Blog Posts by VERA Files

  • DepEd rolls out calamity-resilient classrooms

    1-story school buildingBy Yvonne T. Chua, VERA Files

    The more than 30,000 classrooms the national government is building this schoolyear will look hardly any different from those constructed in recent years, especially to the untrained eye.

    But the classrooms of 2014 and thereafter will be different. They will sport a new design the Department of Education says can withstand deadly earthquakes and storm winds of up to 250 kph, more ferocious than those unleashed by supertyphoon “Yolanda” in November.

    The shift to calamity-resilient school buildings entails structural changes. These, though, will not be visible when construction is done, and thus pose a challenge to school communities, civil society monitors and state agencies like DepEd and the Department of Public Works and Highways that implement the government’s school building program: How to make sure that contractors follow the specs to the last detail.

    “(T)hese improvements will be meaningless if we cannot implement (or) execute the design as

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  • Women with HIV: The silent casualties

    Sta Ana Manila Hospital staff and HIV prevention advocates light candles in memory of those who died of AIDS.

    By Diana G. Mendoza, VERA Files

    Dolzura. Esther. Kathy. Sarah Jane. The country’s first reported case of AIDS in 1984 was an unidentified male, but by this list of names alone, it was the females who gave a public face to HIV and AIDS in the Philippines.

    The first wave of HIV infections recorded in the country was among female sex workers around the former US military bases. A combined medical research team of the US naval forces and the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) found HIV-infected blood when they were investigating Hepatitis B infections among female sex workers in the US bases at the time.

    That was in 1986 and it was then that the DOH officially identified AIDS as a notifiable disease, joining the roster of known illnesses that threaten public health. Doctors treating patients with notifiable diseases are required to report the cases to authorities.

    The close association of HIV with sex work and females in prostitution was such that HIV bore a woman’s face in the late

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  • Volunteer tourism revives earthquake-hit village in Bohol

    By Cooper Resabal, VERA Files

    Maribojoc, Bohol--A community-based tourism program has become a rehabilitation alternative for a village that was severely damaged by the October 15, 2013 earthquake in the tourist island of Bohol in the central Philippines.

    Barely six months after the 7.2 intensity tremor that damaged many structures, including houses and century-old heritage churches in the island province, volunteer tourism is helping revive barangay Toril, a village of 115 households in this fourth class town.

    Toril is the site of the Bol-anon Village Cultural and Nature Trails (BVCNT), a rehabilitation program which invites volunteer tourists to help build shelters and also to experience the community’s unique cultural practices and natural heritage sites.

    The program provides a variety of activities for volunteers to the Work Camp for Shelter in Bohol and ensures continuation of rehabilitation after the activity, says Isabelita Moncano, Maribojoc Rehabilitation Shelter Officer. It

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  • Paco Santacruzan

    Text and photos by  Cherry Joy Veniles, VERA Files

    Rains have started to come, signaling the end of summer, but that didn’t stop the holding of the Santacruzans as culminating event of Flores de Mayo.

    Sagat, in the working class district of Paco, Manila, was vibrant last Sunday with the holding of the annual Santacruzan.

    Flores de Mayo or SantaCruzan is considered the merriest and most colorful of Philippine festivals. Practiced by both the Catholic and Aglipayan churches in the Philippines, it’s in honor of Helena of Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey), mother of Constantine the Great, the Roman Emperor in from 306 to 337 for finding the cross where Jesus Christ was crucified in Jerusalem.

    Held annually in the warm month of May, the Santacruzan is preceded by nine day novena and flower offerings to the Virgin Mary with the supplication for rains in order that farmers can start planting rice.

    Sagala photo

    Every town, barrio and the busy streets of the metropolis takes a fiesta atmosphere with

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  • Stopping modern slavery one lecture at a time

    Atty. Bernabe (right) during one of her lectures

    By Ofelia C. Empian, VERA Files

    Baguio City—Her city is not among the known human trafficking hotspots in the country yet the cause has found a champion in Regional Trial Court prosecutor Ruth Bernabe.

    “Human trafficking is modern slavery though it is not talked about much in our institutions, even in the media and no in-depth discussions on it,” Bernabe told VERA Files.

    She said taking up the cause of abused women and children as a trial prosecutor of the Regional Family Trial Court of Baguio City for the past 10 years has shaped and deeply affected her advocacy.

    Bernabe conducts an average of 50 lectures a year, speaking in various venues around the country to get one important message out—stop human trafficking. She does this while performing her duties as an Assistant City Prosecutor in Baguio City.

    Her lectures focus on the laws surrounding human trafficking that include Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, a law that which turned 11 last May 26. She

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  • Pinay with progeria marks another year, defies limits

    By Regine Chin-Gochuico, VERA Files

    Rochelle PondarePlaridel, Bulacan—She watches primetime soaps and gushes over pop artists. Her voice rises a pitch higher when she talks about her crushes and handsome men. She has fallen in love and has had her heart broken.

    Sounds like a typical teenager. Except she’s not.

    Anna Rochelle Orellianes Pondare, who turns 17 this Friday (May 30), in fact, has the look of a 60-year-old woman and the size of a 5-year-old girl. Her skin is wrinkled from face to feet. The muscles on her arms and thighs have shrunk. She has lost all her hair and can never grow it back.

    Pondare has progeria, a rare genetic disorder that causes premature aging. She is one of the handful of known cases of progeria in the Philippines.

    Those born with progeria,or Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, typically live up to their mid-teens to early twenties. According to the U.S.-based Progeria Research Foundation, only 80 cases of progeria are well-documented in the world.

    Pondare’s mother, a

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  • Antipolo steps up efforts against human trafficking

    By Jane Dasal, VERA Files

    Unlike big cities such as Davao, Manila and Quezon City, Antipolo City has yet to enact an anti-human trafficking ordinance mandated by Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.

    The city government, however, is set to adopt a policy that would reward P100,000 for tips leading to the successful apprehension of traffickers and shutdown of human trafficking operations.

    Active engagement of local governments is a key to combating human trafficking, Mariano Gabito, a Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) official said in a recent seminar against human trafficking organized by the Antipolo city government.

    “The national government alone cannot be expected to enforce the laws on anti-human trafficking. The local government units (must) ensure that the law is thoroughly implemented and effective in their communities,” Gabito, the DILG's Bureau of Local Government Supervision (BLGS) assistant director, said.

    RA 9208 mandates LGUs to

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  • Fire kills 6 Yolanda survivors

    By Reyan Arinto, VERA Files

    San Jose fireTacloban City—Tragedy struck anew to a family that survived the fury of super typhoon Yolanda (international code name: Haiyan) killing six of its members when a fire engulfed their tent in Barangay 88-Costa Brava, San Jose district, this city early Wednesday morning.

    Fire probers identified the victims as Maria Elisa Ocenar and her children Cathleen, 11; Justine, 10; Jan Mark,6; Jovelyn,5; and Jasmine Claire, 3;

    A four-month old baby girl who suffered third-degree burns was brought to Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center (EVRMC) for treatment.

    Renante Ocenar, head of the family, was not at home when the fire happened.

    Fire Officer I Anthony Duran of the Tacloban City Fire Department said the fire broke out at about 12:40 a.m. when an unattended kerosene lamp fell off the ground and set their tent on fire.

    The Ocenar family is one of the more than 200 families who continue to live in temporary shelters in San Jose district six months after super typhoon

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  • Human trafficking continues in Yolanda-hit areas

    The streets of Ormoc, one of the cities of Eastern Visayas, in the aftermath of Yolanda. File Photo by LUIS LIWANAG

    By Reyan Arinto, VERA Files

    Tacloban City—After super typhoon Yolanda swept away her home in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, 14-year-old Noemi was forced to beg for food. Her family lost everything, and had nowhere to go.

    So off she went to Tacloban with a relative to find work as a domestic helper. “I had nowhere to go and I didn’t know what to do except to beg at the jetty port in my hometown so I decided to go with my aunt.”

    But Noemi ended up working as a waitress cum entertainer in a small sing-along bar on the fringes of Tacloban, which was also reeling from the impact of the powerful typhoon.

    “My small salary has forced me to surrender to sexual propositions made by some customers in the bar,” she said.

    Noemi’s story has become commonplace. Since Yolanda, also known by its international name Haiyan, hit Eastern Visayas in November last year, hundreds of boys and girls have reportedly been smuggled out of their hometowns to Tacloban, Cebu and even Manila by traffickers out to exploit the

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  • Remembering those who died of AIDS

    Red Ribbon - the symbol of HIV prevention

    By Patrick King Pascual, VERA Files

    As of May this year, 966 Filipinos have already died of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) since 1984.

    To remember those who had passed on because of the AIDS pandemic, members of the people living with human immunodeficiency virus (PLHIV) community and support groups, organizations and foundations held a candlelight memorial in Quezon City last May 18.

    The event, spearheaded by Project Red Ribbon and the University of the Philippines (UP) Student Council, marked the annual celebration of International AIDS Candlelight Memorial (IACM).

    Through the years, different organizations have hosted IACM events to remind everyone that there is still not enough education and awareness about HIV/AIDS.

    “IACM is all about honoring the people who passed on. We want to highlight their stories, learn from their experiences and at the same impart to everyone that there is still a growing need for education,” Pozzie Pinoy, founder of the Project Red Ribbon,

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