ISABELA CITY WOOS TOURIST, WANTS TO SHED TERROR LAIR TAG

This island port city is finally shedding its image as a terrorism hotspot as it begins to woo tourists to sample its offerings. The city, home to a diverse Christian amd Muslim cultures, is now ready to showcase what it can offer to the the world as it culminated its 13th anniversary as the first city of Basilan. “We have had enough of negative perceptions and we want to show that we are ready to receive visitors to experience the natural beauty our place has to offer,” said Mayor Cherrylyn Santos-Akbar. Among those the city could offer are the white sand beaches at Malamawi, an island facing off this port city, falls and the unique culture of Yakans, the peace-loving Muslim tribe in the south, according to Akbar. The lady executive believed that opening the city to tourism would help them battle the negative perceptions about it. The city is one of the top producers of copra and raw rubber materials given the vast plantation in the island. Thie island is also known for aqua-marine products. Akbar said the city has invited artists from Manila to help them with their tourism bid. READ MORE...

ALSO: Tuguegarao City records hottest temperature–Pagasa

Tuguegarao City, capital of Cagayan province, has recorded the hottest temperature in the Philippines, the state weather bureau said. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said the city’s temperature hit 39 degrees Celsius which was recorded 2:00 p.m. Friday. Pagasa said this was the third hottest temperature recorded in Philippine history after the 40.4 degrees Celsius in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija on May 11, 2012 and the 42.2 degrees Celsius also in Tuguegarao City on May 11, 1969. Hotter days are expected this May, it added. READ MORE...

ALSO: Kids in Pampanga photographed flogging themselves during Holy Week

The sleepy barangay of Cutud in San Fernando, Pampanga has long been known for the ritualistic floggings and crucifixions that villagers stage during Holy Week. But there were at least two unlikely participants in this year’s ritual in the province—children, who were photographed flogging themselves. Photographer Jay Javier was in Angeles City, Pampanga during Good Friday, and was shocked to find two boys among the flagellants. “We were just passing through when I saw [the first boy.] I thought costume lang, he was being cute. Pero na-notice ko, 'yung flagellum niya na made out of wood or bamboo, he was hitting himself in the back, so kinunan namin,” Javier told GMA News Online in a phone interview. Javier was disturbed by the fact that repeated hittings would be enough to bruise the young boy’s back. Javier noted that it wasn’t enough the boy was hitting himself—another older participant even offered to wipe the boy’s back in blood to make the whole scene “more realistic.” “May lumapit na I assume is his father siguro, sabi, ‘Lagyan natin para maganda. Bina-brush niya with the flagellum, binudbud niya sa bata, sa likod,’” Javier said. READ MORE...

(ALSO) Deadly wait: The problems of identifying Yolanda's victims

Why has it taken the government so long to identify the dead in Tacloban and elsewhere? Why has the processing and disposal of over six thousand human beings apparently discombobulated an entire system? The answer lies in an Administrative Order that may not always anticipate the scale of disasters we have encountered since Typhoon Yolanda; conflicting mandates of government agencies tasked with identifying the dead; an emphasis on "process" rather than humanitarian expediency; and a glaring lack of resources and personnel. In one mighty instant, just as the howling winds and floods had finally subsided, and they were left to stare blankly at the rubble that had once been their beloved homes—the people of Tacloban, in a strange, almost semi-conscious stupor, quietly became accustomed to the overpowering stench of the dead. There was here no briny breeze of the sea, nor even the proverbial smell of mud; just the heavy scent, if not the deafening silence, of decaying flesh that hung about each corner with an ominous pall. Five months after Yolanda, affected areas have slowly begun to show signs of life. Bunkhouses have been built, power partially restored, and markets reopened—but the 4,759 dead (the official number, but this may well be under-reported) festering in mass graves have yet to be identified. With reports about uncollected dead bodies bombarding the public in the wake of the storm, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), led by Atty. Medardo De Lemos, sent a team to Tacloban two days after the disaster to assess the situation. They discovered dead bodies strewn all over roads, their retrieval having been carried out mostly by firemen from the Bureau of Fire Protection. No clear Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) system was yet in place. READ MORE...

ALSO: Permanent evacuation centers pushed

Calamity-prone Philippines should have permanent evacuation centers that would guarantee the safety of victims of natural disasters. Lawmakers aired this recommendation as they asked government to stop using public schools to shelter people displaced by natural or man-made calamities. Reps. Angelina Tan (NPC, Quezon); Rodolfo Biazon (LP, Muntinlupa City) and Emmi de Jesus (Gabriela Partylist) proposed the construction of permanent evacuation centers in each province, city, municipality or in strategic areas near localities that are prone to disasters. Tan filed House Bill 3372 calling for the construction of permanent evacuation centers with complete essential facilities. HB 3372 also proposes that the evacuation centers be equipped with basic health services and other clinical facilities that would help combat the spread of communicable disease. “A permanent evacuation center in every province, city, municipality and other strategic areas throughout the country will lessen the loss of lives by bringing the evacuation center nearer to the populace and at the most accessible and safe areas,” Tan said. Biazon, chairman of the House Committee on National Defense, said evacuation centers should suit the particular calamity in a given area and should be made either permanent or movable. Updated topography and hazard maps should be consulted to determine the type of evacuation centers and the suitable areas where these should be constructed. READ MORE...

ALSO: Oriental Mindoro, Puerto Galera party-goers told to take precautions against HIV/AIDS

The Department of Health on Thursday reminded travelers heading to Puerto Galera to avoid unprotected sex and to take other precautions against Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS). DOH regional director Eduardo Janairo said Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro has been identified as one of the areas in the country where HIV/AIDS is a major concern. “HIV/AIDS still has no cure, and health officials can only provide information, diagnose and treat suspected patients. The best way is through safe practice of informed individuals,” Janairo said in a press statement. Janairo made clear that HIV is not highly contagious and cannot be transmitted through coughing and sneezing or through mosquito bites. HIV cannot be transmitted by talking to, shaking hands with, embracing, or sharing swimming pools with an HIV-positive person either. Also, he said, HIV infection is preventable land the most effective ways to avoid it include: Abstinence from sex Having only one sex partner Using condoms Avoiding sharing needles/syringes Educating oneself on HIV READ MORE...

ALSO: METRO MANILA’S MONSTROUS TRAFFIC JAMS: The lurking menace to health and economy

We may all be aware of the health hazards of traffic jams to some extent, how air pollution brought about by hundreds of thousands of vehicles in gridlock at almost all intersections of Metro Manila streets during peak hours cause lung problems, in addition to kidney and heart troubles. But very few would probably know the magnitude of economic losses the Philippines also suffers from the road bottlenecks that at certain hours of the day paralyze industries and social services. Traffic jams have been wreaking havoc on the economy as well as people’s lives. In 2011 alone, Metro Manila lost P137.5 billion to traffic congestion, according to the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS). For the past 11 years, cumulative losses have reached P1.5 trillion, with fuellosses accounting for P4.2 billion. The NCTS traces the heavy losses to the delayed transport of goods and services.
The problem is expected to worsen, with experts predicting the Philippines will lose P6 billion a day in 2030 due to traffic jams. The World Health Organization (WHO) said air pollution is killing millions worldwide, including those in developing countries like the Philippines.READ MORE...


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Isabela City woos tourists, wants to shed terror lair tag


A view of Isabela City. Zamboanga.com

ISABELA CITY, APRIL 28, 2014 (PHILSTAR) - This island port city is finally shedding its image as a terrorism hotspot as it begins to woo tourists to sample its offerings.

The city, home to a diverse Christian amd Muslim cultures, is now ready to showcase what it can offer to the the world as it culminated its 13th anniversary as the first city of Basilan.

“We have had enough of negative perceptions and we want to show that we are ready to receive visitors to experience the natural beauty our place has to offer,” said Mayor Cherrylyn Santos-Akbar.

Among those the city could offer are the white sand beaches at Malamawi, an island facing off this port city, falls and the unique culture of Yakans, the peace-loving Muslim tribe in the south, according to Akbar.

The lady executive believed that opening the city to tourism would help them battle the negative perceptions about it.

The city is one of the top producers of copra and raw rubber materials given the vast plantation in the island. Thie island is also known for aqua-marine products.

Akbar said the city has invited artists from Manila to help them with their tourism bid.

Thousands of locals converged at the town plaza Friday and witnessed the cultural parade presented by the local government and different schools and non-government organizations.

“For many years now, we have been feeling safer despite the rumored threats. We have to stand up now and show we are no longer afraid,” a resident said after joining the parade.

City Police director Superintendent Albert Larubis said the city has been relatively peaceful for the past months.

“There are threats, but we are in pro-active mode to address all these threats,” Larubis said, citing the series of arrests of suspected Abu Sayyaf members in the city.

During the event, Larubis said they checked all the areas around the city and nearby towns to thwart any bomb and terror threats.

Hundreds of policemen and military troops were also scattered to secure the people and city.

“Yes we are ready to provide security for our tourists who would consider the beautiful place of Isabela City,” Larubis added. - Roel Pareño

FROM THE INQUIRER

Tuguegarao City records hottest temperature–Pagasa By Nestor Corrales INQUIRER.net 1:54 pm | Saturday, April 26th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines – Tuguegarao City, capital of Cagayan province, has recorded the hottest temperature in the Philippines, the state weather bureau said.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said the city’s temperature hit 39 degrees Celsius which was recorded 2:00 p.m. Friday.
Pagasa said this was the third hottest temperature recorded in Philippine history after the 40.4 degrees Celsius in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija on May 11, 2012 and the 42.2 degrees Celsius also in Tuguegarao City on May 11, 1969.
Hotter days are expected this May, it added.
In its forecast for Saturday, Pagasa said the whole country would be partly cloudy to cloudy with isolated rain showers or thunderstorms, mostly in the afternoon or evening.
It added that light to moderate winds blowing from the east to northeast would prevail over Luzon and Visayas and coming from the northeast over Mindanao.
The coastal waters throughout the archipelago would be slight to moderate, it said.

Monday hot, but hotter days still ahead–Pagasa By Jeannette I. Andrade Philippine Daily Inquirer 4:34 am | Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014


COOL KIDS. Children enjoy a dip in an inflated pool on Road 10 in Navotas City. The hottest day of the month was recorded in Metro Manila on Monday at 35.6 degrees Celsius around 3 p.m. ARNOLD ALMACEN

If you felt it was too hot on Monday, it really was.

The weather bureau recorded the highest temperatures for the month in Luzon on Monday, saying hotter days may be ahead.

But the low pressure area (LPA), which entered the country’s area of responsibility before noon on Monday, could still cool down Luzon a notch as it draws nearer, said the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa).

Forecaster Buddy Javier told the Inquirer that Metro Manila was hottest on Monday at 35.6 degrees Celsius at around 3 p.m.

Temperatures in Cabanatuan City in Central Luzon rose to 36.4 degrees around 2 p.m. It was 35 degrees at Sangley Point in Cavite.

Ironically the highest temperature in Tuguegarao City, historically the warmest place in the country, was 33.9 degrees Celsius at 2 p.m.

But the city was hottest for the month on Sunday around 2:20 p.m., with temperatures rising to 37.2 degrees.

“Temperatures in Metro Manila could reach 36 degrees while Tuguegarao City could still have 38-degree temperatures because we are still in the middle of the dry season,” Javier said.

Heat surge

He explained that Luzon was experiencing a heat surge because of the ridge of a high pressure area prevailing over the northern part of the region. A high-pressure area brings dry and warm winds.

The highest temperature recorded in the country was 42.2 degrees in Tuguegarao on May 11, 1969, while Metro Manila was hottest on May 14, 1987, at 38.5 degrees.

To avoid heat exhaustion, people should stay indoors as much as possible, according to a Pagasa advisory.

In case air-conditioning is unavailable, staying on the lowest floor away from the sun is advisable.

People are also advised to wear clothing made of light materials with light colors, to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and to avoid eating food high in protein, which can increase body heat.

Javier said that while Luzon sizzled on Monday, the Visayas and Mindanao enjoyed generally fair weather, which could continue until Tuesday.

The forecaster said that as of 4 p.m, Monday, the LPA was 830 kilometers east of Guiuan, Eastern Samar province, and still too far to have any effect on the country.

In its forecast for Tuesday, Pagasa said the whole country would be partly cloudy to cloudy with isolated rain showers or thunderstorms, mostly in the afternoon or evening.

Moderate-to-occasionally strong winds will prevail over the eastern sections of Central and Southern Luzon and over the Eastern Visayas where coastal waters will be moderate to occasionally rough.

Light-to-moderate winds will prevail over the rest of the Visayas, Luzon and Mindanao, with slight to moderate seas.

FROM GMA NEWS NETWORK

Kids in Pampanga photographed flogging themselves during Holy Week By PATRICIA DENISE CHIU, GMA NewsApril 25, 2014 9:23am 193 11 0 205


A child joins the practice of flagellation in Pampanga on Good Friday in 2014. Photographer Jay Javier said the man, who appears to be the boy's father, wiped his bloody flagellum on the boy's already bruised back. Jay Javier

The sleepy barangay of Cutud in San Fernando, Pampanga has long been known for the ritualistic floggings and crucifixions that villagers stage during Holy Week. But there were at least two unlikely participants in this year’s ritual in the province—children, who were photographed flogging themselves.

Photographer Jay Javier was in Angeles City, Pampanga during Good Friday, and was shocked to find two boys among the flagellants.

“We were just passing through when I saw [the first boy.] I thought costume lang, he was being cute. Pero na-notice ko, 'yung flagellum niya na made out of wood or bamboo, he was hitting himself in the back, so kinunan namin,” Javier told GMA News Online in a phone interview.

Javier was disturbed by the fact that repeated hittings would be enough to bruise the young boy’s back. Javier noted that it wasn’t enough the boy was hitting himself—another older participant even offered to wipe the boy’s back in blood to make the whole scene “more realistic.”

“May lumapit na I assume is his father siguro, sabi, ‘Lagyan natin para maganda. Bina-brush niya with the flagellum, binudbud niya sa bata, sa likod,’” Javier said.


A child flagellant's back already appears bruised before blood was smeared on it. According to photographer Jay Javier, the blood is actually from someone else. The Catholic Church frowns on the practice of flagellation. Jay Javier

The photographer noted that he saw another child doing the same thing, in a long line of about 15 other adult devotees.

“'Yung pangalawa, nakita namin sa isang line, tapos may maliit na dumaan, obviously bata,” he said.

DSWD, Church reactions

Meanwhile, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman assured the public that parents will be warned against the practice.

“I have instructed the field office in central Luzon to get in touch with the parents and to provide them counseling on this unfortunate circumstance,” she said in a text message sent to GMA News Online.

The Catholic Church has long discouraged the practice, saying devotion can be shown in many other ways.

Fr. Rafael Paras, parish priest of Sta. Lucia in Cutud, said physically harming oneself is not the way Jesus Christ would have wanted his church to act during Holy Week. Paras, however, acknowledged that the Catholic Church in the Philippines does not go so far as to condemn the practice.

“Ang una sa lahat, ang inang simbahan ay 'di sinusulong ang ganitong paraan ng pagpapakasakit bilang paghanda sa pagdating ni Kristo. Hindi ito sinusulong although hindi rin naman ito kino-condemn ng Inang Simbahan dahil nakikita naman ng simbahan na para sa mga deboto personally, ito siguro 'yung paraan nila para sa pagbabalik-loob sa Panginoon,” he said. —KG/RSJ, GMA News

FROM MANILA BULLETIN

Permanent evacuation centers pushed by Ben Rosario pril 27, 2014



MANILA - Calamity-prone Philippines should have permanent evacuation centers that would guarantee the safety of victims of natural disasters.

Lawmakers aired this recommendation as they asked government to stop using public schools to shelter people displaced by natural or man-made calamities.

Reps. Angelina Tan (NPC, Quezon); Rodolfo Biazon (LP, Muntinlupa City) and Emmi de Jesus (Gabriela Partylist) proposed the construction of permanent evacuation centers in each province, city, municipality or in strategic areas near localities that are prone to disasters.

Tan filed House Bill 3372 calling for the construction of permanent evacuation centers with complete essential facilities.

HB 3372 also proposes that the evacuation centers be equipped with basic health services and other clinical facilities that would help combat the spread of communicable disease.

“A permanent evacuation center in every province, city, municipality and other strategic areas throughout the country will lessen the loss of lives by bringing the evacuation center nearer to the populace and at the most accessible and safe areas,” Tan said.

Biazon, chairman of the House Committee on National Defense, said evacuation centers should suit the particular calamity in a given area and should be made either permanent or movable.

Updated topography and hazard maps should be consulted to determine the type of evacuation centers and the suitable areas where these should be constructed.

“Different hazards call for different approaches. For hazards of long duration, like volcanic eruption in Albay, there may be a need for permanent evacuation centers. For storms, temporary shelters shall suffice. For tsunami or storm surges, the residents in the area should go farther from the shore and into an elevated area,” Biazon said.

The veteran administration solon asked the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) to submit a thorough study on the different types of evacuation centers needed in the different specific parts of the country.

For her part, De Jesus co-authored House Resolution No. 696 calling for an end to the use of schools, covered courts, churches and other similar structures that are not suitable to pregnant women, the disabled, senior citizens and children.

“It should be imperative for the government to provide a long-term response to the problem, hence, permanent evacuation centers located at the safest areas in the country must be established and constructed within internationally acceptable standards,” De Jesus said.

De Jesus said schools as evacuation centers result in displacement of schoolchildren.

“This practice of using schools as evacuation centers has to stop to cushion the impact of calamities and disasters especially on the children,” De Jesus said.

Deadly wait: The problems of identifying Yolanda's victims By LILA RAMOS SHAHANIApril 21, 2014 11:54am 939 49 2 1017 Tags: typhoon yolanda


Bodies were laid down on the road in Tacloban in front of Basper Cemetery due to lack of space.

Why has it taken the government so long to identify the dead in Tacloban and elsewhere? Why has the processing and disposal of over six thousand human beings apparently discombobulated an entire system? The answer lies in an Administrative Order that may not always anticipate the scale of disasters we have encountered since Typhoon Yolanda; conflicting mandates of government agencies tasked with identifying the dead; an emphasis on "process" rather than humanitarian expediency; and a glaring lack of resources and personnel.

In one mighty instant, just as the howling winds and floods had finally subsided, and they were left to stare blankly at the rubble that had once been their beloved homes—the people of Tacloban, in a strange, almost semi-conscious stupor, quietly became accustomed to the overpowering stench of the dead.

There was here no briny breeze of the sea, nor even the proverbial smell of mud; just the heavy scent, if not the deafening silence, of decaying flesh that hung about each corner with an ominous pall.

Five months after Yolanda, affected areas have slowly begun to show signs of life. Bunkhouses have been built, power partially restored, and markets reopened—but the 4,759 dead (the official number, but this may well be under-reported) festering in mass graves have yet to be identified.

With reports about uncollected dead bodies bombarding the public in the wake of the storm, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), led by Atty. Medardo De Lemos, sent a team to Tacloban two days after the disaster to assess the situation. They discovered dead bodies strewn all over roads, their retrieval having been carried out mostly by firemen from the Bureau of Fire Protection. No clear Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) system was yet in place.

But when the Office of the President issued a directive creating a task force to identify bodies and expedite their burial, the Department of Health (DOH) was suddenly at a loss. Dr. Joselito Feliciano of the DOH says this was a new designation for them, since most were “field epidemiologists,” experts not in identifying the dead but in studying outbreaks of disease.


Before and after: (Left) Bodies were not properly tagged and arranged; (right) bodies were eventually arranged in trenches for easier retrieval.

DOH then tapped forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun of the University of the Philippines (UP) for the colossal task ahead. Together, they sought external advice from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The first thing they did was to cut ICRC’s lengthy pre- and post-mortem forms from four pages to just about one-page-and-a-half. On November 17, Dr. Fortun and her team flew to Tacloban, donned their gloves, and began identifying Yolanda’s dead.

Rapid decay

It was a Herculean task—the bodies were decaying rapidly, there were no refrigerated containers to store them, and there were not enough personnel to assist the team, even after the ICRC had sent its own forensic specialist, Dr. Andres Patiño Umana, to help. With only ICRC’s basic equipment for DVI processing, in addition to Dr. Fortun’s own personal supplies, they started processing the remains, improvising along the way. Despite the limitations, they processed an average of 150 bodies per day.

However, on November 22, five days after the initial DVI process had been established by UP-DOH, the NBI took over and Dr. Fortun’s team was quickly dissolved.

The NBI team, headed by Dr. Wilfredo Tierra of the Bureau’s Medico-Legal Unit, replaced Dr. Fortun’s system with its own. Composed of 15-20 medical doctors, technicians, biologists and fingerprint examiners, they were divided into three teams and went on nine-day rotations to examine dead bodies.


Back to Basics: Wood sticks were used as markers for trenches and plastic-covered index cards as tags for bodies.

DVI in the context of natural disaster being the NBI's legal mandate, after all, its presence was certainly welcome—except for the lengthy nineteen-page forms from the International Police (INTERPOL) they were obliged to fill in for each victim, which naturally meant that the process of identification would be more complex and difficult, and hence slower.

The DOH was then re-assigned to monitor tetanus and leptospirosis cases. Her presence apparently no longer needed, Dr. Fortun eventually pulled out of Tacloban.

“Insufficient” administrative order?

“We never seem to learn,” laments Dr. Fortun, who is the first Filipino to be formally trained as a forensic pathologist. “We only become concerned with the dead once people start smelling their stench. With an inadequate system of DVI, we unfortunately just choose to move on to the next disaster.”

There are, in fact, no laws governing DVI processes in this country; Instead, there is only the DOH’s Administrative Order (AO) 18, series of 2007, or the “National Policy on the Management of the Dead and Missing Persons during Emergencies and Disasters.”

Under AO 18, a body would be established under the National Disaster Coordinating Council (later renamed National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council or NDRRMC) solely focused on the management of the dead, missing and their bereaved families during disasters and emergencies. It followed a community-based approach: in the event of a disaster, the local health officer of the concerned local government unit (LGU) would lead the management of the dead and missing.

In cases of mass fatality incidents caused by natural disasters, such as Yolanda, AO 18 mandates the NBI to take charge of the DVI process. When they are caused by human-generated activities, however, the Philippine National Police should be in charge.

The order also recommends the use of the Interpol’s Disaster Victim Identification System. Dr. Fortun observes that AO 18 was relatively functional in the past, and was used during Typhoon Sendong in 2009 and Typhoon Pablo in 2012. But in both disasters, the death toll never reached 2,000. Yolanda, however, took at least three times as many lives.

“The administrative issuance has simply become ineffective,” Fortun adds, because it can no longer take into account massive calamities where the respective LGUs themselves have also been decimated.

A lack of coordination?

When the DOH produced a report on its disaster response to the typhoon-stricken areas, it noted an apparent lack of coordination among government agencies, which exhibited little awareness of how to properly manage dead bodies. The few agencies with know-how on DVI followed different protocols.

Not only was there a problem of coordination among government agencies, available resources were not tapped. Dr. Maria Corazon de Ungria, head of the DNA Analysis Laboratory in UP’s Natural Sciences Research Institute, says, “We volunteered to help in the DVI of Yolanda. In fact, we already organized volunteers and companies willing to lend us—take note: lend, not rent out—additional equipment for analysis. But the NBI did not tap us. We volunteer every time there is a disaster, and every time we get turned down.”

Accuracy over speed

Dr. Fortun does not fully understand why the NBI had to change the DVI system she and her colleagues had originally established when they arrived in Tacloban. The NBI’s INTERPOL-based system requires DNA analysis, which means genetic material has to be extracted from the thighbone of each human body. It's a process, Dr. Fortun argues, that takes a great deal of time and resources.


Distinct Characteristics: Dr. Fortun's team took note of obvious and distinct markings on the victim's body.

Responding to the public backlash over the slow burial of the dead in the Visayas, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima noted that they were simply prioritizing “accuracy over speed.”

But, to Dr. Fortun, this did not have to be an issue of prioritization. “You cannot say that we are not accurate,” she notes, emphasizing that, despite overwhelming limitations, she and her team made sure they took note of every little detail—whether the body belonged to an adult, child or infant; and distinct characteristics of teeth, basic skin markings, and clothes; as well as accessories and identification that came with each body. Even Dr. de Ungria, a DNA forensic scientist, agrees: “With so many bodies to identify and limited resources, practicality should be considered. DNA analysis should only be done when it is absolutely necessary.”

“Unfair” expectations

But neither Dr. Fortun nor the NBI team could have expedited the identification and burial of all the bodies. While most human and financial resources were poured into relief operations, scant assistance was extended to DVI teams.

NBI Medico-Legal Division head Dr. Tierra likens it to the process for obtaining an NBI clearance: “When we estimate the need to hire five personnel per NBI Clearance Center and we only get two, due to various limitations, it seems unfair to expect us to be as efficient.” The lack of funding and equipment constrained DVI work, and he argues that they could have responded more effectively had there been more competent personnel to assist them.

Even the locals themselves apparently hampered DVI work, as there were communities resisting the establishment of collection centers in their localities. In some cases, the government even had to buy the land where the dead bodies were being laid out.


Cooperation: Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez talking to communities resisting the use of their land as temporary burial sites.

Another pressing concern: there appears to be only one public morgue in the country--Camp Crame in Quezon City. For now, most dead go directly to private morgues, which unduly disenfranchises the poor. Ideally, each LGU would have a public morgue to address their multiple needs.

A need for systemic revamp

In the face of ever-erratic weather patterns, it is critical that the country’s disaster management system cover all facets of relief and rehabilitation. Not even the dead should be left out.

“The problem with AO 18 is that it’s too generic,” says Dr. Feliciano of DOH. “There should instead be a national policy for the management of the dead and missing. This should not only have elaborate guidelines, but also indicate flexibility, depending on the disaster at hand. Accuracy and practicality should both be considered.”

In addition, Dr. Feliciano also proposes that the national policy should mandate a corps of professionals who will always be available for disaster response since, in large disasters like Yolanda, an entire region was affected and many local health officers were unable to respond.

“The national policy would also ensure a sufficient budget for a more systematic management of the dead and missing,” he added.

Legal initiatives

To date, several lawmakers have sought to address the need for a stronger DVI policy in the country.

In the fifteenth Congress, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III filed Senate Bill 3368, which sought to amend the Local Government Code and mandate all local health officers to undergo training in the identification of dead bodies during and after disasters. In early 2002, a Mandatory Autopsy Bill was also filed requiring all law enforcement agencies to conduct autopsies on persons who had died of “violent and questionable deaths.” These bills have yet to be passed into law.

Inadequacy of training

Until the University of Baguio had opened a forensic science program in 2012, there had been no educational institution in the Philippines offering a degree in Forensic Science. Dr. Fortun herself received training at the King County Medical Examiner’s Office in Washington.

Two bills in the current Congress—Senate bill 700 and House bill 1105—seek to address this by establishing a Forensic Science Institute in the University of the Philippines system. If established, this would be a milestone in our country’s disaster-ridden history.

In the long run, Dr. Fortun says, proper management of the dead can only be beneficial to the living. It is surely time for the government to widen the scope of its disaster preparedness, and conduct a systemic overhaul that takes these many complex issues into account. Rehabilitation should not end with helping the survivors; it must include the dead. — KBK/HS, GMA News

Assistant Secretary Lila Ramos Shahani is Head of Communications of the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cabinet Cluster, which covers 26 government agencies tasked with poverty and development. She was assisted on this piece by Ralph Angelo Ty, Eugene Tecson and Lawrence Joy dela Fuente. She would also like to thank the Department of Health for all the photos.

Puerto Galera party-goers told to take precautions against HIV/AIDS April 24, 2014 7:11pm 2794 155 0 3074

The Department of Health on Thursday reminded travelers heading to Puerto Galera to avoid unprotected sex and to take other precautions against Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS).

DOH regional director Eduardo Janairo said Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro has been identified as one of the areas in the country where HIV/AIDS is a major concern.

“HIV/AIDS still has no cure, and health officials can only provide information, diagnose and treat suspected patients. The best way is through safe practice of informed individuals,” Janairo said in a press statement.

Janairo made clear that HIV is not highly contagious and cannot be transmitted through coughing and sneezing or through mosquito bites.

HIV cannot be transmitted by talking to, shaking hands with, embracing, or sharing swimming pools with an HIV-positive person either.

Also, he said, HIV infection is preventable land the most effective ways to avoid it include:

Abstinence from sex Having only one sex partner Using condoms Avoiding sharing needles/syringes Educating oneself on HIV

In a news release, the DOH said Puerto Galera is listed as a Category C area, where there is higher risk of HIV spread.

"Among the known high-risk groups who are prone to infection of AIDS and the HIV that causes it are female sex workers (FSWs), males having sex with males (MSMs), injecting drug users (IDUs), and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)," DOH added.

However, the DOH added HIV exists in all body fluids of an HIV-positive person and is usually concentrated in the blood, semen, and vaginal fluids.

"It can be found in almost all body tissues and organs including the brain and spinal cord, in tears, saliva, and breast milk," it added.

HIV can be transmitted in four ways:

Sexual contact Sharing needles among injecting drug users Mother-to-child transmission Blood transfusion from an HIV-positive person

The DOH cited figures in February 2014 showing the Philippine HIV and AIDS Registry reported 486 new HIV-positive individuals confirmed by the Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)/AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory.

It said this was 43 percent higher compared to the same period last year with 339 cases.

Most cases were males between 18 and 63 years old. Most males found HIV positive were between 20 and 29 years old, the DOH said.

Reported modes of transmission were sexual contact (458 cases) and needle-sharing among injecting drug users (28 cases).

Men having sex with other men (MSM) is still the predominant mode of transmission, with 83 percent of cases contracting HIV that way. — Joel Locsin/JDS, GMA News

FROM THE MANILA TIMES

METRO MANILA’S MONSTROUS TRAFFIC JAMS April 26, 2014 11:24 pm
by By George Nava True 2nd

The lurking menace to health and economy


Manila traffic

We may all be aware of the health hazards of traffic jams to some extent, how air pollution brought about by hundreds of thousands of vehicles in gridlock at almost all intersections of Metro Manila streets during peak hours cause lung problems, in addition to kidney and heart troubles.

But very few would probably know the magnitude of economic losses the Philippines also suffers from the road bottlenecks that at certain hours of the day paralyze industries and social services.

Traffic jams have been wreaking havoc on the economy as well as people’s lives.

In 2011 alone, Metro Manila lost P137.5 billion to traffic congestion, according to the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS).

For the past 11 years, cumulative losses have reached P1.5 trillion, with fuel losses accounting for P4.2 billion. The NCTS traces the heavy losses to the delayed transport of goods and services.

The problem is expected to worsen, with experts predicting the Philippines will lose P6 billion a day in 2030 due to traffic jams.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said air pollution is killing millions worldwide, including those in developing countries like the Philippines.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said dirty air threatens the lives of 12 million residents.

By 2030, the number of local commuters would reach about 7.4 million a day, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a staggering figure that the country’s current transportation system cannot handle.

The MMDA had admitted that “major roads are no longer sufficient to accommodate the rapidly rising traffic volume.”

Compounding the problem are old traffic signals, bad roads and the absence of an efficient public transportation system.

But the biggest drawback appears to be the lack of discipline among drivers.

Corruption also plays a big role. Many motorists believe they can get away with traffic violations since traffic enforcers are easily bribed.

One solution proposed by Shizuo Iwata, JICA consultant, is to make good use of the railway system so it can accommodate 41 percent of passengers while public transport (jeeps and buses) and cars should carry 33 percent and 26 percent of passengers, respectively.

The MMDA is doing its share in decongesting traffic by moving bus terminals away from EDSA, going after illegal and unregistered vehicles, and pursuing infrastructure projects to make traveling more pleasant.

According to the MMDA, Metro Manila has a population of 12 million at night and 15 million during the day. Most of the people use the roads, but the effects of traffic congestion are clearly seen and felt along EDSA where over two million vehicles, including 12,000 buses, pass daily.

At peak hours, vehicular speed drops to five kilometers per hour. A small accident at a busy intersection can paralyze traffic for hours.

Immediate action is needed because Metro Manila’s last major road rehabilitation program occurred over 20 years ago.

Although a lot of improvements have been made since, these cannot cope with the growing number of malls and establishments that contribute to the clogging of EDSA.

The spillover effect of cars from congested roads to secondary roads and side streets also affects quiet neighborhoods and lowers real estate prices.

Invisible danger

But even more disturbing are the invisible effects of heavy traffic on the health and well-being of Filipinos.

Air pollution worsened because of the millions of vehicles on the road. Despite the government crackdown on smoke belchers and attempts to reduce the number of vehicles on the road, the MMDA said air pollution remains a big threat to Metro Manila residents.

The WHO defines air pollution as the contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by chemical, physical or biological means. Many cars pollute the air by spewing out ozone, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

Worldwide, dirty air killed seven million people in 2012. Deaths from outdoor air pollution are caused mainly by ischemic heart disease (40 percent); stroke (40 percent), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (11 percent), lung cancer (six percent), and acute lower respiratory infections (three percent).

In a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in October 2013, Michael Brauer of the School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, and his colleagues blamed traffic-related air pollution for the development of asthma in both children and adults.

The authors said that in Canada alone, more people die prematurely from air pollution than from traffic accidents. The problem affects about 10 million people or 32 percent of the population who live near highways or major roads where they are exposed to elevated levels of pollution.

In another study, Jonathan I. Levy, professor of environmental health in the Department of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health, looked at the economic costs of traffic congestion that is experienced not only in the United States but around the world.

Levy and his colleagues studied the effects of traffic congestion-related pollution in 83 cities and found that pollutants in motor vehicle emissions caused 4,000 premature deaths in 2000 and approximately $31 billion in health costs.

By 2020, they predict that there will be 1,600 premature deaths and $13 billion in total social costs due to the traffic problem. These numbers are expected to drop with the use of cleaner vehicles with lower emissions, but researchers said this is only a temporary effect.

Those figures are expected to rise to 1,900 premature deaths and $17 billion in costs in 2030.

From bad to worse

The Philippines is not the only country where heavy traffic is a big problem. In 2011, The Guardian reported that there were a billion cars on the planet. In 2010, 35 million new vehicles were sold worldwide. That translates to over 95,000 more cars being added to the planet daily.

Almost half of these new vehicles came from China that is considered the fastest growing market for vehicles.

While efforts to push fuel-efficient green cars with reduced emissions are being made to save the Earth, not too many of these vehicles have been sold. Take the Prius, which is considered the world’s most commercially successful hybrid car. In 2010, Toyota managed to sell only one unit in China where sports utility vehicle sales are increasing.

“Despite all the promises of green growth and reduced emissions, traditional car sales are accelerating, while efforts to shift towards ‘greener’ hybrid and electric vehicles are stuck in neutral, particularly in the place where it matters most,” The Guardian said.

Today, the situation has gone from bad to worse. In 2012, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said the country lost P2.4 billion a day due to traffic problems and it seems unlikely that things will improve in the near future.
Particle pollution

Most of the ill-effects associated with motor vehicle emissions come from particle pollution (also known as particulate matter or PM). PM is made up of solid particles or liquid droplets that float in the air. Large particles like dust, dirt or smoke are visible but the small ones can only be seen with an electron microscope.

“These particles come in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals. Some particles, known as primary particles, are emitted directly from a source, such as construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks or fires.

Others form in complicated reactions in the atmosphere of chemicals such as sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides that are emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles. These particles, known as secondary particles, make up most of the fine particle pollution,” according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Fine particles from cars are 30 times smaller than human hair. When these almost invisible particles enter the lungs through the nose or throat, they cause a host of health problems like premature deaths in people with heart or lung disease, heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, asthma, decreased lung function, and respiratory symptoms like coughing or difficulty breathing.

“People with heart or lung diseases, children and older adults are most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure.

However, even if you are healthy, you may experience temporary symptoms from exposure to elevated levels of particle pollution,” EPA said.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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