In this garage-based school, 'bulilits' are 'iskolars'

In this garage-based school, 'bulilits' are 'iskolars'
By Walter Ang
October 17, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Having grown up along the railroad tracks of Muntinlupa, Danidon Nolasco knows how difficult life can be for children who have to grow up in low economic conditions. To help out, Don has been providing free pre-school education to children of Bgy. Buli for the past eight years.

Don's project is called "Bulilit Iskolar" (Little Scholar). "It concentrates on the fundamentals of learning, like how to read and count, arts and crafts, and, most importantly, social interaction," he says. "The program prepares them for elementary education. There is also a feeding program. A nourished mental faculty is better for absorption of learning."

The thing is, Don isn't a teacher. He took up computer science in Adamson University and joined the banking industry during the big Millennium Bug scare. The idea for Bulilit Iskolar was actually from a former partymate when Don ran for Barangay Kagawad in 2002. Don won, the partymate didn't. Nonetheless, Don decided to push through with the project.

While the project is subsidized in part by barangay funding, Don shoulders the allowance of the volunteer teacher and other expenses. Just like a regular school, classes are held Mondays to Fridays. Instead of a school building though, students learn in Don's family's converted garage.

"In the mornings, I make sure the scholars are doing well before I go to work," he says. "We have 60 kids this school year. We had our largest batch last year with 80 students. The garage isn't very big, so there is a morning class and an afternoon class." Since there is only one teacher, some of the students' parents volunteer their assistance as well.

The project has become popular and now accepts children from nearby barangays like Bgy. Cupang and Bgy. Sucat. Even though Don is on his second term as Kagawad, he wants to ensure that Bulilit Iskolar remains apolitical. "I want the scholars to say that they are the product of the project, and not of any politicians," he says.

The students of the project usually proceed to public schools for their elementary education. "The difference is that they are better-equipped than other students. They receive good remarks from their principals because most of the Bulilit Iskolars excel in their classes. I'm proud to say that we have already `graduated' around 500 students from the program," he says. "Some `alumni,' like John Josehwi Felipe and Jean Laurente, who are already in the fifth grade, are consistent honor students in Buli Elementary School."

Don's penchant for volunteerism started even before he joined public office. He was president of Akbayan Radio Communication Group, an organization that conducts youth leadership training, rescue operations, and distribution of relief goods. "We received a Hall of Fame award for being one of the Three Outstanding Youth Organizations in Muntinlupa," he says.

Don's interest in education may have stemmed from the fact that both his parents were part-time college teachers in Saint Rita College, Paranaque during the 80s and 90s. They are retired now and run a small store selling, what else, school supplies, while helping out with Bulilit Iskolar by shouldering the power bills.

Don's enthusiasm for helping children become better educated is apparently infectious. "Members of the Christus Boys Choir of San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish and Akbayan Radio Communication Group assisted us in constructing the classroom. College student volunteers from different schools like AMA Computer Leanring Center-Alabang conduct feeding programs and community services," he says.

But it's not just big groups that help out. His friends do what they can in their individual capacities. His colleagues from the banking industry usually donate materials while his friend Julie Garcia helps out with solicitations. "Not just for money, but also for school materials like books, notebooks, coloring books, pencils, and crayons," she says. "People who help Don with Bulilit Iskolar don't get anything in return materially, but we get a lot of self-fulfillment because it helps us feed our passion for helping others."

"Education is a primary concern of society. Education builds character," Don says. He plans to formally register Bulilit Iskolar as a non-governmental organization. "So it will cater to a broader scope of indigent children not just in our barangay but elsewhere, too. We want to conduct leadership programs for the youth and instill in them the value of learning, so they can realize how they can contribute to society."

To donate or volunteer, email or call 215-9167.

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Finalist, 2010 Lasallian Scholarum Awards, Feature story on Youth and Education Category

Five Philippine Daily Inquirer stories ... were included in the list of the top 10 finalists story in the Lasallian Scholarum Awards contest sponsored by De La Salle University ... 

"In This Garage-based School, 'Bulilits' are 'Iskolars'" by Walter Ang, an Inquirer Lifestyle contributor.

The ... Scholarum Awards recognizes outstanding media coverage of Filipino youth and education issues by print, photo, broadcast, and campus journalists.

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Boom, Zoom, Pow, Art (The new Filipino art scene)

Boom, Zoom, Pow, Art (The new Filipino art scene)
By Walter Ang
Oct. 12, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Kiri Dalena, Mark Salvatus, Dina Gadia, Buen Calubayan,
Farley del Rosario and Lindslee, with curator Jay Pacena. 
The Filipino art scene is in the midst of a renaissance. Last year, Filipino artists set record highs in auctions abroad. Local galleries have been expanding and multiplying. This year saw the first-ever Manila Art Fair.

As part of this explosion, the Nokia and Inquirer Lifestyle Series will hold an exhibit of the country's "10 Most Exciting Young Artists" on October 28 at The Gallery of Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati.

The exhibit's curator, multimedia artist Jaime "Jay" Pacena II, says there is growing awareness of Filipino art and artists by collectors, and also awareness by the artists themselves of where their art is going.

"Filipino art is beginning to be recognized locally and internationally," he says. This is due in part to the unique forms and content that set apart Filipinos from other Asian artists.

Pacena notes that Filipino artists are open to new forms available to today's generation.

"Multimedia is part of this one big play now. Artists today explore different mediums, they don't use traditional forms. They break, reconstruct or go beyond the form. They explore different techniques and have new output," he says.

Award-winning artist Guillermo "Ige" Ramos, Cocoon magazine art director, concurs: "In the last five years, there's been a surge of creativity among young artists. Aside from using paint and canvas to express their ideas, they employ a gamut of other materials. Digital art and photography has opened new avenues. Film is dead, and the gazillion-gigabyte memory chip, which can store a multitude of images and sound bites, replaces it. Web design, animation, mangga, animé and flash animation are all evolving every second."

More critical, sensitive
As for subject matter, Pacena says: "Young artists today are more critical and more sensitive in choosing what and what not to show. More artists are now making statements. They have something to say and they want to be heard, whether about personal struggles, sacrifices, fantasies or personal ideologies, or with more general concerns like talking about the people, the institutions, the agencies, the government, the system, religion, or the absence of being."

"Content and substance is still king," Ramos declares. "Art can communicate and refuse to communicate. More complex themes are explored. There are no longer right or wrong answers, black and white opinions. The `moral/immoral' dichotomy is replaced by moral ambiguity. There are artists who make art for art's sake."

Continuing evolution
Pacena credits the continuing evolution of Filipino art, in part, to the openness of established artists in collaborating with up-and-coming artists.

"Some senior members of the art scene exchange ideas, methods and even process with the young ones. At the same time, young artists ask and question certain ideas," he says.

Schools, Pacena points out, also play a role.

"The development of the Filipino artist starts within the school. Institutions today give big importance to being at par with other schools outside our country. A lot of young artists today are also part of the faculty, honing new aspiring artists," he says.

Ramos says galleries and art spaces are also key in the art boom.

"Alternative art spaces are growing, away from shopping malls and back to the suburbs. Former warehouses and ancestral homes are now the preferred spaces," he says. "For example, Cubao Expo, a former cluster of shoe stores, is now abuzz with art spaces like galleries, performance spaces, screening rooms, coffee shops with open-mic poetry readings and musical jamming."

Impact and demand
"Young artists are in demand," internationally known sculptor Ramon Orlina said in Inquirer Lifestyle's 2008 yearend art forum. "There's a market for Philippine art in Hong Kong, Singapore and Asia in general. Now auction houses are looking for young artists because buyers are also very young."

(Orlina, along with Ramos, has been tapped to choose the "exciting young artists" who will join the Nokia-Inquirer exhibit.)

Pacena says: "Some of the artists who are really exciting with their form and content, old and new, are José Tence Ruiz, Karen Ocampo Flores, Noel Soler Cuizon, Norberto `PeeWee' Roldan, Ronald Ventura, Alfredo Esquillo, Tad Ermitaño, Wesley Valenzuela, Kawayan de Guia, Kiri Dalena, Buen Calubayan, Iggy Fernandez, Mark Salvatus, Lyra Garcellano, Leeroy New, Allan Balisi and Goldie Poblador.

"Their works are charged. They treat the viewer as intellectual people who will think and will savor the experience of looking, touching or even smelling and hearing their art. They are varied in their chosen subject matters, pero may pinaghuhugutan sila. You definitely see it in their works."

Voice and vision
"Before wars or revolutions happen, it appears as a prophecy in art," Ramos says. "Look at what young people are communicating now ? anarchy. All of these creative excursions and experiments have one thing in common: They are trying to find a voice and a vision that is unique and independent.

"Bucolic and social-realist themes persist to this day due to painting competitions sponsored by telephone-book companies and banks as part of their corporate social-responsibility agenda. These paintings end up as covers for phonebooks and annual reports. Nonetheless, these themes can be amplified by using new media and materials.

"Corporate entities should understand that the return on investment in art sponsorship is not measured by financial gain, but how their support of the arts elevates the spirit, culture and the taste of their audiences. If it's a major multinational company, it must adhere to its vision of innovation and multi- and transculturalism. That art should be brave and able to cross cultural boundaries. It should be innovative, provocative and stunning."

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Pop goes my art, Gallery 7 Digital Studios makes inkjet prints

Pop goes my art
By Walter Ang
Oct. 10, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Andy Warhol (Andy who? Google him.) believed that art is for everyone. In this vein, Gallery 7 Digital Studios has been quietly churning out personalized art services that can transform people's photos or personal artworks (digital or otherwise) into decorative wall art for homes or offices.

Owned and managed by husband-and-wife team Enrico and Bing Gaw, the most popular service the studio provides is giclée prints on various media, which is a fancy way of saying that they do inkjet color printing of any image you give them onto materials like photo paper and canvas. From as small as bond paper size to as big as an entire wall.

"We want to make art accessible, affordable and fun," says Enrico, who handles the marketing side of the studio. Gallery 7 lets you have your photos printed as is, or you can choose from a variety of rendering styles to transform your photos into: Andy Warhol, Che Guevara, Comic Strip, Manga, and Obama, among others.

"The work we do is not just about putting your photos or designs through a couple of Photoshop filters on a computer. We know a lot of people can do that themselves," Bing says. "What we offer is a higher level of professional care. A portrait can take us up to 15 hours to develop because we're very meticulous. We carefully select the colors and details."

With a BA in Fine Arts from the University of the Philippines, Bing oversees a team of graphic artists who process the portraits. Who wouldn't want this former award-winning art director for advertising agency McCann-Erickson checking the quality of their portraits? "I use the same eye and discipline that I had when I used to work with the most demanding corporate clients," Bing says.

Method madness
The opportunity to turn your own face photo (or the photos of your family, friends or special someone) into a work of art you can hang in your room (or give to your beloved) is an idea tinged with instant glamour. "You can get your own personalized wall pop-art in four simple steps. Choose your photo, choose the style you want to it to be rendered in, choose the colors you like, then choose the size of your wall art," Enrico says.

The grunt work is done by the folks who run the studio. "We use only high-quality artist's canvas. Our inks are non-toxic, of archival quality, and have a 75 year life expectancy. In addition, we treat the canvas prints with an ultraviolet and water resistant coating to protect them from fading and dust, so they can keep their original brilliance for generations," Enrico says.

The gallery also uses museum-quality stretcher bars where the canvas doesn't touch any more wood than it needs to, preventing unsightly impression marks and surface cracking. The canvas is stretched, stapled, and taped carefully at the back of the frame-not on the sides. "This gives you a clean, seamless and modern look, so you don't need to frame them," Enrico says. "We don't seal the back of the canvas to let it breathe, which is important in preventing the growth of molds."

How it all began
Gallery 7 actually started out as the pioneer in making professional photo mosaics. "We've always been very fond of taking pictures with our digital camera. When our daughter Chinna was born, picture-taking became even wilder. We accumulated lots and lots of pictures but didn't know what to do with them. Most of the time they were just stored in the computer," says Bing.

She began doing collages of Chinna's pictures and would email them to all her friends in different continents. "That's how we got the idea of doing mosaics. People can admire all the pictures in one big mosaic. It's like a whole album of photos in just one picture!" Bing says.

While there are free mosaic-making programs that can be downloaded online, Bing notes that they use state-of-the-art software that maps out the photos mathematically while she art directs along the way. "We also have the hardware to handle large files since the resulting mosaic file size is usually so large that most home computers won't even be able to open the file, let alone print them," she says.

For the photo mosaics, Gallery 7 uses Epson waterproof, fade-proof, vibrant inks and heavyweight Kodak photo paper. The mosaics are printed at a maximum of 1440 dots-per-inch (dpi) unlike most printing stores that can only print at 600dpi.

"People get amazed by the mosaics. They all gush with happiness when they see all of their pictures in one big mosaic. Kids are even more fascinated at the fun of trying to find their pictures inside the mosaic," she says. "Being able to make our customers happy, making a difference in people's lives, it's fulfilling and motivating"

Aside from offering services to regular folks, Enrico wants the studio to be a "venue that promotes digital art." In fact, Gallery 7 also offers printing services for digital artists and photographers. The studio also recently held Pinoy Icons exhibit that featured images of popular Filipinos like Lea Salonga rendered in pop art styles.

Gallery 7 Digital Studio has branches in Oasis Manila (Aurora Blvd., San Juan City), Shangri-La Plaza Mall, and Eastwood Mall. Call 727-1983 or visit

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Pharex Health Corporation: Over 20 years of affordable medicines for Filipinos

Over 20 years of affordable medicines for Filipinos
By Walter Ang
Oct. 5, 2009
Manila Bulletin

Access to generic medicines has given Filipinos a deeper involvement with healthcare. As evidence of growing awareness, acceptance and use of generic medicines, Filipino pharmaceutical company Pharex Health Corporation is already on its second decade of offering a wide range of unbranded medicines in the country.

The company has an advocacy program titled "Pharex Economix," which aims to provide Filipinos greater access to a wider range of premium quality, affordable medicines. Pharex prices its medicines anywhere from 50-70% lower than other brands, especially for high-risk maladies like hypertension, infections, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

According to Pharex president and CEO Tomas Marcelo Agana III, Pharex's simvastatin (a cholesterol lowering medicine) is only around P17 compared to branded labels that can cost up to P35. Its amlodipin (a blood-pressure lowering drug) is about P22 compared to as high as P68 for other brands.

Pharex is able to price its medicines in this manner because it does not pay expensive royalty fees for medicine formulations. It also has a system in place to monitor its expenses. "We shave off whatever we can here and there to save on operating expenses so we can maintain our low pricing," says Agana. "For example, we source materials globally, so that we can acquire high quality ingredients at the most competitive prices. All these efforts help decrease Pharex's overall expenditure."

"What we never do is sacrifice the quality of our medicines and the quality of our service," he says. "Our guiding light through the years has been our commitment to quality and innovative health care products and services, especially in the area of generic medicine, to both the public and the medical community. As we enter our third decade of operations, we promise to be more dedicated than ever to this goal and help Filipinos live a healthier life. We want to make sure that Filipinos have access to safe, high-quality and reasonably-priced drugs."

Pharex is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pascual Laboratories, Inc. and takes its name from the words "pharmaceutical excellence." It started off handling the marketing and distribution of Pascual's generic products, veterinary medicines, and medical supplies. In 1990, it expanded by concentrating on its "unibranded" product lines: generic medicines that are not branded separately, but all branded under the "Pharex" brand.

It currently has products across 16 therapeutic categories, ranging from anti-infective medicines (such as antibiotics) to chronic care medicines (such as medicines for hypertension, rheumatism, fever and body pain). It also has wellness medicines liken vitamin B-complex.

Pharex does not only have Filipino consumers in mind, it also aims to assist the medical community in providing healthcare. To this end, Pharex initiated "Pharex MED.I.C.S" (Pharex Medical Information and Communication Services), a service-oriented program that updates doctors with informative articles on the latest developments and issues in medicine. "Our program stands out versus similar programs because all the information we provide to doctors are focused on diseases and not focused on medicine products," says Agana.

Pharex also partners with medical societies and hospital departments in conducting medical and non-medical lectures, clinico-pathological conferences and roundtable discussions.

Dan Lichauco tells us what Ondoy can teach us about urban planning

What Ondoy can teach us about urban planning
By Walter Ang
Oct. 5, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

As Manila and the cities surrounding it slowly attempt to recover from the Ondoy catastrophe that struck last week, discussions and debates about accountability and blame have been (and still are) raging.

There are so many factors to consider: an extraordinary weather incident (and so, we also consider the climate changes that have been happening), lack of government and civic foresight and vigilance in relation to monitoring the warnings from Pagasa, waste management (if the creeks and rivers had not been clogged, would they have allowed the a way for the released waters from the dams and the flood waters to have somehow drain out faster?), environmental issues (denuded watersheds), and locations of property development (why are communities allowed to grow near creeks, rivers and dams anyway?). These, among many others.

Architect and urban planner Dan Lichauco, associate professor in the College of Architecture of University of Sto. Tomas, points out that while urban planning is a factor in the disaster, the situation also needs to be evaluated against the fact that the weather incident that day was extreme.

"News reports said that it was the worst storm in forty years and that it was the equivalent of one month's worth of rain falling within twelve hours," he says. "The existing infrastructure that Manila has for water control and drainage just really could not deal with that much water," he says.

"We should also remember that all of us are contributors to this disaster, from the plastic bags we throw into the sewers, to the trash in the streets, to the indiscriminate abuse of unsustainable resources and our reliance on a government that is not working, we all play a part in this disaster. The sewers and drain systems are like the veins in our body, if you feed it junk, it will give you a heart attack! There are only so many bypasses that can be performed," he adds.

While Lichauco understands the current state of public emotion that is looking to pin the blame on something or someone, he hopes that, eventually, that the process results in finding out how we can move forward. "Let's ask the right questions, get the answers, propose changes and execute those changes," he says.

"Parts of Manila were designed using American architect Daniel Burnham's master plan that was created in the early 1900s. It was an aesthetic plan, but now we can see that engineering goes hand in hand with aesthetics. Also, Manila was razed by bombs after World War II and the reconstruction of the city did not follow any urban planning.

"Ultimately, the flooding problems and water drainage problems of Manila is an engineering problem."

Lichauco says that urban planning standards are developed based on historical and existing data and are created to withstand destructive risks only until certain parameters.

"Forty years ago, the population and waste of Manila was vastly different from what it is now. The infrastructure that has been built since then and are in place now was not built to anticipate this kind of situation. The drain systems were designed based on a standard and average amount of rainfall. In recent years, all these averages were thrown out the window.

"Yes, better planning could have possibly mitigated the effects of this calamity, but then, it's also possible you cannot completely stop a storm of this nature," he says.

He notes that urban planning standards will have to be changed in accordance with the new data provided by this situation. "In the same way that the great earthquake and fire of San Francisco in 1906 changed the standards of that city's urban planning, Manila will have to reevaluate and revise its standards, too," he says. "The risks have changed, in this case, we now experience super typhoons, so the solutions will now also have to be modified.

"New standards should take into consideration the advances in construction technology and new ideas introduced by the environmental movement."

A leading proponent of green architecture in the country, Lichauco notes that possible solutions for water drainage could include non-traditional methods. "Concrete does not allow water to pass through, so perhaps we can start using permeable materials to line the streets to allow water to leach through into the ground," he says. "Also, flood-prone areas could incorporate the development of parks that will serve as draining fields. The parks can be used by the public whenever it is not needed as a retaining pond."

"Now we know for a fact that the city's systems are unable to sustain something of this magnitude, the question now is, how and will we be able to upgrade these systems?" he says. "We have to use this disaster as an opportunity to evaluate and change the necessary building and urban designs in the country."

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Gardasil HPV vaccine for men: Don't wait for the warts to come and get you

Don't wait for the warts to come and get you
By Walter Ang
October-November 2009 issue
Garage Magazine

Via Wikipedia
As responsible young men, you can protect yourself and your loved ones by getting the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine. This vaccine has been publicized widely in the past few years as a preventive measure against cervical cancer (of which virtually 100% or nearly half a million cases per year worldwide are associated with HPV). Then why, you ask, should men and boys get the vaccine, too?

Because, as it turns out, there is another HPV illness (aside from cervical cancer) that affects a greater number of men and women worldwide: genital and anal warts. This is according to the visiting Chief Examiner in Gynecological Oncology for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The thing is, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and you can get it (and pass it to others) whether you are male or female. There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of both men and women.

For women, this includes the vulva, the lining of the vagina, and the cervix. For men, this includes the skin of the penis and scrotum. For both, the skin in the anus and lining of the rectum can also be infected.

While most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems, certain types of HPV have been found to cause warts on the areas mentioned above, and worse, cancers of the vulva, vagina, cervix, anus, and penis.

HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. Just like any other virus, once you've contracted it, you have it for life. You can have HPV even if years have passed after you've had sexual contact.

If the risk of getting cancer doesn't scare you into getting a vaccine, then maybe the thought of getting warts will. According to Dr. Gerard V. Wain, Director and Senior Staff Specialist of the Gynecological Oncology Unit at the Westmead Hospital in NSW Australia and Senior Lecturer for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Sydney, "[Patients] who have been affected by genital warts report recurring medical problems, sexual difficulties, psychosocial distress, financial burden, and social isolation."

Garage Magazine was invited to a presentation by Dr. Wain on the use of Gardasil HPV vaccine organized by Merk Sharp & Dohme (MSD), the vaccine's manufacturer.

For men, warts caused by HPV can appear in the penis, scrotum, anus, and even the groin area and thighs. These warts can cause itchiness and discomfort, and, in some cases, have an unsightly look (some warts are described as "cruciferous," meaning shaped like cauliflowers). Treatment of these kinds of warts can be painful and expensive, and there is always a chance that the warts will recur.

While HPV is frequently asymptomatic (meaning you could be infected but never get any symptoms), why risk the chance of the HPV developing into warts or cancer? Also, think about the next partner you have sexual contact with, you could be the one to give this person HPV.

Because of the stigma of having genital or anal warts, we don't get to hear a lot about it the same way we would for diseases like, say, cancer. But that doesn't mean it's not out there. Dr. Wain noted that while the Philippines does not yet have records of the incidence of genital and anal warts, statistics from other countries show a rise the number of people getting HPV infections and developing genital and anal warts.

Citing data from the Health Protection Agency of the United Kingdom, Dr. Wain disclosed that the incidence of genital warts in the UK has increased 18% in females and 34% in male from 1996 to 2005. In the United States, an estimated half to one million new cases of genital warts occur every year. About 1 percent of sexually active Americans have genital warts at any one time.

He also cited that, according to US data, about 50% of sexually active men and women, at some point in their lives, will be infected by HPV. Given the prevalence of genital warts that affect millions of individuals worldwide, Dr. Wain said, "The reported efficacy of the HPV vaccine is an important development in the global fight against sexually transmitted illnesses."

If you think about it, it's even more important for men to get the vaccine than women because at least women can avail of Pap smears to screen for the presence of cancerous cells in their genitals (and thus have a higher chance of survival if the cancer is caught early enough). For men, there is no test yet to detect early signs of HPV-associated cancers (meaning by the time the cancer is diagnosed, it's usually too late for treatments to be successful).

The Australian oncologist noted that Gardasil has shown to help protect against four types of HPV: types 16 and 18 which cause approximately 70% of cervical cancers; and types 6 and 11, which cause approximately 90% of genital warts. In the Philippines, Gardasil was recently approved by the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) for men ages 9-26.