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A vaccine isn’t the only solution to this global pandemic

Our pursuit towards a cure should not only end with the creation of a vaccine, but should also be led towards a global effort to ban and impose strict regulations on activities that cause harm to both animals and humans.

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Artwork by Patricia Jardin

When man encroached upon wildlife for the most selfish reasons, nature had its way to bring the world on its knees. 

In late December 2019, a cluster of people were found being treated for SARS-like symptoms from an unknown source causing the Chinese government to alert the World Health Organization. While everyone was celebrating the arrival of a new decade, somewhere in the world, Pandora’s box has been opened.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared as a global pandemic, the world has been scrambling to cope with its effects.

Leaders all over the world have imposed lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. Global markets have begun to shut down in fear of a recession. Schools have shifted to online learning. Most of all, healthcare workers have been put through the most unprecedented challenge of risking their lives to save ours.

While it may be easy to put the blame on others, it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t anything we could have done to prevent it. 

In understanding the genesis of this nightmare, it is always best to look back on history. 

Outbreaks have been around since the dawn of civilization. The infamous Black Death in the 1300s wiped out 30 to 60 percent of Europe’s population. The deadly 1918 Spanish Flu infected a third of the world’s population with a 20 to 50 million death toll. The present-day HIV-AIDS has claimed more than 30 million worldwide since its discovery in 1983.

But what makes our current crisis different? Nothing. It’s a repeat of many other epidemics, with each day becoming worse and worse. And the mere fact that we are facing this pandemic right now clearly shows that we haven’t learned our lesson. 

In the past 50 years, nearly 75 percent of emerging diseases have been largely zoonotic—that is, coming from animals. HIV-AIDS originated from chimpanzees that were consumed by bush-meat hunters in Africa. MERS-CoV was spilled over from domesticated camels in the Middle East. The 2003 SARS outbreak that spread to 26 countries came from civet cats that were likely infected by bats.  

The exact origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, remains unknown. However, genomic and evolutionary evidence in a number of studies have shown that the virus was transmitted by a bat to a pangolin before reaching a human. 

Diseases have been around naturally in the ecosystem. Natural selection allowed animals like bats to evolve ways in combating these and for it to cross over to another species requires contact. For years, there has been continuous human encroachment upon wildlife habitats and illegal trades that bridge the gap between these deadly pathogens and the vulnerable Homo sapiens population.

Much of these deals occur in wet markets and cleverly hidden alleys where wild animals are crammed in cages and stacked one on top of the other. These cramped spaces serve as the perfect breeding ground for viruses to circulate from one animal to the other and eventually cross to humans. 

If the wildlife trade poses a threat to public health safety, why is it still prevalent? The answer is, of course, money.

In 2016, the wildlife trading industry in China was worth 520 billion yuan (74 billion dollars)—a significant number in the country’s GDP. China’s legalization of wildlife farming was purposely designed as a form of rural economic development and sustainment during the 1970s. A shift in cultural norms caused the commercial value for wild animals to increase and allowed these small-scale businesses to grow into a competitive money-making industry. 

But this problem is not only present in China. Seeing how outbreaks have emerged in the past, the illegal wildlife trade is everywhere. 

Estimated at 10 to 23 billion dollars annually, the global wildlife trading, trafficking, and poaching industry has caused the endangerment and extinction of many animals and even plants. In fact, according to the WWF, the world’s rich biodiversity has suffered a 40 percent decrease in population since the 1970s. Specially designed routes have enabled illegal shipments to smuggle exotic wildlife entities in and out of countries while evading law enforcement. 

Pangolins, the world’s most trafficked mammals, were classified at risk of extinction by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2014. Their scales have the highest demand in Asia for their medicinal properties. On top of that, pangolin fetuses are served in restaurants believing that it would increase men’s virility. These claims, however, do not have a scientific basis. 

The bile of the Asian black bear, the horn of the white rhinoceros, and even shark fins have also been highly prized as vital ingredients in traditional medicine. 

The consumption of exotic meat has also become a status symbol, with nobles and high-class citizens being the only ones who can afford it. Ratsnakes, bullfrogs, emus, and softshell turtles are only a few of its victims. 

Minks, raccoon dogs, and foxes have been farmed for their fur which are made into luxury goods. The endangered radiated tortoises and African gray parrots are being kept in captivity and domesticated as pets. And the list goes on and on. 

But it isn’t only wildlife trading and trafficking that should be banned. Small outbreaks of the Nipah virus in Malaysia have shown that urbanization of forests into commercial land disrupts the natural habitats of bats. This forces them to inhabit areas that are normally populated by humans and, in effect, provide another avenue for a disease to break out. 

With all that said, the message has been crystal clear since day one: hands off wildlife. Increasing disruptions on the ecosystem is basically writing a death wish for humanity. 

Our pursuit towards a cure should not only end with the creation of a vaccine, but should also be led towards a global effort to ban and impose strict regulations on activities that cause harm to both animals and humans. Protecting biodiversity can restrain pathogens from breaking out of the wild and leave animals to live in the wild without fearing for the human prey. 

For years, we’ve treated nature as a commodity to overexploit. A vaccine can cure the disease but not man’s excessive greed for money. 

For as long as these illegal activities are tolerated, the 7.5 billion lives on Earth will continue to suffer from its effects. While it seems that there is nothing to lose today, there’s everything to lose tomorrow. 

Hopefully, when this pandemic is over, we all return to our normal lives as stewards with better respect and care for the environment. After all, it’s nature whom we owe our lives to.

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Pride Month Playlist: The Welcome Party

You’re invited to The Welcome Party.

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Playlist artwork by Patricia Jardin

This 2020, we won’t be able to attend the iconic Metro Manila Pride March because of the pandemic. Soon, we’ll be able to step out of the door to see and hug the people that makes us who we are. We’ll celebrate our identity and our triumphs and I’m sure, it’ll be a wild party. In the meantime, let’s celebrate the party in our homes as we welcome the newest members of the community and to commemorate the month of Pride.

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#DefendPressFreedom: A War Cry Against Impunity and Disinformation

From ineffective COVID-19 cures, to conspiracy theories, to deliberate propagation of fake news and propaganda, the wave of misinformation and disinformation can claim lives. Without press freedom, we would succumb to this second pandemic.

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Patricia Jardin

May 3 is the celebration of the World Press Freedom Day, a day that serves as a reminder for people, especially governments to respect press freedom. This year, the theme for this celebration is “Journalism without Fear or Favor,” highlighting journalists’ need to freely do their jobs, especially during a global pandemic.

May 5, two days after World Press Freedom Day, is the day that ABS-CBN went off-air due to. National Telecommunications Commision’s (NTC) cease and desist order a day after its franchise ends. It is also the day when a radio broadcaster was slain in Dumaguete City, making him the 1616th journalist killed under the Duterte Administration.

#DefendPressFreedom has been trending on social media due to the shutdown of ABS-CBN and the killing of radio broadcaster Rex Cornelio. The hashtag was used to support the free press, and decry the attacks against the media and media practitioners aiming to silence them. While many people support #DefendPressFreedom, many still do not understand the concept of press freedom, even going as far as saying that the law is above the freedom of the press. 

However, #DefendPressFreedom goes beyond being just a hashtag or a trend.

Iron grip on media

Martial Law is a time of countless cases of corruption and human rights violations, and the press is not excluded in the abuses of power of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, who held the Philippine media in his iron grip.

After the declaration of Martial Law through Proclamation 1081,  Ferdinand Marcos released Letter of Instruction 1, or the military  “take over and control”  of “newspapers, magazines, radio and television facilities and all other media of communications.” The reason behind the media takeover is to prevent involvement of media outlets with the Communists. Media outlets affected include ABS-CBN, Channel 5 (now TV5), Manila Daily Bulletin (now Manila Bulletin) Manila Times, and others.

With most of the media outlets closed or under strict government monitoring and censorship, critics of the Marcos administration were arrested. Several journalists like Joaquin ‘Chino’ Roces, Teodoro Locsin Sr., and others were detained. Media was also heavily censored and needs to be approved by the Department of Public Information.

Several laws such as  the Presidential Decrees 33, 36, and 90 were passed, placing the Philippine media into further chokehold.

Loosening chokehold?

After the People Power Revolution, the iron chokehold on the media began to loosen.

Press freedom has been written in the Bill of Rights, specifically in the Article III Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution. According to it,  “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” 

While the situation of the Philippine media became better, there are still attacks to the press coming from the government in the form of criticisms and  lawsuits from previous Presidents. There are also cases of media killings. As of 2018, 185 journalists. were killed since 1986 according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

In March 1999, former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada sued The Manila Times over a story about government corruption on public works contracts. The Manila Times issued a front-page apology, prompting some of the  editors and writers to resign in protest.

The former president also prompted an ad boycott on Philippine Daily Inquirer. Estrada has criticized the newspaper for being biased after covering several government scandals.

The Arroyo administration also had several cases of lawsuits against journalists. According to Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo has filed 50 lawsuits against 46 journalists for writing articles about his alleged crimes.The lawsuits were eventually dropped in 2007.

It is also in the time of the Arroyo administration when the Maguindanao Massacre happened. This event is considered as the world’s single deadliest attack on journalists in history, with 32 journalists killed out of 58 victims. Although a verdict has been passed, there are still around 80 suspects at large according to the Human Rights Watch. 

The Strongman versus the Media

Recently, the 2018 Time Magazine article depicting Pres. Rodrigo Duterte as a strongman. A strongman is described as an authoritarian leader with a heavy reliance on the military. Duterte denounced the strongman label, but he cannot denounce the actions that he had done, especially his  attacks on the press.

In March 2017, Duterte threatened several media outlets, namely ABS-CBN and Philippine Daily Inquirer over “rude” reports against him. Duterte said that “karma” will come someday.

Another media outlet that has been on the receiving end of Duterte’s tirades against the media in the news site Rappler. The news isie is known for its critical reporting on the Duterte administration, and has been plagued by attacks both from pro-Duterte blogs and  Duterte himself. 

In Duterte’s State of the Nation Address in 2017, he accused Rappler of being “fully owned” by Americans, which violates foreign ownership restrictions on the media. In January 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler’s license to operate over violation of the Constitution and Anti-Dummy Law. Duterte also banned Rappler from covering Malacañang in February 2018. Duterte himself banned Rappler reporter Pia Ranada, as well as Rappler CEO Maria Ressa from entering Malacañang. Maria Ressa was also arrested for cyber libel in February over a 2012 article on Wilfredo Keng. She was arrested again in March 2019 for violation of foreign ownership.

Duterte is said to have a personal vendetta on ABS-CBN due to an ad broadcasted on the network showing Duterte cursing and saying rape jokes. The ad was paid for by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV. He also accused the network of not showing the campaign ads that he paid for back in 2016. ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak clarified that the campaign ads were shown, but some local ads worth 7 million were not shown due to airtime shortage.

Also in 2019, Duterte’s attacks continued and he once said that he will block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise. 

In February 2020, Solicitor General filed a quo-warranto petition against ABS-CBN on the grounds of foreign ownership, labor conditions, unpaid taxes, and issues on Kapamilya Box Office (KBO) and TV Plus. 

The network responded to the allegations in a hearing on February 24, 2020. In terms of foreign ownership, SEC Commissioner Ephyro Amatong said that the Philippine Depository Receipts, which Calida said is a form of foreign ownership, is not a certificate of ownership. The Bureau of Internal Revenue also said that  ABS-CBN has no unpaid taxes and has complied with the tax requirement of the government. The network also said that the Department of Labor and Employment cleared the network for their compliance on labor laws, and said that the network does not practice contractualization. The network was also cleared on the pay-per-view issue on KBO and TV Plus, and if there are penalties, NTC can just fine the network instead of a shutdown.

The network was allowed to operate until May 4. NTC said that it will give ABS-CBN provisional authority as the network’s franchise renewal is in progress. However on May 3, Calida pressured the NTC by saying that the department could face charges under Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act if NTC gives ABS-CBN provisional authority. Two days later, NTC issued a cease and desist order on ABS-CBN due to its expired franchise. ABS-CBN. went off-air at 7:52 p.m..

More than a hashtag

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that there is a “second pandemic” spreading as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads: the pandemic of misinformation. From ineffective COVID-19 cures, to conspiracy theories, to deliberate propagation of fake news and propaganda, the wave of misinformation and disinformation can claim lives. Without press freedom, we would succumb to this second pandemic.

Press freedom is necessary, with or without a global crisis. The press is the eyes of the masses. They are the watchdogs of the government, watching for corruption and injustices. They are the lenses that capture the society and its problems, bringing it to light for people to do something about these problems. They are also our frontliners in this global pandemic, reporting correct guidelines and calling out inaction when necessary. In short, taking away press freedom is like stripping a nation of its right to know and to be aware.

#DefendPressFreedom goes beyond a mere trend or a hashtag. It is a war cry against forces trying to silence the press to cover its wrongdoings and inactions, an advocacy promoting the right of every citizen to be aware, a simple message to the people spreading the culture of impunity that we won’t back down in this fight. As a popular protest sign says, “First they came for the journalists. This is a warning that we need to defend the free press”.

If we lose our press freedom, we will never know what happens next.

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TUBAW’s Kalinow: The Soundtrack of a Revolution

No emotion is more intense than the pain that the masses feel amidst the numerous challenges in our country. The TUBAW Music Collective aims to capture the dreams, struggles, and triumphs of the masses through their music. 

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Album artwork grabbed from TUBAW Music Collective's Facebook page

They say that art is at its best when driven by intense emotions. No emotion is more intense than the pain that the masses feel amidst the numerous challenges in our country. The TUBAW Music Collective aims to capture the dreams, struggles, and triumphs of the masses through their music. 

Being a citizen of our country is a challenge in itself. From the persistent traffic, mind-boggling taxes, poor healthcare, and high living costs, the “Filipino Dream” is bleaker than its foreign counterpart. Life has it worse for indigenous communities in our country with capitalism exploiting their non-conformity to the urban lifestyle, taking away homes, education, and livelihood from these communities. The cherry on top of this burdensome cake is the continued dominance of officials who offer scraps in their term after promising the world during their campaign periods.

These struggles are what the TUBAW Music Collective aspires to shed light on with their music. TUBAW or Tubong Mindanaw, Tulong Mindanao Music Collective are a group of musicians who produce and perform songs dedicated to the working class since 2016. In their Artist’s Bio, it states that it is their goal to inspire the younger generation “to take part in achieving just and lasting peace.” They have notably shown support for the causes of saving Lumad schools with their album PARAGAS: Mga Awit ng Pag-ibig, Pakikibaka, at Pagsulong. Their music can be heard on streaming services such as Spotify with their 2nd album Kalinow available on the platform.

Kalinow can also be downloaded for free by visiting their Facebook page here. The album features 12 tracks that communicate their advocacy and ignites the passion to seek for change.

Kapayapaan

Opening the album, this song immediately captures the vibe of its namesake. Using instrumentals that bring you back to the peaceful beaches, it conveys the message of finding the root of war and resolving it to achieve peace. It directly calls out aspects that ails our current society, such as the dependence on foreign aid and disrespect towards human rights. 

Misyonero

Following the first song, this song gets the ball rolling with its introductory lines. It calls for the masses to take part in the lifestyle of the communities in the mountains and stand by them to fight for their land. It takes the energy from the first song and takes it up a notch to get its message across. 

Bayani

Taking a more somber tone, this track is a departure from the rather direct message from the previous two tracks. The song gives thanks to a hero/heroes and proclaims the inspiration that they have provided. Once again, it focuses on one central message: fighting for peace in the entire country.

Tuloy Ang Laban

Picking up the energy once again, this song aims to serve as a battle cry. It places emphasis on the current issues today, particularly with promised changes that have done little to ease the real problems of the country. As the title suggests, there is power behind each lyric that is meant to rile up the listeners.

Paasa

The next track takes humorous instrumentals with melancholic lyrics. Keeping with the central message of the album, the persistence of killings and the absence of actual help. As the title suggests, it pertains mainly to false promises of change and how injustices keep the masses down.

Tala

This song is an ode to the working class in our country. It carries an uplifting tone meant to encourage and brighten their advocacies. This song echoes the same vibe as Bayani where it serves as a tribute more than anything else.

Ngayong Gabi

A departure from the nationalistic themes of the prior tracks, this aims to tell a love story. This could be considered the “pop anthem” track of this album, showcasing simple elements to place emphasis on the lyrics and the vocals of the singers. It’s a beautiful song that brings hope and love in its lyrics.

Alab

Another departure from the usual style of previous tracks, deviating from the instruments and musical theme that the prior songs took on. Nonetheless, this track makes its statement clear: igniting the passion for justice, truth, and peace. 

Paper Tiger

Concluding the album, this song from its introductory instrumentals sends a message of calm defiance. The only song in English in the entire album, this song sends a particular message of defiance towards the killings in broad daylight. It sends a message of defiance towards the robbery of land and the arson of properties such as schools and homes. The closing track for Kalinow is brooding, passionate towards achieving justice and peace for the entire country.

Kalinow does not only send messages through its tracks, but the entire album itself paints a narrative. It calls for defiance against injustices and empowers the voice of those who shed light on these injustices. The strong and powerful message is clear from the first track to the album and reiterates it again on the last. Tubaw remains consistent with the core message of their group while also showcasing their talent as a collective.

The musical styles of this album highlights the strong suit of the group. Vocals were never the sole highlight but rather the entire song as a whole. The arrangements make each song appropriate for a soundtrack of an equally strong revolution-themed film or play. They tell a narrative through their music and whether it serves as an accompaniment to a bigger form of media or standing on its own as an album, it inspires vigilance and deflates conformity.

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