Here’s the story behind the illustration featured on ‘Darna’ series closing credits

by John Legaspi

Mars Ravelo’s iconic characters come together in artist Jether Amar’s design

August is a pretty historic time for Philippine television as, after a decade, we witness Filipino superheroine Darna soar on our screens once again. After all the changes in casting and even the director leading the project, ABS-CBN’s “Darna” series is truly worth the wait based solely on the viewers’ and the netizens’ reactions toward the show. Apart from it being a good piece of entertainment, it champions local artistry and pop culture. And if you’ve been following it, we bet you’ve noticed the amazing illustration showcased during its end credits.

That artwork is made by Filipino illustrator and animator Jether Amar. Prior to it gracing our screens, it was first created in 2017 as a poster and shirt design in celebration of the 100th birth anniversary of Mars Ravelo, the comic book cartoonist and graphic novelist behind many iconic Filipino superheroes including Darna.

“I was commissioned by the Ravelo family to illustrate an event poster for Mars Ravelo’s 100-year celebration,” Jether tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. “The poster was made without me thinking that it would be used later as a closing billboard for the ‘Darna’ series. It was a rush work and we have to create the [closing break bumper] using existing material.”

It features existing illustrations by Ivan Reverence, Sam Gregorio, and Hannah Militar depicting notable Mars Ravelo characters such as Darna, Dyesebel, Captain Barbel, Lastikman, Valentina, and Varga, among others.

Still from ABS-CBN Entertainment/Youtube

“It took me quite some research to gather and study his well- and lesser-known characters,” Jether says. “I wanted the poster to be faithful to the characters’ original style.”

Filipino comics played a huge influence on Jether’s life as an artist. As a kid, he would rent comics and copy their pages. This passion led him to study fine arts at the University of the Philippines. Today, he works as the art director of Rocketsheep Studios, the homegrown production studio behind films like “Saving Sally” and “Hayop ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story.”

“We are now on our third animated feature called ‘ZsaZsa Zaturnnah vs the Amazonistas of Planet X,’ which is based on the popular graphic novel of the same title,” he muses.

To see more of Jether’s works, visit @jether_amar on Instagram.


Mom, former OFW snags summa cum laude from UP

By Kaithreen Cruz

UP Diliman Class of 2022 Chrisdie Mycel Ruzol graduates summa cum laude on Sunday, July 31, 2022. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

DESPITE challenges in completing her education for a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Psychology while raising two children amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Chrisdie Mycel Ruzol graduated summa cum laude as part of the University of the Philippines Diliman Class of 2022.

Ruzol described her experience being a student and a mother as “exhausting and also rewarding,” as she was able to practice her individuality through her schooling while fulfilling her responsibilities as a mom and a wife.

She shared that she had initially started taking a course at the University of Santo Tomas way back in 2010, but was not able to finish it due to a lack of financial resources.

“I worked for two to three years here in the Philippines and then around the same amount of time abroad. When I went back home in 2017, that was when I decided to continue my studies but things didn’t go as planned — I got pregnant and started our family. After giving birth in 2018, that was when I was able to enroll,” Ruzol recalled.

She said she’s fortunate to have been able to communicate well with her husband and children in setting and maintaining boundaries despite her distance learning setup during the pandemic.

She emphasized having a strong sense of personal agency to be responsible for her own learning by maximizing available resources and learning opportunities was key to her finishing her degree.

Ruzol added that involving her family members in conversations to set their boundaries and priorities helped her find a balance in the two important roles in her life.

“I really had to adjust to my setup. I had to let go of my old study habits of writing and rewriting my notes and reviewing my lectures with no distraction — but no matter how hard I tried or cried to keep those old habits, I had to let go and move on as I have other responsibilities at home, with limited physical academic resources. Whenever I have deadlines, I will talk to my husband and my toddler so they can understand and allow me to work on them, and to balance that, I make sure that I get to spend time with them after my requirements and during weekends,” she added.

She advised people who were not able to complete their studies but are still hopeful to do so to “not let go of their dreams and work hard to make them happen.”

From her personal experience of having to pause her education to work here and abroad, Ruzol said that having a positive mindset, a clear purpose and a belief that God had placed them in that situation could inspire them to keep moving forward. Despite hurdles in life, she said that people should maximize their circumstances and learn from them so that they could look back on them once they are in a better position in life to fulfill their dreams.

“Graduating as summa cum laude has actually taught me humility in acknowledging that everything happens according to God’s plans — there are things that I cannot do on my own, but God would make a way to make it work,” she added.

After her graduation, Ruzol’s goal is to pass her psychometrician licensure exam and land jobs in this field to gain experience so she could eventually become a psychologist specializing in couple and family, and probably delve into industrial psychology as well.

Ruzol is one of the 150 students from the UP Diliman Class of 2022 who graduated summa cum laude, earning a weighted average grade of 1.20 or better.

The 111th General Commencement Exercises of UP Diliman was held last Sunday, July 31, at the University Amphitheater after two years of holding virtual graduations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


Negrense graduates summa cum laude at UP Diliman

Teresa D. Ellera

Angeli Francesca Peña Lacson with proud parents, lawyer Alex and Pia Lacson. (Contributed Photo)

A NEGRENSE graduated summa cum laude at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman in Quezon City.

Angeli Francesca Peña Lacson graduated on Sunday, July 31, with a degree in comparative literature.

She garnered a general weighted average of 1.068, one of the highest among the summa cum laude graduates of the university.

While studying at UP, some of her literary works were published abroad.

Lacson was also active in community development work, supporting women and rural communities.

She is the daughter of lawyer Alex Lacson, a Negrense who grew up and studied elementary and high school education in Kabankalan City.

Alex and his wife, Pia, also studied at UP Diliman. They met while studying at the UP College of Law.

Their youngest son, John Mark, also finished junior high school at the Paref Northfield Academy in May this year as first honor.*


Daughter of patriotic books author graduates with highest distinction in UP

By: Carla P. Gomez – Correspondent / @carlagomezINQ

MARCH 01, 2019
UP Oblation with new fountain in Diliman, Quezon City.

BACOLOD CITY — The daughter of a bestselling author of patriotic books graduated summa cum laude at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman in Quezon City on Sunday.

Angeli Francesca Peña Lacson completed her Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature course with a general average of 1.068, one of the highest among the summa cum laude graduates of the university.

While studying at UP, some of her literary works were published abroad. Angeli was also active in community development work, supporting women and rural communities.

Angeli is the daughter of lawyer Alex Lacson, a Negrense who grew up and studied elementary and high school education in Kabankalan City.

Alex and his wife Pia also studied at UP Diliman and met while studying at the university’s College of Law.

Their youngest son, John Mark, also finished junior high school in May at the Paref Northfield Academy with honors.


Jed Yabut: From architecture to furniture design

Jed Yabut Kapa Ceiling Lamp
Jed Yabut Hawla
Jed Yabut Ulap

AN architect turned to furniture design during the pandemic, and selected rattan as his medium.

BusinessWorld talked with architect and furniture designer Jed Yabut, one of the merchants on furniture e-commerce platform ITOOH, late last month. One of his pieces, a full-length mirror called Ulap (Cloud), with shelves that mimic the curvature of clouds, is still memorable after its debut on ITOOH’s website.

“I think I’m really good with design and all that, but I never had a chance to really design furniture before,” said Mr. Yabut, who graduated with a degree in Architecture from UP Diliman, but practiced in Singapore and Tokyo. The COVID-19 pandemic forced him to return to the Philippines. It was during the pandemic that he joined a workshop in Nueva Ecija where he learned furniture making, and decided on focusing on rattan.

The material has an interesting history. A species of climbing palm, it had been one of the most valuable products of colonial trade. These products — made of Southeast Asian plants and by Southeast Asian artisans — could be found then in the best rooms in Europe. Christian Dior used antique chairs of woven rattan (called cane in some circles) at his atelier in Paris, and the elaborate pattern of the weave could be found interpreted in their designs, such as the cannage (meaning cane craftwork in French) pattern on the famous Lady Dior line of bags.

“It was a deliberate choice,” said Mr. Yabut of rattan. “When you look at it (rattan), it’s very Filipino. We don’t necessarily carry rattan (exclusively), but to me, it spells very Filipino. The houses of our lolos and lolas (grandfathers and grandmothers) would have at least one rattan [piece] there… for us, it brings back nostalgia. At the same time, I could circumvent that to become something of a more modern look. That’s the intent.”

He also mentioned that despite the large number of furniture designers, few of them work with rattan. A large number of rattan furniture-makers however, consist of mom-and-pop operations in the provinces. “What I wanted to do was to create a brand that is more of a signature brand; a name brand.”

Asked how a Jed Yabut piece differs from one from these small manufacturers, he said, “It comes with good design, really. It comes with making sure that your design is not on Pinterest. I strive hard to make sure that when I design something, people can see that this is a Jed Yabut design.” In fact, he scrapped his own first line instead of putting it on the market, because it looked too similar to ones he had already seen. “There’s deliberate design conceptualization behind every piece.”

When he said that he planned to use rattan for his furniture, his friends in design said he was crazy. “It’s actually difficult to work with,” he said.

Direct sunlight can damage it, and so will too much water. “If it’s too cold, the rattan material becomes brittle,” he said. He added, “That’s why it thrives in humid climates like the Philippines.”

However, he loves to work with it anyway, despite its difficult nature. “It’s easy to mold. It’s very flexible. But because it’s so soft, the movements are always there,” he enthused. “Throughout the years, it probably could move, you know?”

Rattan under his hands then becomes a living thing, capable of mutability. “I’m the kind of designer who hates perfection. I think perfection is ugly. I love the rawness, the naturalness of the materials I work with. I want to highlight the imperfections of the materials I use,” he said.

“It’s constantly moving. It could never have the same shape forever,” he said. Rattan then becomes a symbol of temporality — and it sits as a reminder in your living room. “Everything can perish; everything can be replaceable.”

Mr. Yabut’s designs can be found on his website,, and on — Joseph L. Garcia


Juan Paolo Santos: From UPCAT struggle to UP Cebu summa cum laude

Maverick Avila

The Parañaque City resident’s valedictory address shows how grit led a failed UPCAT taker to become UP Cebu’s first summa cum laude since it became a constituent university

CEBU CITY, Philippines – The University of the Philippines Cebu’s first summa cum laude graduate since it became a constituent university came to the Visayas Queen City all the way from Parañaque City, in Metro Manila.

Juan Paolo Constantino Santos, 22, a Mathematics major, scored a cumulative weighted average grade of 1.187 – the highest grade ever recorded in the university since it was elevated to a constituent university on 2016.

As the class valedictorian, Santos addressed the 83rd commencement exercises on Friday, July 29, on behalf of 391 graduates with bachelor’s degrees and 194 graduates with master’s degrees.

Among the graduates, 31 received magna cum laude and 135 received cum laude honors.

Santos, who ended his valedictory speech during commencement rites on Friday, July 29 singing an excerpt from “I Believe”, the debut single of American Idol 2004 winner Fantasia Barrino, focused on holding on to personal dreams.

“Dapat pangarap nyo, hindi pangarap ng parents nyo, hindi pangarap ng mga kaibigan nyo. Pangarap man yan para sa bayan, o para sa pamilya, dapat pangarap nyo,” he said. (It should be your dream, not your parents’ dream, not your friends’ dream. Whether it is a dream for nation or for your family, it should be your dream.)

Santos’ journey to UP Cebu is an example of grit and perseverance.

“A lot of you are probably wondering, bakit nga ba ako nasa Cebu? Bakit ako nag-aaral sa UP Cebu? My dream was to study BS Math in UP. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pass any of my UPCAT courses and campus applications. When the UPCAT result was released, my name wasn’t there,” he said.

The UPCAT commute from his home to UP Diliman in Quezon city tired him.

“Around the Mathematics part of the exam, I fell asleep because I was so tired,” Santos shared with Rappler. He also found the reading comprehension and language portions very difficult.

Of four universities he applied to only UP did not accept him.

He enrolled in a Metro Manila school but applied for reconsideration in campuses offering BS Math: UP Diliman, UP Los Banos and UP Baguio and UP Cebu.

Only UP Cebu accepted the Parañaque resident.

Santos could not speak the Visayan language, he did not even understand it.

“Wala akong kapamilya, wala akong kamag-anak, wala akong kaibigan, wala akong kakilala, wala akong kahit ano. Ang meron lang ako ay isang pangarap.” (I did not have family here, no relatives, no friends, no acquaintances. I had nothing. The only thing I had was a dream.)

Holding on to dreams

YOUR DREAM. UP Cebu BS Math summa cum laude Juan Paolo Santos speaks during commencement rites on Friday, July 29. (Screencap from UP Cebu)

Santos’s family, while of modest means, supported his dream. While their finances allowed only for the basics of life, a scholarship from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) helped with other education expenses.

Santos did not expect to graduate summa cum laude. He was more focused on learning thoroughly than having it as the end goal.

It was a “clutch grade,” as he did not find out until the last few weeks of the semester.

In his speech, Santos reminded fellow graduates of the university’s motto.

“Honor and excellence, not excellence and honor, not excellence only,” he said. “Honor before excellence.”

“Of course, I am happy to graduate as a summa cum laude. Still, the happiness I feel for helping other people in Math, especially my classmates, is incomparable to having this kind of achievement,” Santos shared before graduation.

He attributes this success to his parents, who supported him throughout, and his significant other, Angelica Jane Reyes.

“She was there for me for as long as I can remember. It was very difficult since she is from NCR and I study in Cebu, but she was still there through my breakdowns and problems,” Santos told Rappler.

The math major channeled lessons in precision and accuracy.

He said, “0.00001% is not equal to 0,” urging peers to strive until all unmet goals are whittled down to zero.

“One plus one is not always two,” Santos said, adding, “Do not go for the obvious solutions; define your own operations, your ways and your actions.”

UP Cebu became an autonomous unit in 2010. It produced a summa cum laude named Michael Angelo S. Joaquin of BS Mathematics, with a cumulative weighted average of 1.166 in 2011.

UP Cebu became a constituent university in 2016 and Santos its first summa cum laude under that status.

Hundreds of graduates from batch 2020, 2021, and 2022 gather for the University of the Philippines Cebu’s first face-to-face graduation rites since the pandemic at the UP Cebu Grounds on Friday, July 29. Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler

Pandemic, disaster

Santos’ stay in UP Cebu was not easy.

He only attended face-to-face classes for about a year and a half. He had a hard time joining organizations because of the online setup and language barriers.

“I believe we were the batch who faced the most challenges. From the first batch to take the K-12 curriculum to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in having the online classes. We also experienced Bagyong Odette, which caused physical and mental damage to us students,” he told Rappler.

During face-to-face classes, Santos slept for only around three to four hours daily because of the academic workload.

He learned the hard way to prioritize his health over academics.

“I realized that healthy living would also lead you to manage your time very well. That is the reason why I was able to manage my time during the online classes,” Santos shared.

He committed to sleeping before midnight and relied on habits and discipline. To him, motivation is just the starting engine of your productivity.

“Sa simula lang yun magiging maganda pero pag may habits ka na and discipline, madalas kahit wala kang motivation, mapipilitan ka pa rin gumawa dahil naging habit mo na siya kahit hindi pa deadline,” said Santos.

(It will help you at the start. But once you have gotten the habit and the discipline, even when motivation flags, you will find yourself doing tasks because of the habit of doing these before deadline.)

Love for math

Mathematics always fascinated Santos even as a child in elementary school. While he was not an academic achiever during that time, he was already set on a career related to mathematics.

He graduated high school valedictorian from the Manresa School – Hijas de Jesus, where he was awarded best in general mathematics, statistics and probability, pre-calculus, basic calculus, trigonometry, physics, and chemistry.

“I love the proving and theory world of mathematics more than the computations and applications,” he added.

This was where he took the inspiration for his thesis topic about the number system, called the p-adic numbers and p-adic integers, where he “…proved in detail some of its properties, such as being a profinite group, compact, and disconnected.”

Santos plans to apply to UP Diliman’s MS-Mathematics program. While hoping for another DOST scholarship, he is also willing to work while taking up higher education. –

Maverick Avila studies Communication specializing in Creatives and Journalism at the University of the Philippines Cebu. He was a Nation News intern for Rappler during the 2022 National Elections. Now, he’s working as a film producer for an independent feature film in Bohol while contributing stories to Rappler.


The House’s other ‘Velasco’: Who is Secretary General Reginald Velasco?

by Seth Cabanban

Reginald Sagun Velasco was elected by the House of Representatives to serve as Secretary General of the 19th Congress as it commenced its first regular session last Monday, July 25.

House Speaker Rep. Martin Romualdez administers the oath of newly-elected House Secretary General Reginald Velasco during the House’ first regular session on July 25 (Photo from House of Representatives website)

Velasco, as secretary general, will enforce the orders and decisions of the House of Representatives and will act as chief of the House personnel.

He is not related to Marinduque lone district Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, who served as speaker in the previous 18th Congress.

Secretary general Velasco took his oath of office Tuesday, July 26 before newly-installed House Speaker Martin Romualdez.

Prior to his election as secretary general, he tenured major roles for multiple government agencies: he was an economic researcher for the National and Economic Development Authority (NEDA); officer roles in the Philippine Embassy of the Philippines in Washington DC, United States (US); and directorship roles in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). He has even worked at the Office of the President and the Vice President.

Velasco has also served in vital roles for prominent political parties in the Philippines; he was a deputy secretary general for the Lakas–Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD); an executive director for the National Unity Party (NUP); deputy secretary to the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (KMP); and assistant to the secretary general of the Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP).

In 1973, Velasco graduated from the University of the Philippines (UP) with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science; a year later, in 1974, he earned a Master’s degree in Political Science. At one point in 1981, he was a doctoral candidate for Philosophy in Political Science at UP.

UP awarded him a Graduate Scholarship Award in 1973. In 1974, he received the NEDA Development Economics Fellowship Grant.

Prior to entering the House of Representatives, he was a political science lecturer for universities such as UP Manila and the Lyceum of the Philippines.

As per the House of Representatives’ website, the secretary general “carries out and enforces orders and decisions of the House, keeps the journal of each session, notes all questions of order together with the decisions thereon, complete[s] the printing and distribution of the records of the House and submits to the speaker all contracts and agreements approval, and acts as the custodian of the property and records of the House and all other government property in its premises.”

“Subject to the supervision control of the speaker, the secretary general is the immediate chief of the personnel of the House and is responsible for the faithful and proper performance of their official duties,” the House website added.




This UP Diliman student graduating summa cum laude shared how her failures led her to success!

Gia Evangelista, 21, earned the highest academic award with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Social Work.

But unknown to many are the struggles she had been through before she reached the finish line.

During the University of the Philippines College Admission Test or UPCAT in 2018, Evangelista failed to secure a spot in the institution.

It was through the Iskolar ng Bayan Act of 2014, a scholarship program for top students from public high schools, that she was given the chance to be in her dream school.

“I was very insecure about it to the point that I deliberately hide it from my college peers, afraid that they will look at me differently,” Evangelista told The Philippine STAR.

She admitted that she was reluctant at first to share her truth, as she feared it will overshadow the achievements she had achieved.

“I do not want to be the ‘Summa Cum Laude that did not pass the UPCAT.’ I just wanted to be a Summa Cum Laude,” she said.

But now, Evangelista is ready to reclaim her story and inspire others to see the beauty in the unexpected redirections in life.

“This is for everyone that has failed. Do not let it define you, let it fuel you. Your time will come,” she said.

Evangelista dedicates her milestone to her family and her person, whom she considers as constant support systems.

“Whatever distinction I incur in this life is not mine alone, but theirs most of all,” said Evangelista. (Facebook/UP Diliman)

If you have a story, picture, or video you wish to share, you may join our community page:

Source: Philippine Star Facebook

This Artist Is Helping Preserve the Dying Art of Repoussé in the Philippines

By Bryle B. Suralta

It’s a centuries-old practice that endures to this day.


When we look at religious icons during our visits to church, we are reminded of the glory and skill of Filipino craftsmanship in the littlest of ways. Look closely at the heads of the saints, figures, and santo niños and we can see crowns and halos of embossed metal and gold. This, in fact, is an art form in itself, and one that dates back to as far as the fourth century in various cultures.

Repoussé transcends the decorative and elevates itself to the spiritual with its meticulous design elements. It is an ancient technique of embellishing and engraving metals by pushing hammers and different tools to create powerful imagery, referencing the culture inherent to the pieces.

In the context of ancient Philippines, our Visayan ancestors were famous for repoussé. What others would call primitive actually has parallels in other indigenous, religious, and colonial beliefs and traditions in Europe and the far east. The term is derived from the French word “pousser,” which means “to push forward.” It peaked in popularity in Europe during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

A Chinese gold stem cup with repoussé decoration, dating back to the 7th to 9th century.

Photo by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Repoussé has been long used to adorn the iconography of Christian art in the Philippines, as well. These works are a byproduct of Spanish Colonial tradition. We can see examples of this in the form of halos and crowns on our own sacramentals and religious symbols.

Photo by Pinterest/José Ángel Sánchez Sánchez

Jandy Carvajal, who is an assistant professor of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines Baguio, has made the art of repoussé his life’s work. His current exhibition at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts Gallery entitled Ang Ating Mga Kayamanan sa Ating Bakuran inspects repoussé in a post-modern world with everyday objects and subject matters. Curated by Alain Zedrick Camiling, the show reassesses subjectivities and complexities brought about by the pandemic and the relationship between collection and production.

In 1991, Carvajal first explored repoussé by using aluminum sheets from milk cans. He would shelve the practice for years, opting to focus on school. Carvajal would do a photomanipulation of his works two decades later and from there, he pursued and rediscovered the technique on a much deeper level.

“My newfound inspiration for this were pre-Hispanic Philippine gold artifacts that I was privileged to see during a series of museum visits,” he claims in an explanatory report. “They were a feast for the eyes.” He also thinks back to a collection at the Ayala Museum called Gold of Ancestors, which he credits as a showcase that further escalated his interest in repoussé. Here, the exhibit detailed and showcased artifacts from pre-colonial Visayas whose peoples were described in 16th century accounts as those “who were adorned in gold.”

Detail of the repoussé on the “Crown of the Andes,” which was made for the image of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception venerated in Popayán Cathedral in the former Spanish viceroyalty of New Granada (present-day Colombia). Dating back to the 17th century, this crown is considered one of the most important examples of repoussé work during Spanish Colonial America.

Photo by Flickr/OBEROSA MIRABILIA di Enzo Favaro.

These were what he calls “ancient artists” who were gifted in the practice. In turn, they manipulated these precious metals and wound up creating meaning entirely their own.

The repoussé technique had also been magnified by the Spanish Colonial period, which then added a particular mythos to our sacramentals. Carvajal’s work draws from his own religious background, evidenced in his previous exhibits at the Victor Oteyza Community Art Space (VOCAS) in Baguio and the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay back in the early 2010s. Carvajal also drew from old folk concepts like botanicals and traditional tattoo motifs. He makes use of old reliable aluminum, as well as copper and brass for his pieces.

“Araw (Sun)” (2014) by Jandy Carvajal, Foil, Paper, and Acrylic Gems on Paper. This piece was presented at VOCAS.

Photo by Jandy Carvajal.

“Ex Voto 1” (2015) by Jandy Carvajal, Aluminum. The artist said of this exhibit: “Ex votos are objects that represent the gist of devotees’ prayers, traditionally, either in gratitude or in supplication.” Carvajal, however, communicated expressions of human concerns, traversing the gray area between wants and fulfillment.

Photo by Jandy Carvajal.

“Crown of Creation” (2018) by Jandy Carvajal, Brass. This was part of the artist’s juried exhibit, Difference and Deference, at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London. The center specializes in the study of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Photo by Jandy Carvajal.

For his latest exhibit, Carvajal toys around with the notions of irony in treasures in the form of ethnic values and ecological possibilities. “The inedible gold ironically underscores that good is more valuable and this juxtaposition emphasizes that hunger is equally a threat amidst the current pandemic,” he noted.

Carvajal was also inspired by the community pantries and gardens grown during the early portion of our health crisis. He ended up carving common vegetables, like kangkong, kamote, and the like, for this exhibit. Carvajal took roughly two months to finish all of the 13 pieces.

“Kalabasa” (2021) by Jandy Carvajal, Gold-Plated Brass. The assistant professor bridges the gap between social and cultural ecologies and ideas of opulence, consumption, and preservation.

Photo by NCCA.

In places like Pampanga, the repoussé technique is alive and well. But Carvajal is looking to amplify the practice even more, starting with Baguio, where he teaches, and in Manila and abroad. Repoussé, in general, can be done even with the common foil we have at home, just as long as we are careful enough not to puncture them. Pencils, popsicle sticks, and more can be used as tools, too. All we have to do is take from our time, history, and way of life, much like Carvajal has.

The artist is one of the select few who sheds light on the beauty of the form, always looking for newer ways of expression and meaning.

“Thirty years since I first created my first repoussé pieces, I continue to appreciate my two main sources of inspiration. I am grateful for our kababayans of centuries past for their artistic legacy, which serve as a pivotal catalyst for my continued art practice,” he said.

Ang Ating Mga Yaman Sa Bakuran will be on display at the NCCA Gallery in Intramuros, Manila until July 31, 2022.


Science should serve the people, says new outstanding young scientist awardee from UP


In 2019, the University of the Philippines Press published Dr. Ronnie Baticulon’s first book, “Some Days You Can’t Save Them All,” containing his essays on medical school and neurosurgery training.

Outstanding young scientist awardee Dr. Ronnie Baticulon is working to make sure the underserved have access to neurosurgeons and general health care

“If you’re a doctor in the Philippines, it’s very easy not to do research,” says pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ronnie Baticulon. “You can just do clinical work. There’s no fault in that because when you do clinical work, you’re also serving patients.”

But there’s a small percentage of doctors who devote their time to research. They do it on top of their clinical and teaching responsibilities, without necessarily getting paid extra for it. And Dr. Baticulon of the Philippine General Hospital is one of them.

He was recently recognized as one of the country’s 11 outstanding young scientists by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), in honor of his remarkable contributions to global neurosurgery, pediatric neurosurgery, and medical education.

“[Dr. Baticulon] has completed research projects in global neurosurgery that aim to estimate the burden of neurosurgical diseases and identify barriers to neurosurgical care worldwide,” says the NAST. “His aspiration to be able to provide essential neurosurgical care to all Filipinos who need it, particularly the underserved, underlies his research pursuits and clinical practice, and brings together activities to advance pediatric neurosurgery in the country.”

Dr. Ronnie Baticulon (left) about to start a neuroendoscopic procedure for the surgical treatment of hydrocephalus

State of global neurosurgery

“For the longest time, when people talk about global health or providing essential healthcare, surgery has been a neglected aspect,” observes Baticulon, who has been exposed to the healthcare systems of different countries in his training as a medical student, resident, and fellow. He also undertook courses in Global Health at the University of Tampere, Finland and Global Surgery at the University of Oxford, UK.

A 2015 study by medical journal The Lancet noted that 5 billion people do not have access to safe, affordable surgical care when needed. “This means 5 billion people all over the world who need surgery don’t get it, or they get it late, or the surgery that they’re getting is not safe, which could lead to complications or even death.”

The same is true in the Philippines. The Universal Health Care Act (R.A. 11223) is supposed to have ensured “that all Filipinos are guaranteed equitable access to quality and affordable health care goods and services, and protected against financial risk.”

However, this is not reflected in the current state of our healthcare system, says the UP College of Medicine alumnus. “Now, if you’re poor, you don’t have money, you can’t get admitted in the hospital and get the medications that you need. You cannot get surgery,” he says.

This prevailing situation in many parts of the world, he says, resulted in a global neurosurgery movement. In the last few years, Dr. Baticulon has been involved in studies that try to identify the gaps in neurosurgical care.

In the Philippines, one of the gaps identified is the fact that there are only about 130 to 180 neurosurgeons. This translates to about one neurosurgeon for every 800,000 Filipinos, when the ideal ratio should be between 1 for every 67,000 to 100,000 population. Most of the neurosurgeons are found in key cities and in Metro Manila, says Dr. Baticulon.

“What I’ve realized is that all the letters that come after your name, the titles, they are worthless unless you use them actually to do good, to be kind, and to serve others,” says the pediatric neurosurgeon.

“There are islands in the Philippines with no neurosurgeon,” he says. “So if somebody suffers from a head injury—say, he got into a car accident and there’s blood clot in the brain, it happened in an island where there’s no neurosurgeon—then the patient has to travel by boat, by car, before he gets the surgery needed. By that time, the outcome may not be as good.”

Some of us may have also encountered TV commercials or social media posts requesting for donations for the surgery of children with hydrocephalus. “We still see that when in fact hydrocephalus is quite easy to treat,” he says. “If diagnosed early, [the neurosurgeon] can put in what is called a shunt, which is a device that’s implanted on a patient to drain the water from the brain into the abdomen.”

If the surgery is done early enough, says Baticulon, the child can more or less live a normal life (e.g., can go to school, undergo normal development, have normal IQ). However, in many cases, patients are brought to the doctor when the heads of the kids or infants are already too big, such that when the surgeons operate on them, the outcome is no longer ideal. “Even if you put in a shunt, the patients will still be dependent on their families, they will not be able to go to school, they will not even be able to talk,” says the pediatric neurosurgeon.

Dr. Baticulon has been involved in many global neurosurgery researches, working with colleagues from the US, Africa, and Europe, gathering useful data on the number of people around the world suffering from hydrocephalus and brain tumor, the number of people who had head injuries, the number of neurosurgeons who can provide care, and so on.

One of the major projects he did in 2020 looked into the number of pediatric neurosurgeons in Asia and Australasia, the kind of training they have, the gaps in the care pathway (cultural beliefs, accessibility to information, doctors, or healthcare facilities), and how these gaps can be addressed.

Dr. Baticulon presenting the preliminary findings of his global neurosurgery paper on pediatric neurosurgery in Asia and Australasia at the 3rd Asian-Australasian Society for Pediatric Neurosurgery Congress in 2019 in Incheon, Korea.

Science that serves people

Dr. Baticulon is a firm believer that what the world needs is “science that serves the people.” Thus, more important than getting published in a high impact journal, improving the h-index, or the rankings in Google Scholar, is putting a premium on research that ultimately benefits the public, especially the underserved Filipinos.

In his ongoing research project, his team surveyed the neurosurgeons all over the Philippines. “We tried to find out: Where are the neurosurgeons in the country? What’s the population of their patients? How many operations are they doing? Where are they doing their operations—is it in the public or private hospitals?” he says.

Once the study is published sometime early next year, it can be utilized in mapping out universal health care plans to provide essential neurosurgical care to every Filipino who needs it. He hopes that thru their research, other fields of specialties will also be encouraged to do the same. The project is supported by the Academy of Filipino Neurosurgeons, Inc.

Dr. Baticulon is currently a professor at the Department of Anatomy in the UP College of Medicine. Thus, another field of research close to his heart is medical education. Over the pandemic, he and some medical students from UP conducted a national survey that tried to determine and analyze the barriers to online learning. There were 3,000 respondents from almost all medical schools in the country who participated in the survey. Their findings showed that beyond the physical tech tools, there are actually more important barriers to online learning, among them failure of communication between the educators and learners, the students’ difficulty in adjusting to the online setup, and economic problems, among others. Since it was published, the research has already been downloaded over 200,000 times, the doctor says.

Baticulon (center) completed a short course in Global Surgery at the University of Oxford in 2019. Here he is shown receiving the course certificate from Prof. Kokila Lakhoo (left) and Prof. Chris Lavy (right).

Family of geniuses

Dr. Baticulon belongs to a family of valedictorians. He’s the eldest and the only doctor among five children; his four siblings are all engineers. All five of them graduated as high school valedictorians and were UPCAT passers. A Palanca award-winning writer and book author, Baticulon once wrote an essay about his family labeled “a family of geniuses” by teachers, parents, and students.

It was in first year high school when Baticulon knew he wanted to become a physician, because while he excelled in Math and English, it was the science classes he enjoyed immensely.

“At first, I wasn’t really sure [if I will be able to take up medicine] because I’m not from a rich family. We were poor,” he tells ANCX. “The only reason I was able to go to a private high school (University of Perpetual Help, Las Piñas) was because I was a scholar. I didn’t have to pay tuition.”

To maintain his high school scholarship, he studied hard and joined contests in math, science, and essay writing. He took the UPCAT in 2000 and made it to the top 50 passers, among over 60,000 examinees. This entitled him to an Oblation Scholarship.

Ronnie was admitted into the highly competitive Integrated Liberal-Arts Medicine (INTARMED) program of UP. This allowed him to finish his pre-med and med proper courses in seven years. “I never paid tuition. I only paid P60 per semester until I graduated,” he says, looking back at his years as a UP scholar.

Baticulon was drawn to neurosurgery because he’s long found the brain a most fascinating human organ. “If you can’t move your hand, or you’re not sleeping well, it could be because something is wrong with a part of your brain. It’s always like a puzzle—that’s what I like about neurology,” he says.

He also realized very early on that he didn’t want to be spending his whole day in a clinic, so he decided to specialize in neurosurgery. “I wanted to be doing things with my hands and have a better control of the outcome [of a patient’s treatment].”

The outstanding young scientist says he’s quite the determined type. “I usually have very clear goals. For example, when I said I want to become a doctor, I’ll be a doctor. I want to become a neurosurgeon, I’ll be a neurosurgeon,” he shares. Among his goals was to win the Palanca and to write a book. He was able to fulfill both. His piece “Some days you can’t save them all” won 2nd prize at the 2018 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. This was also the title of his first book published by the University of the Philippines Press in October 2019.

The book, a collection of his essays and stories from medical school and his neurosurgery training, has been consistently in UP Press’ bestsellers list. It’s also a finalist in the National Book Awards this year.

Baticulon (fourth from left) doing ward round with the neurosurgery residents of the Philippine General Hospital, accompanied by rotating medical students.

What the NAST award means to him

The recognition from NAST is an affirmation of his contribution to the field of science. But more than anything else, Dr. Baticulon says, it serves as a reminder and an encouragement that the work of researchers and clinician scientists are important.

“If we don’t write about our experiences, [scholars from western countries] will be writing about it, and we don’t want that,” he says. Amid growing calls to decolonize global health movement, he says it’s important for Filipino clinician scientists to continue the work that they’re doing.

NAST also amplifies the importance of multidisciplinary work and research collaborations. “Sometimes being in the medical field, we just work on our own little space, in our own quadrant, or work with our co-physician,” he says. What’s being encouraged now is for doctors to work with specialists and scientists outside their own fields of specialty.

“A good example would be the science behind COVID-19,” he points out. “It’s not just the voice of the infectious disease specialists that are important. We also need to talk to physicists and aerosol specialists. We need to talk to engineers who know about airflow on how to best mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” The NAST award, he says, will greatly expand his network and open a lot of potential for collaboration.

Dr. Baticulon believes that the ultimate goal of scientists should be geared towards improving the lives of the underserved communities. “What I’ve realized is that all the letters that come after your name, the titles, they are worthless unless you use them actually to do good, to be kind, and to serve others,” he says, echoing an advice he would always tell his students. “Sa lahat ng pagkakataon, higit sa pagiging magaling ang pagiging mabuti.”

[Dr. Baticulon’s book “Some Days You Can’t Save Them All” is available at UP Press bookstores and at]