The News that Defined 2013 – Part 1
The year 2013 will be remembered, first and foremost, for the devastating calamities that were visited upon the nation.
When super typhoon Yolanda ripped through the Visayan provinces on Nov. 8, nobody could foretell the deadly effect of the 7-meter storm surges that inundated the coastal areas. With Tacloban City all but flattened, the death rose above 6,000 as relief workers continued to dig bodies out of the rubble, or fish them out of the water.
This and the powerful earthquake that rocked Bohol barely a month earlier made calamities—both natural and manmade—the top story of the year.
In Manila Bulletin Online’s yearend review, the other big stories of 2013 were: the pork barrel scandal and its impact on the country’s politics; Manila’s territorial dispute with Beijing over the West Philippine Sea; the economy’s gains that were dampened by rising unemployment; Nur Misuari’s violent misadventure in Zamboanga City; a shooting incident in Philippine waters that triggered a diplomatic and economic backlash from Taiwan; the repatriation of thousands of Filipinos from countries that had become inhospitable to foreign labor; the mid-term elections in which the administration strengthened its grip on the Senate; a bloody and futile bid by the Sulu sultanate to assert its ownership of Sabah; and the repeated grounding of ships in the precious Tubbataha Reef.
Here’s a snapshot of the most defining news of 2013.
Super Typhoon and Super Quake
October 15 and November 8, 2013 would be remembered for the two calamities that inflicted so much pain, death and destruction in the Visayas.
The earthquake that struck Central Visayas in October registered a 7.2-magnitude intensity enough to kill 222 people in seconds. It also injured 976 people and left eight missing. It flattened a good part of Tagbilaran, Bohol and also Cebu, toppling centuries-old churches, schools, hospitals and other landmarks that would take years to repair. The killer earthquake affected 3.221 million people and damaged P2.257 billion of properties.
But the force of nature was not finished yet. In less than a month, it landed the most destructive typhoon in Leyte and other nearby provinces. For just a few hours, it obliterated Tacloban City, killed over 6,000 people, displaced millions of Filipinos and destroyed everything in its path. It was a super typhoon the world had never seen before and its name was “Yolanda”.
Fishy Pork Barrel
On July 12, a P10-billion pork barrel scam was exposed and it had the name Janet Lim Napoles written all over it. The scandal implicated senators and government officials and sent the whole country demanding for truth and justice.
Since then this story has developed a cast of characters that include an army of whistleblowers, the socialite daughter of the accused, government officials charged with plunder, and even the President to whom Napoles personally surrendered.
The stinky pork barrel scam is an issue that fired the nation to stage “pork” rallies to demand the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). It caused social media to boil over, senators to quarrel publicly, and for the accused to turn the table to their accusers.
The pork barrel scam is a running story that will continue in 2014. Although PDAF has been ruled unconstitutional and has been put to rest, getting to the bottom of the pork barrel scam would take awhile.
The United Nations on April 25 announced that it has completed the arbitration body which will tackle the case filed by the Philippines against China over its “excessive” claim to the South China Sea. What followed was a verbal tussle between officials of the two countries that didn’t improve relationships and even caused Japan, the European Union and the United States to get involved somehow.
Ironically, it took an ugly event such as super typhoon Yolanda to somehow relax the strained relationships between the two countries, with China’s decision to send aid, including its hospital ship, for the typhoon-ravaged parts of the Philippines in November.
The arbitration case, however, remains as the fragile relationship between Philippines and China hangs in the balance.
On October 3, the country has received its third investment grade rating for the year from credit rating firm Moody’s Investor Service. Moody’s has rated the country “Baa3″ from the previous rating “Ba1.”
In March, Fitch Ratings recognized the country’s improving economic standing, while Standard & Poor’s and Japan Credit Rating Agency (JCR) upgraded their assessments of the country’s economic outlook last May.
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), however, acknowledged that impressive economic growth for five consecutive quarters is not enough to combat the problems of unemployment and poverty, citing the need of other factors to help trickle down the economic boom.
The Zamboanga siege began around 1:45 a.m. of Sept. 9 when fully-armed members of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) from the faction of its founding chairman Nur Misuari, came to Sitio Bugok in Barangay Sta. Catalina but were blocked by government security forces. It was an unfortunate event that lasted over 20 days and, when the smoke cleared, revealed the death of over 100 rebels and the capture and surrender of some 223 and 52 MNLF men, respectively.
However, the government also suffered casualties, including 18 soldiers and five policemen killed in action (KIA) Nd 167 soldiers and 14 policemen wounded in action (WIA).
Among the innocent civilians who were caught in the crossfire, nine were killed and 57 wounded.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) also reported that the violence affected at least 23,794 families or 118,819 people from 14 villages in the city and one barangay in Zamboanga Sibugay.
Misuari, however, has avoided capture and reportedly has managed to leave the country to face charges of rebellion filed against him by the government.
Backlash from Taiwan
Relationship with Taiwan went sour in May when a Taiwanese fisherman was reportedly shot by a member of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) after they were found to be poaching off Balintang Channel, which is part of Philippine waters. This led to a string of events such as Taiwan’s economic sanction against the Philippines that included its refusal to hire Filipino contract workers and demands for compensation and apology to the family of the victim.
Three months later, the National Bureau of Investigation recommended the filing of homicide charges against PCG officers in connection with the accidental shooting of the Taiwanese fisherman. On August 9, Taiwan lifted its sanction to the Philippines. It is also one of the many countries that come to the aid of Yolanda victims.
Throughout 2013, thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) made news mostly for being in miserable situations. From repatriations to sex-for-flight scandals, many OFWs in Egpyt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other places around the world have become victims of their circumstances.
On Sept. 19, however, came one good news–OFW Rodelio “Dondon” Lanuza returned to his family after 13 years in Saudi prison. Lanuza has been saved from death row in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after killing an Arab national. The Saudi Arabian court sentenced him to death but pardoned him after his family was able to pay the 3 million Saudi riyal blood money. The Philippine government was able to raise 700,000 riyal. The remaining 2.3 million riyal came from Saudi King Abdullah.
The mid-term elections had the administration strengthening its grip on the Senate when most of its senatorial bets were proclaimed winners. Grace Poe Llamanzares, daughter of the late Fernando Poe, Jr., garnered the highest vote, followed by Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano and Francis Escudero.
Quest for Sabah
When some 200 armed followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III occupied a town in Lahad Datu in Malaysia on February 11 to reassert their territorial claim on Sabah, it caught both the governments of Malaysia and the Philippines by surprise.
The standoff had triggered a standoff and saw eight members of the Royal Forces captured and charged with terrorism in Malaysia, facing death or life imprisonment over the intrusion.
On October 20, the Sultan died in Quezon City due to multiple organ failure caused by diabetes, but the ownership claim of the sultanate over the Sabah continues.
On January 17, the US Navy minesweeper, the USS Guardian, ran aground in the Sulu Sea and got stuck on Tubbataha Reef.
Known as one of the world’s best dive sites, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a 97,030-hectare World Heritage Site consisting of two coral atolls that harbor a wide range of marine species including large marine life such as manta rays, sharks, and turtles.
It took months to dislodge the USS Guardian from Tubbataha and not after causing huge damage to the priceless natural resource. The United States has since then made compensation for damage to the reef caused by their ship.
But barely weeks after the USS guardian’s wreckage was removed from the reef, a Chinese fishing vessel also ran aground at the Tubataha Reef on April 8, causing more damage to the marine protected area in Palawan.
The Philippine Coast Guard said that the fishing vessel F/V Min Long Yu had 12 crew members, allegedly Chinese poachers found to have crates of dead, protected wildlife anteaters.
While it was smaller than the USS Guardian, the Chinese fishing vessel had caused worse damage to the heritage site than the US Guardian as the boatmen tried to forcibly dislodge their vessel.
The Tubbataha Management Office said that based on the result of the study of scientists that analyzed the damage caused by the Chinese vessel, it has severely damaged 3,902 square meters of corals-including some massive corals 500 years old. The damage is 66 percent larger than the damage caused by the USS Guardian.
The USS Guardian measured 224 feet by 39 feet, while the Chinese fishing vessel measured 48 meters long and eight meters wide.
Before 2013 comes to a close, other big stories developed and one of them is the impending P4.15 per kWh power rate hike of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco). This, in itself, represents the continuous crucifixion of Filipino consumers who today suffer the world’s highest rates for electricity.
Slapped with a temporary restraining order by the Supreme Court, Meralco has to shelve its planned rate increase, but said they will defer about P9-billion of payment to power suppliers. This, and other stories, will spill over to 2014.