• The Ayungin Shoal recently came into focus in the Philippine public mind when Chinese coast guard ships prevented a Philippine civilian government boat from provisioning the marine outpost aboard the derelict BRP Sierra Madre. The latter was intentionally grounded by the Philippines in 1999, four years after the Chinese troops seized the nearby Mischief Reef and started building a permanent outpost. It is now a flashpoint in the current political tussle between the People’s Republic of China and the Philippines.

    The Ayungin Shoal is a small submerged formation that forms part of the Spratly Island group, and about 200 kilometers west of Palawan. The Philippines considers it as part of its continental shelf and within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as defined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China, however, claims that it is within its “territorial waters” as indicated in its so-called “Nine-Dash Line” map submitted to the UN in 2009. It has since added a 10th dash

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  • The group was believed recruited by a human trafficking syndicate for work in Malaysia. Photo by Jake Soriano

    By Jake Soriano, VERA Files

    Bongao, Tawi-tawi—A team of Marines and policemen intercepted around noon Thursday 48 people, 12 of them minors, believed recruited by a human trafficking syndicate for work in Malaysia.

    The arrest constitutes what advocates called the biggest catch in the government’s anti-trafficking efforts here this year.

    Elements of the Philippine Marine Battalion Landing Team 5, Bongao Inter-agency Task force Against Trafficking in Persons (BIATFAT), and the Philippine National Police-Regional Maritime Unit apprehended the group as it disembarked from a commercial vessel at the Bongao port.

    “This is the biggest number of intercepted potential human trafficking victims we have seen this year,” said Rosabella Sulani, BIATFAT focal person.

    The sheer number of people attracted the attention of law enforcers, who proceeded to round them up. Members of the group had no travel papers but were on their way to Malaysia.

    They said they came from different parts of the Zamboanga

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  • BIR Commissioner Kim Henares and officers of the Philippine Medical Association

    By Kiersnerr Gerwin Tacadena, VERA Files

    Leaders of the medical profession have made peace with their former adversary, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and joined forces in a campaign to get doctors to pay the right taxes.

    BIR Commissioner Kim Henares and officers of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) said they would start with an information campaign to make doctors more aware of their tax obligations.

    Henares and PMA officers led by incoming president Dr. Minerva Calimag held a joint press conference to announce that talks are underway between the BIR and the medical profession to integrate good citizenship in the medical curriculum.

    “In retrospect, our curriculum is steep on science of medicine. It lacks education in terms of physicians coping with the real world,” she said.

    Just recently, the BIR earned the ire of doctors for its print advertisements urging people to pay their taxes right and to file their Income Tax Returns (ITRs) on April 15.

    One advertisement showed

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  • Poet Marne Kilates with Sen. TG Guingona and Gov. Joey Salceda.

    By Pablo A. Tariman, VERA Files

    Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chair Teofisto “TG” Guingona III found a short respite from hearings on pork barrel scams when he flew to Albay to address the awardees of this year’s Outstanding Albayano Award.

    He had ample time time to relax and swim at the city’s Oriental Hotel but was soon awed by the sight of Mayon Volcano and its perfect cone.

    “Mayon Volcano represents truth and beauty and where I work, I am regularly exposed to the ugliness of lies and corruption,” said the senator who heads a senate committee still unearthing more reports of corruption in high places including the senate. “Sad to say we are all witness to unbridled lying and corruption in unlikely places. The awardees who represent the art should do something to counteract the agents of ugliness in this world.”

    Guingona congratulated this year’s awardees in the arts including writer-poets Marne Kilates, Merlinda Bobis, cultural worker Ramona Raneses and Ricardo Dy who has climbed

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  • Kids from Casamongan Elementary School in Masbate smile as they receive dictionaries, storybooks, a set of old encyclopedia, a secondhand computer, medicines and slippers from Diksyunaryo Atbp. (Photo from the group’s website)

    (Editor's note: This article has been revised to reflect changes in the event's venue to Fern Gardens, Quezon City Memorial Circle)

    Smartphones, tablets and laptops may have replaced books in the hands of young Filipinos, but a group of reading advocates hopes to rekindle love for books this summer.
    On May 3 (Saturday), Diksyonaryo Atbp is hosting a summer reading camp at the Fern Gardens, Quezon City Memorial Circle, where kids and their parents can read and play all day for free.
    “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could spend one day reading under the trees, like the good old days?” said broadcaster Lia del Castillo, who founded the reading advocacy group.

    A genuine love of reading

    Tents will be set up in the park where anyone can read books by Filipino writers, courtesy of Adarna House Publishing, Canvas PH and National Bookstore. Art and storytelling corners will also be open for all.
    “This event aims to rekindle and encourage a genuine love for reading in Filipino children, by spending

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