Thursday, August 28, 2014

UP shifts academic calendar; screens 83K applicants for AY 2015-2016

Note: This photo-essay appeared in the 22-28 August 2014 issue of FilAm Star with the title "UP grind begins with new academic calendar, screening of applicants by the thousands." This author/blogger is the special news/photo correspondent of the said newspaper.

UPCAT day scenes at Melchor Hall.
The weekend of 16-17 August 2014 saw some 83,000 high school seniors taking the UP College Admission Test or the popular UPCAT in various testing centers around the country.  The UPCAT is a five-hour multiple-choice examination in English and Pilipino comprising language proficiency, science, mathematics, and reading comprehension.  Last year, out of around 74,000 examinees, 13,028 qualified for admission, which is roughly the number that can be accommodated by the various academic units in the different campuses of the University of the Philippines System.

We were in the Diliman campus at about noontime of 16th when the morning batch of examinees had just finished the test and they were getting out of the engineering building.  The afternoon batch was preparing to move inside, and we noted two lines: one of students and the other of parents/chaperons. The UPCAT, as usual, became a family event. The parental duty, of course, could only go as far as the entry door of the building.  We chatted briefly with several of them to learn of their first and second choices of courses and campuses.

It was almost the same time last year when the UP freshmen (freshies) of this Academic Year 2014-2015 took the UPCAT. They could have recognized their own predicaments a year ago when they saw the faces of this year’s UP applicants: those who have taken the test and those who are about to take the bout using Mongol pencil 2.

It was barely two weeks past when classes started in UP Manila (August 6) and UP Diliman (August 7).  UP Los Baños and UP Baguio opened on August 11 and 12, respectively; and Mindanao, on August 18 yet. 

Mural at the College of Fine Arts.
This means that the freshies had a four-month vacation to fortify themselves for the first bout with UP life: the enrolment process, and the surprises and perplexities inside/outside the classrooms during the first week/month. 

It’s all because the UP shifted its academic calendar the first semester from June-October to August-December, and the second semester from November-April to January-May.

The second semester will no longer be interrupted by the long Christmas break. It will start right after the scholars of the people (mga iskolar ng bayan) return from a happy holiday, hopefully, unless the first sem performance is gravely disappointing.  The calendar shift is most welcome to parents of students going home for the holidays because they will save in transportation fares.

UP President Alfredo Pascual emphasized in his press statement that “the decision to shift the academic calendar is part of the continuing efforts of UP to develop into a regional and global university and to maximize the opportunities offered by ASEAN integration and global educational partnerships”.

The UP Charter, Republic Act 9500 of 2008, mandates UP as the national university, and one of its purposes is to “serve as a regional and global university in cooperation with international and scientific unions, networks of universities…in the Asia Pacific Region and around the world”.

The academic calendar shift comes in synch with ASEAN 2015, when the Action Plan of the ASEAN Economic Cooperation is expected to be fully implemented in the member countries. The Plan includes promotion of the free flow of goods and services among said countries.

The historic AS Steps
UP is a member of the ASEAN University Network (AUN).  According to Pascual, synchronization of the academic calendar with those of ASEAN, European and American academic partners “will create more joint programs and partnerships with other universities, allow students to get transfer credits, particularly under ASEAN and ASEAN +3 Credit Transfer System (ACTS), and address the problem with semestral gaps with partner universities.”  Thus, this synchronization will enhance the mobility of students and faculty within the region.  Most universities in Asia, Europe and North America also start their classes in August or September. 

Ateneo de Manila and De La Salle University are also members of the AUN. According to reports, they plan to shift their academic calendars next year.  The University of Santo Tomas shifted this year to July, and will adjust to August next year.  Other universities may eventually adopt a new calendar.  As far as we know, the Department of Education has yet to decide if the elementary and high school academic calendars will also shift to harmonize with the universities.

Padayon mga Iskolar ng Bayan! (Carry on, Scholars of the People!),” Pascual exhorted the freshies of UP Diliman during their welcome assembly on August 11. 

Fine Arts freshies with artsy headgear.
The welcome program of the University Freshie Month was intended to make them feel at home. The student proctors also made sure that the freshies kept a buoyant spirit when their deans introduced them to the university president.  Hence, they did some gimmicks to lighten up the event, and student organizations rendered presentations to cheer them up too. The contingent of Fine Arts freshies came with artful headgear, which led us to ask the proctors if they are already preparing them for their first Lantern Parade in December. 

Probably their first bewilderment was the call for a bonfire at the UP Diliman Sunken Garden on August 9, two days after the opening of classes:  what’s the hullabaloo about the Fighting Maroons clobbering the Soaring Falcons of Adamson University at a UAAP Season 77 basketball game?

The last time the Maroons won was two years ago. They were UAAP champions in 1986 long before the freshies were born. Probably their only popular ‘connect’ to that event was Benjie Paras who was in that champion team, and his son Andre who was a Fighting Maroon until he moved to San Beda earlier this year.

By now, the freshies may have found favorite places to go to for budget meals if they do not have their own ‘baon’:  snack stalls of the ‘Samahan ng Manininda sa UP Campus’, eateries along JP Laurel Street, ‘kainan’ street, and those inside the shopping center, among others. Late afternoons may see them around Mang Larry’s Isawan, which non-UP students also patronize.  Of course, there’s always the quick and cheap comfort food is the iconic banana delicacy: turon!

Ikot! or Toki! around the campus.
He/she must now be thinking of ways to manage the time for attending classes in different locations especially when the schedules are tight.  Classes in buildings around the academic oval are navigable with strong legs. But if these are outside this loop, say in the new engineering complex, the UP Ikot, which runs counter-clockwise around the campus, or the UP Toki, which takes the reverse direction, may be the substitute for legs. These jeepneys ply different routes, one of them going through the messy traffic on CP Garcia.

After the welcome assembly with the UP president, the university has more events for the freshies, and one of them is the University Freshie Student Council elections on August 26. This reminds us that in our time, freshmen were not represented in the university student council, nor were we allowed to vote. 

Outside of these official events, some freshies may opt to have a political baptism by joining the Junk STS [Socialized Tuition System] unity march around the academic oval on August 27, and Boycott the BOR [Board of Regents] rally at the Executive House on Aug 28, being organized by Gabriela Youth.

It is likely that the Gabriela Youth will culminate the march with a program at the A.S. Steps. Historical events took place here such as:   UP President Salvador P. Lopez declaring support of the UP community in 1971for the Diliman Commune; Senators Ninoy Aquino and Gerry Roxas speaking on national issues before the declaration of martial law in 1972; and students launching the protest movement following the Aquino assassination in 1983.

On August 27, other freshies may want instead to go to the Film Center’s Cine Adarna to witness the awarding of the 2014 UP Gawad Plaridel, an annual media award of the university, to Nora Aunor for her "unique artistry and versatility as a singer,: and for "portraying with keen intelligence and uncommon sensitivity an amazing range of cinematic roles."

The UP Gawad Plaridel was established by the College of Mass Communications (CMC) “to recognize Filipino media practitioners who have excelled in any of the media (print, radio, film, and television) and who have performed with the highest level of professional integrity in the interest of public service.”  It is named after the propagandist Marcelo H. del Pilar (Plaridel), known to history students for the reformist La Solidaridad of the expatriate Filipinos in Spain in the late 1890s.

Freshies may not fail to note the CMC poster announcement that its 50th anniversary will be next year and the Plaridel image is their embodying logo for the theme “Midyang Malaya at Mapagpalaya”.

By the way, Chancellor Michael Tan wrote that "it's still go for the sunflowers for next year's graduation, for the sake of tradition, and science." The protest against the calendar shift used the sunflowers as an argument. But a shorter variety of sunflowers that were planted in June are now blooming. The tradition lives on, and the freshies today will have sunflowers on their graduation four or five years from now. Padayon, mga iskolar ng bayan

Noble warrior of UP Vargas Museum.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Positioning the Philippines as 'Science Nation'

Note:  This photo-essay appeared in the 08-14 August 2014 issue of FilAm Star, a weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. This author/blogger is the special news/photo correspondent of the paper in Manila.

It was purely coincidental that on the day President Benigno Aquino III addressed his bosses about the state of the nation, the National Science & Technology Week was on its closing day at the Mall of Asia.  The theme of the week-long event was “Philippines: A Science Nation Meeting Global Challenges.”  

We checked if some inputs from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) went into the making of the Aquino SONA.  Well, he mentioned ‘strengthening the capabilities of [local government units], who are frontliners in times of disasters, through a modern and comprehensive forecasting system’, citing the DREAM-LiDAR project for hazard mapping, a significant element of DOST’s Outcome [or target] 8: disaster preparedness.

We’re wondering what impact the SONA could have created had the president delved a little on the integrated Government Philippines or iGovPhil project, the flagship e-governance project of DOST, which will be fully operational later this year or early next year. It is touted to “make ICT-based governance possible and broaden access to government-services particularly healthcare and education, for those in the countryside.” 

The e-governance is DOST’s Outcome 5 for the Philippines as a Science Nation. Will iGovPhil provide the access point to government databases should the Freedom of Information (FOI) become a law? Will iGovPhil and the FOI operate in tandem?

We were at the National S&T Week venue for four days helping the young alumni of the International Science & Engineering Fair manage their exhibits at the Intel Philippines area. We spent some time to learn about DOST’s eight outcomes or targets from the diverse exhibits, demonstrations, forums and publications of S&T stakeholders.

The outcomes are set to achieve economic development and global competitiveness especially with reference to the ASEAN integration in 2015.

Agriculture is the focal point of Outcome 1. We were drawn to the Crop Genome Projects of the Philippine Council for Agrciulture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) on the abaca, coconut varieties, carabao mango, sugarcane and tomato. Expected results include improvement of crop characteristics and their resistance to pests. In the case of the carabao mango, PCAARRD is looking at eventually having seedlings authenticated as a true-to-type variety before they are dispersed from nurseries.

At this time, PCAARRD is on the fast track with Philippine Coconut Authority, Dept. of Agriculture and UPLB to save the coconut industry from the coconut scale insect, popularly known as 'cocolisap'. This was first detected in 2010, but massive treatments of infested plantations in Quezon, Batangas, Laguna and Cavite started only this year. The integrated pest management approach involves pruning of infected leaves; treatment with systemic insecticide through trunk injection; spraying of organic pesticide following prescribed protocols; releasing biological control agents; and fertilization.

Outcome 2 is largely defined by the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP) to assist micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in acquiring “technology interventions in order to increase the volume of their production, improve product and service quality, expand their market, and allow their business to attain world-class standards.”

DOST's strategies also include technical assistance and consultancy services in the areas of food safety, energy audit, and cleaner production, and innovative packaging services for effective marketability of products, among others.

In particular, SETUP focuses on food processing, furniture, metals and engineering, horticulture and agriculture, health products and services, electronics, ICT, gifts, housewares, and décor.   About 60-70 percent of SETUP adopters are from the food industry.  

DOST's thrust for Outcome 3 is to “push local industries to move up the value chain and offer services previously not available in the country and thus make a dent in the global market.”

The showpiece was the RP-S-512, "a locally assembled two-seater light sport airplane that is easily transported and stored in much smaller hangar spaces because of its detachable wings, powered by a 100-HP engine and runs on basic unleaded gasoline." This showcases the cooperative venture of DOST and the AIAP (Aerospace Industries Association of the Philippines) to explore aviation and aerospace manufacturing.

The focus of Outcome 4 is Information Technology - Business Process Management (IT-BMP). The vision is to generate direct employment in the countryside through two programs: e-Commerce and Rural Impact Sourcing,

By 2016, DOST hopes to generate 1.3-Million employment and USD 25-Billion revenues in the IT-BPM industry. Today, the country is tops in voice services (call centers) and is the second choice for non-voice services (healthcare information management, software, game development, animation and engineering services).

We mentioned Outcome 5 (e-governance) earlier. Its backbone is fiber optic technology. This will interconnect 160 government offices in Metro Manila once the cables are fully installed, providing high speed communication among them. A similar network for 12 agencies is scheduled to come online in Cebu later this year.

iGovPhil is a component of the e-Government Master Plan (EGMP). The Medium-Term ICT Harmonization Initiative (MITHI), another component, will "standardize processes, make applications interoperable, facilitate collaboration [on projects] and allow sharing of resources" of all government offices.

Centralized databases like land, vehicles,businesses and citizens’ registries are mentioned in the iGovPhil literature.  We wonder if the coverage will eventually include budgets and procurements of goods and services, which are hot items in today’s debates on the controversial PDAF and DAP.  It would also be good to know if access will be open to the public or not.

Health is everybody's business in Outcome 6: "improvement of healthcare and quality of life for Filipinos via science, technology and innovation.”

FNRI  (Food and Nutrition Research Institute) commitment is through a a teaching tool called “Pinggang Pinoy” that can be useful in planning a healthy-balanced meal in response to the increasing number of diet and lifestyle-related diseases afflicting Filipinos, young and old alike. It’s a quick reference on the whole-day food intake recommendation for Filipinos along the concept of GO, GROW and GLOW.  The ‘pinggan’ (plate) suggests bigger intake of whole grains and vegetables, and the upper part, less red meat, sugar, fats and oils in the Filipino diet.

FNRI is pushing for brown rice or ‘unpolished rice’ whose short shelf-life of one to four months has been extended up to nine months through a process that they have developed. For health buffs, brown rice has more nutritional and healthful benefits than white rice.  Its bran layer is known to be rich in dietary fiber, minerals  and B vitamins.

The issue of rice sufficiency and market price is not in the context of this paper. So do the latest media commentaries that there are no more young people joining the senior citizen rice farmers countrywide, even in the Cordillera rice terraces.

Outcome 7 is focused on education. DOST runs the Philippine Science High School System that has regional campuses, and aims to make PSHS the best science school in the ASEAN.

DOST is also offering S&T scholarships to university undergraduate and graduate students. To “produce highly skilled and globally competitive human resources in S&T in support of the national S&T programs,” it has launched a campaign to have one “science scholar” per municipality.

For Outcome 8 (disaster preparedness), DOST works closely with PAGASA, PHIVOLCS, Project NOAH and UP DREAM.

Netizens know that they can now download from Project NOAH’s website information on typhoons, rainfall probability, historical flood maps, weather monitoring, and data on storm surge and landslides.

The nation-wide UP Disaster Risk and Exposure Assessment for Mitigation [DREAM] project taps “cutting-edge technologies in disaster science research  [such as] LiDAR [Light Detection and Ranging] to generate high-resolution, detailed, and up-to-date national elevation maps and data sets for 19 critical river basins in the country – the most flood-prone and high-risk areas.”  These river basins are: Marikina-Pasig, Bicol, Cagayan (Mindanano), Iligan, Pampanga, Agno, Jalaur, Ilog-Hilabangan, Panay, Davao, Mag-asawang Tubig, Agus, Tagum-Libuganon, Tagoloan, Buayan-Malungan, Agusan, Cagayan, Mindanao, Infanta and Lucena, whose catchment areas total 103,515 sq km.

Data acquired from airborne LiDAR will be processed and calibrated, and then validated through ground survey.  Flood models and hazard maps will be generated from these data, which will “allow early warning of at least six hours ... sufficient lead time to prepare people and communities for evacuation and appropriate response.”

PAGASA has embarked on its modernization to eventually allow a 7-day weather forecast, and eventually seasonal forecasts with the addition of new additional Doppler radars.  PHIVOLCS is also beefing up its earthquake monitoring network, and it also maintains a tsunami monitoring network.

In closing, we noted that Outcome timelines are finite bound to 2016, the last year of the Aquino administration. May be these are for specific hardware and services acquisitions with the overall ‘Science Nation’ vision/mission transcending the narrow confines of six-year election periods. S&T developments are continuing, after all, and thus, not time bound. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Protest colors & sentimental chords in Pres. Aquino’s Fifth SONA

Note: This photo-essay appeared in a slightly different version in the 01-07 August 2014 issue of FilAm Star, the weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America', where this author/blogger is the special news/photo correspondent based in Manila.

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III was under a dark cloud most of July formed by adverse public reaction following his explanation on Nora Aunor ‘s exclusion from the list of National Artists and his national address on the Supreme Court ruling regarding the DAP, his rejection of Budget Secretary Butch Abad’s courtesy resignation, and then his poor approval ratings that Pulse Asia released on the 14th and 25th of the month.

The president even made a call for a show of public support by wearing the iconic yellow ribbon but this was immediately downplayed by his Malacañang staff.   This brought out the idea of peach as protest color among the impeach Aquino supporters. Three impeachment cases had since been filed.

On SONA day, 28 July 2014, the Philippine Daily Inquirer bannered that ‘P-Noy [was] graded so-so 6.1’ by the Movement for Good Governance (MGG), a coalition of non-government organizations (NGOs) chaired by UP Professor Solita Collas-Monsod, popularly known as TV talk show host Mareng Winnie.

In the scale of 1 to 10, the mediocre grade suggests that “something has been accomplished” during the current year of the Aquino administration “but [it] is lower than expected.”  It’s below the 7.5 passing mark. 

We were not then surprised that Aquino changed the tone of his fifth State of the Nation Address: an accomplishment report without the usual fireworks of the previous SONAs. Conciliatory was how observers described this latest one.

 There was no blame game on his predecessor, no mention whatsoever about Bong, Jinggoy and Johnny (they’re in jail), no swipes at the Supreme Court (Malacañang has appealed for reconsideration), although there was a gentle poke at his critics, whose “attacks ... are becoming more frequent, more venomous, and more intense.”  He said though that he has “grown used to being greeted by negative commentators for breakfast, personal attacks for lunch, insults for dinner, and intrigue for a midnight snack.”   

The accomplishment report was full of numerical data and was enhanced by testimonials from a TESDA beneficiary, policewomen, an informal settler and a student. On the side, he gave credit to Cabinet or non-Cabinet officials and even civilians who aced their performance targets.

According to reports, jailed senators Bong Revilla and Jnggoy Estrada praised the SONA as “most decent since 2010” although they noted that Aquino failed to touch on important issues. 

An overseas Filipino worker expressed in the social media a similar sentiment.  There was no cameo role of the OFW in the SONA. He was dismayed that their sector did not merit any recognition for contributing to the nation’s economic growth. 

Aquino described a looming energy crisis.  Energy watchers though expected to hear concrete indicatives of a power development plan but there was none. 

The SONA was silent on the proposed Freedom of Information law. There were also no sound bytes on foreign policy issues: the territorial dispute with China and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreemen (EDCA), although Aquino was loud and clear on the modernization of the armed forces.

Emotion was high towards the conclusion of his SONA. Aquino was on the verge of tears when he talked about the legacy left by his parents.  Many among the well-dressed audience with yellow ribbons likely reached for dainty hankies to dab their eyes too and later rose to give him a standing ovation and affirmation that “we will continue proving that “the Filipino is worth dying for,” “the Filipino is worth living fo r,” and ... “The Filipino is worth fighting for.”

There was another congressional session on Commonwealth Avenue.  Several SONAs were delivered by representatives of protest groups from various sectors like labor and agriculture, health, education, government/non-government workers, the religious community and informal settlers. 

Present too were the seven party-list lawmakers before they proceeded to Congress in peach barongs for the men and peach gowns for the women.  Shortly before Aquino started his SONA, they walked out of the session hall: Bayan Muna’s  Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate, Gabriela ‘s Luzviminda Ilagan and  Emmi de Jesus, Kabataan’s Terry Ridon,  ACT Teachers’  Antonio Tinio, and Anakpawis’ Fernando Hicap.

Mae Paner, popularly known as Juana Change, wore an elegant brown Filipiniana gown at parliament on Commonwealth Aven ue.  After her own SONA, she also proceeded to Congress where she changed into a peach gown but she did not walk out. She said she was an ardent Aquino supporter.  Since they were together during the election campaign in 2010, she warned him in colorful Tagalog that she would mash his balls if he fails to fulfil his election promises.  She quipped that his ‘daan matuwid’ (straight path) has come to a ‘bangin’ (deep ravine).

The protest rally was as usual colorful with caricatures, effigies and streamers. The theme harped on the DAP and the impeachment move.

It was an orderly assembly, groups stayed on their designated areas hence there was no dense crowd in front of the stage.  The sound system was properly deployed so that the speeches could be heard clearly up to the farthest end of the assembly.

The protest parliament was on the right side of Commonwealth Avenue between Ever department store and the St. Peter’s Church.  While the pedestrian lane was open, the island and the area several meters before the church were sealed with barbed wires, concrete traffic control barriers, container vans, and phalanxes of the police force ready with shields and truncheons.

Probably as Aquino was halfway through his Fifth SONA, his effigy as Pork Barrel King was rolled to the center in front of the stage for the burning.  This was the finale of the protest rally: protesters cheering on and banners flying around as fires consumed the effigy.

This photo from Mon Ramirez.

It didn’t end there right away. Protesters marched toward the barricades and tried to topple the concrete barriers. If there were tears inside the session hall, there was red-tainted water from firemen’s cannon hoses to douse the protesters.  It was a peaceful but wet ending. 

Countdown to the Sixth and last Aquino SONA has began.