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Saturday, January 21, 2023

Philippine Post Office launches colorful Year of the Rabbit Stamps to mark Chinese Lunar Year


Wazzup Pilipinas!?




The Philippine Postal Corporation (Post Office) released the commemorative "Year of the Rabbit" stamps to mark the celebration of Chinese New Year 2023 held at Seascape Village in Pasay City.

“The celebration is a manifestation of our solidarity with our Filipino-Chinese friends. For us, the Lunar New Year is an occasion to celebrate the rich heritage that both our nations have treasured”, Postmaster General Norman Fulgencio said.

Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) Executive Vice President Ms. Mary G. Ng said that recognition and respect for both the Filipinos and Chinese is being represented through the stamps”.






The Chinese New Year is said to be the most important and longest holiday celebrated not just in Asia but in other parts of the world. The celebration begins on the first day of the lunar calendar, and it is considered the beginning of “Spring”.

The Chinese Zodiac has twelve representative animals, namely: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. During this auspicious event, Filipino-Chinese and even the general public practice age-old traditions and joyous festivities associated with the holiday.

The Chinese calendar has sparked "a lot of interest" in recent years among Filipinos who "collect the (Chinese zodiac) stamps”, the Philippine Post Office, which is under the Office of the President, said in a statement.

In Chinese culture, the Rabbit is a symbol of longevity, peace and prosperity. 2023 is predicted to be a year of hope. The Rabbit is known to many as the luckiest in the zodiac. If one is born under the Year of the Rabbit, it is said that one is friendly, gentle, and kind to others.

Modern Chinese Lunar Year Stamps have bolder colors and designs to make it more appealing to collectors. For example, viva magenta, which is the pantone color this 2023, represents universal harmony and emotional balance. It promotes compassion, kindness, and cooperation.

The Chinese cultural influence has been widely recognized in the country, from eating Chinese food, talking to Feng Shui experts for good luck, as well as reading their Chinese horoscope.

PHLPost in-house artists Ryman Dominic Albuladora, Eunice Dabu and Agnes Rarangol designed the colorful stamps.

The stamps, souvenir sheets, and official first-day cover will be available to the public starting Wednesday, January 25. The Year of the Rabbit ends on February 9, 2024. For inquiries on the stamps, call (02)8527-0108 or (02)8527-0132 and follow and like the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/PilipinasPhilately/ for updates.

UP scientists eye nationwide wastewater monitoring for COVID-19, other diseases


Wazzup Pilipinas!?



Researchers from the University of the Philippines (UP) are positing the use of wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) to aid with public health. They presented their findings to the public on January 19.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, Dr. Caroline Marie Jaraula of the UP Diliman College of Science’s Marine Science Institute (MSI) was already doing water quality research in the Davao region and decided to expand into WBE, or the analysis of biological and chemical markers in wastewater to provide information on public health. Dr. Jaraula worked with scientists and researchers from UP Mindanao and UP Manila including Dr. Lyre Anni Murao, Dr. Emmanuel Baja, Dr. Vladimer Kobayashi, Dr. Dann Marie Del Mundo and Maria Catherine Otero. The collaboration resulted in multiple studies that underscore the value of wastewater research in public health surveillance.



Invaluable detection tool for COVID-19

In her presentation of their published study, Multifaceted Assessment of Wastewater-Based Epidemiology for SARS-CoV-2 in Selected Urban Communities in Davao City, Philippines: A Pilot Study, Dr. Del Mundo explained how WBE research can provide effective and faster analysis of community-level COVID-19 infection using fewer resources.

“Clinical monitoring, such as RT-PCR testing, and contact tracing are limited in the early detection or prediction of community outbreaks and can be logistically demanding and expensive when applied to a large population,” Dr. Del Mundo said.

Wastewater samples from six Davao City barangays contained a high volume of SARS-CoV-2 RNA genetic material even though the barangays were classified as having a low risk of COVID-19 transmission and no reports of new infections. The RNA found in the wastewater “may have also come from pre-symptomatic, asymptomatic, or symptomatic individuals who did not self-report to their local health monitoring unit,” according to the researchers.

Otero further elaborated that the virus RNA was detected in 22 out of 24 samples (91.7%) regardless of the presence of new COVID-19 cases in those areas, echoing similar trends in COVID-19 cases reported via standard clinical surveillance. “Danger of reinfection due to wastewater research will not be an issue because the virus is already dead in the water. They can still be detected because of the RNA, but they are no longer infectious,” Otero assured.



Urging government adoption of WBE

The researchers urged the Philippine government to consider WBE as a powerful and cost-effective tool for public health surveillance.

“Detecting RNA in wastewater could help LGUs forecast what barangay are at risk and may need closer monitoring, rather than a blanket lockdown,” said Dr. Jaraula. “We should consider this as science-based tools to determine which barangay is more susceptible.”

The team has expanded its efforts to look at other possible beneficial uses of WBE. With funding from the Department of Science and Technology Niche Centers in the Regions for R&D (DOST-NICER), they have expanded their work into other areas through the Integrated Wastewater-Based Epidemiology and Data Analytics for Community-Level Pathogen Surveillance and Genetic Tracking (iWAS) Project.

The team is expected to publish further findings on WBE within the year, and are also looking to conduct similar research in other highly urbanized areas outside of Davao City.



 
The researchers of Project iWAS are looking at more ways to monitor public health through wastewater analysis. (Photo credit:Dr. Dann Del Mundo)



REFERENCES:

Otero, M.B. et al (2022). Multifaceted Assessment of Wastewater-Based Epidemiology for SARS-CoV-2 in Selected Urban Communities in Davao City, Philippines: A Pilot Study. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(14), 8789; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19148789



Links to presentations:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-8S0xbgaSU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Buh6_XFoh4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8oK_N_pWykY


Cover photo caption:

Dr. Dann Marie Del Mundo, Project iWAS lead, talks about the challenges of designing a wastewater-based surveillance system for COVID-19. She and her team underscored the potential of WBE for monitoring public health across the Philippines.(Photo credit: Shedy Masayon, UPD-CS SciComm)



CreatePHFilms Funding Program Opens Applications for Cycle 1 of 2023


Wazzup Pilipinas!?


CreatePHFilms, the local funding program of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) officially opens its new cycle this 2023 to provide funding to Filipino filmmakers and producers for the development and production of their films.

CreatePHFilms Cycle 1 of 2023 opened its call for applications last January 16, 2023 with four funding programs for mid-length and feature films which can be fiction, documentary, or animation:

● Development Fund: A selective and non-recoupable fund of PHP300,000 with mentoring sessions with industry experts.

● Small Budget Production Fund: A selective and non-recoupable fund for the production of Filipino films with an overall production budget of less than PHP15,000,000.

● Large Budget Production Fund: A selective and non-recoupable fund for the production of Filipino films with an overall production budget of at least PHP15,000,000.

● Post-production Fund: A selective and non-recoupable fund of PHP300,000 for post-production companies engaged with post-production companies registered under the FDCP National Registry for Companies.

Eligible applicants must be duly registered and accredited by the FDCP National Registry and eligible projects must be directed by a Filipino.




Strengthening PH Cinema and boosting the economy through CreatePHFilms

For eligible expenses, 100% of the fund must be spent in the Philippines to boost the local economy as this will also provide economic opportunities for local services, artists, crew members, and other film workers.

In 2022, FDCP awarded a total of PHP 4.6 million to 19 grantees: 15 for Scriptwriting and Project Development, two for Small Budget Production, and two for Post-production.

Among the most notable grantees of the CreatePHFilms funding programs are Sundance 2022-winning film “Ang Pagbabalik ng Kwago” (Leonor Will Never Die) by Martika Escobar, Sundance 2023 selection “In My Mother’s Skin” by Kenneth Dagatan, and internationally-acclaimed disaster film “Kun Maupay Man It Panahon” (Whether the Weather is Fine) by Carlo Francisco Manatad, Through this funding initiative, the FDCP aims to amplify the Philippine film industry’s reputation as a growing and thriving film hotspot with local, independent, and innovative creatives in order to attract worldwide attention.




The CreatePHFilms Cycle 1 of 2023 will accept applications until March 17, 2023. To know more about the application process, visit: https://fdcp.ph/programs/createphfilms. For inquiries, send an email to createphfilms@fdcp.ph.

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro: Everything a Pinoy Needs to Summit the Golden Roof of Africa


Wazzup Pilipinas!?



Four in the morning, pitch-black and it’s 20 degrees below zero. There’s iced snot on my face but I don’t care.

The world is limited to what my headlamp illuminates, all movement restricted by six layers of clothing. I crane my neck at a column of headlamps extending to the stars. The gradient’s so steep I can’t discern where the headlamps end and where the stars begin.

For a while there’s no sound but the crunch of our team’s boots on frozen ice. The wind starts to howl. Up here, the climate swings faster than a Pinoy politician before an election. Has it been six hours since we started climbing? Ten? Suddenly our ‘Kilifighters’ – tough mountain guides who surround and constantly encourage us – break into a lively Swahili song.
 

Welcome travelers,

To Kilimanjaro, the towering mountain,

Just walk slowly, no problem,

Like a snake, coil around her,

And you’ll summit safely.



 
I fantasize of a fiesta waiting at the top, with steaming lechon, adobo, taho and everything else that’s hot and warm. I check my watch. Eight hours since we left Barafu, the dry and icy basecamp where we stashed most of our gear. We don’t stop – at this elevation, it’s tantamount to rapid body heat loss. I glance at my teammates and they too are trying to survive the freezing winds. Gradually the dawn reveals a windswept world of rock, of ice.

There. Up ahead, a final push away, lies the shoulder of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and one of the world’s Seven Summits. Gritting our teeth, we climb.




Preparing for Your Kilimanjaro Climb

Mt. Kilimanjaro is one of the planet’s most iconic mountains, so popular it’s in the intro of The Lion King. It towers over northern Tanzania, near the Kenyan border in a slice of Africa known to geologists as the Great Rift Valley. In actuality, Kilimanjaro is an extinct volcano that rises 19,341 feet (5,895 meters) – almost twice the height of Mt. Apo, which at 9,692 feet (2,954 meters), is the highest peak in the Philippines. Fortunately, Kilimanjaro hasn’t blown her top in 360,000 years, almost before Juan Ponce Enrile was born.

Dubbed as ‘The White Mountain’, Mt. Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each continent. The other summits include Everest in Asia, Aconcagua in South America, Denali in North America, Elbrus in Europe, Vinson Massif in Antarctica plus either Kosciuszko in Australia under the Bass list or Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia under the Messner list.

Just half of the roughly 35,000 climbers who attempt to scale Kilimanjaro’s sheer slopes succeed, but you don’t need to be a rope-toting Sherpa to do it. For the average Filipino, summiting Kilimanjaro just requires years of saving, months of preparation and anywhere from five to ten days of steady climbing. Many Pinoys have successfully reached her frozen rim. You can too with these tips.
 

1. Choose your own adventure. Your preferred route and outfitter might very well determine how enjoyable and successful your trip will be. We chose Top Climbers Expeditions, a company run by pros with a solid success rate for summiting the mountain (we all made it).

From the Philippines, you’ll fly nearly 10,000 kilometers to Dar es Salaam, the quaint, seaside capital of Tanzania. For a slice of local flavor and culture, we recommend exploring its markets, museums and ivory beaches before flying to the jump-off cities of Arusha or Moshi, some 600 kilometers away.

There are seven established routes up Mt. Kilimanjaro and two trails for descending and resupplying expeditions. They vary from easy Marangu, where climbers can sleep in huts, to the more brutal and direct Umbwe Route. “We chose and highly recommend the Lemosho Route, the most scenic trail with the highest summit success rate due to its gradual ascent. We measured the route at around 70 kilometers which takes about eight days to complete, from the jump-off at Lemosho Gate to its conclusion at Mweka Gate,” explains Rofil Sheldon Magto, leader of our successful expedition.

Over eight days, you and your climb-kada will pass through cool pine plantations, misty cloud forests, wet moorlands, dry alpine deserts and the frozen alpine zone, where sunrays and wind dance like fire and ice.

While Kilimanjaro can be climbed year-round, the driest and safest climbing windows would either be from December to mid-March or from July to October. Climbing in the wet season means slogging through heavy snowfall and slushy mud – not much fun and not too safe for you or your guides.

Leave ample leeway when crafting your itinerary, adding extra days to anticipate instances when flights are interrupted, delayed or missed. Some of our teammates were stuck for three days in another country when a freak snowstorm canceled the region’s connecting flights. Worse, they weren’t issued entry VISAs, so they had to survive at the airport like Tom Hanks in The Terminal.


2. Pick your climb-kada wisely. “When high-altitude sickness, crazy physical challenges and inclement weather set in, you’ll be grateful for the company of your most trusted climbing buddies,” explains Rofil. “They’ll inspire you and your team to reach the summit, while taking care of you when you aren’t feeling well physically, mentally and emotionally. They’ll also probably laugh when you fall flat on your butt! Kilimanjaro is no walk in the park so you should look for buddies with similar goals. Climbers who you’ll enjoy trekking with, who’ve got your back no matter what happens.”


3. Save up. Prepare a realistic budget. Your two biggest expenses would be roundtrip flights from the Philippines to Dar es Salaam, capital of Tanzania, plus the cost of your climbing outfitter. “Be wary of cheaper outfitters, which may scrimp on vital services,” warns Rofil. Kilimanjaro isn’t cheap, but it’s far more affordable than the other Seven Summits. A budget of PHP200,000 (USD3.6K) should be enough to cover a climber’s roundtrip flights, travel and climb insurances, VISAs, accommodations, food, tips and pasalubong. “Don’t bring PHP200,000 or its USD equivalent in cash to reduce overall risk. Africa – like any place on Earth – is not bereft of crime. Pay for what you can in advance, bring secure credit and debit cards and stash your physical cash in various bags.”

Lastly, remember that Africa is a region where tipping is highly appreciated. Our team of six climbers pooled together our resources to give each of our 22 porters and guides a fair tip. Tipping generously not only helps hardworking Africans provide for their families – it builds a good image of us Pinoy climbers.


4. Logistics, logistics, logistics. This is the most critical part of your trip and one you should pore over again and again. “It may seem daunting and complex because it’s an international climb, so try to secure as many requirements ahead of time. Plane tickets, hotel accommodations and climb slots all fluctuate in price and availability so book them as soon as you can,” says Rofil. “Secure your VISAs immediately and don’t forget to get travel and outdoor insurance.”

You can secure your VISAs here while getting trip and climb insurance here.

Remember that clearing African immigration requires mandatory vaccines. Aside from complete COVID shots with boosters, you’ll need vaccines for yellow fever, malaria, typhoid, polio, diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, and tetanus. Many of these can be obtained from larger hospitals or from your local Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ). Secure these shots months ahead and remember to keep your yellow BOQ vaccination passbook with you at all times.

Always remember to check Tanzania’s official website as vaccination requirements may change over time.


5. Gear up. Buy, repair or modify your equipment ahead of time from reputable places like Decathlon and ROX. Insulated shoes, a down jacket, gloves, ear protectors and shades are must-haves.

“Don't hesitate to invest in quality gear because your life and limb will depend on it. Merino wool for instance works great as a base layer,” recommends Pinoy Mountaineer Dr. Gideon Lasco, who summited Kilimanjaro in 2011 and has since scaled numerous international peaks. “Good trekking poles can ease knee strain while making your downhill treks easier. Every part of your body must be protected from the elements. I highly recommend bringing lip balm with SPF, polarized sunglasses with UV protection, a buff or scarf to protect your ears and neck, plus multiple layers of gloves to keep your fingers warm.”

Redundancies can save your life. I made the mistake of bringing a water bladder on summit day. Though my body heat kept the bladder itself from freezing solid, the water inside the drinking hose froze solid. Fortunately, I brought along an extra two liters of water in tumblers.

Most outfitters will also let you rent gear for the climb. Don’t scrimp, especially on cold weather equipment. Rent thermal sleeping bags, which are worth their weight in gold. If you thought your fuzzy sleeping bag was warm at the top of Mount Pulag, imagine what it will feel like at 20-degrees below zero. Proper gear spells the difference between a good night’s rest and silent suffering until sunrise.

Remember to pack some good, old-fashioned Pinoy food, guaranteed treats after weeks of African fare. One of our trip’s best moments was when our teammates Grace, Isoy, Andrei and Yelena broke out cans of Pinoy dinuguan, sardinas and bagoong. For a while our mess tent truly became home.


6. Train like a beast. Ensure you have strong legs and a solid core. Endure harsh, almost ridiculous conditions when training to build mental grit. Climbing is mostly a mental game, particularly on summit day when you’ll be climbing 18 or more hours in a single day. Climb and bond with your team to know each other’s personalities, strengths and limitations.

Our team did conditioning through a series of minor climbs in Rizal, Batangas and Laguna. Rofil, Yelena and Andrei complemented climbing with Ultimate Frisbee while Grace went for long bike rides.

My training was endless running, weights and carrying my little boy plus a 50-pound pack up and down a mountain in Rizal in the full heat of summer.


7. Polé Polé. You’ll hear this term passed on along the trail. Literally ‘slowly, slowly’ in Swahili, this approach will maximize your chances of avoiding altitude sickness and physical injury. Climbing slow and steady allows your body to gradually acclimatize to both colder temperatures and higher elevations where there’s less oxygen for your body to absorb.

Altitude sickness is the top reason people fail to summit the mountain and it’s not to be trifled with. “Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a syndrome characterized by headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue and sleep disturbance which stems from being exposed to a hypoxic or oxygen-poor environment,” explains Dr. John Lei, a professional expedition doctor.

“Climbers are always at risk from AMS upon breaching 8,000 feet or 2,400 meters. “Higher altitudes might lead to the more serious condition known as High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), characterized by altered consciousness, abnormal movements or even a coma. High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is another serious condition where fluid accumulates in climbers’ lungs. The best solution for all of these is to immediately descend. Supplemental oxygen and medications such as acetazolamide, paracetamol and ibuprofen will also help.”

Polé Polé, deep breathing, drinking lots of fluids, eating high-carb food and getting a good night’s rest after each trekking day is your best chance of avoiding altitude sickness. If you really want to be sure, you can take a few pills of Diamox or acetazolamide to reduce its effects. You can usually find Diamox and other mountaineering medicines in Arusha, the jump-off city for your climb.


8. Enjoy every step. “Reaching the summit is your goal, but don’t forget that your journey is as important as your destination. The whole experience is your reward for your months or years of planning and preparation. Once you set foot on the mountain, allow yourself to experience what nature has to offer. Bask in the morning sun, feel the cool breeze, listen to the sound of the forest and appreciate the beautiful wildlife you might see along the trail. This is an opportunity for you to be fully present, so take things slowly. Take the time you need to find that inner peace,” shares Rofil.


9. Capture fleeting moments. “Don’t forget to bring your camera, a lightweight tripod, enough memory cards and three or more rechargeable batteries. Snap all the photos you want and take as many candid photos to record the moments that truly made your trip meaningful. Ensure your gear is weather-proof and back up your photos once you have access to your laptop or the web when you return to the city,” says Rofil. “The last thing you’d want is to lose your precious photos and videos because of lost, low-quality or damaged memory cards. Ouch!”


10. Pasalubong and side trips. The African continent offers travelers an endless array of pasalubong options – from food to clothing, to trinkets and tribal weapons. You’ll have ample time to pick up a few mementos from your once-in-a-lifetime trip after you summit the mountain. Souvenir stores will be ready as soon as you arrive in both Dar es Salaam and Arusha.

Your Climb Outfitter should also make a short stop at a good souvenir shop upon your descent from the mountain. “Some of these shops sell Tanzanite – glittering blue jewels which are found only in Tanzania, considered up to a thousand times rarer than diamonds,” adds Rofil. “If you have extra cash, you might want to buy a stone or two as Tanzanite is much cheaper in Tanzania than anywhere else. Ask your guides to help you haggle for a good discount.”

Should you decide to continue your adventure after your climb, then the possibilities are endless. You can go on safari a day or so after you descend. You can cross over to neighboring Kenya to meet the Maasai and Samburu people. You can travel north to Ethiopia to sip authentic coffee. You can even dive in the coral reefs of Zanzibar or the Great African Rift Lakes which host colorful freshwater cichlids. Remember, ‘safari’ is Swahili for ‘adventure’ – and your adventure doesn’t necessarily need to stop after summiting the mountain.



Reaching the Golden Roof of Africa

Nearly 12 hours after setting out, we finally reach Stella Point, the crater rim. From atop, we gaze down at the crater floor, blanketed by a vast field of jagged ice. The wind is brutal. I dash to the front of the column to snap pictures but gasp for breath after a few steps.

Oxygen here – even after two weeks of acclimatizing – is at 9% or less than half of the 21% that we breathe in the Philippines. All I can do is Polé Polé, Swahili for ‘take it slowly’ and the second-most important local saying for climbers (the first being Hakuna Matata or ‘no worries’) behind everyone else.

One breath, one step at a time, we march slowly to the summit of Kilimanjaro. It’s just 600 feet away, but with thin air, it takes nearly an hour to get there.

Eventually we reach frozen Uhuru Peak to unveil three stars and a sun. As we raise the Philippine flag – decades of dreaming, years of saving and months of training – finally pay off.

Up here at the Golden Roof of Africa we are – for a few glorious minutes – the highest people on an entire continent. (END)



Captioned Images:



Cover photo above:

Three stars and a sun. The Philippine flag flies proudly atop Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the African continent at 19,341 feet or 5,895 meters. Team leader Rofil Magto raises the flag while author Gregg Yan signals the successful completion of the first of the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on every continent. (Rofil Magto)

Mountaineering for every Juan. Team Parachichi unveils the logo of Decathlon, one of the world’s most accessible sports brands. (Rofil Magto)



Tools of the trade. Insulated water jugs, medicine, cold-weather clothes and extra batteries are just some of the items you’ll need to hump on your Kilimanjaro climb. Most of your gear – your ‘heavy kit’ including your ‘pamalit’ and ‘pantulog’ – can be carried by porters, but you’ll need to wear a self-sufficient daypack with food, water and an extra jacket at all times. (Rofil Magto)




Start trek. Our jump-off was the Lemosho Gate, which sits at an altitude of 7,381 feet (2,250 meters), around 1,000 meters higher than Baguio City. The vegetation and conditions for the first day will be familiar to most Pinoy climbers – just like climbing in the Cordilleras. (Rofil Magto)






Melting ice caps. Fierce winds up to 20-degrees below zero temporarily keep snow and ice from melting, despite sun rays that can cause sunburn in mere minutes. “These glaciers have retreated hundreds of feet since I started guiding people up the mountain years ago,” shared mountain guide FC Mtey. Scientists fear that global warming might cause Mt. Kilimanjaro’s remaining ice caps to completely melt away by 2030. (Gregg Yan)




Camp life. The temperature swung wildly at the Barafu basecamp. Full sun was as hot as a summer day in Boracay. Temperatures dipped by 10 or more degrees whenever the mists rolled in, which happened every few minutes. About five kilometers behind camp towers Mawenzi point which at 16,893 feet (5,149 meters), is Kilimanjaro’s second-highest peak. (Rofil Magto)





Kain po tayo. Your meals shall be served by a trained chef inside a comfortable mess tent which will be erected at every campsite. Cheerful chef Twahir ‘MPemba’ Nyange doles out a steaming ladleful of beans. African food is tasty, but can be tiresome. Remember to bring a few cans of delata to whet your appetite. (Gregg Yan)




It takes a village. The lifeblood of our expedition was a human train of porters who carried up to 20 KG of camp equipment and provisions daily. For Kilimanjaro, the ratio was seven support staff per climber. The six of us for example, were buoyed by 19 porters and three guides. Hardworking and friendly, Kilimanjaro’s porters are worth their weight in gold. (Rofil Magto)




Team Parachichi. Our team got its name from the Swahili term for avocado. From left to right are Grace Feraer, Andrei Nikolai Magto, Gregg Yan, Isoy del Rosario, Yelena Magto and Rofil Magto. Most of us have been climbing mountains for nearly 20 years. (Rofil Magto)




The most important seat in camp. You’ll bet your ass that the USD70 investment for this portable toilet is worth it. Do not, we repeat, do not scrimp on this. Wiping your butt in below zero conditions is just no fun. (Gregg Yan)



Let’s dub to that. Author Gregg Yan teaches guides Frank Mrema and Fadhili Hamza how to dub Pinoy style. (Rofil Magto)





Wildlife of Kilimanjaro. The ‘skunk monkey’ or Kilimanjaro guereza (Colobus caudatus) is the most conspicuous animal you’re likely to encounter on your week-long trek. We also saw forest antelope, chameleons, rodents and scores of birds. Wildlife in the cloud forests of Africa are noticeably distinct from the more familiar animals of the African savanna. (Gregg Yan)




Alien trees. Like a cross between a Baguio cactus and a mutant pineapple, these giant groundsels (Dendrosenecio kilimanjari) dominated the upper reaches of the mountain. Even at the very summit, moss-like lichens eked out a living. (Rofil Magto)




Great guides. Our three mountain guides from Top Climbers Expeditions are among the best in the business – friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about all aspects of climbing. From left to right are FC Mtey, Frank Mrema and Fadhili Hamza. We highly recommend them to all Pinoy climbers. (Rofil Magto)





Sight for sore eyes. These colorful markers demarcate where a trekking day ends and pretty much mean that the day’s six or seven hour trek is done. With sore legs and blistered feet, these are sights for sore eyes. (Rofil Magto)





Climb-kada. Team Parachichi poses for a quick group shot before setting out from Shira Ice Camp. The ground frequently freezes over but melts as soon as the sun peeks out of the horizon. (Rofil Magto)





Hakuna Matata. Our amazing porters and guides never failed to lift our spirits. Halfway through the expedition, they surprised us by dancing to lively Swahili songs. (Rofil Magto)






The long and winding road. With patience, your Kilimanjaro experience will unfold one breath, one step at a time. (Rofil Magto)





Impatiens kilimanjari. Endemic to the Mt. Kilimanjaro area, this enchanting cool-weather flower lights up the forest with its vibrant flame hues. Rofil surprised his wife Yelena with a mini-bouquet prepared along the trail. (Rofil Magto)






That’s a wrap! After eight days and over 70 kilometers of trekking, our team finally takes well-earned swigs of Kilimanjaro beer, which is almost as good as a Pale Pilsen. Now off to the pasalubong center for some haggling. (Rofil Magto)





Don’t forget your pasalubong. It’s the sacred duty of all Pinoys to bring home all manner of trinkets and snacks. Here’s a sampling of the many items you can take back to your family and officemates – paintings, wooden carvings, jewellery and baskets. Don’t forget to use your bangketa haggling skills, you’re a budget-conscious Pinoy after all! (Gregg Yan)





Expedition leader. Mountaineer and landscape photographer Rofil Magto safely led Team Parachichi up and down Mt. Kilimanjaro, the team’s first of the Seven Summits. He now looks forward to the next big adventure. Which summit will come next? Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina? Mt. Kosciuszko in Australia? Stay tuned. (Gregg Yan)





Pinoy explorer. Explorer and story author Gregg Yan wished he brought kaong, nata de coco and condensada to turn this lump of sheared ice into halo-halo, before settling for a few cold licks. The ice tasted exactly like mud. (FC Mtey)


Contributed by Gregg Yan

Friday, January 20, 2023

SSS implements contribution hike


Wazzup Pilipinas!?



The Social Security System (SSS) said it has started implementing the provisions of the Republic Act of RA 11199 or the Social Security Act of 2018, which mandated a contribution hike to ensure the financial viability of the state pension fund for private sector workers.

SSS President and Chief Executive Officer Rolando Ledesma Macasaet said the law-mandated contribution increase would translate to immediate benefits to the country’s 13 million workers and will ensure the viability of the SSS fund designed to provide them with social security protection.

Enacted on February 7, 2019 by Congress, the Social Security Act of 2018 rationalized and expanded the powers and duties of the Social Security Commission (SSC) to ensure the long-term viability of the SSS. Under the law, SSS should gradually increase the contribution rate by one percentage point every two years until it reaches 15 percent by 2025.

In accordance with the schedule provided under RA 11199, the contribution rate increased to 14 percent from 13 percent in the previous year. Under the new contribution rate, employers will shoulder the one percent increase, which means their contribution will now be at 9.5 percent. The remaining 4.5 percent will be deducted from the employee.

Finance Secretary and SSC Chairperson Benjamin E. Diokno has expressed his support for the new contribution rate saying, “it is the right thing to do for the institution and its members.”

Macasaet said the implementation of the contribution hike would eventually redound in a system that would serve workers better. “The contribution hike will benefit the workers with the SSS being able to provide a financially viable social protection system to Filipino workers and their families,” Macasaet said. “It will not be a burden on workers but will be shouldered by employers. Workers earning less than P25,000 per month, who comprise 78 percent of SSS-paying employee members, will not be affected,” he added.

Macasaet served as President and General Manager of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) during the Duterte administration and was appointed by President Marcos to head the SSS last January 5 to replace former SSS PCEO Michael Regino.

At the same time, Macasaet noted that under existing tax laws, employers would be allowed to deduct their share of the contribution hike from their taxable income. “This underscores a whole-of-nation approach in securing the future of our workers with the Philippine government also contributing in the form of tax relief to employers,” Macasaet explained.

The SSS is being urged by employer groups, such as the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), and the Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. (PECI), to suspend the implementation of the Social Security Act of 2018 that mandates the one percent increase in SSS contributions starting this month.

The request of the employers’ groups was opposed by SSS officials as postponing the measure would reduce the actuarial life of the fund. The SSS said they gave due consideration to the plight of small employers in past contribution hikes, but ultimately had to act in favor of workers’ interests and the fund’s long-term solvency.

In his statement, Macasaet clarified that employees would not be required to shoulder the addition financial burden that goes with the contribution hike.

“The contribution hike will not be paid by the lowly worker but by financially-stable employers who can afford such adjustments. I am appealing to the PCCI, the ECOP, and the PECI, who we consider our valuable partners in our mission to provide social protection to our workers, to treat the contribution hike not as another operational expense but as a noble investment to ensure the viability of the workers’ pension fund,” Macasaet said.

“We appeal to our friends in big business to help us provide meaningful protection to the members of the working class and their families against the hazards of disability, sickness, maternity, old age, death, and other contingencies resulting in loss of income or financial burden,” he added. “A socially protected working class is our best recipe for continued industrial peace in our country.”

PHP100,000 production grant awaits Sine Kabataan Finalists


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After five successful editions, Sine Kabataan is back for its sixth year! The Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) is holding an open call for short film entries for Sine Kabataan Short Film Lab and Festival 2023. Submission of entries is from January 13 to February 10, 2023.

The Sine Kabataan Short Film Competition not only aims to provide a platform to young Filipino filmmakers but also elevate their creativity and storytelling skills that are reflective of how they perceive the issues they face today. The competition is open to filmmakers ages 18-30 years old who have produced at least one short film.

20 story concepts which can be live action, documentary, animation or experimental will be shortlisted from the pool of submissions. Those who make the cut will undergo exclusive film labs which will cover topics from development up to post-production. With the easing of COVID-19-related restrictions, the FDCP will be shifting its film labs to a hybrid on-site and digital platform to equip the filmmakers with technical knowledge and practical skills in production.

From the 20 shortlisted projects, 10 will be chosen as finalists by a Selection Committee after a Pitch Showcase and each of them will receive a production grant of PHP 100,000 to produce their story concepts.

The FDCP expands the running time requirement this year from five (5) minutes to seven (7) up to 20 minutes to grant the competing filmmakers an opportunity to better express themselves and to let them explore treatments that will further maximize the potential of their story concepts.

To check the full guidelines and mechanics, visit this link. For more updates on the short film competition, follow Sine Kabataan on Facebook.


Top 5 Destinations for Filipinos to Travel in 2023


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After not traveling as much for the past few years, 2023 is the year to really travel around the world and appreciate everything that there is. More and more routes are opening up from the Philippines, so, what are the top five destinations for Filipinos to travel to in 2023? Let’s dive in and find out!


Costa Rica:

As one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, Costa Rica is on pretty much every top travel list for this year. From the stunning beaches of Tamarindo to the lush green cloud forests of Monteverde, there are plenty of things to see and do in Costa Rica. It’s also an adventure hub with zip lines, world-class surf breaks for those of you who love hitting the waves back home in the Philippines, and even whale watching.

Filipinos can enter Costa Rica on a visa-free basis for up to 90 days, which is plenty of time to explore all the hot spots as well as getting off the beaten track.



 
What not to miss:

● Go whale watching in Uvita, and discover a national park named after a whale tail-shaped sandbank in the town.

● Swim at the Catarata Fortuna waterfall in La Fortuna

● Start surfing in the party town of Tamarindo which has plenty of cafes and hostels in the area thanks to its dreamy peeling waves.


Indonesia:

As one of the Philippines' close neighbors, Indonesia is a great option for a vacation with a shorter flight. With non-stop flights available from Manila for around 100-150 USD, it’s relatively affordable to get to the chilled-out shores of Bali or check out the striking Borobudur Temple in Java.

The good thing is that Filipinos can enter Indonesia for 30 days without a visa, so you have a good chunk of time to check out the sights. You will need evidence of onward travel when you enter, so make sure you have a return flight booked or are going to another country afterward with booked transport.


 
What not to miss:

● Visit monkeys at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Housed in an old temple complex, the monkeys have relatively free reign so you can get up close.

● Hike to Uluwatu Temple, located high on the cliff tops of Bali, offering spectacular sunset views across the water.

● Get blessed at Pura Tirta Empul. This holy bath complex is designed for Hindu purification practices, and tourists can touch and dip in the holy waters and feel refreshed and blessed.


Sri Lanka:

Famous for beautiful beaches, ancient temples, stunning hill country, and fractured history, Sri Lanka is an interesting destination to visit in 2023. Known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has become popular for surfing, yoga, and wellness retreats, as well as for checking out the extraordinary local wildlife.

Filipinos need to apply for an online ETA visa which allows for stays of up to 30 days on arrival. The online visas are valid for six months so you can apply for them in advance. Just make sure you have six months on your passport and evidence of onward travel.



What not to miss:

● Visit the fort city of Galle, an old English city that has quaint and pretty streets filled with artisans and cafes, and is home to some excellent cricket tests.

● Explore the outdoors at Ella, the main town in Hill Country, which is a retreat in nature, surrounded by amazing hikes.

● Take the iconic Blue Train and crawl from city to hill country and soak up the views.


Morocco:

Filled with history, culture, and amazing food, Morocco is one of the most popular places to visit in Africa. From the beach resorts of Agadir to the souks of Marrakesh to the culture of Casablanca, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

As a Filipino, you will need a visa to enter Morocco, but you can do this online before you travel. Once you’ve got your approval, you can stay in Morocco for up to 30 days. It’s valid for up to 180 days after the visa has been issued, so you can do this in advance.



 
What not to miss:

● Experience the blue-wash town of Chefchaouen. It’s a beautiful and iconic town, painted entirely blue, and is located in the north of the country.

● Lose yourself in the Jardin Majorelle-Yves Saint Laurent Mansion with amazing tropical gardens and Moroccan architecture.

● Be awe-inspired by Ouzoud Falls. Located against striking red brick, these falls are outstanding and have plenty of monkeys calling the area home.


Vietnam:

Another short-haul option from the Philippines for 2023 is Vietnam. A popular destination for travelers from all around the world, you can enjoy a whole new culture and benefit from super cheap food and accommodations.

Filipinos do not need a visa to enter Vietnam, as long as they’re staying for less than 14 days. There are also plenty of direct flights from Manila to Vietnam for around 150 USD return, making it an affordable option for a short trip.


 
What not to miss:

● Cruise around one of the most beautiful beaches and bays in the world, Hạ Long Bay, best enjoyed from the water.

● Experience modern Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City, with soaring skyscrapers, thousands of eateries, stores, and bars, a visit to the Vietnamese capital is a must.

● Soft stretches of golden, white sands await you on the island of Phú Quốc with swaying palms all around you.



So, if you’re thinking of booking a vacation for 2023, there are plenty of amazing options for Filipino travelers. Whether you want to travel across the world to Morocco or Costa Rica, stay local with Vietnam or Indonesia, or split the difference and head to Sri Lanka, the choice is yours - they’re all amazing and varied options!

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Society Pass, Inc. (SOPA) / NusaTrip Expands Services to Philippines


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NusaTrip, Indonesia's first IATA-certified online travel agency (OTA) and the travel vertical of Society Pass Incorporated (Nasdaq:SOPA), today formally announces the opening of its second Southeast Asia (SEA) regional office in Philippines.

The market for Filipino tourists and foreign workers is sizable. According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration's (POEA) data, approximately 2.3 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were deployed in 2019. In 2021, OFW was estimated to be 1.83 million, up from 1.77 million in 2020. Based on the Department of Tourism's November 2022 report, 73% of the 2.025 million visitors to the Philippines are foreign tourists, whereas 27% are OFWs. In 2023, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) aims to increase the number of overseas Filipino workers. The majority of OFWs work in the service sector, such as domestic help, healthcare, engineering, and construction. By 2020, Asia employed 83.6% of OFWs, followed by Europe, America, and Australia.

NusaTrip CEO Johanes (Joe) Chang elaborates, "Considering the market's size and potential, the Philippines is an essential market for our ecosystem. NusaTrip aims to be the promotion partners for the Philippines tourism boards and become the travel hub that helps to connect overseas Filipinos with their home country. We are excited to collaborate with the local businesses. It will accelerate and improve the quality of our synergies and customer growth rate in Southeast Asia. In addition, given Philippines' countless scenic spots and picturesque beaches, NusaTrip will focus on promoting thousands of hotels into our platform and provide leisure alternatives for international travelers".

Leveraging the momentum of the travel and tourism industry recovery post-COVID-19 pandemic, NusaTrip is expanding its offering beyond air travel. NusaTrip aims to extend its flight content with more travel inspirations and relevant options, so everyone will always find something to explore and somewhere to fly to. On the business side, NusaTrip connects worldwide flight content through streamlined integration with low-cost and full-service airlines from multiple points of sale and enables global distribution at ease via its proprietary technology, the NusaXchange platform.

Nusatrip regional offices will focus on creating more variety of marketing initiatives and managing existing business relationships with airlines, hotels, and tourism promotion board partners.

"We are very excited to welcome NusaTrip and look forward to the collaboration with our local businesses. I believe it will benefit our business partners and customers," said Arbie Christie Pagdangan, Country Manager for Society Pass in the Philippines.


About NusaTrip

Founded in 2013, NusaTrip is an IATA-licensed online travel agency that serves both local and global customers and partners by optimizing cutting-edge technology and providing 24/7 customer-centric support team-as-a-service. NusaTrip is now a member of Society Pass (Nasdaq: SoPa) ecosystem. For more information, please visit: https://www.nusatrip.com.



About Society Pass Inc.

Founded in 2018 as a data-driven loyalty, fintech and e-commerce ecosystem in the fast-growing markets of Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, which account for more than 80% of the SEA population, and with offices located in Angeles, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Manila, and Singapore, Society Pass Incorporated (Nasdaq: SOPA) is an acquisition-focused holding company operating 6 interconnected verticals (loyalty, digital media, travel, telecoms, lifestyle, and F&B), which seamlessly connects millions of registered consumers and hundreds of thousands of registered merchants/brands across multiple product and service categories throughout SEA.

Society Pass completed an initial public offering and began trading on the Nasdaq under the ticker SOPA in November 2021. SOPA shares were added to the Russell 2000 index in December 2021.

SoPa acquires fast growing e-commerce companies and expands its user base across a robust product and service ecosystem. SoPa integrates these complementary businesses through its signature Society Pass fintech platform and circulation of its universal loyalty points or Society Points, which has entered beta testing and is expected to launch broadly at the beginning of 2023. Society Pass loyalty program members earn and redeem Society Points and receive personalised promotions based on SoPa's data capabilities and understanding of consumer shopping behaviour. SoPa has amassed more than 3.3 million registered consumers and over 205,000 registered merchants and brands. It has invested 2+ years building proprietary IT architecture to effectively scale and support its consumers, merchants, and acquisitions.

Society Pass leverages technology to tailor a more personalised experience for customers in the purchase journey and to transform the entire retail value chain in SEA. SoPa operates Thoughtful Media Group, a Thailand-based, a social commerce-focused, premium digital video multi-platform network; NusaTrip, a leading Indonesia-based Online Travel Agency; Gorilla Networks, a Singapore-based, web3-enabled mobile blockchain network operator; Leflair.com, Vietnam's leading lifestyle e-commerce platform; Pushkart.ph, a popular grocery delivery company in Philippines; Handycart.vn, a leading online restaurant delivery service based in Vietnam; and Mangan.ph, a leading local restaurant delivery service in Philippines.

For more information on Society Pass, please visit:
Website at https://www.thesocietypass.com or
LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/societypass or
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thesocietypass or
Twitter at https://twitter.com/society_pass or
Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/societypass/.

Cautionary Note Concerning Forward-Looking Statements

This press release may include "forward-looking statements," within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. All statements other than statements of historical fact included in this press release are forward-looking statements. When used in this press release, words such as "anticipate", "believe", "estimate", "expect", "intend" and similar expressions, as they relate to us or our management team, identify forward-looking statements. Such forward-looking statements are based on the beliefs of management, as well as assumptions made by, and information currently available to, the Company's management. Actual results could differ materially from those contemplated by the forward-looking statements as a result of certain factors detailed in the Company's filings with the SEC. All subsequent written or oral forward-looking statements attributable to us or persons acting on our behalf are qualified in their entirety by this paragraph. Forward-looking statements are subject to numerous conditions, many of which are beyond the control of the Company, including those set forth in the Risk Factors section of the Company's registration statement and prospectus relating to the Company's initial public offering filed with the SEC. The Company undertakes no obligation to update these statements for revisions or changes after the date of this release, except as required by law.

LPU MMA students dominate Rotary PSA Festival


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Third year Multimedia Arts majors from Lyceum of the Philippines University Manila emerged victorious at the 6th Rotary PSA Festival after three years of landing as semifinalists in the annual competition of public service announcements geared towards the Rotary International’s Areas of Focus.

LPU Manila barged into the win column after MMA student Hazel L. Ampon placed third in the 30-second video making contest designed to create and promote awareness about the Rotary’s efforts. Her animated PSA “Primary Lines” illustrates the boundaries set by the lack of education in the Philippines.

“The concept was greatly inspired by optical illusions on lined paper, which eventually developed the idea of something or someone existing on the other side. The primary lined paper then became the symbol for basic education as it is used early in the elementary stage of education,” Ampon explained.








“I wanted to emphasize the reality that not every child has access to quality education, which deprives them of their growth and development. And so, using the lines as cage bars construes that the lack of basic education limits the child to the better life that they deserve,” she added.

On the other hand, fellow LPU MMA major Roniel Justine T. Sañez’s entry “ApoliPOLIO” won a special award in highlighting the Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign.

“This certain issue regarding one of the latest movies asking why Mabini is always sitting in the movie triggered me and made me think on how I can introduce him again and also to help on how to gain knowledge about polio,” Sañez revealed.

In addition to the two winners, five other PSAs from LPU MMA students, namely “A Mother’s Love” by Eunize-Anne D. Dalena, “Bawas ang Bukas” by Aaliyah Frances Damilig, “Folds” by Aina Zarinah E. Dela Cuadra, “Hashi” by Earl Lance C. Sta. Maria and Marie Nicole Domingo, and “Paano Naman Sila?” by Ron Vincent R. Dumalay were declared semifinalists.

Ampon brought home 10,000 pesos while Sañez bagged 5,000 pesos. The seven entries from LPU Manila also received 2,000 pesos each for being semifinalists.

The Rotary Club of Circuit Makati has been organizing the event since 2017. Three semifinalists were chosen for each of the seven Rotary Areas of Focus, namely Peace and Conflict Prevention and Resolution, Supporting Environment, Water and Sanitation, Maternal and Child Health, Economic and Community Development, Disease Prevention and Treatment, and Basic Education and Literacy, and a special category on End Polio Now.

In 2021, LPU MMA students Eunice Angelica G. San Juan’s “Boto Para sa Pagbabago” (Vote for Change), Mark Wilson S. Catindig’s “Kain-Basura” (Food for Trash), Dan Enrico P. Picardal’s “Billiards,” Rikki Lou Bonifacio’s “Laro Tayo, Resiklo” (Let’s Play, Recycle) and Venus Mariel Orbon’s and Lovely Rose Veroya’s “Hide and Seek” made it as semifinalists among 355 submissions from 27 different schools nationwide.

In 2020, recent LPU MMA graduates Ashley Cordero’s “Alone,” Francis Alba’s “Mother Tongue,” Austin Banaag’s “TULOy Tuloy,” and Rochelle Philippe Jedidah Urag’s and James Nadora’s “Ang Ating Gubat” (Our Forest) were selected as semifinalists in the contest. In 2019, “Coindolence” by LPU Broadcasting majors’ Uno Productions entered the semis under the Economic and Community Development category.
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