18 February 2010

why not?: notes on tedx fort bonifacio

Yesterday's TEDx at Fort Bonifacio was, in keeping with TED tradition, a celebration of ideas. Not of the abstract kind, but of the practical kind. Ideas that inspire, challenge, and make one think.

First off, Ana Arce posed a challenge: make the world a little more Deaf-(with a capital "D" as opposed to "deaf") friendly. Have closed captioning and subtitles in movies. Or better yet, have sign language interpreters. For more about Ana's talk, read this.

Dr. Lourdes Cruz, who has worked extensively with the Ayta community in Morong, Bataan, presented the 4-helix model for S&T-based economic development. It's a mouthful, but it basically means giving the community a say in their development. It's a doable alternative to the usual development model, which relies on a 3-way interface between government, the academe, and business.

The inventions of the prolific Dr. David Manalo were actually very simple solutions to common and simple problems. As he said in this talk, "Why complicate the solution when the problem is simple?" His inventions had been awarded grants from the World Bank, no less. An audience favorite was the carabao decoy: kept outside the house, mosquitoes are supposed to flock to it, effectively sparing the people inside the house from mosquito bites. A simple solution, indeed -- but no awards or grants for that one.

Young photojournalist VJ Villafranca showed the audience a different way of seeing the world -- through the lens of a digital camera. From this vantage point, he explored the grit and grime of BASECO, an urban poor community in Manila. Each photo is a story in black and white, framed in stark contrast and harsh reality.

The husband-and-wife team of Drs. Chris and Marivic Bernido ended TEDx with a presentation on the sorry state of science education in the country -- and what they have done to turn it around. The figures are certainly impressive: 1% of high school seniors performing excellently in the sciences, and higher percentages getting average and above-average scores. At an estimated 700,000 high school seniors, 1% is 7,000 students. Wow.

TEDx organizer Gene Battung introduces the next speaker while Veronica Perez, dean of the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies, signs for the Deaf community.

In the end, what defined my TEDx experience was the fact that the ideas presented in the talks entered not only the broad realm of possibility, but more importantly, of doability.

So why not have more sign language interpreters? Why not involve communities in rural development? Why not use water to generate electricity for communities in the mountains? Why not use photos to tell stories and document life? Why not improve students' performance in the sciences? It's possible after all. So why not?


I'm a TED fan, so it was only natural that, when I heard about TEDx happening at the Fort, I wanted to go.

But just to be clear, this wasn't the first TEDx talk in Manila. And hopefully not the last.

16 October 2009

vote for efren peñaflorida

If I could choose a beat, good news would be it -- stories about people like Efren Peñaflorida, Jr., people who make a difference.

More than 10 years ago, Peñaflorida and his friends founded an organization called Dynamic Teen Company, which has taken great strides in helping less fortunate children. He and his friends were in high school at the time. Since then, this young man has worked untiringly for the children under his organization's care.

Vote for Peñaflorida as CNN Hero of the Year.

To learn more, click here or watch the video below.

02 October 2009

facebook regulation, anyone?

A few days after I blogged about how Facebook could be used to alert people and disseminate critical information during emergencies, I came across this story on the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility site.

It seems that Mikey Arroyo, a congressman and the son of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, wants Facebook regulated, after a story and photo about him allegedly buying liquor just a day after Ondoy slammed Metro Manila were posted on the popular social networking site.

I'm not familiar with FB's policies, but I'm sure that, like other sites, FB requires its members to read and agree with certain terms of usage. Whether these terms extend to regulate libelous, defamatory, or malicious content, I really don't know. One might argue that FB users are there not to malign public figures or even to overthrow the government, but to engage in meaningful discourse with friends and family. What the acceptable definitions of "meaningful" might be, would again be subject to some sort of consensus among its users. If users found meaning in posting photos and videos of Metro Manila floods caused by Ondoy's rains, then surely their contacts (fellow users) also found meaning in viewing them.

The more important point, I think, is that any regulation of FB or other social networking sites begs several questions, the first of which might be: "Who is to regulate it?" There are millions of Facebook users all over the world uploading thousands of posts in a day. Does anyone have the resources/manpower to censor each post, each user, each day?

I used the word "censor" just now, because in effect, that's what is being proposed here. To regulate a social networking site means to control who can post what, and when. Again, I'm unfamiliar with FB's policies, but I'm assuming that the onus is on FB users themselves. After all, they are no longer just consumers or passive receivers of information, but are thrust into the role of producers of information.

And with this comes the responsibility of being their own gatekeepers as well.

Click here to read the story on CMFR's site.

30 September 2009

an "ondoy" survival story

What makes survivors out of ordinary people? Is it luck? Being at the right place at the right time? Will and determination? The Forces That Be?


I was waiting in line at the supermarket the other day and a lady at the other counter was telling the guy beside her the story of how a child miraculously survived the floods caused by tropical storm "Ondoy" while its mother, beside her, perished. "For some, it was their time -- but not for this child," I heard the lady saying in Pilipino.

Doubtless, everyone has a story to tell about "Ondoy," whether it's his/her own or someone else's, or something heard or witnessed. These stories will be told over and over to anyone who will care to listen, passed on to those who were not there, and remembered for the lessons they contain. For these are survival stories -- stories that inspire us, move us, and give us hope; stories that strengthen us and validate who we are and more importantly, who we can be in the face of even the most devastating appearances.


The following was part of an email written by Nadj B., an underwater hockey player and triathlete. With her permission, I am posting it here as a first-person account of the floods caused by "Ondoy." Like thousands of Filipinos living in Marikina, Cainta, and other parts of Metro Manila hardest hit by the storm, Nadj and Chari O., also an underwater hockey player and triathlete, had to climb onto roofs and wait until either the waters subsided or help came.

This is their story.


I was having lunch with Chari in her house when it struck. We were supposed to ride that morning with FF in Alabang and/or do endurance training for underwater hockey that afternoon. All of which thankfully didn't push through, else her elderly parents would've been alone in the house with one frightened helper and five terrified dogs -- three of which are now missing.

I don't even know where to begin telling the story. Pretty much how we all felt when we went back to the house and saw the ruin. The floor was covered in foot-deep mud, the ceiling looked like it was going to fall any minute; heavy cabinets, pots and pans, electronic system, tables, sofas, beds... eveything was either floating or just on top one another stuck in mud. There was a dining chair on top of their gate, a barking dog atop their perimeter wall, cars on top of each other outside. You've seen the news. But it's much much different when you're actually there and seeing all the shambles; much much different when you actually have to wade through rising flood in grounded water (most terrifiying for me); much much different when it's your story to tell. Chari and I cut our feet in attempts to reach loved ones who were yelling for help in other parts of the house; Chari cut her wrist when she broke the glass door in our desperate attempt to save all her dear dogs. Her parents were wet and shivering on top of the roof. Everything played out like it was in the movies only this time it was (really) real.

On the rooftop, you could see other people madly scrambling to get to the top. People hanging on to branches of trees yelling for help; a lola (grandmother) who was hanging on for dear life while she literally hung like a butiki (gecko) on the bottom side of their rooftop. We helped everyone up. We helped comfort those who needed comforting. Sometimes, a gentle talk and just a little encouragement were all they needed to bravely get from one point to another. We helped people cross roofs and make paths where people rapelled and pets were guided from one roof to the balcony of another. We managed to reach the 3rd floor of a neighbor's house where it was safe and dry.

There, the experience was altogether surrreal. Everyone had a story to tell. A woman was crying her eyes out as she told the stoy of all her dogs being trapped in a closed room. A woman from the other roof was having a seizure. After everything had somehow settled, Chari and I tended to our wounds. Luckily, we were able to ask for some betadine and cotton before the 2nd floor rooms became inaccessible. The adrenaline was going down and we were both starting to feel the pain. Chari's cuts on her right foot and right hand were all much much deeper than mine. We wrapped our bandaged wounds in torn grocery platic bags just to keep them dry.

We were dry, safe; we ate hot food, and we had toilet and water. Other people on other roofs were not as lucky as they sat wet and cold huddled under flimsy umbrellas. They stayed that way for more than 12 hours. I couldn't help but feel guilty for all the "comfort" we had. If only there was something more we could do other than try to survive the night.

At around 10am we were walking through the filthiest water we've ever been in: dead dogs, dead rodents, dead cats, garbage, feces... it was the longest, dreariest 500m. But again, we were still lucky. Other people were dead in other areas.

Afterward we proceeded to the hospital to get tetanus shots. The doctors didn't stitch Chari as her wounds were already more than 24 hours.

Thank you to all our friends who kept us in their prayers. I'm sure that it was your loving and sincere thoughts that kept us safe and serendipitously sent RY our way yesterday.

More stories to tell but we'll probably just tell you in person.

28 September 2009

help for victims of typhoon ondoy ('ketsana')

posted on YouTube by user mcfly1151985

For donations and/or inquiries:
  1. ABS-CBN Sagip Kapamilya Hotline: +632 4132667 / +632 4160387 / +632 4163641
  2. Bureau of Fire Protection Region III (Central Luzon) Hotline: +6345 9634376)
  3. Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD): +632 9517119 / +63918 4217890
  4. GMA Kapuso Foundation: +632 9289351 / +632 9284299
  5. Marikina City Rescue: +632 6462436 / +632 6462423 / +63920 9072902
  6. Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA): 136 / 16220 / 16211 / +63917 5592884
  7. National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO) Hotline: +632 8333203 / +632 8383354
  8. National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) : +632 9125668 / +632 9111406 / +632 9115061 / +632 9122665
  9. NDCC Help hotlines: +632 7342118 / +632 7342120 / ndcchelpdesk@gmail.com
  10. Pasig Rescue Emergency Number: +632 6310099
  11. Philippine Coast Guard: +632 5276136
  12. Philippine National Red Cross: 143 / +632 5270000
  13. Philippine National Red Cross Rizal Chapter operations center hotline: +632 6350922 / +632 6347824
  14. Quezon City Rescue: 161
  15. San Juan City Hall Command Post: +632 4681697

posted on YouTube by user bongvideos

27 September 2009

typhoon "ondoy" (re)told through social media

26 September 2009. The day will go down in history as the day the skies opened and released the most rainfall in a single day that the nation had seen since 1967 -- 455 millimeters, as compared to 344 millimeters on 7 June of that year. That's more than what "Katrina" dumped on Louisiana a few years ago, according to this story. In fact, as much rain fell in just six hours as in a month.

It wasn't so much that it rained hard as that it rained continuously. And with this record rainfall came the worst flood the nation had ever experienced. Even at storm signal #1, which was what PAGASA said it was, Metro Manila streets were flooded in no time. One can only guess what the final estimates of damage to life, property, and infrastructure will be.

Nobody saw it coming. Nobody could have.

mobile technology + social networking
Many Metro Manila residents, unmindful that "the great flood" was coming, went about their usual business. Some remained unmindful as it was happening and were alerted later on.

It was only through their trusty mobile phones that most who were stranded sent SOS's to tell loved ones and friends of their situation. Cristine Reyes, for example, stranded on the roof of their Provident Village, Marikina home, was interviewed on TV via mobile phone patch.

By Saturday afternoon, my sister's Facebook account was showing a number of photos and videos of flooded areas -- most shot with mobile phones from windows of tall buildings. They were forwarded by friends who also received them on Facebook or on their mobile phones, or found on YouTube.

Later in the day, calls for help circulated via SMS -- a friend whose husband and young children were stranded on a flooded street, a family stuck on the roof of their house, among others.

= communicating in emergency situations
Communicating in emergency situations has come a long way since the days when one had to go to a radio or TV station to air a panawagan (roughly, a public service request or call for attention). In the rural areas, radio or TV may still rule -- but there, as in Metro Manila, the mobile phone is ubiquitous.

Add to this the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, and you have probably the best way to exchange information and communication, especially among Metro Manila residents.

This doesn't necessarily spell the end for traditional mass media, but with more and more people relying on SMS and social networking sites, we should certainly think about harnessing these media to benefit all.

After this experience, I wonder: If weather/flood alerts or such notices from PAGASA and other government agencies were to be disseminated via SMS or Facebook, would they reach more people faster?

Would we be more prepared for a situation like this?

Perhaps only while mobile phone batteries and Internet connections last.

18 September 2009

"shooting the messenger"

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) issued a statement on former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada's libel case against the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI).

I reproduce it here because it is worth reading. If you've been following the news on this issue lately, and if the libel case left you scratching your head as well, then read this:


18 September 2009
NUJP statement on Erap's libel case vs PDI
Nonoy Espina, NUJP Vice Chair, 09127196633

Estrada is shooting the messenger

Former president Joseph Estrada is barking up the wrong tree by including editors and reporters of the Philippine Daily Inquirer in the libel suit he has filed against taipan Alfonso Yuchengco, who claimed Estrada had forced him to sell his shares in the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.

Yuchengco was backing allegations raised by Senator Panfilo Lacson in a privilege speech against his former boss.

It is unfortunate that Estrada has chosen to target the messenger instead of addressing the message.

What the Philippine Daily Inquirer did was simply to publish a factual report on a matter of interest, quoting one of the players in Lacson's expose. In short, it was simply following up on a story, and rightly so, since the truth or falsity of Lacson and Yuchengco's allegations could impact tremendously on a major sector of our economy as well as become another benchmark of the quality of governance in this country.

As reported by the Inquirer, Estrada, in filing his case, claimed Yuchengco's statements were not true and were only maliciously meant to destroy his reputation. We will not even argue his assertion for that is for him and Yuchengco to prove either way.

What we will dispute is his assertion that the Inquirer should not have printed the September 16 story because Yuchengco's statement was not a verified document because it did not have the businessman's signature.

Surely, as an actor and politician, Estrada realizes that his statements have been quoted probably a million times without the need for his signature, as many other public or even private figures involved in matters reported on by the press have been. Surely, there have been countless times when he has, in fact, sought media out to quote him on this issue or another. In this instance, in fact, media did seek him out for his side of the issues hurled against him.

And in this instance, it is not only media's right but, in fact, its responsibility to dig deeper into the allegations of Lacson since these involve matters of public interest. And who better to seek out than the very person Lacson claimed had been victimized?

It is, of course, not the first time the Inquirer has felt the wrath of Estrada. When he was president, he pulled out government ads from the paper in retaliation for its reports on his mansions and other issues of governance.

It is unfortunate that Estrada, who time and again has professed to be a victim of injustice, has not learned that the best and only defense in times like this is the truth, unless of course it is not on your side to begin with. Shooting the bearer of bad news has never helped. You may silence the messenger but the bad news will still be there to haunt you.

14 September 2009

whose rights? whose wrongs?

The title of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance's (SEAPA) report says it all: Philippine Ombudsman tightens rules on release of statements of assets and liabilities of government officials.

With these rules, what is going to happen to the public's right to know?

Is the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth supposed to be confidential? The last time I checked it was a public document.

Are public officials supposed to be protected? From what, I wonder. And here we all thought they were supposed to be held accountable for their actions.

Kudos to Vera Files for their vigilance.

Read the Southeast Asian Press Alliance's report (SEAPA) here.

11 September 2009

"no news is good news"

The title above is meant to justify my absence from this blog. I have not been blogging elsewhere, and though there was a lot to blog about, I just didn't have the time.


I wonder (a little) about how 9/11 was remembered today. I didn't see any coverage of special ceremonies or other acts of commemorating the historic event that certainly changed lives -- at least on the news programs I watched.

Food for thought for the day:

How has 9/11 changed media coverage?

How would peace journalists have covered 9/11?

How can peace journalism prevent another 9/11?

08 April 2009

notes on cotabato city

Fact: Cotabato City is not located in North nor in South Cotabato. It used to be the capital of Cotabato Province, which used to be the largest province in the entire country. The province has since been divided into North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Maguindanao, and Sultan Kudarat. 

Fact: Cotabato City is found within the borders of the province of Maguindanao, but is not considered part of that province. (It used to be, though.)

Fact: Cotabato City is "the regional center of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao," but it is not part of the ARMM. It is actually part of Region XII or SOCCSKARGEN.


The members of the Cotabato City Tourism Council were very accommodating and patient in answering all our questions. More than this, one could sense their genuine pride in sharing with us various facets of their collective story as Cotabateños -- from the Palasyo ng Masa (People's Palace) to the etymology of the name "Cotabato," from the uses of inaul to the "lost wax" brass making process, from the finer points of eating durian to the hows of preparing agar-agar (seaweed) and the different delicacies of the area.  

It was an experience I don't think I'll ever forget, and I do hope to return there someday.