FOUR MONTHS SUMMER HOLIDAY FOR U.P. STUDENTS

Students of the country’s premier state university will be returning to school in August—after a four-month summer holiday. The Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines (UP) is the latest in the UP university system to jump on the bandwagon favoring a change in the academic calendar to ostensibly align the Philippines’ education schedule with that of other countries in Southeast Asia. After a year of deliberation, UP’s flagship campus joined seven other UP campuses that earlier announced their plans to make the change. On Friday, the board of regents, the university’s highest decision-making body, formally approved by a unanimous vote the shift in Diliman’s academic calendar from the old June-to-May to the new August-to-July schedule. It came after a meeting last Monday of the Diliman University Council, composed of professors and assistant professors, that supported the calendar shift by a vote of 284 to 164. August-to-July schedule This means all of UP’s constituent universities—UP Diliman, UP Manila, UP Los Baños, UP Baguio, UP Visayas, UP Mindanao, UP Open University and UP Cebu—will be adopting the August-to-July schedule, UP president Alfredo Pascual said in a statement.
“The decision to shift the academic calendar is part of the continuing efforts of UP to develop into a regional and global university, and to maximize the opportunities offered by integration and global educational partnerships,” he said.

ALSO: UP, Ateneo classes to start in August

Two of the country’s top schools—the University of the Philippines (UP) and Ateneo de Manila University—announced on Thursday a change in the academic calendar, shifting the opening of classes from June to August. Classes at UP in Manila, Los Baños, Baguio, Cebu, the Visayas and Mindanao, and UP Open University will start in August and end in May, but UP Diliman, which has “not completed consultations,” and UP Integrated School will still follow the old schedule. The first semester will run from August to December, the second semester from January to May, and a short term from June to July. Ateneo will start the new schedule in academic year 2015-2016 in the Loyola Schools and the Professional Schools. Ateneo Grade School and High School will retain the June to March academic calendar. Response to globalization. The UP and Ateneo school systems said they would adopt the August to May academic calendar as a response to an “increasingly globalized world.” “The decision to shift the academic calendar is part of the continuing efforts of UP to develop into a regional and global university, and to maximize the opportunities offered by Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) integration and global educational partnerships,” UP president Alfredo Pascual said in a statement. The shift to the new school calendar for the next academic year was approved by the UP Board of Regents in a meeting on Thursday, according to the Philippine Collegian, UP Diliman’s official student publication. Of the units in the UP system, only UP Diliman will retain the present academic calendar of June to March “due to opposition by some sectors [there],” the Collegian said. Diliman consultation. A consultation for UP Diliman students on the proposed calendar shift is scheduled for Feb. 10. Student regent Krista Melgarejo, who attended the Board of Regents meeting, said UP Diliman would thresh out issues raised by some sectors, including the University Council, on the proposed change.

ALSO: Earth Hour raises funds for green projects

Lights went off in some 7,000 cities around the world in yesterday’s Earth Hour event, which aimed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for environmental projects worldwide, organizers said. In the Philippines, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) noted that the number of communities and establishments joining Earth Hour has been increasing. The WWF said it partnered with Megaworld, a leading real estate developer, in the switch-off activity in its 17-hectare Eastwood City township in Quezon City. Kevin Tan, Megaworld first vice president and commercial division head, said the event “signifies Megaworld’s commitment in building townships that espouse environmental sustainability.” Tan said, “It’s a wonderful alliance (between Megaworld and WWF) as it promotes green living for urban communities. More and more Filipinos are moving toward cities like Eastwood and McKinley Hill.” “This event would inculcate in residents, tenants, employees and mallgoers of the townships that energy efficiency is a crucial step in minimizing humanity’s carbon footprint,” he added. The switch-off was also held simultaneously last night in other Megaworld townships, including the 50-hectare McKinley Hill at Bonifacio Global City. Earlier, Earth Hour Philippines national director Gia Ibay, who is also WWF-Philippines climate change program director, said the Philippines has since 2009 topped participation in terms of the number towns and cities, earning the distinction of being an “Earth Hour Hero Country.” Ibay said the Eastwood Mall Open Park and SM Mall of Asia are just two of the venues where the event has been observed. WWF-Philippines vice chairman and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan said Earth Hour is not just a simple switching-off of lights. “Doing simple things like taking the stairs or switching to energy-saving bulbs can help combat climate change,” he said. Green projects. The WWF partnered with payments giant PayPal to allow donors to contribute for specific projects in countries from Russia and India to Canada and Indonesia, using Asian fundraising site Crowdonomic. “We are starting with around 20 projects this year, but our vision is to really expand once Saturday’s event has taken place,” said Earth Hour chief executive Andy Ridley.

ALSO: Stores lockdown as 'Martilyo Gang' hits SM MOA

Shoppers at the SM Mall of Asia panicked as a robbery group famously called the "Martilyo Gang" fired a gun inside the department store on Sunday night. Steven Tan, senior vice president for mall operations, said member of the gang hit a jewelry counter at the mall's The SM Store at around 7:14 p.m. "At 7:14pm this evening the martilyo gang had struck a jewelry counter at The SM Store in MOA. The police are already present in the area to conduct a thorough investigation. The mall is working closely with the pnp to resolve this," Tan said in a statement posted on SM's Twitter account. Responding policemen have arrested one of the suspects. The law enforcers have cordoned off the mall area as of this posting. Philstar.com was informed of the incident by one of the mall's employees at around 7:50 p.m. The gunshot heard at the mall prompted the stores within the mall to go on lockdown, trapping shoppers inside. Tan said in an update through Twitter that the situation at the mall was contained by the police at past 9 p.m. He reported that an employee of outdoor Kiosk Spike's, suffered a slight gunshot wound. The employee has been declared out of danger. "The mall is now currently back to normal operations," Tan said. READ MORE

ALSO: Japanese cherry blossom: 2014 festival begins

After what has been a particularly harsh winter, the people of Tokyo are this week formally celebrating the arrival of spring and the much-loved “sakura” – or cherry blossom – seen as the national flower and a great symbol of hope and renewal.
Popular viewing spots in the city include the parks at Ueno and, close to the district of Harajuku, the Yoyogi. For the next two weeks they will be thronged with people coming out to marvel at the brilliant displays of colour – primarily pink but also deeper shades bordering on red and white – and the sweet fragrances of a flower that, like the almost perfectly-formed Mount Fuji, occupies a very special place in the hearts and psyches of the Japanese. The viewing phenomenon – also called the hanami – has been celebrated for centuries. It is often accompanied by the consumption of food and drink and the singing of songs that celebrate the transient beauty of the cherry blossom, which usually flowers for between one or two weeks, starting in late January in the tropical islands of Okinawa and stretching into May in the northern reaches of Hokkaido.

ALSO: Metro Manila hottest day, Friday, March 28 this year—Pagasa

Metro Manila experienced its hottest temperature for the year on Friday, the state weather bureau said. The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said that 35.7 degrees Celsius was recorded at 1:50p.m. Friday. This is the warmest so far this year.Aldczar Aurelio of Pagasa told INQUIRER.net that temperatures could go up to 37 degrees Celsius in Metro Manila this dry season.In Cagayan, one of the areas that are usually warmer than others, a temperature of up to 38 degrees Celsius is expected. Pagasa announced the onset of dry season this week as it declared the termination of northeast monsoon. The easterlies, or warm winds from the east, are the prevailing weather system responsible for bringing the hot weather. The hottest temperature recorded in Metro Manila was on May 14, 1987 at 38.5 degrees Celsius.

ALSO: PH top 5 dive sites still world’s best

Scuba divers will never stop telling you: The Philippines is one of the best places in the world to dive. Just ask dedicated locals as well as visitors from all over the world, including award-winning underwater photographers and marine biologists, who come for stuff big and small. While sightings of large animals and pelagics are getting more and more rare because of habitat destruction and human consumption, you can still count on memorable encounters, as well as an abundance of the colorful little critters that divers like to look out for. Here are five prime dive destinations in the country: READ MORE...


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Four-month summer holiday for UP students

MANILA, MARCH 31, 2014 (INQUIRER) By Julie M. Aurelio - Students of the country’s premier state university will be returning to school in August—after a four-month summer holiday.

The Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines (UP) is the latest in the UP university system to jump on the bandwagon favoring a change in the academic calendar to ostensibly align the Philippines’ education schedule with that of other countries in Southeast Asia.

After a year of deliberation, UP’s flagship campus joined seven other UP campuses that earlier announced their plans to make the change.

On Friday, the board of regents, the university’s highest decision-making body, formally approved by a unanimous vote the shift in Diliman’s academic calendar from the old June-to-May to the new August-to-July schedule.

It came after a meeting last Monday of the Diliman University Council, composed of professors and assistant professors, that supported the calendar shift by a vote of 284 to 164.

August-to-July schedule

This means all of UP’s constituent universities—UP Diliman, UP Manila, UP Los Baños, UP Baguio, UP Visayas, UP Mindanao, UP Open University and UP Cebu—will be adopting the August-to-July schedule, UP president Alfredo Pascual said in a statement.

“The decision to shift the academic calendar is part of the continuing efforts of UP to develop into a regional and global university, and to maximize the opportunities offered by integration and global educational partnerships,” he said.

A campus-wide referendum last February showed that 954 of 1,130 participating faculty favored the shift in the academic calendar.

Some UP Diliman students were not in favor of the change in the academic calendar because of the inconvenience to their summer plans.

It makes it harder to make travel plans during the new “summer vacation,” now set from June to July, said Janelle Lim, 20.

Too rainy for beach

“It will be difficult to make plans for the outdoors since those months are already rainy,” said Lim, an education major.

Wilmer Pedroso, a 17-year-old molecular biology and biotechnology student, said that even if his friends also go to schools that have made the shift, making plans for June and July would be difficult, as “it will be too rainy to go to the beach by then.”

Lemuel Teh, 17, said his scheduled community and church activities during the summer might be affected.

“I have church activities usually set during April and May. Since we still have classes at that time, I might have to forgo some of them,” said the business economics major.

Teh said students might just find the summer heat unbearable during the regular classes, which will extend into the summer months.

“It’s not conducive to learning at all,” he said.

Pilot basis

The UP colleges that supported the change included Law (100 percent), School of Labor and Industrial Relations (100 percent), Marine Science Institute (95 percent), Statistics (94 percent), Asian Institute of Tourism (91 percent), Human Kinetics (91 percent), Architecture (87 percent), Engineering (86 percent) and the National College of Public Administration and Governance (83 percent).

Diliman chancellor Michael Tan and the executive council will now be asked to draw up the new academic calendar, said Prospero de Vera, vice president for public affairs.

Under the new scheme, classes will open in August, with the first semester ending in December. Classes for the second semester will resume in January and end in May, while the “summer term” will be from June to July.

“The BOR (board of regents) approved the [shift] on a pilot basis, meaning all possible problems with the schedule in each constituent university must be threshed out by the next school year in 2015,” De Vera said.

UP, the University of Santo Tomas and Ateneo de Manila University were the first three to announce their intention to make a change in the school calendar.

The three, which have “autonomous” status, said they were doing so to prepare for the Asean Economic Community planned for 2015 and align their academic calendars with other major universities in the world.

The Philippines is apparently the only member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) that follows a June-to-March academic calendar. Other Asean countries, including Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and, most recently, Thailand, are already following the September-to-May school calendar.

Republic Act No. 7797 on the mandated school calendar provides that the school year should start “on the first Monday of June but not later than the last day of August.”

UP, Ateneo classes to start in August By Julie M. Aurelio, Kristine Felisse Mangunay
Philippine Daily Inquirer 3:14 am | Friday, February 7th, 2014


Two of the country’s top schools—the University of the Philippines (with Oblation photo top report) and Ateneo de Manila University (photo here)—announced on Thursday a change in the academic calendar, shifting the opening of classes from June to August.

MANILA, Philippines—Two of the country’s top schools—the University of the Philippines (UP) and Ateneo de Manila University—announced on Thursday a change in the academic calendar, shifting the opening of classes from June to August.

Classes at UP in Manila, Los Baños, Baguio, Cebu, the Visayas and Mindanao, and UP Open University will start in August and end in May, but UP Diliman, which has “not completed consultations,” and UP Integrated School will still follow the old schedule.

The first semester will run from August to December, the second semester from January to May, and a short term from June to July.

Ateneo will start the new schedule in academic year 2015-2016 in the Loyola Schools and the Professional Schools.
Ateneo Grade School and High School will retain the June to March academic calendar.

Response to globalization

The UP and Ateneo school systems said they would adopt the August to May academic calendar as a response to an “increasingly globalized world.”

“The decision to shift the academic calendar is part of the continuing efforts of UP to develop into a regional and global university, and to maximize the opportunities offered by Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) integration and global educational partnerships,” UP president Alfredo Pascual said in a statement.

The shift to the new school calendar for the next academic year was approved by the UP Board of Regents in a meeting on Thursday, according to the Philippine Collegian, UP Diliman’s official student publication.

Of the units in the UP system, only UP Diliman will retain the present academic calendar of June to March “due to opposition by some sectors [there],” the Collegian said.

Diliman consultation

A consultation for UP Diliman students on the proposed calendar shift is scheduled for Feb. 10.

Student regent Krista Melgarejo, who attended the Board of Regents meeting, said UP Diliman would thresh out issues raised by some sectors, including the University Council, on the proposed change.

Melgarejo said the proposed change would be subject to a “referendum” on the Diliman campus.

She opposed the change in the academic calendar, saying “the majority of UP students was not consulted.”

The student regent said changing the academic calendar was just a way of jumping on the “bandwagon of the skewed logic of internationalization.”

In a statement posted on its Facebook page, Ateneo said the Board of Trustees approved the shift for the Loyola Schools and the Professional Schools in a meeting on Feb. 5.

The new calendar will take effect in school year 2015-2016, it said, after an “internal study and intensive consultations over the last eight months” with stakeholders, including faculty members, administrators, students and parents.

Partners overseas

Ateneo said the implementation of the new calendar would align its schedule with that of “more than 80 percent of its current university partners overseas” and with that of “more than 70 percent of all universities around the world.”

This would “facilitate” the “mobility” to and fro of students and faculty members, and facilitate collaborative academic programs and research, said the Jesuit-run university.

“Ateneo needs to ensure that our graduates develop a global outlook and global competencies so that they can navigate a more complex, interconnected world and contribute toward resolving global concerns,” Ateneo president Jose Ramon T. Villarin said in the statement.

For the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), the two “autonomous” universities were within their rights to make the change.

“If they’re (UP and Ateneo) really prepared to [push through with this], then go ahead,” CHEd Executive Director Jules Vitriolo said over the phone.

He made the statement although a technical working group (TWG) was still studying the implications of a proposed shift in academic calendars.

The TWG was supposed to submit its report in March.

According to Vitriolo, UP and Ateneo could “exercise discretion” without waiting for the report since their decision to change academic calendars was “quite justified.”

He said both “world-ranking” institutions would benefit from the shift in the form of “more synchronized” links with international universities.

“Maybe only a selected few [can exercise discretion to change their academic calendars],” he said, adding that these institutions should be “deserving” and with “consistently high standards.”

Vitriolo said the report would look into the implications of a change in academic calendars “on a wider scale.”

But even before the release of the report, Vitriolo was quick to add that the CHEd did not encourage a “wider scale change” in academic calendars.

Years of preparation

“This changing of academic calendars requires years of [preparation]. Not just anyone can change the calendar. It will do more harm [if this is the case],” he said, adding that the Department of Education would not adjust its schedule.

According to Vitriolo, there may also be implications for UP and Ateneo now that they have approved the change in academic calendars.

PRC exams

There may be an overlapping of the schedule of some Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) board exams with the new school months, he said.

Villarin acknowledged that this was true, particularly with the law, medicine and electronics engineering licensure exams.

He said, however, that Ateneo was “dedicating one-and-a-half years to work through these concerns thoroughly and systematically.”

“We are confident that we will be ready by 2015,” Villarin said.

Vitriolo said UP and Ateneo “may have to request” the PRC for a special exam to deal with this problem.
It’s either this or the examinees will have to wait longer, he said.

He added, however, that this was “not a major complication.”

Asked whether there would be an effect on the number of local enrollees who become “tired” of waiting for a long time before the opening of classes, Vitriolo said, “I don’t think so.”

He said many students would like to get into UP and Ateneo, and would be “willing to wait” for months.

He acknowledged, however, that there may be an increase in the number of foreign students because the two universities’ schedules are aligned with those of international institutions.

FROM PHILSTAR

Earth Hour raises funds for green projects By Rhodina Villanueva (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 30, 2014 - 12:00am 3 16 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - Lights went off in some 7,000 cities around the world in yesterday’s Earth Hour event, which aimed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for environmental projects worldwide, organizers said.

In the Philippines, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) noted that the number of communities and establishments joining Earth Hour has been increasing.

The WWF said it partnered with Megaworld, a leading real estate developer, in the switch-off activity in its 17-hectare Eastwood City township in Quezon City.

Kevin Tan, Megaworld first vice president and commercial division head, said the event “signifies Megaworld’s commitment in building townships that espouse environmental sustainability.”

Tan said, “It’s a wonderful alliance (between Megaworld and WWF) as it promotes green living for urban communities. More and more Filipinos are moving toward cities like Eastwood and McKinley Hill.”

“This event would inculcate in residents, tenants, employees and mallgoers of the townships that energy efficiency is a crucial step in minimizing humanity’s carbon footprint,” he added.

The switch-off was also held simultaneously last night in other Megaworld townships, including the 50-hectare McKinley Hill at Bonifacio Global City.

Earlier, Earth Hour Philippines national director Gia Ibay, who is also WWF-Philippines climate change program director, said the Philippines has since 2009 topped participation in terms of the number towns and cities, earning the distinction of being an “Earth Hour Hero Country.”

Ibay said the Eastwood Mall Open Park and SM Mall of Asia are just two of the venues where the event has been observed.

WWF-Philippines vice chairman and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan said Earth Hour is not just a simple switching-off of lights. “Doing simple things like taking the stairs or switching to energy-saving bulbs can help combat climate change,” he said.

Green projects

The WWF partnered with payments giant PayPal to allow donors to contribute for specific projects in countries from Russia and India to Canada and Indonesia, using Asian fundraising site Crowdonomic.

“We are starting with around 20 projects this year, but our vision is to really expand once Saturday’s event has taken place,” said Earth Hour chief executive Andy Ridley.

“The projects have been chosen based on their scalability, so even if the target has not been met, a small amount of funds raised will still help implement an outcome on the ground,” Ridley said.

Projects under the “Earth Hour Blue” crowdfunding scheme – which aims to raise more than $650,000 in total – include a turtle center in Italy and funding for forest rangers in Indonesia.

Earth Hour saw world landmarks, including the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge, the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower and the Kremlin, switch off their lights for 60 minutes at 8:30 p.m. local time on Saturday. The event was marked in more than 150 countries, organizers said.

The event was coordinated from Singapore, with the stars of new movie “Amazing Spider-Man 2” helping switch off lights on the city-state’s skyline in the upmarket Marina Bay district.

Sofiah Jamil, adjunct research associate at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, who has been campaigning for environmental causes in Southeast Asia, welcomed the funding initiative.

“At the very basic level, such crowdfunding activities can potentially increase the visibility of Earth Hour and in turn awareness on environmental action,” Sofiah told AFP.

“I think the main way in which this is effective is that it allows a way of involving a wider section of people, who would previously perhaps not be involved, such as those with limited knowledge on how they can contribute and those who want to contribute with ease and convenience,” she said.

Earth Hour began in 2007 in Sydney, but the idea quickly spread around the world and hundreds of millions of people were estimated to have turned their lights off for the event last year.

The event is a symbolic action rather than one to reduce carbon pollution, but it has drawn criticism, including from Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg, who argues it does little for the real problem of global warming and diverts resources from other problems.

“This celebration of darkness sends the wrong message,” Lomborg said in a statement this week.

“While more than a billion people across the globe make a symbol of forgoing non-essential electrical power for one hour a year, another 1.3 billion people across the developing world will continue to live without electricity as they do every other night of the year,” Lomborg said.

Anna Rose, national Earth Hour manager for Australia, said it was obvious that switching lights off for one hour would not solve the world’s environmental problems, but she said the event had raised awareness about climate change in the community.

Stores lockdown as 'Martilyo Gang' hits SM MOA (philstar.com) | Updated March 30, 2014 - 9:11pm 44 1109 googleplus2 0

MANILA, Philippines – Shoppers at the SM Mall of Asia panicked as a robbery group famously called the "Martilyo Gang" fired a gun inside the department store on Sunday night.

Steven Tan, senior vice president for mall operations, said member of the gang hit a jewelry counter at the mall's The SM Store at around 7:14 p.m.

"At 7:14pm this evening the martilyo gang had struck a jewelry counter at The SM Store in MOA. The police are already present in the area to conduct a thorough investigation. The mall is working closely with the pnp to resolve this," Tan said in a statement posted on SM's Twitter account.

Responding policemen have arrested one of the suspects. The law enforcers have cordoned off the mall area as of this posting.

Philstar.com was informed of the incident by one of the mall's employees at around 7:50 p.m.

The gunshot heard at the mall prompted the stores within the mall to go on lockdown, trapping shoppers inside.

Tan said in an update through Twitter that the situation at the mall was contained by the police at past 9 p.m.

He reported that an employee of outdoor Kiosk Spike's, suffered a slight gunshot wound. The employee has been declared out of danger.

"The mall is now currently back to normal operations," Tan said.

He said the incident was immediately contained because of the police's quick response.

"When the Martilyo Gang incident happened the response of the PNP was quick and they were able to apprehend a suspect who is now under their custody," he added.

Twitter Jonathan E. Guban @slaytan30 Follow People are trapped inside!@ANCALERTS #moa incident 8:05 AM - 30 Mar 2014

Twitter Theresa @tracyaguila Follow Hiding inside the stock room; gunshots were fired just minutes ago here inside MOA department store 8:02 AM - 30 Mar 2014

Tyler Austria @TYLR_austria Follow Now happening, MOA shoot out, hostages taken, friends trapped in locked down boutiques. 7:47 AM - 30 Mar 2014 Calabarzon, Republic of the Philippines, Republic of the Philippines

Tyler Austria @TYLR_austria Now happening, MOA shoot out, hostages taken, friends trapped in locked down boutiques.

The gang's members had struck other SM malls last year, also targeting jewelry stores. The group is called "Martilyo Gang" as its members use newly-purchased hammers from the mall's hardware store during their heists.

Members of the gang would fire guns to cause panic among shoppers, which they will use as cover for their escape.

FROM THE TELEGRAPH.UK ONLINE

Japanese cherry blossom: 2014 festival begins By Adrian Bridge9:00AM GMT 27 Mar 2014Comments1 Comment


As the sakura cherry blossom season starts in Tokyo, Japan, we explore why it is so important to the Japanese and where and when best to catch it.

JAPAN -After what has been a particularly harsh winter, the people of Tokyo are this week formally celebrating the arrival of spring and the much-loved “sakura” – or cherry blossom – seen as the national flower and a great symbol of hope and renewal.

Popular viewing spots in the city include the parks at Ueno and, close to the district of Harajuku, the Yoyogi. For the next two weeks they will be thronged with people coming out to marvel at the brilliant displays of colour – primarily pink but also deeper shades bordering on red and white – and the sweet fragrances of a flower that, like the almost perfectly-formed Mount Fuji, occupies a very special place in the hearts and psyches of the Japanese.

The viewing phenomenon – also called the hanami – has been celebrated for centuries. It is often accompanied by the consumption of food and drink and the singing of songs that celebrate the transient beauty of the cherry blossom, which usually flowers for between one or two weeks, starting in late January in the tropical islands of Okinawa and stretching into May in the northern reaches of Hokkaido.

For Japanese students, this period coincides with the end of one school year and the start of the next; for older Japanese, the festival also heralds a new beginning.

The arrival of the cherry blossom is keenly anticipated, with round-the-clock news reports providing updates on exactly where and when the fabled flowers will appear alongside all manner of sakura-themed promotions.

Advertisements currently on display in the Tokyo Metro suggest that drinking Kirin beer will enhance the hanami experience, and should you be feeling peckish, McDonald’s has helpfully introduced a “cherry blossom burger”, complete with “pink buns”.

And people do not wait for the formal opening of the sakura season.

In Tokyo, battered in February by severe snow storms, beautiful spring-like weather last weekend brought out the crowds at the Shinjuku Gyoen, a wonderful leafy sanctuary just minutes away from the blazing neon of one of Tokyo’s most frenetic hotspots.

One or two cherry blossom trees were already in bloom and as teenage girls cooed their delight as they posed for the ultimate mobile phone “selfie”, more seasoned visitors, armed with heavy duty photographic equipment, spent hours trying secure the best angles and lightings.

In a city not known for its abundance of natural beauty (or indeed green spaces), there was a lovely lightness in the air; the joy of renewal.

“The delicate and brief nature of the cherry blossoms are not only a reason for a good party; they are also seen to symbolise the ephemeral nature of life, an aspect of Japanese culture that is often associated with Buddhism,” said Kylie Clark of the London office of the Japan National Tourism Organization. “The temporary nature of the sakura is a reminder that all living things soon pass and we should make the most of our lives while we can.”

Where – and when – best to view the cherry blossom
Information provided by the Japan National Tourism Organization

Nagoya Castle, Aichi

Nagoya Castle is one of Japan’s greatest castles and home to a wealth of cultural treasures. In cherry blossom season it is the place to view somei yoshino and weeping cherry trees and other rare varieties around the park and moats of the castle. The trees are illuminated by night. Flowering season: late March to early April

Kumamoto Castle, Kumamoto

Kumamoto Castle is one of the three most famous castles of Japan, enhanced in the spring by some 800 cherry trees – Somei-yoshino as well as mountain cherry trees (yama-zakura) and Higo-zakura. Flowering season: late March to early April

Ueno Park, Tokyo

Ueno Park is one of Japan’s most crowded, noisy and popular cherry blossom spots, featuring more than 1,000 trees along the street leading towards the National Museum and around Shinobazu Pond. As an added bonus the trees are lit up in the evenings. Flowering season: late March to late April

Shinjuku Gyoen Garden, Tokyo

This garden was traditionally the location of the samurai residence of the Naito family. The garden was later designated as an Imperial garden, and then, in 1949, as a national garden. It has been famous for its cherry trees since the Meiji Era (1868-1912), and today is one of the most popular spots in Tokyo to enjoy the spring blooms. Flowering season: late March to late April

Maruyama Park and the Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto

Maruyama Park is the oldest park in Kyoto and is renowned for its huge weeping cherry trees, best viewed at night. The season continues for most of April, as trees on the mountainside start to blossom while those in the park begin to fade.

The Philosopher’s Path is a track along which there is a vista of cherry blossoms on both sides of the river path from Lake Biwa-ko. The cherry blossom petals floating on the water add to what is already a beautiful and atmospheric walk taking in a number of historic monuments. Flowering season: late March to late April

Arashiyama, Kyoto

The area which is today called Arashiyama was traditionally famous for the colours of its autumn leaves and has been praised in a number of Japanese poems. In april, however, cherry blossoms flower all over the area from Togetsu-kyo Bridge to Arashiyama-Nakanoshima Park, the bank of the O-i-gawa River, and Kameyama Park behind Tenryu-ji Temple.

The best place to take it all in is the path along the Katsura-gawa River lined with 50-year-old trees that form a tunnel of cherry blossoms. The weeping cherry trees (shidare-zakura) in Tenryu-ji Temple are also splendid.Flowering season: late March to late April

Nara Park, Nara

Nara Park is a historical park surrounding Todai-ji temple, Kofuku-ji temple and Shoso-in Repository. It has about 1,700 cherry trees of various kinds, including Narayae-zakura and Kokonoe-zakura. Flowering season: late March to late April

Senkoji Park, Hiroshima

Senkoji Park was built in 1894 by the chief priest of Senko-ji temple. There are nearly 10,000 cherry trees here, mainly comprising Somei-yoshino, but also including weeping cherry trees (shidare-zakura) and sato-zakura. In April, from the observation platform on the top of the mountain, you can enjoy a splendid landscape over the town of Onomichi and the islands of the Inland Sea. Flowering season: early to mid-April|

Mount Yoshino, Nara
Mount Yoshino, located in the centre of Nara Prefecture, is said by many to be Japan’s best location for viewing cherry blossoms. In spring, approximately 30,000 cherry trees (mainly Shiroyama-zakura) start blooming from Shimo-senbon (the foot of the mountain) to Naka-senbon (halfway down), Kami-senbon (halfway up), and finally to Oku-senbon (the peak), displaying a gorgeous vista of flowers for as long as a month. Flowering season: early to late April


Japan Mint, Osaka

When the cherry trees bloom around mid-April, the Japan Mint in Osaka opens a passage stretching for 560 meters, from South Gate (Tenma-bashi side) to North Gate (Sakura-bashi side), to the general public for one week. This area along the old Yodo River has long been famous for its beautiful scenery, especially in spring. In the Mint itself, there are about 120 different varieties of the total 370 extant varieties of cherry trees, such as Kanzan, Fugenzo, Shogetsu, Benitemari, Shibayama, Kizakura, and Yokihi. Flowering season: mid-to late April

Lake Kawaguchi, Yamanashi Prefecture

In the area surrounding Lake Kawaguchi, it is possible to view stunning cherry blossom displays – on a clear day against the backdrop of Mount Fuji. The blooms are to be found on the small cape called Ubuyagasaki on the eastern shore of the lake. Hanami heaven. Flowering season: mid-April

Hirosaki Castle, Aomori

The park containing Hirosaki Castle is one of the best spots for viewing cherry trees in the Tohoku region, north of Tokyo. For the best angles, walk along the castle’s western moat to capture the bright red Shunyo Bridge, stately castle tower, pale pink cherry blossoms, and snow-crested Mount Iwaki. Flowering season: late April to early May

Kakunodate, Akita

Kakunodate is located almost at the centre of the northern Akita Prefecture. The beautiful weeping cherry trees (shidare-zakura) and the classic samurai residences in Kakunodate have a history stretching back over 300 years. During the cherry blossom season, it is possible to take a two-kilometre stroll through the magnificent tunnel of flowering trees lining the Hinokinai River. Flowering season: late April to late May

Goryokaku Fort Park, Hokkaido

In the far northern island of Hokkaido, plum and cherry trees blossom at the same time. Goryokaku was a western-style fort built by the Tokugawa shogunate (1857-66) in the harbour city of Hakodate. The star-shaped ruins of the fort are now in a park full of cherry blossom trees. Flowering season: late April to early May

Nago Castle, Okinawa

The remains of Nangusuku (Nago Castle) are located almost in the centre of Okinawa Main Island. In the far south of the country, the blooms here come as early as late January and are generally the first to appear in the country. Some 20,000 cherry blossom trees with deep pink flowers (Higan-zakura) enhance the beautiful view of Yanbaru (the north of Okinawa Main Island), Nago City and Nago Bay from the observation platform. Flowering season: Late January to early February

FROM THE INQUIRER

Metro Manila hottest today this year—Pagasa By Frances Mangosing INQUIRER.net 8:08 pm | Friday, March 28th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines– Metro Manila experienced its hottest temperature for the year on Friday, the state weather bureau said.

The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said that 35.7 degrees Celsius was recorded at 1:50p.m. Friday. This is the warmest so far this year.

Aldczar Aurelio of Pagasa told INQUIRER.net that temperatures could go up to 37 degrees Celsius in Metro Manila this dry season.

In Cagayan, one of the areas that are usually warmer than others, a temperature of up to 38 degrees Celsius is expected.
Pagasa announced the onset of dry season this week as it declared the termination of northeast monsoon. The easterlies, or warm winds from the east, are the prevailing weather system responsible for bringing the hot weather.

The hottest temperature recorded in Metro Manila was on May 14, 1987 at 38.5 degrees Celsius.

PH top 5 dive sites still world’s best By Alya B. Honasan Philippine Daily Inquirer
2:33 am | Sunday, March 30th, 2014


UNDERWATER ATTRACTION A diver marvels at the color and beauty of the corals at the bottom of the sea off Coron in Palawan province, whose attractions include 12 “diveable” shipwrecks. This one is in the Culion area. YVETTE LEE/CONTRIBUTOR

Scuba divers will never stop telling you: The Philippines is one of the best places in the world to dive. Just ask dedicated locals as well as visitors from all over the world, including award-winning underwater photographers and marine biologists, who come for stuff big and small.

While sightings of large animals and pelagics are getting more and more rare because of habitat destruction and human consumption, you can still count on memorable encounters, as well as an abundance of the colorful little critters that divers like to look out for.

Here are five prime dive destinations in the country:

Tubbataha, Sulu Sea
The pinnacle of Philippine diving in every way and considered the “Last Frontier” of our waters, the Tubbataha Reefs, 182 kilometers southwest of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan province, and the neighboring Jessie Beazley Reef make up the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park.

It’s a Unesco World Heritage site, a hotbed of biodiversity that hit the headlines most recently when a US Navy ship ran aground there in January 2013. Our guess is that the Americans tried to get some diving done.

Tubbataha is only for experienced divers, though, as the currents can be treacherous. The rewards are great, however—sightings of white and black tip reef sharks, whale sharks, mantas, turtles and hammerheads.

Legendary sites like Shark Airport, Black Rock, Seafan Alley and Washing Machine are accessible only by live-aboard dive boats in the summer.

Any other time, the waters of the Sulu Sea are too rough, and it’s an overnight trip from Puerto Princesa to the site for at least five days of diving in over 10,000 hectares of reefs that are home to half of the coral species on earth, some 500 species of fish, 11 kinds of sharks and more.

It will cost you, but every diver should visit at least once.

Getting there: Fly to Puerto Princesa and get on a live-aboard boat that must be booked in advance.

Anilao, Batangas

The new scuba diver’s first classroom in Anilao, Batangas province, is also one of the country’s most popular sites, only two hours by car from Manila.

With locals now taking care of the gold mine that is the dive tourism industry, reefs have managed to thrive. You can count on lots of fish, occasional sightings of turtles, sharks and barracuda, lovely soft coral and the tiny, colorful macrophotographers’ favorite subjects, such as shy pygmy seahorses and nudibranchs, which look like sea slugs in psychedelic colors.

There’s a wide range of resorts with good food and facilities, excellent roads and some of the most colorful diving this side of the archipelago.

Getting there: Get in a car and drive, and don’t forget to stop for bulalo or tawilis on the way!

Coron, Palawan

This one’s for the diver hankering for history and exploration, as Coron is home to several World War II wrecks, Japanese supply ships that were sunk by American forces in the battle of Coron Bay in September 1944. Vessels like the Akitsushima, Iraku and Olympia Maru are big, ghostly and fascinating to visit, but some degree of experience is required so you don’t kick up the sand and mess up the entire dive.

All wrecks are accessible by banca from Coron resorts in a wide range of budgets.

Make sure you dive the otherworldly Barracuda Lake, where you climb through Tagbanua ancestral areas (read: be respectful and don’t litter) before plunging into the warm water and meeting the resident barracuda.

Don’t miss the beautiful Gunter’s Cathedral, a chamber with a skylight carved in the rocky ceiling and water so clear, you’ll feel like you’re swimming in air.

Getting there: Fly to Coron and book at any of the good resorts and dive operators’ haunts, including the still-gorgeous Club Paradise.

Apo Reef, Mindoro
The Apo Reef Natural Park is a 27,469-hectare natural marine park between Mindoro and Palawan provinces, home to the world’s second largest continuous coral reef, and the largest atoll in the Philippines.

Apo Reef has been battered a bit by typhoons and climate change, but clear water, corals, colorful fish, turtles, schools of jacks, mammoth tuna and manta rays still entice the adventurous traveler.

The best way to get there is via live-aboard boats again, usually huge souped-up bancas comfortable enough to sleep in. The Park Rangers’ station, with its white sand beach and stunning views, is a good stopover.

Getting there: Fly to San Jose, Mindoro, and set up base at any resorts that offer diving in Apo Reef, such as the Apo Reef Club.

Apo Island, off Dumaguete

This is a successfully managed marine reserve that is the laboratory of nearby Silliman University, a center for marine biology education.

Apo Island (sometimes confused with the reef, which is between Mindoro and Palawan) boasts of speedy currents and dense fish life. There’s fun shallow diving, as well as trips into the depths in spots such as Mamsa Point Dauin and Coconut Point.

Downtime in the city is always something to look forward to.

Getting there: Fly to Dumaguete, stay in the city or book with any of the many experienced dive operators in the area.

Plus: One site where you don’t need scuba gear: Donsol, Sorsogon province, where you can swim with whale sharks in an environmentally sound, sustainable way (read: you don’t mess with nature by feeding the animals).

Summer is the best time to encounter these gentle giants, but as always, be a responsible tourist and maintain a respectful distance from the animals.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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