Scaling the BELS Wall

BELSI have never been good at marking or recording career milestones, but this one feels like one of those odd moments that I need to post about before I get overtaken by events and it completely slips my mind.

During the course of my early start as a copyeditor, BELS (Board of Editors in the Life Sciences) certification was always one of those things that stood out like a giant landmark — a huge street sign emblazoned in bold letters — that looked imposing even from a distance. You could find a way to ignore it, but you know the issue will always be there.

In a vague sense, it feels like a mountain that a science editor would need to scale if (s)he wants to be taken seriously in this field. Back then, it was easy to set aside because of several roadblocks. For one thing, the test was not offered locally. The BELS certification exam, which is run and administered by BELS (St. Paul, MN, USA), was routinely given in the United States, Europe, Australia, and some parts of Asia (India, Japan, South Korea), but going to those places (to take the test) was just too prohibitively costly.

That all changed in 2015. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Jam P. of Synchrogenix, BELS finally agreed to hold the test here. After hearing that welcome news, I set out collecting all the documents I needed to qualify for the exam.

The BELS exam was held in Makati last March 12, 2016. I went through the questions with mounting trepidation and varying degrees of reaction — some questions were thankfully easy to deal with, some were rather tricky, and there were others that stumped me. The one thing that buoyed me through the rough patches was my editing experience, years and years of it.

I wasn’t gung-ho about my performance, but I was fairly confident with some of my answers. When the test finally ended, I felt drained and uneasy. I knew the next stage was going to be murder on my nerves — waiting for the results. The proctors told us that results would be sent by mail (snail mail!) and would likely reach us within 6 weeks. To maintain my equilibrium, I blocked all thoughts about the BELS exam from my mind. I wasn’t entirely successful, but I kept myself busy in the mean time.

And then last week came in with all the grace of a haphazardly launched cannonball. The results started arriving (barely 4 weeks after the test). I was basically on tenterhooks until my own results arrived — in a large white envelope. When I noticed a slight “bulge” in the lower left corner of the envelop, I heaved a giant sigh of relief. I knew it was the BELS lapel pin (picture), which BELS gave out to successful examinees.

I finally scaled the BELS wall.

BELS pin

For freelancers like me, this is a huge moment to be filed away and revisited when things get a little challenging. I know the glow will eventually fade away and feel comfortably familiar like a well-worn glove, but for now my biggest lingering doubts have been laid to rest. Where I’m headed after this is anybody’s guess. Adding those 3 letters (ELS) after my name feels a bit odd though. Maybe in time I will feel comfortable about using them, but the BELS pin feels and looks nice.


On a related note, I feel like this needs to be said. Among the 20 examinees (plus one foreigner who was in our batch but whose fate is unknown to us), 11 passed — of whom 8 were former office mates (some of them have moved on to other firms, and two turned to freelancing, like me). That passing rate blew our mind because we never expected to get that far (9/11). To me, this was icing on a lovely cake. 🙂


taking a breather…

lumbercatI had to take a break from my online activities these past few days because I had several things to take care of — things that got more complex as soon as I had taken one step and errands that took far longer than I had anticipated.

Long story short, events had overtaken me (again) and I found myself forced to take hasty rear-guard actions a few times to avoid being swamped (mostly by work). In fact, it wasn’t until a couple of hours ago that I was finally able to take a deep breathe without having to double-check my mental “High Priority” tray.

I’m still trying to get my breath back, wondering if this is just some temporary respite to lull me into a false sense of security before the next wave comes along and sweep me away again. Either that or fall into a mind-numbing rut — I’m not sure which one I dread more (okay, it’s probably the latter).

I’m still in a consolidation stage, I think. It’s not necessarily what I wanted but that’s the set of cards that I had been dealt with so I guess I need to buckle down and find a way to break out of this temporary hiatus and set off in a new direction. Soon, I hope.


SSS PESO: A Voluntary Retirement Plan


Here is a piece of interesting news for local freelancers who are continuing to pay their Social Security System (SSS) dues as voluntary members as well as other SSS members who might be interested in fortifying their retirement fund.

SSS president and CEO Emilio de Quiros Jr. recently announced that SSS is offering a new program called SSS Personal Equity and Savings Option (SSS PESO), a tax-free alternative investment fund open to all qualified SSS members (employed, voluntary, self-employed, overseas Filipino workers [OFW]).

SSS PESO is intended to enable members to build up income for their retirement and earn reasonable returns. According to the SSS, savings in this new fund will be invested in sovereign guaranteed investments, and that 65% will be allocated for retirement whereas 35% is apportioned for medical and general purposes.

According to de Quiros, “The portion for retirement is guaranteed to earn income based on interest rates of five-year Treasury yields, while earnings of the fund allotted for medical and general purposes will be based on 364-day Treasury bill rates.” Aside from the guaranteed earnings, fund members may also accrue additional earnings (which will be automatically credited to their accounts), depending on how well the fund has performed for the entire year.

Eligible members can participate in this program by putting in a minimum amount of P1,000 up to P100,000 annually. Membership will start as soon the SSS payee has placed his/her first contribution. De Quiros also added that, “succeeding SSS PESO Fund contributions can be made anytime as long as there is a corresponding SSS contribution on the month of contribution.”

Any member is qualified as long as:

  1. You are below 55 years of age.
  2. You must have made at least six (6) consecutive payments in the last 12 months prior to enrollment.
  3. You have not yet filed any final claims with the SSS.
  4. Important NOTE: All voluntary, self-employed, and OFW members must be paying the maximum SSS contribution to qualify for this program (P1,760 based on the latest SSS contribution table).

Savings in this fund can be withdrawn on the effective date of a member’s retirement or in the event of total disability. Note that SSS will be charging a 1% annual administration fee for handling this type of account. Also, if a member decides to withdraw his/her funds early (less than 5 years), it will be subject to penalties and service fees. It should also be noted that early withdrawals can only come from the 35% share of a member’s total contributions (allocated for medical and general purposes).

For more information on the SSS voluntary retirement fund (launched on Sept. 25, 2014), here is the official SSS link to this announcement.

Hmm… this reminds me of Personal Equity Retirement Account (PERA), which was signed into law eons ago and was supposed to have been implemented already — but has never completely managed to get off the ground. They have been planning, planning, and planning for PERA implementation for years. (What are they waiting for, I wonder — for the sky to turn pink?) Oh well. I’m still waiting for anybody who has actually opened a PERA account to say (write/blog/announce/share) anything about that fund.


In Search of a Good Coffice

A coffice (coffeehouse + office) is a place where one can get coffee, but also where one can set up a laptop computer and do office work.


Despite my fervent hopes that somebody (business, interest group, enterprising individuals) would finally open a fully functional honest-to-goodness coffice (see how an actual coffice operates in London; Ziferblat London, pictured above) here in Metro Manila, it looks like it won’t be happening anytime soon.
So, to satiate my craving for a nice coffice, I am instead going to point out a few coffee shops that have become my favorite “working” haunts (as a freelancer). As I am fairly mobile, I can usually be found working away in some cafe in various parts of the metro. I find that this constant scenery change works best for my mercurial working habits, and coffeehouses have literally become my office of sorts.

Usually it takes me 30 minutes to 1 hour to decide if I “liked” the place well enough to consider it a favorite, which means that there is a very high probability that I would be coming back to that establishment sooner rather than later. Other times, I can tell right away that I’m going to like the place just a few seconds after I enter the store entrance. Typically it requires a quirky combination of factors — even seemingly inconsequential ones —  but when they do hit the spot, it just makes your work a little easier.

Anyway, here they are in no particular order.

1. Caffe Bene (SM BF, Paranaque City)
Pros: Fast internet, spacious, includes a walled smokers’ area, relatively near
Cons: Can get fairly crowded on weekends, closing time is rather early (9:00 pm)

Caffe Bene (SMBF)

2. Starbucks SM Aura (Bonifacio Global City, Makati)
Pros: Spacious with high ceilings, numerous convenience outlets, not too crowded
Cons: Too far, closing time is rather early, no wi-fi

3. Bo’s Coffee (Glorietta 4, Makati)
Pros: Good food selection; increased number of chairs, tables, and convenience outlets; fairly accessible; open for 24 hours; free wi-fi (for up to 2 hours)
Cons: Can get too crowded pretty quickly

4. Starbucks Bluebay Walk (EDSA cor. Macapagal Blvd., Pasay City)
Pros: Numerous convenience outlets, spacious, great lighting scheme, piped-in music, free parking, not too crowded (for now), long operating hours; a perfect place for reviewers
Cons: A bit far, no wi-fi

There you go. I am fairly certain that I will be expanding this list soon, but for the moment these are the places that I consider premium — which means that working in these particular coffeehouses can be a breeze. Also, I will be blogging about each of these establishments in detail later (when I have more time at my disposal).