2018 Yearender: Nation - Critics under fire, allies on the rise


Posted at Dec 28 2018 11:58 AM

From ousting a chief justice and chasing an opposition senator to shutting down the country's top tourist spot, 2018 proved to an incredible year in Philippine politics and government, both for allies and critics of the Duterte administration.

Here some of the year's biggest news:

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In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court in May this year ousted Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice via a grant of a "quo warranto" petition initiated by the government's top lawyer, Solicitor General Jose Calida.

Sereno, the first woman to hold the top post in the judiciary, was removed due to her failure to fully disclose her wealth when she applied for the Supreme Court's top post in 2012.

She has been critical of the Duterte administration.

Sereno was replaced by Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, among those who voted for her ouster. She served as top magistrate for 41 days, the shortest in Philippine history.

De Castro was succeeded by Lucas Bersamin, who promised a "new beginning" as he took over the leadership of the judiciary.

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News


Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo returned to the political limelight this year in the most dramatic way possible: a nationally televised House coup hours before President Rodrigo Duterte's third State of the Nation Address in July.

Arroyo secured the 4th most powerful position in the land with her election as House Speaker. She replaced Davao del Norte 1st District Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, a staunch Duterte ally who was ousted with the support of the President's daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

Currently, Arroyo is facing criticism that her chamber is railroading the passage of a draft federal charter which removes term limits for lawmakers and the ban on political dynasties.

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News


Boracay Island, the Philippines' top tourist destination, was ordered closed in April for a six-month rehabilitation after President Rodrigo Duterte lamented how its once pristine waters turned into "cesspools" - a reference to the island's sewage woes. 

Some 36,000 workers on the island were affected after several establishments were ordered shut for violating regulations, while tourists were barred from entering the island as government widened roads and cleaned the waters surrounding Boracay.

The shutdown led to a loss of about P56 billion in tourism revenues. Boracay accounts for nearly 20 percent of the Philippines' total tourism receipts.

The island was reopened to the public on Oct. 26, surprising many vacationers at how it has morphed into a quiet island that will likely shed its party-paradise image. 

To keep the island clean and orderly, government is implementing new rules, banning parties, dining and fire dancing along the beach.

Several portions of the island were also distributed to indigenous tribes after Duterte declared the "new Boracay" as a land reform area.

Photo by Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News


Wanda Teo in May stepped down as tourism chief after state auditors flagged the alleged lack of contract and possible conflict of interest in her agency’s P60-million ad placement in the television program of her brothers, Erwin and Ben Tulfo. 

The siblings insisted that the transaction was aboveboard, with Ben saying that he would not return the ad fee.

Senators mounted a legislative inquiry into the incident and how the Department of Tourism spends its funds for ads.

Photo by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News


About a month after President Rodrigo Duterte vowed that his anti-narcotics crackdown would be as “relentless” and “chilling” as the way it started, authorities in August discovered in Cavite four empty magnetic lifters suspected to have contained P11 billion worth of shabu that allegedly slipped past Customs inspections.
The lifters were found in the same week that P4.3 billion worth of shabu were seized inside 2 similar containers at the Manila port. 

The twin incidents triggered Senate and House probes that looked into the possible collusion of some government employees with narcotics smugglers.

Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña, who initially denied but later admitted the possible presence of narcotics in the Cavite lifters, was promoted to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority at the height of the controversy. 

Photo: ABS-CBN News


Tens of thousands of passengers, including overseas Filipino workers and holidaymakers traveling ahead of a long weekend, were stranded at the country’s main airport after its runway was blocked by a Xiamen Airlines plane that ripped off its left engine during a bumpy landing on August 16. 

All 157 passengers and 8 crew of the Boeing 737-800 aircraft did not suffer serious injuries, but rains softened the ground around the plane, delaying its removal from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport's main runway for 2 days, crippling flight operations.

Xiamen and other airlines brought in recovery flights allegedly without seeking clearance, cramming departure halls with passengers and hampering the resumption of normal operations.

The mayhem triggered separate congressional probes and renewed calls for the modernization of the country’s airports.

Photo by David Salvan, ABS-CBN News


Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut), the world’s strongest storm in 2018, ripped through Luzon in mid-September, unleashing floods and landslides that killed at least 95, majority of them in the mining town of Itogon, Benguet. 

The storm also swamped farmlands just weeks away from harvest, leaving some P26.7 billion worth of damage in crops and livestock. 

But as the country reeled from the destructive typhoon, monsoon rains days later triggered a landslide in Naga City, Cebu, home to a quarry site. 

At least 78 bodies were pulled from mounds of boulders and soil by rescuers and relatives, some with their bare hands and shovels.

The twin tragedies uprooted thousands of families from their homes, which were declared unsafe by the government.

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News


In September, President Rodrigo Duterte invalidated the amnesty earlier granted his most vocal critic Senator Antonio Trillanes IV over 2 failed military uprisings in 2003 and 2007.

The move revived civil and military proceedings against the former rebel soldier, who is also facing libel charges filed by the President's son Paolo.

Aside from these, Trillanes is also facing 2 separate inciting to sedition cases for allegedly sowing hatred against the President.

Trillanes is out on bail on a rebellion charge that stemmed from the takeover of the Manila Peninsula Hotel in 2007. Another court that heard a coup d'etat case over an earlier hotel siege in 2003 refused to order his arrest.

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News


The jackpot prize for the state-run Ultra Lotto soared to an all-time high of P1.18 billion this year after bettors failed to guess the winning combination for 7 months. 

A nurse from Albay province and a bettor from Borongan, Samar eventually won and split the pot money in October with the combination 40 50 37 25 01 45. 

The previous highest lotto jackpot at P741.2 million was won by a balikbayan from New York in 2010.

Photo by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News


President Rodrigo Duterte made headlines in the Philippines and abroad after he skipped at least six meetings during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Singapore in November to catch up on sleep.

The 73-year-old President, the oldest in history to hold the Philippines' top post, drew flak for missing several key events at the regional meeting including dialogues with Australia and South Korea, a lunch meeting with ASEAN host and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and the summit's culminating gala dinner.

Shortly after the ASEAN events, Duterte and his Cabinet flew to Papua New Guinea to participate in this year's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. 

The President was further criticized for campaigning for several senatorial candidates on the sidelines of the event, and for cutting his APEC trip short to return to his hometown, Davao City.

Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha, AFP


The Sandiganbayan in November found Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos guilty of graft for using her Cabinet position to illegally maintain Swiss bank accounts during the dictatorial regime of her late husband Ferdinand Marcos. 

The former first lady was sentenced to imprisonment of 6 years and 1 month to 11 years. She was also perpetually disqualified from public office.

The 89-year-old Marcos remains free, however, after posting a bail of P150,000 as she appeals her graft conviction. 

She also posted a separate P150,000 bond after the anti-graft court noted inconsistencies in her reasons for missing the promulgation of her case. 

Marcos earlier insisted that she was not informed of the scheduled promulgation, but also said that she was unable to attend due to health issues, the Sandiganbayan said. 

Following her conviction, the elder Marcos withdrew her bid to replace her daughter Imee as governor in the 2019 elections. Her grandson, Ilocos Norte board member Matthew Marcos Manotoc, has taken her place as gubernatorial candidate.

Photo by Mark demayo, ABS-CBN News


Former Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. in early December walked free after four years in detention when the Sandiganbayan cleared him of plunder for allegedly embezzling P224 million in discretionary funds when he was still a lawmaker. 

The anti-graft court convicted the fund diversion racket's mastermind Janet Lim Napoles and Revilla's former aide, Richard Cambe, and ordered the accused to "solidarily" return P124.5 million in public funds.

Despite his acquittal, Revilla is still facing 16 counts of graft, for which he posted a P480,000 bail. 

The former action star, who has vowed to clear his family name, is seeking a Senate comeback in the May 2019 midterm polls.

Photo by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News


Three church bells looted during the Filipino-American War were returned by the United to their hometown in Balangiga, Eastern Samar this December after decades of urging by the Philippine government. 

US troops seized the bronze bells as trophies in 1901, after razing Balangiga and killing potentially thousands of Filipinos, in retaliation for a sneak attack that left 48 of their comrades dead. 

Two of the bells were displayed in the US state of Wyoming while the third was at an American base in South Korea. 

Duterte in 2017 bluntly called on Washington to return the bells, saying “They are not yours.” 

The bells’ repatriation became possible with a confluence of factors earlier this year, including a US veterans’ group dropping its opposition. 

One of the 3 bells on December 16 rang in its first Simbang Gabi in 117 years.

Photo by Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News