Blog Posts by VERA Files

  • How to help OFWs make hard-earned money grow

    OFWs arrive in NAIA

    By Norman Sison, VERA Files

    It is a question that has perplexed government policymakers and academics for years: where has the money been going?

    Since 2006, Alvin Ang, an economics professor at the University of Santo Tomas, has been conducting research into the Filipino migrant worker diaspora for aid agencies, the World Bank, the International Labor Organization and other institutions.

    “All these years we’ve been receiving a lot of money, but how come nothing is happening. In general, lots are happening in the economy. It has pushed everything up. It has encouraged a lot of investors to come in,” says Ang. “But for the ordinary person who has a family — who is working abroad — not much has changed in his life.”

    It is an all-too-familiar story line for generations of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs): a member of the family leaves for better pay abroad, hoping to build a better life for those left behind — only to come home years later with little or no savings.

    An estimated 10

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  • Some things about Sumi Jo

    Sumi JoBy Elizabeth Lolarga, VERA Files

    There is something about international operatic superstar Sumi Jo who's a vegetarian. If she were to sing about Mary Moon in the Deadeye Dick song "New Age Girl," it would take on a magical quality in the sincerity she puts into each tune, whether classical, pop or a Korean folk song. Sincerity is often used to describe her singing.

    Jo makes her Philippine debut in a one-night concert Feb. 1 at SM Aura's Samsung Hall, Bonifacio Global City of Taguig, for the benefit of Tanging Yaman Foundation that is rebuilding lives and infrastructure in post-Yolanda Samar and for future workshops by international teachers to train young and talented classical music singers. Najib Ismail is her collaborating artist.

    Asked what makes sopranos appealing worldwide, she told, "A high-pitched soprano has the most feminine and sophisticated vocal tone in terms of virtuosity. I don’t like the high-pitched tone of a female singing voice, rather the vocal range of

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  • Commentary

    Liaoning. China's first aircraft carrier back from test mission in Hainan waters.

    Alarm bells rang again with the announcement last week by China that Hainan, its southernmost province, was implementing a Fishery Law that requires foreign fishing boats to get its approval when venturing into the South China Sea starting Jan. 1, 2014.

    Hainan, with an area of 32,900 square kilometers, is China’s smallest province. Yet the Fishery Law, which China claims to have been adopted in 1993 and amended in 2008, puts under Hainan’s authority two million square kilometers of the vast South China Sea (estimate size is 3.5 million square kilometers), parts of it are also being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

    The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said “This new law reinforces China’s expansive claim under the 9-dash line (map)” which it has questioned before the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal.

    “It is a gross violation of international law. This development escalates tensions, unnecessarily complicates the situation in the

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  • Child-friendly spaces for Yolanda survivors

    Children from the World Vision-Child Friendly Space of Brgy.Botongon, Estancia, Iloilo show their drawings.

    By Xanthe Kamille Almonguera and Hazel P. Villa, VERA Files

    Photos by Xanthe Kamille Almonguera

    Where two months ago, children cowered in fear as typhoon Yolanda battered the fishing town of Estancia in the province of Iloilo, nowadays one hears singing and laughter.

    World Vision has set up Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) in Estancia, about 132 kilometers from Iloilo City, for children ages 6 to 17 displaced and traumatized by typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan).

    “Our ultimate goal for the Child-Friendly Space is to make children happy and suit their best interests as children, making them feel safe and secure despite the upset of super typhoon ‘Haiyan’,” says Felinor “Naira” Villa, education officer of World Vision’s Child Labor Project.

    Four of Estancia’s 25 villages are included in the three-month program which was launched last Nov. 18 at the Sta. Teresa Prayer Center and Retreat House at Jaro, Iloilo City. Around 600 children, grouped by age, are accommodated in each

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  • The grandeur that is Balesin

    By Yolanda L. Punzalan, VERA Files

    If one has to be marooned on an island, it is his great fortune if it happens to be in Balesin.

    The stranded would not only be surrounded by nature’s beauty but also man’s magnificent creations.

    Situated in the municipality of Polillio, Quezon Province, it is the landmass between the deep green Pacific Ocean and the fish-wealthy Lamon Bay. Owned and managed by Roberto Ongpin’s Alphaland Corporation, the 424-hectare the island used to be owned by property businessman and pilot Edgardo Tordesillas, formerly vice-chairman of the Board of Investments in the 70s.

    Alphaland transformed the verdant isle into seven international tourist havens, each beckoning the privileged members and guests of this time-sharing club to supremely furnished stately manors and beach houses, replicating the playgrounds of cosmopolitan tourists: St. Tropez (France), Mykonos (Greece), Costa del Sol (Spain), Bali (Indonesa). Phuket (Thailand) and the Balesin Village. Sardinia of

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  • Calle Real without cars

    Prima Galaw, one of Iloilo City’s premiere theater groups, performs at Calle RealPhoto by Jonathan Japitana

    By Julie Ann Mae B. Silvederio and Hazel P. Villa, VERA Files

    Photos by Jonathan Japitana and JP Sarsoza

    Iloilo City – Imagine a major city closing off its busiest downtown streets on a late Saturday afternoon till evening so that an orchestra can perform, photographers can hold a photo exhibit, poets can do open mike readings, book lovers can read as acoustic bands, solo performers and dance groups do their own thing.

    Imagine early Sunday morning in a carless street where people jog and do physical fitness activities, followed by henna tattoo live sketching, with an open reading space available for anyone who would like to temporarily free himself from the consuming world of social networking. Come late afternoon, a street fashion show with elegant designs unfolds --- adding to the boulevard’s classic ambiance while cosplayers, fire and carnival dancers suffuse the streets with a festal vibe.

    That is not a figment of one’s imagination.

    Iloilo City Councilor Jason Gonzales initiated

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  • Sinag de Leon’s delight in paper rainbows

    De Leon setting up her work entitled Malakas

    By Elizabeth Lolarga, VERA Files

    Photos courtesy of Reyme V. Faurillo Jr. and Joan Geli Doronila

    Barely seven years have passed since Sinag de Leon began exhibiting her paper-cut art. But already she has had 10 solo show and joined just as many group exhibits. Integrated in her shows are skills sharing and training workshops.

    Her day job is with the University of the Philippines Diliman Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts under the UP Diliman Chancellor’s office. At nearby Likha Diwa Vegetarian and Seafood Café hangs de Leon’s 10th solo exhibit, “Paper Rainbows.”

    More of her paper cuts are included in the group show “Paglikha at Pagsulong” at the new UP Integrated School’s administration building. Her co-exhibitors and fellow UPIS alumni there are Jemil Araos, Roberto Corbin, Matthew Doronila, Ulysses Imbang and Raul Roco Jr.

    De Leon started exhibiting her paper cuts in 2007. The year 2010 was when she had her first solo show. She was elated with the response, saying, “I

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  • Refugee life in Tacloban: the abnormal becomes normal

    A father lulls his child to sleep.

    By Mitch Menez, VERA Files

    Photos by Little Wing Luna

    There is an inside joke amongst volunteer workers in Tacloban that one must wear long pants, rub one’s body with Off lotion and sleep inside the mosquito net. If not, you will be flown by those blood-sucking flies in mosquito land.

    The swarm of mosquitoes in refugee centers are that dense. It’s a nightmare.

    Almost two months after Yolanda struck, Tacloban is still in a state of disrepair. The airport itself is a tangle of twisted metal and upturned earth and was only recently fully cleared of debris for the use of commercial airlines.

    Survival living in Tacloban City proper.Water is still not easily available to everybody. Water container in varying sizes and colors line several blocks.

    Electricity is in a state of disrepair. Toppled electric posts are still on the road.

    People light bonfires and candles in the evening. But it’s dangerous as most of the makeshift shelter are made out of tarp and cardboard. Fortunate are the ones who were able to get tents from the United

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  • Young revolutionaries share snippets of life in the hills


    By Desiree Caluza, VERA Files

    Somewhere in the Cordillera--Here in the Cordillera in northern Luzon, Philippines, cicadas, birds, dragonflies and butterflies are the usual companions of young revolutionaries who call the hills their home.

    In one makeshift kitchen made of bamboo and plastic mats, young revolutionaries (aged 18 to 31), sip brewed coffee as they watch one of their colleagues cook supper on the crackling fire on the dalikan (a stove composed of three stones). The menu for the night is boiled rice and binongor (a native dish which is cooked by boiling bamboo shoots, shells, banana heart, string beans and hot chili, or siling labuyo, and salt).

    In the guerrilla zone of the Lejo Cawilan Command (LCC) of the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in Kalinga, there is no deafening sound of exchange of gunshots with the government soldiers on an ordinary day; only the sound of Ka Rodney’s “kulitong” (bamboo guitar) . On such a peaceful day, Ka Rodney usually plays his favorite

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  • Counting blessings despite Yolanda’s destruction

    An agricultural area, most houses in Talustusan were built under the trees.

    Text and photos by Daniel Abunales, VERA Files

    Naval, Biliran – Every year, residents from Talustusan, a community 20 minutes away from this town, gather on Christmas eve at their community center to welcome the birth of Christ.

    It was no different even after typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) hit the province over a month ago, but a sudden decrease in attendance was obvious in what used to be a jam-packed venue.

    With a small generator lighting up the community center, residents from its seven different zones celebrated with a feast: They brought rice cakes like biko and suman, and other delicacies and shared them with other residents.

    Others brought menudo and native chicken adobo to complement root crops like camote and cassava. Pancit was also common in all tables.

    Residents of Brgy Talustusan celebrate Christmas.

    Barangay Talustusan chief Arturo Saclolo said in his speech that there was no reason to suspend the Christmas party even after Yolanda.

    “Although there were houses that were damaged, we have no casualty, and

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