YugabyteDB tempts devs with read-committed isolation levels
YugabyteDB, the self-styled double-decker distributed relational database, has introduced a read-committed isolation level, allowing for more flexibility for devs and bringing it into step with its more established RDBMS rivals.…
Not your grandpa’s ride—the 2023 Cadillac Lyriq, tested
PARK CITY, UTAH—They say—accurately, in my opinion—that nothing focuses the mind like a deadline. I'm not sure what the amplification factor is when that deadline suddenly shrinks by nine months, as was the case for Cadillac's new Lyriq, but the result is an extremely competent new battery-electric SUV.
As we've covered in the past, General Motors is at the start of an electrification plan that it hopes will mean no more tailpipe emissions from any of the group's vehicles by 2035. The key to that is a family of batteries and electric motors (named Ultium) to be used across everything from big body-on-frame trucks to small crossovers. We've actually sampled a couple of early Ultium-based BEVs already—the bombastic Hummer EV truck and BrightDrop Zevo 600 delivery van. Both of those are rather niche applications, but the Lyriq is much more mainstream, given America's love for the SUV.
At launch, the Lyriq is available in a single-motor, rear-wheel-drive configuration, with a twin-motor, all-wheel-drive version coming early in 2023. The RWD Lyriq uses a 340 hp (255 kW), 325 lb-ft (440 Nm) version of the Ultium Drive motor, which is powered by a 102 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
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'No Man's Sky' Players Are Reinventing Money
When you reach the No Man’s Sky endgame, you might find yourself drowning in in-game currency without much to spend it on. Players in the No Man’s Sky Galactic Hub have taken matters into their own hands by creating their own economy and cryptocurrency called Hub Coin. Unlike other cryptocurrencies, these players hope Hub Coin remains worthless.
The Galactic Hub is a pretty unique community in video games. When No Man’s Sky launched, it was immediately rejected by the gamers who had been anticipating it for not being the game they wanted. Rather than give up on the game, the Galactic Hub was a community of players who wanted to see how they could, through out-of-game strategizing and communication, make the game not just enjoyable, but a community.
Players who want to join the hub just have to navigate their way over to the coordinates where all the players have gathered, and introduce themselves on the Galactic Hub Reddit and Discord. Over the years, they’ve largely succeeded in creating a real, working civilization of players with holidays, businesses, and attractions. The Galactic Hub has since inspired other in-game civilizations and even helped to create a kind of space UN in order to coordinate with them.
The Galactic Hub was created in response to No Man’s Sky not launching with the kind of cooperative play features players wanted, and Hub Coin is similarly a reaction to what the game is still lacking despite years of updates and developments. It all comes down to the end game of No Man’s Sky, when the various in-game currencies become pretty useless to players because they can duplicate any item.
In No Man’s Sky you’re able to build a base and customize it, and many players have built complex monuments, amphitheaters, or even a giant, functional pachinko machine in the game. But these activities are all labor intensive, especially if you’re building on a massive scale. If you’re playing on console, you also don’t have access to tools that can create custom flora and fauna for your game, meaning you have to rely on PC players to help you out. The world is only limited by your imagination—and the amount of effort you’re willing to put into a video game—but players may find themselves wishing they had someone else to do the tedious part of the job for them.
“As the Galactic Hub continues to grow, the amount of players in the community reaching what we would call ‘end-game’ status has grown too,” Gizmokhan, the deputy secretary of the Galactic Hub Treasury, told Waypoint.“Basically, end-game players have no real use for the in-game currency, which makes it difficult to reward players in the community.”
In massively multiplayer online games, like Final Fantasy XIV, there are in-game systems for trading resources and collaborating. No Man’s Sky isn’t quite an MMO, though, and doesn’t have that same kind of infrastructure to allow player collaboration. As ever, the Galactic Hub took this problem into their own hands.
“There is no resource in No Man's Sky which is both transferable and unable to be duplicated or otherwise gained through exploits; this is why all previous attempts at creating a metagame economy have failed,” 7101334, Galactic Hub founder told Waypoint. “End-game players, however, still desire access to those things which can only be achieved by player activity: they want to commission ByteBeat tracks under certain parameters, they want to pay for an artistic canvas in their base, they want a PC player to save-edit a custom fauna companion for them, they want a skilled architect to help design their base or do interior decoration, or maybe they just want the simple convenience of not gathering their own resources.”
This is where Hub Coin comes in. It’s a cryptocurrency, but not one that can be used to buy goods and services in the real world. It exists on what’s known as a “testnet” for Ethereum, which is a testing environment where everything is just play money, but can still be interacted with like regular cryptocurrency. Even though there’s no reason for Hub Coin to have any value, people may still decide it’s important enough to throw money at, which is why the rules of The Galactic Hub community also prohibit it from being exchanged for real currency.
The way that Hub Coin was designed to work, and how it’s been working so far, is that it’s earned by performing useful social functions for the Galactic Hub, like filling out the wiki, and can mainly be spent for in-game items from other players. You can also redeem your coins for Galactic Hub merch, if you’d prefer to do that over spending your own money.
Implementing a cryptocurrency in the No Man’s Sky community wasn’t a simple task. 7101334 and the newly minted Galactic Hub Treasury Department attempted to look at the pitfalls of other games that have introduced cryptocurrency, and tried to avoid them. The most obvious pain point, they said, was that once you add the ability to cash out or otherwise earn money from a game, it stops being fun and starts being work.
“The prime motivation for most people playing blockchain games is ‘make money playing video games.’ For me, I'm looking to have fun playing a video game,” CasualLunatic19420, a member of the Galactic Hub Treasury told Waypoint. “A marketplace is a great feature in a blockchain game, sure, but I can't enjoy the game in any other way.”
“When players can ‘cash out’ into dollars the crypto wallet becomes the main goal and the video game becomes a means to that end,” ItalicInterloper, a marshall for the treasury, told Waypoint. “In-game economies can become trivial for end-game players, and time-consuming for developers to protect from exploits.”
“People don't play games because they want to trade currencies or NFTs, they play games to have fun and be creative,” 7101334 echoed. “If your game is ‘play-to-earn’ because no one would ever play it for free, your game is bad and will not succeed.”
Some members of the community also pushed back against the idea of crypto over environmental concerns.
“Of course our biggest concern from the beginning was the environmental impact of crypto, and we were pleased to find that many people in the community shared that concern,” Kaboom, the secretary of the treasury, told Waypoint. By reaching out to the community, the treasury was able to change some technical details of how they implemented Hub Coin to mitigate the environmental impact.
One of the main reasons for choosing the particular testnet that Hub Coin runs on—Goerli—was its minimal environmental impact.
“We started with the Ropsten Testnet, but after Gmr_Leon informed me that Ropsten is also Proof-of-Work, we switched to the Goerli Testnet before public launch, which uses Proof-of-Authority,” 7101334 told Waypoint. Proof-of-Work is the typical kind of crypto mining that most are familiar with, where computers all over the world run 24/7 to validate blocks of data and generate new coins. Proof-of-Authority uses much less energy at the cost of requiring more trust, because rather than a global energy-burning competition deciding who gets to mine a block, validators are known entities that put their reputations on the line.
The members of the treasury and 7101334 have said that since these issues were worked out, Hub Coin has been a success with players. It isn’t just the technical set up that has allowed for it though. A big part of why these community members all trust each other enough to use such a currency is because it’s opt-in, and comes from the community rather than the developers.
7101334, who also plays Grand Theft Auto: Online, said his experiences with a paid currency that was implemented by developers rather than the community has really changed his experience of that game.
“I'm the first to admit I'm a dick in Grand Theft Auto—because I can't be anything else,” he said. “Gifting vehicles cut into Rockstar's profit margins, so they removed the ability to gift vehicles. After release, you were able to send cash directly to other players, but hackers abused this to send millions to other players—Rockstar fixed this by, mostly, not allowing you to send cash to other players at all. They took away all the ways to help other players, so they can sell the help instead, and incentivized griefing so players cost each other money, thereby creating more pressure for them to spend real money.”
Hello Games has never added a paid currency to No Man’s Sky, and the players who spoke to Waypoint said that not only do they not want them to, it probably wouldn’t work as well as what they’ve created with Hub Coin.
“Hubcoin has zero in-game analogue. Its growth is fully dependent on players trusting each other on social media and chats to reciprocate a good or service for an agreeable amount,” ItalicInterloper said. “This is a very different relationship than a developer implementing and tweaking a player economy through their game code. When a new player signs up for Hub Coin we all celebrate with them. We answer their various questions about signup accounts and GHUB’s earning and spending potential.”
Gizmokhan, the deputy secretary for the Galactic Hub Treasury, told Waypoint that an important distinction here is that the Galactic Hub citizens aren’t making a game by using the blockchain, like so-called “play-to-earn” games such as Axie Infinity. Instead, they are using the blockchain to facilitate a medium of exchange so that users can trade goods and services.
Axie Infinity has become a poster child for how games based around cryptocurrencies can go wrong. The initially soaring value of its tokens and high cost of entry encouraged the organic creation of a kind of digital sharecropping system, where wealthier players who refer to themselves as “managers” employ teams of poorer players to grind the barebones battle system and split their profits. As if that wasn’t enough, the tokens themselves have now cratered in value, and North Korea hacked the game’s blockchain “bridge” and stole more than $600 million worth of tokens at the time.
“HubCoin has a set value that isn't able to be duped or otherwise glitched, can't be farmed, and won't ever be handed out on the nexus,” he said. “This is the real value of Hub Coin.”
According to ItalicInterloper, right now there are 149 Hub Coin holders, and only two people have left the community over the currency.
“Many citizens are uninterested in the new economy, preferring to keep the game closer to its original intent,” he said. “But 291 citizens are registered on the Census, meaning that roughly one-half of active citizens hold some GHUB or could engage in the economy.”
As the Galactic Hub Treasury prepares for the future, there is one major stumbling block they see on the horizon: inflation. Initially, Hub Coin was launched with a deflationary mechanism that would make the currency rarer over time. The Treasury has since axed this aspect of the currency, making it more vulnerable to being devalued through inflation.
“Any new system is gonna have problems with scaling up, and we are working hard to identify and deal with them well before they become actual issues,” Gizmokhan told Waypoint. “Managing inflation is the biggest concern for our future-proofing department, and so far we have managed to stay ahead of it.”
Unlike the real world economy—and the current economy of cryptocurrencies—the future for Hub Coin looks optimistic. Although there will be growing pains as the project scales up, both 7101334 and the Galactic Hub Treasury are confident they can handle the challenges.
“It is stable and backed by our top members, and we've all agreed to use it and back its value,” Gizmokhan said. “It's no different than real world currency in that context.”
Here’s What Period Tracking Apps Say They Do With Your Data
After the fall of Roe on Friday—the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the United States—people online started urging others to delete their period tracking apps.
Generally, apps that track menstruation and fertility extract a lot of data from users that previously only a gynecologist got in this much detail. Depending on the app, this can mean scads of information each month about when a period starts, stops, or is interrupted or unusual in some way, the heaviness, lightness, and all kind of other physical qualities of one’s blood. Some apps allow users to track what they were eating, drinking, smoking, and feeling during their period or in the weeks before and after. Some apps also allowed users to track sleep habits, whether they traveled and where, and the list goes on. It’s a treasure trove of personal data.
There are a lot of good reasons to track your cycle as part of staying informed about your own health, but avoiding pregnancy and trying to become pregnant are the most common. Theoretically, the same data be used against someone targeted by law enforcement for seeking an abortion: if the courts can see when you stopped menstruating, or changes to your flow in general, they could infer things about when and how you became pregnant or accessed abortion care.
Motherboard asked 10 popular period and fertility tracking apps how they plan to protect users’ privacy in a post-Roe world, and how they plan to handle requests from law enforcement. My Calendar, FitrWoman and MagicGirl didn’t reply. Seven other apps replied (none of the big tech companies we reached out to with similar questions about data storage post-Roe responded initially) and their comments ranged from making no solid commitments about how they will protect users to stating that they would rather shut down than violate user privacy.Glow via App Store
Glow is the parent company of multiple fertility, period tracking, and health apps: Glow, which includes calendars and logs for tracking menstruation, Nurture which logs data about your pregnancy, Baby for early child development tracking, and Eve, which tracks your sex life.
Glow didn’t respond to my questions. Instead, it sent a short statement about “core values”:
“Thank you for reaching out about the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe vs Wade. We will continue to uncompromisingly protect our users' privacy and personal health information. Period. Our number one goal is to build the best products for our users and doing anything that violates their trust would go against our core values. We will always do our very best to get things right and serve our users well. Thank you for reaching out to us on this important matter.”Period Tracker via App Store
Period Tracker is a no-frills app that does period and symptom logging and prediction, and has options for sharing data with a sexual partner. Users don’t need an account—a crucial feature for apps that want to protect people’s privacy by not storing it in the first place. In a company blog post published last month, parent company GP Apps said that it would rather shut down the company than aid law enforcement in government overreach:
“We want to assure our users that we are adamantly opposed to government overreach and we believe that a hypothetical situation where the government subpoenas private user data from health apps to convict people for having an abortion is a gross human rights violation. In such a scenario, we will do all we can to protect our users from such an act. We would rather close down the company than be accomplice to this type of government overreach and privacy violation.”Ovia Fertility via App Store
Ovia incorporates period tracking and fertility with early child development tracking. There are Fertility, Pregnancy and Parenting apps. Like many other apps, it does comply with legal requests from law enforcement and private parties involved in civil litigation to hand over users’ data. It’s outlined that process on its website. Ovia stores all your data in cloud servers, where it can be accessed if the government, for example, asks for it.
Ovia told me in a statement: “Post-Roe, Ovia will continue to provide strong privacy and security protections for the data that users track in our apps. We protect our user data with rigorous security controls, and we don’t sell data to data brokers. We provide self-serve privacy controls in our apps that allow users to export or delete their data at any time.”
Flatcracker Software’s Period Plus app is a straightforward symptom and period tracking app. It works with Apple HealthKit “by synchronizing your menstruation, spotting, cervical mucus quality, basal body temperature, weight, and intercourse information,” according to its website.
“We don't store any information that our users enter in the Period Plus app,” a spokesperson for Period Plus said. “That's extremely private. It's all on their device. If they delete the app, it deletes their data with it.”Flo via App Store
Flo is an incredibly popular period tracker that regularly makes it onto top-ranking lists for tracking apps. It was founded in 2015, and claims on its site to have 230 million users. It’s also come under fire in the last few days as one of the apps people are suggesting everyone delete, claiming that it sells data to third parties. (Many of the same people suggest Stardust as a backup, which explicitly states it will hand over data to law enforcement without being legally forced to do so.) Flo denies this on its website. “At no time has Flo ever sold user information, nor have we ever shared it with third parties for advertising purposes,” according to its site.
“Flo will always stand up for the health of women, and will do everything in its power to protect the data and privacy of our users,” a spokesperson told me. “To add to our security measures already in place (read more about that here), we will soon be launching a new feature called ‘Anonymous Mode’ – an option that allows users to remove their personal identity from their Flo account. Lastly, Flo will never require a user to log an abortion or offer details that they feel should be kept private, and users can delete their data at any time.”Cycles via App Store
The period tracking app Cycles’ main feature is being able to share your tracking information with a loved one: for example, a sexual partner can be aware of when you’re on your period and plan accordingly, or adjust plans for fertility.
“We are 100% committed to the privacy of our users, but understand that now it's even more pressing,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Our current privacy and data protection protocols will continue to work post-Roe. First, our users can always use Cycles without creating an account, meaning we don't have to have your data, it can stay locally on your device where only you can access it. Secondly, if you decide to create an account you can hide your email from us, meaning we can't actually link anything to your actual email address. This is linked to the anonymized data that we have.” Users have the option to delete their data within the app, without having to contact the company and request that it delete it, they said. The company is based in Sweden, and as such, operates under GDPR guidelines, which means it has to abide by strict data handling and privacy standards.Clue via App Store
With more than 10 million downloads on the Google Play store and currently number four in Apple’s Health and Fitness category, Clue is another wildly popular tracking app. (Its founder claims to have coined the word “femtech”—do with that information what you will.) It published a long, somewhat vague post on its company blog about privacy and data practices, and sent it as its response to my questions.
Like Cycles, Clue is beholden to GDPR, being based in Berlin. “Like every other consumer app, in order to be able to make Clue work and to function as a business, we do employ some carefully selected service providers to process data on our behalf. For these purposes, we share as little data as possible in the safest way possible,” the blog post says. It will “leverage” its dataset “for new insights into female health,” but claims that the data is “completely de-identified before the scientific researchers we work with analyze it - meaning that no data point can be traced back to any individual person.”
The Notes app on your phone or a spreadsheet can do the same job (or, even better, a paper calendar and a pen) as any of these apps, if all you want is cycle tracking and a log for your healthcare provider. But people turn to apps to track their menstrual cycles for the same reasons people use apps for almost anything else: they’re convenient, aesthetically more fun than a blank document, and can send push notifications to remind you when to either stock up on tampons or condoms or try to make a baby, depending on your goals.
The tradeoff—again, as it is with countless other types of apps—is often your own privacy.
Deleting period and fertility tracking apps from your phone isn’t enough. Especially for people in trigger states, where getting an abortion is now fully illegal at any stage of pregnancy, using airtight security practices is more important than ever. This means getting used to being survielled in the same way marginalized, criminalized people working in the sex trade or otherwise under carceral threat are, and adapting as such: being cautious about where your images are collected and might appear online (like at a protest or outside a clinic), being careful about what you put into text messages and using secure apps like Signal to communicate, and not accepting or sending funds through apps that historically have shut down accounts for illegal activity. Sending a friend money for an abortion through Venmo, for example, may put them at greater risk.
“People should carefully review privacy settings on the services they use, turn off location services on apps that don’t need them, and use encrypted messaging services,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement on Friday. “Companies should protect users by allowing anonymous access, stopping behavioral tracking, strengthening data deletion policies, encrypting data in transit, enabling end-to-end message encryption by default, preventing location tracking, and ensuring that users get notice when their data is being sought. And state and federal policymakers must pass meaningful privacy legislation. All of these steps are needed to protect privacy, and all are long overdue.”
Personal protection of your data goes far beyond “delete your period app” and deleting those apps should not give you a false sense of security. Just deleting one specific app won’t stop the sieve that your personal data runs through, via every other app, messaging platform, and device.
How to Write Poetry to Communicate With Aliens
If you were to attempt to communicate with an alien lifeform, what would you want to say? And, just as importantly, how would you say it? It’s a question that has inspired countless science fiction stories and fueled real debate between scientists involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).
Now, a digital artist and academic has produced his own answer with a collection of mind-bending poems written in an artificial language that was designed for alien communications.
Richard Carter, a senior lecturer in digital media at the University of Roehampton and author of the new collection Signals, has always been interested in code languages and various modes of digital communication. So when he came across Lincos, a “lingua cosma” invented in 1960 by the mathematician Hans Freudenthal as a means for alien interactions, he was intrigued by the possibilities it raised as both an artistic medium and a cosmic conversation-starter.
“I found it fascinating because Freudenthal’s project is a very unusual idea,” Carter said in a call. “It's not just a notion of communicating with alien beings, about mathematics, science, atoms, and the usual standard metrics you might expect to find a common basis for communication.”
“Freudenthal’s work has elements of that aspect, but he's not really interested in that,” he continued. “He's interested in communicating things like memory, morality, competition, and all these elements about the nature of human life in the world, at least as he sees it, using mathematics and logic in order to do that,” which results in a “fascinating contrast between mode of communication and the content that seemed so different from other attempts to communicate with alien beings.”
Freudenthal envisioned Lincos as a spoken tongue built from radio signals of different wavelengths that are sonified into words. The concept was later adapted into written glyphs by the Canadian astrophysicists Yvan Dutil and Stéphane Dumas, who used the language to transmit the so-called “Cosmic Call” messages to nearby star systems in 1999 and 2003.
Carter draws on this rich history of Lincos in Signals, a title that plays on both the artificial signals humans have transmitted to make contact with aliens, as well as the natural signals that the universe sends to us in the form of observable cosmic phenomena like stars, planets, and galaxies.
“We’re trying to beam messages out there for various ends, but actually there are messages of sorts already coming to us and we are developing instruments to try to receive them,” Carter said. “Although these are not intelligent messages in the sense that we might think of them, they might nevertheless be the crucial indicators that there is indeed something out there that maybe, just maybe, somehow, against all the odds, we’ll be able to communicate with.”
The interlinked poems, written in text based on the Dutil-Dumas glyphs, touch on essential human themes such as distance, social connections, warfare, and our experience of the material universe. The book also weaves in otherworldly depictions of stars examined by NASA’s Kepler telescope, which discovered thousands of exoplanets during its lifespan. Geert Barentsen, a NASA scientist, converted stellar light curves, a measure of the brightness of the stars over time, into what Carter called “wonderfully evocative, grainy, pixelated glimpses of these ancient stars so far away.”
“I really wanted to pair up the poems with this selection of images to, again, emphasize this exchange of signals across the universe—the closest thing to interstellar travel that we have at this juncture,” Carter said.
“This writing comes somewhat out of a tradition of experimental writing and poetry more broadly,” he noted. “Sometimes my work is characterized as belonging to traditions of visual poetry, where there's language, but writers are being playful with the materials and sometimes they're not immediately even decipherable as poems. Only when you think of them more conceptually do you understand that they're built on the rhythms and patterns of language.”
In this way, Signals can be viewed alternately as a puzzle, an art piece, or as a bonafide icebreaker for interstellar chats. As to whether he sees aliens as the ideal audience, Carter said he is ironically pessimistic about the odds that humans will establish contact with an extraterrestrial species, but added that our urge to search for them is valuable on its own merits. At the very least, our calls to these hypothetical beings can help us evaluate our fragile yet beautiful place in the cosmos.
“I do wonder, in his heart of hearts, whether [Freudenthal] really imagined [Lincos] being used, or whether it was more an intellectual exercise for a human audience, which in many respects, a lot of alien messages really are,” Carter said. “They are not for them, out there. They are for us. They are our attempts at expressing ourselves to the wider cosmos, because the chances of us sending a message out there and it being received and understood is so infinitesimally low as to be almost meaningless.”
“This is an attempt to communicate with alien beings, but in some respects, when we think about our contemporary situation—in trying to manage a changing world and negotiate all the things it’s generating—so much of that is trying to understand the signals that the Earth is communicating to us, to be able to understand what they mean, and to generate meaningful responses to that, to read the scriptures of the Earth and the atmosphere to lead us, perhaps, toward a better future,” he concluded.
Activist investors join Toshiba board to pave the way to sale
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NASA's mini-spacecraft CAPSTONE just launched
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The Ordinary's Azelaic Acid Has My Late-20s Skin Feeling Reborn
As I’m slowly approaching my late 20s—god help me—my skin is becoming noticeably more… dull. The sirens are going off in my head, and it’s definitely time to do some damage control. I already religiously wear sunscreen, because I want to avoid wrinkles like the plague, but I need something a little more powerful now that 30 is on the not-too-distant horizon. (BRB while I have a nervous breakdown.)
Maybe it’s my night owl habits, my weekend clubbing ritual, or the fact that I’m just so hopelessly lazy when it comes to skincare. In fact, it’s a good thing I only wear makeup a couple times a week, because otherwise my pores would be screaming, since I’m guilty of sleeping in my makeup literally every time I wear it.
Recently, I realized that I need to undo my skin sins somehow—without going to confession—and luckily, I found my secret weapon: The Ordinary Azelaic Acid 10% Suspension Brightening Cream.
Full disclosure, I had absolute zero idea what this product was when I saw it sitting pretty on Sephora’s shelf. But, it had the word “brightening” in the name, so I hoped it would work the kind of magic I was looking for—a potion to restore the youthful radiance that I worry could be slipping away with time. The high concentration of azelaic acid did make me a little nervous since I have sensitive skin, but I was already a huge fan of the brand’s niacinamide serum—which I and several of my colleagues adore for problem skin—so I had high hopes when adding this new cream into my skincare routine.
As it turned out, I found a holy grail of skincare products; I didn’t know much about azelaic acid before this purchase, but I came to find that it is truly doing god’s work when it comes to brightening up a dull complexion. Azelaic acid is found in grains, and also happens to be produced naturally by the ambient yeast that lives on skin. Besides brightening skin tone, it also acts as an antioxidant, helps improve skin texture, and reduces the look of blemishes, which is a saving grace if you have any acne scarring or hyperpigmentation. It acts as a gentle exfoliant by sweeping away dead skin cells—without abrasive scrubbing. My skin is very sensitive and can handle this magic potion, but it’s always a good idea to do a patch test on your skin first. “My skin finally feels like it's healing and brightening for what feels like the first time in years,” one reviewer writes on Sephora’s website. “This product is definitely one of the key factors, as I do notice a difference if I skip this step.” Pretty impressive for something that only costs 10 bucks.
I’ve been using this immaculate substance since last winter, when my skin’s dullness was at an all-time high. My skin has been calm and less inflamed whenever I use it, and I doubt that’s a coincidence. All you have to do is take a pea-sized amount of the cream for each area and rub it into your skin, like you would with serum. (Just make sure you moisturize prior to application, otherwise it can dry and peel off.)
TL;DR: After about six months of use, my skin really does look more alive, and my usual blemishes that arise during that oh-so-special time of the month have halted, for the most part. I’m a total stickler when it comes to my skin and never like to try anything out of fear it’ll cause a breakout, but this product not only assuaged my anxiety; it made me feel like my complexion is actually getting better with time. My skin feels like I just left the spa after every application, and looks bright, alive, and (nearly) blemish-free. And they said there’s no fountain of youth—ha!
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension is available for purchase on Sephora.
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals? Sign up for our newsletter.
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Here’s What Life Looks Like in a Country That’s Run Out of Fuel
Jason Anthony has been in a two-kilometre fuel queue for two days now. In the capital city of Colombo, in the crisis-hit South Asian nation of Sri Lanka, the 35-year-old sleeps in his tuktuk when he’s exhausted, or sits on the pavement with other drivers who have been there for several days too.
When the fuel station closes for the day, he walks several kilometres back home, only to return the next day to queue up. He showed VICE World News his makeshift home by the road over a video call.
“I was forced to quit my job as a tourist guide in February when things got bad here and tourists stopped coming. I had to become a tuktuk driver,” Anthony said. “Now, the fuel is so scarce that I’ve not worked in the last month. I can barely make ends meet at home but I’m forced to spend my days at fuel stations.”
In addition to a 2-kilometre queue for tuktuks, there are separate queues for cars and public buses. Many have been waiting for over five days, and the sight of people lining up for fuel for hours or days has come to symbolise a looming humanitarian crisis in the country of 22 million people, one that is worsening each day.Tuktuk driver Jason Anthony in Colombo shares moments from his two-day wait at the fuel queue. He's nowhere close to the fuel pump today. Photos: Jason Anthony
As Sri Lanka sinks deeper into debt and runs out of foreign exchange reserves, basic necessities like food and fuel are fast dwindling too. On Tuesday, the Sri Lankan government announced that there’s just enough fuel to run essential services like healthcare, trains and public buses for two weeks. The garment sector—the largest contributor to the country’s GDP and a crucial source of income for nearly three million formal and informal workers —only has enough fuel to last 10 days.
On Sunday, the government hiked fuel prices by over 22 percent, citing an indefinite delay in oil shipments due to a lack of forex. Last week, newly-appointed Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe admitted at a parliament meeting that the country’s economy has hit rock bottom.
“We are now facing a far more serious situation beyond mere shortages of fuel, gas, electricity and food,” he said. “Our economy has completely collapsed.”
The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, owned by the government and the main supplier of fuel in the country, is in debt to the tune of $700 million. So far, the country has received over 400,000 metric tonnes of fuel consignments from India, along with $500 million in financial aid to buy fuel. By April, Sri Lanka had used up 60 percent of the $500 million credit line.
“As a result [of this fuel debt], no country or organisation in the world is willing to provide fuel to us. They are even reluctant to provide fuel for cash,” Wickremesinghe added in his parliament address. On Sunday, the government said it will send its ministers to Russia and Qatar to buy cheap oil on concessionary terms in the coming days.
Citizens on the ground are feeling the pinch more than ever. Apart from the fuel crisis, people can’t afford staple food items like rice, milk, fruit and vegetables. On June 17, the government ordered its officials to work from home to save fuel and grow their own food in their backyards amid the country’s acute shortages.
In hospitals, doctors say they’ve run out of life-saving drugs and medical equipment. Hundreds of desperate Sri Lankans have been caught illegally fleeing the country by sea, including to as far afield as Australia, to escape the crisis.
Earlier this month, a woman in Colombo threw her five-year-old son off a bridge into a river, and attempted to jump off as well but was saved by passersby. Police told the media her actions were motivated by her desperation at the economic crisis.
Wimal Jayasuriya, a martial arts teacher in Colombo who relies heavily on public transport, said his children can’t go to school anymore because buses are either out of fuel, or are too crowded to board.
“We keep getting told that there’ll be fuel, but we’re tired of waiting everyday,” the 43-year-old told VICE World News. “I don’t have a permanent job and we live in a rented apartment. Everyday is a struggle for us to exist.”
“The worst setback is on our children, who are getting deprived of not just food and nutrition, but also education now,” he added
Since March, at least 12 people have died in fuel lines, succumbing to exhaustion and illnesses as they endured Sri Lanka’s searing heat. Fuel stations are seeing bouts of violence despite increasing security presence to quell them.
Sri Lanka’s meltdown has become a cautionary tale for developing countries living through a global economic unwinding that has spread across the globe as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As Sri Lanka has sunk into recession, mass protests have rocked the country for over 100 days. Protesters blame the Sri Lankan government for the economic collapse, ruled since 2019 by the powerful and corrupt president Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Last week, Sri Lankan troops opened fire after protests over fuel turned violent. Four citizens and three soldiers were injured.
Even before this crisis, more than 4 percent of Sri Lanka’s population—nearly 900,000 people—already lived below the national poverty line, according to the Asian Development Bank. The country is seeing a record inflation rate of nearly 40 percent—among the worst in the world—as the price of food skyrockets and hundreds of thousands more are pushed into poverty as they lose their jobs.
“Resources are either finished or they’re too expensive for the common man,” said tuktuk driver Anthony. “No wonder the anger and the protests are not going away.”
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At an Isolated Boarding School, a Culture of Sexual Abuse Thrived for Decades
This story contains graphic descriptions of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
MANILA, Philippines — Tucked away in an idyllic enclave on Mount Makiling, a two-hour drive south of the capital Manila, is the Philippine High School for the Arts—an elite state-run boarding school that provides highly-coveted scholarships to the crème de la crème of the country’s young artists.
Nothing short of a mountain hideaway, the campus consists of quaintly designed halls and dormitories surrounded by lush rainforest and often shrouded in mist due to its high altitude. The setting affords the inspiration and solitude the school’s founders believed to be ideal for arts education, and the PHSA has indeed produced some of the Philippines’ finest writers, performers, musicians, and visual artists since it opened in 1977.
But with this exclusivity and seclusion comes a legacy of abuse and secrecy.Classrooms at the Philippine High School for the Arts are designed to look like cottages. Photo: JC Gotinga
Joshua Serafin was 12 years old when he first came to the PHSA in June 2009, thrilled at having passed the grueling auditions for the school’s theater arts program—a shot at fulfilling his dream of becoming an artist.
“PHSA is a way for a lot of people out of poverty. It’s an entry point,” he told VICE World News. “I didn’t come from a privileged place; I came from the province hoping for debt-free education, allowances—high hopes for a better future.”
On his own away from home for the first time, Serafin reveled in the company of other kids who were kindred spirits. It was a lot of fun, until it wasn’t.
“On my fifth month there, I was sexually harassed by a senior,” Serafin said.
An older student bunked with Serafin at their dormitory one night that October in 2009. He was awakened by his abuser touching his genitals, and pulling his hand to touch the abuser’s genitals. “I was afraid and didn’t know what to do, so I pretended to sleep. I was shaking,” Serafin said.
But it wasn’t the last time he would be abused while at the PHSA. Serafin was 16 and in his senior year when a teacher started molesting him. His personal circumstances kept him in contact with this teacher until he was 18, and the abuse continued until then. “The molestation involved attempts at sexual intercourse,” said Serafin, who declined to identify this teacher for fear of backlash.
Serafin’s experience, though extreme, is not unique. Over the last seven months, a growing number of current and former students have called on PHSA administrators to investigate what they call a “culture of abuse” at the school that has traumatized generations of students. The sudden death last November of a teacher with a then-unknown history of abuse triggered his victims to finally talk about their experiences on social media, emboldening other students to also share their experiences of abuse—sexual, verbal and emotional—from other teachers, staff and students at the school.
Now, PHSA students past and present are demanding accountability from the school, including a proper investigation of the alleged abuses to punish the culprits and to inform new policies to guarantee the safety of students.
VICE World News spoke to more than a dozen former and current PHSA students and faculty members who described a disturbing environment and culture that enabled abuse, in which there were no clear boundaries between adult staff and students. Teachers often hung out and slept in students’ dormitories, for example, with hardly any supervision or accountability from the school administrators. It’s a bohemian community—freewheeling, as some former students put it—except that the members are children entrusted to teachers, staff and administrators of a prestigious and isolated government-run boarding school.
The students also spoke to VICE World News of a strong system of seniority and hierarchy in which older students lorded over younger ones, and teachers often treated students harshly, under the pretext of preparation for the cutthroat arts industry. Students assumed that putting up with their superiors’ whims was part of their education, and this thinking made them vulnerable to predators.
“What is apparent within the school is that there is a culture of abuse that I learned from my seniors, mainly because it was normalized,” said Serafin, now 26 and based in Brussels, Belgium working as a performing artist.Joshua Serafin now works as a performing artist in Brussels, Belgium. Photo: Malkia Mutiri
Reports of different kinds of abuse have reached the faculty over the years, students said, but complaints were often brushed off as hearsay. The school requires a bureaucratic process of documentation and notarization before investigating abuse allegations, VICE World News learned from interviews with the current school heads and through documents it obtained involving abuse complaints. Students and other PHSA sources said this has discouraged abuse survivors from officially complaining to the school.
Alarmed by reports of abuse, students in January wrote their administrators a letter, signed by 89 current students and 79 alumni, demanding the school leadership investigate alleged abuses and ensure “safe spaces” when they resume physical classes post-lockdown in August. They said they conducted a survey among a quarter of the school’s 210 current students and found that half of them knew someone who experienced sexual abuse at the PHSA.
“We go in blindly, not knowing that this free education comes at a price, unaware of the culture that thrives in PHSA—one that perpetuates abuse, fostered by silencing and neglect,” the students wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by VICE World News.
“A culture of abuse has been embedded in the community, and those who dare to speak up are silenced and their allegations dismissed.”
A well-placed source within the PHSA, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of backlash from the school leadership, said the school has consistently downplayed and ignored numerous allegations, which continues to this day.
“Emotional abuse, sexual harassment and violations of physical boundaries have been normalized in the school. Adults [in the faculty] do not seem to find anything wrong with these acts,” the source told VICE World News.
“A culture of abuse has been embedded in the community, and those who dare to speak up are silenced and their allegations dismissed.”
Jerom Canlas, a 22-year-old actor and filmmaker, was just 11 years old when he started studying theater arts at the PHSA in 2011. About two years in, at age 13, he started attending rehearsals at a teacher’s house in Metro Manila, some 70 kilometers away from the campus in Los Baños city, Laguna province.
VICE World News decided not to identify this teacher—who was a PHSA alumnus—as he is now deceased and can no longer address these allegations. It was his death in November that set off a reckoning among students about the abuses they endured while at the school.
Students said this teacher would hold rehearsals at his house when his teaching schedule conflicted with his professional theater work, and during weekends when the school was technically closed. He allegedly had students sleep over when rehearsals ended too late for them to commute back to the boarding school.
According to Canlas, when he had to stay with the teacher overnight—many times during his time at the PHSA—the teacher would lay a mattress on the floor for him and sleep beside him. Often, the teacher put an arm around Canlas and, sometimes, slipped a hand under his shirt to touch his torso. Canlas would then put a pillow between his legs to prevent the teacher from touching his groin.
“It hadn’t occurred to me at that time that I was abused by this person when I was a minor, because I looked up to this person so much,” Canlas said. Shame, the fear of how the teacher would react if he resisted, and a sense of indebtedness to this “mentor” all prevented him from sounding the alarm, and so the abuse continued. He didn’t talk about what happened during these sleepovers to anyone except a few close friends.Jerom Canlas was 11 years old when he entered the PHSA. Now 22, he is an actor, filmmaker, and community development practitioner. Photos courtesy of Canlas.
When this teacher died, Canlas felt he had to break his silence. He wrote about his experience in a Facebook post, which prompted other students to confide with him their own experiences of abuse during their time at the PHSA. He learned that at least a dozen of his schoolmates were also molested by the same teacher, some enduring far worse abuse than Canlas, but were too afraid to come forward—except one.
Around 2018, based on interviews and screenshots of messages between students seen by VICE World News, school authorities handled the case of a male student who accused the same teacher of molesting him. VICE World News spoke briefly to this student, now 19 years old and in college, who declined to be identified due to the trauma from his ordeal. He declined to get into detail but confirmed that he filed an official complaint against the teacher. He said the entire incident had left him depressed and wanting to “just get kicked out” of the school.
Canlas, who has led efforts among alumni to reexamine instances of abuse at the PHSA, said the teacher had turned the student’s accusation on its head. “No one took the boy seriously because [the teacher] made it appear it was consensual,” Canlas said. “The boy must’ve been 14 or 15 at the time, so he was a minor.”
Canlas said the incident revealed a problematic way of thinking that was prevalent in the school—that consensual sexual activity between a student and a teacher was somehow permissible.
“Whether or not it was consensual, the fact was these adults knew there’d been an incident and they should’ve done something because it was wrong either way,” Canlas said. “The child complained. He did the brave thing. They should’ve been able to do something.”
“Wow, I just realized now that, shit, no one was really looking out for us.”
Instead, the student ended up so humiliated that he retracted the case and left the school without finishing his course—foregoing his hard-earned scholarship.
“These supervisors are still there [at the school], and they’re not saying anything about the issue,” Canlas said. “That’s what pains me the most. I thought they didn’t know about it but it turns out, they’ve known it all along, all this time.”
Canlas said it just recently dawned on him how lax the school had been to allow him and his schoolmates to rehearse and stay at the teacher’s house. “Wow, I just realized now that, shit, no one was really looking out for us.”
The current school director, Josue Greg Zuniega, and his deputy, Ronaldo Abuan, declined to give details of the 2018 case, citing laws protecting the privacy of minors. Zuniega, a PHSA alumnus and the school head since 2019, said the teacher involved in the case “has long been not renewed as a visiting teacher at PHSA,” although neither administrator would say whether this teacher was dismissed because of abuse accusations.
“When this teacher died last year, the reports came from an older alumnus, through social media and not directly with us. We have not heard from other alleged victims,” Zuniega told VICE World News.
Canlas said the teacher wasn’t fired because of the case, as he had continued to work with the school for some time afterwards. Recent findings by VICE World News also found that the school not only failed to act on allegations, but has also promoted an employee despite complaints against them.A landmark of the PHSA is the National Arts Center auditorium designed by Leandro Locsin, the Philippines' national artist for architecture. Photo: JC Gotinga
“Is Alvin Miclat still an employee of PHSA?”
This question—posted by alumna Tao Aves on Facebook on Nov. 26 last year—drew comments expressing incredulity at the fact that Miclat, a registered nurse who joined the school in 1996 as a dormitory guardian and handyman, still works at the school and was recently promoted to HR head.
One comment, from alumna Amihan Ruiz, stood out: “Yo. Somebody save the children, seriously. Damn he's been a serial child predator before, during and after my time there.”
Ruiz briefly recounted her experiences with Miclat before ending her comment: “He's a goddamned institution, with a girlfriend from every batch. Yikes.”
In a video web interview from Mexico where Ruiz, now 32, works in arts and culture, she detailed to VICE World News the sexual harassment she endured and witnessed when she was a high schooler at the PHSA from 2002 to 2006.
“This was in broad daylight, at noon or after classes, when students congregated around the guardhouse,” she began. Miclat would hang around as the students waited for buses to take them to classes around the sprawling campus. “He would fiddle with our bra straps, because he had this sort of game in which he would tug at the clasp to undo a girl’s bra.”
Miclat did this to many girls as a practical joke, Ruiz said. “This wasn’t a secret thing. This was in front of the guards, in front of the guidance counselor and the nurse whose work stations were right there. It wasn’t only tolerated—it was seen as something absolutely normal.”
Most of the girls would either flinch or let out an awkward giggle, but not Ruiz. “When he did that to me, I made a scene. ‘Stop! Stop! Why are you doing that to me?’ So I stood with my back against the wall,” she said. “I was 12 or 13.”
Miclat then started calling her “the crazy one” because of her reaction—some PHSA teachers and staff called outspoken students names when they resisted or questioned the way they were being treated, Ruiz said. “I realize now how useful it was to them—to label a child ‘crazy’ or ‘war freak’. It took me such a long time to realize that my reaction wasn’t wrong.”
Once, in 2004 when Ruiz was 14, she was sitting on a bench at the guardhouse as Miclat was dulling pocket knives for use as stage props. Suddenly, Miclat threw one of the pocket knives in Ruiz’s direction, and it nearly grazed her leg as it fell beside her feet, where the knife stood erect as the blade sank into the wooden floor.
“He said, ‘Oh, your legs, what a waste,’” Ruiz recalled.
As a dormitory guardian—a “house parent” as the students called them—Miclat had access to the rooms’ spare keys. When Ruiz needed the spare key to her room one time, she looked for Miclat in his room and found him there alone with her roommate, who couldn’t have been older than 16, “with her hair disheveled.”Amihan Ruiz studied theater at the PHSA and went on to become an actor and performer. She is now a cultural worker based in Mexico. Photos courtesy of Ruiz.
More than a decade since Ruiz was at the school, Miclat was allegedly still harassing female students. Denise, who asked for a pseudonym to protect her privacy, was an eighth grader at the PHSA in 2017 when, she said, Miclat abused her as she and her classmates were waiting for the bus at the guardhouse.
“Miclat usually sits there on a chair. My back was turned to him because I was talking to my friends at the time and no one else was behind me,” Denise told VICE World News. “And then suddenly, I felt someone’s hand slip through my shorts and almost into my underwear—it’s just that I moved, so it didn’t get to go through the underwear.”
It happened so fast that no one else seemed to notice, but Miclat had groped Denise’s buttocks. She was 13 at the time.
“I looked back, in shock obviously, and he saw me look back at him and he just laughed it off and he was like, ‘Oh, just ‘cause your shorts are so loose’—he tried to make it a passing joke. I was in shock and I didn’t know what to do, and then the bus came.”
Denise said she and her schoolmates feared Miclat, and apparently so did other staff at the school. “One of my friends, who was always sick and stayed in her dormitory alone, told me that the other house parents told her to always keep her doors locked and to pretend that she wasn’t in the room whenever she stayed in. That way, she could prevent Miclat specifically from going into her room and maybe trying something.”
“The fact that the other staff members who were close to Miclat were aware of what he does and yet nothing was done about it… showed how messed up the system was,” said Denise, now 18, who decided to finish high school elsewhere.
“It even got more messed up when I found out the year after I left [the school] that he was actually promoted to a higher position,” she said. From being a dormitory guardian, Miclat was promoted to an administrative post in 2018, and once more in 2020, making him the school’s de facto HR head.
VICE World News heard many other complaints about alleged abuses by Miclat. One girl who declined to be identified said she saw Miclat slapping another schoolmate’s buttocks, and that in 2018 he spread a rumor that she was having sex with a teacher. She complained to the school, but the school dismissed her accusation as hearsay. Another said she complained to school deputy director Abuan in 2020 about verbal abuse by Miclat but it was never resolved. Five students said they knew about Miclat having romantic relationships with some students from as far back as the early 2000s. It was an open secret at the school, they said, and he was often seen touching girls or having them sit on his lap.
A current student, who spoke to VICE World News on condition of anonymity, said he had often seen Miclat leering at girls, until right before the school shifted to distance learning in March 2020. “He'd catcall girls and tell some of them to sit on his lap. I'd always see him checking them out. He'd whistle at one of my friends,” the student said.
In April, Denise, three other former students, and one current student submitted written accounts to the school’s investigation committee, accusing Miclat of sexual, verbal and emotional abuse. The five written accounts comprised a group complaint, seen by VICE World News, and reflected many of the allegations students shared during interviews for this report.
In an email to VICE World News, Miclat denied all accusations of sexual abuse, saying he treated female students who were close to him "like his own children,” and none of them was ever his girlfriend.
“Some of them did use to sit on my lap at the guardhouse, but ever since the [school] director and guidance [counselor] told me not to let that happen, I myself have pushed away those who try to sit on my lap, so they couldn’t even sit beside me anymore,” Miclat wrote.
Miclat also denied catcalling girls, but admitted having been the subject of students’ complaints—one in which he allegedly claimed falsely that a student was in a relationship with a classmate, and another that accused him of gossiping about a male teacher accompanying a female student in the cafeteria at night.
“Those were settled in front of the director [at the time] and the girls’ parents and also the male teacher. Those were never filed as an official case against me,” Miclat said. “My 201 file has been clean since [I started in] 1996.”
VICE World News sought further comment from Miclat on the allegations by Ruiz and Denise, but he said he would only respond “in the proper forum… if the complaints are notarized.”
A well-placed PHSA source confirmed that Miclat is still employed by the school as of this reporting.Buses like this take the students around the sprawling PHSA campus on Mt. Makiling in Los Baños city, Laguna province. Photo: JC Gotinga
The alleged culture of abuse at the PHSA has gone beyond sexual passes in dark corners and dorm rooms, students said. It has also seeped into daily life on campus—even on field trips.
Carmina Salazar was 11 and a freshman when a teacher brought her and a handful of her classmates to watch the Virgin Labfest play festival at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila in June 2010. The yearly showcase features edgy new material—hence the title—by local playwrights.
A scene in one of the shows, however, proved too much for them. “It was at the ending [of the play]. Five of us were seated side by side on the front row. We were in shock. My classmate beside me was clinging to me, and I was crouching. I had no idea what was going on, and I was so scarred,” Salazar, now 23, told VICE World News.
They didn’t know what it was at the time, but what the children saw was an explicit portrayal of anal sex. Their teacher had snuck them into an R-18 show that wasn’t on the list shown to their parents for their permission.
Salazar showed VICE World News a letter her mother sent the school head at the time. “The genre was too adult—sodomy, incest, murder—for a minor to completely understand the genre and the story itself,” wrote Salazar’s mother. “Why was there a need to rush the minds of minors? They could not even understand yet their own sexuality.”
But the PHSA seemed to put its students in the fast lane when it came to sexual content and material. “They expect you to be mature, act like you’re 18, and be used to things like sex scenes,” Salazar said. “I’ve had to do a lesbian love scene, improvisation exercises where my male scene partner ended up on top of me, and that was supposed to be normal. I was 12 years old.”
“We were brought up to think that when you’re cussed or thrown things at, it’s normal. You wear it like a badge of honor—going through abuse.”
Once, a teacher thought it was a good idea to have the students simulate nudity in a photoshoot for a recital’s playbill and posters, which were later widely distributed on campus and at the Cultural Center in Manila. Salazar showed VICE World News the disturbing photos.
“Only later on did we realize that, woah, we were minors,” said Salazar, noting how their constant exposure to sexual material had desensitized them to it.
Salazar got flak from the faculty because her mother always complained about students’ exposure to inappropriate material, and she was forced to leave the school after her sophomore year. In order to make it through high school at the PHSA, students said they had to keep their head down—even when they were being maltreated.
“Teachers would throw rolls of tape and other stuff at students when something went wrong at rehearsals. There’s a teacher who’d tell you to hit your head on a wall if you displeased them,” Blanche Buhia, a 24-year-old alumna, told VICE World News.
In 2019, some students complained that a teacher, out of frustration, had thrown a chair in the direction of students during a rehearsal, two PHSA sources told VICE World News. The school heads, the sources said, explained it away as “normal” and told the students who complained that they were “just too soft.”
“We were brought up to think that when you’re cussed or thrown things at, it’s normal,” Buhia said. “You wear it like a badge of honor—going through abuse.”Classrooms, dormitories and other facilities at the PHSA undulate artfully on mountain faces, adding to the prestige of this elite boarding school. Photo: JC Gotinga
Despite this chorus of abuse accusations from just about every period of the school’s history up to the present, PHSA director Zuniega has repeatedly claimed that sexual abuse is not an imminent threat to students simply because the school had been on distance learning since March 2020, owing to the pandemic.
“The allegation that the abuses at PHSA are continuing is incorrect. The allegations come from past administrations, and for the two-and-a-half years that our students are in the safety of their own homes, no reported abuses have occurred at the PHSA,” Zuniega told VICE World News in an email on June 9. “Long-serving employees have no knowledge of such allegations taking place. Now that these complaints are being brought to the present administration, let us pursue due process for all the concerned parties.”
But what the students and alumni have been demanding, per their January letter, is for the administration to give concrete and specific assurances that the school will be safe for students when they return to the campus this August.
This demand for safety, the students wrote, “includes conducting investigations as soon as there are rumors or reports of abuse, removing the perpetrator from the school once these claims are proven, and being firm on holding them accountable,” and for the administration to “be the first to take in student complaints, and not the first to make them feel insecure to come forward.”
VICE World News first spoke with Zuniega and his deputy Abuan on Feb. 23, about allegations of abuse at the school including those involving Alvin Miclat. Both school heads claimed there were no pending complaints against Miclat, and that the school had earlier “conducted a kind of informal way of fact-finding” on Miclat’s alleged abuses and found him innocent, said Zuniega, so the allegations were dismissed without having been officially investigated.
“Eyewitness reports said he didn’t touch the children, and when any of them sat on his lap, he would push them away. There was no malice involved,” Zuniega said. “In fact, it’s the children who would throw themselves at Miclat, as they were somehow looking for a father figure here at school.”
“We are like family here,” Zuniega added, before saying that Miclat “no longer has direct contact with students” because he has been promoted to an administrative position.
However, VICE World News later learned that the country’s Commission on Human Rights had written Zuniega a letter on Feb. 15, saying it had received reports about “an administrative officer who allegedly committed sexual abuses/advances against a number of students.” Zuniega replied to the Commission that “there has been no record of such abuses taking place” in the school.
Zuniega’s response letter to the Commission was dated Feb. 22—a day before his interview with VICE World News, during which he denied there were pending inquiries on alleged abuse by Miclat or any PHSA employee. VICE World News obtained copies of the Commission’s letter and Zuniega’s response, but was asked not to publish them.
In a June 8 message to VICE World News, the Commission’s regional chief Rexford Guevarra confirmed that his office “is investigating the alleged sexual abuses involving the students at PHSA.”
VICE World News sought comment from the Department of Education and the Cultural Center of the Philippines—the government agencies supervising the PHSA—regarding these allegations, but received no response from both.Classrooms at the Philippine High School for the Arts. Photo: JC Gotinga
As for the separate complaint Denise and four of her schoolmates filed against Miclat in April, the school’s investigation committee responded in May saying it would dismiss the complaint because it lacked legal specifications such as notarization and a government certification, according to a copy of the response seen by VICE World News.
A parent of a current PHSA student, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their child, said they were frustrated with the school’s apparent refusal to investigate the allegations. They referred to a law that allows school authorities to initiate an investigation as soon as they have knowledge of an allegation of abuse even in the absence of a formal complaint from the victim.
“There’s negligence and abandonment of duty. I think that’s tantamount to being an accomplice,” the parent told VICE World News.
Zuniega denied this, saying the faculty “are open to having these matters investigated properly” but they must “follow due process and the rule of law,” hence the insistence on a certain format. He said the investigation committee “is looking into the matter” of the complaint against Miclat.
In the meantime, the school has held webinars, seminars and recreational activities among students, teachers and staff as ways to prevent abuse, Zuniega said. He insisted the school is “very safe” and the students may be “needlessly panicking” over “rumors” of abuse.
“Number one, these are teenagers. Teenagers now are different from our time,” said Zuniega—a pianist who graduated from the PHSA in 1983 as the class valedictorian.
“During my time, all we wanted was to excel in our art. Now there’s the internet and online games, then they’re more daring in their private lives,” he said. “These potential abuses, who knows if they do it to one another among themselves?”
“I’m telling you, artists tend to talk and their imaginations are creative when they do. So who knows?”
The day after his schoolmate molested him, Serafin, the performing artist, reported the incident to the school authorities. It turned out the schoolmate already had a record of abuse, and within a week, he was dismissed from the school. The faculty considered the case resolved.
But the school never told Serafin’s parents about the incident. “The guidance counselor was asking, ‘Do you want us to tell your parents?’” It only occurred to him years later that the first thing the school should have done was inform his parents.
“I was feeling guilty about the situation. I didn’t want my parents to know. But I think the counselor was leading the conversation in a way that I would say my parents shouldn’t know,” Serafin said. “So my family didn’t know.”
Because of this, he did not get the psychological support he needed at the time.
“I was 12 and my healing started at 24—it took me 12 years to confront this,” Serafin said. “It destroyed my belief system with men. It gave me trust issues with people. All of these came out and I needed to go through therapy because I was on the verge of killing myself.”
He believes his trauma isn’t ultimately just his schoolmate’s fault. “You’re kids in a dormitory with other kids who’s growing up—how do you control the sexual urges these kids are experiencing?”Joshua Serafin was a student at the PHSA from 2009 to 2013. Photo courtesy of Serafin
But because abuse incidents at the school were mishandled, the students ended up thinking it was normal. “You think this is the only way things should be done. And then you realize when you’re 25 or 26 that those things are actually not right,” Serafin said. “The whole system’s problematic, definitely.”
Ruiz, the cultural worker, said her experience at the PHSA set her up for a lot of abuse in her professional life. “I thought it was normal that people did things to you. It was normal that you didn’t know how to complain, or if you did, you’re easy to gaslight.”
Like other PHSA alumni, Ruiz is still grappling with trauma. “I was 28 or 29 when panic attacks started manifesting. Like, fuck, to the point that I couldn’t walk. I had a nervous breakdown that almost lasted two months. All I could do was cry, eat, sleep,” she said, adding that the financial cost of getting treatment compounds the problem, especially for artists who don’t earn a lot of money.
“My takeaway here is, it’s really a whole ecosystem. There’s a string of predators, and then they produce more.”
But she doesn’t blame any single person from the PHSA. “It’s not as if Miclat is the root of all this. My takeaway here is, it’s really a whole ecosystem. There’s a string of predators, and then they produce more.”
She noted the fact that the deceased teacher who allegedly molested a dozen students was a PHSA alumnus. “I wonder if it was done to him too at some point,” Ruiz said.
For the students and other PHSA sources who spoke to VICE World News, the most important thing they hope to see from this reckoning, beyond accountability for their injuries, are an end to the cycle of abuse and an assurance that the children who are and will be at the school will be safe from any kind of abuse.
“These kids don’t deserve that kind of toxic treatment or to deal with a very stressful environment,” said a 23-year-old alumna, who requested anonymity because she is still dealing with trauma. She became emotional as she spoke these words. “Because they’re just kids. They’re still developing, and they’re still figuring out who they are and what they want to do.”
A safe environment, the students said, is the least that should be expected of a public school that received a budget equivalent to $2 million from the government in 2021. “PHSA students are called national scholars, and yet this is how they’re treated. Are we seriously paying for this?” Ruiz said.
“It’s important for this [inquiry] to happen,” Serafin said, “and for this institution to start acknowledging the seriousness of these cases.”
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Chinese Leader Is Leaving His Cocoon for the First Time in 2 Years
Chinese leader Xi Jinping is setting foot outside mainland China for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020.
Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday confirmed Xi’s two-day trip to the semiautonomous territory later this week to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule. Police announced security measures including road closures and a citywide ban on the flying of drones.
Xi will attend a banquet on Thursday and swear in Hong Kong’s new chief executive, John Lee, and his administration the next day. But the Chinese leader is spending the night in between across the border in the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen, local outlets reported, citing anonymous sources.
The convoluted schedule and the unusually late confirmation of the customary trip, announced just two days before Xi’s expected arrival, have highlighted the complicated calculations behind Xi’s first major trip in two years.
“Xi Jinping attending the celebration is of utmost symbolic importance, as it marks the 25th anniversary of the handover and the ‘victory’ in crushing the opposition,” Ho-fung Hung, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, told VICE World News. “It will look very bad if Xi misses this ceremony. The world could perceive it as a lack of confidence about Beijing’s control of Hong Kong and the pandemic there.”
State media Xinhua News Agency on Saturday announced Xi would attend the upcoming inaugural ceremony, but did not make it clear whether his attendance would be in person or virtual.
An uptick in local coronavirus cases—which included two top Hong Kong officials—added to the uncertainty. More than two years into the pandemic, China continues to pursue a stringent zero-COVID policy with tight border control that deepens the country’s self-isolation.
To ensure the Chinese leader would not be infected, Hong Kong officials checked into local hotels on Monday, entering a closed-loop system ahead of the festivities. Reporters covering the events are also required to isolate themselves in hotels beforehand.
The upcoming trip also marks Xi’s first visit to Hong Kong since Beijing tightened its grip on the city by imposing a sweeping national security law in 2020 to stifle dissent.
It also overhauled the electoral system in the year after, which rid the city’s legislature of any opposition lawmakers and paved the way for the appointment of Lee, a former cop, as the leader of Hong Kong.
While the city used to see major rallies on the symbolic day of the handover, the continuing crackdown has scuttled most public acts of dissent. The League of Social Democrats, one of a few remaining pro-democracy political parties, said it would not hold any protest after its members were recently summoned by national security police.
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