structures or areas within the poblacion (town center) area, you can just walk around. It's easy,” Caro added.

Innovating after a data drought

VOLUNTEER. Kirk Morris is a veteran disaster mapper helping out the Dumaguete City disaster risk reduction and management office. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

Despite the connotation of development in being called a “city,” Dumaguete considers geotagging already a big leap.

Binatiro has only assumed office in January 2018, coming from the DRRMO of Daanbantayan town in Cebu. When he did an audit of the office, he was surprised to see that the office had not been able to collect crucial data.

“To be quite frank, we do not have data previously. They were just relying on responding, actual response, but walang nakaback-up na data (there was no backed-up data),” Binatiro said.

The city holds the instruments to gather data like rain gauges to approximate how strong rains need to be before floods, Binatiro said, but it had not been able to put on record what the contraptions measured over the years.

This leaves residents like Baguio living in flood-prone areas still rely on gut feel if a rain would lead to a flood, and the local government waiting for advisories from national agencies before they could issue their own announcements.

With the geotagging, the DRRMO can gather an array of data sets that relate to disasters.

For example, they can see which districts are problem areas for fires just based on frequent reports of blazes immediately stored online.

They don’t need to go through the sluggish bureaucratic procedure of collating. Residents can be their primary source of information.

The crucial role for Dumagueteños

STARTING YOUNG. Dumaguete reaches out to high school students in teaching the value of disaster preparedness. Photo from Dumaguete DRRMO

But while the technology sounds promising, Binatiro said they couldn’t be the only ones using it. They would need the community’s participation.

“We need the help of the community for this. It can’t just be us, the government,” Binatiro said.

To help and ask for help when disaster comes, responders and residents only need mobile phones with load— something that most Filipinos already have.

“Grandma has her text phone and grandpa has his text phone and it seems to me nearly every student has a smartphone,” Morris observed in his years living in the Philippines.

The DRRMO has also been campaigning hard to get Dumagueteños to appreciate the value of disaster preparedness, beginning with students.

They are backed by non-governmental organizations that have organized a fun run, which encourages citizen participation for environmental sustainability.

While residents have not been responsive as they had wanted, Binatiro and Morris are optimistic that locals will see the value of innovating to prevent casualties.

"The challenge is really to introduce the concept and teach them, inform them, and I believe they would be able to embrace the whole thing," Binatiro said.

Now, they are looking at convincing the rest of the Dumaguete local government to back their project so that the DRRMO does not stand alone.

LOCAL CHIEF. Felipe Remollo says he supports innovation to prepare the city for disasters. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

Speaking to Rappler, Dumaguete City Mayor Felipe Remolio said he is open to Binatiro and Morris’ proposal, adding that the city is prepared to spend just to get service providers in mapping the city.

“It’s always beneficial to employ modern technology to make it easier for us to prevent the ill effects of climate change, that is why we are open to receiving proposals from locators service providers for this no matter how expensive. We have enough, I think, we can save money for this purpose,” Remollo said.

According to Binatiro and Caro, Mayor Remollo is a boss known for encouraging innovation for the development of Dumaguete.

With this, Binatiro holds high hopes that geotagging will be supported by the local government, and if appreciated by the city’s residents, even save lives.

“It will empower them to save themselves. They do not need to ask for help for someone to reach the government. All you have to do is just get into your cellphones, type in whatever help you need, or whatever assistance you need from the government, then the government can now deliver the goods that you really want or really need in the area,” Binatiro said.

Still, they are preparing the application before it would be presented to the city council, moving at a pace of one potentially life-saving pin at a time. – Rappler.com 

Dumaguete City will be the venue of the 2018 Freedom Run organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. Click the image below for details on how to take part in this event.


Bulacan cop helps raise funds for child with cancer


HELPING HAND. Police Officer 1 May Liezl dela Cruz helps raise funds for Geanna Catan (inset), an 8-year-old diagnosed with leukemia. Photos from May Liezl dela Cruz and the Catan family

MANILA, Philippines – Fellow police honored a Bulacan town cop for helping raise funds for a child afflicted with cancer. 

Police Regional Office 3 (PRO3) chief Chief Superintendent Amador Corpus lauded Police Officer 1 May Liezl dela Cruz of the San Rafael police station for her compassion, after learning that she helped raise funds for the chemotherapy of 8-year-old Geanna Catan, who was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in December 2017.

"This is one way of our police to give back to the people especially those who are in need. PO1 Dela Cruz is a good example that the men and women in uniform here in PRO3 are not only committed in protecting our people against lawlessness but also have compassionate hearts for the needy and the sick,” Corpus said in a statement.

San Fernando City police in Pampanga recognized Dela Cruz as their "Hero of the Day." 

Dela Cruz, who is also registered nurse and a mother, sold face masks in her spare time and donated her earnings to Geanna.

The policewoman found out about the child and her condition after talking to a college classmate who is under treatment for breast cancer. She sympathized with the parents of the sick child, prompting her to extend any help that she could give. 

"Ang unang pumasok sa isip ko is iyong anak ko na halos same age lang din [niya]. Naisip ko na mapalad ang anak ko na healthy at 'di nagkakasakit, kung gaano kahirap sa kalooban ng isang magulang ang makita ang isang anak na nahihirapan gaya no'n.'Yun lang naging batayan ko para tumulong," Dela Cruz said.

(The first thing that came to my mind is my child who's almost the same age. I thought that my child is lucky to be healthy and not sickly, how hard it is for the parents to see their child suffering. That's my only basis for helping.)

Dela Cruz sold medical face masks for P35 each to raise funds for the child's chemotherapy. She was able to sell 12 packs for a total of P420, which Dela Cruz said is the most she could do as as she could only sell during her breaks.  (READ: Biker to ride 2,200 km for kids with cancer, other chronic illnesses)

High cost of cancer treatment 

Cancer treatment does not come cheap and patients and their families are grateful for whatever financial assistance they receive.

In Geanna's case, she needs to undergo 6 cycles of chemotherapy. Each cycle involves a number of sessions, each costing between P5,000 to P9,000, depending on the cost of medicine and doctor’s fees, according to Geanna's mother, Isa Catan.

Isa said her daughter is on her second cycle.

Geanna's parents expressed their appreciation for Dela Cruz in a written note that they passed to the policewoman and other supporters of the family's own fundraising effort.

“Thank you for helping us in this fundraising through buying our products #geannawillfightcancer,” the note read.

Isa said their relatives and friends have also contributed to Geanna's treatment, but the medical bills continued to pile up. In the case of her daughter, she said, the treatment of her illness takes years, and would not stop after she completes chemotherapy.

Ang gamutan po kasi ng leukemia is two to 3 years, at sa haba ng gamutan, mauubos at mauubos. Di lang din kasi chemo sessions ang gagastusan mo pati side effects na pagdadaanan ng bata kagaya ng lagnat at iba pang mga di inaasahan,” she said in a text message to Rappler.

(The treatment for leukemia takes two to 3 years, and because of the long period of  treatment, the funds would get depleted. On top of spending for the chemotherapy sessions, [we] have to spend for the side effects that the child experiences like fever and other unexpected [side effects]). – Rappler.com

If you want to help support Geanna's medical expenses, you may share or donate through the #GeannaWillFightCancer GoFundMe campaign launched by her parents. Interested donors may also purchase face masks for their fundraising here

Ken Leonardo is a Rappler intern. He is a journalism student at the University of the Philippines.

Groups to hold 'HINDIpendence day' protest on June 12


PROTEST. In this file photo during the Labor Day protest on May 1, 2018, protesters carry  an effigy depicting Duterte eating a Filipino. Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – At least 20 groups are planning to stage protest activities on Independence Day, June 12. 

With the theme "HINDIpendence Day" – a play on the words "hindi" (no) and "independence" – the activities will be highlighting a string of issues confronting the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. 

Organizers include the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT), #BabaeAko, Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI), Gabriela, and Bayan.

"This peaceful event aims to [bring] to the forefront the pressing issues of the day that concern all of us Filipinos, particulary the issues of freedom, justice, and democracy," the groups said in a statement. 

The coalition of groups urged the public to join their gathering, citing the following "dire challenges" facing the nation:

  • Train Law's impact on the poor, and the administration's disregard of calls to increase wages and end labor contractualization 
  • President's controvesial kiss with an overseas FIlipino worker in South Korea and the culture of misogyny it helps strengthens
  • The quo warranto decision against Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno in which "our leaders have connived to undermine judicial independence and whatever is left of the system of checks and balances in government"
  • China's incursions in the West Philippine Sea and the growing presence of United States troops on our soil
  • Extra-judicial killings and similar atrocities and how the government is supposedly trampling on the Filipinos' most basic human rights

The #HINDIpendence Day event will start with the #BabaeAko Freedom March from Luneta to Liwasang Bonifacio at 3 pm. The program will continue at the Liwasang Bonifacio until 7 pm.

"Let us express our commitment and love of country and raise our voices against foreign intervention poverty, and social injustice, tyranny and misogyny," the group added.  

Tinding Pilipinas, another coalition of groups opposing the Duterte administration, will also be hosting a solidary gathering on Tuesday at the Bahay ng Alumni in UP DIliman, Quezon City. 

"This gathering of forces fighting for the country’s democratic freedoms is given even greater significance by – and will provide a richer and deeper perspective on – our country’s commemoration of our 120th Independence Day," Tindig Pilipinas said in a statement.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is expected to speak at the Tindig Pilipinas event with reports from Simona Gemayel/Rappler.com 

Simona Gemayel is a Rappler intern. She studies Media Culture Communications at the New York University.

NCCP opposes National ID system: No More IDs, please


 AGAINST ID SYSTEM. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines expresses disapproval of the proposed ID system in a statement. Photo from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines website

MANILA, Philippines – Showing their strong opposition to a national ID system, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) released a statement on Thursday, June 7, urging legislators to “be more attuned to responding to the people’s needs," instead of giving them "more burdens to bear.”

It questioned the government’s fixation on another ID system, even with the existence of the Unified Multipurpose ID, a 4-in-one identification card that can be used for transactions with government agencies.

“What we need now is a respite from the incessant increase of the price of basic commodities and access to other basic social services, not to mention relief from corruption and other effects of economic inflation,” NCCP said in a statement.

It further highlighted how the implementation of another ID system could lead to further financial burdens for the poor due to additional costs of its availability. “In addition to the cost, those who cannot avail of it are vulnerable to harassment.”

With the Philippines ranking as the worst in impunity in the 2017 Global Impunity Index, the NCCP cited how there is reason to be concerned, especially when proposed national ID systems in the past were criticized for being “associated with “counterinsurgency or anti-terrorism agents of the state.” (READ: Past attempts at a national ID system: A battleground of privacy, executive power)

The NCCP reminded legislators, “Laws are made for the people’s benefit, and not for their further bondage.”

Several administrations had sought to implement the national ID system in the Philippines. As of the moment, the bill establishing the implementation of the national ID system is pending for signature by President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) seeks to become the government’s central identification platform that will provide each registered person a PhilSys number (PSN) – a unique and permanent number to be used when dealing with national government agencies, local government units, and even the private sector.

All Filipino citizens and aliens will be required to register, while those born after the law takes effect will immediately be placed in the system.

The PhilID (Philippine ID) will feature the bearer’s PSN, full name, blood type, date of birth, place of birth, address, and front-facing photograph. Once the bill is signed, PhilSys will be handled by the Philippine Statistics Authority.  (READ: What you need to know about the proposed national ID system)

Though the proposed system promises to ease availability of government services, it has raised various concerns about data surveillance and privacy. – Rappler.com

Anti-mining advocates push for 'rights of nature' law


SYMBOLIC MARCH. Anti-mining advocates troop to Mendiola for the culmination of the moving caravan dubbed as 'Salayag'. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines –  Anti-mining advocates are urging lawmakers to pass a law to protect the "rights of nature" and impose stiffer punishment on those who harm the environment.

The need for such a measure was discussed during a forum with various environmental groups on Tuesday, June 5, where resource persons agreed on the government's failure to address environmental problems linked to mining operations.

There's no such thing as "responsible mining," Jonathan Balome, an anti-mining advocate from South Cotabato, said during the forum.  Fellow advocate Marilou Verano agreed, and cited the case of her community in Aruroy, Masbate, which is located directly below a mining operation.

“The effects of destruction are seen in the water quality of the community. Because [the authorities] closed the rivers, we don’t have clean water to drink. We now use mineral water to cook our food or take a bath,” Verano said.

She added that their community wells had been contaminated by mining waste.

Verano said that Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu had yet to make good on his  promise to stop mining operations. She was referrring to Cimatu's pronouncement last year  he shared President Rodrigo Duterte's  "firm desire to rid the country of abusive and irresponsible miners."

“We will not forget his promise,” she said. “Mining still continues, and Cimatu is a protector of mining endeavors.”

For Balome and Verano, the destructive effects of mining can only be stopped by a law promotes the rights of nature. (READ: FAST FACTS: Mining in the Philippines)

Balome and Valero were among the other anti-mining advocates and environmental groups, that joined the Salakyag ng mga Sangnilikha (Salakyag), which aimed to empower communities to talk about environmental issues. 

Moving caravan

Salakyag began as a moving caravan in Zamboanga City on May 28, traversing the country until it culminated in a march to Mendiola on World Environment Day, June 5. 

“Wherever we stopped, we always held a program that focused on discussing local environmental issues in that area. We also facilitated dialogues between local government units, civil service organizations, the Church and the communities,” said Philippine Misereor Partnership, Incorporated (PMPI) National Director Yolly Esguerra.

Esguerra cited the "overwhelming" support for the Salakyag. “The participants of the Salakyag joined us on their own initiative. I was scared that we would go hungry at first, but our food was donated and sponsored by social action centers,” she told Rappler in an interview.

SALAKYAG. Groups join the march to Mendiola to celebrate World Environment Day. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Organized by the PMPI, and the National Secretariat of the Philippines/Caritas Philippines (NASSA/Caritas), Salakyag comes from sakay (ride), lakad (walk), and layag (journey).


Salakyag saw itself as a "starting point to raise awareness of the Rights of Nature, regain our lost connection and relationship to nature, bring to the fore a sustainable lifestyle and ultimately institutionalize this through the passage of a law."

In a statement, Salakyag said the rghts of nature are anchored on two premises:

  • Ecosystems and natural communities have the right to exist and flourish
  • All people, communities, and governments have the authority to defend those rights on behalf of those ecosystems and communities

For Esguerra, the proposed rights of nature law would provide the legal mandate to punish anyone who destroys the environment. “This is one way to alleviate destruction in our communities. Large mining corporations can be sued,” she said.

The proposed bill on the rights of nature is still being drafted by environmental groups.

Asked to assess the country’s environment laws, Esguerra said that current laws do not stop destruction of the environment. “They only minimize the damage. For example, when a species becomes extinct, no one is held accountable. In [the Rights of Nature], the destruction of the environment is a crime,” she said.

Participation of the church

PROTEST. Religious organizations join in the symbolic march to Mendiola on World Environment Day. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

The Catholic Church also took part in Salakyag.

“We have a mission to protect life – not just human life, but also that of the environment,” said Sr Crescencia Lucero, head of the Justice, Peace, and Integrity Commission of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP).

Lucero said that humans are interconnected with nature. “We are creations of God. We should take care of the environment, just like how we take care of ourselves.”

Lucero noted that human development is highlighted in the Constitution. “But we have become too utilitarian. This is why the Church pushes for the fullness of life,” she said, emphasizing that the fullness of life can be achieved by protecting mankind and the environment.  

Lucero also talked about her visit to several coal plants in Bataan. that emitted smoke and other air pollutants. She noted that the coal plants emitted smoke and other air pollutants, posing a health hazard to surrounding communities.

“This is why we push for the rights of nature. Wherever the people’s voice is, the Church is there to support them,” Lucero said. – Rappler.com

Angelica studies B.A. Journalism at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She is a Rappler intern.

'Enough,' women tell Duterte


ENOUGH. Women-only protest sparks up to petition against the kiss and push for President Duterte's resignation. Photo courtesy of Enough

MANILA, Philippines "Today, we say: Enough."

Women made the declaration on Thursday, June 7, as they launched and supported a movement that seeks to bring together all voices of dissent against "state violence" under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Enough movement was launched on Facebook a day after Duterte justified his controversial kiss with a South Korea-based married Filipina during the President's meeting with the Filipino community in Seoul on June 3. 

"What matters is that here and now, we take a stand against Presidential misogyny, act consistently against a government that condones abuse, and unite on the truth that we will not, cannot stand for violence – not just against women, but against all Filipinos," Enough said in a statement.

It urged others to sign the statement on its page. As of posting, the statement has generated over 2,000 reactions.

Upon his arrival from his South Korea trip on June 6, Duterte said critics of the act were just "jealous" of Bea Kim, the woman he kissed.

"If there are enough women to – Well I think if all women here would sign a petition for me to resign, I will resign," the President said then.

In its Facebook page, Enough invited women to join its fight. "Enough hopes to become a space for a diverse group of Filipino women to come together and take a stand against State violence in the time of Duterte."

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In its statement, Enough described the power imbalance between Kim and the President.

"It is Duterte’s power as President that made this encounter possible. It is Duterte’s power as President that dictated this woman’s reaction, which the President should have known to handle with dignity and distance: this reaction is borne of the fact of his position. But Duterte decided this moment was about him, and that he would use his power over this woman to ask for anything. The mere fact that he asked for a kiss already reeks of malice," it said.

Malacañang had downplayed the kissing incident in South Korea as a "light moment." Chief Presidential Counsel Salvador Panelo said he shared his wife's view that the kiss was something one would give to a "grandchild, daughter, baby, son."

Enough also said that as President of the Philippines, Duterte should respect and promote respect for women. It cited Duterte's acts and statements that  objectified women which may normalize a culture of gender abuse and sexual violence in the country.

"So when the President abuses his power over women, demanding a kiss, negotiating for it; when we witness his constant objectification of women: speaking of women based on their body parts; condoning soldiers raping women in a time of war; offering female artistas as gifts to soldiers; justifying polygamy and infidelity as normal for all men; advising against condoms because 'hindi masarap (not pleasurable)' and saying women take sole responsibility for birth control. 

"When we hear the President defending himself by saying this is what’s 'normal' for him: what kind of culture are we creating for our women?" Enough asked. (READ: From 'fragrant' Filipinas to shooting vagines: Duterte's top 6 sexist remarks)

"The repercussions of Duterte’s actions, left unchecked and unchanged, will resonate for generations," it added. 

Enough also reminded Filipinos that it was not the first time for the Philippines to have a "macho president," referring to former president now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada who had his share of criticism from women's groups over his sexist remarks.

Various groups and lawmakers have also criticized Duterte's actions in South Korea.  with reports from Samantha Bagayas/Rappler.com


Meet Angelo Casimiro, promising young Filipino innovator


FILIPINO INNOVATOR. Know more about Angelo Casimiro in this #InspireCourage story. Photo from Angelo Casimiro/Facebook

MANILA, Philippines – Twenty-year-old Angelo Casimiro dreams of collaborating with Tesla CEO Elon Musk someday. And who knows, this dream may not be far from reality.

Casimiro, a BS Electronics and Communications Engineering student at De La Salle University-Manila (DLSU-M), has been known online for his projects such as the insole power generator and the life-size BB-8

In the age of social media, Casimiro shows his love for art and technology on his YouTube and Instructables pages. He says “being an innovator isn’t enough."

"Nag-study ako ng film, tapos nahilig ako ng photography. Then in-incorporate ko 'yung (I studied film, then I also got into photography. Then I incorporated) filming, photography, and lighting with my inventions in order to use it efficiently to spread about my projects. Konting concept of marketing in order to sell your idea," he shares.

Childhood tech projects

CHILDHOOD. A young thinker on his way to learning bigger things. Photo from Angelo Casimiro  

 At 4 years old, Casimiro got interested in making tech-related projects. He recalls that after school, his parents would drop him off at his grandparents’ house, and he would bond with his late grandfather, an engineer, over projects they did together.

Casimiro recalls that when he was 6,  his grandfather helped him make his first wind turbine. “It’s like a vertical windmill then we placed it on the roof. 'Yun 'yung first wind turbine ko gamit 'yung fan sakotse (That was my first wind turbine using a car fan)."

While most of his childhood tech projects just remain part of his memory, there is one that survived – a speaker he made out of a file case. 

"Mga simpleng project – doon ako natuto sa basics (I learned the basics from simple projects),” he said.

At age 12, Casimiro started innovating. He would use old circuits to create a new circuit. “Let’s say may solar-powered charger circuit tapos mabubuo ko siya. Tapos kakabit ko siya sa light trigger sensor circuit. ‘Pag pinagsama mo siya, para ka nang may automated system for solar lighting.”

(Let’s say there’s a solar powered charger circuit then I’ll complete it. Then I’ll connect it to a light trigger sensor circuit. If you put them together it’s like you have an automated system for solar lighting.)

 What got Angelo in the spotlight

FOOTWEAR. Take a look at Angelo Casimiro's insole power generator. Photo from Angelo Casimiro

Many people have seen Casimiro’s insole power generator while browsing online. He says it’s an original idea since at the time he made it, most of the insole generators were mechanical. His project was among the first using the piezoelectric concept, which converts mechanical energy into electrical energy.

This scientific study got him into Google Science Fair 2014, and was the first Filipino entry to win an award there. Casimiro says he made it because he's a fan of renewable energy projects.

BB-8. As a Star Wars fan, Angelo went as far as to making this robot. Photo from Angelo Casimiro

On his life-size BB-8 project, Casimiro says he made it for fun during the hype of Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie. “Nung pinanood ko, sabi ko ang cool naman ni BB-8 When I watched [the movie], I said BB-8 is so cool)." 

Casimiro admits he got frustrated while doing the BB-8 project since it was a challenge for him not to have enough equipment like a 3D printer and a laser cutter. He also had little knowledge about AutoCAD and 3D modelling during that time. He overcame this by using their household materials.

For this project, Casimiro says his father painted the BB-8 while he did the electronics part.

When asked, Casimiro says he has no plan to reproduce his projects. “Na-realize ko na medyo premature ‘yung technology natin. Mas mag-i-invest ako doon sa projects na sure ako na mabebenta ‘yung technology no'n.”

(I realized that our technology is premature. I would rather invest in projects with technology that I’m sure would sell.)

SUMOBOT. One of Angelo's projects: a mini sumo robot. Photo from Angelo Casimiro

Of all the tech competitions he has joined, Casimiro says the Sumobot competition was the most memorable. “It’s like a fighting robot. In building the robots, you learn programming. Doon ako natuto ng general knowledge sa robotics – ‘yung digital electronics (That’s where I learned the general knowledge about robotics the digital electronics)."

Your ordinary guy

Who is Angelo Casimiro aside from these projects? People who don't know him well may typecast him as a nerd but the 20-year-old says he's just an ordinary guy. He loves to play basketball, play the piano, and do film on the side. He also travels and practices photography.

Casimiro also dispels the popular notion that all tech innovators excel – or need to excel – in math. “You can excel in electronics even though you’re not good in math. You can excel through the practical part. Pero ‘yun yung na-realize ko nung nasa engineering ako, mahina ako sa math (But that’s what I realized when I got in engineering, I’m weak in math)," he says.

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On giving back, Casimiro shares he does tutorial videos because he wants to inspire the youth. “You teach the youth they could do more at such a young age.”

Casimiro says he draws inspiration from daily problems in life. “Sometimes you encounter a problem then you want to buy something that will help your work get easier, but there isn’t something like that. So I try to make them from scratch. I make a project that would solve it," he says.

For those who think creating gadgets is difficult, Casimiro has this advice: “Failure is your best teacher. Don’t be discouraged whenever you encounter failure. Don’t let failures define you because they [will] make you stronger. If a kid could make it, so could you.” (READ: 8 inspiring kids, teens prove age should never hold you back

According to Casimiro, it is important to have the courage to try new things: “Start with creating something small then work on something bigger. That’s how you learn and that’s how you get better in your own field.”

Project support

Looking back on his childhood, Casimiro says while his parents supported his hobby, they would sometimes hesitate – whenever he would ask them to buy him something, he would also tell them that he would disassemble the items later. 

Hindi pa nila nakikita that time ‘yung kaya kong gawin with the things na sinisira ko. Sobrang curious ko kung ano ‘yung nasa loob nya. Kunwari electric fan, sabi ko bakit ba umiikot to? I’m always curious about something," he says.

(At the time, they still couldn't see what I was capable of doing with the things I was breaking apart. I was so curious about what it had inside. For example, an electric fan, I thought, why is it rotating? I’m always curious about something.)

Casimiro thanks his parents for not spoiling him even when they had the means to get him anything he asked for.

“They told me I need to work for it. If ever I wanted a phone, kailangan ko kumita out of my own money para makita ko ‘yung essence of money (I need to earn my own money so I can see the essence of money)," he says.

This was when he started doing online tutorials. He thought he could earn from them and buy the tools he would need for his projects. Later, he also also saw the tutorials as a way of giving back to younger people with the same interests.

“You don’t need a big capital if ever you want to go into research and development. There are ways where you can achieve it through online contests,” Casimiro says.

He shares he only started with a soldering iron and a glue gun when he embarked on his initial projects. “Wala akong sophisticated tools or power tools. (I didn’t have sophisticated or power tools). I just started with those two." 

Ultimate project

While his parents now support him and buys him items for a project, Casimiro also uses his prize money for big projects.

“You earn money out of your own hobby. Parang ganoon ‘yung nangyari sa akin right now (That seems to my case right now)," he says.

What is Casimiro’s ultimate tech dream project? He says he wants to have research and development company that sells purely Filipino-made electric cars or e-jeepneys. 

He says he has liked cars ever since. No wonder he’s part of DLSU-Manila's eco car team as the designer of the motor controller, which Casimiro calls “almost the heart of your car.” 

When asked about his dream collaboration, Casimiro says he wants to meet Elon Musk. His proposed idea focuses on a fast and economical way of transportation through magnetic levitation.

With such big projects in mind, Casimiro may just be getting started but he surely knows where he’s going. – Rappler.com


LGBTQ+ community takes pride to Mindanao


MINDANAO PRIDE. The logo of Mindanao Pride. Image from Mindanao Pride Facebook page  

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Members of the LGBTQ+ community in Mindanao can finally have a stronger voice against discrimination through a federation that will fight for their rights.

Mindanao Pride opens its doors to individuals who identify themselves as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders or queers seeking protection against violence, abuse, and subtle or direct discrimination. (READ: 'Rise Up Together:' Metro Manila Pride March set for June 30)

“I believe that it’s about time to rise together against discrimination, exclusion, and violence,” Mindanao Pride founder Hamilcar Chanjueco said in an interview.

Defense from discrimination

Mindanao Pride is currently lobbying for ordinances similar to the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression Equality Bill (SOGIE) among local government units all over Mindanao. It is also urging non-governmental organizations to support the effort.

“Only few cities and provinces in Mindanao have anti-discrimination policies,” Chanjueco said.

According to Human Rights Watch, out of the 33 cities and 27 provinces in Mindanao, only  General Santos City, Davao City, Butuan City, and Agusan del Norte have anti-discrimination ordinances.

The lack of anti-discrimination ordinances in the region poses a problem to the LGBTQ+ community as its members will not be able to air their concerns and seek legal defense when their rights are trampled on.

“I believe that the LGBTQ+ community in Mindanao faces the same issues with other LGBTQ+ communities in the world,” Chanjueco said. “But they differ by the frequency of exclusion and violence.” (READ: Is the Philippines really gay-friendly?)

Chanjueco cited that cases involving discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, particularly in Mindanao, involve extrajudicial killings that are rooted in hate crimes.

Some academic and private institutions also discriminate against students and employees based on their gender.

“We have defended an individual who identifies herself as a transwoman, from her school’s uniform restriction policy wherein they forced her to cut her hair short and wear a boy’s uniform,” Chanjueco said. “We have written and sent a letter to the school, but we received no response.”

Members also take part in educating communities about gender identity and expression, and equal rights to break misconceptions against the LGBTQ+ community.

Pride in Mindanao

Chanjueco, who hails from this city, said he has been inspired by the annual pride marches annually held by the LGBTQ+ community in Metro Manila back when he was still a student.

“I found myself dumbfounded by the fact that I never had such experience when I grew up in Mindanao,” he recalled.

Now that he works in the Quezon City-based Samahan ng mga Pilipina para sa Reporma at Kaunlaran, Incorporated (SPARK), he utilizes his experience as a development worker to fill in the gaps of diversity in Mindanao, particularly towards the LGBTQ+ community which has been the subject of ridicule and exclusion.

Along with his colleague, SPARK Project Manager Hans Kevin Madanguit, Chanjuenco conceptualized plans for Mindanao Pride in June 2017.

“We will provide capacity development building for local government agencies, civil society organizations, and the private sector to make their institutions gender-responsive and SOGIE-inclusive,” Chanjueco  said.

SPARK, a women’s rights, and empowerment organization, has already expressed support for the federation when the group, along with Mindanao Pride representatives, met with Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno to seek support for their cause.

LOBBYING FOR RIGHTS - SPARK, Inc. representatives (left) accompany Mindanao Pride members (right) during a courtesy call with Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno (center) this May. One of Mindanao Pride’s objectives is to discuss with local government units about anti-discrimination ordinances and to implement them within their localities.

The federation is comprised of 13 core members from various parts in Mindanao. While the core team connects and interacts online for their operations, Chanjueco says the organization will be based in Cagayan de Oro, his hometown, once is is officially launched in December as an organization centered on gender-based human rights.

Other organizations that took part in the federation’s infancy stage include the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) and the UP Babaylan.

“With this vision, Mindanao Pride aims to contribute to the growth, liberation and pride of the Mindanao LGBTQ+ Community,” he declared. “It’s about time for our voices to be heard in all social spheres and [for people] to recognize our rights as human beings.”  (READ: Strength in colors: The Filipino LGBTQ community)

It will hold the first ever pride march in Mindanao on December 10 in Cagayan de Oro city. This has been strategically timed to coincide with International Human Rights Day, and in held in Cagayan de Oro,  among the "high-burden areas" of HIV cases in the Philippines. (READ: How can we help end the negative impact of HIV?)

The pride march hopes to raise a conversation about HIV, and provide a safe space for the LGBTQ+. – with reports from Samantha Bagayas/Rappler.com

Angelo Lorenzo is one of Rappler’s Lead Movers in CDO. A Development Journalism graduate from Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan, he now works in the city’s local government unit.


Theater therapy heals widows, orphans of drug war victims


LOVED ONES. Widows and orphans of drug war victims perform at the Office of the Vice President in Quezon City on June 4, 2018. Photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines — Widows and orphans clad in white shirts scramble around the floor, hands in the air and tears in their eyes, theatrically recounting the days and nights their loved ones were killed in anti-drug operations called Oplan Tokhang. 

Hit songs blared through the venue as performers criticized President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs by recreating the murders, and holding photos of their deceased husbands and children who died in extrajudicial killings (EJKs).

They also held signs that read, "Stop the killing, start the healing," and signs that cited the Bible verse Deuteronomy 27:19 ("Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow").

These performers are part of the Widows-Orphans Wellbeing group, and are undergoing theater therapy provided by the Saint Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Tayuman, Manila.

The Kalinga Center has reached out to the homeless and to families of Tokhang victims through holistic care since Father Flavie Villanueva founded it in 2015.

Focus on the homeless

Villanueva founded the center with caring for the homeless in mind, as he said the homeless are the most wounded among the marginalized.

"Being reassigned to a place surrounded with immense poverty, I asked the question, what can we do, and how can we bring Christ in their lives?" he said.

He said that aside from those without houses, the homeless include those who lack "basic tender, loving care," especially in the face of Duterte's anti-drug campaign.

“When the war on drugs took place, it has become so centered and so grossly wrong. I thought again of the question again: How can we help these victims, just like the homeless? They're being marginalized, they're being singled out," he said.

Villanueva then created the Healing Intervention Leading to Optimum Management in the Rehabilitation of Significant Others of EJK Victims, or Program Paghilom. The program was developed to reach out to families of Oplan Tokhang victims, particularly widows and orphans. This propelled the formation of Widows-Orphans Wellbeing.

Recounting his own experience as a drug user for around 16 years, he said he cannot separate his past struggles from those of the Project Paghilom beneficiaries. (READ: Holy Week reflections: From drug addiction to priesthood)

"I had my experience of being rejected, dejected, of being alone, of being misunderstood, of being maligned. All of these contribute to that desire to help the former Flavies. That's how I would put it, ano?" Villanueva said.

THEATER THERAPY. Widows and orphans of drug war victims undergo theater therapy as part of their healing. Photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler

Expression of reality

Program Paghilom introduced theater as a form of therapy for widows and orphans, to allow them to heal from the loss of their loved ones, as well as to educate and to raise awareness among their audience.

Theater, he explained, helps create awareness. "When we talk about what's going on, you cannot help but recognize that it's the poorest of the poor who have fallen victim to this systematic evil of Tokhang," Villanueva said.

As of March 20, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency has recorded at least 4,075 killings in anti-drug operations since the war on drugs was launched on July 1, 2016. More than 16,000 murders have been classified as deaths under investigation. 

The Widows-Orphans Wellbeing first staged a play on April 20 in La Salle Greenhills, Mandaluyong, before being invited by the Office of the Vice President to perform in Robredo's headquarters on June 4. (IN PHOTOS: Robredo watches play by drug war orphans, widows)

Villanueva also disagrees with the criticism of theater therapy as a form of retraumatization, as he believes retraumatization only takes place "without proper guidance or processing" from professionals.

"If their stories are well cared for and protected, then theater, which you have seen, is a viable means also to help them go through their healing," he said.

Widows and orphans who receive care through Program Paghilom undergo a minimum of 12 Saturdays of psychospiritual intervention, with the help of psychologists and social workers. This intervention includes theater workshops, as well as memory art therapy workshops.

'Dignified, holistic, systematic'

Villanueva's vision of empowering the homeless stemmed from the desire to simply provide them with food and hygiene. His initiatives through the Kalinga Center then became more holistic with the rise of Oplan Tokhang cases, which gave birth to the 5 stages of Program Paghilom.

The first stage of the program focuses on providing food and health care for the beneficiaries, while the second stage focuses on psychospiritual intervention. The third stage allows the Kalinga Center to provide legal assistance, and requires the beneficiaries to file affidavits. The fourth stage deals with educational assistance, while the final stage focuses on the livelihood and employment of the beneficiaries.

Volunteers for feeding, cleaning, and workshops were once beneficiaries of the Kalinga Center. Previous beneficiaries have also published testimonies on the Kalinga Center's official website.

Through the Kalinga Center's holistic initiatives, Villanueva hopes to create a cycle of "the victim becoming the servant," and of "the wounded becoming the wounded healer."

"There is this sense of how hope is drawn from a very bitter, depressing situation, and of finding the reason to stand up, to seek healing, to be empowered, so that they can empower one another," he said. — Rappler.com

Gaby N. Baizas is a Community intern at Rappler, and is an incoming senior at the Ateneo de Manila University. She is an AB Communication major under the journalism track.  

Get to know Ianne Gamboa, PUP's first transwoman valedictorian


PRIDE. Ianne Gamboa is the first transwoman valedictorian of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Ianne Gamboa

MANILA, Philippines – On May 15 this year, Ianne Gamboa delivered her valedictory speech during the graduation ceremony of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP). To others, it would have seemed like an ordinary sight: a woman at the top of her class, chosen to speak before her peers as they celebrated a milestone.

But this was a monumental moment – not just for Ianne, but also for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. PUP had welcomed its first transgender valedictorian.

Meet Ianne

Born Ian Christoper Gamboa, the 20-year-old AB English graduate identified as a transwoman at a young age.

"Since I was younger, [I've] really liked dressing up as a girl. I felt confident, and it emancipated me to my true self and identity," she said.

This prompted her to shift to a more feminine version of her name: Ianne.

"I identify, respect, and present myself as a woman. Therefore I prefer to be addressed [with] feminine pronouns and honorifics. I also prefer to be called Ianne because it sounds more feminine than my name at birth," she said.

While Ianne became the valedictorian of her batch in college, she did not experience the same kind of acceptance of her identity during her high school years. In high school, there were policies that forced her to follow the image and practices of males.

"When I was in high school, [I] had to obey policies... such as maintaining short hair, wearing school uniforms that are for males, entering [the] men's bathroom," she said.

"For me, the struggle for self-expression really hinders a transgender woman or man [from realizing] her or his full potential.... When you support or accept a person to express herself or himself regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, she or he can excel in whatever passion she or he has."

Since she was unable to express who she truly was in high school, Ianne said the repression had an impact on her academic performance back then. (READ: End gendered uniform restrictions for LGBT students)

"I felt that I was trapped and [could not] express my true identity.... Maybe, that was also a reason why I did not excel in my academic standing when I was in high school," she said.

In college, where she was finally able to be her true self, Ianne was more than ready for success.

"I know to myself that I am more than just a transgender woman and I can prove that [through] my merits," she added.

Taking the stage

In PUP, Ianne excelled both in her academic requirements and co-curricular organization. She became president of the Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Linguistics-Research and Extension Student Society, which was able to provide monthly academic events for AB English students during Ianne's term.

She also obtained the 3rd highest general weighted average, making her one of the top 3 scholars of PUP.

"My class adviser, Ms Marissa Mayrena, told me that I was running for a magna cum laude distinction, and I also obtained the 3rd highest general weighted average. At first, I [could not] believe it and I was really in shock because being a magna cum laude is enough and a great achievement for me and for my family," she recalled.

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES. Ianne Gamboa says she was initially unable to express her true self. Photo courtesy of Ianne Gamboa

Her academic journey concluded with Ianne named magna cum laude and PUP's first transwoman valedictorian, a feat which she hopes would help in shattering gender stereotypes.

"I felt that God really made a reason why I have become the first transgender woman valedictorian of PUP," she said.

"I hope that I inspire and motivate [the] younger generation of [the] LGBT community.... Our success will be determined by our own hard work, courage, and dedication."

In her valedictory speech, she had shared how her academic journey was "not much different" from her peers, though she faced certain setbacks.

"We queue at the same lines, we [occupy] the same spaces, and we breathe the same air.... I do believe, most importantly, that we share one important resource, and that is opportunity," she said.

"From the very beginning, I [knew] that my journey [would] not be easy. I [knew] that at some point, my choices and preferences [would] become an issue.... I am glad that all these years, PUP welcomed me with open arms."

She emphasized that people could tap their full potential if allowed to freely express themselves. (READ: Letting love win: How my parents' love made me a winner)

"When a transgender woman was given a fair and equal chance in the academe, [she was able to] excel in her passion... [If] we give enough respect to our education with our perseverance and dedication, we can achieve our dreams."

Ianne hopes to give back to the nation by working for the government. – Rappler.com