2015: Year of the change up

Juaniyo Arcellana - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - In baseball, hardly the Filipino’s favorite sport, a change up is a deliberately slow pitch meant to throw off the batter’s timing.

The sequence of events in 2015 and banner stories, those that literally hogged the headlines, can attest to the wild mood swings and unpredictable developments, be they in the realm of politics, sports or beauty pageants.

If there was mercy and compassion, there was also manhid and palpak. A review of the news that most preoccupied the readers, what you might perhaps call top stories, as they lined up at the MRT or got stranded somewhere, would reveal serial change-ups ranging from cussing popes to botched counterterror operations, the ongoing cariño brutal with China and how it is to be confidently beautiful.

The papal visit in January was one for the books, and expectedly left Catholic Philippines in rapture. Pope Francis has certainly been one of the more likeable, affable popes within living memory, brimming with theological wisdom and everyman humility, and his visit to storm tossed Tacloban amid a sea of yellow raincoats to commiserate with the Yolanda victims was epic in scope and character, though one volunteer died after being hit by a collapsing sound system scaffolding. On the Sunday he said mass at Rizal Park, there was a wall of faithful numbering a record 6 million that prevented commuters from going to the other side of town. Mercy and compassion filled the hordes as the pope boarded his plane carrying a simple brief case after condoling with the families of the dead.

Barely had the country recovered from extreme religiosity when the Mamasapano tragedy occurred in a corn field of Maguindanao, 44 Special Action Force men killed in an encounter with Muslim rebels and paramilitary elements following an operation that neutralized the terrorist Marwan, and also left dead 18 rebels and five civilians. Oplan Exodus appeared to be a tipping point for the current administration, made even more reprehensible because the national police OIC and the interior secretary were left out of the loop, and the Chief Executive wasn’t around when the flag- draped coffins arrived in Manila. After proceedings of a special board of inquiry, the President had to let go of his old friend the suspended police chief for command irresponsibility, even as the SAF director who led his men to slaughter for a terrorist’s finger filed late in the year his certificate of candidacy for senator.

Late in April OFW Mary Jane Veloso was saved from Indonesian gallows at the 11th hour, beneficiary of a reprieve from President Joko Widodo after Malacañang burned the lines in a frantic bid to stave off death, as other traffickers were sent off one by one. New developments in the case of the convicted drug mule earned her a stay of execution, as her recruiter surrendered or was caught by operatives in the home country, leading to a shadow of doubt that there was malicious intent in her carrying the heroin into Indonesia, thus making her a possible victim of circumstance and poverty. Veloso still languishes in jail in the country hit for its insistence on capital punishment, though executions have been reportedly put on hold as Joko fixes the economy.

In May what was billed as the fight of the century turned out to be a megadud of glorified sparring, the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. bout that USA Today described as “a waste of time and money.” The fight was long overdue with the boxers well past their primes, but sadly could not measure up to the hype. In Vegas the bookies never run out of tricks, though Pacman himself has seen fit to coach a professional basketball team and play some minutes too in the PBA. His opponent for a projected last fight still hangs, even as he has cast a moist bruised eye at the Senate.

There was trouble in the Iglesia ni Cristo in July, as executive minister Eduardo Manalo expelled his mother and at least two siblings from the church for conduct allegedly detrimental to the religious group. There were accusations and counter accusations of abduction, forced detention and blog exposés that put the INC in the crosshairs of public opinion and into coffee shop fodder. The controversy in the more than hundred-year-old sect stirred up the old issue of separation of church and state, as trapos curried favor with the group whose demonstrations of indignation stalled traffic from Faura to Shaw.

Maneuverings and realpolitik rhetoric between Manila and Beijing wound up in the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague, which assumed jurisdiction over the Philippines’ protest over China’s 9-dash line claiming most of the South China Sea that encroached on exclusive economic zones of other sovereign states. Though the Philippines may have won the initial rounds in the UN court, China was a no-show at the hearings and continued to build and fortify its structures in reclaimed reefs.

What was to be the legacy of the outgoing administration, the Bangsamoro Basic Law faced rough sailing in Congress in the aftermath of Mamasapano, as lawmakers questioned the constitutionality of some 20 provisions and if consultations really were inclusive. With the amendments and rewrite after having gone through Senate wringer, the proposed law was said to be hardly recognizable from the one crafted by the government and Moro negotiating panels. Time is running out on the BBL in the present Congress.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit in Manila last November involved traffic rerouting and lockdowns, no-fly zones in airports forcing more than a thousand canceled flights and brisk exercise for commuters who had to walk kilometers under sun and rain due to security protocol and military-style hamletting, all for the sake of million-dollar investment pledges and the chance for the country to shine on the world stage, if the press releases are to be believed.

2016 being a presidential election year, the filing of certificates of candidacy in October was attended by the usual pomp and pageantry at Commission on Elections offices, from the legitimate contenders to the downright weird. Sen. Grace Poe faced a slew of disqualification cases with a Supreme Court ruling due in January; Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte fondly swore at the pope for causing traffic and promised weekly public executions if he wins; Vice President Jejomar Binay continued to lurk dangerously near the leaderboard of surveys despite marathon corruption allegations as Liberal Party bet Mar Roxas steadily played catch up, while Sen. Miriam Santiago consistently topped campus mock polls.

There were fewer than average storms in 2015, but the strongest was Lando (Koppu) that made landfall in Casiguran, Quezon in mid-October, with winds of 185 kilometers per hour, and after wreaking havoc the death toll reached dozens and damage placed at billions of pesos, with a state of calamity declared in Aurora, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan and Quirino, stoking the nightmare that was Yolanda two years ago.

Filipina-German Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach was declared Miss Universe in a roundabout way in Vegas after a gaffe by the emcee almost overshadowed the winner’s story herself, the country’s third after Gloria Diaz and Margie Moran, a fitting Christmas gift for Filipinos after another rollercoaster year.


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