Daily Archives: April 26, 2008

Boy Wonder: 17-yr old wins int’l award for and discovering new source of fuel

By Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES – As the search for alternative sources of fuel rages, a 17-year-old Raymond Amurao from the Philippines may have just found a good solution. His discovery started with the problem of a pesky fish.

A few years ago, many fishermen earning their livelihood from the Marikina River in Metro Manila began to notice some strange-looking fish that have been infesting the river’s waters and competing with other fish for food. Called the janitor fish, it has a hard exoskeleton, is smelly like other fish, and is not considered fit for human consumption.

Until that time, the Marikina River was teeming with several freshwater fish species such as tilapia, carp, catfish, and mudfish. Suddenly, the janitor fish, once alien to the river, invaded the river. It began multiplying rapidly and eating voraciously, competing with other fish for food.

Without the presence of  natural predators, the janitor fish in the Marikina River grew in huge numbers. They eat the eggs of other fishes, causing the depletion of other fish species in the local aquatic environment. They also cause the river’s sides to erode as they bore holes on the soft, muddy banks to serve as their breeding nests, damaging much of the river’s plant life. The ratio of the number of janitor fish to other species in the river quickly rose to around 10 to 1, causing much dismay and frustration to Marikina fisher folks.

Chemistry teacher Janet Sarmiento Amurao brought the challenge to the Marikina City High School students who began experimenting with the fish.

“As a science teacher, I was tapped by our city mayor, Marides Fernando, as a member of the so-called Benefish Committee tasked to find possible applications for the dreaded janitor fish which was becoming one of the major problems in the Marikina River,” Janet told the Asian Journal in an exclusive interview.

Her youngest son who is also her student, Raymond Joseph Amurao, became part of the school science program.

“He was then a senior student working with two of his friends in trying to find out if janitor fish meat can be used as a component of the commercial chicken feeds,” Janet said. “One Saturday, he was assigned to boil the fish but young as he was, barely 16, he played basketball. The whole thing was supposed to be steamed for 10 minutes but he forgot and came back after 30 minutes. He was surprised to see a considerable amount of fish oil floating on the broth. He became interested with the oil and started asking me what to do with it. I told him to look in the net, the easiest way of finding possible answers.”

Instead of throwing the oil away, Raymond tried to find use for it. He first sought to turn it into a lubricant, but it solidified after being subjected to high heat. He then tried mixing the oil with other chemicals to produce soap, but only had partial success because it still smelled like fish. Then, while surfing the Internet, he learned that oil extracted from certain animals could be used as biodiesel. Another experiment later and he found that the fish’s greasy by-product indeed had biofuel potential. Raymond’s initial experiment with 12 kilos of janitor fish produced 500 ml of processed fuel. They calculated the fuel value of janitor fish oil and the results were comparable to that of diesel.

The result was Amurao’s discovery — extracting fuel oils from janitor fish carcasses which can be used in applications such as diesel additives and soap base. This not only solved Marikina City’s fish situation. It totally changed his life.

Science Awards

“He won First Place in the Intel Philippines Science Fair. His project was NCR’s entry to the National Level of Intel Philippines Science Fair and was chosen one of the Best Science Projects. He also received First Grand Award and chosen as one of the country’s entries to the Intel International Science Fair held in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA in May 2006, the world’s largest celebration of science showcasing the world’s most promising young scientists and inventors in grades 9 through 12,” Janet proudly related her son’s accomplishments.

More than 1,500 contestants from each US States and more than 40 different countries joined the world’s most prestigious and largest pre-college science competition – The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in Indianapolis, Indiana. Representing the Philippines, Raymond won the 3rd Grand Award for his project entitled Biofuel and Soaps from Janitor Fish Oil which won for him international recognition, a cash prize of $1,000, and a medal.

“The biodiesel derived from the janitor fish could be used as an additive to diesel fuel, and could help lower the cost of petroleum in the Philippines,” says Raymond. It would also help control the janitor fish population in the Marikina River, Laguna Lake, and other bodies of water where it is known to dwell. “This could also become a great source of livelihood in Marikina,” he stated.


Janet Amurao still can’t get over his son’s achievement.

“I am very happy because I never thought that a playful bunso like him would be able to accomplish such a feat! You know what he said about his being an overnight celebrity when he came back from the competition? ‘You’re right Mama! I think the Lord has other plans for me when He gave me back to you twice.’ You see, Raymond was a dengue survivor when he was 10 years old and was given 24 hours to live at that time.”

Raymond was born on September 2, 1989 in Marikina City. He spent his elementary years at Roosevelt College Marikina Campus and enjoyed his high school life at the Marikina Science High School. At present he’s studying at the University of the Philippines Los Banos where he’s in second year taking up BS in Chemistry.

His friends describe him as wacky, funny, friendly, comedian etc. He really wants to become a very good chemist someday. He never planned to become a scientist but now that even senior inventors call him a young inventor, Raymond says God probably wanted to show him his purpose, for one thing, discovering the use of janitor fish.

All the television and radio interviews, the newspaper and online articles about Raymond and the invitations to speak in different symposia and conventions have not changed him a bit, says his mother. He’s still “Emong” with his feet flat on the ground. He revealed to Asian Journal that he loves to eat “Anything- especially fried chicken,”he said.

He loves basketball, enjoys watching The Simpsons, likes watching movies like Legend of Ron Burgundy, A Walk to Remember and Music and Lyrics.

“My Intel award is just one of the many proofs that God really loves me,” Raymond said. “When I won in the regional level, it was the first time that I relied on my faith in God. It really worked! So, when I won in the International competition, I really cried,” he admitted.

After the competition, Raymond and another participant stayed at San Diego and visited Universal Studios and San Diego Zoo and malls. “Oh! I really enjoyed my stay there in the US,” Raymond said. “I fell in love with Indianapolis, a very peaceful city. If given the chance, I would like to go back to the US and study there. Or maybe someday I will go back there when I’m already a chemist and hopefully, work in big drug companies.”

The Amuraos are happy to note that the janitor fish has been given a new image. “We were able to prove that the janitor fish is no longer a pest, but something which has many uses,” Janet said. Another possibility being studied is to use the exoskeleton from the janitor fish’s belly as leather to boost Marikina’s shoes and bags industry. The janitor fish could also be useful in producing carbonated water, liquid fertilizer, and chicken feed.

Raymond will also soon test his biofuel invention on a car engine.

As an advice to young people like him, Raymond has this to say. “Just be yourself, be open-minded, be patient in whatever you’re doing and avoid being boastful. Do not hesitate to “burn your midnight oil” and most importantly rely on your faith in God because He’s always with you the way He has been with me.”


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Britain’s Got Filipino Talents: Filipino hopefuls in UK talent show become YouTube celebs.

By Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES – Filipino musical talent has once again wowed Western audiences and continues to capture the attention of online audiences on YouTube. Madonna Decena, a 32-year-old UK-based club singer, and Charlie Green, a 10-year old schoolboy of Filipino and British descent, who both received standing ovations during their live auditions on Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) a popular television talent search in the UK, are the newest YouTube Filipino singing sensations.

Currently one of the favorites in the show’s second season, Madonna Decena moved both audience and panel of judges (composed of American Idol’s Simon Cowell, actress Amanda Holdren and journalist Piers Morgan) with her rendition of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You.

It was a tear-jerking performance by Decena, a single parent who had to leave her two young daughters in the care of their grandparents when she left the Philippines 18 months ago to find work in the UK. She said she joined the contest for her girls, that it was “a chance for me to get more work, more opportunity for me to sing, for my kids.”

Decena said, “If I do well in this competition it would be life-changing not only for me but for my kids. It’s a chance for us to be together.”

Her performance received the approval of all three judges, including that of Cowell’s, who is known for his brutal frankness. He said he at first “didn’t expect anything like that” from the Filipina but that “if you’ve got talent, you’ve got talent [and] I absolutely loved it.”

Charlie Green, another front-runner in BGT, who is half-Filipino, was enthusiastically cheered by the audience and praised by the judges for his version of Frank Sinatra’s Summer Wind. Morgan called the boy’s singing “brilliant,” Holdren predicted that he would win the competition, and even Cowell was impressed, saying, “Charlie, you are fantastic…. I think you are a little star.”

The boy is from Droitwich, Worcestershire, his father, Roger, is British and his mother, Cecilia Surmargo, is a Filipina who hails from Cebu. Green said he has been honing his talent since he was three years old and that he joined the competition in order to fulfill his dream of becoming a great singer.

“I always dream of singing in front of big audiences and massive band behind me…this means the world to me if I could get on, touch the stage I would love it.” Green said before his live performance.

The videos of Decena’s and Green’s performances on YouTube have each registered more than 300,000 views. The hundreds of visitor comments on their pages, most of which are from fellow Filipinos, include compliments and messages of encouragement, as well as a few disparaging remarks, to which admirers have responded with words of indignation.

The newfound fame of BGThopefuls Madonna Decena and Charlie Green is testament to the huge popularity of the video-sharing site and its celebrity-making power. Only recently, it has placed in the international limelight Filipino singing sensation Charice Pempengco.



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More Illegals Nabbed in 5 States

by Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES – Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents conducted a sweeping raid in the world’s largest poultry processor, Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plants last week in five states – Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Over 300 undocumented workers were arrested for suspicion of committing identity theft. A felony under Federal law, identity theft has been a growing problem as workers in the US illegally look for ways to avoid detection. Some US citizens and legal residents rent or share their Social Security numbers, making detection even more difficult.

The poultry plant raids and other recent raids by immigration officials were the main focus of discussion during Access Washington, a teleconference participated in by members of ethnic media to get the latest immigration updates. The calls are organized in partnership with the National Immigration Forum, the Center for Community Change, the Asian American Justice Center and the National Council of La Raza, and funded by Public Interest Projects.

As ICE raids are on the rise, hundreds of undocumented workers are put up into detention centers around the country, affecting families, communities and the economy. Last week, Federal immigration agents raided a Houston doughnut plant and arrested almost 30 workers as suspected illegal immigrants, according to the Associated Press.

Andrea Black, Network Coordinator of Detention Watch Network, reported that in recent months, there has been a dramatic increase in ICE raids and arrests. “Their target is to remove all illegal immigrants from the US by 2012. They have had a vast increase in budget and manpower and they have become much better organized. Last year, 276,000 were deported. These raids have been able to create an environment of fear across the country,” said Black.

The arrests have had devastating effects on families, according to Paromita Shah, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. “We have had reports that workers who have been arrested were not able to contact families or lawyers and were transferred to other facilities making it very difficult for their families to track them down. The usual problem is what happens to the children left at home by these people who are arrested and deported? “ Shah stated.

Black and Shah mentioned that with the failure of the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform program, the authorities are stepping up the enforcement of arresting and deporting illegal immigrants. If the attempt at such an immigration reform was passed last year in Congress, it would have provided a path to citizenship for some of the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants, a guest worker program and toughened enforcement against employers.


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Ex-Army Chief Denies Hand in Jonas Disappearance

by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com

MANILA – Former Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino on Monday denied that neither he nor any of his men were involved in the disappearance of Jonas Burgos, political activist and son of press freedom fighter Jose Burgos, almost a year ago.

Tolentino, now working as an undersecretary at the National Security Council, was summoned to testify in the ongoing hearing on the petition for writ of amparo filed by Jonas mother, Edita Burgos, to shed light on his knowledge about the names “Ramon,” and “Mina” who cropped up during the military’s initial investigation on Jonas’ case.

The former Army chief admitted mentioning the names of Ramon and Mina in an interview conducted by Newsbreak magazine in connection with Jona’s disappearance.

He recounted that when he ordered his men to go around in Bulacan province to check on the background of Jonas, the people they interviewed, who refused to be identified, told them to check instead who Ka Ramon and Ka Mina where.

But, Tolentino said they failed to gather more information that would link Jonas to Ka Ramon and Ka Mina as the people were afraid to talk.

“We made an informal investigation a long, long time ago and that is the only thing that we had. The people are afraid of giving information about Ka Ramon and Ka Mina. It was a blank wall after that,” Tolentino said.

Tolentino said that until after his retirement last August, he has not learned about the true identity of “Ka Ramon” and his relation to Jonas.

Tolentino said he could not recall whether he gave orders shortly before his retirement to investigate whether Ramon and Jonas were one and the same person.

Although he sympathized with the mother and other relatives of Jonas, Tolentino said he could not do anything but to order his men to cooperate with the agencies investigating Jonas case.

He also denied that the Army would resort to abducting people just to neutralize the operation of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“It is not the business of the army to abduct people. Even my car was implicated (in Jonas abduction), maybe those giving the information are doing it in bad faith,” Tolentino added.

Mrs. Burgos’ lawyer Ricardo Fernandez said Tolentino’s is just trying to cover-up for the alleged involvement of his men belonging to 56th Infantry Battalion in the abduction and disappearance of Jonas.

Fernandez noted that Tolentino’s claim that he does not know who Ka Ramon is contradicts Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon that Ka Ramon and Jonas is one and the same person.

The CA’s next hearing on the case is set on May where another army officer Col. Eduardo Año is expected to testify.

Earlier, the CA Former Seventh Division ruled that the testimonies of Tolentino and Año are vital in the resolution of the Burgos case in light of the testimony of Capt. George Ventayen at the hearing held on April 7, 2008 in Baguio City.

Ventayen, the prosecutor in the case of 2Lt. Dick Abletes, testified in executive session on April 7, 2008 in Baguio City on the charges against the latter and his evidence in prosecuting the case.

He admitted that Lt. Abletes has been charged with three violations of the Articles of War for passing off classified information to two members of CPP-NPA.

The prosecution claimed that Tolentino and Año’s testimonies are needed considering that Ventayen has admitted that one of the two members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) who received the working order of battle from Abletes was identified as certain “Liza,” which is the alias of one of three witnesses of the police in the Jonas case.

Mrs. Burgos said that Liza is in fact Melissa Reyes, who was also reported missing on April 28, 2007 at the same time Jonas was reportedly abducted.

Año is the head of the Intelligence Service Group of the Philippine Army mentioned in the Newsbreak article who admitted that Abletes was caught on March 26, 2007 giving classified documents to a member of the CPP-NPA.


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