TURNING POINT: The Year that Was 2019

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (MindaNews / 2 Jan) – From an array of kaleidoscopic events in 2019, I picked up the following for their defining significance to the life of the nation; they either inspired and gave hope or sent shock waves and chills to the populace across the archipelago:

The passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law and the establishment and operation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region was the most heralded event in the South, which is hope to bring closure to the century-old internecine conflict in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago. Diligently pursued by past administrations, the crowning glory goes to the Duterte government for doggedly making this a reality against all odds.

The Department of Justice filed a cyber libel case and had internationally renowned journalist and Rappler CEO, Maria Ressa, arrested on February 13 over a story that appeared in Rappler on May 2012 on businessman Wilfredo Keng’s alleged involvement in drug smuggling and human trafficking. The arrest was controversial because the alleged cybercrime was committed some four months before the passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act on September 15, 2012. The law by itself is controversial; it prompted fears of censorship because it made online libel a crime punishable by up to 12 years jail term. The event brought chills to the media community and was considered by journalists and news organizations here and outside the country a blatant attack on press freedom. PRRD has repeatedly labeled Rappler as “fake news” because of its critical reporting on his drug war.

In March, Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario shocked the Philippine government, the ASEAN community and China when the tandem filed a case in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese government officials for alleged crimes against humanity. The complaint cited environmental damage in the West Philippine Sea due to land reclamation, occupation of islands, and destructive fishing activities conducted by China. The communication was delivered to the ICC two days before the Philippines’ ICC withdrawal became effective.

Also in March, the AFP reported the swarming since January of some 600 Chinese vessels (coast guards and maritime militias) near Pagasa Island and nearby shoals in West Philippine Sea. The AFP urged the government to file a complaint against the Chinese provocative incursion in the area. Nothing happened. The President turned deaf and mute. His clingy and unyielding love for China prevailed.

A Chinese vessel rammed and sunk a Filipino fishing boat (MV Gem Ver) in June and abandoned the struggling Filipino crew in the waters. The government downplayed the incident as a minor maritime collision.

Duterter’s loyalists swept 12-0 the elections of Senators in May. The House of Representatives was also jampacked with the President’s partymates. This development assures the President can never be removed by impeachment.

Opposition leaders to include VP Robredo, Senator Trillanes and the opposition candidates who lost in the May Senate elections were charged by the PNP in court for sedition and for a plot to oust the president from power in connection with the Bitoy Expose on Duterte’s hidden wealth attributed to the family’s link to drug syndicates.

In September, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee in investigating the BUCOR anomaly on the release of heinous crime convicts under the Good Conduct Time Allowance put in bad light BUCOR Chief Nicanor Faeldon. The pressure was so much that PRRD had to sack his nino bonito. By some quirk development, the BUCOR investigation stretched to drug anomaly in the PNP and found sufficient grounds to recommend the filing of cases against PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde and 13 other Ninja cops. The PNP filed the case with the Department of Justice and is awaiting resolution. Albayalde resigned a month before the end of his term.

He has been deriding her as incompetent and unfit for the topmost post of the land, yet out of the blue President Duterte challenged VP Robredo to become the country’s drug czar. Everybody was saying the offer was a trap—to put in a bind and clam PRRD vitriolic critic on his violent drug war. He, instead was placed in me-and-my-big mouth situation when the Vice President took the bait and accepted the challenge. He backtracked and downgraded the offer to a co-chairmanship of the Interagency Anti-drug Committee. Once she started doing coordination policy work and began asking for data in order to improve the drug campaign, Duterte declared her a “scatter brain” that cannot be trusted with state secrets. Her requests were denied. The VP was dismissed from the post she held only for three weeks in November.

Corruption scandal greeted the delegates to the 30th SEA Games hosted by the Philippines. Critics also lambasted the unreadiness of the hosting of the games, such as the unfinished games facilities and venues; the mishandling in the accommodation of delegates; and the ill-prepared information-communication center. The lackluster and dismay over hosting was, however, eclipsed by the magnificent performance of the Filipino athletes who racked up 149 gold, 117 silvers, and 119 bronze medals. It was the finest moment for the Filipino in 2019.

Nonetheless, even before the end of the SEAG, the Office of the Ombudsman had already started digging for evidences against the alleged corruption committed by those in the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHILSEAGOC), the Committee that managed the preparation for the hosting of the SEA Games headed by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano. Everybody hopes that the cases against the corrupt personalities will not be whitewashed but pursued to the end.

But what literally shook and shocked the country were the headline grabbing earthquakes from April to December of 2019, to wit: April 22 Luzon 6.1M; April 23, Samar, 6.5M; July 27, Batanes, 5.9M; September 13, Manila and Central Luzon, 5.2M; October 16, North Cotabato, 6.9M; October 29, North Cotabato, 6.6M; October 31, North Cotabato, 6.5M; and December 15, Davao del Sur, 6.9M. The quakes killed scores, injured hundreds, destroyed public infrastructures and millions worth of properties. The series of quake has particularly alarmed Metro-Manilans. Many are terrified by the prospect of the “big one” to hit the metropolis any time, which would accordingly claim some 34,000 lives, injure thousands more and would put to waste trillions worth of economic assets.

Unlike typhoons, earthquakes have eluded the prediction capacity of science. Thus we are left with no option but to cross fingers and to pray and hope that the catastrophe will not happen in our lifetime.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)