Last Call for March

javier-pic22Boracay Tips to Beat the Beaten Track

By Saturnino P. Javier, MD, FPCP, FPCC, FACC

BORACAY Islands, for some of us, may be a beaten track. But for such a wondrous and gloriously set island, boredom has no place. Only the imagination and creativity should be the limit in enjoying what this famed natural beauty has to offer.

What else can one do in Boracay?

This, I figured, I must address before hitting the shores of the island just a few months ago especially when one has children, like ages 8 to 15. These are ages when they can still spend some time with the parents without feeling awkward about it meaning the prepubertal teen does not get teased and harassed by his friends for being a mama’s boy or a papa’s girl. The list of choices may be limited given that these are ages when they may be too young to go out dating and drinking, but too old for Barney and Sesame Street.

While technology (the armamentarium of gadgets like DVDs, Game Boys, Portable Play Stations, iPods and MP3 players) may provide useful assistance, this is by no means the way to spend a trip in Boracay. Imagine your kids playing Tekken or Mortal Kombat in the solitude of a room in Boracay Regency? Secluded. Glued to small monitors. Passively stuck. Absolutely wasteful and unnecessary.

So here are some suggestions to derive cheap thrills in Boracay. This thrill carries no price tag but can bring pure unadulterated ecstasy. For starters, take a cup of brewed coffee early in the morning by the shore if your hotel room is just a few meters away from the beach. Leave the slippers behind. Allow the fine powdery sand to caress the toes and the small muscles of the feet. Let the cool sea breeze waft the steam off your cup and then take small sips to let the aroma of the rich Belgian blend permeate the taste buds and the nostrils. Let yourself be lulled into peaceful slumber by the rhythmic cadence of the rushing waves. It will be good to close the eyes momentarily while you lie down a cushioned recliner and take brief stolen peaks at the rising sun that is just about to display a spectacular panorama of golden hues framed by a heady mix of the azure blue and ethereally white skies. What could be better ? Sex, crispy pata, maybe a casino jackpot win?

Then after savoring this caffeine load, one can take the kids to a jog going to the end of either Station 1 or Station 3. A nature trip in the early morning is precious vis-vis the choices one has in the mornings spent in polluted and congested Metro Manila.

Spend quality time bonding in the pool. Presuming you don’t have a house with an infinity pool beside your bedroom, the idea of having sleeping quarters just a few meters to a swimming pool can be a real treat for children. Having drinks by the pool bar, all wet and dripping, further drenched sometimes by the occasional drizzle, can be an added treat. Cold Boracay iced tea (pomegranate syrup-flavored tea) quenching the thirst, while the warm pool water provides a counterfoil to the cold rain water is another thrill with no price tag!

Then one can take a boat and go island hopping. Savor the cool sea breeze from island to island just letting the eyes feast on luscious greens, bright blues, and brilliant browns.

Embrace the first times. The first banana boat ride. This is an elongated boat shaped like a banana where everyone just holds on to handle bars on the surface and is then pulled by a high-speed motor boat to take those onboard to a high speed circuitous ride from island to island. This is sure to elicit shrieks and guffaws from start to end. (Take care that the kids are seated well and balanced. Adults should be seated very close to the smallest and frailest in the group.)

Then go snorkeling. Geared with life vests, snorkels and masks, this is a time for kids to find Nemos and Ellens. With hordes of oscars passing by, beautiful corals underneath, flounders playfully flirting around, the kids will have a first taste of underwater marine thrills.

Cap this with an uphill trek through the rugged terrains and rocky roads to Mt. Luho aboard rented ATV and buggy cars which are small gas-fueled two-seater vehicles. Mt Luho provides a dazzling panoramic view of Boracay Islands from end to end. The photo opportunity is priceless.

Finally, make sure to enjoy the little things the islands have to offer. A massage at the shore, just before the sun sets. A cool bottle of beer by the beach with some tasty delicious grilled seafood. Braids for the daughters.

Some fancy tattoos for the boys, perhaps. And yes, the culinary treats the island prides itself with. Take home gigabytes of photographs to preserve the memories of your Boracay gig.


Dr. Javier is an Interventional Cardiologist at Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital and Medical Center (current section head) and a past editor of Philippine Heart Association’s Newsbriefs.


Up and About for March


Heart Beat band bags 1st prize in 1st Tibok Pinoy competition

Chiang Kai Shek Colleges Heart Beat band bested nine competitive campus-based band during the 1st Philippine Heart Associations (PHA) Tibok Pinoy competition. The band competition was the highlight of the PHA-led celebration of Heart Month 2009 Heart Fair at the Mall of Asia in Pasay City on Feb. 8, 2009. The bands entry Sabi ng Puso in the PHA jingle contest also emerged as the judges choice.

Adjudged as second and third prize were Drastic Measure band of St. Anthony School of Quezon City and the Musicians Guild of Miriam College. Blackrose Band of Ateneo de Manila University and Jive Band of the School of the Holy Spirit in Quezon City got the consolation prizes.

The judges were: Boboy Garrovillo of the Apo Hiking Society, the Bloomfields band, Jai Aracama, a UP professor, and Dr. Jorge Sison, a noted cardiologist and song composer.

Open to high school campus-based bands in the National Capital Region, each of the bands from 10 participating schools submitted their one-minute jingle on heart-healthy lifestyle, aside from performing another song selection pegged on the same theme.

The PHA hopes that this wholesome exercise will impact on the consciousness of the youth, and start them early on in preaching and practicing a heart-healthy lifestyle, said PHA vice president and Heart Month 2009 chair Dr. Maria Teresa Abola.

For the last three years, the academe and the student sector have been part of the growing network of the Healthy Lifestyle Coalition, which has 19 loyal allies.


Scuba Diving: The hottest summer sports in Puerto Galera

pic215Getting a chance to see the magnificent underwater creatures with various colors and shapes for the first time is an incredible experience. And by learning scuba diving, you just earn yourself a passport to do it over and over again. Getting a Scuba Diving Course this summer at Marco Vincent Dive Resort is the first step to get closer to this marvelous face to face encounter with your favorite corals, fish, and shipwrecks.

By taking your first scuba diving lessons in Puerto Galera, you will discover that diversity and diving are the best words that can describe the island. With more than 40 prime dive sites and hundreds of species of fish life, beginner and advanced divers will definitely enjoy a world-class diving experience. Not only is Puerto Galera recognized by divers for its fantastic variety of flora and fauna, but the Verde Island passage, located between the Batangas port and Mindoro, has been identified in a research by American biologists Kent Carpenter and Victor Springer as having the most diverse marine ecosystem in the world. The area has been dubbed the center of the worlds marine life.

Through the years Marco Vincent has been committed to deliver world class diving experience and professional diving education. The resorts personalized service, small training ratio, professional instructors, and dive masters guarantee plenty of unforgettable diving experience and thrilling drift dives without compromising safety.

To show its continuous commitment on quality diving, Marco Vincent Dive Resort further improved its diving services through the acquisition of a new, modern, safe, fast, and comfortable dive boat which can bring 20 divers at 30 minutes travel time to the most popular dive sites such as Verde Island, Maricaban Island and Anilao Dive sites.

The Lady Merci will be the safest and the most modern dive boat operating out of Puerto Galera. With cruising speed of 24 knots, Lady Merci will let divers enjoy more time diving in comfort!

Get listed now, visit or call our reservation hotlines: 8136329 / 8920309, or email Be a certified diver in 3 days!



Spreading the message of love for a mercury-free Philippines

Health Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia (HCWH-SEA), along with children all dressed in white like little gods and goddesses, simultaneously visited the Department of Health (DOH) and Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III in two separate venues to spread the message of love last Valentines Day for a mercury-free Philippines by 2010.

This is inline with Administrative Order (AO) 2008-0021 signed by Sec. Duque for implementation on Sept. 11, 2008 to phase-out all mercury-containing devices in all Philippine health care by 2010.

The visit is aimed to emphasize that children are among the most vulnerable sector when it comes to mercury exposure. Mercury impairs neurological development of infants and children. Even a fetus inside a pregnant woman’s body that has been exposed to mercury is instantly affected. It may disrupt the baby’s growing brain and nervous system, said Faye Ferrer, HCWH-SEA Program Officer for Mercury.

The signing of the AO is a much awaited move and its implementation cannot be delayed unless protecting children has become our least priority, said Ferrer. She added that spreading awareness regarding the AO is necessary, since there are still several hospitals which are unaware of it.

As a global issue, HCWH and the World Health Organization (WHO) launched in December a global partnership to substitute mercury-based medical devices with safer, accurate and affordable alternatives.

HCWH and WHO are asking the DOH to become a founding member of the global partnership. DOH is in the forefront of advocating for a mercury-free health care. As a founding member, it will highlight the good work in the Philippines as an example for the rest of the world, Ferrer said.

She further said that the partnership will push DOH to redouble its efforts to a mercury-free health care through a strict monitoring of the AO implementation.

HCWH is a global coalition of more than 400 organizations in more than 50 countries working to protect health by reducing pollution in the health care sector.


Health and Leisure goes online

Before, medical tourism is only for the elite. Spas and wellness centers are only within reach of people from classes A and B. However, more than a luxury, people now look into medical spas to revitalize themselves and thus, include it in their regular rituals.

The booming medical tourism industry has pushed Health and Leisure, a medical travel facilitator company, to open an all-new online gateway at in order to reach not only patrons here in the Philippines but also prospective clients abroad.

Marketing on the fact that the Philippines is now emerging as a top tourist destination among other Asian countries, Health and Leisure realized the pressing need to advertise online and to assist tourists in planning their medical tours.

The website is user-friendly, easy to navigate and very informative for patients seeking medical, dental, cosmetic, and wellness treatments in the Philippines.

The new website allows clients to browse for services, available promo packages, and up-to-date news and features about medical tourism and the country in general. In addition, satisfied customers are also free to send in their feedback’s to be published in the websites testimonial page.

Taking pride on the internationally-trained doctors and medical staff, Health and Leisure continues to arrange seamless medical holiday packages for all clients abroad who are planning to get their treatments in the Philippines.

Industry Notes for March


PLAS-PSH 14th Joint Annual Convention

Bridging Basic Science and Clinical Practice in Atherosclerosis

As with their previous joint annual conventions, the 14th Joint Annual Convention of the Philippine Lipid and Atherosclerosis Society (PLAS) and the Philippine Society of Hypertension (PSH) had been another astounding success. Cardiologists and other healthcare professionals gathered together at the Crowne Plaza Galleria Manila in Ortigas for a series of scientific lectures, updates, and continuing medical education (CME).

The three-day convention held from February 11 to 13, with the theme Bridging Basic Science and Clinical Practice in Atherosclerosis, offered a great line-up of lectures and plenary sessions for CME with experts both local and foreign who gave updates on current issues in atherosclerosis, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes management.

Dr. Nelson Abelardo, PLAS president, and Dr. Rafael R. Castillo, PSH president, welcomed everybody as they formally opened the joint convention. In his welcoming remarks, Dr. Abelardo shared his enthusiasm for this year’s joint annual convention. Conventions are opportunities when people with common interests come together to share individual and collective concerns in a forum that transcends boundaries, said Dr. Abelardo. Today, we also invite you not only to the scientific discourse but also to the research forum that will serve to highlight some of the scientific works on hypertension, lipids, and atherosclerosis, he added.

On the other hand, Dr. Castillo, in his speech, focused on how physicians receive conflicting data from different trials and researches. He said that scientific conventions could help clear up these issues. In this convention we hope to see through the blurry, sometimes blinding mist of the controversies in hypertension, dyslipidemia, and atherosclerosis, and integrate whatever we shall have learned from this convention into the methods and manner in which we treat and manage our patients with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, said Dr. Castillo.

The opening ceremonies also had Secretary Esperanza I. Cabral of the Department of Social Welfare and Development as keynote speaker. Dr. Cabral talked about a physician’s role in delivering quality healthcare to their countrymen.

Standing by their word to provide unparalleled sessions, the first day of the convention provided doctors with exciting and highly important lectures. The first plenary session on Hypertension and Atherosclerosis was delivered by Dr. Venkata S. Ram, Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. According to Dr. Ram, Atherosclerosis is the leading cause of death and disability in the developed world, and myocardial infarctions and strokes remain major health problems despite increasing understanding of the underlying disease.

The plenary session during the conventions second day, entitled Vitamin D and Atherosclerosis, was delivered by

Dr. Carlos Bernal-Mizrachi from the Washington University in St. Louis. In his lecture, Dr. Bernal-Mizrachi focused on the benefits of Vitamin D in preventing build-ups in artery walls, and even in patients with diabetes. Vitamin D signaling prevents foam cell formation by reducing macrophage cholesterol uptake only in patients with diabetes but not in normal volunteers, he explained. Vitamin D replacement significantly reduces monocyte adhesion and migration, essential events for their recruitment into the artery wall, he added.

On the final day, the plenary session given by Dr. Om P. Ganda from the Joslin Diabetes Center, was on Atherosclerosis in Diabetes: New Evidences, New Strategies. In his lecture, Dr. Ganda emphasized that the risk of cardiovascular events in patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes increased remarkably, but the challenge still lies with the adherence to prescribed medications. Clinical evidence strongly supports the need for further improvement in glycemic, lipid, and blood pressure control in patients with diabetes, he stressed.

A dinner and fellowship night capped the three-day joint annual convention.Text and photo by Ma. Teresa C. Dumana



Heart Fair urges Pinoys to practice healthy lifestyle

pic33Health authorities from the Philippine Heart Association (PHA), the Department of Health, World Health Organization, and the Heart Foundation of the Philippines urged the public to respect your bodies, don’t push it to the limits to prevent heart disease. They also called for healthy lifestyle modification to avoid risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure (BP), diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, stress, and smoking.

The call for a healthier lifestyle for a healthy heart was made during PHA’s Heart Fair held on February 8 at the Mall of Asia in Pasay City. With the theme Healthy Lifestyle Advocacy with Focus on Women’s Health, the event was staged as part of the celebration of Heart Month 2009.

The Heart Fair was ushered in by an aerobics exercise session, followed by a belly dancing exhibit, heart-healthy cooking demonstration, and basic life support (CPR) demonstration.

Part of the Heart Fair was a free risk factor screening, including blood sugar and cholesterol levels screening, BP monitoring, ECG, etc ., courtesy of 10 pharmaceutical allies of the PHA.

The Heart Fair culminated with the 1st Tibok Pinoy campus band competition participated in by school-based bands in the metro.



PHA, Servier celebrate the many faces of love

As in the past years, Other Concerns of the Heart proved to be a highly entertaining event for doctors both for those performing and much so, for those in the audience as the usually serious doctors shed their white coats and don a performers costume, all in the name of love.

Indeed, it was a night of love as the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) and Servier Philippines, Inc. brought the 11th serving of  Other Concerns of the Heart on February 18 at the Carlos P. Romulo auditorium, RCBC Plaza in Makati City.

Faces of Love: The Musicale, according to the souvenir program, are the mute yet eloquent expressions of the heart. The musical featured excerpts from Romeo & Juliet and the West Side Story, including an opera and ballet performance by actors from the Music Theater Foundation Phils., joined by doctors from the PHA and officers from Servier.

George Yang, Chairman of the Golden Arches Development Corporation, was the nights guest speaker. Yang shared the secret recipe for his blissful union with his wife spanning 45 years and how to keep a booming business. The father of the 27-year-old McDonalds in the Philippines and Hong Kong, Yang said he values dignity of labor and is very passionate in all his ventures.

Tonight celebrates once more the joining of hands and of hearts for the upliftment of our souls. Musical aptitude and a gift for healing coincide more often than one might imagine, said Dr. Maria Teresa Abola, PHA vice president, in her closing remarks.

Originally aimed to develop well-rounded cardiologists, Other Concerns of the Heart at year 11 has gone a long way since it was launched on October 29, 1997 at the Manila Peninsula Hotel, according to Dr. Abola.

The all-star cast of doctors in the musical was led by Dr. Joel Abanilla, who was a prime mover of this years staging of Other Concerns of the Heart. The other cardiologists in the cast were Drs. Isabelo Ongtengco, Efren Vicaldo, Marinella Francisco, Jeanna Ples, Nestor Bagsit, Francis Marcellus Ramirez, Andrew Francisco, Ramon Ribu, and Don Reyes.

The stage actors were led by Al Gatmaitan and Nicole Laurel-Asencio, while Marian Andalus, corporate relations manager, led the other performers from Servier.

Some of the guests in the audience include Fides Cuyugan-Asencio, president of the Music Theater Foundation, Inc. International and local Maestro Raul Sunico. PHA past presidents Drs. Annette Borromeo, Mariano Lopez, Raul Jara, and Marcelito Durante also showed up for the event, as well as the other members of PHA and the members of the board led by its president Dr. Ma. Belen O. Carisma. Servier’s managing director Coulette Rouches presented a donation to George Yang’s foundation for classical music at the end of the show.

Vital Signs for March

By Nia Elyca J. Rabadam

Anger and stress can trigger sudden death

Heart patients need to learn how to manage anger and stress; if they want to live longer.

Clinical data abound indicating that these emotions are linked with cardiovascular events. Researchers explain that anger and stress could trigger adverse electrical changes in the heart, which can predict future arrhythmias in some patients.

The study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology, may demonstrate a link between mental stress and sudden cardiac arrest.

According to Dr. Rachel Lampert, study author and associate professor at Yale University School of Medicine, the study is relevant to people who have established cardiovascular disease.

Researchers looked at 62 patients with implantable cardioverter-defibrillators. The patients were asked to describe a time in the previous two weeks when they felt aggravated, and were prompted with questions to describe the moment vividly. Researchers looked at the hearts electrical stability through T-wave alternans.

During the anger recall protocol, the group as a whole showed an increase in electrical stability. Dr. Lampert explained.

The researchers then compared the top quartile those who showed the most instability with the others in the group and found that the ones with the highest instability were 10 times more likely to experience an arrhythmia sometime in the next three years.

Perhaps if we treat them with something like stress or anger management, we may decrease the likelihood of arrhythmias, Dr. Lampert said.



Alcohol linked to cancer risk in women

Alcohol is believed to have beneficial effects if taken in moderation; but women may have to watch out. A study suggests that women who drink as little as one alcoholic beverage a day might have a significantly higher cancer risk than women who don’t drink at all.

Researchers followed more than 1.2 million middle-aged women for an average of seven years. The women were participants in the ongoing Million Women Study in the United Kingdom.

It was found out that those who drank alcohol and consumed an average of one drink a day has a higher overall cancer risk, especially for cancers of the breast, liver, rectum, mouth, throat, and esophagus.

The link between alcohol and breast cancer has been extensively researched and reported on, but the study is among the first to link low-to-moderate alcohol consumption to other cancers in women.

Cancer epidemiologist and study researcher, Naomi Allen, DPhil said that there were no minimum levels of alcohol consumption that could be considered to be without risk.



Antibody treatment found for bird flu and influenza

US Researchers have found antibodies that can prevent the fulminant course of the dreaded Avian or bird flu virus (H5N1 strain), feared to be the cause of the next global pandemic. As a bonus, the antibodies are also effective against seasonal strains of influenza.

We were funded by the National Institutes of Health specifically to develop a therapy against bird flu, said Wayne Marasco, an associate professor at medicine in the department of cancer immunology and AIDS at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

The surprising part of the story is that along the way we discovered that the antibodies we developed not only worked very efficiently against the bird flu but also worked very effectively against the seasonal flu strains, Marasco added.

Marasco further described the ingenious trick used by the influenza virus to deflect the human immune system. He explained, The influenza virus has a very clever decoy. Its coat protein looks like a lollipop. Your immune system is really directed against the globular head of the lollipop because its there in large supply, but that’s the part that the virus can change easily. This is the reason why we end up having to get seasonal vaccinations.

All of the vaccines are directed against the globular head. However our vaccine is directed against the lollipop stick, which actually contains the machinery that allows the virus to enter the cells. He reported.

Source: php/200909/3036/Breakthrough-made-in-search-for-bird-flu-and-influenza-treatment


Vitamin D levels inversely linked with URTI

According to the results of a secondary analysis of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] levels are inversely associated with recent upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), particularly in those with chronic respiratory tract diseases.

Recent studies suggest a role for vitamin D in innate immunity, including the prevention of respiratory tract infections (RTIs), said Adit A. Ginde, MD, MPH, from University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine in Aurora, and colleagues. We hypothesize that serum 25(OH)D levels are inversely associated with recent URTI.

The investigators conducted a probability survey of the US population performed between 1988 and 1994 and evaluated the association between 25(OH)D levels and recent URTI in 18,883 participants, twelve years or older, both with and without adjustment for demographic and clinical factors including season, body mass index, smoking history, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Limitations of the study include inability to make casual inference, primary outcome of recent URTI based on self-report, and serum samples collected at only one point in time.

The study authors concluded that although 25(OH)D levels less than 30 ng/ml and URTI were higher in winter seasons, the inverse association was present throughout the year. Individuals with respiratory tract diseases such as asthma who have low serum 25(OH)D levels may be even susceptible to RTI. Vitamin D supplementation may reduce the incidence of URTI and exacerbations of respiratory tract diseases.



Drug reduces prostate cancer risk in middle-age men

Prostate cancer, though established as a slow-growing, slow-spreading type of malignancy, looms as a constant threat among middle-aged and elderly men.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Urological Association stated that taking finasteride, a drug that is already widely used to treat male pattern baldness and benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) can reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer by as much as 25-30 percent.

The recommendation was based from a large study of 18, 882 healthy men which showed that those taking finasteride had a lower risk of developing prostate cancer than those taking placebo.

Howard L. Parnes, chief of the prostate and urologic cancer research group in the Division of Cancer Prevention at National Cancer Institute, said the guidelines should encourage men who are regularly getting screened for prostate cancer to talk with their doctors and learn how finasteride might benefit them.

Finasteride is a synthetic antiandrogen which acts by inhibiting type II 5-alpha reductase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone. It is used as a treatment in BPH in low doses, and prostate cancer in higher doses. It is also indicated for use in combination with doxazosin therapy to reduce the risk for symptomatic progression of BPH. Additionally, it is registered in many countries for androgenetic alopecia (male-pattern baldness).

Finasteride was approved initially in 1992 as Proscar, a treatment for prostate enlargement, but the sponsor had studied 1 mg of finasteride and demonstrated hair growth in male pattern hair loss. On December 22, 1997, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved finasteride to treat male pattern hair loss.



German forensic study finds cause of sudden cardiac death

The Department of Forensic Medicine of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany concluded in their study that in about 10 percent of cases, sudden cardiac death in young people is due to a cardiac gene defect.

Sudden cardiac death is defined as unexpected death occurring rapidly usually within one hour of the onset of symptoms in persons who had previously seemed to be healthy. It is one of the most frequent causes of death in Europe.

Each year, about 100,000 people die of sudden cardiac death in Germany alone. Although sudden cardiac death mostly affects older people, five to 15 percent of cases are in young people who had previously been asymptomatic.

Most cases of sudden cardiac death can be explained by cardiovascular changes. However, in 10 to 30 percent of cases, no cause of death can be established, even after a postmortem.

Genetically linked diseases of cardiac ion channels are responsible for at least a third of these deaths. As the ion channels are involved in stimulation and conduction in the heart, malfunction can cause cardiac arrythmias, which may lead to ventricular fibrillation.


Cardiac Gene Defects Can Cause Sudden Cardiac Death in Young People. Deutsches  rzteblatt International, 2009; 106(4): 41-7 DOI:10.3238/arztebl.2009.0041 arztebl.2009.0041

Adapted from materials provided by Deutsches Aerzteblatt International


Forensic DNA lab employs small scale automation

The availability of small, automated instruments has made automation more affordable, easier to use, simpler to implement, and has also uncovered a host of additional benefits, said forensic scientist Anthony J. Tambasco and colleagues in their article published in Forensic Magazine.

According to the authors, in this approach, it is important to ensure that the automation involved is simple to use, easy to implement and integrates with the workflow of the laboratories. In addition, laboratories need to consider how much time and effort are required to validate an automated system and how likely the lab is to include it in their sample processing workflow.

The Maxwell 16 is one of the easy-automated instruments used by The Mansfield, Ohio Division of Police, Forensic Science Laboratory DNA Section. It is an instrument used to easily extract genomic DNA, using only a few button presses.

Other instruments are the Qiagen EZ, Advanced EZ1 and the Invitrogen iPrep, which are magnetic particle handlers with multichannel pipetting capability. These instruments all have chemistries supplied in pre-filled and sealed cartridges.

The EZ1 can accommodate from one to six samples per automated run, while the iPrep can process from one to 13 samples per run. These instruments use pipette tips to move the magnetic particles from well to well. In each successive well tip mixing of the purification, resin is used to bind DNA and wash the resin.

Magnetic capture of the resin on the inside surface of the pipette tip is used to hold the resin in tip for movement of the sample to the next well. Finally, the genomic DNA is eluted in a tube containing a user-defined amount of elution buffer that was placed in the tube by the instrument.

Tambasco and colleagues further said that these instruments are an effective way for both small and large laboratories to automate sample extraction. The simplicity of running these instruments makes them likely to be used by forensic specialists and be easily integrated into their laboratory workflow.



New forensic technique to help solve decade-old case

Visualizing fingerprints may be the shortest and simplest way to describe a new technique that will be used by the Bristol Police Department to help solve a decade-old murder case in Bristol, Connecticut.

The police department, in collaboration with Dr. John Bond, who pioneered the said technique, will be probing into the murder of a businessman who was shot in the bedroom of his own home. Dr. Bond is the scientific support manager at Northamptonshire Police and honorary research fellow at the University of Leicester Forensic Research Centre.

The technique will enable scientists to visualize fingerprints on metals, such as bullet casings, even after the print itself has been removed. Dr. Bond, along with his colleagues conducted a study into the way fingerprints can corrode metal surfaces.

This new method will be utilized to help shed some light on the unresolved murder of Bristol businessman, Louis LaFontaine, who was found shot to death in his Connecticut home in 1998.

According to Detective Garrie Dormand, Dr. Bonds procedure is a tremendous advancement in forensic science, and has the potential to be a valuable tool in many criminal investigations.

Detectives have logged countless hours into this investigation since 1998, and have developed a great deal of information on the facts and circumstances surrounding the murder of Mr. LaFontaine. Fingerprint evidence on a shell casing would certainly bring us much closer to identifying Mr. LaFontaine’s killer.




3D scanning used as forensic tool

Forensic experts in the United States (US) and anthropologists at the Smithsonian Institute are pioneering the use of three dimensional (3D) scanning technology to solve challenging mysteries in forensics.

Digital 3D Scanners allow authorized professionals to gain quick access to the information they need, regardless of location. There is software that analyzes and compares 3D models that can provide hard data which can be used to convince juries and experts alike. To gain these benefits, the physical shape must somehow be digitally captured.

This kind of scanning bridges the gap between physical and digital, capturing highly detailed and accurate 3D models of physical objects

In forensics, there are two types of 3D scanners that will be used to help solve cases. Crime scene scanners capture a large overview map of a crime scene. This overview map is helpful in understanding the relative position of objects. New close up 3D scanners capture individual objects in full color and high resolution 3D.

Most 3D scanners today use lasers to measure 3D information. A laser stripe or dot is moved across a target and is photographed by a camera at a slight angle to the laser source. This kind of scanner is important in forensics today as it is non-contact, meaning it does not touch or affect the original physical sample.

The US is home to some of the best known and most comprehensive forensics research facilities in the world. This kind of equipment can contribute to crack tough forensic cases.



NAS calls for standardized handling of crime evidence

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is expected to release a report that scrutinizes the way forensic evidence is analyzed and used by law enforcement agencies.

According to the New York Times, the report claims that analyses like blood spatter, hair samples, and fingerprinting are often handled by poorly trained technicians who then exaggerate the accuracy of their methods in court.

The New York Times also reported that NAS found that forensics suffer from a reliance on outmoded and untested theories by analysts who often have no background in science, statistics, or other empirical disciplines.

This is not a judicial ruling; it is not a law, Michael J. Saks, a psychology and law professor at Arizona State University, said of the new report. But it will be used by others who will make law or will argue cases.

The report has a wide variety of applications. For example, judges could use it to raise the bar for certain types of forensic evidence. On the other hand, lawyers could use it to discredit forensic procedures and expert witnesses in court.

DNA was a shock to police culture and created an alternative scientific model, which promoted standardization, transparency and a higher level of precision, said Paul Giannelli, a forensic science expert at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, who presented his research to the National Academy.

My hope is that this report will provide an objective and unbiased perspective of the critical needs of our crime labs, Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, told the New York Times.

The report most controversial recommendation is the establishment of a federal agency to finance research and training and promote universal standards in forensic science, a discipline that spans anthropology, biology, chemistry, physics, medicine, and law. The report also calls for tougher regulation of crime laboratories, said the Times.


March 2009


This is a mans world, so they say. But in forensic pathology, two women have conquered the field and are continuously braving the challenges of pushing forward its practice in the country.

Text by Nia Elyca J. Rabadam Photo by Alisson Dagsindal

Health Hazards of Online Games

By Henrylito D. Tacio

THESE days, online games are the in thing among teenagers. In 2007, the Harris Interactive online poll asked American youths aged eight to 18 about their opinions on online games. Survey shows about 81 percent play video games at least once per month. The average play time varies by age and sex: eight hours per week for teen girls and 14 hours per week for teen boys. Tween’s those from eight to 12 years old fall in the middle, with boys averaging 13 hours per week and girls averaging 10 hours.

There are 114 million people around the world who play online games and most of them come from Asia, according to research firm DFC Intelligence. In the Philippines, more and more teenagers most of them students (high school and college) and even elementary pupils are hooked on online games as internet caf’s, which are readily accessible day and night, are proliferating not only in the cities but in far flung areas as well.

Is this a healthy phenomenon? Like cigarette, coffee, and illicit drugs, online games can be addictive. Video game addiction is a particularly severe problem in Asian countries, says Michael Cai, director of broadband and gaming for Parks Associates (a media/technology research and analysis company). In South Korea, for instance, results of a survey conducted in 2006 showed that 2.4 percent of those aged nine to 39 suffer from game addiction, with another 10.2 percent at risk of addiction.

The Philippines is not free from such kind of addiction. In an article (Killing Time Online, October 2006) which appeared in the Asian edition of Readers Digest, Cebu journalist Mars W. Mosqueda, Jr. explored the story of an 18-year-old computer science student who flunked from most of his exams, thus failing to graduate on schedule.

For almost three years, the student compulsively logged on to play Ragnarok an online role-playing adventure game based on Norse mythology until he suddenly realized that he was no longer living his own life, to quote the words of Mosqueda. He had lost contact with friends, failed behind in his studies and had spent about 100,000 pesos playing online games more than enough to finance a year of his education.

Why are online games addictive? Goh Chee Leong, dean of the Department of Psychology at Kuala Lumpurs HELP University College, told Mosqueda: Many people feel powerless in society, but in online games they’re in control of armies, of cities, of other people. This power is exhilarating and provides the mental challenge their brain seeks.

Once they are hooked with such power, they become addicted to it, according to psychology professor Mark Griffiths, author of several in-depth studies of online gaming and gambling addiction. These are the types of games that completely engross the player, he explains. These are not games that you can play for 20 minutes and stop. If you are going to take it seriously, you have to spend time doing it.

Theorists focus on the built-in reward systems of the games to explain their addictive nature. This is how the best games are programmed: to keep the player interested by promising predictable outcomes, but to hook them by randomly allowing them to earn new positions or powers in the game, Mosqueda wrote in his article.

The gamer may not win very often, and rewards may not come every time they play the game, but they never know when they will win again or get a reward for their character. It could be the next hour, or the next minute, and if they don’t continue playing, they fear they will miss the chance to win or receive rewards.

Aside from addiction, other health hazards a gamer may suffer from are hunger and fatigue. In Jinzhou, China, Xu Yan died after playing online games continuously for over 15 days during the Lunar New Year holiday. In South Korea, gamer Lee Seung Seop perished after playing in a non-stop, 50 hour gaming marathon.

Some teenagers even resorted to commit crimes. In Vietnam, a 13-year-old boy strangled an 81-year-old woman with a piece of rope and took the money from his victim. The boy confessed that he needed money to play online games and decided to kill and rob the woman.

In the United States, Ohio teen Daniel Petric shot his parents, killing his mother, after they took away his copy of a video game. In a sentencing hearing after the teen was found guilty of aggravated murder, the judge said, I firmly believe that Daniel Petric had no idea at the time he hatched this plot that if he killed his parents they would be dead forever.

There have also been suicides linked to online games. A news report from China stated: Xiao Yi was thirteen when he threw himself from the top of a twenty-four story tower block in his home town, leaving notes that spoke of his addiction and his hope of being reunited with fellow cyber-players in heaven. The suicide notes were written through the eyes of a gaming character.

There are more health problems that online games bring among teenagers. In the past, students play basketball and other games that require physical activities (like bicycling, hiking, swimming, running, walking, etc.). With online games, they are confined in their own little corner without moving a little bit, save for their hands. The result: obesity.

Inadequate exercise, overeating, obesity, and work pressure are all leading to increased numbers of younger people in Asia suffering from cardiovascular disease, according to Dr. Huang Kuo-chin of the Department of Family Medicine of National Taiwan University Hospital. The American Heart Association listed obesity as an independent risk factor for heart disease, in addition to other known risk factors such as age, smoking, hypertension, high blood cholesterol and diabetes.

Today, more and more children are getting fat. In Thailand, the prevalence of obesity in children between the ages of six and 12 rose from 12.2 percent to 15.6 percent in just two years. In the Philippines, 1.8 percent of boys and 0.8 percent of girls between the ages six and ten are overweight.

I am seeing a lot more obese children compared to ten years ago, Dr. Sioksoan Chan-Cua, a pediatrician-endocrinologist and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of the Philippines, told Reader’s Digest correspondent Lam Lye Ching.

About 90 percent of my overweight pediatric patients watch more than two hours of TV a day. If we include computer time and video game time, the sedentary hours of these children are getting longer and longer, Dr. Chan-Cua adds.

Online games also deprive teenagers of much-needed sleep. Were so busy that we just don’t have sufficient time to get the sleep we need, says Dr. Patrick Gerard Moral, head of the sleep and snore diagnostic and treatment unit of the University of Santo Tomas. Among teenagers, playing games online can engage them beyond their bedtimes.

And not getting enough sleep can compromise their immune system. The immune system works best when you’re asleep, says professor Stanley Coren, author of Sleep Thieves. That’s when your natural killer cells are generated. Natural killer cells are produced in the bone marrow and found in the blood and lymph fluid.

Natural killer cells are part of your body’s defense system against external infections, says Dr. Ong Kian Chung, a consultant respiratory physician at the Mount Elizabeth Medical Center in Singapore. A study at the Cerrahpasa Medical School in Turkey found that after 24 hours of sleep deprivation, the percentage of natural killer cells in the blood declined by 37 percent.

While there is a lot of controversy hounding computer games, some researches suggest that computer games can actually be educational, beneficial and help in children’s learning and development.

According to the Western State University study in Vancouver, Canada, persons who play computer games have better vision compared to non-players. Computer games also assist children in improving hand-eye coordination and improve reflexes.

There is also evidence to suggest that computer games expand a child’s ability on spatial subjects. In fact, computer games actually contribute to a child’s education rather than worsen their minds, despite public opinion, according to the study.

Playing computer games can be beneficial, points out Gail Ilagan, a psychology professor at the Ateneo de Davao University. It can help a child to become observant. However, the danger begins when these games become addictive already.

Parents, hope you got the message!

Only in the Philippines

There are interesting facts and views about the country to share with foreigners who wish to experience what makes the Philippines a truly unique and exciting travel destination.

Text by Henrylito D. Tacio

DESPITE political instability and some weak areas of the economy, the Philippines remains attractive and a bargain as a tourist destination. That was what All-Asia Travel Guide, published by the Far Eastern Economic Review, said of our country in 1995.

The guide further stated: The country’s assets include its round-the-year warm climate, comparatively low prices, breathtaking natural scenery, and its peoples hospitality, which remains charming, if tinged with hopes of financial gain.

But where in the world is the Philippines located?, some foreigners ask me whenever I mention that I am from the Philippines. What is your country noted for?, they added.

There are so many things this country is known for. Let me count the ways.

The phrase Life is a beach must have been created for Filipinos. With a coastline of 26,289 kilometers (almost twice that of the United States), the Philippines has the third longest combined coastlines in the planet (after Canada and Indonesia).

From the stormy seas of Batanes to the emerald isles of Palawan, life’s truly a beach in the country. Boracay in Panay Island is known globally as one of the worlds finest beaches.

Siargao’s Cloud Nine in Mindanao is said to be among the best surfing sites in the world. American surf photographer John Callahan discovered the remarkable waves of the island in 1993.

The Philippine Deep or the Mindanao Trench is the worlds second deepest spot underwater as it is about 34,440 feet (10,497 meters) below sea level. Marianas Trench (11,000 meters below the sea level) holds the record.

The Tubbataha Reefs in Sulu Sea are considered as the worlds richest bio-geographic area. The marine park, declared as such in 1988, covers 33,200 hectares and contains what is believed to be the worlds largest grouping of marine life per unit area.

The navigable part of the river inside the cave of the 4,000-acre St. Paul Subterranean River stretches 8.2 kilometers in length. This pride of Palawan is among the worlds longest underground rivers. Palawan is also noted for its towering limestone cliffs found in El Nido.

Our waters are home to the worlds smallest fish. The dwarf goby (Pandaka pygmaea) measures 1.2 centimeters or less than half of an inch, the tiniest known vertebrate. The worlds smallest commercial fish, however, is sinarapan (Mistichthys luzonensis) which grows to an average length of 1.25 centimeters. At P4,000 per kilogram, ludong (Cestraeus plicatilis) is the country’s most expensive fish.

Touted as the Eighth Wonder of the World, the rice terraces of Banaue otherwise known as the stairways to the sky is about 13,500 miles long, or about half the globe’s circumference and ten times the length of the Great Wall of China.

The eruption of Mount Pinatubo was a worldwide phenomenon. But the country is actually known for Mayon Volcano in Albay, which has been considered as having a nearly perfect cone. Taal Volcano, said to be the worlds smallest volcano, is described as an island within an island, a volcano within a volcano.

Filipinos love to eat mangoes, whether green or ripe. The Guinness Book of World Records listed the Philippine mango as the sweetest fruit in the world. Filipinos also devour durian, that fruit that emits a smell like hell but has a taste like heaven. Other tropical fruits you can find in the country include banana (which we export all over the world), mangosteen, marang, papaya, melon, guava, pomelo, caimito, chico, and santol.

Flowers abound, too. But the most captivating is an orchid called waling-waling. Named in allusion to a moth in flight, it was discovered in Mindanao in 1882. It used to grow on tree trunks in the rainforests of Davao, Sultan Kudarat and other parts of the island. Waling-waling is touted as the queen of Philippine flowers and is worshipped as diwata (fairy) by the native Bagobos.

During birthdays, weddings, baptismal, and other special occasions and events, you may find these various delicacies: bibingka, binignit, sapin-sapin, lumpia, maja blanca, kutsinta, puto, pichi-pichi, galapong, biko, bukayo, and suman.

Filipinos are noted for their weird, if not outrageous, foods like balut (once featured in the TV reality show, Fear Factor), kinilaw, patis, and bagoong.

But foreigners love to eat the delicious chicken adobo and the crispy lechon. Yes, we also love pansit, lumen, sinigang, luglug, and dinuguan.

Now, let me tell you something about some of our national prides. The Philippine Eagle, our national bird, is now one of the most endangered birds in the planet. Sampaguita, which is of jasmine variety, was adopted as our national flower in 1934.

The reason why narra was chosen as our national tree was because they are most abundant in Bicol, Mindanao, and the Cagayan Valley forests. Bangus, our national fish, is a slim, very agile fish in the water, with a silvery gray dorsal area and white ventral area that looks like milk (which is why it is called also as milkfish).

Our original ancestral home, and still home of Filipinos in rural areas, is the bahay kubo (or nipa hut). The pre-Hispanic architecture was perfectly adapted to the climate and could be easily repaired or rebuilt after frequent typhoons, floods or earthquakes using simple tools and native materials.

If people in other parts of the world still don’t know about the Philippines, try mentioning these people: Cory C. Aquino, Lucio Tan, Manny Pacquiao, Efren Bata Reyes, Eugene Torre, Bong Coo, Rafael Paeng Nepomuceno, Lea Salonga, Gloria Diaz, Margarita Moran, Joseph Estrada, and Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda.

From history, we have this list: Jose Rizal, Ramon Magsaysay, Nick Joaquin, Fernando Amorsolo, Carlos P. Rumulo, Juan Luna, Jose Garcia Villa, Lino Brocka, Gabriel Flash Elorde, and Fernando Poe, Jr.

Where else around the world can you find such an interesting mix of places, culture, history, and people? They’re all found only here in the Philippines.

Of Travels and Travails

A doctor-couples exploration of the world


Who doesn’t love to travel? Who would want to miss the grand opportunity of a lifetime to witness a breathtaking view, a captivating fusion of flora and fauna, breathtaking historical landmarks, enticing crystal clear waters, and more? Definitely not the Villacorta couple, as they went on conquering the world, one exciting city or country at a time.

Text by Jenny Lynne G. Aguilar

PEOPLE travel for more reasons than one. For some, it is to attend an out-of-town conference or meeting. Others travel for business, while some go on such a trip just for leisure. And more and more travel to escape, even only for a few days, from stressful life and work. And the list goes on.

For Dr. Pio Renato Villacorta, a surgeon, and Dra. Ma. Elena Villacorta, a dermatologist, traveling is essential to maintain their holistic well-being. It is the best way to relax, says Dra. Villacorta. Also, it is during our out-of-town escapades that our children get our undivided attention.

However, Dr. Villacorta says that sometimes he finds traveling a bit stressful. Just like last year, we have to wait for 12 hours for the connecting flights, he says. But in the end, the vacation as a whole is all worth it.

For the Villacortas, their ideal getaway is one where the weather is cool, the place is naturally tranquil and the atmosphere is generally cozy. Anywhere where they could relax and spend some quality time together is perfect for them.

In between the frantic schedules and erratic patient appointments, the couple still manages to schedule some out of town trips every now and then. My husband and I went to Spain two years ago, Dra. Villacorta shares. We enjoyed Granada and Barcelona. The Alhambra and Generalife gardens of Granada are very beautiful and unforgettable. The couple says that such relaxing views are some of the few things that revitalize them from all the strains of treating patients with skin problems or doing surgical procedures back home.

It is only a matter of time management, Dr. Villacorta says. When we will be out for vacation I make sure that all of my patients will be properly referred to my co-surgeons and that all my tasks are properly delegated. Dra. Villacorta shares the same sense of responsibility as a dermatologist.

Being the more enthusiastic one, Dra. Villacorta shares that she has had her fair share of traveling escapades even before she got married. Right after the medical boards, three of my friends (and I) went around Europe for a month. Since we didn’t have money, we would stay in small cheap hostels where we had to pay just to have a hot shower, she relates.

Dra. Villacorta confesses that before getting married she was afraid that if she had a family already, she would not have much chance for traveling. But she was definitely wrong. As a lecturer for a pharmaceutical company during her early years in practice, she was given the opportunity to travel to as far as Europe, Beijing, Singapore, and Thailand as a delegate to foreign conferences.

Traveling is also very educational, Dra. Villacorta says. I easily fall in love with the beautiful sights and scenery. But if it is a family vacation, whatever the kids want remains to be our top priority.

Dra. Villacorta shares that for this year they are planning to bring their two older girls on a tour of the United Kingdom. I always find London very interesting and my kids will appreciate it now since they are studying history in school.

Both Dr. and Dra. Villacorta agree that more than the countless provinces and countries that they have been to, it is really the company of each other and their children, and the people they travel with, that matters. We could go on the same place over and over again, but definitely it would never be the same experience.

Pinoy CSI:

Medico-legal officers in action

Text by Jenny Lynne G. Aguilar


LOUD ambulance sirens, deafening cries of the casualties relatives, the long agonizing moment of hysteria as paramedics come rushing patient after patient, all desperately seeking for medical attention to at least take the pain off their suffering bodies. These scenes are common in a man-made or natural disaster, or in the site of a crime.

However, in such disasters or accidents, not everyone could be saved and the dreaded flat line is always inevitable. For most doctors, that flat line is the end of everything. It is the sound that tells them that it is over and they have to move on to a new patient. But for the forensic experts, the battle has just begun.

These people are no other than our take of the infamous and reveled upon crime scene investigators (CSI), who are now a favorite portrayal of many movies and drama series all around the world.

Compared to doctors, the medico-legal officers are keen on the cause of death and not the cure of wounds, says Atty. Floresto Arizala, MD, medico-legal chief of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

For instance, a needle mark or puncture may not be that significant for an emergency doctor or a patients attending physician, but for medico-legal officers it is very important since it might have something to do with the cause of death.

Dr. Arizala says that their team is the one in charge of conducting a thorough investigation in a crime scene. A corpse is a crime in itself, the chief says. A medico-legal officer is the one who interprets medical cases in the light of the law in order to deliver justice.

Being both a doctor and a lawyer, Dr. Arizala believes that there are several facets in the law that requires the expertise of a doctor to elucidate, before the court can actually appreciate the significance of the medical evidence.

Findings in autopsies are not exactly comprehensible to laymen and thus they resort to the expertise of the medico-legal officers, he explains. A medical practitioner is virtually inadequately informed of the significance of medical findings in relation to law.

The medico-legal division has authority over violent, accidental, suspicious, undetermined, suicidal, and unattended deaths. They handle crimes against person and chastity. Under the crimes against persons, we have homicide, parricide, murder, child abuse, battered women, deaths resulting to medical malpractice, and others, Dr. Arizala informs. As for the chastity, we have acts of lasciviousness. Rape is already considered as a crime against person.

Apart from examinations on persons involved in physical injury cases and sexual offenses, the medico-legal division of NBI is also tasked to conduct autopsies, exhumations, skeletal, and odontological (forensic dentistry) examinations to determine the cause of death or gather evidence for a particular case.

Meet the team

The Pinoy CSI team has been at work for more than 50 years now since the passage of Republic Act 157, an act that created a bureau of investigation. Since then, they have been handling a myriad of cases of varying nature.

The medico-legal department is composed of several subdivisions, one of which is the medico-legal main which is in charge of the requests for autopsies, exhumations and necropsies.

The clinic, which comprises of forensic doctors and nurses, attend to the examination of the victims of sexual abuse, violence, among others. Basically, we are more on the living rather than the dead, says Dr. Wilfredo Tierra, one of the clinics forensic doctors. Dr. Alvin David, another forensic doctor, adds that sometimes, they are sent to the provinces to attend to medico-legal cases there.

Moreover, forensic nurse Nora Garcia furthers that when it comes to collecting specimens involving cases of rape for medico-genital examinations, they are the one in charge. Another role of forensic nurses is the sterilization of clinical specimens and tools.

Once the specimen has been sterilized it would pass through the clinical laboratory first where medical technologists would conduct the necessary tests like blood chemistry, semenology and the likes. Results of which will again be turned over to the forensic doctors for analysis.

In the event that anatomic findings during the autopsy are insufficient to conclude the cause of death, we will call on the pathology department to intervene, Dr. Arizala says.

Pathologist Dr. Angelie Oropilla elaborates that their department is keen on doing tissue biopsies and osteology to verify the identification or cause of death of the person.

We deal with undetermined cases and we are the ones who process tissue blocs and bone samples in order for the department to come up with a good autopsy report, says Dr. Oropilla. In turn, the medico-legal officers have to correlate our findings to theirs, she adds.

Using tissue processors, microtome, compound microscope and other instruments, the pathology department is able to produce the specimens and reports required by the investigation.

We are more on the micro level of the query, explains Dr. Oropilla. Its more like our medico-legal officers are looking at the whole forest, while we in pathology are looking specifically at the trees.

Dr. Oropilla adds that other than pathology, the autopsy department also houses exhumations and the identification of bodies using dental records and skeletal remains also known as forensic odontology.

Both the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the NBI have medico-legal divisions. However, the medico-legal department of the PNP includes a DNA analysis section where they match DNA samples with the suspect of the crime, identify victims of mass disasters, establish maternity or paternity in child custody, among others.

DNA testing and other test which are criminal in nature like gunshot residue tests, toxicology, drug and paraffin tests are conducted in the forensic chemistry division, Dr. Oropilla explains.

Challenges and rewards

It is not at all times that the entire CSI team is required in a particular operation. According to Dr. Arizala, the number of composite team is dependent on the assigned task.

Normally, the medico-legal officer and a technician is more than enough, he says. He adds that the biggest teams or contingency are those assigned to man-made or natural disasters such as plane crash, ship wrecks, typhoon victims, bombing incidents, and the like.

During operations, the team should be very careful and thorough in their investigation. Medico-legal officers work best with their autopsy set, rape kits, photography implements, or tools at hand.

Dr. Arizala also relates that more complicated cases require bigger operations. For instance, a big team was sent to attend to tsunami victims in Thailand and Indonesia, and many of their members are still working on the recent Sulpicio Lines shipwreck.

The Pinoy CSI team also works with other agencies with regards to the investigation of certain disasters. Handling mass disasters is a collective effort, Dr. Arizala says. Normally we coordinate with the National Disaster Coordinating Council, Quick Response Teams, Disaster Victims Identification, and others.

Regardless of whether a case is big or small, medico-legal officers consider every case as a challenge, and for many years, NBI’s medico-legal team has managed to deliver. Sometimes there are objections to the conduct of autopsy from relatives, police agencies and public figure and we manage to settle them, he says.

The medico-legal department of NBI claims that they have enough sustenance from the government. Of course nothing is ever enough. We must modernize; we cannot deny progress in science, Dr. Arizala says. Sometimes the cost of upgrading is too exorbitant and we understand why we cannot always be given the logistics to support advances.

He adds that in the absence of facilities, his ready and capable personnel are still able to successfully investigate every case they handle.

We have yet to learn the sophistication of CSI and we must upgrade our DNA technology, Dr. Arizala laments. Basically, our knowledge in crime scene operations is crude as compared with the best in the world such as the United States and Europe, but we fare well in relation to the rest of the world. 

Examining a rotting corpse in order to unveil the cause of death is no easy task. Probing through ones genitalia in search for seminal fluid and any other trace of sexual abuse is also equally daunting. But, our Pinoy CSI team continues to endure it, all in the noble pursuit of truth and justice.

Tools for Truth and Justice

Forensic technology and devices

From sticks and stones, science has gradually evolved the tools to answer mans inquisitiveness and thirst for truth and justice

Text by Jenny Lynne G. Aguilar Photos by Jermaine So-Reyes


ADVANCED lie-detector machine, state-of-the-art biometrics system and a highly-specialized mobile technologydefinitely, technology keeps on finding better ways to track criminals and terrorists and deliver them straight behind bars.

With this advent in forensic technology, could our medico-legal team and forensic experts be at par with that of the United States and the rest of the world?

The medico-legal department of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) believes so. Our forensic technology is not really that bad, pathologist Dr. Angelica Oropilla says. We are at par with the forensic technology of the rest of the world.

Since November last year, the medico-legal department has been undergoing renovations of the medico-legal offices and upgrading of forensic devices. Here is a quick rundown of the latest devices acquired by NBIs medico-legal department.

Four Capillary 3130 Genetic Analyzer: A DNA fingerprinting analysis system that is used to match the suspect of the crime to the pieces of evidence gathered, identify victims of mass disasters, establish paternity or maternity in child custody, among others.

Oven Laboratory: Utilized best in the medico-legal clinic to set an artificial environment by controlling the temperature in order to fully develop the specimen. The oven laboratory could also be used for sterilization.

Vacuum Tissue Processor: Used for tissue section biopsy, this apparatus is used to process the raw tissues prior to embedding.

Colposcope: A lighted magnifying instrument commonly used by gynecologists and medico-legal officers to examine the tissues of the vagina and the cervix.

One-stop shop

The colposcope is part of the one-stop shop women and child friendly investigation room of the Violence Against Women and Children Division (VAWCD). Atty. Angelica V. Somera, chief of VAWCD, relates that the establishment of this one-stop shop is pushed by the widespread cases of child abuse, especially incest rape. The facility was made possible by UNICEF.

The one-stop shop includes a therapy room, playroom, medico-legal clinic, and an interview and investigation room. The latter is a sound proof area with a one way mirror, hidden video, and the likes. The childs disclosure is videotaped and presented as evidence during court proceedings.

This is in accordance with the Supreme Court declaration that admits videotaped testimonies as evidence during the trial to save the victim from facing the perpetrator in court, Atty. Somera says.

She also says that the one-stop shop is created to provide a non-threatening atmosphere for victims of abuse so that they could relay their ordeals free from the rigors and trauma of their experiences.

However, in technology, nothing is ever enough, says Atty. Floresto Arizala, MD, medico-legal chief of the NBI. True enough, the colposcope has already been replaced in other countries by a sophisticated camera system that could take high-resolution images of the body cavities lacerations that stems from rape or sexual assault. The camera is said to be smaller than the colposcope and captures higher resolution images but isnt any less invasive.

Sure, we cannot deny progress in science, Dr. Arizala says. However, the cost is too exorbitant and our government cant afford it just yet this is why we have to improvise and make the most of what we have.