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Scenes from a decade: (from left) the wrath of Haiyan, Heneral Luna in a light moment, a truckload of soldiers in Marawi, and the Marcoses bury their patriarch.

The 10 moments that defined the 2010s

From storm surge to price surge to the rise of the Man from Davao. From the destruction of cities to their rebuilding, and the crowning of a Filipina as the most beautiful woman in the world. Where were you when these were happening?
Marbbie Tagabucba | Dec 21 2019

December is the last month in the tumultuous 2010s, a decade that saw the rise of new political heroes and villains, a changing of the guard in different sectors of society, the growing concern for climate change taking a more desperate turn, and an unending cacophony of opinionated people screaming into the Facebook void. In “The Last 10 Years,” a series of pieces scattered over these last 30 days, we look back at what happened to try to figure out what comes next.


1. The wrath of Yolanda

The odds were against Eastern Visayas in the first place. Yolanda is one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded with gusts exceeding 305kph at first landfall in Nov. 8, 2013, driving a storm surge, a wall of seawater estimated to be 7.5 metres high. The first major landmass on the Pacific Ocean’s typhoon belt is Tacloban, a city of 240,000 people that sits less than five meters above sea level. It was defenseless against the storm surge as wind and water reached Leyte and Samar, leaving more than 7,360 people dead or missing, and injuring more than 27,000 people. It was the deadliest natural disaster in Philippine history.

The number of casualties could have been lower. Residents were slow to evacuate because of inadequate warnings; many did not understand what a storm surge meant, much more its urgency. Most residents lived in flimsy housing. The city was reduced to rubble, costing around $5.8 billion to rebuild. Relief efforts were slow; a year after Yolanda, thousands still lives in temporary shelters and 4 million people were still displaced.


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Yolanda pointed out the holes in our government’s disaster management, poor infrastructure, and widespread corruption. Civilians banded together to help. We should not have to rely on our famed resiliency alone, but the post-Yolanda scenario nonetheless demonstrated the might of the Filipino spirit.

2. The AlDub phenom 

Love teams are not born, they’re made—but in July 16, 2015, AlDub shattered this long-held practice in Philippine show business when two relatively known young stars were unexpectedly paired up and started a phenomenon.

A portmanteau of actor Alden Richards, who is playing a fictionalized version of himself, and Maine Mendoza as Yaya Dub, who communicates only by Dubsmash (the lip-sync app that made her famous), AlDub began in Eat Bulaga!’s Kalyeserye portion split screen. With Richards in the studio and Mendoza out in the streets, Mendoza broke into genuine, unscripted kilig when Richards flashed a dimpled smile. It began a series of will-they-or-will-they-not episodes as they enacted scenes of traditional Filipino courtship, never meeting, only anticipating. AlDub was a breath of fresh air for viewers who longed for these values in a modern world.

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Alden and Maine in Imagine You and Me.

AlDub reinvented Eat Bulaga!, doubling its viewership to include an unserved market, peaking at 6.2 million on Oct. 24, and also breaking social media records. There was much ado about the Alden and Yaya Dub’s initial screen meeting; it was staged in a sold out event at the 55,000 seater Philippine Arena.

AlDub did not become or pretend to be a real couple as the two pursued different career paths and personal relationships. In March, Mendoza confirmed she is dating actor Arjo Atayde, while Richards starred opposite Star Cinema’s Kathryn Bernardo in Hello, Love, Goodbye in July. The film is now the highest-grossing Philippine film of all time, earning over ₽880 million.


3. Pia Wurtzbach is crowned Miss Universe

Before Pia became Miss Universe 2015, the last time the Philippines got the  crown was in 1973—brought home by Margie Moran. Before Moran was Gloria Diaz who won the first Miss Universe title for the country in 1969.

The Philippines always had pageant fever in the decades in between, even as our contestants blundered the question and answer portion or the evening gown walk on the international stage. But it was Wurtzbach’s victory that made Filipinas believe they could become beauty queens again.

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Miss Philippines Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach (right) reacts as she is crowned the 2015 Miss Universe after a gaffe by the emcee, Steve Harvey, announcing Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez (left) as the winner on Sunday (Monday Manila time) at the 2015 Miss Universe Pageant in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photograph from ABS-CBN News

Her success story is especially inspirational because she did not always emerge as the winner. She joined the Binibining Pilipinas pageant three times before winning the Binibining Pilipinas Universe title. In 2013, she was named 1st Runner-up. In 2014, she made it as far as top 15. She invited flak for even trying the third time around—but it was her past attempts that prepared her for the win. Beauty pageantry has long been denounced as anti-feminist but Wurtzbach’s perseverance has encouraged a new generation of girls to never give up on their dreams.

Last year, model Catriona Gray won the fourth Miss Universe title for the country. Like Wurtzbach, it is also not Gray’s first pageant. She previously competed in Miss World in 2016.


4. Rodrigo Duterte’s rise to presidency 

RRD first made headlines as the mayor who would patrol Davao City while posing as a cab driver. He was also known to have cut down the incidence of crime in that territory. What if he could do to the country what he did to his city? —his supporters speculated aloud, as the May 2016 presidential elections approached.

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President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks before employees at Davao City hall a few days before he assumes office as a Philippine president. Photograph from Reuters

Duterte stood out as a stark contrast to the dignified politician with his manner of speech, throwing in profanities to comedic effect. His brand was that of an everyman whom people feel they could relate to, and that worked in his favor, securing the presidency for the man from Davao with 39.01% of the total votes.  

One of the most polarizing presidents in Philippine history, his strongman rule is now three years in, with whatever progress achieved by his administration overshadowed by the government's war on drugs, his often outrageous rhetoric, and the oft-criticized alliance with China.


5. The surprise hit: Heneral Luna

The 2015 movie Heneral Luna redefined the Filipino blockbuster. Directed by Jerrold Tarog, the cinematic retelling of General Antonio Luna's leadership of the Philippine Revolutionary Army during the Philippine–American War is the grand return of the Filipino action and historical movie, two genres in our cinematic universe drowned out by more lucrative romcoms and slapsticks.

Heneral Luna was so influential it has been argued the movie paved the way for the Duterte administration. John Arcilla’s portrayal of Luna, like the man himself, was loud, profane, and uncompromising. He was captivating, entertaining, and relatable, but he was also violent. Tarog had explained that the objective of the ongoing trilogy is, in fact, the opposite and does not and will not glorify authoritarian rule.

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John Arcilla as the fierce general. Photograph from ABS-CBN News

Heneral Luna’s unique success can be attributed to the social media campaign to put the film back in theaters. More than half of the commercial theaters that premiered the movie on its September 9 opening date pulled it out after less than 5 days due to its lackluster box office performance. This resulted in a clamor to bring the film back in theatres, equal to word of mouth publicity that led to packed cinemas on the film's first weekend. Cinemas decided to screen the film again, with each week’s box office results surging higher than the last. From a budget of ₱80 million, Heneral Luna has earned ₱256 million in the box office, making it the highest-grossing Filipino historical film of all time.


6. The Marcos burial 

The dictator Ferdinand Marcos put the country under martial law from 1972 until 1981. According to Amnesty International, his government caused the deaths of 3,240 people, the imprisonment of 70,000, and the torture of 34,000. During his term, an estimated $10 billion was stolen from the country. Yet in Nov. 18 2016, 27 years after his death, he received a hero’s burial in Libingan ng Mga Bayani, including a procession and a 21-gun salute. 

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The Marcos burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani. Photo from Imee Marcos' Facebook page

The dictator’s remains were secretly flown in by helicopter. Riot police officers stood watch outside, barring protesters and media. Protesters denounced the surreptitious manner the burial was carried out. The Marcos family said it was meant to keep the solemnity of the ceremony. Families of heroes and veterans buried at Libingan cried foul.

Three years after, Marcos’ tomb is a popular attraction in the cemetery with “loyalists” stopping by to take selfies.


7. The Battle of Marawi

The 2016 Davao City bombing and attacks in Butig, Lanao del Sur by radical Islamist group Maute — led by Omar Maute and his family — and the abduction and beheading of Canadian businessman John Ridsdel in April 2016 by the Abu Sayyaf group. The Philippine government under then-president Benigno Aquino III downplayed these events and the threat of pro-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Philippines. Under the new administration of Duterte, terrorist events culminated to a five-month siege of Marawi, the Islamic city in Lanao del Sur, that began May 23, 2017. The Battle of Marawi is the longest urban battle in the modern history of the Philippines.

Marawi, once a bustling city of traders, became an open field for armed confrontation between government security forces and ISIS militants, including the Maute and Abu Sayyaf Salafi jihadist groups, raising the stakes of Islamism beyond the call for autonomy. Even with the help of the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and foreign support from the US, China, Australia, and Israel, the young militant force challenged the military in doctrine and tactics, prompting daily airstrikes that reduced Marawi to ruins.

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A military truck full of government soldiers move past damaged houses and buildings as troops continue their assault on clearing operations against the pro-IS militant group which seized Mapandi district in Marawi, September 13, 2017. Photograph from Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

With the death of Maute and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilo, reportedly killed during hostage rescue operations, Marawi was liberated from terrorists yet recaptured by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Marawi is under martial law until the end of the year.

It forcibly displaced 98 percent of the total population of the city, as well as residents from nearby municipalities. Over two years later, half of the city’s population still live in temporary housing. 24 villages lie within Ground Zero and deemed unsafe for habitation.

State decision-making for Marawi’s rehabilitation has been slow, but finally, there are signs of life going back to normal as reconstruction of public structures begin this month.


8. The arrival of Uber in the Philippines

Before Uber, the Metro Manila commuter’s only other option for a private ride besides one’s own car were taxis. When the American company launched in the Philippines in 2014, it caused a disruption in city living, making up for the city’s lack of reliable public transportation, unsafe streets, and worsening traffic congestion with just a few taps on your phone.

But it’s popularity wasn’t enough to make Uber stay. Even before the Singapore-based ride-hailing app Grab acquired Uber’s Southeast Asian operations in May 2018, Uber faced run-ins with authorities. In August 2017, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) ordered a one-month suspension of Uber’s accreditation, claiming it defied an order against accepting new driver applications. Uber contested against the decision to no avail.

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Photograph from ABS-CBN News

Uber also faced stiff competition with Grab which expanded to Manila only months later in the same year. Operating in a market where the majority do not own a credit card, Uber only accepted in-app credit card payments, while Grab had the advantage of allowing cash payments and charged lower fares. The latter cannot be said about Grab these days as they face overcharging violations by the LTFRB. 

Without Uber around, Grab has a virtual monopoly in the market that may or may not soon be put to an end by the controversial entry of longtime Indonesian competitor GoJek.


9. The RH Bill is signed into law

One of the most divisive measures ever deliberated by our country’s legislators, it took the Reproductive Health Bill 13 years before it was finally turned into a law. Formally known as Republic Act (RA) No. 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, with Albay Representative Edcel Lagman as its main proponent at the House of Representatives, the controversial law was finally signed by President Benigno Aquino III on Dec. 21, 2012. Implemented both by the national and local government, it addresses the lack of a rights-based, health-oriented, and development-driven policy on reproductive health and family planning.

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More than 300 RH advocates hold a picket outside the Philippine Senate to protest the alleged delaying tactics of some senators on the reproductive health (RH) bill. Photograph from ABS-CBN News

But its enactment was simply the beginning. The RH Law brought forward a shift in perspective, an understanding of women’s rights, empowering women to assert full control over their own body.


10. The death of print

News publishing started to pivot towards digital at the beginning of the decade. The monopoly of print titles on readers and advertising dwindled with the boom of online titles, social media influencers, and the editorialization of ecommerce. No small thanks to an entire generation comprised of digital natives.

Glossies took the hit hardest. On April 11, 2018, publisher Summit Media announced that it will close its print titles after 23 years towards a “full digital transformation.” Titles such as Preview and local editions of Esquire and Town and Country became exclusively digital.

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Bluprint is a design and architectural magazine, and is one of the few remaining glossy magazines that exist til now.

The Philippine edition of fashion mag L’Officiel stopped publication August 2017. Three months later, its sister title Rogue printed for the last time. Publishers Edipresse (Tatler), One Mega Group (Mega and Lifestyle Asia), and ABS-CBN (Metro) have expanded to aggressive digital and television counterparts. Yet the magazines section in local bookstores continue to shrink, with some just sharing space with customer service.

The way newsrooms work in leading broadsheets The Philippine Star, The Philippine Daily Inquirer, and Manila Bulletin have changed, often breaking news online or on social media, and then expounding in print. While they are no longer the tomes they once were with fewer ads, newspapers continue to be relevant. A generation of readers have maintained the habit of starting their day with a newspaper, preferring the old way of reading the news.