Kudos to Rappler for it’s overview of 2018 (link) top stories – even if the most read and most mood vote stories are more of a picture of interest and mood of the readership, missing some important things that happened to the Philippines in a very hard year. Nonetheless, excellent in looking back and trying to filter the noise – and there is a lot of noise in the Philippine bayan, the word for nation and village. Looking back is important in being able to see things in proper perspective, reviewing good, bad and ugly things.
Harassment of “enemies”
Senator De Lima remained in jail inspite of numerous appeals, local and national. Christmas was the first time she got to meet her mother since she was arrested.
Rappler was harrassed from the beginning of the year:
- In mid-January its registration was revoked (link) due to “PDRs”,
- Pia Ranada was refused entry to Malacañang (link) in mid-February,
- Omidyar donated the “PDRs” to Rappler managers (link) in late February,
- in December, Maria Ressa of Rappler posted bail in a tax evasion case (link)
- but was also named among the Persons of the Year by Time Magazine (link)
During New Year’s Eve in New York, Maria Ressa was among those to “drop the ball”. Both the PDRs (originally accepted) and the tax evasion case seem to be threadbare.
Chief Justice Sereno was ousted via “quo warranto” by her fellow justices on May 11. The judgement was seen as an “abomination of justice” in one dissenting opinion. Follow-up by Solicitor General Calida strongly indicated a direct hand of the President.
Senator Trillanes‘ amnesty was revoked by the President in early September. One court ordered his arrest on a bailable charge in late September, while in late October Judge Andres Soriano did NOT issue a warrant of arrest on a non-bailable charge. Weeks of being in the Senate to avoid premature arrest by the PNP, which had been observing him and harangued Judge Soriano about when he would issue the warrant, ended. In these weeks, an opposition prayer group led by Will Villanueva got started.
In late April, an “OFW rescue mission” in Kuwait involving Mocha Uson and RJ Nieto aka “Thinking Pinoy” (link) caused major diplomatic troubles. The beginning of the end for Mocha Uson and Secretary Cayetano, who resigned months later for other reasons.
Boracay was suddenly closed from April 26 and reopened in late October after “rehabilitation” which was controversial. It is not clear whether it helped the island. Foreign tour operators might remove the Philippines due to unpredictability.
A new complaint was filed before the ICC by the families of drug war victims (link) in August, and the ICC on December 5 said it would continue its examination (link), the withdrawal of the Philippines in March (by President Duterte alone) notwithstanding.
President Duterte visited China in April (link) and Xi Jinping visited the Philippines in October (link). Defense Secretary Lorenzana floated the idea of reviewing the MDT (mutual defense treaty) with the USA in December. Hardly any benefits for the country, most projects finished this year were old PPP projects from the previous administration, while illegal Chinese workers in the Philippines became an issue to the year end (link). Chinese military buildups continued (link) in the South China sea, among other things.
Travel advisories for the Mindanao were issued by Australia and the UK (link) at the end of the year, not long after the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao. An advisory on security issues was also issued by US and Guam officials for Manila’s NAIA airport.
While the President moved more towards his generals and against his former leftist allies (link), including wanting to “hamlet” the Lumads, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made a comeback in July as Speaker of the House (link) in dramatic scenes before the SONA. This resulted in a (very controversial) draft for a Federal Constitution that would abolish term limits and otherwise favor political dynasties. She was acquitted of charges of 2007 electoral sabotage while Mikey Arroyo was acquitted of tax evasion (link). Isidro Lapeña, former Customs Commissioner, was not charged with anything by PDEA in December (link) inspite of his possible involvement in a major shipment of shabu slipping through customs in August, after which he was transferred to TESDA.
Bong Go was involved in a procurement scandal for Navy warships in January (link). Seems that how Rappler covered the case was one reason for their harassment. Also, Bong Go was over-advertised on placards and events during the entire year. Wanda Tulfo had to leave as Tourism Secretary, but the alleged 60 million pesos that her brother was paid for commercials has not been returned. Similarly, Bong Revilla was acquitted of plunder but made to return the money, which he is refusing to do (link).
Meanwhile, killings continued, the most shocking cases being that of a priest killed (link) after mass in Cagayan on April 29, and the Mayor of Tanauan shot by a sniper during a flag ceremony (link) on July 2, with Duterte afterwards claiming he had drug links (link). In mid-December, Duterte made threats towards bishops, especially Ambo David of Caloocan (link). Just before Christmas, pro-Duterte Albay Congressman Batocabe was shot dead (link), causing an outcry among previously silent administration politicians.
Satur Ocampo and ACT Teacher’s party list Rep. France Castro were arrested for “trafficking” after trying to help Lumad children in late November (link) and two NDFP peace consultants, Rey and Patricia Casambre, were arrested early December (link).
More than a year after the end of hostilities on 23 October 2017, Marawi stays broken, its residents only partly able to return due to bomb-clearing operations taking very long and reconstruction stalling. Samira Gutoc has emerged as a leader out of that crisis.
Politics and Economics
Both opposition and administration announced their senatorial slates for May 2019. Though Bongbong Marcos was unable to unseat VP Leni by his electoral protest, what will happen during the coming elections is unclear and the coming months decisive.
Dengue and measles cases rose due to fear of vaccines induced by the Dengvaxia scare. HIV cases also seem to be rising. Defunding Project NOAH probably also was a reason for landslides during typhoon Usman, as it seems hazard maps were not used.
Finally, Dalian trains have started to used on the MRT, and a several year long overhaul program has started. Unfortunately, traffic in Manila has not improved but seems worse. The closing of the Pantaleon-Estrella bridge to build a Chinese one will aggravate more.
Deficits probably rose due to a 3.8 trillion budget in 2018 versus a 3 trillion 2016 budget. The Philippines is running on a re-enacted 2018 budget as the 2019 budget was not passed, fortunately there is no government shutdown in this case like in the USA now.
Of the laws passed in 2018, the “Mental Health Act” and “Act strengthening the Anti-Hospital Deposit Law” are by Senator Hontiveros, while the Bangsamoro Organic Law is authored by Senator Bam Aquino. Info on the real work of politics is very scattered.
Scandals, Sex and the Church
What made big headlines in the Philippines and the world were sex and blasphemy:
- Duterte saying God is stupid for allowing original sin (link) in June
- Duterte kissing an OFW on the lips in South Korea (link) in July
- Duterte saying many beautiful women in Davao increase rape (link) in August
- Duterte saying beliefs in the Trinity and crucifixion are silly (link) late December
- Duterte confessing or telling a story of molesting a maid (link) also in December
The early 2018 issue of Isabelle Duterte using Malacañan for a photoshoot (link) pales. A possible junket to Europe with PSG in tow around Christmas is nearly forgotten too.
The Ateneo bullying scandal of December (link) is almost forgotten now also, though it, together with the challenges to the Catholic Church and moral precepts – especially the last story of the maid – may have triggered some real soul-searching (link). About time!
Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, Three Kings Day 2019
P.S. Yes, there were the movies Liway and Goyo, and Miss Philippines Catriona Gray (half-Aussie, half-Bicolana whose mother is from Albay) became Miss Universe.
P.P.S. feel free to comment on whatever I may have missed, even on details.