The Inbox
  • Text and photos by Ofelia Empian, VERA Files

    LA TRINIDAD, Benguet—She whirls around the room with her apron on. She wipes the table clean,then stacks the yellow plastic plates, and forks and spoons in the basket. 

    Her teacher beams and praises her student: “Very good!” 

    Celina Sakiwat smiles, sits and waits for her sister to fetch her from school.
    It’s a routine Sakiwat, 17, and born with Down Syndrome, has been doing for the past five years. 

    “She is one of the most diligent students we’ve had here,” said Violeta Santos, adviser of the Vocational Class at the Benguet Special Education (SPED) Center here where Sakiwat is enrolled. 

    In their class, Sakiwat is among the oldest and the only one with Down Syndrome. In a country where one in 800 children is born with the genetic condition every year, the awareness of the disability remains low. For Sakiwat’s parents, it took years before they knew what their daughter had, and many more years before they could send her to a proper special

    Read More »from Learning about Down Syndrome from Celina

  • By Johnna Villaviray Giolagon, VERA Files

    TUKANALIPAO, Mamasapano - The old woman sat gravely in a corner of an unfinished classroom in Mamasapano town as an officer from the regional government explained that her group will be receiving complimentary health insurance.

    Her head was covered with a maroon hijab, the bright color belying the sorrow in her eyes.

    The woman’s son Rasul Kamsa had been one of 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters killed when police commandos launched a raid to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias  Marwan last Jan. 25.

    The free health coverage being given to families of the slain MILF will cover them for the duration of the current administration. The renewal of the insurance will depend on the next administration and to the peace and order situation in this farming village.

    The sound of gunfire has been silent in Tukanalipao for exactly a month now but what continues to ring loudly in residents’ ears is the tragedy of the deaths caused what

    Read More »from Grief lingers a month after the Mamasapano tragedy

  • By Ellen T. Tordesillas

    Don’t expect the truth about the Jan. 25 Mamasapano tragedy to come from President Aquino.

    He had one whole month to tell the Filipino people about his role in the debacle that claimed the lives of 44 members of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police, 18 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and six civilians including an eight-year old girl who was hit in the crossfire.

    He had three televised address on the armed operation that turned into a massacre - Jan. 28, three days after the tragedy; Jan. 30 necrological service at Camp Bagong Diwa, and Feb. 6 to announce his acceptance of the resignation of suspended Police Chief Alan Purisima.

    The people, grieving and angry, wanted an explanation to give sense into the senselessness of  brutal deaths  of 44 of the country’s elite police officers who were on a mission to arrest two terrorists wanted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    But Aquino’s monologue didn’t enlighten because he

    Read More »from Mamasapano tragedy will be a factor in  2016 elections
  • By Luz Rimban, VERA Files

    The Philippine National Police’s Board of Inquiry is considering the possibility President Benigno Aquino III may have been on top of, or fully aware of, the Jan. 25 Mamasapano operation in Maguindanao that resulted in the death of 44 troopers of the PNP’s Special Action Force.

    The BOI, now almost done with its probe, is looking into how deep the president’s involvement was in the operation to hunt down terrorists Zulkilfi Bin Hir and Basit Usman, considering that 2014 was a banner year in the government’s campaign to arrest high-profile fugitives, with the president himself announcing the operations and subsequent arrests.

    Among the fugitives arrested last year were businessman Delfin Lee, the Communist Party of the Philippines leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, and former general Jovito Palparan.

    A top-level source privy to the investigation said the board has sent the president a letter asking him to appear and answer some questions. The president has yet to

    Read More »from PNP to Aquino: Provide answers and accountability
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    Children with Down Syndrome need support from family members, beginning with acceptance. Photo by MARIO IGNACIO IV

    By VERA Files

    Early morning Sunday, the Bangcailans, a family of five,rushed to reach the Freedom Park in Davao City to join for the first time this year’s Happy Walk. They did it for Shawnn Noel, their two-year-old son with Down Syndrome.

    A yearly event to highlight the National Down Syndrome Consciousness Month celebration, Happy Walk is devoted to promoting positive attitudes like love and hope, instead of disappointment, fear or anger for kids with the disability.

    This year’s nationwide celebration organized by the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines Inc (DSAPI) attracted more than 3,000 participants, a record number, in simultaneous events held in Manila, Cebu, and Davao.

    In Manila, 1,500 people – parents, children, school personnel and NGO workers – turned up for the event, surpassing the seating capacity at the venue; in Davao, 1464 participants; in Cebu, 450

    Read More »from Spreading love, hope for kids with Down Syndrome
  • By Elizabeth Lolarga, VERA Files

    Photos courtesy of Joseph Uy 


    To listen to Nelly Miricioiu, the soprano from Romania who is now a British citizen, is to fall in love with her. Fall hard for her.

    She will have a one-night concert, “Nelly Miricioiu Live in Manila,” on March 6 at 8 p.m. at Meralco Theater, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, with Najib Ismail as assisting artist in a program of arias by Verdi, Puccini, Bellini, Rossini, Chausson and Respighi.

    She will also conduct a bel canto masterclass for 13 young classical music singers who she handpicked based on the videos they had sent her. The classes, all open to the public, will run from March 9 to 11 at the Ayala Museum, Makati Ave., Makati City, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

    Culture and Arts Events Organizers (CAEO) associate Joseph Uy first heard about Miricioiu in San Francisco, California, in 1986 when she replaced soprano Katia Ricciarelli as Violetta in La Traviata.

    He had heard and seen more than a hundred Traviatas. “Yet I will

    Read More »from Nelly Miricioiu: First-rate musician and human being
  • Sarah


    By Ellen T. Tordesillas

    The tragedy in Mamasapano, Maguindanao  claimed the lives of 44 of the country’s elite policemen, 18 members  of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and some civilians.

    One of those who died was an eight-year old girl named Sarah.

    I learned about Sarah from Hussein Macarambon’s Facebook heart-rending post:

    “ At a forum organized by advocates of peace for Mindanao, the room started to get filled with a terrible feeling of sadness. Stories evoked tears when people who have followed the Mamasapano incident, on the ground or from afar, attempted to describe the pain and grief felt by many, especially the bereaved families of the 67 casualties- families of the 44 SAF troops, of the 5 civilians, and of the 18 MILF combatants. 

    “One of them lost the youngest victim, an eight-year old girl called Sarah. Her family was roused from sleep by the sound of bullets that had hit them. They survived. Sarah did not.

    “ Sarah’s story made me sad not only because she was killed,

    Read More »from Sarah
  • By Jake Soriano, VERA Files

    The Department of Health (DOH) has suspended the implementation of a blanket licensing requirement for all massage therapists in the country while working out a system of accreditation with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

    The licensing order will be deferred for three years, or until December 2017. If it were enforced according to the original plan, it would have thrown many blind therapists out of work. (See related story: DOH order may cost thousands of blind people their jobs)

    Health Secretary Janette Garin and TESDA Director General Emmanuel Joel Villanueva signed on February 11 Joint Memorandum Circular 2015-001, declaring a three-year moratorium on a section of DOH Administrative Order 2010-0034. (Read: TESDA-DOH Joint Memo Circular 2015-001)

    Signed way back in 2010, the said AO aims to improve the Philippine massage industry by requiring all therapists, blind or sighted, to have a certificate of training from a

    Read More »from DOH halts order affecting blind massage therapists
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    By Luz Rimban,VERA Files


    Advocates for Mindanao like Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI, and Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, constantly refer to history as the point where Filipinos need to go to understand the strife in Mindanao.

    Ang unang dahilan siguro kung bakit may gulo dito sapagkat yung feeling ng ating mga kapatid na Muslim ay mayroon hindi makatarungan na nangyari sa kasaysayan nila (The first reason for the strife here is the feeling of our Muslim brethren that a historical injustice committed them),” said Mercado in an interview late last year.

    One historical injustice, Mercado said, is what he calls the “minoritization of the Bangsamoro,” a historical development in which Muslims, once dominant in Mindanao, have been reduced to minority status in their own ancestral land.

    “The homesteading policies from the north, which ultimately deprived Muslim and Lumad Mindanaoans of their lands and altered the Mindanao landscape forever,” is one of the historical causes of the violence,

    Read More »from The roots of the Mindanao strife retraced

  • By Luz Rimban,VERA Files

    (First of two parts)


    If Muslims in the Philippines only had a hand in the way things are run in the country, one of the first things they would do is rewrite mainstream history books to help Filipinos understand and put current issues in context.

    Indeed, some of them say, an educational system created by the Americans, coupled with a religious system imposed by the Spaniards, has resulted in a narrative of Philippine history that excludes, among others, the country’s Islamic history.

    The consequence: Generations upon generations of Filipinos clueless about Muslims and Mindanao, with a bias they inherit from their forebears and pass on to their offspring.

    The cluelessness and bias were evident last week as politicians took turns saying their piece about Muslims amid the furor over the Mamasapano, Maguindanao encounter that killed 44 troopers of the Special Action Force, 18 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and at least two civilians.

    “Then until now we

    Read More »from Textbook history abets anti-Muslim bias


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