The sight of Davao from a classroom's window.

The sight of Davao from a classroom window.

Never in my history I have I worn medium-sized shirts. I wore one last Tuesday, a grey Terra Nova polo shirt. I gave up more than 70 pounds of my body weight to lifestyle change. They all ask me what secret pill it was. There is no pill, I would always say; only hard work and determination to sustain what took me a year to solve my weight problem. Hard work meant constant 1000-metre swimming laps at the pool every other day, 20-minute run every single day, and conscious resistance to high-calorie food. When the same questions are thrown again and again, I get irritated.

But I get where the magic pill question comes from. Filipinos like to think that way. Sometimes magic pills come in form of politicians who vow to people what their benefits are if they are thrust into power — even if they have no clear platform for the people. Just like herbal capsules. No therapeutic claims. Yet there are testimonies that claim they are effective. They’re so popular that an ordinary Filipino would tell you that these are the kinds of pills you would need for every health problem. Politics is not far from that. Campaign jingles carry an underlying message that we would need a charismatic politico to solve our problems.

We treat the Philippines like we’re writing a fable. I can remember one my cousins telling an anecdote of their helper why can’t Judy Ann Santos not look poor and gullible in Mara Clara when she can look rich in entertainment news. But it’s not like the amos do better than the katabangs. Many Filipinos can’t tell truth from fiction – and are not aware that they’re suffering from a sustained suspension of disbelief. Actors simply portray a fictional character; the roles that they portray have nothing to do with their real self. Apparently, we’ve expanded our appreciation of fiction. Our actors and actresses also portray real roles – in government. The thing with democracy is when people aren’t well informed — they make bad decisions. Ideally, education should solve that problem. First, I thought journalism would. After three years of doing journalism, I only learned one thing: few people read nowadays. So I moved to the academe to see what’s going on with the youth, whom according to one of our national heroes is the future of our nation.

An hour after my final class of the day began, a student nudged her nose on the window of the door, knocking. She was with a group who identified themselves as members of a political party. They came to campaign their candidates before my students. I acquiesced. The student introduced herself as the party’s campaign manager. She’s the right person for the job. She has got a modulated voice and handles it well. When you’ve been teaching for more than six hours, you would wish she’d tell you her secret how she hasn’t lost her voice yet – after hopping from one classroom to another to advertise their candidates.

Of course it was advertising. I’ve seen these student candidates package themselves in campaign materials: catchy acronyms that apparently contain their platform. Their delivery, like VJs introducing the next music video, entertains me – and disturbs me at the same time. While the stoic campaign manager began to introduce another candidate, a good-looking chinito man, the classroom was filled with euphoria. My students were shrieking while calling the guy’s name, it’s the same noise I hear in my English 13 class when I ask them why they keep on writing about Lee Min Ho.

“Sing!” yelled one of my students.

I had a knee-jerk reaction. I raised my hoarse voice, attempting to stop the circus. It sure sounded like one that night.

“Candidates are supposed to lay down their political platform – not sing,” I exclaimed.

I’m not sure what I said exactly. But it sounded like that. I apologised to the campaign manager. I tend to be paradoxically apologetic when I’m irate.

After that moment, I called for a 10-minute recess and went to my office to gasp a different air.

To avoid unnecessary tensions in various workplaces, I’ve chosen not to give a damn. But when problems repeat over and over again, I confront. My apathy doesn’t jive well with my nonconventional ideas, one of my students told me.

I’ve always thought school is where idealism is best practised. In one of their exams, I threw a question: is democracy a suitable development model in the Philippines? “Only when the Filipinos become well-educated,” was the recurring crux of their answers.

Ten minutes later, I delivered an unprepared sermon. Something was out of tune that night. My students perform well in almost any output a teacher could ask of them. Except in practice. And that, for me, is disappointing.

Ideally, democracy should work because people are given liberty to choose who they want in power. The problem is we don’t know what’s best for us because we’re misinformed. I thought it shouldn’t be the case among my students – because unlike them, they have all the potential to become educated.

Most of the time, we condemn the Philippines like it doesn’t belong to us. My students disparage it like its colonisers solely wrote it. They condemn the student government like that they not the ones who control its course.

“I’m sorry I had to say this.” My voice echoed the room. It was the longest silence I’ve heard from a class of  extroverts.

I became a teacher not because I was destined to. I became a journalist not because I had a natural affinity with writing. I embraced both professions because I’ve risen to the call of service. Many people my age, the brilliant ones, chose high-paying jobs over what they once wrote in their highschool yearbooks. I’m not a perfect teacher, nor a perfect journalist. The need to become a journalist and educator prompted me to be one. Some of the problems haunting the Philippines are caused by — us.

For the second time, I apologised.

“Don’t be,” said one of them.

“Kakak (kuya), when are you coming back?” Rubertu asked.

“I don’t know, ‘Po,” I told him. Popo is a term for a younger brother in the Sangirese, a language spoken by the Sangir tribe of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. The language is also spoken in Mindanao’s southernmost islands, Balut and Sarangani, where communities of the Sangir people live.

“It won’t be fun here anymore when you’re gone,” the 11-year-old Sangir kid sighed. I glanced at him studying how I flatten and roll my clothes so they all fit inside my bag.

For kids in Pakeluasu like Rubertu, a stranger arriving in their shores is a new friend. For the elders, the guest becomes the talk of the village of around thirty houses sitting close to each other. After all, sailing to this side of Balut is a deliberate endeavour, as it is reachable by first boarding on an 8-hour ferry ride from General Santos City to Mabias, the municipal capitol of Sarangani, Davao del Sur, and finally, a 30-minute pump-boat ride to Pakeluasu.

From Sangihe, a archipelagic regency in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, Pakeluasu is three to six hours away through a pump-boat ride, depending on the weather and current, says 31-year-old Alfrede Lahabir, a Sangir fisherman who sails across the Celebes Sea to trade kitchenware in Matutuang, Sangihe, at least once a month.

So paradoxically, the outsiders who visit Pakeluasu come all the way from North Sulawesi who intend to visit relatives living in the southern coasts of Balut Island. And this is why in Pakeluasu, a village of some thirty Sangir families can sustain their material and cultural ties with Indonesia. Many of the villagers here are fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, unlike other Indonesian households distributed across the other parts of Balut and Sarangani Islands.

The history of how the Sangir people arrived in the Philippines is not a popular narrative among Filipinos. And it was one of the reasons why my journalistic curiosity brought me here. Today, the Sangir people in Pakeluasu are third-generation sons and daughters of ancestors who braved the waters between Balut Island and Sangihe in what was then called the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia); while the Philippines – a Spanish colony. More than 6,000 people in Mindanao belong to this ethnic minority.

The Sangir people here are quite reserved but each household is a warm abode. “Minum kopi, pak (drink a coffee, sir),” is their accustomed way of inviting you inside their house.

It was my last day in Pakeluasu, south-western part of Balut Island after spending a week of interviews with the Sangir people in May this year. One week in this off-grid community meant disconnection from everything that needs wireless network service, not even radio frequencies. That’s how this island is detached from mainland Mindanao. When guests say their goodbyes, the ultimate question these Sangir people ask is “when are we going to see you again?”

(Published in M Magazine, November 2013. Editor’s Note: Mick Basa researched about the Indonesian Sangir people in the Philippines, beginning December 2012, as part of his fellowship programme at the Asian Center for Journalism.)

Whenever I’m invited to give a journalism lecture to students, my talk would begin with the account of my love affair with Atenews.

It all began in 2007.

That year, I was Communication/Sociology student who was recovering from being booted off from the Computer Science programme. In high school, I was conditioned by television advertisements of a computer school that a course in computer programming is the way to succeed. I accepted it dogmatically that I laid my ambition to become a lawyer to rest. It was ridiculous. Even advertisements meddle with the hopes and dreams of young people.

Shifting to a new course didn’t help me bring my ambition back, though. Transferring to the Mass Communication programme was more of an escape from the rigorous mathematical problems which students like Computer Science majors go through. Some of my block mates, though, chose MC as a preparatory course for law school. Some of them are doing well as law students. Some hopped from one school to another.

I, on the other hand, became a journalist.

Few days ago, I was again invited to talk on news reporting. The audience are students from the same university I attended six years ago. All are volunteering to publish periodically. New recruits occupied almost half of the function hall’s seating area. Some seemed to be very eager to learn something. Others — drifting away, thinking what could be that pleasant smell wafting from the kitchen.

The students are part of Atenews, Ateneo de Davao’s student-run newspaper. It’s the same campus organisation I belonged to in 2007. It’s the same club that introduced me to journalism, a skill I never thought I would be doing until this day.

So when I’m invited to talk about journalism, I would never fail to recount my two-year campus journalism experience with Atenews, a student news organisation that beautifully-trapped me into journalism. Forever.

Here’s one of the articles I’ve written for Atenews’ March 2009 magazine. The piece is called “Last Minute.”

——-

Atenews' March 2009 issue with then East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta on the cover. My shot, by the way. :)

Atenews’ March 2009 issue with then East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta on the cover. My shot, by the way. :)

Letter from the Editor
Last minute

By Mick Basa

News Editor

MY HUMBLE BEGINNINGS in Atenews started in an interview with Nisa Opalla, the Editor in Chief before Hyangelo & Sonny were put into seat. Nisa, now a good friend of mine, asked me during the interview what a campus publication is. Already a third year Mass Comm major that time – my answer was that a campus publication is a paper that runs for the benefit of the students’ right to information as enshrined by the Campus Journalism Act of 1991.  But after I was accepted as a staff writer and photojournalist, I began to realize that Atenews is more than just a campus paper.

I was then assigned to cover events. Still a neophyte at that time, the thrill and jitters of having to meet public figures and go to events served as increments to my journalistic barometer. I began to meet local and national media practitioners and had the opportunity to talk to them. But more often than not, my tasks were mostly to capture shots of activists at the freedom park that raged against rice crisis, oil price hikes, tuition fee increases and Ms. Arroyo.

That same year, we received criticisms coming from the students for having published stories condemning human rights violations, increasing poverty and some articles about activism and the dilapidated quality of Philippine education  to the point where we were asked whether Atenews was serving the general interest of the students or not.

But what should Atenews really be and what is the general interest of the students? UP Journalism Professor & Columnist Danny Arao tells us that the campus press is the voice of the students in particular and the youth in general. Should issues on education, poverty and human rights part of our concerns?

The following year I was assigned as the news editor. I had the advantage to work hand in hand with the other editors and had the prerogative of assigning reporters on what to cover. The experience in dealing with writers and reminding them of their deadlines and at times reprimanding them for negligence had grew in me an inch of maturity. The bond that had grown during my two-year stay in this publication proved to me that Atenews is more than a campus paper.

Thriving in this small office are young and admittedly inexperienced writers who have learned a lot from reality. They taught me a lot about the greater scheme of things, that when the system running the society persists to widen the gap between the rich and poor, it is just reasonable to criticize and protest the evils that this system has wrought on us.

Atenews is not just about writing news, capturing photos, and creating the lay out. It is where a league of young minds learn some of the most important issues that are inextricably intermingled with our lives. This campus paper of ours prevented me from turning a blind eye on the crucial events of our time.

We honestly admit however, that we do have some shortcomings. English teachers have used our papers as an improvised spot-the-grammatical-errors quiz causing much aggravation to me and my fellow editors. But whether the act was deliberately done to insult us or not is of no particular importance to us. We do not consider ourselves as experts on the English grammar although we recognize that we need some level of command of the language. Yet we cannot deny that we were dismayed by the disrespect shown to us. People must understand that we do not necessarily represent the best writers in the campus but only the ones who have risen up to the call of service.

But for us, at the end of the day, it is our passion in yielding our collective metaphorical pens to seek for and write the truth that counts the most – more than any public perception of our grammatical excellence or the lack of it. We choose not to be silent because silence is the prime spoiler of freedom.

As I conclude what may be my last piece, I have come to realize that, from the very first day I joined Atenews, I chose freedom.

Noy Narciso

Noy Narciso takes a deeper perspective in life by crafting stories and transforming brief moments into images and symbols. He calls this process “soul making.”

The soul maker says that through this, he is able to connect people, understand cultures and embody tolerance and peace.

“Soul making is about drawing out a certain experience of the person and transform this into an image either in a form of painting or a composition or a production,” he says.

And to become a soul maker, he says one does not need to be conscious as to how far one’s masterpieces go.

“My art making is considered soul making because it is not too conscious about the exhibit. It is not too conscious about the price. It is not too conscious about the form.”

Narciso teaches film, theatre and arts for the Humanities and Letters department of the Ateneo de Davao University. He was a member of the Committee on Visual Arts of the National Commission for Culture and Arts from 2004 to 2010.

A typical newspaper stand in the Philippines, with people barely taking a glance on what's news for today. (Mick Basa)

A typical newspaper stand in the Philippines, with people barely taking a glance on what’s news for today. (Mick Basa)

Down in Davao, a city in Southern Philippines, a class in a university pass the hat to acquire an Internet domain and web host package for their journalism project: an online news site.

Their project has never been done by previous batches of mass communication majors. The school’s idea was to prepare them into what journalism has turned into today. And the whole idea of migrating from traditional media projects like a newspaper is a reflection of what some mainstream journalists in the Philippines are doing.

Jefrey Tupas, then correspondent for the Philippine Daily Inquirer for more than a decade, is setting up an online news outfit NewsDesk which would be launched come February. He says it’s a realisation of a long-desired platform run by journalists and media workers themselves. Poor and delayed remuneration by big news organisations to provincial correspondents have been a long-standing issue.

“Most of us felt being in a network, funded by media capitalists, was limiting what we are and what we can supposed to do,” he lamented.

Their team is experimenting on what particular business model NewsDesk would operate and Tupas says “we still do not know how we will go through it.”

“We have started from scratch so we are banking on the help of friends. Some are philanthropic enough to help us. But everything came from our own pockets. We are exploring this idea where community will fund the coverage on a certain issue,” he says.

Looking for a lucrative business model is something Carmelito Francisco, editor of Mindanao Times, does not have to worry about, at least for now, as he believes the Philippine media print media industry has continued to thrive unlike what’s happening in Western countries where newspaper readership has dramatically declined.

“The community newspapers can still grow by concentrating on affairs of their host communities,” said Francisco.

With a circulation of 10,000 in Davao, the daily community newspaper competes with three other local dailies, Sun.Star Davao, Mindanao Daily Mirror and Edge Davao, which just recently began publishing from a weekly business newspaper into a daily community paper.

Like Mindanao Times, Sun.Star and EdgeDavao publish an e-copy of their newspaper online to remain relevant in the long time, says Francisco.

“There is no drastic change in so far as readership is considered. But there is already, although gradual, an interaction between the media and their readers (both print and online) and we must sustain this not only to continue attracting these readers but also because this will result in better bottom line,” he says.

But Francisco admits community newspapers have had a hard time as advertisers are shifting to online media.

“Many advertisers even turned to bloggers (many of them pretend to be legitimate journalists),” he said.

Times are changing, he says, and traditional media have to adapt so a newspaper with a developed, interactive website, can sell itself in a wholesale manner to advertisers.

“Remember that in all of media, newspapers have the credibility so with its updated website itself. Of course, many, if not all, newspapers rely on advertisement as not one has existed because of subscription,” he said.

Francisco says there has been no drastic change in readership, although figures have shown a decline in newspaper readership in the Philippines.

In 2006, Raymund Mercado, spokesperson for the Newspaper and Magazine Dealers Association in the Philippines, noted that readership in the Philippines decline by 10 percent a year, saying “fewer young people are buying papers and that older people are getting their news from the net or TV.”

This trend prompts many to jump into conclusions that Filipinos are not “readers” when it comes to news and information consumption.

But Philippine audiences have found Internet to be a better conduit as most of the content they can access online is free.

This is why more and more online news organisations in the Philippines have started to emerge. Last year, Maria Ressa, former senior vice-president of ABS-CBN News and Curent Affairs, left the Philippines’ biggest news network and started her own social news site Rappler.com, producing video newscasts and documentaries as well as the usual text and picture stories you see on online sites. But it does not run a TV channel or a radio station. She calls it convergence.

(Video courtesy of European Journalism Centre)

Because of this trend, newspaper sales have declined due to increased competition from television and Internet, says Francisco.

avg-hours-on-sn-sites-apr-11-ww

Meanwhile, the Philippines ranks fourth highest time spent per visitor on social networking sites in the world, with an average of 7.9 hours, only behind Israel (10.7), Russia (10.3) and Argentina (8.4). And news organisations here have utilised social networks to drive traffic to their online sites.

“Social media can be both a threat and support. The traditional media must and should use it to its advantage rather than fear it. Updating content through Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and the like can enhance the delivery of news,” he says.

“But one good thing about all of this will be compelled to enhance themselves so they cannot be left alone.”

In Myanmar, social media have been working well to the advantage of newsrooms.

Le Yi Myit, senior reporter of The Voice Weekly, one of the two weekly news journals suspended in July 2012 by Myanmar’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) for allegedly violating government regulations, says reporting about natural calamities have been efficient as their audience get the information fast through their Facebook page.

“Sometimes people need to know the information (such as earthquake and flooding) as fast as possible. That’s why we can’t be competitive by circulating on print alone,” says Myit.

And for one, engaging with audience through social media is still a challenge in Myanmar, with efforts to modernise the country’s telecommunications legislation in the works. Phones are also expensive (starting $285) and not to mention – slow Internet speeds.

So Myit believes people in Myanmar will continue to read newspapers as the traditional medium is an ideal conduit to discuss in-depth reportage, something Soung Oo Ko Ko, editor of YC Online News, agrees.

Myanmar’s private newspapers can only publish weekly journals. The government recently announced it would begin issuing licences to private-owned newspapers before they could publish their dailies this April.

Myit says newspaper readership in Myanmar will continue to thrive. Their journal, he says, publishes nearly 100,000 copies. He says the figures significantly climbed after the 2010 elections and the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“But now, there is another set of challenges for print media such as competition, talent, market and distribution for the coming daily newspapers,” says Myit.

Censorship in Myanmar loosened up when the government began reforming media regulations in August. So private newspapers like The Voice Weekly no longer have to go through the regulatory board before printing.

But Myit believes as long as there is a need for in-depth and critical journalism, “I don’t think print is going to die.”

“Social media will be able to upload short news immediately. But it cannot publish news analysis,” says Ko.

(A report by Mick Basa, Nay Aung Khine and Wendekhar / Asian Centre for Journalism)

BONGAO, Philippines – Never mind being stuck in an island where electricity and mobile phone network coverage is bleak. In Tawi-Tawi, disconnection from the normal routine is the only path to savour this place endowed with horizons of untouched white shores.

It’s the Philippines’ westernmost frontier and locals can spot first-timers in a breeze: visitors’ faces light up as they gaze at the beaches and the majestic Bongao peak, a sloping stretch of elevated land patched with trees that makes the provincial capital stand out from its two hundred other islands. In early mornings, low clouds cover the hill’s crest that resemble a flower horn cichlid’s forehead, best seen at the Sandbar resort, where facing against the Bongao peak is another breath-taking view of the white sand beach.

Literary named for its geographical isolation from any other places in the country, Tawi-Tawi comes from the Malay word “jauh” which means far. But its moniker no longer holds true today. Travelling to Bongao from Zamboanga City is now a 50-minute journey by air – although many of the locals opt to travel by boat that reaches the Chinese port overnight. Traders bring with them Malaysian noodles, canned goods, cereals and coffee from Zamboanga.

But perhaps its geographic isolation (cartographies ten years ago don’t have a detailed map of Tawi-Tawi) is what makes it exotic and deeply inviting among tourists aside from the ambition to have a picture taken with the sandbar in Panampangan at the background.

There aren’t too many tourists here, Salvacion Pescadera, the province’s tourism head, told us. “People fear Tawi-Tawi because it’s part of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.”

What negative notion, I asked. Every people we meet at the market and villages joyfully respond to the Islamic “as-salamu alaykum” greeting. The warm friendly reception is even felt more in mosques where devoutly religious Muslims, such as those at the Sheik Makhdum Mosque, spend most of their time reading the Quran. Islam was said to have first reached here in 1380, manifested by the mosque named after Sheik Karimul Makhdum that humbly stands before Bajau homes perched on stilts.

“Tourism officers in the province work hard to correct the negative notion,” she said.

Hard work must have been reaping rewards for the province. If there aren’t many tourists flocking Tawi-Tawi, then the fully booked Cebu Pacific I rode one Monday morning, which landed Sanga-Sanga airport, could have just been a dream.

Fresh catch at Bongao's wet market

Fresh catch at Bongao’s wet market

And the sight of exotic fresh catch displayed at the Bongao market was equally dream-like. It is amazing to witness how vendors and customers trade without those weighing scales which most people worry it’s helping sellers rip off buyers. Here, Lapu-Lapu is sold for P200 per dozen, Yellow Fin Tuna for P50 per five pieces and Sting Ray for P100 per piece.

Of course, only fools would look forward to seeing concrete jungles in Tawi-Tawi. This isn’t a place to search for man-made structures – except for the sacred Mosques that are marvellous to look at while the Islamic call to prayer fills the air. There are no malls but there are groceries and small trading centres downtown. But majority of the province’s trade happen at the port area where one could find food stalls, pawnshops and currency exchange stalls at every part of the streets.

It’s proximity to Sabah, the Malaysian Borneo, has influenced Tawi-Tawi’s culture. Here, you would find Bahasa Malaysia to be a useful language as many of its people speak it aside from the widely spoken Tausug and Sama.

Tourism in Tawi-Tawi is on its infancy stage, Salvacion tells us, as promoting this group of more than 200 islands to Filipino and foreign tourists are coupled with a laboured explanation that it is, indeed, safe to be here. But this place could be the Philippines’ next top tourist destination when it reaches at the ripe stage. Anyone going here will cherish being the tranquillity of the province, a gift to this place barely reached by many. The absence of urbanity is offset by the warmth of its people, eager to listen to tales of the tourists of how they have fell in love with their hometown at first sight.

For now, this westernmost Philippine frontier shall wait patiently for its influx of tourists whose ambition would be to tick an item off their bucket list.

(Published in M Magazine’s Dec. 2012 issue)

DAVAO CITY — Agdao Public Market is fringed with long queues every morning. These are not eager shoppers. They’re vendors waiting to get their daily ration of biodegradable plastic bags.

“It’s really hard, we have to adjust to the whims of the cellophane trader. They (traders) only gives us two packs for each of us,” said Josalle Linasam as she plucks the leaves of spinach she sells in her stall.

Linasam, 31, has been lining up everyday for the past two weeks for her 100 bags, ever since Davao banned non-recyclable plastic bags.

“So when sales are high, we would run out of plastic bags because it’s not easy to just buy more,” Linasam lamented.

Davao lawmakers passed the ban on non-recyclable plastic in 2009 but the city only started to enforce it this year. Anyone caught breaking the law pays a fine of P300 (US$7.16). 139 violators were punished two days after the ban was implemented, news reports here said.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) says the bulk of garbage in waterways, mostly plastics in 2011 reached 17,087 kilograms.

“And it’s exactly why this kind of plastic is prohibited. When disposed improperly, they clog the waterways and cause flooding when there’s torrential downpour,” said Jim Sampulna, DENR’s regional chief in Southern Mindanao.

Joseph Felizarta, Davao’s environment officer,pointed to another reason to ban nonbiodegradable plastic: to lessen the impact of climate change since it releases dioxin, a highly toxic compound.

“If nonbiodegradable plastics are also thrown into sanitary landfills, it produces methane gases,” Felizarta added.

But the bid to deal with climate change and pollution is also creating unintended consequences.

“Our expenses have increased and we are facing a deficit,” said Linasam.

At the Bankerohan market, a thirty-minute jeepney ride from Agdao Public Market, vendors echoed the same sentiment. Fruit vendor Cinderella Ronquillo, 62, says her profit “now goes to the (biodegradable) plastic.”

Two packs of 50 cellophane bags, says Ronquillo costs her P64 (US$1.51) a day. Two packs of nonbiodegradable plastic would only cost P40 (US$0.96). Now, the premium she pays is cutting into her average daily income of P780 (US$18.64).

Small traders talk about how they’ll make ends meet. Now they wonder whether the law is there to help the environment — or just to single out wet market vendors who struggle to put food on the table.

“We can’t do anything. We have to follow it or else we will have to pay fines,” said Linasam.
(Mick Basa/Asian Centre for Journalism)

At the heart of Manila lies, Quiapo, the old downtown. Home of the Quiapo church. And the place where some of the most unusual trades can be found. Fortune telling is one of them.

I met Vivian Alcares sitting before a table filled with decks of cards, patiently waiting for customers under an unforgiving midday sun. Telling fortunes to strangers for decades, she says it’s been her way to make help people.

“I’ve helped many people by interpreting the signs revealed by my cards,” she tells me.

And it’s not just about telling fortunes, she says. A day sitting at Plaza Miranda, rain or shine, business must go on — for it is by the number of customers that determines how much she would earn every single day. Her profit is what she spends for her family to survive.

But not all days are prosperous for the 63-year-old, she says. When there are no customers, there’s nothing to buy food, an irony among fortune tellers — for they themselves don’t know what tomorrow has in store for them.

(This piece is an assignment for my Multimedia Journalism class at the Asian Center for Journalism.)

Karlos shows the photo that went viral on Facebook

A journalist from Davao, Southern Philippines, is getting threats and hate messages after posting a photo of a half-naked man being forcefully driven away by security guard inside a cathedral.

Karlos Manlupig, a freelance photographer of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, says one of the blackmails he has received comes from an anonymous user who threatened to circulate posters of him with a message that reads “wanted gay terrorist and rebel.

The Facebook photo has gone viral, with more than 11,000 users sharing it as of press time. It first appeared Friday afternoon, a day where Christians, the majority population in the Philippines, commemorate the death of Jesus.

Elena Mabano turns an empty box of cigarettes into something Catholics may benefit. (Mick Basa)

Gently mounting each bead onto a pin until finally making a loop, Elena S. Mabano is reminded how she has endured life’s painful battles in every rosary she makes.

A devout Catholic, she calls herself, 57-year-old Mabano scours empty cigarette ream cartons, cutting them into long narrow pieces, with each strip rolled into a bead, an unusual material used to make a string of beads to keep count of a religious devotion.

“I don’t really tell them (customers) that it’s made from cigarette boxes because they don’t bother to ask what it’s made of,” she says.

Surviving cancer

Mabano, a cancer survivor, said her only intention of turning the cigarette boxes into rosary is rooted on her belief that not all things that end on garbage are waste.

Diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 2008, Mabano had to undergo surgery, only two years after she went under the knife to find treatment for her Lumbar Disk disease.

“Because of my positive outlook, I think I was healed. I went to healing crusades and asked God to be merciful to me,” the mother of seven children recalled.

Second life

Mabano, 57, is a cancer survivor and a devout Catholic. (Mick Basa)

Mabano says she wants her time spent just being thankful for the “second life” she has received after experiencing which she claims a near-death experience during her Lumbark Disk operation in 2006.

“It was a near death experience. I was standing before a view a mountain covered with forest while many people pass by me. I saw one of our neighbors who already passed away. My doctor said I was weeping when I was asleep in the recovery room,” she recalls.

“Now I see this as a mission because the Lord healed me. That’s why I am determined to continue what I started.”

Rubbish turned ‘weapon’

A box of a cigarette ream, she says, makes 10 rosaries. She varies the color of the beads by using different boxes of varying brands, all of which she collected since she started in 2009 from retail stores discarding the boxes like it could no longer be of use.

“Rosary is a weapon against evil,” she told this writer as she connected a crucifix into a chain of uncompleted rosary at her residence on the southern outskirts of Davao City, where she and some her neighbors have formed an all-women association focusing on handicrafts made of rubbish. Among their products, aside from rosaries, include hats, bags and bottle holders made of plastic bags used by grocery stores and malls.

Livelihood

Her group, the Toril Kalambuan Association, started last year and is a beneficiary of the local government’s program to develop women groups to create their own product and make them available in the market.

“We started making rosaries in 2009 but we did not have a market until 2011,” she said.

Their association is yet to pick up profit, she says. “Very few are interested to join crafting the rosaries because it is meticulous job and many want their money earned in an easier way.”

Helping others

But with a desire to help others not only in encouraging other women to join her association, Mabano said she also gives out rosaries to children every Flores de Mayo.

Asked if she had any bitter feeling towards God for the series of painful battles she has gone through despite her being a faithful Catholic, she says: “a faithful Catholic goes through many trials and problems. So that when God calls them, he knows how because he can relate how Jesus suffered on the cross. A life of a Christian is not a purely pleasurable life. There will be tough times.”

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