Monthly Archives: April 2012

Flat Stanley comes to the Philippines – and had lots of fun!

Looks like someone just had more fun in the Philippines!

Sometime last March, one of my cousins living in Roseville, California asked if I can take part in her 7-year old daughter’s Flat Stanley school project. My niece is studying in Vencil Brown Elementary School. I had to do some research to know more about this. Wikipedia says that Flat Stanley is a character in an eponymously-titled children’s book written by Jeff Brown in 1964.

Flat Stanley’s real name is Stanley Lambchop. One day, his father gave him and his younger brother Arthur a bulletin board where they can display pictures and posters. The father placed the bulletin board on the wall just over Stanley’s bed. One night, the bulletin board fell from the wall (which means that in the first place, it should not be placed there :-)), flattening Stanley in the process.

The accident actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Stanley. Because he is flat, it became easier for him to go to his friends by being mailed. He even visited different places, including art museums! Ultimately, Stanley was reverted to his normal state by his younger brother through a bicycle pump!

In 1995, Dale Hubert, an elementary schoolteacher from Canada, started the Flat Stanley Project.  After reading about the story of Stanley Lambchop, children would create their own Flat Stanley. School administrators and/or teachers can register through to find other parties they can team-up with for the project. In the case of my niece, her school allowed them to choose wherever they want to send Flat Stanley – provided he can return by May 11, 2012!

Thanks to the efficient Philippine mail delivery service, it took three weeks before Flat Stanley arrived in our residence. Aside from Flat Stanley, the package also includes a brief letter from my niece as well as a journal where the cute little traveler will write about the places he checked out (with pictures, of course!). Teachers are encouraged “to publish stories, describe local traditions and scenery, talk about Stanley’s adventures, and post pictures” about Flat Stanley’s journeys online.

This is certainly a fun way to learn not only geography but also a little bit of history. I wish Filipino elementary teachers would also be able to try this cute project. By the way, here are some pictures from Flat Stanley’s visit to the Philippines. Luckily for him, he didn’t have to walk a thousand miles to get here. Haha:

Flat Stanley went inside Museo Pambata, a popular children’s museum in the country.

Flat Stanley tried riding on a “calesa,” the local equivalent of a horse-drawn carriage.

Flat Stanley at the famous Jose Rizal monument in Manila. Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines.

According to my cousin, her daughter’s sharing in class went well. I am happy because I was able to tell American kids about the Philippines, though indirectly. Otherwise, these children might never have the chance to know who Dr. Jose Rizal is. Learn more about the Flat Stanley Project by clicking this link.


May 1, 2012 Philippine Labor Day Holiday pay rules

The Philippines will be marking its annual Labor Day celebration this coming May 1, which falls on a Tuesday. Some are asking if President Benigno Aquino III will move this holiday to April 30 to create another three-day weekend for Filipino workers, and so far, no announcement has been made (check this site for future updates).

May 1 is listed officially as a regular holiday throughout the country this 2012 by virtue of Aquino’s Proclamation 295. Read the full text of Proclamation 295 in this link.  According to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), an employee who opts to not report for work on May 1 will still get 100% of his/her regular pay for that day. Meanwhile, those who will do otherwise stand to get twice their regular pay for the said day (or double pay).

Working beyond eight hours on May 1 would mean an additional payment of 30% of one’s holiday rate for every additional hour.  See the complete list of DOLE holiday pay guidelines here. If employees who have Tuesdays as their rest day come to work on May 1, they will get plus 30% of their regular holiday rate.

Union Obrera Democratica de Filipinas is the first Filipino labor union (credits: William Henry Scott, New Day Publishers)

]The country had its Labor Day celebration in May 1, 1903. On that day, about 100,000 Filipino workers led by Union Obrera Democratica de Filipinas, the first labor union in Philippine history, marched from Plaza Moriones in Tondo to Malacañang, where William Howard Taft, the American civil governor at that time, was residing. Dominador Gomez, the president of Union Obrera, was later arrested for charges of illegal association and sedition.

Be present in the work day before a holiday

As mentioned in DOLE’s Handbook on Worker’s Statutory Monetary Benefits (released in 2010), an employee is entitled to a holiday premium only when “he/she is present or is on leave of absence with pay on the work day immediately preceding the holiday.” Download the 2010 handbook in this link.

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Sponge Cola to represent Philippines in US music fest

Group answers questions about going international and its future

All-male pop/rock band Sponge Cola will be representing the Philippines in this year’s “Memphis in May” music festival to be held next month in Tennessee, United States. The quartet is the first performing group from the country to take part in the said annual gathering which began in 1977. This announcement came months after event organizers declared the Philippines as the “featured country” for the 2012 edition of “Memphis in May.”

Sponge Cola guitarist Armo Armavit acknowledged that the group is somehow nervous because their audience there will be predominantly Caucasians. “But I think it will be just like introducing Filipino food to a foreign friend,” Armavit added, in reference to their group’s effort to share their music to a new audience. The music group was discovered by organizers of “Memphis in May” through video-sharing site YouTube.

Answering queries about Sponge Cola spending less time in the country once they have more overseas opportunities, Yael Yuzon, the group’s lead vocalist said:  “You don’t have to leave your country to go international.” Yuzon explained that although Sponge Cola may try to expand their reach to other countries, “(they) will always give importance to Filipino audiences.”

Sponge Cola will perform in the Beale Street Music Festival, May 5 and 6, 2012

He stressed that recording artist will only have to travel when he or she is on tour. The four-man group addressed questions from members of the media and selected bloggers during a press conference in Tomas Morato, Quezon City last April 19.

Yael said their group intends to arrive early in Memphis in preparation for the coming music extravaganza to familiarize themselves with the state’s climate. He shared that he tries to sing while using the treadmill to train himself how to sing on “challenging situations.”

Aside from Sponge Cola, this year’s lineup of performers includes Evanescence (“Bring Me to Life” and “My Immortal”), rapper Pitbull, and Grammy-winning singer Alison Krauss and her group Union Station. Krauss is best remembered for her version of “When You Say Nothing at All.” Click this link to see the full list of festival performers.

According to Yael, their song list for the event includes “Tambay,” “Jeppney,” and “Nakapagtataka.” All artists will be given one hour each to perform during the music fest. Performances will be held at Memphis’ Tom Lee Park from May 5 to 6. The 25-acre park is located in the historic Beale Street, facing the Mississippi River. Tickets to the three-day affair are available at $75 or around P3200 each.

This blogger and Sponge Cola vocalist Yael Yuzon. 🙂

Memphis in May is a month-long event held in the said southern US state. Sponge Cola’s upcoming performance is part of the Beale Street Music Festival, one of Memphis in May’s four main events. The other three are the following: the International Week, The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, and the Sunset Symphony. The Beale music event serves as the opening salvo for the whole Memphis in May affair. The gathering attracts tens of thousands of spectators annually.

The International Week meanwhile focuses on the particular country chosen to be the featured one on a particular year. This aims to make students in the area of Memphis and nearby counties the opportunity to experience the customs and cultures of twelve different countries from around the world by the time they finish secondary. Asian countries that have been featured in this event are Japan (1977, 1986), China (1987), Thailand (1995), India (2000), and Korea (2003).

*The famous Bayanihan Dance Troupe will also take part in this year’s May in Memphis. The group, organizers say, “epitomizes the spirit of Filipino folkloric dance and traditions translated into the modern stage.”

UP System website attacked by pro-China hackers

Hackers proclaim: “We come from China! Huangyan Island is Ours!” 

The two-week old standoff between the Philippines and China in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal located in the West Philippine Sea has spilled over into the cyberspace. The website of the University of the Philippines (UP) has been defaced early Friday morning by suspected pro-China hackers. UP is the national university of this Southeast Asian country.

Hackers uploaded a map of the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea) and its nearby countries in the landing page of the UP website. The map has labels in Chinese characters. The screenshot below was taken by Lawrence Velasco, accounting and finance instructor at the UP College of Business Administration:

The screen grab of UP's defaced website (credits: Mr. Lawrence Velasco)

Velasco discovered the website defacement at around 4 AM. He promptly tweeted certain Philippine media personalities and organizations about the matter, explaining later on that he asked the media to contact UP since he was in France and “didn’t know how to contact the university aside from Twitter.

Mr. Lawrence Velasco promptly alerted media persons via Twitter about the website defacement

Danilo Arao, the University’s Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs, denounced the attack, describing it as “an attempt to deprive the UP community of vital information, particularly the schedule of commencement exercises in nine UP campuses and the April 2012 issue of the UP Newsletter which was uploaded last April 17.”

A downtime notice has since been posted on the UP system website: “The University of the Philippines System website ( is currently undergoing maintenance. The UP Computer Center is conducting an evaluation of the website and its contents. This website will be restored to its operational status as soon as the maintenance checks have been completed. Thank you.”

In a phone interview, Arao explained that the website’s security is a “shared concern” of the UP System Information Office and the UP Computer Center. “We’re trying to check the vulnerability of our content management systems,” Arao said.

He added that although the hackers “merely uploaded a JPEG file in the landing page,” they will also look for possible malicious files embedded in the system. He reiterated that the hacking incident is isolated to the UP system website. Arao teaches journalism in the UP College of Mass Communication.

Related news:

China, tumangging dalhin ang isyu ng Panatag Shoal sa international court (GMA News Online)

China summons PHL envoy over standoff at Panatag Shoal (GMA News Online)

Personal: Professor Arao maintains his own website. This blogger enrolled in his online journalism class during his undergraduate days at UP CMC.

Special holidays in Tarlac City, Calamba, & Lapu-lapu – April 19, 21, & 27

Three Philippine cities will be having their respective local holidays within the next few days. They are Tarlac City, the City of Calamba in Laguna, and Mactan City in Cebu. Tarlac City is marking its 14th Charter Day anniversary today, April 19. Meanwhile, the hometown of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal will have its 11th Cityhood Anniversary on Saturday, April 21.

Lastly, the central Visayan city of Mactan will celebrate its annual Kadaugan sa Mactan come April 27, a Friday. Despite declaring the April 21 as just a local holiday, Malacanang noted that the Battle of Mactan “is among the significant events in Philippine history and serves as testimony to the rich cultural and historical heritage of the Filipinos.”

President Benigno Aquino III declared the aforementioned dates as special non-working days in those cities through three different proclamations, all signed last March 27. Click the link to read the full text:

Presidential Proclamation 356 – for Tarlac City, Tarlac

Presidential Proclamation 357 – for Calamba City, Laguna

Presidential Proclamation 358 – for Mactan City, Cebu

Through these proclamations, the Palace hopes to give residents of the three cities the “full opportunity to celebrate and participate in the occasion with appropriate ceremonies.” The Department of Labor and Employment has long implemented a strict set of pay rules during special non-working holidays.

During special non-working holidays, employees who will not work will not be paid “unless there is a favorable company policy, practice, or collective bargaining agreement (CBA) granting payment of wages.”

Meanwhile, employers are mandated to give their employees who report for work on this day an additional 30% to their regular pay for the first eight hours of service provided, plus another 30% premium if they work beyond eight hours.

2010 Philippine Census of Population – a case for passing the RH bill

The National Statistics Office released earlier this month the results of the 2010 Census of Population and Housing. The figures were made official by President Benigno Aquino III through Proclamation 362, which he signed last March 30. The census, conducted from May 14 to June 17, 2010 with May 1, 2010 as reference date, show that there were 92,337,852 Filipinos during the study period.

NSO noted in a press statement that the Philippine population increased by 15.83 million from its 2000 total of 76.51 million. The agency added that this translates to a population growth rate (PGR) of 1.9 percent from 2000 to 2010. This figure is nominally lower than the 2.34 percent population growth rate recorded from 1990 to 2000.

For the twenty year period between 1990 and 2010, the population grew by 2.12 percent. Prior to 2010, the last census was done in 2007. It placed the national population at 88,566,732 with a growth rate of 2.04 percent from 2000.

The conduct of a national census is governed by Batas Pambansa Blg. 72 and Commonwealth Act 591. The Philippine Star’s Iris Gonzales reported two years ago that “about 58,000 enumerators, 11,500 team supervisors, 3,300 census area supervisors, and 2,800 assistant census area supervisors” will be involved in the 2010 census. A total budget of P2.16 billion had been allotted for the entire project.

Does the lower PGR mean that the long-pending reproductive health bill isn’t needed anymore? In her 2008 State of the Nation Address (SONA), then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo noted that the 2.04 percent growth rate recorded in the 2007 census was achieved by her administration “by promoting natural family planning and female education.”

In 2008, then-President Arroyo said: “Informed choice should mean letting more couples, who are mostly Catholics, know about natural family planning.”

And in a statement that must have slighted former President Fidel Ramos who is present during that SONA, Arroyo added that the said PGR is lower than “the 2.36 (PGR recorded) in the 1990s, when artificial birth control was pushed.” Arroyo lamented that “long years of pushing contraceptives made it synonymous to family planning.” She (wrongly) declared: “Informed choice should mean letting more couples, who are mostly Catholics, know about natural family planning.”

It will be presumptuous for groups and individuals opposed to the Reproductive Health (RH) bill to cite the lower PGR (as of 2010) as a sign that the said measure is no longer needed. Although the 1.9 percent PGR recorded in 2010 is lower relative to previous censuses, it is still the second highest in the whole Southeast Asia. Timor Leste’s PGR of 1.96% may be higher than the Philippines, but that country has a population of just a little over a million, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency’s 2012 World Fact Book.

There are several factors that may have contributed to the continuing nominal decline of the national population growth. In response to Arroyo’s 2008 SONA, Dr. Grace Cruz from the University of the Philippines Population Institute clarified that population growth has slowed down “not through natural family planning but due to lower fertility and higher use of contraceptives.”

It is safe to assume that more and more women are taking it upon themselves to use birth control methods despite strong pressure from the Catholic Church against contraceptives because they are aware of the economic hardships they will have endure because of an unplanned pregnancy. Some may even be inclined to practice abstinence or delay marriage plans altogether.

Ramon San Pascual is the outgoing director of Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD)

Ramon San Pascual, outgoing director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), stressed in a statement that the Philippines can achieve a lower birth rate if not for the absence of a comprehensive national RH policy. San Pascual, who will soon lead the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians for Population and Development in Bangkok, Thailand, also reiterated that 33 percent of total pregnancies among Filipino women are either mistimed or unplanned.

Further aggravating the situation, according to him, is the lack of access to family planning education and services by the poor. In declaring the need to improve maternal health as one of its eight-point Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations noted: “Giving birth is especially risky in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where most women deliver without skilled care.”

For his part, Benjamin de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development (The Forum), echoed San Pascual’s appeal for Filipinos not to regard the census figures as plain statistics. “We should look beyond the numbers and think about what this means in terms of provision of services.  Each year, 1.7 million more Filipinos will demand and deserve basic services of food, shelter, health and education to name a few,” De Leon expounded.

He cited as an example the lingering shortage of classrooms and other school essentials in public education institutions around the country. “Education and access to health are connected,” De Leon pointed out. The results obtained from censuses is said to be important because it will be used by the government in policy making. If that is truly the case, then lawmakers should take due notice and pass the RH bill.

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Analyzing Philippines’ North Korea rocket launch problem

North Korea’s much hyped rocket launch ended in embarrassment earlier today, as it “broke apart before escaping the earth’s atmosphere and fell into the sea.” But even if the launch is an utter failure, the isolated East Asian nation will have to face more punitive actions from different countries around the world for pushing through with this activity.

When North Korea’s “dear leader” Kim Jong Il died suddenly last December, there were hopes that his son and designated successor Kim Jong Un would provide the reclusive state with a fresh start and “some hope of stability.” In an editorial a few days after Kim Jong Un began his reign, American newspaper Christian Science Monitor (CSM) speculated that he might be not “as heartless as his father was about the fact that a quarter of (North Koreans) are near starvation.”

Instead of pursuing further militarization, the younger Kim may “be more concerned about his country’s rising dependence on trade with China,” CSM added. For his part, British foreign minister William Hague said: “This could be a turning point for North Korea. We hope that their new leadership will recognise that engagement with the international community offers the best prospect of improving the lives of ordinary North Korean people.”

Kim Jong Un, said to be in his late 20s, is the new supreme leader of North Korea

Fast forward to April 2012. The initial optimism toward the younger Kim’s leadership priorities must have dissipated by now. Instead of making his country, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, veer away from its long-held reputation as a hermit state, the new NoKor leader decided to take several steps backward.

This week, a 90-ton Unha-3 rocket (known as Kwangmyongsong-3) will be launched in Pyongan, North Korea. This will be part of the nation’s festivities in commemoration of the 100th birth anniversary of its founder Kim Il Sung. And while the rogue East Asian country is insisting that it is just a weather satellite, its neighbors as well as other countries around the world are apparently not convinced. Hillary Clinton, the United States Secretary of State, called this move “a direct threat to regional security.”

Had the missile launch not ended in failure, rocket debris may have reached Philippine waters (photo from NDRRMC)

One country which is obviously taking this rocket launch seriously is the Philippines. In an 8-page update released last April 4, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council noted that although Unha is classified as a space launch vehicle, “it is essentially a Taepodong missile, which is being developed as a delivery system for weapons of mass destruction.” The exact timing of the missile launch is unknown, but the national government will be implementing the following as precautionary measures:

1. A stay-indoors policy for those living in Luzon from April 12 to 16, particularly from 6AM to 12 PM (this order is unrealistic, to say the least)

2. A “No Fly Zone” in the flight path of the missile (as suggested by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Philippine Air Force)

3. A “No Sail Zone” policy in the areas likely to be affected – to be implemented by the Maritime Industry Authority, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Philippine Navy

4. A “No Fishing Zone” (through the Department of Interior and Local Government) in areas where debris of the rocket are likely to fall

North Korea’s erratic behavior since the Korean War-era is one of the main reasons why mandatory military service continues to be a constitutional duty for all able-bodied South Korean males. This explains why well-known actors such as Lee Dong Wook (My Girl), Hyun Bin (My Name Is Kim Sam Soon), and Lee Dong-gun (Lovers in Paris) all had to take a two-year hiatus from their careers to fulfill this obligation. Last October, 29-year-old pop sensation Rain (Jung Ji-hoon) began his 21-month army duty as well.

Lee Dong Wook had to put his acting career on hold for two years to fulfill his military service

What does this mean for Filipinos? It is essential to note that Philippines maintain a diplomatic relationship with North Korea through its embassy in Beijing, China. North Korea, meanwhile, is represented by a non-resident envoy based in Thailand. The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported last January 2011 that there are only eight Filipinos in NoKor, “all of whom are connected with United Nations agencies, international non-government organizations, and a foreign tobacco company.” The same news item added that there were no North Koreans “legally staying in the country” although unnamed sources from the Bureau of Immigrations claimed that they had “blended” with the local South Korean community.

Amidst all the hysteria surrounding the Aquino government’s reaction to NoKor’s upcoming missile launch, Philippine Star columnist Alex Magno, also a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, reminded Filipinos that “North Korea is not going to attack” and that the country is “merely in danger of catching some of the debris rockets discard as they move out to space.” He likened NoKor to a village fool whose only way to catch attention is to “act like mad dogs.”

For his part, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile told that the government should leave the business of dealing with North Korea to “the big boys,” referring to United States, Japan, and South Korea. Enrile added that although the Philippines would not be happy to have a neighbor fire a missile in its direction, the country does not have any capability to prevent it. “What can we explode, fireworks?” he sarcastically asked. Events this morning show that indeed, an impoverished country like North Korea can only produce dumb missiles (Magno is right on this one), but still, there is nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution.


North Korea’s Planned Rocket Launch Has SE Asia on Edge – from ABC News (US)

Philippines has 3 hours to react after North Korea rocket launch – from Philippine Daily Inquirer

Pinoys can sue North Korea for damages from rocket launch – from GMA News Online

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