Wednesday, September 29, 2010

DA, PhilRice developing vitamin A-rich rice varieties

PILI, Camarines Sur, Sept. 28 (PNA) – The Department of Agriculture (DA) through its Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is developing rice varieties that are rich in vitamin A to help address the rising incidence of deficiency from this important nutrient among children resulting in poor eyesight and night blindness.

Statistics gathered from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) revealed that around four of every 10 children aged six months to five years old and three of every 10 school children suffer from vitamin A deficiency.

One of every five pregnant and lactating Filipino mothers also lack vitamin A, the FNRI records show.

Apart from poor eyesight and night blindness, vitamin deficiency also damages the immune system, increasing risk to common bacterial and viral infections and rate of mortality especially among children, it added.

Marilyn Sta. Catalina, the regional executive director for Bicol based here on Tuesday said field trials on pro-vitamin A rice will be conducted during the next dry season to test the adaptability and performance of these varieties containing beneficial amount of beta-carotene.

Using conventional method in breeding, plant breeders had introduced the gene for beta-carotene production into a local popular cultivar from a donor variety and Sta. Catalina said it can be grown organically and will be sold at prices comparable with the regular polished rice.

Its technology will be finalized during the next dry season test and eventually transferred to farmers by 2013, she said.

As learned from PhilRice Executive Director Ronilo Beronio, fresh from his attendance of the recent 15th board meeting of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board (GRHB) held in Singapore, the first approval of this type of rice will likely be given to the Philippines as plant breeders have successfully crossed the donor plant with PSB Rc82, the DA Bicol chief said.

PhilRice will test the variety’s adaptability and performance after signing a material transfer agreement, she added.

With the introgression of the beta-carotene gene to PSB Rc82 rice varieties, deficiency in Vitamin A is expected to decrease as a study published in the June 2009 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that a cup of beta-carotene rice could supply half of the vitamin A needed every day.

When consumed by the body, beta-carotene produces vitamin A, the study said.

The GRHB is confident of the Philippines’ capability to develop beta-carotene-rich rice owing to the country’s well-established regulatory frameworks on safety evaluation, Sta. Catalina quoted Beronio as saying.

Sta. Catalina said the National Committee on Biosafety under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) would provide regulatory oversight on contained research during the test, while the Bureau of Plant Industry is tasked to strictly monitors field trials.

“We also have Administrative Order No. 8, Series of 2002 stipulating the rules and regulations on the importation and releases of plant and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology,” she explained.

Other than the scheduled field testing of pro-vitamin A rice, the PhilRice is currently increasing the rice’s resistance to bacterial leaf blight and tungro. Dr. Antonio Alfonsio, acting director of the DA-Biotechnology Center who leads the project said in a statement.

Meanwhile, two acceptability studies conducted by PhilRice and Internationnal Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in 2004-2005 and Strive Foundation in 2005-2006 revealed that 69 percent of the respondents accept biofortified rice produced through biotechnology, Alfonsio said.

At least 58 percent of farmers and rural consumers are willing to plant, buy, and sell rice similar to the varieties to be tested by PhilRice, he added. (PNA)

Researchers produce anti-heart disease red wine from Bignay
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept 28 (PNA)-– It may not belong to the class of evergreen trees, but bignay, a once lowly plant that grows in the wilds is now a celebrity among local wineries for saving the country from too much red wine importations.

It all started with Dr. Erlinda Dizon, head of the Food Science Cluster of the College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) introducing the idea into producing local wine that later cornered for Filipino farmers and local industries a share of the market.

Today, locally manufactured red wines using home-grown fruits particularly bignay is gradually establishing a stronghold in the local market and aiming to go abroad, a statement recently circulated by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) said.

Bignay (Antidesma bunius) could be easily mistaken for wild berries or even grapes based on the appearance of its fruits but it is none of these. It comes from the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae).

With its ovoid-shaped fruits clustered together in a bunch, bignay is native to the Philippines and often grows in the mountains with a tropical climate. Each bunch consists of 30-40 small fruits that become colorful due to their uneven ripening.

Some are pale yellowish-green, pale yellow, bright red and dark red, all goes blackish when ripe. Its fruiting season comes between June and September.

In the Philippines, red wine is served only during special occasions. And because we do not grow grapes, all red wine is imported, hence it is quite expensive.

Given however the country's abundance in tropical fruits, Dizon’s idea was realized in 2008 through a project titled, "Technology Commercialization and Packaging of Wine from Selected Local Fruits" with funding support from the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) through its National Technology Commercialization Program (NTCP).

The project sought to showcase appropriately packaged and quality wine from selected fruits and, eventually, to expand the market for local fruit wines.

With results from previous studies on wine-making, Dizon is revalidating the processing parameters to produce quality wine from the laboratory scale to commercial scale production and also to improve the packaging of the products, the BAR said.

"We aimed to establish the quality assurance system like the HACCP, GMP, and SSOP for wine processing, evaluate the marketability and profitability of production system, and enhance the capability of the technology adopters," it quoted Dizon as saying.

“Way back in 1983, we had already screened almost all of the local fruits and looked at their potentials for wine-making. Majority of them were excellent and suitable for wine-making,” Dizon said.

In fact, she said some are way better compared to grapes in terms of flavor and aroma. Out of those 30 different fruits screened, bignay, duhat, and Carabao mango turned out to be excellent substrates for wine processing.

Bignay and duhat represents red wine and mango, which is known worldwide for its sweet taste and good aroma, for the white wine, she explained.

Most wine drinkers, according to Dizon, buy wine mainly for health reasons. "They have heard of the healthful benefits of drinking wine, particularly red wine. It is good not only for old people but for the young ones, in moderation, of course."

Specifically for bignay wine, it has phytochemicals and flavonoids including catechin, proyanidins, B1 and B2. A study suggests that the fruits of bignay possibly contain compounds with potential cytotoxic activity and methanolic properties.

As for health benefits, drinking bignay wine is said to reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease due to its antioxidant properties.

Its alcohol content prevents the deposition of fats inside the arteries, reducing the incidence of atherosclerosis or arteriosclerotic vascular disease (or ASVD) which is a condition in which an artery wall thickens as the result of a build-up of fatty materials such as cholesterol. It was also reported that it can reduce cancer cells.

In another research also funded by the BAR, 15 fruits and vegetables which were initially supposed to be high in antioxidant activity were subjected to evaluation through a study titled, "Antioxidant Potential and Components of Philippine Vegetables and Fruits" .

These fruits and vegetables were malunggay (Moringa oleifera), bignay (Antidesma bunios), squash (Cucurbita maxima), eggplant (Solanum melongena), patola (Luffa spp.), tiesa (Lucuma nervosa), mangosteen (Garciniana mangostana), durian (Durio zibethinus Murr.), kalumpit (Terminalia microcarpa Decne), alugbati (Basella alba), ampalaya (Momordica charantia), bago (Gnenum gnemon), sayote (Sechium edule), saluyot (corchorus olitorius), sitao (Vigna sesquipedalis), and ubi (Dioscorea bulbifera).

This project was implemented under the leadership of Prof. Virgilio Garcia of the Institute of Food Science and Technology, UPLB in collaboration with the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Garcia and his research team noted that in the recent years, there has been very active research endeavors in the natural antioxidants derived from plants, animals and microorganisms.

Studies showed that antioxidants play a very significant role in the prevention of oxidative damages to the body. This could lead to cardiovascular diseases, diminished immune functions and generation of certain cancers.

In addition, it has been recognized that it is necessary to consume diet forms of antioxidants even though all biological systems have their own defense mechanisms in the form of endogenous enzymatic antioxidants.

Dizon also revealed that there are a lot of benefits from drinking bignay wine. She advised to drink red wine during meal times, just like the French, because it can aid in the digestion of food.

Other benefits from consuming wines, specifically, red wines, is that it can treat anorexia nervosa or loss of appetite. The alcohol in red wine can stimulate gastric juice secretion and hence, can stimulate the appetite.

It also works against food poisoning since alcohol can wipe out bacteria in the stomach thus, preventing their proliferation and possible gastroenteritis.

In product marketing, Dizon said, looks matter. For the wine industry, packaging and labelling serve as the silent salesman. Hence, appropriate wine packaging design is crucial-from the types of bottle and cap used down to the nitty-gritty details of label design.

One of the important objectives of the BAR-UPLB project on tropical wine is to improve the packaging design that will promote both product stability and market viability. Since the project started, the tropical wines developed by the Food Science Cluster of UPLB have been given various packaging designs before these reached the current "posh-, elegant-looking" packaging.

"We packaged our wines after developing the label design. We have also tested our products acceptability to the consumers and the profitability of this project," Dizon said. (PNA)

DSWD Bicol expands 4Ps to Catanduanes
By Mike de la Rama

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 28 (PNA) -- The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) regional office in Bicol has expanded the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) in the island province of Catanduanes.

DSWD regional director Remia Tapispisan said a total of 1,338 families from the municipalities of Bagamanoc, Caramoran and Pandan, Catanduanes will benefit from the Validation and registration of these beneficiaries conducted by the DSWD

Tapispisan explained that 4Ps is a poverty alleviation strategy of the government which aims to break the inter generational poverty cycle by promoting behavioral transformations among parents. Cash grant amounting to P1,400 shall be provided to extremely poor households for the improvement of their health, nutrition and education particularly of their children aged 0-14 years old.

The program will require each family beneficiary to comply with the following conditionalities: a.) pregnant women must avail of pre and post natal care and be attended by skilled attendant during child birth, b.) parents must attend responsible parenthood sessions, mothers classes and family planning, c.) children 0-5 years old must receive regular preventive check-ups and vaccines, d.)children 3-5 years old must attend day care classes, e.) children 6-14 years old must attend elementary and high school classes at least 85% of the time. "They will however be terminated from the program if they fail to comply with these conditions."

According to her 458 of these beneficiaries were from Bagamanoc, 436 from Caramoran, and 444 from Pandan. These municipalities belong to the set three areas of the program which were selected based on the 2003 Small Area Estimates, poverty incidence and pockets of poverty.

The program now covers 59 municipalities with 86,691 household beneficiaries in the six provinces of the Bicol Region. (PNA)

NPA rebels rob a group of construction workers, kill one and hurt another

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 28 (PNA) --Suspected New People's Army rebels fatally shot an employee of a construction firm and wounded another after staging a robbery in a remote village in Guinobatan town, a military officer told the PNA Tuesday.

Killed was Wilfredo Asaytono, 56 , a native of Manito town in Albay and an employee of Sunwest Construction Corp. while Jason Obrego, on board his motorcycle, was hit by stray bullets.

Report said the Asaytono panicked when their company servic vehicle was flagged down by at least five rebels. He ran for his life, prompting the rebels to spray him with automatic fires, killing him instantly.

About 50 meters from the scene, Obrego, aboard his motorcycle, was hit by stray bullets in the stomach as he was on his way to Guinobatan town.

Obrego was rushed by responding soldiers to a local hospital in Guinobatan town where he was treated immediately. Attending physicians said Obrego is now in stable condition.

Lieutenant Colonel John Oberio, commander of the 2nd Infantry Battalion based in Ligao City, said that at least five NPA rebels, belonging to Kilusang Gerilya 78 led by Jerry Abache a.k.a. Ka Josam, flagged down an owner type jeep owned by Sunwest Corp. in Sinungtan village, Guinobatan town at around 12:30 p.m.

Oberio said that the service vehicle was carrying seven passengers bound for Bulo-bulo village in Guinobatan town where a road is being constructed.

All of the passengers were operators of the heavy construction equipment used in the implementation of the “GMA Highway,” a government’s flagship project that will link Camarines Sur and Albay through an alternate highway.

Oberio said that the group was negotiating the uphill rough road near the boundary with Bulo-bulo village on their way to the project site when the rebels flagged them down with M16 rifles pointing at them.

Antonio National, the vehicle driver, was forced to stop when the rebels started shooting the tires. The rebels demanded all passengers to disembark and raise their hands.

The rebels ordered the passengers lie flat on the ground while one of the rebels told the group they were doing this because of the failure of the owner of the construction firm to give in to their demands for of ‘revolutionary tax,’ which the rebel are demanding to all private contractors who are engaged in the government’s development projects.

Emptying the wallets and food provisions inside the vehicle, the rebels immediately fled towards the hills, bringing with them at least P5,000 cash they carted from the victims.

Oberio promptly dispatched a platoon of soldiers to hunt down the bandits while assisting the retrieval of the victims from the area.

Representatives from Sunwest Corp. have claimed the cadaver of Asaytono.

This year, the NPA rebels have killed four soldiers, one policeman, eight militiamen and 24 civilians in Bicol.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bicol inflation rate slows down in August

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 27 (PNA) - The year-on-year inflation rate of Bicol Region continued to slow down at 3.8 per cent in August from 3.9 per cent in July. However, compared to the 1.6 per cent inflation rate in the same period last year, the August 2010 rate was higher by 2.2 percentage points.

The slight decrease in the inflation rate for August can be attributed to the decline in the annual price increments recorded in the fuel, light and water index (6.4 per cent from 7.7 percent); services (2.2 percent from 2.7 percent); and clothing (1.2 percent from 1.3 percent).

On the other hand, the previous month's annual inflation rate was maintained in the indices of the remaining commodity groups as follows: food, beverages and tobacco (4.5 percent), housing and repairs (1.8 percent) and miscellaneous items (2.1 percent).

Across provinces, higher annual inflation rates were noted in Albay (3.2 percent from 3.0 percent), Camarines Norte (4.7 percent from 3.8 percent) and Catanduanes (3.4 percent from 3.3 percent). On the other hand, a slower rate compared to the previous month was recorded in Camarines Sur (3.6 percent from 3.8 percent), Masbate (4.0 percent from 5.1 percent) and Sorsogon (4.5 percent from 4.8 percent).

On a month-to-month basis, the consumer price index (CPI) for all income households in the region was registered at 167.3 in August 2010, slightly higher by 0.6 index point than the July CPI of 166.7. In terms of rate, the all items month-on-month inflation rate was registered at 0.4 percent in August from zero growth in July.

The overall rate of food, beverages and tobacco (FBT) index increased to 0.7 percent in August from 0.1 percent in July.

The increase in FBT was influenced by the higher price increments in the indices of cereal and cereal preparation (.07 percent from 0.0 percent), dairy products (0.2 percent from 0.1 percent), eggs (0.4 percent from 0.1 percent), fruits and vegetables (2.1 percent from 1.6 percent) and miscellaneous foods (1.8 percent from 1.2 percent).

Upward adjustments in the prices of sugar and cooking oil pulled up the miscellaneous foods index to its current rate. The effect of those increases were counteracted by the negative rates recorded in fish (-0.9 percent from -1.8 percent) and meat (-0.1 percent from 0.5 percent). Enough supply of selected fish species and broiler chicken in the markets primarily brought down the fish and meat indices at its respective rates.

Meanwhile, the same rate as July's was registered in the indices of beverages (0.1 percent) and tobacco (0.3 percent).

Under the no-food group, prices of housing and repair items continued to post a zero growth since June 2010. On the other hand, the fuel, light and water index (FLW) still posed a negative rate (-0.7 percent from -0.9 percent) due to the price decline in LPG. Similarly, services index recorded a negative rate (-0.1 percent from 0.2 percent) because of the rollbacks in the prices of gasoline and diesel.

On the other hand, the previous month's rate was maintained in the indices of clothing and miscellaneous items at 0.1 percent. Overall rate or non-food remained negative at -0.2 percent from -0.1 percent.

With such prices of the commodities and services, the Bicol Region's purchasing power of peso (PPP) remained at P0.60. Across provinces, the previous month's PPP was maintained in Albay (P0.59), Camarines Sur (P0.62), Catanduanes (P0.55), Masbate (P0.60) and Sorsogon (P0.59). On the other hand, PPP in Camarines Norte declined by one centavo at P0.58 from P0.59 (PNA)

PCARRD scouting for partner-agencies
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 27 (PNA) – The Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) is scouting for more agencies, including local government units (LGUs), to serve as its partners in putting up more Farmers’ Information and Technology Services (FITS) Centers in the countryside.

The PCARRD wanted to reach out up to the remotest area of the country where there are farmers that need the services of the FITS, also called Techno Pinoy Centers (TPC), Tomas Briñas, the regional director of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for Bicol based here said over the weekend.

So far, the PCARRD, an attached agency of the DOST, had already established a total of 644 FITS Centers in all the 14 regions of the country. A consortium-partner in each region, mostly based in state universities and colleges (SUCs), covers these FITS Centers, Briñas said.

In Bicol, 43 centers have been established under the Bicol Consortium Agriculture and Resources Research and Development (BCARRD) based at the Bicol University (BU) here, he said.

The country has a total of 1,495 municipalities and 122 cities and the number now covered by FITS Centers is only about half of that number of LGUs, especially rural areas that should be reached being the farmers’ turf. PCARRD is seeking more partners in these areas to form new centers, Briñas said.

The FITS Centers serve as a one-stop service facility accessible to the majority of farmers, entrepreneurs and other clients in a given area. It provides fast access to information and technologies in the forms appropriate to the clients’ needs, Briñas said.

Its services include technology information in various multimedia formats; exhibit of new technologies and products; internet service; Short Message Service (SMS); and FITS databases.

In its technology services, FITS Centers provide technology training, technology clinic, linking clients to experts and financial institutions, technical assistance and consultancy, support to enterprise development and linking with sources of planting materials, animal stocks and agricultural inputs.

Its information system is composed of seven major databases such as technology, experts’ profile, farmers’ profile, contact firms and information, education and communication (IEC) materials.

The farmers' profile contains personal information of farmers in the area of coverage, total farm size and characteristics, commodities, and other agriculture-related activities and annual income and its sources.

It also documents farmers’ information and technology service need, thereby serving as a dynamic feedback mechanism to ensure the relevance of service being provided.

The technology database captures data on technologies that are ready for dissemination to clients located within the area of the FITS center and nearby communities. Data elements include, among others, the title, brief description, year developed, applicability and limitations, methodology, and economic analysis.

The experts’ profile provides an inventory of researchers that can be tapped for technical and consultancy services by clients in the area. The profile is not limited to experts within the locality but also includes researchers and scientists from other regions.

Key data elements include expert’s name and address, educational attainment, commodity specialization and cost of professional service.

The database on contact firms contains names of establishments, firms, or companies, which the FITS center may refer to clients for business partnership.

These firms include processor, dealer, wholesaler, retailer, exporter, importer, equipment, manufacturer, fabricator, assembler, repair shop, financing institution, research and development (R&D) center, nursery, and chemical outlets.

Another database which keeps a collection of numerical data on the volume and value of production including the specific unit of measure and price and trade data to include names and addresses of buyers, required volume and buying/selling price is also maintained by the Center.

FITS Center is one of the four component modalities of the Techno Gabay Program (TGP), one of PCARRD’s banner programs that aim to bring science-based information and technology services to end-users in the agriculture, forestry and natural resources (AFNR) sectors.

It is characterized by networking of R&D institutions in the AFNR sectors, the Regional R&D Consortia and other members of the National Agriculture and Resources Research and Development Network (NARRDN), the private sector, LGUs, non-government organizations (NGOs) and other extension service providers.

Briñas said the network enhances technology utilization, adoption, and commercialization at the same time addresses the need for capability-building of LGUs in terms of information and technology services.

The TGP includes in its four component modalities the Magsasaka Siyentista (MS) and the S&T-based Farms; the IEC Strategies; and the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) that form a dynamic interplay of interrelated modalities to provide a continuous flow of appropriate science and technology (S&T) information between clientele and other stakeholders.

Magsasaka Siyentista (MS), who is an expert in the center’s focus or priority commodities and products, should be officially connected with the FITS Center.

The MS is an outstanding farmer who is successful in his use of S&T-based and indigenous technologies.

The MS, who is an expert in the priority commodities and products and officially connected with FITS Centers, complements the TPC by providing services like acting as resource person during technology trainings, clinics, and seminars and; providing technical assistance and hands-on training during cross visits of other farmers.

He also promotes S&T-based farming, which showcases the effectiveness of S&T intervention in improving farm productivity and income and provide farmer-to-farmer advisory services.

The IEC strategies component of the TGP involves research and need-based communication processes aimed to hasten adoption of technologies by FITS and MS clients.

Its activities include Information and technology needs assessment, objective and communication setting, production and pretesting of prototype and dissemination of IEC materials in appropriate formats.

The ICT, on the other hand facilitates information storage, retrieval and exchange that can provide immediate response to current problems and frequently asked questions.

It provides opportunities for capability enhancement through ICT trainings, internet link that offers quick information access, Short Messaging System (SMS) through mobile No. 0917-PCARRD8 and FITS-information system.

TGP, Briñas said uses the participative approach in which the frontline service providers are the implementers while PCARRD and the NARRDN act as facilitators.

It adopts a mechanism in which consortium-member agencies actively involved in R&D and technology management are tapped as Partner Member Agency (PMA) of FITS.

This mechanism accelerates institutionalization of TGB at regional, provincial, and field levels through its integration in extension programs of the PMA. It will ensure sustained supply of research-based information and technical assistance support to FITS Centers, he added. (PNA)

Miners collect 3,700 kg of trash from Rapu-Rapu waters

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 27 (PNA) - Workers at the Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project (RRPP) and mining stakeholders picked up a total of 3,700 kilos of garbage in two separate cleanup drives in Barangay Pagcolbon here in line with the celebration of International Coastal Cleanup Day 2010 over the weekend.

According to Carmelita Pacis, RRPP environmental department manager, the clean-up of Malobago Shoreline and Project Wharf Underwater netted some 3,000 kilos of waste; 1,000 kilos from the shorelines, mostly plastics, and 2,000 kilos from underwater near the project wharf, comprised of debris such as rubber tires, sacks, PVC pipes and scrap metals.

Eighty (80) employees, workers and officers at RRPP and 21 company scholars from the barangay conducted the one-hour shoreline cleanup while a group of company scuba divers carried out the three-hour underwater cleanup.

The project was implemented after Rapu-Rapu Minerals Inc. president Rogelio Corpus and Vice President Alex Limosnero, together with Pacis, paid a courtesy call to barangay captain Reynold Asuncion.

In the other activity, the Rapu-Rapu Poblacion Shoreline Cleanup, conducted a day earlier on September 17 collected were some 700 kilograms of trash. The Municipal Police Station of Rapu-Rapu, Albay spearheaded the hour-and-a-half cleanup drive at the pier site and Poblacion shoreline joined by some residents and the 31-man RRPP contingent, led by the Security Manager Francis Suan and the Special CAFGU (SCAA).

The International Coastal Cleanup Day is conducted every year under the banner of the Clean Up the World/Clean up the Philippines campaign of which RRPP is an adherent. (PNA)

DOH readies Philhealth registration day in Bicol

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 27 (PNA) – Preparations for the massive registration on Oct. 2 for the government’s health program, dubbed “PhilHealth Sabado,” has been in full swing in Bicol.

The Department of Health (DOH) over the weekend started conducting orientation and organizational meeting in Masbate and Sorsogon to ensure success of the program.

In Masbate, a Bicol island province with a population of 768,939 based on the 2007 census, said some 46,9000 families identified by the Department of Social Welfare and Development as the “poorest of the poor” are targeted for the day-long weekend registration, a report of the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) regional office here said.

The DOH and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) have tapped the support of various government agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) there for the event billed as “Nationwide Philhealth Registration Day” with a battle cry “PhilHealth Sabado, Magseguro, Magparehistro”, the PIA report said.

In a briefing late last week, Norlinda Castillo of Philhealth told representatives of various agencies and NGOs that the registration was part of the government’s efforts under the administration of President Benigno S.Aquino III to provide health care coverage to the country’s poor at least within three years.

The national government will shoulder the cost of coverage of PhilHealth contributions of each poor family amounting to about P1,200 per year, Castillo was quoted by the PIA report as saying.

The information agency said the DOH and PhilHealth were drumming into public awareness the registration so that the targeted number of registrants were informed of the date and venue of the registration for them not to miss it.

Pedro Lee, the DOH’s representative who oversees the preparations for the PhilHealth Sabado said they also intend to enlist the self-employed who would be invited to avail of the PhilHealth coverage under its individual paying program.

During registration under this program, Lee said that since self-employed persons or any other else who does not belong to the poor as identified by the DSWD are financially capable of paying for their premium contributions, “we encourage them to present any valid identification card and pay P300 as one quarter premium payment”.

To date, PhilHealth has about 20 million registered principal members nationwide, 3.42 million of which are individually paying members, he said.

To avoid overcrowding during the registration day, the PIA said that the registration in the entire island of Masbate would be held in three venues within Masbate City, the provincial capital. It will be at the local PhilHealth office, at the main public market and the city’s public park.

Local government units, Masbate provincial and city offices of the Department of Education (DepEd), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Philippine National Police, PIA, DSWD and members of civil society and NGOs would comprise the back-up teams for DOH and PhilHealth during the registration day, it said.

In Sorsogon City, Jindra Mingoy, the PhilHealth focal person for Sorsogon province, said orientation and organizational meetings with partner agencies, volunteers and NGOs have been conducted in preparation for the registration event.

Mingoy said PhilHealth membership coverage of the poor and the informal sectors remained inadequate due to poor targeting system, buckling enrollment, inaccessible accredited facilities and poor awareness regarding PhilHealth entitlement and processes.

"With P-Noy's priority now of ensuring quality health care services to all Filipinos, it is expected that these concerns will be addressed,” she said.

In Sorsogon about 40,726 indigents, identified through the National Household Targeting System - Proxy Means Test (NHTS-PMT) of the DSWD, are likely to gather at the Sorsogon Provincial Gymnasium on Oct. 2 to register, she said.

Mingoy added that interested registrants may visit the nearest PhilHealth office, selected public schools or the local DSWD counterparts in their respective localities for further details.

Meanwhile, in support to the program, the PIA Sorsogon Information Center has crafted canned radio plug distributed to local broadcast media in the city.

The DILG, on the other hand, is engaging local chief executives in the enrollment of indigents identified by the DSWD in their respective jurisdictions, while the DepEd helps conduct Information Education Campaign (IEC) among parents through their Parent-Teachers Association (PTA) to encourage them to register and become Philhealth members.

DOH regional director for Bicol Nestor Santiago told the PNA Monday that the registration was a nationwide campaign to make millions of Filipinos covered by the government’s health insurance program.

It aims to ensure that everybody particularly the poor gains access to financial protection for their hospitalization needs, Santiago said.

All regional and service offices of PhilHealth as well as the DOH's Centers for Health Development and DOH-retained hospitals nationwide have been identified as access points for the registration activity. Other registration venues will be announced as soon as these are confirmed with the Department of Education (DepEd) and with participating local government units. (PNA)

BU to implement DOST’s S&T education program in Bicol
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 27 (PNA) – Bicol University (BU), the region’s premier state-run educational institution with main campuses here, has been tasked by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to handle projects for the production of more graduates from science and technology (S&T)-based agriculture, forestry and natural resources (AFNR) courses.

This developed as Science and Technology Secretary Mario Montejo and the DOST Executive Committee approved recently the continuation to second year of two projects under the third component of a national human resource (HR) program entitled “Enhancing the Demand for Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources (AFNR) Graduates through Science and Technology (S&T)” .

The approval was motivated by the satisfactory accomplishments of the project during its first year last year and its good plans for the second year, Montejo said in a statement Monday.

The two projects are the Binnadang among Cordillera Administrative Region State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) in producing organic highland crops: A strategy to enhance employability of AFNR students and graduates”, and the “Earn-Learn Resource Center Model in promoting entrepreneurship with S&T”, which were both given the green light to complete their last six months of implementation.

Currently, the national AFNR-HR program is more than midway into its planned two-year implementation with components one and two already completed.

These two components, Montejo said, were the “Policy Research on the State and Future Supply of and Demand for AFNR Graduates” as Component One that involved 27 SUCs and 95 higher education institutions nationwide and the “Bicol University-led Institutional Capability Enhancement Program for AFNR Courses in the Bicol Region” as Component Two, also implemented by the BU.

Overall, there are 40 ongoing projects under the program. Earlier in the year, four projects were approved for Year two implementation under Component 2 of the program including Project 2.2 of the Cavite State University (CvSU), Project 2.4 of the Visayas State University and Project 2.5 of the University of Southeastern Philippines (USeP).

For Component 3, six projects for Year 2 were approved early this year. These projects will be handled by Bicol University, CvSU, USeP, Central Luzon Agriculture and Resources Research and Development Consortium and Cagayan Valley Agriculture and Resources Research and Development Consortium (together in one project), Ilocos Agriculture and Resources Research and Development Consortium, and Western Mindanao State University.

A budget of P200 million was approved by DOST for Year One and released to PCARRD between June 2008 to February 2010 for use of 71 projects funded under all the components of the AFNR-HR program, Montejo said.

The new budget approved for the 16 continuing projects in Year Two amounts to P28 million. By the end of 2010, 12 more projects will be completed. The remaining 28 projects will be completed in 2011, he added.

Tomas Briñas, DOST’s regional director for Bicol said the first component of the program or Project One was entitled “Policy Research on the State of and Future Demand for AFNR Graduates”.

It was aimed at providing a comprehensive picture of the current and potential human resource capacities of graduates in AFNR course through an environmental scanning of the issues and trends that impact human resources.

It has two sub-components--Human Resource Inventory and Environmental Scanning; and

Forecasting Supply and Demand of AFNR Resources, Briñas said.

The second component or Project Two, he said was the “Institutional Capability Enhancement in Key Higher Educational Institutions in AFNR” which focused on curricula enhancement, capability trainings for the AFNR human resources, and upgrade of training and educational facilities.

Briñas said this component is in response to the need for an effective curriculum and state-of-the-art educational equipment in attracting more enrolees and in raising the employability potential of AFNR graduates.

The third component or Project Three is the “Entrepreneurship Development and employment Generation” that aims to support the development of Technopreneurial Learning Projects (TLPs) and put in place holistic and sustained interventions to ensure success.

It has two sub-components namely, Support to Income-Generating Projects (IGPs) with high S&T content, Technopreneurial Learning Projects (TLPs), DATBED programs; and Support to Agri-based Technology Business Incubation.

Coming up after these first three components is Project Four entitled “Research and Development (R&D) Projects in Support of Enhancing the Demand for AFNR Graduates through S&T” and Briñas said five sub-components of this project have also been assigned to Bicol for implementation with BU as lead agency.

The first sub-component is the Development of Risk Scenario Models and Communication Program for a Resilient Agro-Forestry Livelihood: A Strategy for Capability Building to be implemented with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regional office.

The next sub-component is “Enhancing Higher Education Institution’s Capability in Socio-economic and Ecological Impact Assessment of Calamity-Stricken Community-based Mangrove Rehabilitation Project in Malinao, Albay which will be jointly undertaken by the Partido State University in Camarines Sur and the BU-Tabaco City Campus.

The third sub-component is entitled “Piloting of Enhanced Potting Preparation (EPP) Technology for Food Security and Business that will be handled by the BU College of Agriculture and Forestry based in Guinobatan, Albay.

Finally, the fourth sub-component is the “Integrated Research and Development Project for Typhoon Damaged Karagomoi Stand to Create Agri-Industrial Business Opportunities in Albay whose implementation has been assigned to the BU and DENR-Regional Ecosystems Research and Development Service.

The program “Enhancing the Demand for Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources (AFNR) Graduates through Science and Technology (S&T)” according to Briñas was conceived out of the growing concern on the continuous decline of enrolment in agriculture and related fields.

A reflection of the decreasing competitiveness of agricultural courses in the Philippines, this situation will ultimately lead to a dearth of manpower in AFNR sectors if not promptly and appropriately aided, the PCARRD has warned.

The program is envisioned to take stock of the current state and future capacity of human capital in AFNR sectors. It is also geared to provide direct interventions to enhance the supply of and demand for the AFNR graduates, making the human capital environment responsive to the requirements of the industry, academe, and private and public sectors, Briñas said.

This P200-million DOST-PCARRD program is a unified effort of the whole R&D system, under the leadership of PCARRD. It is being implemented by at least 56 State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) across the 14 regions of the country, he added. (PNA)

Jueteng in Sorsogon hides behind STL
By Danny O. Calleja

SORSOGON CITY, Sept. 27 (PNA) -– When law enforcement authorities in Sorsogon say there is no jueteng in the province, do not expect the public to agree.

The truth is, according to Vice-Gov. Antonio Escudero Jr., there is jueteng in Sorsogon and the police as well as local government officials wanted everybody to believe that there is none. They say what is going on is the Small Town Lottery (STL).

STL is a jueteng look-alike game of chance introduced by the government through the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) to curb the proliferation of the original but illegal version whose proliferation has been very lucrative for syndicates and its protectors in government.

Ironically, STL failed and instead played a role that spawned the popularity of jueteng. It now serves as a shield for jueteng to escape law enforcement and negative public opinion with the semblance of legality it provides.

The Wikipedia says jueteng, (pronounced hwe-teng) originated from China and means "flower" (jue) and "bet" (teng). Although illegal in the Philippines, it is a widely popular game with participation that crosses most, if not all social and economic boundaries, played by rich and poor alike.

With long odds and no limits on minimum or maximum bets, the lure of quick riches through a lucrative payout is by far its strongest appeal.

The game relies heavily on having a large number of wagers, and there is no limit to the amount of the bets. Usually, the gambler selects two numbers from 1 through 37, and the winning number is determined by selecting a pair of numbers from two sets of 37 numbered balls.

Thus the theoretical odds of winning on any one play are one in 37 X 37 or 1/1369 with payout of 1:400. This is unlike the numbers games in the U.S. during the early part of the 20th century, where the last digit of the winning pay out or the number of the winning horse for three consecutive races determined the winning combination.

Although much has been done to curtail or eradicate this form of unregulated gambling by government and community leaders, it appears that such efforts have fallen by the wayside due to its vast popularity, and the poverty which cripples the country.

Jueteng was brought to notoriety in 2000 during the impeachment proceedings of deposed President Joseph Estrada, who was eventually found guilty of plunder on September 12, 2007 after receiving millions in illegal payoffs, including from gambling profits.

Another political scandal erupted in June 2005 involving allegations that relatives of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo received payouts from jueteng operators

Following that scandal, Pres. Arroyo tasked the PCSO to help in the campaign to stamp out jueteng and to democratize charity at the national and local levels by introducing an alternative – STL.

On Dec. 28, 2005, the PCSO Board of Directors passed Resolution No. 464 calling for a test run of the STL in 15 pilot areas -- Quezon province, Angeles City, Bataan, Occidental Mindoro, Pampanga, Laguna, Bulacan, Negros Oriental, Iloilo City, Tarlac, Oriental Mindoro, Ilocos Norte, Albay, Olongapo City and Batangas.

The PCSO said the new STL is a democratized form of the grassroots-based lottery and charity first introduced during the time of President Corazon Aquino.

Incorporating the lessons learned from the first STL, the new, reinforced STL was launched in mid-February 2006 under a test-run mode. This experimental feature of the new STL gives it the flexibility to institute needed changes during its test-run phase. It is a feature that was absent during the first STL.

By operating under a test-run mode for a period of one year, the PCSO was able to adopt changes needed to make the game effective as a local government-based charity mechanism for PCSO, even as the new STL provided livelihood for those displaced by the cessation of jueteng operations owing to the controversies and scandal.

The PCSO executed contracts with private corporations for the test runs of STL, with the understanding that a contract can be revoked if a corporation violated any of the provisions in its approved contract.

In late March 2006, the National Police Commission, in coordination with the PCSO, released guidelines for STL operations to policemen which say the police cannot arrest anybody authorized by the PCSO to operate the STL except if there are complaints from the PCSO, local government officials, religious groups, and non-government organizations.

From the revenues accruing to STL through its lotteries, a charity fund is allocated under a sharing scheme such as, city or municipality, 10 percent; provincial government, five percent; congressional district, 2.5 percent; and local police, five percent.

To effectively decentralize the use of charity funds, the proceeds of STL will directly reach the local government units. It will go to the municipal treasurer’s office. PCSO executed memorandum of agreements (MOAs) with local government units on how to disburse the funds given to them via STL. The remaining 7.5 percent of the charity fund will go to the PCSO.

Escudero said that, in Sorsogon, the PCSO gave a newly-formed private firm, Oceana Sur Gaming Corp. a franchise to operate STL starting sometime in the second quarter of this year or before the May 10 local and national elections.

Its permit to “test run” the game was endorsed by the then provincial legislative board which later on after the elections or shortly before the new set of elected officials took over, withdrew such endorsement for unexplained reason, he said.

Notwithstanding the withdrawal of support by the provincial board, Oceana continued undisturbed with its bet collections for its three-times-daily lotteries.

Saying that the STL operation in the province is illegal considering that it violates some provisions of the guidelines set by the PCSO, the provincial board recently passed a resolution calling on the Philippine National Police (PNP) to enforce the anti-illegal gambling law against it.

But PNP provincial director Senior Supt. Eriberto Olitoquit said last week he needs an order from the governor or from higher authorities to do it. Without such order, he said STL operation in the province as far as the police is concerned remains legal based on the permit given by the PCSO.

But this STL is only used as front to cover up the rampant proliferation of jueteng in the province, defeating the purpose that the former should stamp out the latter, Escudero said.

A system of “peaceful coexistence” between the two games has been established in a manner that the collection of bets and lottery draws are performed by the STL while the management of the proceeds is handled by the local jueteng syndicate, he said.

Under this system, the whole proceeds of the daily lotteries are divided between jueteng and STL — the bigger slice going to the former and the smaller to the latter, a sharing style that deprives the local governments and all the other entities that are entitled to remittances from STL proceeds of their correct amount of shares, Escudero said.

Each draw involves an amount of P350,000 bet collections from all over the province making over a million daily but what is reflected in the books of STL from where remittances to the government based on percentage is drawn is only about 10 percent of this amount, the vice-governor revealed.

Another big discrepancy in the Oceana Sur lottery is that the pot money it provides is only 1:315 which is very much lower to what the PCSO guidelines on STL which provides a P1:800 pot, he said.

In the case of Sorsogon, Escudero said, while it provides informal employment to around 2,000 bet collectors (corriadores) and area supervisors (cabos), STL has mounted a protective shield to jueteng.

“One measure to be done now to stop jueteng if indeed the administration of Pres. Benigno Aquino III is serious in its campaign against it is for the government to suspend the operations of STL,” Escudero stressed.

The recommendation of Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Sec. Jesse Robredo to strengthen the operations of STL to stamp out jueteng will not help but provide more lifeline to its existence, he said.

What Robredo should do at this point and time is to issue a firm instruction to provincial governors, mayors and police provincial directors to block the proliferation of jueteng in their respective areas of responsibility or face severe administrative and criminal sanctions, he suggested.

“Still, however, the ultimate way to stop jueteng is not STL or any other means including those that are products of bright minds but a firm ‘no’ from the governor, the PNP provincial director or the mayor. No jueteng operator will ever attempt to get in without the “blessings” of these officials,” Escudero said.

These “blessings” ironically, are lucrative as they usually command a price of a quarter of a million pesos per month each for the governor and the police provincial chief. For the mayor, it runs from four to seven percent of the gross daily bet collections from his municipality, he added.

“So you see. While STL could only offer peanuts to these officials, jueteng makes their hands full of cash. How can STL subdue jueteng given those facts, then?” Escudero declared.

On legalizing jueteng, he said, it is no longer necessary for now as STL has already clothed it with legality. (PNA)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dengue cases in Bicol shoot up by 71%

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 23 (PNA) - The Department of Health (DOH) in Bicol said Thursday that dengue cases shot up by 71 percent as compared to last year’s incidence, prompting health authorities to be on heightened alert.

DOH data disclosed that at least 11 people have died and 1,889 people were hospitalized in various parts of Bicol mainly due to dengue, a mosquito-borne disease.

The surge in dengue cases in Bicol for the past nine months of this year may be attributed to these three factors: climate change, urbanization and poor health and sanitation practices of the community.

The DOH epidemiology surveillance team said the current 1,889 cases shot up by 71 percent from the 1,099 cases registered last year.

Camilo Aquino, DOH dengue regional coordinator said the surge is quite disturbing but this incidence could not be a basis for declaring an “epidemic” or placing the region in a state of calamity.

He noted the deaths due to dengue were reported in Camarines Sur with six, two each in Albay and Sorsogon and one in Masbate.

He said Camarines Sur topped the list of dengue cases with 584 cases, followed by Albay with 437, Sorsogon with 275, Catanduanes with 186, Masbate 105, and Camarines Norte with 303 cases.

The DOH reiterated its call to the various district and municipal health units to intensify their respective sanitation and clean-up campaign to curb the rising incidence of the dreaded mosquito-borne disease.

The DOH likewise directed health authorities to initiate the 4S strategies: search and destroy, seek early consultation, say no to indiscriminate fogging, and self protection.

Residents are likewise advised to continue to practice the 4:00 o’clock habit that will ensure cleanliness in the surroundings. Furthermore, barangays should mobilize their dengue brigades to monitor anti-dengue drives in their respective village. (PNA)

Island’s poor town boasts of most literate people in RP
By Danny O. Calleja

BATO, Catanduanes, Sept. 23 (PNA)-– “Alisto Bato” is the battle cry that worked well for this small, fifth class municipality to get into the lime light and be recognized as this year’s champion in the National Literacy Awards.

“Our town’s development agenda is anchored on “Alisto (Smart) Bato” that reflects the integrated literacy and continuing education programs that we pursued based on our Executive and Legislative Agenda,” town mayor Eulogio Rodriguez told the PNA over the week.

National Literacy Conference and Awards, now on its sixth year highlights the yearly Literacy Week observance of the Department of Education (DepEd).

It is done in coordination and cooperation with other organizations (GOs) Local Government Units (LGUs) and non-government organizations (NGOs).

It is also in line with the priority agenda of the United Nation’s Literacy Decade (UNLD) for 2009-2010—Literacy and Empowerment which brought the observance to the theme, A Shared Responsibility to Society through Functional Literacy.

The 2010 National Literacy Conference and Awards were held at the Baguio Teachers Camp in Baguio city last week.

Its objectives were to identify and adopt ways and measures to strengthen partnership between the LGU and the community in literacy programs; enable participation in the development efforts for the community; and generate and share ideas and experience on literacy good practices.

Five top five winners to the Outstanding Literacy Program and LGUs for their exemplary accomplishments in literacy development through their programs and projects were awarded under separate categories.

This town bested Tubod, Surigao del Norte that placed second; Laoac, Pangasinan, third; Ballesteros, Cagayan, fourth; and, San Julian, Eastern Samar, fifth in the fourth to sixth class municipality level.

Rodriguez said among the programs implemented by his municipality that gave it the winning form were livelihood trainings and seminars as part of functional literacy, infra support facilities, health and social undertakings, alternative learning system, scholarship, special program for the employment of students, capability building, affiliation training and tourism and environmental protection, all funded by the LGU as well as by international funding agencies.

With a total population of 18,836 representing 4,151 households, the municipality has 17 elementary schools, two of which are integrated schools, a secondary school and a vocational/technical school administered by the TESDA. It has also 24-day care centers to cater to the needs of pre-school children.

The town has regularly provided financial assistance to the DepEd’s Alternative Learning System for the reproduction of modules, honoraria of teachers and capability building training. This course had already produced 149 graduates out this year.

In response to the high incidence of drop-outs and low completion rate in secondary schools, the Bato LGU, Rodriguez said has sponsored the post-secondary education of six students at the TESDA and partnered with the provincial government in the College Unified Assistance Scholarship Program by sponsoring 40 percent of their tuition fees.

The Sangguniang Bayan also provided books, computers and other learning materials sourced from solicitation and distributed among public schools in the locality, he said.

“We also have here the first of its kind in Bicol a Child-Minding Facility established at the Day Care Center at the Bato Central Elementary School campus through a part of the P2-million funding provided for Day Care Centers by the Spanish government,” the mayor said.

Audio-visual and other Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) materials were also provided to these facilities, he added.

Aside from the high literacy rate posted by the entire municipality, Rodriguez added the implementation of those programs has resulted in increased household income from P6,069.20 in 2004 to P9,176.24 in 2009 and an increase in the employment rate from 78.89 percent in 2004 to 97.20 percent in 2009.

The municipality has been protecting a 97.98 percent literacy rate attained since several decades back and the mayor said this achievement is primarily attributed to parents who invest more on the educational needs of their children, the accessibility to educational facilities and programs, and the continuing presence of government interventions addressing literacy concerns.

Bato is a serene historical town comprising the 12 municipalities within the province of Catanduanes, an island at the northeastern side of Bicol. Its famous landmark is an old Roman Catholic Church which took 53 years to build by the Spaniards between the years 1830 and 1883 under six different parish administrators, records show.

This magnificently situated edifice greets everyone at the mouth of the Bato River upon entrance to the town proper. It is the only remaining structure of its kind in the entire island which despite the tests of time, wars, and ravages of natural calamities, it was able to retain its old glory of massive structure of mortar and coral stones.

The municipality is also site of the oldest radar weather station of the Philippine weather bureau set up at the former World War II radar headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Army established in Barangay Buenavista.

It also boast of an exciting natural wonder, the Balongbong Falls in where a mini-hydropower dam was established about 30 years ago by the National Power Corporation that now provides at least 1.8 megawatts of electricity that support 30 percent of the power requirement of the province.

“It is a big honor for us here to be recognized in the national scene as home to the most literate people in the country as what the literacy award is expressing,” Vice-mayor Alberto said.

The recognition would be a lasting inspiration of the people of Bato in striving hard for a better life and future, Alberto added. (PNA)

Ranking NPA rebel slain in Camarines Sur encounter

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 23 (PNA) - A ranking New People’s Army (NPA) rebel was slain in an encounter with Army troopers on Wednesday in a village in Goa town in Camarines Sur, a Philippine Army (PA) report said Thursday.

The slain NPA leader was identified as Elmer Osila alias Ka Fredo, secretary general of Guerrilla Front Committee (GF) 75 operating in Camarines Sur.

Cabunoc said the incident took place around 7:15 p.m Wednesday in Barangay Lamon, a remote village in Goa town where a platoon of soldiers engaged a 10-man band of NPA rebels led by Osila in a five-minute running gunbattle.

Cabunoc, quoting a report from 1st Lt. Dion Elliot, leader of the Army platoon said during the exchange of gunfire between the Army soldiers and the rebels, Osila was hit and killed instantly.

Elliot said “the first volley of gunfire sent the NPA leader down as his companions, sensing their defeat fled, leaving their leader at the encounter site.”

Soldiers at the clearing operation found Osila’s body with his .45 caliber handgun. They also recovered from the fight scene a 9mm pistol and a blood-soaked jacket left by the fleeing rebels.

According to Elliot, they were responding to an information sent by residents there that the NPA band led by Osila were campaigning for their favored candidate for the October barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

Elliot said the informant told him the group was either convincing or harassing the villagers to support their candidates for the barangay election.

The body of Osila was brought to the town hall for police documentation purposes.

Military and police records indicate that Osila gained notoriety after his involvement in attacks on heavy equipment of private contractors implementing infrastructure projects in the area.

He was responsible for the ambush that claimed the lives of four soldiers including 2nd Lt. Michael Logronio in Presentacion town last July.

Military report said his group was also involved in the burning of two heavy equipment owned by the Sunwest corporation and the killing of two militiamen in Presentacion town in Camarines Sur.

Army Maj. Gen. Ruperto Pabustan, commanding general of the 9th Infantry Division based in Pili, Camarines Sur said Osila's death could be considered a “big blow” on the NPA in Bicol. He directed his field commanders to pursue the remnants of Osila’s group. (PNA)

Rice black bugs infest Albay farms

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 23 (PNA) – Rice black bugs (scientific name: Scotinopara coartata) have destroyed rice farms in about 20 barangays in Oas, Albay and threatened to devastate nearby areas.

The provincial agricultural office sounded alarm bells to curb the proliferation of the pest immediately.

The pest threatens to devastate all the 15,582.58 hectares of rice plantations in the north western part of Albay province.

Albay Provincial Agriculture Services (PAS) Officer Ruben Limos told the PNA that the condition of the 20 affected barangays was alarming as the pest was expected to spread to other areas because of the presence of full moon on Friday.

Albay Governor Joey Salceda told PNA Thursday that there are about 609 hectares of maturing rice plantations that have already been confirmed affected by the pests. “I immediately instructed Provincial Agriculture Services (PAS) Officer Ruben Limos to conduct an investigation to save the farms if possible and eradicate the pest, which is increasingly threatening even the surrounding farms due to the presence of strong moonlight,”

In an interview, Limos told PNA that the rice black bugs were fast affecting the rice farms at nights, especially when they were illuminated by the moon.

“They( rice black bugs) also travel during the night following beam lights of trucks, seacrafts and the moon that is why they have reached us here although these pests came from the southern provinces of the Philippines.”

Salceda also said: “It’s the first major incident of that magnitude in my 49 year residence of Polangui. All signs lead to El Nino and Climate Change as culprit. The PAS has been focusing on Oas and Polangui. We have asked the regional field office of the Department of Agriculture for help and Cedric Daep of the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (APSEMO) is now on standby for emergency action.”

Limos, on the other hand, said he would recommend declaration of a state of calamity to the affected towns depending on the extent of damages to the other areas under investigation.

Since Wednesday, the PAS has not received an official report from the municipal agriculturist in Oas, although it based its report from a text message. Limos has directed the provincial pest coordinator to validate the report in Oas.

“So this morning my rice coordinator told me that it covers almost 20 barangays in Oas alone. So it is already alarming and they already recommended some control measures such as light trapping, spraying of an organic pesticide and flooding for two to three days to destroy their eggs.”

Limos blamed the late planting of some areas in the third district towns of Albay as host that completes the life cycles of rice black bugs.

“Dapat synchronous planting ang I practice nila at hindi mag practice ng late planting dahil yan ang nangyayari, nagkakaroon ng complete and continues cycle ang peste. Kumbaga hindi napuputol ang life cycle ng peste (They should practice synchronous planting and not late planting since with this, the pests were able to complete and continue their life cycle),” Limos said.

Limos said that rice black bugs sip the rice nutrients from its stalks that render its leaves yellowish and eventually dry up to death.

Limos said the province has requested the regional office of the DA based in Camarines Sur to provide supply of Metherhizuim, an effective fungi-based insecticide to fight the rice black bugs.

Salceda alerted all the other municipal and city agriculture officers throughout the province to be on guard against the infestation to avert the situation. He also gave assurance that the pest is being addressed as quick as possible.

He also sought the cooperation of farmers to adhere to synchronous farming and to be very vigilant and report any suspicious presence of the pest immediately to their respective local agriculture officers and the PAS as well. (PNA)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Water, air and land search and rescue operation launch in Bicol

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 21 (PNA) -- At the onset of the La Nina phenomenon or wet spell disaster authorities here coming in full force are set to test their disaster response capabilities as they will launch a Water Search and Rescue Drill (WASAR) on Friday at the coastal waters of this city, a naval officer of the Philippine Navy in Bicol said.

Ensign Denver Ramon, PN Naval Forces Southern Luzon spokesman, said the disaster scenario drill would put to test various maritime group in land sea and air disaster search and rescue operation.

Ramon said the exercise aims to train the participants on rescue at sea, and shall also be taken as opportunity to train Naval Special Operations Unit personnel on some aspect of Special Operations such as Helo-cast operations.

The land sea and air operation would involve the use of two Cessna planes, two Huey helicopters, six rubber boats, a Navy Patrol gun boat, an ambulance and a fire truck.

Ramon said the search and rescue drill would involve 68 personnel from the PN, Philippine Air Force (PAF-TOG5), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), PNP Maritime, Albay Health Emergency Management (AHEM), and the Bureau Fire Protection (BFP), Office of Civil Defense (OCD), Maritime Polytechnic College Foundation, and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

The disaster drill is in observance with the Naval Forces Southern Luzon's 8th Year Foundation Anniversary on October 4, 2010.

As part of its Pre-Anniversary celebration and in anticipation of the observance of National Maritime Week Celebration, NAVFORSOL, in partnership with maritime agencies, will spearhead the Joint Capability Demonstration on Water Search and Rescue on Friday at Legazpi Port area near Embarcadero.

The activity aims to gauge the preparedness of rescuers of different agencies in the advent of sea disasters as well as to develop their interoperability. Rescuers will also be able to display to the Bicolanos their capability in responding to sea mishaps.(PNA)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Albay motivates LGUs to fight dengue

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 22 (PNA) – The province of Albay is adopting a motivational strategy to let local government units (LGUs) fight dengue in their localities and aim for zero-casualty.

“We reward outputs, not inputs; real outcomes, not effort,” Governor Joey Sarte Salceda, said, adding that this award is given by the Provincial Health Office in recognition for the performance of the communities (town or city) in the Province of Albay for preempting or stamping out dengue. Further, this award is given for both monthly and year-to-date performance.

Two categories are at stake such as zero-dengue for the following months starting September for the municipality or city with no dengue case for the month, and the performance award.

The performance awards will be given only to municipalities or cities with a minimum of five months of dengue-free out of the past eight months.

But for the month of August, the municipality of Libon garnered both awards for zero dengue for August and 1st rank for zero dengue cases for the past six (6) months out of the past eight (8) months and the lowest incidence of dengue case for the other three months.

In the event of a tie, the municipality or city with the lowest incidence will determine the rank of the awardees. This is computed as follows: dengue cases divided by the total population and multiplied by 100.

There have been 1,233,695 dengue reported across Albay since January this year. Three deaths were recoded. Two of them from Daraga town and one in Tabaco City.

Libon will receive its award this coming Friday at the AECID Hall, PDMO Building to coincide with the National Philhealth Registration Day briefing.

Mayors being LCEs together with their RHUs will receive the award for the anti-dengue performance of their community. (PNA)

Low calcium intake hikes osteoporosis cases
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 21 (PNA) – The Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has been looking for ways to help prevent osteoporosis, a public health problem whose prevalence in the Philippines has been increasing as the Filipino population ages.

One cause the Institute discovered during the early stage of its ongoing research is that “we do not practice the rational approaches towards the prevention of the disease which should be started during childhood and adolescence,” the FNRI said in a statement received here over the week.

Calcium intake may be an important modifiable factor related to the attainment of peak bone mass, it said.

Osteoporosis has long been considered a disease of the post menopausal and the elderly, however, there is now a general agreement that predisposition begins in childhood and adolescence.

Exact figures of the prevalence of the disease occurring especially in women are not available, but a 1991 survey carried out in the then National Orthopedic Hospital (now called the Philippine Orthopedic Center) from 1979-1988 showed that 62.9 percent of the patients aged 50 and over who had been admitted for fractures were affected by osteoporosis.

Filipino women are more likely get osteoporosis because their bones are thinner than those of their Caucasian counterparts. The belief that osteoporosis is prevalent in Western countries and rare in Asia, including the Philippines is a myth. This was validated by the recent IOF (International Osteoporosis Foundation) Audit Report.

The FNRI said that based on studies, fractures from osteoporosis are about twice as common in women as they are in men and that is because women start out with lower bone mass and tend to live longer.

Women also experience a sudden drop in estrogen at menopause that accelerates bone loss, increasing the risk among them who are slender and small-framed. Men who have low levels of the male hormone testosterone also are at increased risk that is greatest from age 75 on, it said.

With a rapidly aging Filipino population, osteoporosis is becoming a very serious and growing threat in the country, particularly because it is often under-recognized and under-treated disease.

Fracture projections by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that by 2050, more than 50 percent of all osteoporotic hip fractures will occur in Asia. Further, some 10 to 20 percent of people suffering from hip fractures die within a year of suffering the fracture, making it a disease that will significantly impact the region’s population.

There is an urgent need therefore for Asian countries to understand more about this preventable disease and take action to fight it.

But public awareness and education programs can only go so far. Individuals must recognize the severity of the problem and make a conscious decision to make changes to their lifestyles. Only then can we create a world without osteoporotic fractures, according to the FNRI.

Recent advances in measuring bone mineral density (BMD) and bone mineral content (BMC) have provided strategies to assess the presence and extent of early and asymptomatic osteoporosis.

Bone is the substance that forms the skeleton of the body. It is composed chiefly of calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate. It also serves as a storage area for calcium, playing a large role in calcium balance in the blood.

Bone mineral density (BMD), a measure of bone density, reflects the strength of bones as represented by calcium content. Calcium intake is an important modifiable factor related to attainment of peak bone mass.

Absorptiometric techniques are used widely for the in vivo assessment of bone mineral in humans. These methods are quick, patient-friendly, highly precise, and involve only minimal radiation exposure, the FNRI said.

As part of the research, FNRI scientists evaluated the efficacy of a school-based milk-feeding intervention among children through measurements of bone mineral content (BMC) and bone mineral density (BMD) using dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), DOST regional director for Bicol Tomas Briñas told PNA on Tuesday.

A total of 99 children, 52 boys and 47 girls, aged 6-8 years from a public elementary school nearby the FNRI main office in Bicutan, Taguig City were assigned into the milk group of 50 and the control group of 49, Briñas said.

Different measurements were determined as follows: height, weight, total BMD, and total BMC. Three-day 24-hour food recall (2 weekdays and 1 weekend) was also collected to determine calcium intake at baseline.

In results, 85 study participants completed the 12 months intervention. The calcium intake of both groups at baseline met only 49 percent of the recommended nutrient intake for calcium of 700 milligram (mg) per day.

The milk group consumed, on average, an additional 278 mg calcium per day throughout the duration of the study while the control group, an additional 40 mg calcium per day.

The milk group was found to have significant increases in BMC at 21 percent and BMD, 31 percent.

Although the control drink contains low calcium of 40 mg in comparison to milk of 278 mg, it may also contain other nutrients such as vitamin C, which may have affected the none significant results on BMC and BMD between the two groups in the study.

Increases in height and weight were also observed in both groups, Briñas said.

Following this simple experiment, the FNRI scientists concluded that school-based milk feeding increased total bone mineral content and total bone mineral density among children over a 12-month period.

Briñas said they recommended consumption of milk as an important strategy to reduce osteoporotic fracture rates in later life.

A FNRI advisory said that as in all other diseases, the treatment of osteoporosis, whether in men or women, involves lifestyle modification all men should exercise, since reduced physical activity is associated with bone loss and fracture. These patients should also be advised to avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake.

Osteoporotic men should also receive adequate calcium supplementation amounting to 1000mg of elemental calcium per day in younger men and 1200 to 1500mg elemental calcium per day in older men. Likewise, they should receive adequate vitamin D supplementation of about 400 to 800 IU per day, it added.

Generally, the FNRI said osteoporotic men will require additional pharmacologic therapy on top of calcium and vitamin D supplementation. Of course, any secondary cause of osteoporosis, such as glucocorticoid use/excess and chronic hyperthyroidism must be identified and treated properly. (PNA)

Barrio lass develops backyard enterprise into a multi-awarded environment-friendly venture
By Danny O. Calleja

MATNOG, Sorsogon, Sept. 21 (PNA) -– Not far from Barangay Balocawe, site of the one year-old mineral mining venture that is strongly condemned by environmentalists in this natural resource-rich fourth class municipality, is another village that serves as home to a community-based enterprise multi-awarded for being exceptionally eco-friendly.

Armed with her innate talent in handicraft designing, Ana Gotladera, a young, energetic barrio lass who had developed the strong ideals of making business while preserving the environment, started Analobel Enterprises at the family residence in Barangay Poropandan eight years ago.

It is now among the few successful handicraft exporters in Bicol and the company’s impact to the community and the local economy has been reaping for it and for Gotladera awards and recognitions from various institutions.

She was recipient of the 2010 Halyao Award for Outstanding Bicolano Businessperson of the Year in Manufacturing Sector recently given by the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI), in partnership with the City Government of Naga and the Provincial Government of Camarines Sur.

Halyao, is the pre-hispanic word for merchant and the awards are presented to entrepreneurs who are Bicolano by birth or by affinity.

To be honored as a Halyao awardee, a nominee should maintain management excellence over a sustained period of not shorter than five years resulting to successful enterprise within the region and in the Philippines and that it manifests deliberate and sustainable practices of corporate social responsibility.

Its roster of recipients includes business tycoon Lucio Tan who is known as the “Bicolano taipan” who grew up in Naga City and Loida Nicolas Lewis, a native of Sorsogon City and considered one of the most successful Filipinos in the international business community.

Analobel Enterprises was also named as an Environment-Friendly OTOP (One-Town-One-Product) MSME (Medium, Small, Mini Enterprise) during the OTOP National congress held at the PTTC in Pasay city on March 12, 2010.

The citation is an acknowledgment of the company's active effort in utilizing local resources and indigenous materials in creating livelihood among the people.

As an entrepreneur and advocate of environment-friendly and biodegradable products, Gotladera, has committed to produce bayong (baskets) and packaging materials that help preserve and conserve the environment. Bayong has been identified as a good alternative packaging for plastics.

Analobel was also the recipient of last year’s Outstanding OTOP MSME during the 2nd Provincial OTOP Congress held in Sorsogon City in October 2009.

The enterprise was cited for bringing significant impact to the community, starting as organic soap producer in 2002 and expanded to handicraft the following year to earn better income as well as provide employment opportunities to the marginal folks here and its neighboring municipalities.

Starting with five workers from the neighborhood, she now have 620, mostly women from the village and surrounding communities, whom she had provided gainful employment while serving as her production arm in meeting the demand for her finely crafted consumer items from both the domestic and foreign markets.

Analobel’s product lines include bags, placemats, hampers, packaging bags and boxes, novelty items and decorative products. Its market spread extensively within and outside the country and had just found a niche in the United States for the packaging bags and boxes, home decors and accessories made from sinamay and buri.

Sinamay is a loose textile of woven abaca fiber while buri is leaf of a wild plant common in most Bicol wastelands that is widely used for weaving native sleeping mats, hats and baskets.

“We in this small far-away town are gifted with rich natural resources that we should use wisely for our living. We should not abuse it for, if we do, the next day that we wake up may be tragic to us, our family and our community,” Gotladera, a midwife by profession told the PNA over the weekend when asked about her pro-environment advocacy.

She said, she never had in mind to get rich with the business enterprise she is running now even as opportunities have been coming in because she wanted to regulate the use of raw materials available in the locality for a sustained supply.

Many families are now dependent on this enterprise for their living and Gotladera said these people were made to understand fully well the importance of environment as a life support provider of mankind.

“That is why we are in here one in our position towards the preservation of our environment and we are against any activity that is destructive to nature,” she said. (PNA)

SK chairman shot dead by NPA rebels in Catanduanes

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 21 (PNA) - A Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) chairman of a village in Pandan town in Catanduanes was gunned down by suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels on Monday, a military official said Tuesday.

Killed was Jay Carlo Cameleon, 20, an SK chairman of barangay San Isidro in Pandan town.

Lt. Col. Danilo Aquino, commander of the 83rd Infantry Battalion based in Catanduanes province, said the incident took place around 5 p.m. Monday. While the victim was inside his residence, a group of NPA rebels barged inside and forcibly dragged him into a mountainous area of said village.

Later that day, the victim was found dead with a gunshot wound in his body and some torture marks.

Aquino said the victim could have been tagged as a military informant or mistaken as a former NPA rebel who had surrendered to the government.

The local police have also received reports from the local residents that the NPA rebels were responsible for the killing of the SK chair.

The death toll in the spate of the NPA’s extrajudicial killings for this year alone has now reached 36.

Major General Ruperto Pabustan, commander of the 9th Infantry Division, has directed the 83rd Infantry Battalion to assist the PNP in hunting down the suspects.(PNA)

Catanduanes gets ample energy from renewable sources
By Danny O. Calleja

VIRAC, Catanduanes, Sept. 21 (PNA) –- The island of Catanduanes that sits at the midmost of the Philippine Sea is doing away with its problematic oil-based power generating plants when it takes a leap by the end of this year into renewable energy.

This historic leap would hopefully put an end to brownouts, a problem that has been nagging local power consumers ever since electrification was introduced in the province about half a century ago, according to local energy officials.

Last Sept. 8, the 1.5 megawatt (mw) Hitoma 1 Mini-Hydropower Plant in Barangay Obi, Caramoran town was inaugurated signaling the start of its full operations by next month while the 1.58 mw Hitoma 2 Mini-Hydropower Plant in the same barangay will be completed by December, a report of the Catanduanes Tribune over the week said.

Likewise, the 2.1 mw Solong Mini-Hydropower Project in Barangay Solong, San Miguel town plant will be ready for commissioning by November this year, the Tribune report said, citing a statement from officials of the Sunwest Water and Electricity Company (SUWECO), the Legazpi City-based developer of the hydropower facilities.

These three new hydropower plants will reinforce the existing 1.8-mw Balongbong Mini-Hydropower Plant in Bato, Catanduanes to generate a total of around six-mw electricity nearly enough to meet the prevailing local power demand.

Balongbong hydropower plant which is powered by the imposing Bato Falls is a three-decade-old facility constructed by a Chinese firm in 1978. At present, it accounts for 30 percent of the province’s total energy requirements while the rest of 70 percent is produced by the fuel-fed plants.

The current peak load demand of the Catanduanes grid is placed at 7.6 mw and five-mw for the off-peak hours. It is projected to increase by nine percent each year, Edwin Tatel, the Catanduanes NPC plant supervisor said on Tuesday.

With the Hitoma 1 and 2 and Solong mini-hydro plants coming on stream before the end of this year, the decommissioning of the 3.6-mw diesel and bunker fuel fed generator sets provided by the NPC to the province under its Small Power Utilities Group (SPUG) would very likely take place, Tatel said.

These developments will bring the province closer to a point of self-sufficiency in energy through renewable sources and liberation from its dependence on fossil fuels for its power supply. On 2012, two more mini-hydropower plants with a total rated capacity of 3.3 megawatts will be opened in San Miguel and Bagamanoc towns, he said.

It will also ease the national government the burden of subsidizing the amount of P79 million a year for the rental of Monark mobile gensets commissioned by the SPUG to generate about three megawatts power for the Catanduanes grid. (PNA)

Inflation eases further, tourism investment pouring in Bicol
By Mike de la Rama

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 20 (PNA) -- Bicol Region's annual inflation rate slipped further in August, chipping off 0.1 percentage point from the level recorded in the previous month.

The year-on-year change was placed at 3.8 percent, 0.2 percentage point lower than the national average. The rate, however, is much faster than the 1.6 percent inflation rate registered the same period of 2009.

Among the regions of the country, inflation in ARMM was highest at 6.0 percent while Regions I (Ilocos) and VIII (Eastern Visayas) recorded the lowest at 2.5 percent.

The continuous drop in the inflation rate of the Fuel, Light and Water commodity group resulted in the slow down of the overall inflation.

The rate in the Fuel, Light and Water commodity group shrunk by 1.3 percentage points. The rate for the Services group went down by 0.4 percentage point while that for the Clothing commodity group slipped by 0.1 percentage point.

Inflation rates in the remaining commodity groups remained unchanged from the July levels.

Overall, prices of commodities hardly moved with the Consumer Price Index inching up 0.6 point from a month ago. The highest increase was registered in the Food, Beverage and Tobacco commodity group, the biggest item in Bicol Region's market basket, at 1.1 points.

The 0.6 point decline in the Fuel group and the 0.2 percent drop in the Services group tempered average rise in the CPI. Slight increases were recorded, except for Housing and Repairs group, where prices remained unchanged.

On a month-on-month basis, average inflation rate in the Bicol Region rose to 0.4 percent from a flat growth in July.

The biggest contributor to the monthly spike was the Food, Beverage and Tobacco commodity group which rose to 0.7 percent from 0.1 percent the previous month. Inflation rate of the Fuel, Light and Water commodity groups remained negative but at a lesser degree.

Prices in the Services commodity group generally dropped month-on-month with inflation rate sliding to -0.1 percent from 0.2 percent the previous month.

The purchasing power of the peso in the Bicol Region remained at 60 centavos in August 2010 from P1.00 in 2000

On the other hand, tourism investment in Bicol’s provinces is pouring due to various festivals and development of tourist attractions.

In Legazpi City, the city government is expecting for the influx of local tourist during the Legazpi’s colorful month-long Ibalong Festival in October.

Legazpi City administrator Noel Rosal said more exciting and festive than ever before, the Ibalong Festival celebrates Bicol’s ancient history as told in the Ibalong folk-epic fragment that recounts the adventures of Bikol’s early heroes, Baltog, Handiong and Bantong.

First celebrated in 1992, the Ibalong Festival continues to be one of the most anticipated events in the city and elsewhere in the region that draw a lot of tourists to Legazpi. The Ibalong Festival also coincides with the feast of St. Raphael Archangel and the fiesta of the Legazpi Port District.

In Sorsogon, Kasanggayahan Festival, a month-long annual celebration of Sorsogon province’s socio-cultural heritage and great historical contributions to the greatness of the Filipino nation opened on October 17 .

Records of the Department of Tourism (DOT) regional office showed that tourist arrival in Sorsogon last year improved by some 20 percent during the celebration period of the Kasanggayahan Festival. Around 500 foreign tourists came for the festival last year. (PNA)

Nine communist rebels surrender to Army in Albay

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 20 (PNA) – Fed up with a decade of armed struggle against the
government, at least nine New People’s Army (NPA) rebels operating in Albay voluntarily surrendered to military authorities, a military official said Monday.

Lt. Col. John Oberio, commander of the 2nd Infantry Battalion based in Albay, said that rebels who are members of the Barangay Revolutionary Committee of the communist movement turned themselves in over the weekend in his headquarters in Ligao City.

He identified the surrenderees as Margie Bayle alias Cheryl, Marilon Orido alias Lay, Joe Morada alais Boy, Santos Alcadeza alias Karantog, Edralyn Sodsod alias Chie, Nicanor Lambo alias Bugoy, Rolando Almojuela alias Joy, Homer Espana alias Lito and Jose Lupera alias Juan.

Oberio said the surrenderees told him they have realized that their fight against the government was an exercise in futility.

The former rebels are now undergoing custodial debriefing by soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Battalion in Ligao City.

The civil-military operations (CMO) efforts initiated by the Army have remarkably led to the surrender of a big number of NPA rebels in various parts of Bicol.

He said tactical offensive had been intensified due to the rising number of tipsters who pinpointed the locations of NPA rebels and its hideouts.

“It is now easier to find and capture these rebels with the valuable help provided by the local residents themselves,” Oberio added.

Recently, a series of brief firefights occurred in Albay that led to the killing of several NPA rebels and the capture of a ranking communist leader identified as a certain Alvin Orpiada.

The invaluable information provided by the civilian was attributed to the success of the military operations.

During his field visit to Army camps in Bicol recently, Major General Arturo Ortiz, the Army Chief, awarded combat medals to soldiers who figured in the successful encounters against the bandit rebels in Albay. (PNA)

DA - BAR tags dragon fruit as new money crop
By Danny O. Calleja

PILI, Camarines Sur, Sept 20 (PNA) –- Dragon fruit that comes from a plant known as "pitaya" or night blooming cactus usually thriving in the humid environment of Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam has recently entered the local fruit industry, and gaining its own niche in the Philippine market.

But since production technology remains a major constraint because this vine-like cactus that is native to Mexico and Central and South America is new in the country, the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) has been researching on it to fully determine its economic value.

Thus, in 2003, the BAR funded through its Agribusiness Development Project (ADP) the technology demonstration farm project at the Central Experiment Station of the Southern Mindanao Integrated Agricultural Research Center (SMIARC) in Tumbok, Davao City.

Planting materials were initially sourced from an existing farm in Indang, Cavite, the BAR said.

And in a recent visit to the techno-demo farm made by BAR researchers with some officials from several Regional Field Units (RFU) of the DA, a conclusion has been arrived at: with the successful production technologies developed, more opportunities, both in production and marketing of dragon fruit lie ahead.

Bicol DA-RFU executive director Marilyn Sta. Catalina who was among those who visited the demo farm told PNA over the weekend that the economic potential of dragon fruit is bright given the very high price it commands in the local market.

“The prevailing market price now plays between P120-P150 per kilo and as observed in the Davao experiment station, a three-year old dragon fruit farm can produce at least six tons of fruits per hectare per year valued at no less than P720,000,” Sta. Catalina said.

“No wonder that this fruit is now being considered by the BAR as the new money crop,” the DA-RFU Bicol chief said.

Among the technologies showcased in the experimental station were propagation by cuttings, appropriate distance of planting, use of concrete posts and indigenous materials as trellis for vine growth, application of organic fertilizer and proper cultural management practices.

Sta. Catalina said that pitaya cactus can be propagated through seeds or stem cuttings, but the latter is much preferred.

The cuttings are planted in plastic bags for two months and then transferred on an open field. The recommended planting distance is three meters between posts and four meters between rows, she said.

Sta. Catalina added that proper distance of planting is important since narrower spacing results in quicker production than larger spacing and pitaya must be planted in an open field with direct exposure to sunlight. It is not good to plant the crop in areas where rainfall is well distributed.

One technology that SMIARC uses in the plantation is the trellis method. Sta. Catalina explained that the survival of pitaya is in the trellis. Once the trellis collapses, the plant hardly survives.

The life span of the plant is around 20 years, depending on the durability of the trellis. Concrete posts with iron round bar on top are used to support the plants. This has to be established three weeks prior to crop establishment.

At the SMIARC, she said various indigenous materials such as madre de cacao, kalumpang, and magcuno tree are also used besides concrete posts.

Regarding nutrient management, a combination of organic and complete fertilizer (14-14-14) and urea (46-0-0) is applied. More organic and more nitrogen are used.

“The ideal way is to apply fertilizer every three months, if possible. But at the Davao experiment station, what is being done is they fertilize each plant with two kilogram of organic, 25 grams urea and 75 grams complete fertilizer every six months,” she said.

Pruning is also important in the production of dragon fruit. Regular pruning, Sta. Catalina explained, is necessary to obtain an open, manageable and productive umbrella shape canopy, and will induce new shoots for the next cropping season. It is also important to prune after harvest.

Pitaya cactus is potentially a productive crop. Depending on the growing condition, it matures and starts to bear fruit after almost one year.

Flowering usually starts on May and ends on December. Fruits are harvested 30-50 days after flowering and can sometimes have six cycles of harvests per year. Each fruit can weigh from 150-600 grams while other varieties can reach one kilogram. Some growers claim that it has a potential of producing 30 tons of fruit per hectare per year.

Presently, Sta. Catalina said the DA in Bicol is already propagating pitaya through the planting materials obtained from the SMIARC “and as we distribute seedlings to interested parties the BAR scientists demonstrates production technologies.”

A statement from the SMIARC on Monday said some 3,000 seedlings and cuttings have already been distributed from the techno-demo farm to various parts of the country like Bicol, Nueva Ecija, Bohol and Bukidnon for trail productions.

Some areas in Bicol that offer humid environment like the foot or slopes of Mt. Mayon, in Albay, the vast land of Isarog National Park in Camarines Sur, the Bulusan Volcano National Park in Sorsogon and the Bacon-Manito Geothermal Reservation, also in Sorsogon are potential plantations of pitaya, she said.

Backyard growing is also advisable as according to Sta. Catalina, it satisfies a gardening hobby and bears fruits for healthy bodies.

Dragon fruit, commonly called “gift of nature” is the latest entrant to the world of super fruits that possesses numerous health benefits. It is significantly rich in antioxidants called phytoalbumin which prevents the formation of cancer-causing free radicals, the BAR said.

The fruit is low in calories and high in fiber which helps to avoid constipation by acting as natural laxative. The fiber enhances digestion and reduces fat to improve the overall digestive health. It also helps excrete heavy metal toxins from the body.

Dragon fruit is filled with vitamin C that ensures faster healing of bruises and cuts and helps improve the general immune system. It contains vitamin B1 which participates in the production of energy and metabolism of carbohydrates, vitamin B2 that works as a multi vitamin to recover and improve appetite and vitamin B3 that lowers bad cholesterol level and enhances the appearance of the skin by moisturizing and smoothing it. It also serves as an alternative for rice for the diabetics and known to control blood glucose levels.

Botanically known as Hylocereus undatus, dragon fruit is rich in minerals specially calcium and phosphorus. Calcium reinforces bones and helps in the formation of healthy teeth while phosphorus aids in tissue formation.

It has carotenes which assist in maintaining and improving the health of the eyes. Regular consumption of the fruit greatly controls asthma and cough and helps lower cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Few people find the taste of dragon fruit offensive, others consider it bland but the flavor is improved when chilled. Its flesh is commonly pink or white containing tiny seeds which are eaten with the flesh and are rich in valuable lipids. It comes in three varieties: the red-skinned with red flesh, the red-skinned with white flesh and the yellow-skinned with white flesh.

The red-skinned with red flesh is widely considered to be the best-tasting. However, pseudohaematuria or harmless reddish discoloration of urine and feces result when significant amount is ingested. The fruit roughly looks like a football with leathery leafy skin.

Dragon fruit is also converted into juice or wine or it can be used to flavor other beverages, It is also marketed as ingredient in functional foods, such as power drinks and delicious vegetable dishes, while syrup made of the entire fruit is used to color pastries and candy. It is also used in cosmetics.

Dragon fruit cactus is an amazingly strange plant. Its beautiful and gently fragrant flower of up to 35 centimeter in length is short-lived and only reveals itself just once. It only blooms in the dark of night and usually wilts by the morning. That is why it is among those called “Moonflower” or “Queen of the Night”.

It has large, white petals and is shaped like that of a typical cactus. In other places, the flowers are eaten or steeped as tea. Nocturnal creatures such as bats or moths generally help in pollination.

There are three famous cultivars of pitaya - the Hylocereus undatus, which has red skin and white flesh; Hylocereus polyrhi:us, which has a red skin and flesh; and Selinecereus megalanthus, which has a yellow skin and white flesh. (PNA)