YEARENDER: Stories 2014: Bathos and traffic in the straight path

Juaniyo Arcellana - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - It was the year of lost planes, but closer to home ground the headlines were filled with bathos, as senators were arrested and suspended over a lingering scam, the top presidential wannabe contender got hit from all sides, and even the popular Chief Executive slipped in the ratings as his mantra tuwid na daan ran into traffic and varied road works real and figurative.

The trauma of Yolanda was hardly over, as mere mention of the phrase super typhoon would send residents into a panic and local weather forecasting improved by leaps and bounds, while territorial dispute in the South China Sea was brought before an international court. A new defense agreement between the Philippines and long-time ally United States was signed, even as the murder of a local transgender allegedly by a US serviceman would continue to put relations to a test.

It wasn’t all commonplace fall from grace though, as Manny Pacquiao
began the difficult road to a megamatch with an elusive rival by winning his two bouts while missing Congress, and filmmaker Lav Diaz took home the Grand Leopard prize at the Locarno festival with his “Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon.”

Health issues, however, book-ended the horse year, as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus began its rampage of infection at the outset and putting in peril thousands of overseas Filipino workers in the region. By yearend it was the dreaded Ebola virus that was sweeping West Africa and miles away Filipino authorities were determined to shut the pandemic out, even as the health department was going through a changing of the guard.

What started as mere measure to lessen traffic would later send ripples through the world economy as the Manila truck ban ensured hassle free driving for a few months, only to result in the literal stock up of shipping containers in ports. Drastic steps had to be taken as a Cabinet Cluster for Port Congestion was formed, and trucks returned with a vengeance to grapple for road space on the gridlocked tuwid na daan.

Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. were arrested for pork barrel misuse, and were suspended by the Sandiganbayan from their legislative duties for 90 days as they were thrown into their respective lockups, the police hospital for the 90-year-old Enrile and the custodial center for the other two. The three senators were charged with graft and plunder by the ombudsman for allegedly channeling their Priority Development Assistance Fund through bogus non-organizations and getting their share of commissions in the process.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was signed hours before US President Barack Obama planed in for a visit in April, the document meant to amplify previous agreements such as the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement as instrument for further cooperation, not just defense-related, between the two countries. Its validity was questioned before the courts by two former senators known for their nationalist stance, as well as by the expected left-wing groups.

In what was deemed as signs of disenchantment between coequal branches of government, President Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program – or at least parts of it – was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision last July. The budget secretary reaped the whirlwind for the program meant to stimulate the moribund economy, and resulted in the careful delineation and definition of ‘savings’ in the general appropriations act for next year.

In summer the Philippines finally brought the territorial dispute in the South China Sea before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea through a 400-page memorial contesting the nine-dash line claim of China covering most of the major trade route, including islets and atolls well within Manila’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. China insists that the issue should be tackled bilaterally between Beijing and each rival claimant, though the tribunal is set to rule on it early next year even without a counter-memorial.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, leading contender in the 2016 presidential elections, got the brunt of Senate inquiries and corruption allegations as full-blown hearings in aid of legislation got TV coverage and landed in front pages, as he saw his once formidable survey ratings slip drastically, giving hope and a fighting chance to other presidential wannabes and reluctant upstarts. It was a veritable gang bang, albeit with some truth, as the Fourth Estate tried to level the playing field in the run-up to the elections.

Emergency powers were sought for the President to avert what was deemed a likely power shortage in the summer of 2015, though the move was in the shadow of blackouts of the first Aquino administration still fresh in memory, and fears of the liberties taken by the Ramos administration in the ’90s that allowed independent power producers to charge consumers for unused electricity. Presidential allies were non-committal as they considered the reported power lack as possible kuryente.

The slaying of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in October in Olongapo City allegedly by a US Marine was the first major test for the EDCA, as well overall relations between two longstanding allies. Laude was beaten up and died due to asphyxiation, head dunked into the toilet of a rented motel room. Suspect Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton was issued a warrant of arrest by a local court and remains detained in an air-conditioned container in Camp Aguinaldo, under guard of his compatriots. Senators called for a review of the VFA, while other sectors called for its outright abrogation.

Oil prices continued to fall as gasoline was now below P40 a liter, leading to a reduction of jeepney fares giving commuters and drivers something to cheer about. Environmentalists simply said that fossil fuels were not a sound investment, while consumer groups put forth that lower world crude should translate to lower price of goods to benefit the majority and at last realize the trickle-down effect for those who have less in life. – With Marichu Villanueva


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