BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Phl urged to consider use of renewable energy

By Iris C. Gonzales (The Philippine Star) Updated April 25, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (3)

LISBON, Portugal - The Philippines and other developing countries should seriously consider the extensive use of renewable energy as sources of power to help the country adapt to climate change, a spokesperson for the European Commission told The STAR.

In an interview on the sidelines of a reporting trip here on water and climate change organized by the Netherlands-based European Journalism Center, Rui Cavaleiro Azevedo, press officer of the European Commission Representation in Portugal said that there are several ways by which the Philippines can learn from the strategies adopted by European countries such as Portugal.

“The better option for Europe is to go for renewable energy. It’s going to be difficult but it would significantly reduce carbon emissions,” Azevedo said.

He said that among the strategies the Philippines may develop is to fully tap wind, coal and solar energies.

“In the provinces,” the Philippine government can invest in solar energy panels that would help utilize solar energy, save on costs and reduce carbon emissions,” Azevedo said

Azevedo said that while governments would have to invest heavily in solar panels, the investments would impact positively on climate change adaptation and mitigate costs when disasters come.

In the transportation sector, Azevedo said the Philippine government should also encourage the more efficient use of vehicles.

“People can commute more,” he said, adding that the use of mass transport and carpooling can significantly reduce the use of carbon emissions from fuel.

He noted that in Portugal, people have maximized the use of hydropower.

“The large hydro is crucial in the panorama of renewable energies - currently it is the more important origin of renewable electricity. Dam type hydroelectric power plans are also important for controlling floods, moderating peak consumption and stabilizing the grid in general, since their startup time is very short relatively to thermoelectric power plans and plus they do not spend energy while in stand-by. In the future, they will certainly continue to play a major role, possibly even more nowadays, given their additional value for storing large amounts of energy - in fact they are currently the only technically and economically viable solution. In Portugal, it seems that the hydropower potential left to explore would be 40 percent of the total; recently, new dams have been announced,” according to MISP, a document on mitigation strategies in Portugal.

Lessons from Portugal's debt crisis

My latest blog on The New Internationalist:

Friday, April 22, 2011

On Why I Love to Travel - (Letters from Portugal: Part Three)

LISBON, Portugal - There is nothing so refreshing in life as traveling and once again here in Lisbon, I again had the privilege to discover the foreign – from cinnamon sticks used in cappuccino to pristine white seagulls pleasantly hovering above me as I listened to the sound of waves smashing the rocks on the coastline of this breathtaking European country.

To me, to travel is to find oneself again, to be aware of everything one’s senses can take in, to marvel about the newness that the experience brings, to taste local dishes and grab ice-cold Sagres or Vino de Portuguese.

It’s about seeing things for the first time, to feel the crisp air, to watch the sun disappear into the horizon or see it paint the blue sky crimson as it rises in the morning.

It’s about watching pigeons in the plaza or learning how locals cope with the debt crisis. It’s hearing Portuguese music playing loudly on the bus or seeing little girls in pink jackets cross the street.

It’s about watching women elegantly stride the cobbled stone streets of Lisbon in their high-heeled leather boots and color designer scarves. It’s freezing from the cold weather in the morning or being roasted under the sun in the afternoon. It’s about getting wet in the rain at night or hailing a cab in the middle of a quiet street.

It’s about dining in the most fancy restaurants for more than two hours, as this is how they do it here for full-course meals. It’s about eating octopus salad as a starter and enjoying a small bowl of weird-tasting strawberry soup.

It’s skipping rice and (sleeping miserably at night because of it) for almost five days because people here simply don’t consider it as their staple food.

It’s marveling about the breathtaking postcard beauty of seascapes and rolling hills in the most western part of Europe in a town called Sintra. Or passing through old towns that reflect both medieval and Moorish architecture.

It’s standing on the edge as the sea breeze kisses your cheeks.

It’s sitting quietly on a monastery or in the water museum. It’s about capturing as much of the experience as possible through lens and words and sharing this with the beloved back home.

There’s nothing like being knocked off one’s feet by the joy of traveling and discovering everything foreign.

As noted travel writer Pico Iyer said: “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate.”

But the best part of going away is the comfort of knowing that after suffering from jetlag, crossing time zones, the bluest oceans and immigration authorities, there is always HOME to go home to.

(Photo credits from top to bottom: myself, Diana Lungu and Iwona Frydryszak)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Attention, Jes Aznar (Letters from Portugal: Part Two)

LISBON, Portugal - I miss you here not because you take great photos of me (and everything else) but because you are who you are and I love you. (As you can very well see, I've learned the art of self-portrayal). :-)

(at the monastery)

(this too)

(at the fancy restaurant where we had dinner and the distribution of certificates)

(this, too)

(outside the water reservoir)

(at the water museum)

(this is the mini park outside Sofitel)

(on the sailboat)

(on the edge)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Women of courage -- New Internationalist

Women of courage -- New Internationalist

A voice quivers. And another. There is a cry. Others fight back tears. A blanket of silence hangs above. They take a deep breath and in soft voices, they speak again, taking turns to share their stories.

In a small thatched hut, some 20 women are gathered on a hot Saturday morning. In contrast, there is nothing warm about the experiences they share. Courageously, they talk of the cold nights when they had no choice but to embrace their grief.

These women are of different ages and they are as varied as the provinces they come from. Some prefer cherry red lipstick; some wear light pink shades. Others have no make-up at all. Some manage to laugh a lot while others try to conceal the pain, but their blank stares betray them.

Varied as they are, they have one thing in common. They are all widows of journalists murdered brutally in the Philippines, a country where the press is supposedly free.

They are gathered in a government-owned resort in the forests of Mt Makiling, a famed mystical mountain in the southern part of the Philippines, for a three-day summer workshop aimed at helping them recover from the deep trauma they experienced.

Organized yearly by two NGOs – the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the Children’s Rehabilitation Center – this year’s workshop is funded by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance of Australia, a union of journalists and artists in the Asia-Pacific country. The workshops included art and writing activities, theater and sharing sessions.

In this thatched hut, the women, guided by a psychologist, are asked to explain the colored drawings they made the day before. They were asked to draw how they felt since the tragedy.

Gemma Damalerio, whose late husband was killed in cold blood in 2002 under the yellow sun in the streets of Pagadian City, in the southern part of the Philippines, said she did not go out of her house for two years.

‘I would not even go to the grocery. I didn’t go out. I simply refused to get up,’ says Gemma, a tall, slender woman who is a mother to a four-year old boy. Gemma says that after a while, she mustered the courage to get up and move on with life. However, the struggle to recover from losing the only man she loved is no walk in the park, she says. ‘It’s very difficult,’ Gemma says, fighting back tears.

She’s been feeling somewhat better for the past two years, having found the energy to stand up and earn a living. On her bond paper, she drew a house and colored it green, saying that she has decided to GO on with life.

‘It’s go, go, go,’ she says.

Brenda Ramirez is 38 years old. She has short curly hair, dyed light brown. Her husband, a television cameraman, was shot dead in 2003. He was the love of her life, says Brenda, and the only life she ever knew.

‘I’ve been a housewife all my life. I did not know how to survive without him.’

Eight years on, Brenda says the pain still stings. A mother to a 10-year-old boy, Brenda has no choice but to stand up on her own. ‘I have to earn a living.’ She now works freelance as a salesperson.

She has found strength in the yearly workshops knowing that there are other women who are going through the same difficulties and are also struggling to survive the pain.

Hope never withers for her, no matter how difficult.

She may even fall in love again someday, says Brenda, her eyes both sad and sparkling at the thought of it. ‘Of course, I want to love again,’ she says as she explains the little red heart she drew on her bond paper.

May Rodriguez, NUJP director who heads the project, says that the next painful thing after having one’s loved one killed is to keep all the grief to oneself. ‘So the workshop is a way they process their grief,’ says Rodriguez. She notes that in the early years, the widows had so much pent up grief. ‘It was very intense and emotional but I’m happy they are now able to smile.’

Brenda is looking forward to a better and happier life ahead. ‘I know there will be more colorful drawings next time. Who knows, I may marry again,’ she says in jest and lets out an excited laugh. The group breaks into laughter as well, sharing her excitement.

Finding strength in each other gives these women hope. They are indeed a brave lot, turning their pain into courage and inspiration.

I am in awe at their strength and I am certain that in the years to come, the drawings will be more colorful and happier, each shade a reflection of a woman’s unbreakable spirit.

(Gemma Damalerio and Edgar Damalerio Jr. Photo by Jes Aznar)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Signs of a debt crisis (Letters from Portugal: Part One)

LISBON, Portugal - Fourteen hours of plane travel is no joke. You’re groggy by the time you get to the final destination, your tummy grumbles from free beer mixed with lousy food served in the economy class and your skin is as dry as the Sahara desert, no thanks to recycled air.

But as I step out of the airport, the crisp evening air greets me and jolts me out of my jetlagged state.

I take a deep breath to savor the moment. This is the part I like best – that first step you take after you get out of the airport’s exit door. It’s the rawness of being in a foreign country, something like the first sip of a single malt Scotch or the freshness of your first brew of cappuccino in the morning.

You see, no matter how much you’ve travelled, the first step is never ever the same. The air is different every time. And it reminds that you that life is always something to marvel about.

There is a pleasant chaos outside the Lisbon Portela Airport, as foreigners and locals alive wait in long queues for cabs and buses that will take them to the city or wherever home is.

It is past 11 in the evening and the sound of Portuguese music blaring from cabs reverberates in the night.

Anne of the European Journalism Center and I fall in line for a cab. We're off to the hotel, seven kilometers away. A bright round yellow moon shines above.

We drive away from the airport and I get my first glimpse of Lisbon. There is a kaleidoscope of streetlights.

I watch out for signs of the debt crisis and they are everywhere – unfinished buildings left and right and huge signs of “BIG SALE” plastered on the window displays of luxury stores and malls.

It is no surprise because in this construction-driven economy, the first to bear the brunt of a debt crisis are the construction companies who can no longer access bank financing.

I wake up and on my first day,

I see more signs.

But here in Lisbon, as it is elsewhere, life goes on.

And today, on a hot Monday afternoon, some of them are hanging around by the bay, drinking ice-cold Sagres, said to be Portugal’s best beer, waiting for the sun to set and throwing their worries away.



by Jes Aznar
A comprehensive 3-day photography workshop that aims to give us the basic principles that would help us learn to see through the viewfinder. The workshop is open to all photography enthusiasts who wants to learn more than the basic functions and controls of their cameras. 

At the end of the workshop, the participant will have a better understanding of the visual language involved in producing and appreciation of photographs. The participant will have as well a better grasp of photography's role in multitude of applications in visual commmunication. 

Schedule:April 23, 24 and 27 (3 days) plus one day practicum and online evaluation.

Any digital camera will do.

REGISTER @ Bookayukay, 55 Maginhawa St., UP Village, Diliman Quezon City. Fee is P3,000. 

For inquiries and registration, you may contact us through: 09054283125 or at 


Jes Aznar is a full time documentary photographer. His photos and stories depict humanitarian issues from land reform, poverty, to conflicts and disasters. He has done several photo essays such as the Hacienda Luisita uprising, human conditions in urban dwellings, the war against diseases in Cambodia, humanitarian issues and the war in Mindanao, and the human trafficking issue in the Philippines and other parts of the world, which recently won him the National Media Award for his photo essay on the lives of trafficked Filipinas in Sabah, Malaysia.

He has worked for Agence France-Presse, New York based Reflex News agency and  His works has been published on the pages of The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Time Magazine, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, Stern, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and Asia Geo magazine, among others.

Jes took up Advertising at the pontifical University of Santo Tomas, and painting at the University of the Philippines and at the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University where he took up subjects in photojournalism.

He has travelled and covered Southeast Asia and the Pacific while being based in his own country, the Philippines.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Journalists and murder -- New Internationalist

Journalists and murder -- New Internationalist

Journalists and murder

Posted by Iris C. Gonzales | 0
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The numbers are stark and telling and the stories are almost always the same. The victims are killed mercilessly by suspected state actors. And the reality is, it goes on and on.
Welcome to the Philippines, where journalists are killed for saying the truth and activists forcibly disappear for questioning the establishment. The number of these so-called extra judicial killings (EJK) has risen rapidly through the years because the government has tolerated a culture of impunity in the country.
Because of this, journalists have realized the need to keep these EJK cases in the news so that they are never forgotten. From April 6 to 7, here in Davao City, in the southern Philippines, some two-dozen Filipino journalists finished a two-day workshop on security and human rights reporting.
During the workshop, veteran journalist Jason Gutierrez said that the spate of EJKs and enforced disappearances in the Philippines ‘has dramatically changed’ the aspect of news reporting in the country. Gutierrez said that media practitioners must ensure that the coverage of EJK cases is not put to the backburner.
‘As vanguards of the public’s right to know, media practitioners must make every effort to fight for transparency. Let’s push for transparency,’ he said during the workshop. Gutierrez also said that there is a need to follow up on the developments of the different cases of EJK in the Philippines so that they are not ‘relegated to the back pages of newspapers.’
Putting themselves on the frontline. Photo by author.
The workshop was part of the EU-Philippines Justice Support Program (EPJUST). The program aims to assist the country in resolving EJK cases and putting an end to this.
During the workshop, a technical security expert for EPJUST also provided tips on how journalists can reduce their exposure to harm and danger.
Joseph Erson Reyson discussed personal security and safety for journalists and advised them to regularly change their daily routines to dodge assassins. He said there is a need to be extra careful when covering Mindanao, which has often been the centre of feuding families and warring politicians. Common sense, he said, is very important in our daily security.
‘We should always remember that we are responsible for our own security.’
Most victims of EJK were journalists from different provinces around the country who have covered wars, political conflicts and corruption. That journalists are now working together to keep safe and reduce – if not eliminate – EJKs in the Philippines, is a bold step in keeping democracy in the country alive.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

You scored a total of  83 

It is highly likely that you are presently suffering from adult attention deficit disorder, according to your responses on this self-report questionnaire. You should not take this as a diagnosis of any sort, or a recommendation for treatment. However, it would be advisable and likely beneficial for you to seek further diagnosis from a trained mental health professional immediately.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

“Travel only with thy equals or thy betters; if there are none, travel alone.” – The Dhammapada.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

“Powered by nostalgia*”

AS my eyes adjusted to the kaleidoscope of klieg lights and the screams and shouts of fans reverberated in the jampacked Araneta coliseum, I knew that no matter what I see or hear on stage, the night would be saved by nostalgia.

And indeed, it was.

There we were,  Jes and I, staring at the members of Stone Temple Pilots, the rock band of my high school years.

The lead vocalist of the American rock bank, Scott Weiland is old and could hardly – well -- how else do I call it? – hmm…could hardly “rock n roll.”

Jes, whom I had to drag to the concert with me (he tried to sell our tickets on his Facebook wall hours before the event in a desperate attempt to escape the whole thing) could not understand my screams of excitement.

But STP is STP and in my high school years, they were hard rock and grunge and nothing could ever change that.

I screamed and shouted as Scott mustered all the strength he could so that his vocal chords would sound STP.

And the music was still every bit STP to me. They still rocked, as they did during my highschool years.

As Kler said, the night was *powered by nostalgia. Good times indeed and not a second wasted.

As they say in Plush, “and I feel it…and I feel it.” Yep, I felt it in my veins. 

(Photo by Jes Aznar)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Reforms in the Social Security System

By Iris Cecilia Gonzales   
Thursday, 31 March 2011

Security and protection: SSS is mandated to promote an effective security system for Filipinos against hazards from maternity, sickness and old age among others. But at times, poor quality of service and lack of system has denied its citizens the protection they deserve. JES AZNAR
Security and protection: SSS is mandated to promote an effective security system for Filipinos against hazards from maternity, sickness and old age among others. But at times, poor quality of service and lack of system has denied its citizens the protection they deserve. JES AZNAR
Most people look forward to retirement after years of working day in and day out. And with retirement, everyone looks forward to reaping the fruits of one's labor in the form of a retirement pension or associated benefits.

Through the years, however, retirees from the private sector have found themselves disappointed with how thin their checks were.

Marcelino Constantino Jr., now 65, worked as vice president of a trading company that went bankrupt. He nonetheless worked for at least 20 years in the company but was surprised to receive only PhP 1,200 (USD 30) in monthly checks from the Social Security System (SSS), the state-owned pension fund for private employees, when he retired.

He would later learn that his employer failed to remit monthly contributions to the pension fund.

Constantino says there should be a way for the SSS to check and go after employers or companies that do not remit employees' contributions.

In an interview with the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP), Emilio de Quiros Jr., the country's new SSS president and chief executive officer said this is going to be one of the improvements of the agency under the Aquino administration.

"They (companies not remitting monthly contributions of their employees) are criminally liable. What I've done is to centralize all the lawyers now to report to the head office and we're now requiring them to report to employers and make sure they are checking them. Those that have been remiss in collecting delinquent loans will also be held liable," De Quiros said.

The problems surrounding SSS, however, do not stop at the neglect or the irresponsibility of employers.

"What we really want is to improve service delivery," De Quiros said.

SSS mandate

The SSS is mandated to fulfill the government's policy to "establish, develop, promote and perfect a sound and viable tax-exempt social security system suitable to the needs of the people throughout the Philippines which shall promote social justice and provide meaningful protection to members and their families against the hazards of disability, sickness, maternity, old age, death and other contingencies resulting in loss of income or financial burden. Toward this end, the State shall endeavor to extend social security protection to workers and their beneficiaries.

SSS benefits include the following:

Sickness benefit. This is a daily cash allowance paid for the number of days a member is unable to work due to sickness or injury. A member qualifies for sickness benefits if he or she has had at least three months of contributions within the 12-month period immediately before the semester of sickness has been paid.

Maternity benefit. This is a daily cash allowance granted to a female member who is unable to work due to childbirth or miscarriage. Another condition is that the member has paid at least three monthly contributions within the 12-month period immediately preceding the semester of her childbirth or miscarriage.

Retirement benefit. This is a cash benefit given in monthly pension or lump sum to a member who could no longer work due to old age. Those qualified are members who are 60 years old, separated from employment or ceased to be self-employed and has paid at least 120 monthly contributions prior to the semester of retirement.

Although the SSS is less controversial or not as deluged by complaints as its counterpart for government employees, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), there have been complaints as well mainly in the delay in getting their SSS identification cards (IDs).

Benjo Quinajon, a graphic artist, said it took three months before he was able to receive his.

"Why did it take too long?" he asked.

The card is a major requirement to be able to claim one's SSS benefits. The process has become more tedious now because the SSS is soon to come up with a new ID.

"SSS stopped issuing the old cards because it is now waiting for the UMID," De Quiros told the PPTRP.

The UMID or the Unified Multipurpose Identification System is the new system conceptualized by the previous administration.

With it, citizens can have just one ID they can use in transacting with all government agencies such as the SSS, GSIS and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth). This plan, cemented during the Arroyo administration, will cost roughly PhP 1.689 billion (USD 39 million) in taxpayers' money.

De Quiros said that under the Aquino administration, the SSS has decided to push through with the plan because a decision has been made already.

"Rightly or wrongly, a decision has been made in the past to stop issuing the old cards. We should be able to accept the system in two months. We have about 600,000 cards that we intend to produce. We should be done by April," he said.

Members have already complained over the delay in the release of the cards. Some overseas Filipinos bound for Taiwan, for instance, have experienced problems with their visas because they did not have SSS IDs to show to the embassy.

Last month for instance dozens of OFWs supposedly bound for Taiwan were unable to leave because they did not have SSS IDs. The ID is among the new requirements of the Taiwanese government before it issues visas for Filipinos seeking work there.

Because of this problem, the SSS was forced to put up an express lane solely for Taiwan-bound OFWs.

"For whatever reason, SSS stopped issuing the old cards because they're now waiting for the UMID. Once we accept the system, we can release it. The object of that card is that the moment you have that card you are identified with SSS," De Quiros said.

Under the Aquino administration, De Quiros said the goal is for SSS to be a service-oriented agency. One of the planned projects is for it to come up with a system wherein members can check how much they have contributed already and in the process, find out how much they will get when they retire.

De Quiros also wants an agency that can provide fast and efficient service for its 29 million members.

"After a year, my dream is to be able to create an environment similar to a bank. If you need something you line up similar to a bank," De Quiros explained.

However, he said that such improvements would come at a price. Another plan is to increase the amount of contributions a member is required to pay.

"Right now we have 29 million members but in terms of those who are regularly paying, we only have 8 and half million.”

Another area SSS wants to work on is the overseas Filipino workers (OFW) market. "We want to reach out to the OFW market by encouraging them to be SSS members," De Quiros said.

Ultimately, the goal is to bring up the number of people who will contribute regularly, De Quiros said. A working and efficient pension fund should come automatically especially because taxpayers deserve to see where their money goes. Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project