Friday, October 19, 2012

The Starlings in My Front Yard

There was a tree that grew in my front yard. As it became big it killed other surrounding plants because its extending leaves and branches denied other plants like guava, bushes and weeds the life-sustaining rays of the sun. The medium-sized softwood tree which is called “alum” by the locals is now fully grown.

Birds and insects are attracted to the flowers and fruit of the tree. Small insects fly into the small flowers to sip their nectar, and small birds perch on branches and twigs to spot fruits and eat them. Birds seem to relish the tiny fruits that are too small and insignificant for humans or other animals to consider for consumption. The tree has also become the roosting place for free range chickens in the evening. For me, it has become an object where I can do bird watching at the convenience of my home.

The presence of trees especially on the higher ground of our family’s compound area made them the sojourns or roosts of some species of small birds. Warblers, sparrows, swiftlets, pied fantails, zebra doves, humming birds, starlings and other birds fly to the trees to perch and eat fruits. Some of them are residents to our compound and nearby areas while others are just visitors. The chirps of the birds are pleasantly audible during dawn and dusk. I can also hear the songs and the mating calls of some of the birds during the day. Their sounds really brighten up my day.                              

At present there is a species of small bird that catch my attention. It is the starling which is called “tusing” by the locals. Although the starlings are indigenous and endemic to my locality, it is only recently that I have gotten a close look on them. The birds used to dwell in wooded areas farther from human habitations. But as the area of their habitat dwindled due to urban development and expansion, the birds have adopted to dwell near or in built up areas that have still plants and trees where they can get their foods from.                                                                                                                                                                         

The tree that I mentioned at first attracted only the birds that usually visit our compound area. But later I noticed that small black figures were swiftly landing on the twigs and branches, and flew away fast at the slightest presence of anything that scared them. Nevertheless, they become frequent visitors of the tree because they enjoy eating its fruits. Mid morning is their favorite visiting period. Although they have become accustomed to the presence of humans who leave them alone, the birds still keep their distance and flee when humans and other animals get too close to them.                                                                                                         

I came to know later that the name of the bird is the Philippine Glossy Starling. It is a small black bird. The juvenile however has brownish feathers in its upper body and a grayish and brown streaked underside.  Overtime, the plumage turns to black when the young birds become fully mature. The sound of the starling is somewhat similar to that of a whistle of a grown-up male person. One of the starling's most distinguishing features is its scary-looking bloodshot eyes. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

TRO on RA 10175: Upholding People's Freedom of Opinion and Expression in the Internet

The Philippine Supreme Court issues a Temporary Restraining Order on Republic Act 10175 suspending the implementation of the law for 120 days until some of the controversial issues are resolved. Relative to the TRO, a total of 15 petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court. The petitioners stated that the law violated people’s constitutional rights on freedom of speech, equal protection of the law, right to privacy, illegal searches and seizures and double jeopardy.                                                                                                             

RA 10175 received protests and criticism from different sectors because of provisions giving power to the Secretary of Justice to block access to computer data even without a court order when there is prima facie evidence that the law is violated. Another controversial provision is the inclusion of libel which gives the offender one degree higher punishment than those who commit it through the traditional media. Libel is already covered by the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines.

Senator Edgardo Angara, the principal sponsor of the bill that becomes the law defended his position on the libel provision saying that online libel is given harsher penalty because of the speed of publication in the internet, and that online information covers a much larger area with just a click of a mouse than one that is published in the traditional media.  However, the probability is that outside the Philippines, except perhaps for the President of the Philippines and Manny Pacquiao and few others, the names of politicians who could be the subject of libelous posts might not ring a bell to other nationalities. People from other countries will most likely not click on posts they come across which contain names of people they do not know. Posts on Justin Bieber or on phenomena like flood, tsunami will by far get more views than those about wrongdoings by local Philippine politicians. Articles on local Philippine public officials that are in the internet will be most likely confined to viewers who are Filipinos or Filipinos living abroad.

In this contemporary time, people are living in a high tech world. They could transmit communications such as letters, news and videos in the internet that could reach the far corners of the world in real time.  For this reason, newspapers and other publications are disseminated both online and the traditional media. Even local newspapers which only a decade ago were available only in hard copies have now their online version.     

The internet is a molder of public opinion in this present day and age. The spread of the Arab Spring revolution was in a way facilitated by the users’ posts on Facebook and Twitter. In the Philippines, online newspaper commenters, bloggers and Facebook and Twitter users helped fan the negative sentiments against former chief Justice Renato Corona so that he became a very unpopular public figure during the height of his impeachment proceedings. It cannot be said though that the senators were influenced by public opinion when they rendered their guilty verdict on him.

President Aquino has for his slogan “matuwid na daan” or the straight path. And one of the advocacies of his government is to eliminate or minimize graft and corruption. The internet can be one of his effective platforms to convey his message or carry out his endeavors. Excesses and corruption committed by public officials can be dealt with by exposing them through the internet.

It is a good thing that the Supreme Court has issued a Temporary Restraining Order on the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act which is enacted at a time when the international trend is to decriminalize libel. Although people should be held accountable for doing irresponsible acts online, their freedom of expression should be upheld. The showing of the controversial YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims” caused destruction of properties and lives of Americans including that of Ambassador  J. Christopher Stevens. However, the US government did not force YouTube to take the offensive video off the internet because of the people’s right to freedom of expression and opinion.

Legislators should heed the lawful and reasonable demand of the people especially if it involves the latter’s rights and freedoms that are provided for in the constitution. The lawmakers are after all the servants and representative of the people who should perform their duties according to the people’s will. The people, after all, have the final say on the elective officials’ retention in office or their dismissal from it.    

Related post:
Uproar over Philippine RA 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act)                                                                                                         

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Gardens of Malasag Eco-Tourism Village, Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

The Department of Tourism operated Gardens of Malasag Eco-Tourism Village of Cagayan de Oro is situated near the foot of Mt. Malasag which is one of the prominent terrain features that can be seen from the heart of the city. The eco-village occupies a 7.2-hectare ground within a protected 800 hectares forested mountain which is also a watershed area. The eco-village is a showcase of the ecology, ethnicity and culture of Northern Mindanao. It is also a place that offers visitors both local and foreign a retreat that brings them closer to a pristine nature.

From the highway, one goes to the eco-village along an ascending road. Getting inside the village, he can see the view of Macajalar Bay and the surrounding places along the shore. Plants and trees of the local soft and hardwood varieties abound. Strolling the roads and walkways, the visitors are protected from the rays of sun by the shade of the trees. The atmosphere is still and quiet which is disturbed only by the chirps and songs of birds. The gardens are adorned with flowers and plants and birds fly from one tree to another.                                                                                                                                                                            

There is the Higaonon Resto Café that can accommodate 40 persons, a function hall that is good for a 170-person classroom set-up, and an amphitheater that is equipped with a sound system which has a carrying capacity of 200 to 300 persons.  There are also a picnic shade, a swimming pool, a souvenir shop and campaign ground. Other facilities that the visitors can enjoy include a hanging bridge, a mini zoo and other attractions.

Anybody can visit the place with a minimum pay of P30, and he can enjoy viewing the scenes and the facilities inside to his heart’s content. If he desires, he can stay in the village by checking in at one of the quarters at a reasonable price.  There are about 22 cottages and a dormitory that can accommodate 100 persons.

The eco-tourism village is just several kilometers away from center of Cagayan de Oro. It is accessible by car or by a motorcycle ride which the locals call “habal-habal”.

The Gardens of Malasag Eco-Tourism Village is for people who want a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. The good thing for this forest retreat is that it is not too far from the main urban center which is Cagayan de Oro. Aside from being a tourist attraction, the eco-tourism village symbolizes the importance of loving and protecting the forest and the environment. Indeed, people of the city are now becoming increasingly aware of the need of protecting the forest and the environment. This positive development was shown on October 2011 when groups that were comprised of members of the media, government organizations and NGOs planted thousand of tree seedlings near the eco-tourism village. 

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Uproar over Philippine RA 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act)

Online journalists, bloggers, other internet users, written and broadcast media people and ordinary Filipinos are up in arms against RA 10175 known as Cybercrime Prevention Act which was signed into law by President Benigno Aquino III on September 12, 2012 and is to take effect on October 3, 2012.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act empowers the government in the implementation of laws against people using cyberspace to commit offenses such as child pornography, cyber sex, human trafficking, identify theft, hacking, spamming, and other crimes.

But RA 10175 was received with concerns and apprehensions by some people because of some controversial provisions. A crime punishable under the Philippine Revised Penal Code if committed with the use of information and communication technologies shall have a penalty one degree higher than that provided by that code. For example, libel committed in the internet is fined one million pesos or US $24,000 and a maximum of twelve years imprisonment. On the other hand a libel committed through the traditional media is punishable by six years imprisonment and a fine of only six thousand pesos. A person is also liable for other crimes under the Revised Penal Code in addition to the one he commits in violations of RA 10175. Under section 19 of the act the Secretary of Justice if he or she finds prima facie evidence on violation of RA 10175 can issue order to block access to computer data or take down websites of suspected offenders.

Several persons filed petition to the Supreme Court to declare some provisions of RA 10175 as unconstitutional and need to be scrapped or amended. Some of the petitioners included Senator Teofisto Guingona lll who did not sign for the passage of the law and Professor Harry Roque of the University of the Philippines College of Law.  The New York based “Human Rights Watch” also urged the Philippine government to repeal or replace the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III and other petitioners said that some provisions of RA 10175 are discriminatory and may result in the infringement of the fundamental rights of individuals under the constitution such as freedom expressions, privacy of communications, due process and the laws on double jeopardy. The petitioners also argued that some of the provisions such as the crime of libel are vague and may result to misinterpretations.  The petitioners stated that mere posting on tweeter or making comments on blogs and posts in social media such as Face book may send an internet user to 12 years in jail. Guingona asked the Supreme Court to issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the implementation of the controversial provisions until the issues have been decided.

Related to the signing of RA 10175 some of the government and private-owned websites such as  Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Metro Manila Sewerage System, American Chamber of Commerce Philippines Incorporated and others were hacked. A group called “Anonymous Philippines” claimed responsibility for the act.

Senator Edgardo Angara author of RA 10175 defended the law saying that the internet has become a wild frontier where no due process is afforded to victim of legitimate internet-related crimes.  Malacañang on its part defended its signing saying that the bill passed several long deliberations in both houses of congress before it was submitted to the office of the president.

Except for the controversial provisions especially on libel, RA 10175 is designed to conform to the standard of international cyberspace laws. Majority floor leader Senator Vicente Sotto III admitted inserting some of the controversial provisions.  It is ironic that the passage of RA 10175 comes at a time when the international trend is to decriminalize libel.  Some people regarded some of its provisions as a step backward in upholding freedom of expression.                                                                                                                                                        

Surprised by the negative public reaction to the law, some senators especially Sen. Francis Escudero, who authors a pending bill decriminalizing libel, made statement that he committed an oversight when he indorsed the approval of the controversial law in the senate. Escudero along with Senator Alan Peter Cayetano adopt a joint resolution that will postpone the implementation of the controversial law otherwise it becomes effective and enforceable.                                                                                                                                                        

Internet users who post blogs, articles, videos, comments or other form of communication should exercise responsibility in doing it especially if their posts are defamatory or critical to other people or if they are against public decency or morals. Offensive posts might cause trouble to their authors later. Freedom of expression is not absolute, but it is one of our most precious freedoms. “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death your right to say it,” Voltaire, the French enlightenment writer said.

Related topics:
Facebook, a Platform to Exercise the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
Commenting on Online News and Articles
The Internet Is Mightier Than the Sword