Election Monitors’ Observations and Findings: also “Partial and Unofficial,” so far.

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The COMPACT-IOM 2016 delegation, after witnessing first-hand how elections were done in 91 precincts in four provinces, expressed that, in general, “the conduct of the election was orderly and the results can be considered credible.”

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Since their precinct-hopping proved relatively uneventful, the foreign election observers were able to focus more closely on monitoring the systems and processes that take place inside the polling centers. One stark observation was the absence of a common set-up of the precincts: where VCMs are located inside the room, how tasks are delegated amongst the authorized personnel, and how many people are allowed inside the room at a particular time.

Some precincts were overcrowded and unauthorized persons are sometimes able to enter the room. To be fair, the difference in the set-up of rooms can be attributed to the differences in the realities of each precinct, i.e., the room only has one entrance.  However, it has been noted that the orderliness of a precinct highly depends on the skill and “firmness” of the assigned BEIs.

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The observers also noted some problems with the Vote Counting Machines (VCMs).  They observed that it was prone to overheating and paper jams.  The primary concern relating to this is the irregular handling of the ballots, in that, the voters are no longer able to personally feed their ballots into the VCMs.

This leads us to the issue of vote security.  The observers noted the difficulty of ascertaining whether or not the “helpers” who were assisting Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and senior citizens were actually authorized to do so.  They noticed some go beyond simply “assisting” to actually filling out the ballots on their own without conferring with the voter they were “helping.”  Also, the election monitors observed, the different ways by which ballot secrecy folders were set-up by the BEIs posed a challenge to voters who wanted to keep their votes secret.

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All of the teams — Isabela, Bohol, Dinagat and Maguindanao — received reports of vote-buying. It is noted, though, that in different places in the Philippines, vote-buying can take different forms.  They differ when it comes to rates, frequency, manner, and even in the way the voters in each locale viewed vote-buying.

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When it comes to election-related violence, mostly it has been reports of harassment of voters and poll watchers.  Heated arguments outside polling precincts were also reported but these mostly involved supporters of opposing candidates. The Maguindanao team, however, was able to visit one precinct that had been bombed a few days before their arrival.

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Despite all these, the foreign election observers commended the Filipino voters for being as patient as they were, standing in long lines under the heat of the sun just to wait for their turn to vote. The high voter turn-out, they expressed, is a very encouraging sign. The foreign observers also praised the BEIs who were very patient and hard-working. They likewise recognized the important role of women in this democratic exercise. Lastly, they applauded the commitment of the different independent election watchdogs that continue to work hard, every election year, to ensure the peaceful and fair conduct of the elections in the Philippines.

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Election Monitoring at the local: being present and absent at the same time.

From May 7 to 10, the four COMPACT-IOM Teams were deployed to their respective mission areas: Dinagat Islands, Isabela, Bohol and Maguindanao. In each area, the foreign delegates, plus their designated Team Leaders, were met by the local COMPACT Teams.

Day 3, May 7, was spent mainly in traveling to the assigned areas. For the Bohol and Maguindanao Teams, this meant a short trip (shorter than the trip to the airport and subsequent waiting time, at least) by plane to Tagbilaran and Cotabato City, respectively. For the Dinagat Team, their plane trip to Butuan was followed by a short land trip to Surigao and a pump-boat ride to San Jose. The Isabela Team, however, had to endure a 12-hour bus ride to Santiago City. for all teams, the remainder of the day was spent in getting to know their local counterparts more and hearing a more in-depth description and analysis of the prevailing political-electoral situation.

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Day 4, May 8, was devoted to making the rounds and visiting the different stakeholders to the elections — e.g., the local COMELEC, PNP, AFP (where necessary) and “election watchdogs” (PPCRV and LENTE) offices — to get briefings and updates; and interviewing candidates, campaigners and supporters from all sides. The Teams also held press conferences/meetings with local media to explain to the people the objectives of their mission and the reasons why they were deployed to their areas.

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Election Day, May 9, was the 5th day of the Mission. For the delegates, this was to be the most hectic of days. For one, in order to observe the complete voting process, the Teams made sure that they were already at the precincts by 5am — the time when the BEIs started to prepare the voting rooms and set-up the VCMs assigned to them. After viewing the opening and initial voting, the teams then proceeded to hop from one precinct to another, oftentimes visiting other nearby municipalities. Their election monitoring tasks lasted well into the night, after the voting has ceased and the results transmitted, ending only after a quick visit to the provincial canvassing center (where accessible) and a day-end assessment meeting. In all, the four team managed to visit 91 precincts, a new COMPACT record.

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COMPACT in Parang, Maguindanao

Such was the experience of our COMPACT-IOM 2016 Delegates. But the mission wasn’t over yet.

COMPACT-IOM 2016 Delegates hit the ground running

Soon after arriving, the 15 foreign election observers of the 2016 COMPACT for Peaceful and Democratic Elections – International Observers Mission (COMPACT-IOM 2016) immediately got to work. Day 1 of the Mission (May 5) saw the delegates, representing Germany, Sweden, USA and Japan, undergoing their initial orientation with the Convenors and Secretariat of COMPACT-IOM.

COMPACT-IOM 2016 delegates

During this activity, emphasis was given to the different rights and obligations of the COMELEC-accredited foreign election observers as they do their monitoring work on May 9.

COMELEC Resolution 10079 highlights the need for foreign observers to remain neutral and non-partisan at all times. They are also expected to report only actual observations and not hearsay. Finally, they are also cautioned against making “generalizing” observations by always stating that their observations are only limited to those areas they actually visited in person.

Day 2, May 6, was the Launching Press Conference of the 2016 Mission. Here, Media was informed about the delegates’ itineraries in the four (4) election “hotspots” they will be deployed to in the next few days: Dinagat Islands, Isabela, Maguindanao and Bohol. The Secretariat likewise gave an overview of the current political and electoral settings in these four areas. Finally, a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” were discussed in order to make the Monitoring Team’s work as effective, safe and hassle-free as possible.

Day 3, May 7, saw the four teams embarking on their separate trips to their assigned areas. Those going to Dinagat, Bohol and Maguindanao joined the throngs of Filipinos flying back to their provinces to vote. The Isabela Team, on the other hand, began their 10-hour bus trip to Santiago City.

As of this posting, we are happy to report that all teams have safely reached their destinations and have already linked-up with the local COMPACT groups who will be their hosts during their 4-day election monitoring mission.

Stay tuned for more updates as the teams begin sending back reports from the four mission areas.

COMPACT-IOM 2016 Mission; ang pagbabalik ng “Team Bantay”!

Hand in hand with the unrelenting heat brought about by the Philippine Summer, the heat from the ongoing electoral campaign promises an Election that might just be the most hotly-contested race in decades. With less than two weeks to go before election day, the allegations of fraud and incidences of election-related violence are again, as in previous elections, piling up, one after another.

Elections are supposedly elevating moments of citizenship. Through the simple act of casting one’s ballot, an individual is able to choose his preferred candidates, an entire nation is able to express its collective will, and power is peacefully transferred from one set of leaders to another. Former US President James Buchanan said it best: “The ballot box is the surest arbiter of disputes among free men.”

Unfortunately, elections in the Philippines are often bloody affairs. 

In the last five electoral cycles since 2001, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has reported a total of 1,036 violent poll-related incidents, which claimed the lives of more than 600 Filipinos. The bloodiest period occurred in 2010 with 155 casualties and scores of other wounded.

Election Year

No. of Incidents of Election-Relation Related Violence (ERVs)

No. of Casualties

2001

269

111

2004

249

148

2007

229

121

2010

180

155

2013

109

80

Recently, the PNP announced that as of March 17 of this year, 34 incidents of election-related violence (ERVs) have already been reported throughout the country. These include 25 incidents of shooting; 3 incidents of stabbing or hacking; 2 explosions; 1 one case of strafing; 1 incident of grenade-throwing; 1 case of abduction; and 1 incident of verbal threat.  These numbers, however, are expected to rise as May 9 draws nearer.

The situation is further aggravated by the fear of possible electoral fraud. In a recent Pulse Asia survey for example, the polling firm revealed that 39% or 4 out of every 10 Filipinos believe that cheating will take place on Election Day. Though clearly not a majority opinion, this is still significantly higher compared to the 29% who expect the elections to be clean and credible, and the 32% who remain undecided.

Understandably, this concern has been transformed into fuel to drive the campaigns of many candidates. One presidential candidate has even accused Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Andres Bautista of wanting to rig the polls when the latter broached the idea of reverting to the old manual system in face of the new challenges brought by the Supreme Court’s decision to compel the Comelec to activate the Vote Receipt function in all VCMs (Vote Counting Machines) to be used in May 9. This accusation was echoed by that candidate’s running mate who described the poll body as “treading on dangerous grounds.”

Monitoring Elections, Ensuring Credibility 

Because of the extremely volatile condition leading to the elections, there is an even greater need to monitor the polls in the hope that by doing so, election violence can be reduced, poll fraud averted and the credibility of the results ensured. With this in mind, the Compact for Peaceful and Democratic Elections (COMPACT) is again organizing an International Observers Mission (IOM) and will deploy at least 17 foreign election monitors to four (4) election hotspots, namely: Dinagat, Maguindanao, Isabela and Bohol.

COMPACT is a consortium of non-government and civil society organizations to uphold the right to suffrage and address the growing incidence of election-related violence that are allegedly being committed by both state and non-state actors. It asserts that every citizen has the responsibility to guard the sanctity of the ballot—for elections are too important to be left solely in the care of the politicians and poll experts.

Compact has been organizing international election observation missions since 2004. Indeed, they are our international “Team Bantay.”

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Akbayanihan Infrastructures, now Solar Powered!

 Sulangan, Guiuan, Eastern Samar

Sulangan, Guiuan, Eastern Samar

On the second week of July 2015, just after two typhoons had hit the Philippines one after the other, a team consisting of five ACF staff members and two engineers traveled to Leyte and Eastern Samar to install solar power sets for ten daycare and health center buildings built through donations coursed through the Akbayanihan Foundation.

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The first activity of the trip was an orientation seminar — given by Engrs. Mario Ochoco and Rommel Lopez of Solar Power North – for members coming from the different recipient communities on how to install and maintain the solar power sets.  After the installations are finished, the participants are expected to maintain the solar power set-ups and troubleshoot any problem that may arise in the future.

Featured below are some of the photos during the installation stage. The two engineers were assisted by the designated trainees of the community where the solar power sets were being set-up.

Tambis, Villaba, Leyte

Tambis, Villaba, Leyte

 Engr. Mario Ochoco

Engr. Mario Ochoco at Silad, Villaba, Leyte

 San Rafael, Dulag, Leyte

San Rafael, Dulag, Leyte

In total, ten solar panel sets, with capacities of 250 watts per set, were successfully installed in the following areas: Brgy. 37, Tacloban City, Leyte; San Rafael, Dulag, Leyte; Tambis, Isabel, Leyte; Silad, Villaba, Leyte; Maribi, Tanauan, Leyte; Banahao, Guiuan, Eastern Samar; Sulangan, Guiuan, Eastern Samar; Batang, Hernani, Eastern Samar; and Brgy. 3, Hernani, Eastern Samar.

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Alongside the installation of solar panels, the ACF team also distributed basic medical equipment and supplies to the health centers, and chairs, tables and blackboards to the day care centers.

San Jose, Dulag, Leyte

 Batang, Hernani, Eastern Samar

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Solar-Powered Fan

Solar-Powered Fan

According to the day care teachers and barangay health workers, the solar panels were badly needed in their everyday operations since most of them have not had electricity since the structures were erected.  Some of the local government units, they said, are still unable, or incapable, to provide the energy requirements of the buildings.  Ms. Alice, a midwife from Batang, Hernani, who is in-charge of one of the health care centers, said that before their solar panel kit (including the solar fans) was installed, she and the BHWs of Batang used to fan their pregnant patients during their visits to the center.

The ACF team was welcomed to the areas by the scorching heat of the July Sun.  Luckily, this will now be put to very good use!

ACF’s Health and Governance Forum with the bonggang-bonggang BHWs of Leyte!

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Simultaneous with Tacloban City’s celebration of its first fiesta after Yolanda, ACF convened Barangay Health Workers (BHW) from all over Leyte for a forum entitled “Health and Local Governance Program for Community Health”.  The program was held at Hotel La Rica, located at the heart of Tacloban City, last June 30, 2015.  Two speakers from the Department of Health Regional Office lead the discussions that day – Ms. Chiradee Claridad, Health Leadership and Governance Program Coordinator; and Ms. Arlyn Perlado, BHW Coordinator for Leyte Province.

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Ms. Chiradee Claridad opened the discussion by providing the participants with the overall health profile of the country then moved on to giving them a glimpse of how health services are being provided at the municipal and barangay levels.  Her entire discussion was constructed so as to give the BHW participants some framework on how to go about their duties.  She then gave a rights-based approach on health service delivery and informed the BHWs of their roles in the realization of such.  The speaker then grouped the participants into groups to enable them to assess the main health concerns in their respective barangays.

Another equally important topic is the discussion on the local structures which relates to the work of the participants.  Towards the end of her presentation, Ms. Claridad also discussed the 3 Delays model, which the clients of BHWs face on a daily basis:

  1. Delay sa pagdedesisyong humingi ng tulong pang-medikal (Delay in the decision to seek medical help).
  2. Delay sa pagtukoy ng at pag-abot sa angkop na pasilidad pang-medikal (Delay in the identification and accessing of medical facilities).
  3. Delay sa pag-tanggap ng tama at sapat na pangangalaga sa pasilidad pang-medikal (Delay in receiving adequate and sufficient medical attention in a medical facility). 

IMG_4464The second speaker, Ms. Arlyn Perlado, who will be working closely with the Barangay Health Workers, discussed Republic Act 7883, which grants benefits and incentives to accredited BHWs.  She discussed the menu of incentives that BHWs are mandated by law to receive from the government as well as the responsibilities and limitations of their duties as community health practitioners.  The speaker also updated the participants about the different executive and legislative reforms pertaining to BHWs which are currently in the pipeline.

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For the BHWs who were able to attend, the activity was of great significance because not only was it very informative, major questions were also raised (and answered) and vital networks established. In fact, many of the BHWs present were encouraged to immediately seek accreditation upon knowing about the law-mandated benefits they can receive.

Finally, the dream is now a reality: the Malaya-Tala School Handover!

It took more than a year from the initial idea of the sisters, Malaya and Tala David, to make and sell “Haiyan Bracelets” (loom bands) in order to raise funds to build classrooms for the children of Maribi, Tanauan, Leyte — who lost theirs to the typhoon — to the actual hand-over of the finished building to the Faculty and Students of Maribi Elementary School last June 2, 2015.

IMG_20150602_123219The happy occasion was participated in by the different organizations and personalities who, in one way or another, were involved in seeing the dream into fruition. There were local and national NGO representatives, officials from the nearby local governments, media practitioners, and even regional and national politicians present in the event. The Project Team, led by Isabella Borgesson and Geline Avila, and Arch. Dean Ramos of Emerging Architects Studio (EASt) were also in attendance. ACF, the financial manager of the Malaya-Tala Funds, was represented by its Executive Director.

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Unfortunately, the David sisters themselves were unable to personally attend because school was still ongoing in the US. They, however, sent a video message to the Teachers and Students of Maribi Elementary School conveying their hope that the school be used effectively and be well taken care of because it already belongs to them.

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Needless to say, the Teachers and Students of Maribi, the real stars of the event, were already fully committed to doing exactly that. :-)

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Free the jailed Students of Myanmar!

More than two months have passed since the violent state-led crackdown against student protesters in Myanmar. Though many of those arrested are finally out on bail, many are still languishing in Jail.

The protests, centered in Letpadan Township in Pegu (Bago) Division, involved more than 200 students and supporters, including monks, who were peacefully protesting the passage of the so-called “National Education Law of 2014,” which the protesters opposed because of four main issues:

  • Lack of consultation with students during its drafting stage
  • Ethnic languages will not be taught at institutes of higher education
  • Universities will not be independent from the Ministry of Education
  • Non-recognition of Student and Teacher Unions

In the crackdown, more than 100 students and supporters were brutally attacked and arrested by the police, who had been blocking their march to Yangon for eight days already.

Police hit a student protester during violence in LetpadanThis photo of Aung Min Khaing, posted by the news agency Irrawaddy.Org, has become the defining image of that event, which until today has not yet been resolved.

One of the youth organizations that played a leading role during the student protests is the Youth for a New Society (YNS), some of whose members were among those arrested and jailed. We are in solidarity with the students of Myanmar in their multi-sectoral call for peace, democracy and social justice.  Using only a mobile phone and free mobile applications, they put together this video, hoping that their government and the entire world will listen.

 

On the Rohingya refugees still stranded at sea

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 (API Photo)

As of this posting hundreds, if not thousands, of Rohingya refugees are still stranded, or remain missing, at the Adaman Sea after different authorities in the region refused to let them enter their territories. The refugees, including many women and children, have been at sea for several weeks, living off meager food and water supplies and with no access to sanitation facilities and medical care.

The Philippine government has recently expressed its willingness to receive hundreds of refugees in view of its commitment to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.  Department of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, in her meeting with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Bernard Keblet, proposed to send rescue boats as a joint effort with ASEAN neighbors.  ACF strongly supports this proposition and insists that such an effort should be done immediately given that the refugees’ desperation, vulnerability to disease, and death toll continue to escalate every day.

The Rohingya’s history of marginalization intensified during Ne Win’s regime in the 1960s, when they were assailed and disowned by both the Bangladeshi and Burmese governments.  They are subject to multiple layers of disenfranchisement: religious and cultural persecution, denial of citizenship, deprivation of access to markets and employment, forced mass expulsion, forced labor, and other forms of state and non-state-sponsored human rights abuses.  Their desperation forced them into the hands of human smuggling syndicates, gambling their lives in search for better living conditions.  Regrettably, they have found themselves in an even worse state.

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ACF believes that while institutional reforms towards protecting the Rohingya refugees all over Asia are being discussed, urgent solutions to life threatening situations like this should be dealt with multi-laterally.  It is high-time that the Philippine Government, along with the governments of fellow ASEAN nations, demonstrates solidarity by undertaking concrete and immediate measures to ensure the safety and dignity of life of our Rohingya brothers and sisters.

Political Parties and Citizen Movements in Asia and Europe (a book launching)

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In pursuit of more meaningful relationships between political parties and citizen movements across Asia and Europe, the Hanns Seidel Stiftung Myanmar, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), and Asia-Europe Foundation collaborated to publish a book entitled “Political Parties and Citizen Movements in Asia and Europe.”   A wide gamut of experiences are narrated and analysed in this book: from institutionalized political party-CSO relationship in Sweden and Norway, to non-engagement in the case of Spain, to CSOs-turned-political-parties in the Philippines and India.  The book also gave special focus on possible recommendations for political parties who wish to rebuild citizen confidence in a time of growing citizen protests.

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The first launch of this publication was held here in Manila last February 27, 2015.  This Philippine book launch was made possible through cooperation with the Active Citizenship Foundation.  Members of civil society, the diplomatic corps, academe, and government agencies were in attendance during the launching, which was held at the Oakwood Premier Joy-Nostalg Center in Ortigas.

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Among the distinguished guests were the German Ambassador, His Excellency Thomas Ossowski;  Berthold Leimbach, resident representative of ACF’s partner, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung; Thierry Schwarz, director of Asia-Europe Foundation; Jules Maaten, resident representative of Friedrich Naumann Foundation; Paul Schaffer, resident representative of Hanns Seidel Stiftung; Daniel Edralin, SSS Commissioner; Gio Tingson, chairperson of the National Youth Commission; and former COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento.

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Sam Vander Staak, Senior Program Manager of the Political Parties Team of International IDEA discussed the project objectives and findings of the publication.   He argues that generally, there has been a gap between citizen demand and the delivery by their elected representatives from political parties.  This gap, which basically revolves around hampered democratic freedoms, corruption, and failure of socio-economic policies, he says, is the reason for increasing citizen dissatisfaction and distrust towards political parties.  Citizens are now becoming more inclined to articulate their demands through citizen movements rather than through party membership.  Thus the recommendations include engaging with citizens throughout the electoral cycle, diversifying civil society partners, clearly identifying and communicating the level and type of engagement, improving internal party democracy and financial transparency, and improving all venues for communication with the citizens.

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Two case studies were also presented in the launch. The first presenter was Kristin Jesnes, a researcher at the Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies who studied the nature of cooperation between the social democratic parties and trade union confederations in Norway and Sweden.  This century-old relationship is interesting because their engagement has institutional mechanisms like representation of labor organizations in the party executive committee, coherent practices, regular formal meetings, and joint committees.  This of course, is not without challenge since there has been declining electoral support from labor unions, changing trends in the labor force and decreasing political activism.

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The next case presentation narrates the experience of a local party which transitioned from being a consortium of civil society organizations and citizen movements into a political party, which was eventually able to enter government through a newly-introduced electoral law that redressed the limitations of proportional representation.  The continuing challenge, according to the presenter, Sabrina Gacad of Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party, is the struggle with its status as a political party and a citizen movement.  Despite this, she expresses, the party has been able to maintain a high level of party democracy with strong bottom-up structures while affiliated non-government organizations remain to enjoy relative autonomy from the party.

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Making up the Panel of Reactors were Prof. Josephine Dionisio of the University of the Philippines Diliman; Rafael Alunan III, a former senior government official; and Ramon Casiple, the Executive Director of Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.  By the end of the program, solidarity messages were delivered by representatives from different Philippine political parties: Atty. Marjorie Martin, Deputy Director General of the Liberal Party; Atty. John Castriciones of PDP-Laban; and Risa Hontiveros, Chairperson of Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party.

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The book is also available online to download.

Photo Credits:  Tristan Gomez