Monday, December 11, 2017

Don't die in a New York City subway

"Terrorism has no nationality or religion."
--Vladimir Putin

By Alex P. Vidal

NEW YORK CITY -- I may sound corny to some people, but every morning before I take the subway train to Manhattan, I pray.
A short prayer is good like, "Lord, please take care of me and my loved ones today, and guide me until I reach my destination."
I am a regular subway train commuter.
Every Monday, I load $32 in my (Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) MetroCard for a seven-day unlimited ride.
This budget load can bring me to the Big Apple's 472 stations in five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island anytime without limit for seven days. (Because it lacks a rail link with the subway system, the Staten Island Railway, by the way, is not officially considered part of the subway. Passengers traveling to another borough can take a ferry or bus; however, free transfers are allowed to the New York City Subway and the MTA's bus system.)
I am aware that the New York City Subway, being the largest rapid transit system in the world, has always been a potential target of terrorist attacks.


Which exactly what happened at past seven o'clock in the morning on December 11, 2017 when 27-year-old Bangladesh immigrant, Akayed Ullah, detonated a homemade pipe bomb strapped to his body in a crowded subway passage between Times Square station and Port Authority in Manhattan.
Anybody in the wrong place at the wrong time could die when the likes of Ullah strike unnoticed.
The incident disturbed me a lot and made my mind juggle the words "what if."
What if I was one of those walking alongside or near Ullah?
What if Ullah had detonated or "accidentally" detonated the bomb while he was sitting or standing beside me inside the running train?
Without knowing it, I could have sat or stood beside the likes of Ullah inside the train in the past. I hope and pray there will be no more Ullahs taking the subway train in the future.


Like other anxious passengers, I also worry a lot because when I take the subway train, I always fall asleep if I get lucky to sit down during a long trip.
I can't count how many times I disembarked on the wrong station, mostly way past the station I was supposed to arrive because I slept with my earphones on to boot.
I could die if the likes of Ullah attacked while I was in dreamland.
The only consolation is that if I could fight off drowsiness inside the train, I looked around and observed every passenger's demeanor and body movement. The devil doesn't choose the place where to inflict a mayhem.
I realized, however, that just the same: if a neurotic or a determined terrorist happened to be in the running train, he could send everyone to the Kingdom Come if he suddenly unleashed an explosive device or any deadly instrument.
In a subway train, no one is safe. In terrorism, the damage is always intended "to whom it may concern." Help us God.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Why husband Richard is silent

"A good wife always forgives her husband when she's wrong."
-- Milton Berle

By Alex P. Vidal

NEW YORK CITY -- Before the formal investigation in congress on the Dengvaxia tragedy started, the name of Dr. Janette Loreto-Garin was already in tatters.
Angry parents, politicians, health workers, opinion writers tore to shreds the former Philippines Department of Health (DOH) secretary and blamed her for the titanic vaccination disaster that reportedly put at risk thousands of lives of Filipino schoolchildren.
If she were Japanese, Loreto-Garin, 45, would have committed suicide due to large-scale damage on her name and intensity of condemnation from an irate public.
But Loreto-Garin isn't yet finished.
She didn't fly the coop.
She failed to immediately address the issue because she was mourning the recent death of her father, Jose, in Baybay, Leyte.
She has expressed willingness to face any investigation in the proper forum and time.


We expect Iloilo 1st district Rep. Oscar "Richard" Garin Jr., husband of Dr. Loreto-Garin, to defend his wife amid the worsening storm of public denunciation.
Rep. Garin, himself probably shocked by the wave of public outcry for his wife's blood, hasn't issued any public statement in defense of his physician wife.
But in his Facebook account, Rep. Garin posted on December 10, 2017 a NEWS ABS-CBN.COM article entitled: "Garin tags ex-health chief Ona in dengue vaccine decision."
Earlier on December 8, 2017, Rep. Garin also posted a NEWSINFO INQUIRER.NET opinion article entitled: "In defense of Garin" written by Ramon Tulfo.
No husband will sit down and keep quite while his wife is being sliced to pieces by vitriol and vilification coming from all angles.
No husband will not feel sad after seeing on national TV and reading in the newspapers and the social media bundles of unsavory words being thrown at his wife.
But unlike other husbands or wives of embattled public officials who immediately join the fray and lash at critics of their loved ones when push comes to shove, Rep. Garin did not want to throw caution to the wind and will probably wait for the right time to open his mouth.


Owners of restaurants and pubs selling liquors in Iloilo City in the Philippines are aghast by the city dads' proposal to limit the serving or selling of alcoholic drinks at 1 o'clock in the morning.
They fear loss of income.
Many of these establishments operate only at night and cater to drinking customers and tourists who come home late or at around 3 to 4 o'clock in the morning.
The proposal came after a shooting incident killed a promising medical worker at Smallville two weeks ago.
Probers attributed the violence to a dispute between two groups of young men intoxicated by liquor.
They theorized that if they were not drunk, the protagonists wouldn't have resorted to violence and a life would've been spared.
But what about illegal drugs? Where authorities able to determine with finality that liquor had caused the fracas?
But in any decision that redounds to the benefit of society, the public officials have the final say after a public hearing has been conducted.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Stone we throw at Janette Loreto-Garin

"Condemn none: if you can stretch out a helping hand, do so. If you cannot, fold your hands, bless your brothers, and let them go their own way."
 -- Swami Vivekananda

By Alex P. Vidal

-- Let's not be quick to throw stone at former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Janette Loreto-Garin.
Like any accused, she deserves her day in court.
There's no concrete proof yet that the lady physician benefitted financially from the controversial purchase by the DOH during the Aquino administration of the P3.5 billion anti-dengue vaccine.
Everything is mere speculation. The human mind is always critical and suspicious.
There's no clear evidence yet that she acted alone and was solely responsible for the hated deal.
No one can tell that the former Iloilo board member had committed glaring or malicious intentions to inflect harm on anybody and pocket multi-million kickbacks.
As the DOH's highest official when the program was conceptualized, we aren't surprised that Loreto-Garin, 45, is now being crucified and condemned like a heretic.
When lawmakers, broadcasters, and parents mentioned Loreto-Garin's name, it's like they were describing Medusa, a Gorgon and winged female monster in the Greek mythology.


We can't imagine the distress and sadness Loreto-Garin and her family have been going through ever since the brouhaha exploded on national and international media a few days ago.
We can't also imagine the horror and panic the report has caused thousands of Filipino parents whose children were among those vaccinated by the now infamous DOH program.
What we learned from reports was that the implementation of the program for school children in the Philippines has been halted after Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine Dengvaxia manufacturer, ruled that the vaccine is unsafe for use of those who have not been infected with dengue.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has been tasked by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to probe the alleged fiasco effective December 4, 2017.
Since the NBI investigation is still on infant stage, we can't yet pinpoint the gun and pull the trigger on any Tom, Dick, and Harry mentioned and blamed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) in the deal.
Loreto-Garin herself has signified her willingness to cooperate with the investigators "in due time" and "in the proper forum" because she was reportedly still busy attending to her ailing father.


Before he said yes to the invitation of Iloilo City Mayor Jose "Joe III" Espinosa III to grace the 2018 Dinagyang Festival, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte had been invited through social media by Marivic Mabilog, wife of "dismissed" Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog, to drop by the controversial "mansion" located near the Iloilo River so he would see that it is not really expensive as what critics of Mayor Mabilog have been declaring.
When the presidential entourage goes to the Iloilo Freedom Grandstand from the Iloilo International Airport for the big event in the third week of January 2018, it will pass by the magnificent Iloilo River.
From a distance, President Duterte would be able to see the controversial Mabilog house.
It's important that he could see it by himself and not just rely on whispers from merchants of political intrigues.


Will the Panay Electric Company (PECO) obtain an extension of its franchise for another 25 years now that the ball is on the court of the House of Representatives?
We will know when Iloilo reporters ask President Duterte when visits the Dinagyang Festival next month.
Mr. Duterte's body language and words about the issue will give answers to all our doubts and worries.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A test of Loreto-Garin's integrity

"One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised."
-- Chinua Achebe

By Alex P. Vidal

NEW YORK CITY -- Ilonggos will be watching with bated breath as former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Janette Loreto-Garin defends the controversial purchase during the term of former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III of the controversial P3.5 billion anti-dengue vaccination, which is now the subject of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) probe.
Since Loreto-Garin, 45, is a former Iloilo provincial board member and the wife of Iloilo 1st District Rep. Oscar "Richard" Garin Jr., the Ilonggos are worried that her name might be dragged in the controversy, which has the potential to explode as a tidal wave.
Since it involves billions of pesos and tagged as "danger to public health" (about 10 percent of the estimated 700,000 children vaccinated prior to dengue infection are reportedly at risk), the story has sent shockwaves all over the world.
So far, no Ilonggo public servant who served in the national government has been implicated in a scandal of horrific proportion in recent memory.
We are confident that, without prejudice to the ongoing NBI probe as ordered by the Department of Justice (DOJ) effective December 4, 2017, Loreto-Garin will not besmirch the reputation of the Ilonggos and she can wiggle out from the difficult dilemma.


Loreto-Garin, one of the richest cabinet officials who served under the Aquino administration, has no derogatory record in as far as public service is concerned.
That's why her relatives in Leyte and in-laws in Iloilo as well as their political supporters, are not worried that the controversy might cause dishonor to her name and jeopardize the political future of the Garins once the NBI has conducted its full blown investigation.
Loreto-Garin's innocence in the anti-vaccine tumult is vital as the Philippines prepares for the next congressional elections, which is about 15 months away.
Most of her in-laws in Iloilo are gunning for important elective seats, and they can't afford to carry a heavy baggage like the controversy Loreto-Garin is in today during the campaign period.
If the NBI investigation will find Loreto-Garin among those liable in the alleged anomalous DOH-Sanofi Pasteur P3.5 billion Dengvaxia deal, her husband and in-laws could suffer the domino effects in the 2019 elections.
The entire Garin clan's political luck rests on Loreto-Garin's exoneration.


SOME Iloilo City hall "job hires" assigned in the Esplanade for the city government's cleanliness program are reportedly being required to report morning and afternoon to work as sweepers without day off effective December 2017.
To compound the matter, they can hardly make both ends meet because aside from their low salary, they are also allegedly being paid late.
If true, let's hope that City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) chief, Engr. Noel Hechanova, can help them.


With or without peace talks with the communist and the seccesionist rebels, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should always be on the watch for possible ambush and raid in their precincts and detachments.
They aren't supposed to let their guards down and complain of harassment ad "treachery" when they are killed in "surprised" attacks.
Soldiers should always be on alert because they have been sworn to protect the republic from those who intend to topple the government; and that's why they are hailed as heroes.
Being killed in action or in "surprised" attacks is part of the risk they face every day.

Can we survive Christmas without chocolates?

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.”
-- Charles M. Schulz

By Alex P. Vidal

IS too much chocolate-eating dangerous to our health?
Can it cause diabetes and obesity as feared?
Over-eating of chocolate can be tantamount to slow motion suicide, although it contains health benefits if we eat moderately.
Some of the health benefits of chocolate are:
--Cacao, the source of chocolate, contains antibacterial agents that fight tooth decay. However, chocolate with high sugar content will negate this benefit, according to Cocosymposium. Dark chocolate contains significantly higher amounts of cacao and lower amounts of sugar than white chocolate, making it more healthful.
--The smell of chocolate may increase theta brain waves, resulting in relaxation.
--Chocolate contains phenyl ethylamine, a mild mood elevator.
--The cocoa butter in chocolate contains oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fat which can raise good cholesterol.
--Men who eat chocolate regularly live on average one year longer than those who don’t.
--The flavanoids in chocolate help keep blood vessels elastic.
--Chocolate increases antioxidant levels in the blood.
--The carbohydrates in chocolate raise serotonin levels in the brain, resulting in a sense of well-being.
The health risks of chocolate are:
--Chocolate may contribute to lower bone density.
--Chocolate can trigger headaches in migraine sufferers.
--Milk chocolate is high in calories, saturated fat and sugar.
--Chocolate is a danger to pets (chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine, which animals are unable to digest).


Christmas is a time for eating chocolate.
Consumption has come a long way since the first “eating” chocolate was introduced in England by the Bristol firm of Fry and Sons in 1847.
Much debate and mythology surround people’s craving for this confection, which has been blamed on depression, the menstrual cycle, sensory gratification, or some of the 300 plus chemicals that it contains.
The sensuous properties of chocolate depend on the fat it contains.
Roger Highfield explains in The Physics of Christmas that
Cocoa butter can solidify in half a dozen different forms, each of which has a different effect on “mouthfeel” and palatability.
Form V predominates in the best chocolate, making it glossy and melt in the mouth.
Unlike other plant edible fats, which are usually oils, Highfiled explains that cocoa butter is enriched in saturated fatty acids so that it is solid under normal conditions and has a sharp melting point of around 34C, just below the temperature.
Heat is absorbed when this occurs, giving a sensation of coolness on the tongue.
“Another reason we like chocolate is the stimulatory effects of caffeine and related chemicals. Every 100 grams of chocolates contain 5 milligrams of methylxanthine and 160 milligrams of theobromine (named after the cocoa tree, whose botanical name, Theobroma cocoa, means “food of the gods”). Both are caffeinelike substances,” Highfield points out.
Originally, chocolate was a stimulating drink. The name is derived from the Aztec word xocalatl, meaning “bitter water.”


In the 17th century a physician from Peru wrote how it is “good for soldiers who are on guard.”
Highfield stresses that indeed, some people have suggested that it was Casanova’s favorite bedtime drink—to give him a boost when he needed it.
Medical textbooks do note, however, that when taken in large quantities, these stimulants can induce nausea and vomiting.
This effect can also be observed in children (and others) who of overindulge on Christmas Day.
He cites that every 100 grams of chocolate also contains 660 milligrams of phenylethylamine, a chemical relative of amphetamines, which has been shown to produce a feeling of well-being and alertness.
“This may be why some people binge on the stuff after an upsetting experience—or perhaps to cope with the stress of Christmas shopping,” Highfield theorizes.
He also observes the following:
-Phenylethylamine may trigger the release of dopamine, a messenger chemical in the brain that plays a role in the “reward pathway” that governs our urge to eat or have sex.
-Phenylethylamine raises blood pressure and heart rate, and heightens sensation and blood glucose levels, leading to the suggestion that chocoholics “self-medicate” because they have a faulty mechanism for controlling the body’s level of the substance.
However, if a person consumes too much phenylethylamine or has an inability to remove it due to the lack of a key enzyme (monoamine oxidase), blood vessels in the brain constrict, causing a migraine, according to Highfield.


More recently, it has been found that chocolate also contains substances that can act like cannabis on the brain, intensifying its other pleasurable effects.
Highfield says three substances from the N-acylethanolamine group of chemicals can mimic the euphoric effects of cannabis, according to a study by Daniele Piomelli, Emmanuelle di Tomaso, and Massimiliano Beltramo of the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego.
Their works date back in 1990, when scientists found a site in the brain that responds to cannabinoids, the class of compounds that include the active ingredient in cannabis.
Recently they have discovered the specific substances in the brain that bind to this site. One is a fatty molecule dubbed anandamide after the Sanskrit word for “bliss.”
Piomelli investigated chocolate, which is rich in fat, because he correctly suspected that it might contain lipids related to anandamide.
Piomelli was first inspired to look into the mood-altering effects of chocolate when he became addicted to the stuff one gray winter in Paris.Now that he has moved to California, which is as sunny as his homeland of Italy, he is no longer a chocoholic.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Umayan kids pocket golds in ASEAN Age Group chess tilt

By Alex P. Vidal

NEW YORK CITY -- The talented Umayan kids of Davao City, Philippines--Gabriel John and Samantha--won gold medals and certificates in the boys and girls divisions, respectively, in the 18th Asean Age Group Team Standard Under-12 Chess Championships held at the Hotel Grand Darulmakmur in Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia on November 24-December 5, 2017.
VICTORIOUS FAMILY (Samantha, mother Merlinda, Gabriel John)
Gabriel "Gab" John Umayan, 12, teamed up with Gabriel Concio Jr. and Mark Jay Bacojo to propel Team Philippines on top (champion) with 112.5 total tie-break points edging Malaysia (second) with 106.5 total tie-break points, and Singapore (third) with 96 total tie-break points.
Gabriel John

Younger sister Samantha "Sam" Babol Umayan, 11, and teammates Jerlyn Mae San Diego and Krisen Yochabel Marie Sanchez submitted 121 total tie-break points to give Team Philippines another championsip in the distaff side over Malaysia 1 (second) with 107 points, and Malaysia 2 (third) with 104 points.


Samantha also scored 5.5 points to grab the bronze medal in the girls Under-12 individual.
Gabriel John and Samantha are children of United States Chess Federation (USCF) National Master Vincent Umayan and Merlinda.
"All our sacrifices have paid off," beamed the father Umayan, 42, who won a grandmaster-laden blitz tournament in Long Island City in New York on November 12, 2017.
Father and mother supervised the kids' Spartan-like training and preparations with daily prayers and giving of words of encouragement and motivation.
"Strictly no computer games, no playing around, no quarrel. We asked them to focus, focus, and focus because they were representing the Philippines and they were trying to give glory to the country," Vincent said.


New York-based Vincent honed the kids' skills and guided them by reviewing the games of world champions and playing blitz matches with them on-line every night, while Merlinda accompanied the kids in their first international stint.
"I always goaded them to finish what we have started. I wanted to instill in them the values of sacrifice, hard work, and humility," Vincent stressed.
When they return to the Philippines, Vincent exhorted the kids to start training again. They next target the world junior championship.
A hero's welcome waited the kids in Davao City.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Did Fr. Boy Celis err? 

"If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself."
--Saint Augustine

By Alex P. Vidal

NEW YORK CITY -- Was the move of Fr. Espiridion “Boy” Celis Jr., parish priest of Saint Anne's Parish in Molo, Iloilo City in the Philippines, of calling for a press conference to voice out his rancor with Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, correct?
The press conference at the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) on November 28, 2017 came days after Bishop Lagdameo supposedly rejected Fr. Celis' appeal to postpone his transfer to Saint Anthony's Parish in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo effective December 3, 2017.
Fr. Celis lamented that his appeal during their private meeting "fell on deaf ears."
Since the issue Fr. Celis raised against Bishop Lagdameo was intra-congregation, we suspect the move to call for a press conference was not only incorrect, but also a bad move.
We suspect Fr. Celis erred when he decided to bring the matter to the media instead of waiting for the result of his petition before the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome, Italy.
We respect though Fr. Celis' right to seek redress of his grievances in the "proper forum."


Still, media can't coax Bishop Lagdameo to change his heart. The glitzy publicity can't swivel the bishop's mind.
The public can't help either. After monitoring the press conference, it can't hold a "people power" to compel the bishop to favor Fr. Celis.
Any press conference of that nature, in fact, could produce a surfeit of billigerent scenarios, thus it would only exacerbate Fr. Celis' enmity with the Jaro archbishop instead of appeasing the church bigwig.
The issue was about an edict for reshuffling of priests, which falls under the Roman Catholic Church authority.
In the church's hierarchy and chain of command, Bishop Lagdameo is mandated to dispense the clergy's reassignment.
Shall a professional police officer denounce his superior officer and get sympathy from the press for transferring him from one police precinct to another? If the police officer can't stand the heat, he can always run to the kitchen's nearest exit.


Fr. Celis was quoted in the report as saying that “I presented the case as plainly, as lovingly, as quietly as possible, and it was just explaining to him (Lagdameo) why it was important to let me stay with my parishioners (in Molo) for a while. But, unfortunately, (his) ears were closed."
Fr. Celis added that he was prompted to bring the matter to the church's higher authorities in Rome after he was allegedly "dared" by the archbishop to do it.
He also compared his predicament to the historical Jesus Christ, maltreated by his fellow Jews despite his goodness, according to report.
From the way Fr. Celis expressed his sentiments, it appeared he was already exasperated. After being spurned by Bishop Lagdameo in what could have been his last-ditch effort to save his present post, he probably became distraught and must've thought that, by bringing the matter to the media, it would, at least, mollify his pain and frustration.
Our heart goes out for the good priest who is arguably one of the most respected and highly admired church authorities in Western Visayas today.
Ignosce mihi, pater, quia peccavi or forgive me Father for I have sinned.