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Thomasian professor hailed Miss Earth 2017

Karen Ibasco hit out at ignorance and apathy on environmental issues during the pageant’s question and answer portion.

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Then-Miss Philippines-Earth 2017 Karen Ibasco pays the University a courtesy call during her homecoming parade last Aug. 11. Photo by Trisha Mae Ashley Pre/TomasinoWeb.

Thomasian alumna and professor Karen Ibasco was reduced to tears as she was crowned Miss Earth 2017 during the pageant’s coronation night at the Mall of Asia Arena last night.

A licensed physicist, Ibasco emerged victorious among the sea of 84 candidates from all over the world as she represented the country in the pageant.

The crown was passed to Ibasco by Ecuador’s Katherine Espin, the reigning queen from last year’s pageant.

In the EarthTalk segment, the top eight finalists were given 30 seconds to discuss the hashtag they would draw from the bowl.

Drawing #biodiversity, Ibasco highlighted its importance as well as the need to protect the environment.

“Biodiversity is very important. We are very known in the Philippines to have a lot of biodiversity, and they’re very important because they also balances the ecosystem. It’s very important for us to protect them, because as we protect them, we protect the environment to help save our home, our planet, our Earth, to be a better place to live in. Thank you,” she said.

For the much-awaited question and answer portion of the pageant, Ibasco went against Australia’s Nina Robertson, Colombia’s Juliana Franco, and Russia’s Lada Akimova as they were made to answer the question “Who or what do you think is the biggest enemy of Mother Earth and why?”

Ibasco quickly pointed out ignorance and apathy as problems.

“I believe that the real problem in this world is not climate change; the real problem is us because of our ignorance and apathy. What we have to do is to start changing our ways, to start recalibrating our minds, and redirecting our steps, because together, as a global community, our micro efforts will have a macro effect to help save our home, our planet. Thank you.”

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Robertson, Franco, and Akimova were crowned Miss Earth-Air, Miss Earth-Water, and Miss Earth-Fire, respectively, making up Ibasco’s so-called “elemental court.”

Together, they will serve as the pageant’s global ambassadors in promoting environmental conservation and protection.

Aside from the much-coveted Miss Earth crown, Ibasco also took gold medals for Asia Pacific National Costume category for her Maria Clara-inspired costume design by Louis Pangilinan, Darling of the Press, and Group 2 Swimsuit Competition, as well as bagging silver medals for Resorts Wear Competition and Long Gown Competition.

The 26-year-old beauty queen graduated cum laude on her bachelor’s degree in Applied Physics at UST and in her master’s degree in Applied Physics major in Medical Physics UST Graduate School.

She also served as a former faculty member of the College of Science and worked as a medical physicist at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Global City.

Ibasco is among the long list of successful Thomasian beauty queens including Charlene Gonzales (Miss Universe 1994 top six finalist), Miriam Quiambao (Miss Universe 1999 first runner-up), Janine Tugonon (Miss Universe 2012 first runner-up), and Ann Colis (Miss Globe 2015).

She was able to represent the country in the Miss Earth pageant after winning the Miss Philippines-Earth crown last July 15. (READ: Thomasian physicist is PH bet in Miss Earth 2017)

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‘Budol culture’: How retail therapy entices Thomasian shopaholics

Online shopping is not only a product of consumerism and advertising; it can also be a way of coping with this pandemic.

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Artwork by Wendell Adrian Quijado/TomasinoWeb

As the holiday breeze swiftly approaches, the holy grail of business sales has also made its way to entice shopaholics. It is that time of the year again when Christmas grand sales take markets by storm.

Since the pandemic began, people have slowly turned towards online stores and markets to buy essential needs and trivial items.

Digital platforms like Lazada, Shopee, Zalora, and BeautyMNL have become the leaders in local online shopping applications. With the never-ending lockdowns and quarantine, Filipino sellers and buyers now focus online, maximizing their use of these new and effective platforms to venture out into their own business as well as purchasing items.

When it comes to this, Thomasians are no strangers. Many students have been engaging with these e-commerce apps to buy skincare products, clothes, makeup, and random things they might find necessary. 

But online shopping is not only a product of consumerism and advertising; it can also be a way of coping with this pandemic.

‘Retail therapy?’

Medical technology junior Lorraine Pagdato confirmed that online shopping helped her cope with the pandemic. 

“Yes. Online shopping served as one of my coping mechanisms during this pandemic. With the stress that I acquire due to online classes, online shopping has given me a sense of joy outside academics,” she told TomasinoWeb

Despite all the stress that burdened her during the pandemic, online shopping seemed to have sparked a sense of joy whenever she buys a product.

It’s like there’s something therapeutic whenever I click the ‘add-to-cart’ and the ‘check out’ buttons in Shopee or Lazada,” Pagdato shared. 

However, she also added that relieving stress through online shopping is not that healthy because it involves wasting money on things that aren’t needed. 

Pagdato reiterated, “I think it’s not an overall good habit since sometimes, we keep on splurging for stuff that we don’t need leading to overspending.”

Regardless of these consequences, tourism junior Mardz Forte thinks online shopping is better than physical stores. 

“Actually, yes, if magaling ka mag-risk, I mean if magaling ka kumilatis sa mga reviews ganon kasi mas mapapabilis buhay mo,” she said. Forte also stated the importance of exploring the product and shop ratings can help buyers purchase a good quality product. 

“May reviews na mga tao sa mismong product upon shopping, hindi na kailangan lumabas, madalas mas makakadiscount pa, madaming pagpipilian, at madali makakita ng murang items,” she added.

Tourism junior Ella Malig echoes the same sentiments, citing the convenience of e-commerce platforms. 

“Online shopping makes it easier for customers and also hassle-free since hindi na aalis ng bahay,” she said.

Pagdato also revealed that e-commerce platforms spared her from the stress of buying school necessities amid quarantine restrictions.

“Since I am a medical technology student, some of my subjects require me to have medical supplies. It is now difficult to buy those in the middle of a pandemic, so I resort to online shopping,” she said. 

In addition, Pagdato mentioned that she usually buys school supplies online, from highlighters down to notebooks, in preparation for online classes. 

The selection of items in online shops stretches far as different products can be bought there, such as for households, personal use, and even sports equipment. For Pagdato, shopping online becomes a feasible choice to buy essentials amid the health crisis as it lessens the possibility of the virus spreading. 

“Since we are in the middle of a pandemic, my family usually buys our necessities like food, toiletries, and disinfectants online to avoid the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus outside,” Pagdato said. 

Online consumerism

But how do they feel about continuous online sales that seem very enticing and influencers that encourage this kind of shopaholism? 

For Pagdato, influencers do have an impact on consumerism online. When influencers try a certain product, whether it’s good or bad, the influencer’s opinion affects their audience’s decision.

Malig, on the other hand, added that the monthly sale of online shopping platforms captivates its audience and leads to impulsive buying as well. 

Pagdato added to this thought by saying, “It is nice to buy things on sale, use free shipping vouchers, get a ‘cashback.’”

According to her, these factors attract consumers to buy lots of products since it was instilled in our minds that we can save tons of money using those several vouchers and discounts. She thinks it’s a good strategy because it gives people something to look forward to every month.

Filipinos are getting encouraged to buy online nowadays, which sometimes leads to spontaneous hoarding of unnecessary random items. However, it’s pretty therapeutic and relieves the stress due to the pandemic, Pagdato said. 

As for whether it’s a good or bad thing, Forte said that it depends on how you spend your money. If your savings just go to unnecessary purchases, then it’s bad. It’s only a good thing as you don’t need to go out and risk yourself contracting the virus.

“Marami naman advantages [ang] online shopping….mas convenient lalo na ngayong pandemic halos lahat ng stores nag-sswitch na sa online world,” Forte said. 

Bianca Labraque
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Thomasian scientists on the painstaking process of validating new COVID-19 test kits

“When I accepted this clinical validation, I realized that, as a scientist, I have been living in a bubble. First, I expected that things would be a breeze but doing research in a pandemic is totally a different story,” Albano said.

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Team of researchers and faculty members from the College of Science — (From left to right) Asst. Prof. Nikki Heherson Dagamac, Dr. rer. nat., Prof. Pia Marie Albano, Ph.D., Asst. Prof. Maureen B. Sabit, Ph.D., and Mr. Reuel Bennett, Dr. rer. nat.

Thomasian researchers are on the brink of validating a cheaper and faster PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)-based detection of the COVID-19 virus.

The cost of a PCR-testing can be marked down once enough research has shown that this kit can successfully track the presence of COVID-19. This can eliminate the need for trained swabbers and enable the patients to swab themselves. Self-collection will expedite the process, reduce the spread of infection, and lessen labor.

As if the science behind it was not meticulous enough, the execution did not come easy either.

Singaporean Biotech company MiRXes Pte commissioned lead proponent Prof. Pia Marie Albano, Ph.D. to provide clinical validation of the company’s qPCR (quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction) kit for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 via nasopharyngeal and saliva samples. Her team was composed of Mr. Reuel Bennett, Dr. rer. nat., Asst. Prof. Nikki Heherson Dagamac, Dr. rer. nat., and Asst. Prof. Maureen Sabit, Ph.D. from the Department of Biological Sciences. 

“When I accepted this clinical validation, I realized that, as a scientist, I have been living in a bubble. First, I expected that things would be a breeze but doing research in a pandemic is totally a different story. I encountered several challenges that I did not encounter pre-pandemic,” Albano said in the 2nd Science and Technology (STS) Summit.

During the 2nd STS Summit on Nov. 12, Albano outlined the key challenges the team had to hurdle through, namely ethical approval, study site, participant recruitment, team safety, and molecular analyses. 

The surge of Delta cases nearly ruined everything

In May 2021, the team chose Ilocos Norte, 512 kilometers from the city of Manila, to serve as their study site. Ilocos Norte seemed like the perfect place to get their samples processed. The facilities needed to successfully conduct the validation and the endemic situation of coronavirus cases were kept at bay.

“When we were about to send the equipment and materials to the study site, our research partners in the area could no longer commit because COVID-19 cases [had] started to dramatically increase after detecting Delta,” Albano said. 

While waiting to get cleared by the ethics committee, she noticed the spike of COVID cases in the locale and began to draft contingency plans. Thanks to their proactivity,  the team was able to subcontract Singapore Diagnostics (SGD) which is a private DOH-accredited COVID-19 molecular testing facility in Makati. They figured that, with the sticky situation, it might not be “wise” to partner with a government-run hospital at the time.

“At this point, there was no turning back. I am accountable and I was committed to successfully implement the trial despite all the odds,” Albano said.

They set foot – rather by boat, in the province of Candaba, Pampanga as their new and final study site. The new study site exposed the team to language barriers and boisterous weather conditions. Their kick-off was pushed months later on Aug. 6.

During its early stages, the team’s first batch of swabbers and drivers had tested positive and resigned after their quarantine. Luckily, the team had been training additional swabbers and drivers in high-risk areas, and strictly imposed biosafety guidelines and testing every week. This smooth transition meant that the trial could go unhindered despite the setbacks faced.

COVID-19 stigma among participants

Participant recruitment for the validation of cheaper and faster COVID-19 PCR-based test kits. Screengrab from the 2nd Science and Technology Summit

“A positive result was equated to loss of income,” she said as she described how the stigma of getting a positive result affected families. 

Many potential participants hesitated due to the stigma associated with positive cases. Positive COVID results meant that breadwinners could not provide for their families; they could starve while waiting in quarantine. 

This spurred Albano to give sacks of rice rather than the initially planned monetary compensation. 

Political and administrative power dynamics

“In the past, I would only need to present to the medical director and department heads of hospitals whenever I would invite for collaboration. However, in this clinical trial, this clinical trial taught me the importance of understanding the local power dynamics in order to access potential participants,” she said.

According to Albano, access to areas with high COVID-19 cases, quarantine facilities, and community-based testing sites were the hardest. 

“I had to ask the support of medical technologists to have access to their COVID-19 testing facilities. I approached factory workers and factory owners to have their members and employees tested for free. I also invited healthcare workers, especially the volunteers in vaccination sites. And of course, I invited the UST community to participate,” she said. 

Regulations at the local level are dependent on the current COVID situation. Some places have implemented local lockdowns based on where the cases are. The strategy became focused on a constant dialogue with community members and different organizations within communities. It resulted in genuine collaboration between stakeholders in all aspects of the clinical trial. 

“Principal investigators of COVID-19 clinical trials should possess flexibility because the pandemic presents unforeseen changes and diversity of situations one should be able to adjust to constraints and to make fast decisions and plans during ambiguous situations,” she said.

Conducting clinical trials during a pandemic is no easy feat. Albano’s team learned that through the various obstacles that they faced. From the study site to the lack of participants, team safety, and the various political and administrative hurdles, they broke through to the other side to tell the tale.

Despite the odds, the team was still able to pull-off figures beyond the required 300 positive and 500 negative cases for testing. The results will then be sent to MiRXes for further validation and application by the FDA in Singapore. 

Christine Nicole Montojo
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Angela Gabrielle Magbitang Atejera
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UST creative writing major Aleia Anies’ shot in the dark

After submitting the revised version of her piece about siblings tackling grief and mental health issues for her playwriting subject, Anies didn’t hope for anything let alone be accepted.

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Photo courtesy of Ellie Bun

UST AB Creative Writing student, Aleia Marie Anies will be joining the three-week Virgin Labfest 16 Writing Fellowship Program starting Nov. 16 until Dec. 5. 

In an interview with TomasinoWeb, Anies shared her excitement from being one of the eight fellows for this year’s CCP’s Virgin Labfest Fellowship (VLF) Program. 

Being the first Creative Writing undergraduate from the University to attend the event, Anies couldn’t help but feel ecstatic. “Actually, hindi pa nagsisink in, as in ang surreal,” she said.

Although she initially considered dropping out, there were questions that lingered around her. “Kasi alam mo ‘yung feeling na pumapasok na, ‘What if hanggang dito na lang ako?’ ‘What if hindi ko na kayang gumawa pa or magsulat pa ng mas maganda?’ ‘What if hindi ako mag-improve as a writer?’” 

But for the creative writing major, the mere fact that she was chosen and given this opportunity was enough reason for her to keep going. It was the sign that she was waiting for.

Anies also shared that her submission for the VLF was “a shot in the dark.” After submitting the revised version of her piece about siblings tackling grief and mental health issues for her playwriting subject, she didn’t hope for anything let alone be accepted.

When asked about what motivates her to write, the 36th Gawad Ustetika winner for Fiction used soap suds and sponges as metaphors for writing.

“Writers are like sponges, we have to be able to absorb the things around us at ang gamit natin ay ‘yung senses natin. I think soap suds are the perfect analogy for our regurgitating words […] Kasi kailangan mo talagang pigain yung sarili mo as a writer before ka makaproduce ng soap, before ka makaproduce ng work or literature,” she said.

Originality comes second for the writer as she emphasized the need for a writer to be able to squeeze themselves and create a good piece. “I think a good piece of literature comes from a writer who can squeeze themselves, ‘yung kayang dikdikin ‘yung sarili nila and someone who is always willing to absorb new information, always willing to learn, to learn from themselves, but also, to learn from others.” 

For three weeks of exchanging insights and establishing a bond, Anies is excited about what will happen, “I’m looking forward to learning from other people, I’m looking forward to watching a lot more plays and sobrang excited ako sa workshop kasi nga diba […] gusto kong pigain pa ako, gusto kong mapiga pa para mareach ko ‘yung full potential ko.” 

The Virgin Labfest Fellowship Writing Program is an annual event of the Cultural Center of the Philippines that focuses on training young aspiring playwrights through lectures, discussions, and workshops. This year, Glenn Sevilla Mas, the multi-award-winning playwright, will be mentoring the fellows. 

Aliah Basbas
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