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Ike Señeres | Columnist


It is really ironic that the Philippines is supposedly the texting capital of the world, and yet we are not using our text messaging infrastructure to deliver public services to the broader masses of our people. No, I am neither talking about Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) nor mobile web messaging via the internet. I am talking about pure and simple Short Messaging Services (SMS) that everyone has in his or her mobile phone, no matter how old his or her unit is. I am talking about the pure and simple syntax based messaging service that by the way reminds me of the old alphanumeric syntax of the old mainframe computers. This is the same SMS that runs on the pure and simple Global System for Mobile (GSM) communications and does not even need the more advanced General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) or third generation (3G) connectivity.


It is also ironic that the Philippines is also practically the call center capital of the world, and yet we are also not using our call center infrastructure to deliver public services. If only we could use this infrastructure to provide access to public services, anyone would be able to make a call to request for assistance, using even the very old Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) units that we now refer to as the landlines. Since the newer mobile phones already have newer Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) features that could call up POTS units, we had to come up with the term “wireless landlines”, a term that is actually an oxymoron. Never mind POTS or VOIP, because anyone with a mobile phone could now make a call anytime to any call center, using either GSM, GPRS, 3G or the relatively newer Long Term Evolution (LTE) connectivity.


As I talk about “online delivery”, I have to make it clear that this term is practically synonymous to “online access”, and the difference between the two is simply just a matter of perspective. “Delivery” in this case is actually just a figure of speech, because it does not always happen that physical objects are actually delivered. The more applicable term is really “fulfilment”, meaning that the servicing needs of the customer are fulfilled, as in completed or satisfied. In the private sector, this delivery framework is governed by Customer Relations Management (CRM) software, a set of applications that are usually installed as seamless components of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, a bigger set of applications so speak.


Generally speaking, the term “online” would usually refer to having access to the internet, and nothing else. For purposes of this discussion, I will take some poetic license so that it could also refer to having access from the lower end of the connectivity options, such as SMS and POTS. Given the fact that almost everyone how has a mobile phone; we could now say that under this broader definition, anyone could now access public services. There is a saying that in New Zealand, there are more sheep than people. Here in the Philippines, we could say that there are more phones than people. Counting also the public payphones, we could really say in theory that anyone could potentially access any public service anytime from anywhere.


Public services such as Justice, Education, Wellness, Employment, Livelihood and Safety could easily be delivered or accessed using SMS, POTS and via other mobile and internet means such as mobile apps and web browsers. I am proposing JEWELS as an acronym for this set of services. One way or the other, physical or practical outcomes of these services could be fulfilled, to the satisfaction of customers. Although these services should be directed towards our own citizens as a matter of priority, it is in our best interest to open these whenever possible to non-citizens who are here in our country as temporary or permanent residents, and even to visitors or tourists if and when necessary.


Can you imagine what would happen if anyone could access any of the JEWELS services at any time using any available means that is available to him or her? I think that this is a workable idea, but we have to make sure that we could support it with the manpower that will be at the backend of this system. For example, the Public Attorneys’ Office (PAO) may not have enough lawyers who could respond to calls, texts, emails or posts from the public. In other words, there may be a need to call for volunteer lawyers perhaps with the help of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP). Tapping volunteer doctors perhaps from the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), the Department of Health (DOH) would be able to respond to the public also for wellness (health) related concerns.


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Filipino IT developers converge at annual hackathon

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With the aim of tell the world that we can adapt to new technologies as it happen and be able to use those in developing cutting edge apps, the best minds in IT development and software programming converge in the latest DevCup 2014 last August 16  – 17, 2014 at Meralco Multi-Purpose Hall in Ortigas, Pasig City.


Organized by WebGeek Philippines – the annual hackathon and gathering of developers, technologists, futurists and creatives working together to build great apps and pulling together the right talent to build them. Developers are encouraged to build a web app, mobile app or any software platform, either by yourself or with a team and win awesome prizes.


Out of the 62 teams battling out to create the best apps and with no less than 48 successful apps at the end of the 2-day hackathon, the competition became a battle of skills and creativity amongst teams in coming up with an application that embodies this year’s theme, “insight”. (demo), who takes home the coveted title, was developed by Adrian Peterson Co, Zyrexson Martinez, and Rose Anne Concepcion using Ruby on Rails.


Second place went to Team Xolve – Beta for Bizight, bringing big data analysis to small businesses. Team Ghost Pro is on third place with Unearth.js, a tool that helps in logging and stack tracking of variables and values in a JavaScript/Node.js application. Jury Prize award goes to Team Xolve-Alpha for Cheers, a website that uses semantic analysis to determine the mood of friends on social networking sites.


This year’s esteemed panel of judges include Focus Global CTO Ms. Stephanie Sy of AngelHack Singapore, 2013 winner (Shoot N Sell) Ms. Michie Ang, Infoshift Inc. CTO Mr. Jesse Panganiban, Novare Technologies Senior Vice President for Technology Consulting Mr. William Yu, and Aelogica Senior Developer Mr. Ramon Tayag.


Winning applications were judged based on the quality of software development (50%), user interface/user experience (15%), ingenuity (20%), and usefulness (15%).


A gathering of developers, technologists, futurists and creatives, WebGeek Developers Cup 2014 was organized by WebGeek Founder John Arce, Co-Founder Michael Marin, and Mozilla WebFWD Scout Alvin Edwald Chan. The event was made possible by Smart Devnet, Ideaspace, Meralco, Devcon, Atlassian, Github, Mozilla Firefox, Codeschool, Jump Digital, e27, Techview, TechinAsia and Kabayan Tech.  


PH Consulate General in Toronto Strengthens Economic Diplomacy

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THE Philippine Consulate General in Toronto actively pursued its economic diplomacy program as it welcomed a visiting delegation of Filipino businessmen from the Canadian Chamber (CANCHAM) of Commerce in the Philippines August 16.

Highlight of the visit was a multi-cultural and trade exhibit, “Filipinas Expo 2014” which was held in downtown Toronto’s Metro Convention Center.

Philippine Consul General Junever M. Mahilum-West informed the delegates of the growing relations between the Philippines and Canada in terms of people-to-people contacts, tourism and official exchanges in her welcoming remarks that kick-started CANCHAM’s week-long mission in Canada.

Mahilum-West said visits of trade missions such as CANCHAM’s offer valuable opportunities to grow trade and investment relations between the Philippines and Canada, for the mutual benefits of both countries.

Senator Tobias “Jun” Enverga, a keynote speaker, noted the huge potential in Canada-Philippines bilateral ties and called on the members of the trade delegation to generate more exchanges by making the unfamiliar Philippine market more familiar to Canadian business.

CANCHAM’s visit in Toronto which will also include the cities of Ottawa, Montreal and Guelph aims to bring together and explore ways to further expand business, trade and investment in both Canada and the Philippines. Its first outbound mission to Canada includes business interests in agri-food business packaging/labeling/manufacturing, education and training, real estate and construction, immigration consultancy, travel and tourism.

Meanwhile, FILIPINAS EXPO 2014 saw the participation of more than a hundred exhibitors from Toronto’s multicultural groups which largely featured Philippine goods and services, food products, crafts and cuisine.

For its part, the Consulate General in Toronto used the occasion to disseminate information about its consular services that include overseas voters registration, during which occasion applications from eligible “walk-in” registrants were actively undertaken,  and dual citizenship as well as its “save the date” campaign on  “Winter Escapade”.

DA: Corn is 2015’s ‘champion crop’

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Andrea Lim | Reporter

Corn, it appears, is next year’s ‘champion crop’, largely made feasible because of the government’s farm mechanization and seed banking initiatives.

Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso Alcala said that the Philippines is already on the threshold of corn self-sufficiency, and it is a big boost that corn can now be harvested the whole year round because of modern post-harvest facilities.

Alcala said that farmers were able to harvest corn the whole year because of the corn-in-a-cob dryer provided by the government.

Seed banks were established for the first time therefore providing replacement seeds ready to be planted in any case inclement weather hit the country.

Alcala added that there are reserved seeds in every province all over the country.

The DA also said that local corn production reached self-sufficiency last year based on market demand.

According to the DA, while the Philippines has met the self-sufficiency levels for corn of the local feed and livestock industry, the real test for self-sufficiency also requires a one month buffer stock, which is a small margin “we hope to achieve very soon.”

Corn production has grown from 3.4MT/hectare to 4.2MT/hectare in the past few years mainly due to more high-yielding seeds and new technology.

The Philippines managed to save more than P60 billion on corn imports from 2010 to 2013, whereas the Philippines used to import P28 billion worth of corn every year.

PH agriculture grew in first half of 2014

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Andrea Lim | Reporter


The Department of Agriculture (DA) announced that the country’s agriculture industry is on its way to a sustained recovery after last year’s series of calamities as it claimed an 11.26% growth in terms of value and a 1.81% growth in terms of volume for the first half of 2014.


The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said that the farming and fishing industry grossed P776.5 billion at current prices, as compared to P697.9 billion posted a year ago, adding that prices received by farmers and fishers went up by an average of 9.28%.


Produce Recovery

Rice, corn and sugarcane recovered from last year’s slump, boosting overall value of crops by 18.31% in terms of value, and 3.36% in terms of volume. Crops account for half of the total agricultural production.


The DA said that rice harvests reached 8.38 metric tons, 4.78% higher than last year’s 7.99 million metric tons.


The growth was due to the increase in the harvest area and yield in the Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and Socskargen.


The PSA also noted the presence of better irrigation services along with higher prices of rich which encouraged farmers to plant more, particularly in Ilocos and Central Luzon.


Likewise, corn productivity grew by 4.7%, from 3.32 million tons to 3.48 million tons, with increases recorded in Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and Soccskargen. Value of corn harvests climbed to 9.17%, from P41.3 billion in January to June last year to P45.1 billion this 2014.


PSA said that corn farmers were able to recover from the 4.2% decline in their output in the same period last year, adding that more farmers were encouraged to plant due to high farmgate price as well as the DA’s implementation of early cropping for growers affected by weather disturbances that made available production assistance such as seeds and affordable loan packages.


Meanwhile, sugarcane production grew by 5.11% from 14.7 million tons in the first half of 2013 to 15.46 million tons for the same period this year, brought about by area expansion in Kalinga in the Cordilleras, Capiz and Cebu in the Visayas, and Sultan Kudarat in southwestern Mindanao.


Other crops which also improved output include mango (9.97%), cassava (10.04%), tomato (4.39%), cabbage (1.41%) and eggplant (1.94%).


On the other hand, coconut production is still declining as the industry struggles to recover from the onslaught of scale insect infestation in Quezon, Batangas, Laguna and Cavite, and from the damage inflicted by typhoon Glenda on plantations in Eastern and Western Visayas.


However, the coconut industry still grew in terms of value by 42.65% (that is, P50.3 billion) due to higher prices.


The animal industry, composed of the livestock and poultry subsectors, likewise posted production growth, increasing by 0.94% and 0.73% respectively.


Livestock, boosted by the improved production of dairy and hog (3.23% and 1.02% respectively), grossed P118.9 billion at current prices. This is 6.33% bigger than the previous year’s value of P111.84 billion.


At the same time, poultry expanded due to increases in chicken (2.24%) and duck (.50%) production.


In contrast, output in the fisheries sector declined by almost 2% due to lower harvests of milkfish (-2.2%), roundscad (-1.36%), yellowfin tuna (-0.24%) and seaweed (-4.12%) due to devastation brought about by Typhoon Yolanda.


The typhoon hit key food-producing areas in the Eastern and Western Visayas in November last year, destroying numerous fish farms and fishing boats, which prevented thousands of fisherfolk to venture out to seas.


Resurgence Initiatives

Rehabilitation efforts by the DA have since started, involving the distribution of sturdier fishing boats, as well as high-quality replacement seeds for rice and corn farmers, and restocking of animal and fish stocks with better health support as part of the government’s build-back better strategy.


Alcala said during the DA’s budget presentation before the House committee that the department proposed P51.7 billion budget for 2015 will be spent to carry out initiatives that are meant to sustain gains in staple food production and enhancing competitiveness of the Filipino agro-fishery products in the global arena.


Alcala explained that the financial programming for 2015 will focus on providing postharvest facilities and machineries such as rice threshers, combine harvesters and transplanters to help lower losses and production costs.


“These initiatives would enhance further the competitiveness of Filipino agri-fishery products for the benefit food producers and entrepreneurs, notably the smallholders,” he said.

EBOLA PANDEMIC: Are we prepared?

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Andrea Lim | Reporter


The Philippines faces another pandemic threat – the Ebola virus, and the challenge is brought about by the Department of Health’s small budget and the few number of isolation rooms prepared in case it enters the country.


“The number of isolation rooms that were prepared to handle cases of Ebola virus in the Philippines might not be adequate [in case it enters the Philippines],” said Undersecretary Janette Garin.


“Being ready for the Ebola virus is such a strong word – although we have experts  who can deal with the Ebola problem, including facilities in different parts of the country where we can bring patients afflicted by Ebola virus,” admitted DOH program manager Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy.


Lee Suy said that the DOH allocated P50 million for the disease program. The allocation is small, but Congress said that they have agreed to increase the budget ahead of the possible entry of the Ebola virus in the Philippines.


According to Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases head Ludovico Jurao, travel bans have been issued due to the very real threat of the Ebola virus.


The Department of Foreign Affairs has restricted travel to affected West African countries.


Meanwhile, Akbayan Partylist Walden Bello says that preparedness is being monitored.


“We have to be alarmist in responding to this health problem because we have OFWs in West Africa where the virus has claimed lives.”


On a more positive note, Health Secretary Enrique Ona says that the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine as well as other government hospitals nationwide are equipped to undertake laboratory tests.


Ebola watch

The DOH has required all local and foreign travelers entering the country to fill up a health and itinerary checklist, Ona said, adding that all air and seaports have been equipped with thermal scanners to detect the temperature of arriving passengers.


The Department of Labor and Employment likewise called on OFWs in West Africa to return to the Philippines to avoid being affected by the outbreak of the Ebola virus.


Local government units are also being mobilized as the first line of defense in preventing the entry and spread of Ebola in the Philippines.


“What we wanted is to make sure that Ebola doesn’t make it to the Philippines. Globally, the problem is there. We are at a stage of preventing the entry, which is a tough task. It may not be feasible but we’re working to contain it,” Lee Suy said.


While the Bureau of Immigration can intercept people showing signs and symptoms of Ebola like fever through thermal scanners at airports, the DOH cannot hold or isolate them unless they agree to cooperate.


Bats monitored

Lee Suy said that local governments should dedicate health personnel to handle suspected Ebola cases, adding that communities can also help by reporting neighbors coming home from Ebola-affected countries.


According to Lee Suy, bats are also being monitored as carriers of the virus.


The Philippines remains vulnerable because of the impact of free international travel and the presence of thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the three West Africa countries where the outbreak has already claimed 1,000 lives.


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John Paolo J. Bencito | Reporter


The Philippines is indeed blessed with its highly-diverse portfolio of flora and fauna that dots its prospered shores. However, the survival and ultimate demise of many treasured creatures, like the Philippine Pangolin or ‘Balintong’, an endemic anteater native to Palawan – depend on how well the government is responsive to address the long-standing issue.


Like anywhere in the world, illegal wildlife trade here in the Philippines and in ASEAN is a well-oiled machinery, similar to the illegal drug trade. It is difficult to stop completely, but at we should initiate moves from our group and make a difference.


Just last year, a Chinese boat that crashed into a protected coral reef in the Philippines was hiding the remains of a second environmental disaster in its hold: thousands of illegally killed pangolins, a scaly anteater prized for its meat and scales in China.


The vessel hit an atoll on 8 April 2013 at the Tubbataha national marine park, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage site on Palawan that was also struck by a US minesweeper in January that same year. Philippine Coast Guard Spokesman Armand Balilo said that about 400 boxes, totalling over 10 tonnes of frozen pangolins, were discovered during a second inspection of the boat later that week.


The Philippines and the ASEAN region has long been targeted by illegal wildlife traders as a hotspot in the lucrative, multibillion dollar global trade of wildlife, in which both live and processed goods of most species are traded, ranging from eagles and elephants to rare orchids and indigenous medicinal herbs, from raremarine species to endemic reptiles and songbirds.


According to Rolando A. Inciong of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, the illegal trade has esoteric economic implications for the region, involving broad and complex networks of sourcing and marketing. It engages a diverse range of actors including rural harvesters, professional hunters, and an array of traders from wholesalers to retailers, up to the final consumers.


While all ASEAN Member States are signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered

Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the poaching, trafficking and illegal consumption of wildlife parts and products remain rampant. The scale of illegal wildlife trade is alarming. Due to the illicit nature of the trade, it has been hard to obtain exact figures, but experts estimate the value of illegal wildlife trade at USD10 to 20 billion annually.


“The pangolin is the most heavily traded exotic mammal.”The ASEAN- Wildlife Enforcement Network (WEN)cites that“If trends continue, scientists predict that 13 to 42 per cent of the region’sanimal and plant species could be wiped out this century. At least half of those losses would representglobal extinctions.” That number include pangolins.


The World Bank highlighted the devastating effects that the illegal trade and exploitation of wild animals and plants are having on Southeast Asia’s biodiversity. “There has been a drastic decline in the Malayan Pangolin (Manisculionensis) which is endemic to Palawan province wherein the said species is known to be illegally traded as evident from the records of the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (PWRCC), Provincial and City Prosecutor’s Office, Legal Services of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD); and, as reported by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).”


This collection pressure, along with the destruction of natural habitat/forest is the principal factor affecting species’ survival in the wild. The Philippine government has national and local legislations/policies being enforced addressing the above-said issue. In the national scale, Republic Act 9147 (RA 9147), otherwise known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, has become the general guiding policy for the conservation, protection and sustainable management of wildlife resources including the Malayan Pangolin.


However, even if the legislations, policies and initiatives of the Palawan Provincial Government and the National Gov’t were to be put onto place, the protection and conservation of wildlife resources, illegal trading on wildlife still goes on. Thus all factors affecting the situation, especially on Malayan Pangolin, were identified and corresponding remedies and solutions were recommended.


Relevant Philippine legislations on the protection and conservation of wildlife resources; by reviewing the implementation of RA 9147 and PCSDS’ initiatives and programs; and, analyzing the records from the enforcement and agencies concerned are all lacking grip, just like the toothless Palawan Pangolin.


In the proceedings of the ‘Workshop on Trade and Conservation of Pangolins Native to South and Southeast Asia’ in 2008, policy studies on Pangolin trade pointed that 1) there are no financial allocation given by the government on the protection of Pangolins in the wild; 2) there is weak or dysfunctionalmanner in the enforcement of the already weak laws; 3) insufficient technical capability by implementing agencies; and, 4) population in the wild unknown.


Despite thebanning of pangolin trade since 2002, the appetite of Chinese consumers for its meat, prized as a delicacy, and its scales, believed to benefit breast-feeding mothers, has virtually wiped out the poor creatures in China, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.


Chris Shepherd, an expert at wildlife trade group Traffic based in Malaysia, told the Guardian: “There is no way a slow-breeding species like the pangolin can withstand this huge pressure for long.” He said the enforcement of laws had not kept pace with demand for the pangolin meat and scales, which can fetch hundreds of dollars per kilogram in China: “We have seen a really obscene amount of seizures but very few people are arrested and even fewer convicted.”


The 12 Chinese crewmen from the wrecked vessel are being held on charges of poaching and attempted bribery, said AdelinaVillena, Tubbataha Reef Wildlife Park legal counsel, and face further charges, including damaging coral reef and possessing pangolin meat. Tubbataha reef is a marine sanctuary and popular diving destination 640km south-west of Manila and had already been damaged by a US navy ship that got stuck in January and had to be dismantled.


The Philippine military quoted the poachers as saying they accidentally wandered into Philippine waters from Malaysia. The Chinese poachers face up to 12 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $300,000 (£196,000) for the poaching charge alone. For possessing pangolin meat, they can be imprisoned up to six years and fined, Villena said.


The Philippine pangolin haul is one of the largest on record. In 2010, 7.8 tons of frozen pangolin and 1.8 tons of scales were seized from a fishing vessel by customs officers in Guangdong, China, while a series of customs seizures in Vietnam in 2008 yielded 23 tons of frozen pangolins in a week.


The International Union of Conservation of Nature said rising demand for pangolins, mostly from mainland China, and lax laws are wiping out the unique toothless anteaters from their forest habitat in Southeast Asia.


The animals are protected by laws in many Asian nations, and an international ban on their trade has been in effect since 2002. But these measures have had little impact on the illicit trade, the IUCN said.


As for the case of the twelve Chinese poachers, will justice be served?