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Lifestyle & Culture

Specks of Magic

The Hundred Islands off fishing town Pangasinan are constant sources of wonder – home to swimming monkey, playground of largely unseen sirena, and haven of some of the Philippines’ best faith healers. Michael David C. Tan discovers that these islands are actually believed to be parts of Atlantis.




“Welcome to Atlantis,” Manang Auring, a local manggagamot, said as her oily hands enveloped my proffered hand. Like many in her field, she believes that the numerous islands off the bay of Pangasinan, more popularly known as the Hundred Islands, are “pieces of the beauteous island, which drifted until they found their way here,” she said, all purplish gum when she smiled. “This is where we source our powers.”

And then she started massaging the side of the tummy of an old man lying on a mat, slowly pushing deeper until blood started trickling from an invisible wound. There was a deafening silence, ironically emphasized by the strong blowing of the wind that rocked the wooden windows, and was finally broken by a sigh from Manang Auring as she produced what looked like pebbles, which were supposedly stones from the kidney of her patient. Not a moment too soon, the old man sat straight, expressed his gratitude for the help, and then left.

While the experience was new to me, it was common in the area – we were in Pangasinan, after all, where many of the Filipino faith healers (no matter where they may be in the Philippines or overseas) are said to have originated. No wonder the flocking of those in search of the miraculous in the area – for healing of incurable illnesses, for the creation of love where there is none, or for the simple finding of peace of mind. Local legend has it that this is where the pieces of the famed Atlantis drifted when the mysterious island sunk eons ago, supposedly bringing with it its magic. The claim sounds implausible somehow, until one visits the islands.


Only a few minutes by motorized bangka are the first few of the islands that, in truth, total over 100 (though so-called Hundred Islands only because it has a poetic rhyme to it). Many of these have high rocky cliffs thickly covered by vegetation and are thus often seemingly inaccessible – though many are attracted to the islands exactly because of this. Over the years, more and more visit to bravely climb the cliffs that seem to endlessly continue under the blue waters, or to make new treks from one side to another of one of the largely undiscovered islands, or to spelunk for the first time its enigmatic caves. Closely passing by the islands, however, never fails to bring about strange, even spine tingling, feelings, as if someone you cannot see is staring at you intently, waiting for your next step before they decide to act.

“Those are the spirits,” Mang Ambo, our guide, said in a hushed voice (so as not to disturb them). As if on cue, we passed through what seemed like a tunnel, though really a meeting of two cliffs overhead, forming what looked like a darkened cathedral – a rare formation since the islands are often separated. And yet, many snorkel around the islands, which are seemingly attached underwater by coral formations supporting a rich marine life (like the rare giant clam shells). When the seas are calm, the few who have dived around some of the islands mentioned the peculiar rock formations underwater that hide peculiar sea creatures, seemingly reflecting the eerie atmosphere evoked by the islands. Because when there, it doesn’t seem implausible seeing merpeople peeking through rock formations before diving in the deep seas when spotted. The place just has that feel, hardly explainable.


Amazingly, the seeming awe inspired by the group of islands as a whole is the one things that is similar in all the islands, which differ from each other – both by nature’s designs, and by man’s manipulations.

At one, you can follow paths leading to the peak to get a 360˚ view of the whole place – not that there’s much to see, but the blue waters broken by islands that seemed to have been dropped from the sky like big rocks. In another, the white sanded shore stretches then curves to stretch and then curve once more to form a semi-circle, the middle only sparsely vegetated so that it looks more like an underwater rock exposed during low tide than an actual island – just perfect for swimming. Still in another are small communities that have fishnets surrounding islands to breed fish – perfect for meals in yet another island that now has nipa huts for such activities.

While snorkeling, trying to make out what the deep gulfs between islands hide by clinging on to a rope attached from one island to another , the silence is occasionally broken by gunshots, immediately followed by the flocking of wild ducks trying to escape hunters that venture the islands where they nest. For a while, the sky darkened as the fathered creatures sought refuge in the other islands, feathers fluttering on the waters that, suddenly (and even more interestingly), gave way to monkeys that started to swim. It was weird, looking at creatures deemed afraid of water as their heads protruded while trying to stay afloat. Then, when on dry land, they shook themselves before disappearing in the woods, like miniature Bigfoots.

Truly, here, wonders never cease.


After a luscious meal of freshly-caught tilapia, coupled by salted egg sharing a bowl full of freshly sliced ripe tomatoes, with grilled pusit and shrimps thrown, a quick dive in the water stirs the consciousness, though also adding to the mystery, as one swims with jellyfish that seasonally abound in the area, floating like torn fabrics.

These are playthings of mermaids who hide in the islands, Mang Ambo said. And I almost believed him, trying not to swim too far from the islands in case the mysterious stories were true.

In the end, though, whether one believes or not does not matter. Back on the mainland, Manang Auring said, “Maniwala ka o hindi, andiyan ‘yan.” And maybe, just maybe, she’s telling the truth, since you won’t escape the mystical when in the Hundred Islands of Pangasinan.

Along EDSA, catch a bus going to Alaminos via Kamiling. From there, catch a pedicab to Lucap, where the motorized bangkas to take you to the islands are docked.

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

Health & Wellness

Trans women can safely maintain estrogen treatments during gender affirming surgery

The practice of withholding estrogen prior to gender affirming surgery was not necessary. Most transgender women can now safely remain on their estrogen therapy throughout surgery.



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There was no difference in blood clots when estrogen hormone therapy was maintained during gender affirming surgery.

This is according to a study (titled, “No Venous Thromboembolism Increase Among Transgender Female Patients Remaining on Estrogen for Gender Affirming Surgery”) helmed by John Henry Pang with Aki Kozato from Mount Sinai, and was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Historically, the lack of published data contributed to heterogeneity in the practice of whether doctors and surgeons advised transgender women to withhold their estrogen therapy before surgery. The sudden loss of estrogen in the blood was sometimes very uncomfortable with symptoms that amounted to a sudden, severe menopause.

So the researchers tapped 919 transgender patients who underwent gender affirming surgery at Mount Sinai’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery between November 2015 and August 2019. Notably, including 407 cases of transgender women who underwent primary vaginoplasty surgery.

This study found that the practice of withholding estrogen prior to gender affirming surgery was not necessary. Most transgender women can now safely remain on their estrogen therapy throughout surgery.

The bottom line: This study found that most transgender women can  safely maintain their estrogen hormone treatments during gender affirming surgery.

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Health & Wellness

Facebook posts help facilitate belief that HPV vaccine is dangerous to health

Nearly 40% of Facebook posts about the HPV vaccine amplified a perceived risk, and the data suggests these posts had momentum over time.



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The human papillomavirus infection, or HPV, is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HPV is associated with health problems including genital warts and cancers, but a vaccine has been available since 2006 to help stop the virus. The CDC reports more than 12 years of data supports the HPV vaccine is safe and effective, yet HPV vaccination rates still remain low.

Social media has a history of being a popular place for sexual health discussions, and the HPV vaccine is one of the most discussed vaccines on the internet. Monique Luisi, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has studied more than 6,500 public HPV vaccine-related posts on Facebook from 2006 to 2016. In a previous study, Luisi used these Facebook posts to identify a negative trend on Facebook related to how people perceive the HPV vaccine.

Now, she suggests this negative trend on Facebook may also cause people to develop a false perception of the health risk of the vaccine. After looking at the percentage of posts that made the vaccine seem more dangerous, less dangerous or neither, Luisi found nearly 40% of Facebook posts about the HPV vaccine amplified a perceived risk, and the data suggests these posts had momentum over time.

“We should not assume that only the disease is perceived as a risk, but when research supports it, that medical treatments and interventions might unfortunately also be perceived as risks,” she said. “It’s more likely that people are going to see things on social media, particularly on Facebook, that are not only negative about the HPV vaccine, but will also suggest the HPV vaccine could be harmful. It amplifies the fear that people may have about the vaccine, and we see that posts that amplify fear are more likely to trend than those that don’t.”

Luisi suggests the spread of this negative information may lead people to have a false perception of the vaccine, so people should consult their doctor or health care provider before making an informed decision.

“Facebook remains a very popular social media platform for adult audiences, which necessitates action to address HPV vaccine risk messages,” she said. “People are going to see what they are going to see on social media, so it’s important to not only take what you see on social media, but also talk to a doctor or health care provider. Just because it’s trending doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Luisi notes research must continue to address the perception of vaccine safety where the vaccine is perceived as a greater health threat than the virus or disease it prevents, and her study could also inform officials for the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine roll out and distribution.

“As the COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out, people are likely going to see a lot of negative information, and that negative information will be what trends on social media,” she said. “But, if the public can anticipate this negative information, it will be interesting to see if that will that make them less sensitive to the perceived risk of the vaccine.”

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Health & Wellness

Depression and stress could dampen efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines

Even though rigorous testing has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for distribution are highly effective at producing a robust immune response, not everyone will immediately gain their full benefit. Environmental factors, as well as an individual’s genetics and physical and mental health, can weaken the body’s immune system, slowing the response to a vaccine.



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Decades of research show that depression, stress, loneliness, and poor health behaviors can weaken the body’s immune system and lower the effectiveness of certain vaccines.

A new report accepted for publication in Perspectives on Psychological Science suggests that the same may be true for the new COVID-19 vaccines that are in development and the early stages of global distribution. Fortunately, it may be possible to reduce these negative effects with simple steps like exercise and sleep.

Vaccines are among the safest and most effective advances in medical history, protecting society from a wide range of otherwise devastating diseases, including smallpox and polio. The key to their success, however, is ensuring that a critical percentage of the population is effectively vaccinated to achieve so-called herd immunity.

Even though rigorous testing has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for distribution are highly effective at producing a robust immune response, not everyone will immediately gain their full benefit. Environmental factors, as well as an individual’s genetics and physical and mental health, can weaken the body’s immune system, slowing the response to a vaccine.

This is particularly troubling as the novel coronavirus continues to rage across the world, trigging a concurrent mental health crisis as people deal with isolation, economic stressors, and uncertainty about the future. These challenges are the same factors that have been previously shown to weaken vaccine efficacy, particularly among the elderly.

“In addition to the physical toll of COVID-19, the pandemic has an equally troubling mental health component, causing anxiety and depression, among many other related problems. Emotional stressors like these can affect a person’s immune system, impairing their ability to ward off infections,” said Annelise Madison, a researcher at The Ohio State University and lead author on the paper. “Our new study sheds light on vaccine efficacy and how health behaviors and emotional stressors can alter the body’s ability to develop an immune response. The trouble is that the pandemic in and of itself could be amplifying these risk factors.”

Vaccines work by challenging the immune system. Within hours of a vaccination, there is an innate, general immune response on the cellular level as the body begins to recognize a potential biological threat. This frontline response by the immune system is eventually aided by the production of antibodies, which target specific pathogens. It is the continued production of antibodies that helps to determine how effective a vaccine is at conferring long-term protection.

The good news, according to the researchers, is that the COVID-19 vaccines already in circulation are approximately 95% effective. Even so, these psychological and behavioral factors can lengthen the amount of time it takes to develop immunity and can shorten the duration of immunity.

“The thing that excites me is that some of these factors are modifiable,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University and senior author on the paper. “It’s possible to do some simple things to maximize the vaccine’s initial effectiveness.”

Based on prior research, one strategy the researchers suggest is to engage in vigorous exercise and get a good night’s sleep in the 24 hours before vaccination so that your immune system is operating at peak performance. This may help ensure that the best and strongest immune response happens as quickly as possible.

“Prior research suggests that psychological and behavioral interventions can improve vaccine responsiveness. Even shorter-term interventions can be effective,” said Madison. “Therefore, now is the time to identify those at risk for a poor immune response and intervene on these risk factors.”

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Lifestyle & Culture

How you should pack for a cross country move

Packing can take a long time, which is why this is a task you won’t want to put off. You shouldn’t try to pack everything you own up in just a few nights. Instead, you’ll want to tackle this job a little at a time. Start by packing non-essential items. Save the items that you regularly use until the last minute.



Are you getting ready for a big move? If you’re packing up your things ahead of moving day, many tasks need to be taken care of. Thankfully, this advice will help you as you pack for a cross-country move. 

Start Packing As Soon As Possible 

Packing can take a long time, which is why this is a task you won’t want to put off. You shouldn’t try to pack everything you own up in just a few nights. Instead, you’ll want to tackle this job a little at a time. Start by packing non-essential items. Save the items that you regularly use until the last minute. 

If you give yourself more than enough time to pack, you won’t feel rushed. You’ll be able to take your time and make sure that everything is properly organized when you’re packing. Remember, this is a big task. Set a packing schedule so that you’ll have more than enough time to take care of everything. 

Look Into Hiring A Full-Service Moving Company 

If you feel overwhelmed by all of the packing you need to do, you should keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to do all of it yourself. You also have the option of hiring a full-service cross country moving company that will be able to pack everything up for you. 

Hiring professional cross country moving companies to pack up your things is an especially great option if you’re working with a tight schedule or feel that you don’t have enough time to prepare for your move fully. You can trust your movers to take care of the packing. You’ll be able to focus on other tasks. 

Get Rid Of Items Before You Start Packing 

You likely have many things that you won’t need to bring with you when you move. That’s why it’s a good idea to go through your belongings and see what you can donate, give away, or sell ahead of your move. 

This is the perfect time to get rid of clothes that no longer fit or clear out toys that your kids don’t play with anymore. You’ll have limited space for your things when you move cross-country, and because of that, you’ll want to get rid of plenty of items before you pack. 

Label Every Box That You Pack 

You should be able to identify exactly what’s in each box that you pack. Once you’ve packed a box, you’ll want to make sure that the box is clearly labeled so that you know exactly what’s being stored there. 

Although it’s standard to use cardboard boxes when packing for moves, you may want to consider investing in clear plastic storage containers. When you use these kinds of boxes, you’ll be able to see everything that you’ve picked up at a glance. You can also reuse these boxes for storage once you’re settled in. 

Pack Heavy Items In Smaller Boxes 

When you’re packing up items like books, you should keep in mind that these boxes can become very heavy fairly quickly. That’s why it’s a good idea to stick to using smaller boxes when you’re picking up heavy things. 

If you stick to boxes on the smaller side, you won’t have to worry about the boxes becoming too heavy. You should use your largest boxes to pack up fairly lightweight items. The heaviest items you own should go in the smallest boxes that you have. 

Take A Suitcase 

You shouldn’t put all of your things into cardboard boxes. It’s a good idea for you to pack up some essential items in a suitcase. That way, you’ll be able to access these items before all of your things are unpacking. 

It’s especially important to take this step if you’re going to be stopping at a hotel as you travel to your new home. Your suitcase should include toiletries, a few changes of clothing, and other essential items, like first aid supplies.

Photograph Your Things 

Even if you’re cautious when you’re packing, some of your things may wind up missing. That’s why you’ll want to take plenty of pictures throughout the packing process. Before you seal up a box, take a picture of that box so that you’ll be able to see exactly what’s in there. 

Snapping these photographs will provide you with evidence if something is lost or damaged, and it will also help you find any things you are looking for. It only takes a few seconds, and it could save you a lot of trouble. 

Use The Right Packing Strategies 

If you just toss items into a box without any strategy, a lot of your things will likely wind up getting lost during your move. Beyond that, you might wind up with items that are damaged or even destroyed during the moving process. 

Always pack similar items together. When packing fragile items, you should take steps to protect those items from damage. You’ll also want to mark the box as fragile so that movers know they need to treat your box with care.  

Packing for a cross-country move can be a big project, but with a little bit of extra planning, you’ll be able to get through these challenges in one piece. Follow this advice so that you’ll be able to stay organized as you pack up for your upcoming move.

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Lifestyle & Culture

Are you ready to start thinking about a baby?

Before you commit to this decision it’s important to think about whether the two of you are ready. That’s not always an easy question to answer however there are signs that you can begin to move forward with this new chapter.



You might be interested in starting a family with your partner. However, before you commit to this decision it’s important to think about whether the two of you are ready. That’s not always an easy question to answer however there are signs that you can begin to move forward with this new chapter. 


You’re Both Stable 

First, you need to make sure that you are both stable in your lives. Think about your career and your profession. You should ideally both be earning a solid income where it’s unlikely that either one of you will experience redundancy in the future. While there are no guarantees, there are always signs that your career is stable. You might also want to think about setting up a side hustle to make sure that you have an extra cushion of cash to fall back on whenever you need to. 

Of course, it’s not just your career that needs to be stable. You need to think about your health – both mental and physical – and your lifestyle. Don’t forget, these are things that will be taken into consideration if you are planning to adopt. So, they should be considered when you are thinking about conceiving naturally too. 

You Both Want One 

As crazy as it sounds many couples do end up having a baby because one individual wants one rather than both. The other will often just go along with the idea because they don’t want the relationship to end. That’s why it’s important to have an open and honest relationship with your partner. It’s possible that there are things that are stopping them from seriously considering children. They might even be questioning whether it’s possible for them. If they’ve tried before with someone else, then this fear is always going to be present. However, there are options like to explore if that is indeed the case. 

You don’t Argue All The Time 

Finally, many people believe that couples shouldn’t argue and that’s not true. You need to have the occasional argument otherwise issues are going to simply lie dormant underneath the surface. This will lead to a massive blowout and the last thing that you want is to bring a child into an environment with a lot of friction. 

If you do find that you are arguing quite a lot in your relationship, then you should think about something like couple’s counseling. This can help you get back on the right track with your partner and ensure that things don’t continue to get worse. It can help you deal with some of the deeper issues that might be plaguing your relationship and causing you problems right now.  You can learn more about couples counseling on

We hope this helps you understand some of the signs that you could be ready to start thinking about having a baby with your partner. Remember, while this can be a big step forward, there are plenty of avenues and resources you can explore to help here and ensure that you do approach this the right way.

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Lifestyle & Culture

Can you earn extra money while getting SSDI benefits?

If you’re permanently disabled, you’ll likely need to apply for SSDI or Social Security disability insurance benefits. As with seeking any type of government aid, this involves going through a qualification process.



If you’re permanently disabled, you’ll likely need to apply for SSDI or Social Security disability insurance benefits. As with seeking any type of government aid, this involves going through a qualification process. 

Once you’re approved, you don’t want to do anything to disqualify you from receiving benefits, and this includes earning too much income in addition to your monthly benefits. An overview of this issue is described below to help you stay within the Social Security Department’s guidelines.

You Cannot Earn Substantial Gainful Activity

The SSDI benefits you’ll receive are intended to provide you with the income you would otherwise earn through performing work. For this reason, the Social Security Administration has established a limit on how much you can earn in addition to the benefits you receive each month. The precise number is evaluated year by year and, as of 2020, that limit was $1,260 a month. The only exception is that people who are classified as legally blind can earn up to $2,110 a month.

There is a trial period during which you can earn more than the substantial gainful activity allowance (or SGA) and still receive your benefits. The first nine months are considered a trial period to ensure you can maintain that level of income. 

In a month in which you earn less than the SGA limit, you will receive your full benefits for that 30-day period. This will continue for 36 more months after you complete the trial period. The extended eligibility period of 36 months is implemented to keep you entered in the system in the event that you have to return to full benefits status. This eliminates the need to have to renew your initial application.

How Are Benefits Calculated Against Income?

As a matter of protecting your financial interests, you should consult a social security disability lawyer before beginning any type of work. Generally, the first $85 you earn won’t be counted towards your earned income. After reaching that limit, half of every dollar you earn will be deducted from your total eligible benefits. 

For example, if you earned $1,000 in a 30-day period, the $85 allowance would be reduced, bringing your measured income down to $915. That amount would be divided by two to arrive at $457.50. For that month only, the benefits you receive would be reduced by $457.50 to adjust for your earned income.

What Are You Required To Report?

In order to remain compliant with the conditions for receiving benefits from the Social Security Administration, there are certain employment status changes that you must report. You will have to report the dates upon which you begin or stop a job, including any periods during which you’re suspended or laid off. 

You will also have to report any changes in your position, including the number of hours you work, the duties you perform, or the wages you’re paid. Any changes in these conditions can affect your benefits, so it’s important to keep the SSA updated. Finally, you should report any expenses you have suffered in relation to your disability. 

For example, if you have had to buy a custom wheelchair to allow you to perform your work-related duties, that expense should be documented and reported. You should check with your local SSA office for exact reporting timelines. Generally, reports should be filed between the 6th and 10th day of the following month, depending on the method of reporting.

If you are trying to navigate the complexities involved with filing for SSDI benefits, consulting an attorney can help. A lawyer who’s experienced in handling Social Security law can ensure you get all of the benefits to which you’re entitled. This may mean a significant difference that can help you enjoy a better quality of life.

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