#Journeyto30 Fallen

Epi Fabonan III - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - In 2015, a lot of things fell into place, some in the “fell clutch of circumstance.” Our recollection is still fresh; its memories still evoke feelings that rip us apart, shock us and, sometimes, fill us with awe and inspiration.

There were those who fell from power. Makati Mayor Junjun Binay, son of Vice President Jejomar Binay, was dismissed in March by the Office of the Ombudsman for the alleged overpricing in the construction of the Makati Parking Building II. In May, the Court of Appeals froze multiple bank accounts belonging to Vice President Binay and his family for allegedly being dummy accounts used for money laundering. The following month, he resigned from President Aquino’s Cabinet. Vice President Binay and his family bore the brunt of the public’s ire over his alleged corrupt practices while mayor of Makati, sending his approval rating plummeting by the third quarter of the year.

Our collective heart also almost fell with the near-execution of overseas Filipino worker Mary Jane Veloso. The domestic worker was arrested in Indonesia for allegedly smuggling more than two kilos of heroin in her luggage. She was sentenced to death in 2010 but was spared by former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yodyohono. With the assumption to office of incumbent President Joko Widodo, Veloso’s death sentence was upheld. Global public clamor over her execution, together with eight other nationals, put pressure on the Indonesian government. At midnight of April 29, Veloso was spared from the death sentence yet again after President Aquino’s final plea for clemency. Even newspapers teetered on the edge, some publishing erroneous headlines that announced Veloso’s death.

The previous year also saw a falling out among members of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC). Allegations of mass kidnappings of ministers and corruption within the INC was revealed to the world in a YouTube video posted by Felix Nathaniel “Angel” Manalo, the brother of current executive minister Eduardo Manalo, and their mother, Cristina “Tenny” Manalo.

When the Department of Justice (DOJ) sought to investigate these allegations, thousands of adherents of the century-old church flocked to the DOJ on Padre Faura Street, and then to EDSA, to protest what they claimed was a violation of the separation of church and state. Their protests met significant public outcry over the traffic it caused along EDSA.

Some government agencies also fell from public favor in 2015. The Bureau of Customs was criticized for several incidents of theft during its manual inspection of balikbayan boxes. The Manila International Airport Authority was also condemned after it allegedly did nothing to prevent a series of bullet-planting incidents at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport that led to complaints of extortion by airline passengers against airport personnel.

Valenzuela City Mayor Rexlon Gatchalian was also in the hot seat after the DOJ recommended the filing of administrative and criminal charges against him and at least 10 others over the massive fire at the Kentex slipper factory that led to 72 fatalities.

Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, meanwhile, received flak for his comment that the daily traffic gridlock in EDSA was “not fatal.”

Indigenous peoples (IPs) in Mindanao, also known as lumads, also fell in the crossfire between the military and Communist rebels in the region. Several lumad groups accused the Armed Forces of the Philippines of recruiting lumads as paramilitary forces and informants against the New People’s Army. A paramilitary group killed Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development executive director Emerico Samarca, community leader Dionel Campos and his cousin Datu Bello Sinzo in Diatagon village, Lianga, Surigao del Sur on Sept. 1.

There were moments too when our nation fell in love and fell to their knees. This predominantly Catholic nation kneeled at the arrival of Pope Francis in January. His visit to the country despite an impending typhoon and in the aftermath of a previous catastrophe amazed us with his humanism, humility and kindheartedness.

During the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit in November, we fell in love with some of the dashing heads of state such as Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto. As the year came to a close, we fell in love with Miss Universe 2015 Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach who ended the country’s 42-year Miss Universe title drought with her controversial win.

But the biggest story that gripped our minds and struck at our hearts in 2015 was the Mamasapano clash in Maguindanao that led to the death of 44 Special Action Force members, 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front members, five Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and seven civilians. The clash fueled simmering tensions in the region and stalled the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which would have led to the creation of an autonomous region seen as a final solution to centuries of conflict in the predominantly Muslim region.

The Philippine STAR captured on its Jan. 30, 2015 front page the moment when the bodies of the 44 slain policemen were brought back to their families in Manila. It was a scene that evoked the anguish of a nation, especially upon learning of the commander-in-chief’s absence at the arrival rites in Villamor Air Base. It is an incident that continues to haunt the Aquino administration and makes the prospect of lasting peace in Mindanao seem elusive once more.

In the fell clutch of circumstance, we have winced and cried aloud. Under the bludgeoning of chance, our heads were bloody but unbowed.

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