Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mothers turn garbage into ‘garbags’

By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

STO. DOMINGO, ALBAY—WITH a mother’s touch, garbage foil and plastic sheets transform into colorful, fashionable, and useful bags in Barangay Salvacion here.

Wittily labeled “Garbags,” coined from the words “garbage” and “bags,” these recycled handicrafts are being made by members of the Barangay Salvacion Mothers’ Club.

The mothers only started making the bags last October.

The idea of making bags out of trash was conceived in a handicraft contest organized by the club during the village fiesta last year.

Formed in 2005, the club would also hold mothers’ classes every two weeks on different issues—nutrition, child care, gardening, food preparation, health, and child discipline.

Glenda Newhall, the club’s adviser, says beautiful designs emerged out of pieces of garbage, which the villagers turned into hats, slippers and bags.

“The items made out of recycled materials, like foil and plastic packs, turned out to be beautiful and we thought they were salable. This motivated the mothers to make bags for a living,” Newhall says.

Families in Barangay Salvacion needed an alternative source of income following the onslaught of Supertyphoon “Reming,” which devastated agricultural lands.

The villagers, mostly farmers and fishermen, lost regular income since agricultural products like coconut and anahaw would take time to recover fully. The destroyed fishing boats could not be immediately replaced.

The housewives found hope in making bags out of recycled materials.

Product prices range from P50 for a wallet to P300 for an abaca sando bag.

Myrna Belardo, 43, mothers’ club vice chair, says making bags also allows housewives to share their thoughts and talents.

Many hands work together to craft just one bag.

“We have different skills. One may be good in cutting, another may be good in sewing, while still another may be good in weaving. We combine all our talents to create our products,” Belardo, a mother of five children, says in Filipino.

Through making bags, the housewives developed closer ties.

Newhall says that since some of the mothers used to weave “banig” while others used to work in “patahian,” they are skilled even without formal training.

Belardo says they design and make the bags themselves.

Anita Revadavia says the mothers would treat their work as an enjoyable hobby.

Work starts at 8 a.m. at Barangay Salvacion’s multipurpose center. This favors some mothers, whose children are attending day care classes in the adjacent room.

“Some of us would also work at home, once we have finished the household chores. We don’t waste time because we dream of bulk orders someday,” Revadavia says.

Newhall says the biggest challenge they are facing is tapping the export market.

“This kind of product has great market potentials in other countries because of its novelty. We also eye on overseas Filipino workers as potential market,” Newhall says.

Belardo says the bestsellers are the useful grocery bags, which are made of juice packs and the fashionable shoulder bags accentuated with abaca.

She says every batch of “Garbags” were sold out to personal contacts and foreigners.

“We hope to have our own place downtown or in Legazpi City, so that our products will be known to many,” Belardo says.

Saving the environment

While the mothers earn extra from making bags out of recycled materials, they also help save the environment.

A retired nurse, Newhall says she has seen that improper waste management has been choking their rivers, polluting their beaches, creating breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects.

“The children would commonly have respiratory problems due to fumes of burning garbage,” says Newhall, who opened a free clinic for the Salvacion villagers.

“Garbags,” says Newhall, has four goals: to boost the income of families, to recycle and reuse trash, to empower women, and to enable the mothers to develop and manage their own business.

Friday, June 27, 2008

DOH allays fears of fish poisoning

By Kristine L. Alave in Manila and Ephraim Aguilar and Jaymee Gamil, Inquirer Southern Luzon

HEALTH OFFICIALS YESTERDAY SOUGHT TO allay fears that seafood and fish caught in waters near the capsized MV Princess of the Stars were contaminated as a result of bodies that have not been retrieved in the sunken vessel.

The advisory couldn’t have come at a better time as Masbate provincial officials were battling rumors that marine products from the province were contaminated, causing a sharp decline in fish sale in the province.

Masbate Gov. Elisa Kho appealed to the public to calm down as she corrected rumors that fish caught in Masbate posed health risks to consumers.

“As long as they cook the fish very well, it is safe for consumption,” said Kho, a doctor by profession.

She said the fish scare had brought losses to fishermen in the province.

Dr. Eric Tayag, of the National Epidemiology Center, said most fish species are not carnivores and, therefore, would not eat human flesh.

“Fishes don’t eat humans,” he said. Most fish, he said, eat small plants. Bigger fishes, on the other hand, prey on smaller fishes or other marine animals, he added.

Authorities believed that around 800 passengers were trapped to death inside the ship when it was swallowed by Typhoon “Frank.”

Since the sinking, residents of Romblon and nearby provinces have refused to eat fish caught in the surrounding waters for fear that they have been contaminated by the decomposing bodies.

Dr. Baby Banatin, chief of the Department of Health Emergency Management Service, acknowledged that there is a “psychological” aversion to fish caught near the ferry.

However, she said the public should not be afraid to eat fish and seafood from the Sibuyan Sea, where the ferry sank last Saturday, saying the corpses do not pose a health risk.

“Normally, dead bodies do not pose a threat. The bodies died because of trauma, not diseases,” she said.

The Department of Health officials also said the bodies do not pose a risk to handlers and divers, who use protective gears in scouring the vessel.

Tayag and Banatin said bacteria and viruses die with the person.

“The greatest fear is psychological. Are they prepared to fish out the bodies? Are they prepared to see the bloated bodies?” she said.

Tayag said DOH has raised alerts in Iloilo, Antique, and Capiz provinces against water borne diseases.

Residents in these provinces were urged to boil their water before drinking it.

In Daraga, Albay, vendors and buyers just shrugged off the fish scare.

“If there’s a fish scare, prices would drop. But prices even increased because it’s the full moon and fish catch is down,” Fe Rifo, 30, said.

“We have yet to be poisoned by fish,” she said.

She said she was aware that bodies were surfacing in waters of Masbate.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ferry sinks; 700 missing

Bodies floating, kidswailing, says survivor
By the Inquirer Staff

WAVES AS TALL AS MOUNTAINS BATTERED THE MV Princess of the Stars and within 15 horrifying minutes, the ferry carrying more than 700 people sank in typhoon-tossed waters off Sibuyan island, one survivor recounted.

“There were many children trapped inside the boat. I could hear them wailing before the boat sank,” said Renato Lanorias, a crew member of the 23,824-ton ferry who survived by clinging to the rope of a life raft until he hit land, along with three others.

Lanorias said he could not forget the hundreds of bodies floating at sea and the cries for help from the victims as the ship keeled over and went under.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, reported 10 deaths from the vessel. But details were skimpy. It was unclear if the six bodies, including a man and woman bound together, that were swept to Sibuyan were among the fatalities.

The other passengers and crew were considered “missing,” said Gordon. “It could be that the others were trapped inside the ship. If that’s the case, they could still be alive and can be rescued.”

A Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) rescue vessel, battling stormy seas and strong winds, reached the ferry yesterday afternoon, one end jutting out of the water upside-down, more than 24 hours after it lost radio contact. There was no sign of survivors.

“They haven’t seen anyone. They’re scouring the areas. They’re studying the direction of the waves to determine where survivors may have drifted,” said Lt. Arman Balilo, PCG spokesperson.

‘I hope many are all right’

PCG Commandant Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo said more rescuers were dispatched to nearby Cresta de Gallo Island south of Sibuyan yesterday. “They will be scouring the other coastal areas to check for the other passengers,” Tamayo said.

“I hope and pray that many are all right,” he said.

However, Tamayo said rescuers on Cresta de Gallo reported late last night that “unfortunately they did not see any body.”

“They’re going to check nearby islands,” Tamayo said.

It was potentially the worst sea disaster to hit the country since the ferry MV Doña Paz collided with an oil tanker in 1987 and left more than 4,000 people dead.

The Princess of the Stars, owned by Sulpicio Lines, sailed from Manila at 8 a.m. on Friday on a 22-hour trip to Cebu City with 626 passengers and 121 crewmen. Among the passengers were 31 infants and 20 children.

Sulpicio Lines, however, said that the ship’s manifest had 725 passengers.

The Coast Guard gave the ferry clearance to depart in spite of storm warnings because it was over 23,000 tons with a capacity of 1,992 passengers.

The other survivors found in Sibuyan with Lanorias were passengers Jesus Cica, Oliver Amorin of Olango Island, and Jessie Boot of Siquijor province, according to Mayor Nanette Tansingco of San Fernando town on the island.

Ferry sank at 11:45 a.m.

Tansingco said most of the survivors had contusions all over the body and lacerations in the head.

She said she also sent a speed boat to check the ill-fated vessel. “They saw the boat upside down with a big hole in the hull.”

Tansingco said at least four bodies were found and children’s slippers were scattered on the shoreline.

Lanorias, in mobile phone interview, said he remembered hitting his face on a rock upon reaching Sibuyan.

He said the overturned ferry sank at around 11:45 a.m. yesterday. Strong winds and big waves apparently broke the lashing that tucked the cargo, causing the ferry to sink, Lanorias said.

A hole in the hull was seen as the ferry lay submerged about a kilometer and a half from the shore of Sibuyan, where it was apparently swept after it listed and toppled farther away—up to 11.2 nautical kilometers (7 nautical miles) off the island, according to the Coast Guard.

‘Abandon ship’

“The waves were almost the size of a mountain,” Lanorias said in a shaky voice. “At around 10 a.m. the ship slowed down and started to dance. I noticed that it was running tilted,” he said in Filipino.

Lanorias said when the captain announced “abandon ship,” many hysterical passengers jumped in the storm-tossed water. He said all 14 lifeboats of the Princess of the Stars were let down but big waves still engulfed some of them.

“We were on a lifeboat for four hours before we reached Barangay Mabini,” Lanorias said in between coughs.

Chief Petty Officer Benito Vidal of the Southern Tagalog Coast Guard Station said his office received reports that the boat had sunk “seven nautical miles, north-southwest of Sibuyan Island, Romblon.”

He said that the ferry had sent a distress signal, saying it had “engine trouble” and “listing,” quoting a report received on Saturday at 12:55 p.m.

Vidal said he had yet to receive reports regarding the current condition of the ferry or the actual cause of its sinking. If the vessel was reported listing, he said that would usually mean the boat really had a hole and was taking in water.

Sulpicio’s last contact

Manuel Espina, Sulpicio Lines spokesperson, said the ferry’s captain, Florencio Marimon, made his last contact with the office at noon on Saturday.

He said the company could not speculate on what happened, saying only that Marimon was a very experienced officer.

Regional Coast Guard officer Cecil Chen said the Princess of the Stars was cleared to leave the port of Manila on Friday morning shortly before the typhoon changed its northwesterly course and slammed across the western islands.

With the typhoon approaching, the vessel was radioed to take shelter, and “the captain attempted to do that,” Chen said. However, the engine failed and the vessel was left stranded in the water off Sibuyan’s southeast coast as the typhoon barreled across the country with peak winds of 170 kph.

“The engine conked out and (with) the vessel dead on the water and no immediate assistance could be rendered on the vessel, it suffered the consequence of drifting to the shallow portion and was grounded,” he said.

Life jackets and debris

Melanie Rotoni, a Sibuyan resident, said she had seen one body as well as debris but no survivors so far.

“Life jackets and debris litter the store. I saw a dead woman in her 40s along the shore, but she was the only body I saw. There is no one else,” she told dzMM radio.

Philippine Navy spokesperson Marine Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo said that at 10:30 a.m., the Navy dispatched two patrol gun boats—one from Masbate and the other from Roxas City—with frogmen to help in the rescue operations for the sunken ship’s passengers and crew. With reports from Nikko Dizon and Leila B. Salaverria in Manila; Madonna T. Virola, Jaymee T. Gamil and Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas, and AP, AFP

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Where did the shelter aid go? refugees ask

By Ephraim Aguilar
Guinobatan, Albay

TEDEA HERRERA HUNG three plastic buckets under the dwelling’s thin iron roofing to protect her children from leaks when it rains. Made of coconut lumber and thin, peeling plywood, the cramped room, measuring two meters by four meters, has bare ground as floor but no windows.

“All I want is a decent and permanent house to stay, for me and my children,” the 43-year-old woman said. Her house was swept away by gushing floodwaters in Barangay Travesia when Supertyphoon “Reming” roused lahar from Mayon Volcano’s slope in 2006. Over 1,000 people were killed or missing.

Herrera is among thousands of people still homeless after major typhoons caused massive devastation in Bicol that year. Villagers from Travesia occupy what is called “transit shelters” at the San Francisco Oval in Guinobatan town in Albay, prior to their relocation elsewhere.

Cynthia Nierva, 39, could not forget what President Macapagal-Arroyo promised them during one of her visits to the province after Reming: “Lahat kayo may bahay, papasok na lang kayo. Susi na lang ng bahay ang kukunin ninyo (All of you will have houses. You will just get the keys to your houses).” She pointed at the same grandstand where the President spoke.

“That was what Madam told us, but why are we still suffering up to now?” she said.

A year and a half since Typhoons Reming, “Milenyo” and “Seniang” struck the region, more than 3,000 families have not yet moved to the new houses promised by the government.

Project snag

Even Ms Arroyo’s deputy spokesperson, Anthony Golez, admitted a snag in the implementation of the core shelter projects covered by P7 billion worth of calamity funds for Bicol. Being the worst-hit, the region received 70 percent of the P10-billion Calamity Assistance and Rehabilitation Effort (CARE) fund apportioned through the General Appropriations Act of 2007.

Golez, executive director of the Bicol CARE Commission, was in Guinobatan on May 16 for a public hearing of the House special committee on Bicol recovery and economic development. The meeting assessed the repair and reconstruction of schools, damaged roads, bridges, flood control facilities, and resettlement projects.

Most of the government agencies had high accomplishment rates, Golez said, except for the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the National Housing Authority (NHA), which are responsible for housing and relocation.

Following the onslaughts of Reming, the National Disaster Coordinating Council recorded 232,968 destroyed houses in Bicol, 114,394 of them in Albay. But as of May 14, government data showed that only 237 housing units had been completed under the core shelter assistance project of the DSWD.

Only 9.3 percent of the 2,536 units have been funded or 5.8 percent of the 4,100 target. Construction of 1,319 units is still ongoing, said social welfare officer Marissa Paeste, who is in charge of the DSWD-Bicol’s disaster management.

Slow land dev’t

One of the main factors that delay the construction is the slow land development, Paeste said. “Many of the sites are still unfit for construction. The lands are not yet flat. There are still coconut trees to be uprooted.”

She said the local government units and the NHA were responsible for land acquisition and site development. But the housing agency’s regional director, Alberto Perfecto, said his office was not all to blame.

“The construction of houses could be started even if the sites have not yet been fully developed, which is what, in fact, many organizations helping in the relocation had been doing,” Perfecto said.

He reported that the 10 resettlement sites in Albay was already 49 percent complete but bad weather conditions were causing a time lag. “It has been raining the past few months and the soil type in Bicol takes two to three days to dry,” he said.

Site development includes the surveying and clearing of land, building road networks and constructing drainage systems and waterlines.

Perfecto said P240 million of the total P500 million allotted to the NHA under the CARE funds had already been spent.

Corruption charges

Herrera, the refugee, said she was not surprised by allegations of corruption and misuse of calamity funds. “Corruption in the government cannot be avoided. We don’t see what [government officials] are doing secretly, but it’s up to them,” she said.

Too hot at daytime and too cold at night, people in the transit shelters complain, just like in the tent cities they had previously lived for at least 10 months. These conditions have made their children sickly.

Due to Bicol’s erratic weather, slats curl in the plywood walls of the transit shelters while rusting holes gape in the iron sheets that the refugees plug with plastic sheets, sack cloth, scrap wood, and tarpaulin posters of politicians—remnants of past elections.

The little space is just enough for sleeping. Save for the walls, there isn’t anything by way of boundaries. One can hear a neighbor’s baby wailing.

San Francisco Oval, officially known as the Albay Sports Complex, is now far from the athletes’ training ground it was meant to be. It is surrounded by makeshift latrines, while the swimming pool is soiled and filled with accumulated raindrops.

Community life

Despite its depression, the place breathes its own life as a community. One neighborhood created a string of improvised kitchens right in front of the shelters’ doorsteps. Another put up sari-sari stalls while still another earned extra from weaving abaca baskets. Other occupants raise fighting cocks.

“Nagaayos ng electric fan, rice cooker, water jug, plantsa, sandal, at Shellane” is written on the wall of one dwelling.

Since the water source is a common facility, mothers wash clothes in groups and their children take a bath together. Almost everywhere are clotheslines, some clipped with pieces of underwear.

In April, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri passed a resolution “directing the appropriate Senate committee to conduct an inquiry” into the alleged misuse of the CARE funds.

Dredging debris

In Albay, critics are opposing the multimillion-peso dredging projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways. River channels from Mayon’s gullies are heavily silted after Reming swept down volcanic debris, causing lahar flows.

The Roman Catholic Church’s Social Action Center pushed for a labor-intensive method of dredging, meaning that it would be carried out by the public instead of private contractors, so the people could earn from it.

But Golez said he had never heard of any anomalies involving use of the CARE funds. “No dredging project had been approved under [the] CARE, as far as I know. Unless the project has been renamed,” he said.

Critics also allege that funds for the resettlement projects have been misused, causing the delay in the construction of houses. All concerned agencies denied the charge.