The year that was | 2019: The year of shifts, shakes and storms

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The old man looked gaunt, weak in a 13-minute video clip dated 2 April 2019 and uploaded to, among others, the Facebook page of Moises Padilla town.

Part 2 : Mayor Magsie Peña's private talk with CPP-NPA leader Fr.Frank Fernandez. ☆☆Urging Fr. Frank to stop the killings in Negros☆☆

Part 2 : Mayor Magsie Peña's discussion with CPP-NPA leader Fr.Frank Fernandez after he was captured last March 24, 2019 in Laguna☆☆Urging Fr. Frank to stop the killings in Negros☆☆

Posted by Municipality of Moises Padilla on Tuesday, 2 April 2019

He looked like a hiphop artist, a rapper even with a blue bandana wrapped around his head, or a quack doctor.

Until you look at his hands, one was shackled to the hospital bed he and another man with a red shirt were sitting on.

His face showed the weariness of years spent hiding in the bondoocks of Negros where he and armed guerrillas of a rebel group he commands in the island, the New People’s Army as they call it, have been waging a war over the last 50 years.

“You are the spiritual leader of the revolution in Negros, you can call for an end to the fighting,” the man in red told the former priest who goes by the nom de guerre Kanor and Ibay, among many others, since the Communist Party of the Philippines, deployed him as acting secretary of the provisional regional executive committee in Negros.

The man in red was lawyer Magdaleno Peña, then mayor of Moises Padilla town. He was talking to Frank Fernandez, the former priest and acknowledged revolutionary guru in the turbulent island.

Fernandez was arrested on a Sunday, 24 March, in a town called Liliw in Laguna province, more than 800 kilometers away from Negros island where from its mountains, the Army says, he directed a campaign of violence and terror in the countryside.

Ti, bilib ka? Bilib ka? (Are you impressed now? Are you impressed?)” Peña asked Fernandez as he bantered with him inside the room of a military hospital in the metropolitan capital of the Philippines.

The government had a P7.8 million bounty for the arrest of Fernandez who has been accused for a host of crimes, among them the 2007 failed ambush on Peña when he won the mayoral elections in the town of Pulupandan.

A month after Peña’s visit to Fernandez, the controversial mayor lost his re-election bid in Moises Padilla to his niece, Ella Garcia-Yulo.

Yulo had earlier accused Peña as masterminding the April ambush on her convoy.

Her brother and nephew, both incumbent councilors, were killed in the incident.

The changing fortunes of Peña and Fernandez reflected the shakes, literal and otherwise, shifts and storms of 2019, the last year in the second decade of the 21st century.

Amid the backdrop of the Duterte government’s deepening war on drugs which human rights groups call “murderous,” and a mid-term polls, the lot and fortunes of the country and its people ebbed and waned in the 365 days of 2019.

ACOUSTIC WARS

The first half of the year saw significant local events overshadowed by a national debate on the effectiveness of the drug war launched by President Duterte three years ago.

Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (September 7, 2019) --- As President Rodrigo Roa Duterte addressed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front – Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (MILF-BIAF) combatants who underwent the process of decommissioning today, he had a clear message for them: do not lose heart and continue the fight.
Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (September 7, 2019) — As President Rodrigo Roa Duterte addressed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front – Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (MILF-BIAF) combatants who underwent the process of decommissioning today, he had a clear message for them: do not lose heart and continue the fight.

The state anti-drug agency admitted 5,500 were killed while rights groups claimed at least 27,000 people were victims of State-sponsored executions over the past three years since Duterte took to office.

This would later lead to Duterte’s sharp criticisms of Vice President Robredo who he eventually named as co-chair to the inter-agency committee against drugs.

EL NIÑO, ELEKSYON AND TIEMPO MUERTO

As partisans were riveted to the national debate, the run-up to the local elections saw the electorate rooting for their candidates.

Recarido Tajanlangit, whose wife was born to a family of rice farmers, blames the Rice Tarrification Law for the sudden drop in palay prices. | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles
Recarido Tajanlangit, whose wife was born to a family of rice farmers, blames the Rice Tarrification Law for the sudden drop in palay prices. | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

As the El Niño or the extended dry season started and the dead season reached its peak, politics at the provincial level did not reach the same feverish level as the weather.

While the heat made poverty in the countryside and the haciendas much worse, a seeming compromise was reached by rival camps: United Negros Alliance, and LOVE Negros.

UNEGA did not field any official gubernatorial candidate and, except for a lawyer who ran independently, then Vice Governor Eugenio Lacson had an easy walk to the governorship.

His running mate, Jeffrey Ferrer, was unopposed as vice governor, as did three congressional candidates.

As the political excitement grew and the dead season deepened, a conflict was brewing in a corporate boardroom that would eventually spill over to the public realm.

BRGY. DULAO, Bago City - The months ending in "ber," it is long held in Negros Occidental, are supposed to usher in prosperity or, to those working in its vast sugarcane fields, a brief respite from poverty.
BRGY. DULAO, Bago City – The months ending in “ber,” it is long held in Negros Occidental, are supposed to usher in prosperity or, to those working in its vast sugarcane fields, a brief respite from poverty.

INTRA-CORPORATE DISPUTE

On 7 July, a corporate meeting in a plush hotel here signalled the opening of hostilities between two factions of the Yanson family that owns and operates the Ceres bus company, the biggest in the country.

The four siblings, eventually tagged by the media as the Y4 — Roy, Celina, Emily, Ricky — ousted the youngest, Leo Rey, as president.

Passengers make their way to parked buses of the Ceres Liner at the southern terminal in Bacolod City. | Photo by Jose Aaron C. Abinosa
Passengers make their way to parked buses of the Ceres Liner at the southern terminal in Bacolod City. | Photo by Jose Aaron C. Abinosa

From then on, the Y4 was pitted against the “other” Yansons — Leo Rey, Ginette, and the matriarch, Olivia — who were billed as the Y3.

From that day on, the squabbles over the terminals were reported, most of the time live, by local media who were divided into stables: the pro RSY, and pro LRY, with matching budgets to boot, along with the legal panels of both sides.

Buses of the Ceres Liner, the source of wealth of the Yanson empire on wheels. | Photo by Jose Aaron C. Abinosa
Buses of the Ceres Liner, the source of wealth of the Yanson empire on wheels. | Photo by Jose Aaron C. Abinosa

Every sniffle, every heave of Olivia Yanson’s shoulders were reported in detail and the once private family found itself under the glare of public scrutiny.

Even as the Yanson family feud provided an entertaining interlude for Negrosanons, most of whom are hooked to the evening telenovela Probinsyano, another fiesta provided a brief respite as temperatures swirled during the El Nino.

SOME SMALL TOWNS, SOME BIG UPSETS

Among the unusual wins in the 2019 polls happened in two places, one a small town, the other a new city.

In Moises Padilla or Magallon, the seemingly invincible Magdaleno Pena suffered a defeat, losing out to Ella Garcia-Yulo while in Himamaylan City, the political juggernaut Carmencita Bascon who took turns with her son, Tinto, sitting as mayor, lost to Raymund Tongson.

It was the first defeat for the Bascons who seemed headed for another nine years at City Hall.

In Bacolod City, Mayor Evelio Leonardia and Grupo Progreso also made history as they swept local elective positions, winning 14 out of 15 seats from congressman, mayor, vice mayor and councilors.

Councilor Cindy Rojas, standing, second from right, with Mayor Evelio Leonardia, third from right, and Councilor Israel Salanga, standing, right during an activity at the Bacolod Government Center. | Photo from Councilor Cindy Rojas Facebook page.
Councilor Cindy Rojas, standing, second from right, with Mayor Evelio Leonardia, third from right, and Councilor Israel Salanga, standing, right during an activity at the Bacolod Government Center. | Photo from Councilor Cindy Rojas Facebook page.

Cong. Greg Gasataya, Leonardia and Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran also gained historical leads over their opponents.

As unprecedented wins marked the local polls, State security forces also carried out unprecedented arrests of activists in the urban center of Bacolod.

UNPRECEDENTED ARRESTS

It was in the later part of the year that more significant events took place, kicking off on 4 November, on the eve of Cinco De Noviembre, a significant regional holiday.

Police and Army operatives raided the Bacolod offices of Left-affiliated organizations Bayan Muna, National Federation of Sugar Workers and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, and arrested 55 members of these groups.

Authorities eventually charged them for illegal possession of firearms and explosives, based on the recovery of 32 firearms and three grenades, an accusation vehemently denied by Manila-based Leftist leaders.

This single-day arrest of 55 activists was the biggest haul by authorities after President Duterte ordered the termination of talks with the underground Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New People’s Army.

The arrests came months after 17 people were killed over a span of only a week in several areas in Oriental Negros in the month of July.

Those killed included a former mayor, a councilor, a lawyer, and a teacher.

SHOCKING INCIDENTS

The year was waning on 15 December when Robert “Kaishek” Tan was heading home on a Sunday.

BTAO personnel sets up the rope for towing the car of Kaishek Tan. | Photo by Richard D. Meriveles
BTAO personnel sets up the rope for towing the car of Kaishek Tan. | Photo by Richard D. Meriveles

The elder brother of former Councilor Ricardo “Cano” Tan, Kaishek never got to his home in Villamonte village.

Inside Greensville I Subdivision in Estefania village, two men on a motorcycle shot at his car, killing him instantly.

The case is still being probed.

Before the Tan killing, a shocking incident also gripped the city.

All because of a helmet.

The fire brought in other volunteers, like those of DYA Bacolod, an NGO committed in providing rescue service during emergencies. | Photo by Richard D. Meriveles, text by Hannah A. Papasin
The fire brought in other volunteers, like those of DYA Bacolod, an NGO committed in providing rescue service during emergencies. | Photo by Richard D. Meriveles, text by Hannah A. Papasin

Or at least that was how some saw as the spark that led to a fire that gutted an iconic building — Java Pension House, formerly Bascon Hotel — causing six people killed, including the owner, and his son. It took hours for the rescue and firefighting teams to finally subdue the flames, and rescue the stranded guests in a fire that started early morning of 26 November.

FORCE MAJEURE

From Amang to Chedeng to Tisoy and Ursula, 2019 was also inundated by tropical storms, each with varying degrees of devastation. Crops destroyed, lives lost, properties damaged, livelihoods disrupted, streets flooded as rains and winds brought about by weather disturbances struck the country one after the other.

And then came the tremors. Earthquakes shook the archipelago in various degrees of intensity — from the 6.1 quake that hit Luzon to the series of seismic activities in Mindanao.

Did you know that there are more than 2,000 earthquakes that occur in the Philippines every year? | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles
Did you know that there are more than 2,000 earthquakes that occur in the Philippines every year? | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

One of the latest is in Capiz, registering 4.8 magnitude in an area recently hit by Ursula.

Some of these stories will undoubtedly continue into the new year and, like in the years past, the lot and fortune of the Pinoys and the nation shall continue to ebb and flow with the passing of the days.

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