Top Philippines News Stories of 2004


National Elections
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo The Philippines held Presidential, Congressional and local elections on May 10. These took place amid acute social and political tensions, produced by deteriorating economic conditions and attacks on basic democratic rights. Incumbent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won a full six-year term, with a margin of one million votes over her leading opponent, movie actor Fernando Poe, Jr. (see next story.)
The elections saw the implementation of the Absentee Voting Bill, enabling Filipino OFW's (Overseas Foreign Workers) in over 70 countries to vote for the first time. This is also the first election where an incumbent President ran for the same position; under the 1987 Constitution, an elected president cannot run for another term. However, Arroyo was not originally elected President, having succeeded ousted President Joseph Estrada , who was impeached in 2001 on charges of plunder and corruption in 2000. In July, Arroyo unveiled an ambitious 10-point plan aiming to cut the poverty rate by more than half before the President's term ends in 2010. Critics have called her program unrealistic because she hasn't said how she would fund it, especially given the Philippines fiscal crisis (the government is broke.)


"Da King" is Dead
Fernando Poe, Jr.Poe on the campaign trail.
After suffering a massive stroke on December 11th, Fernando Poe Jr. slipped into a coma and died on December 14.
Known simply as "Da King" or by his initials FPJ, Poe dropped out of school at 15 and built a successful movie career and film business. His production company FPJ Productions is said to be one of the biggest in the country. His millions of movie fans worshipped him as the champion of the underdog, a role he perfected on the silver screen.
With no experience in political office and virtually no policies, Poe ran against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the May 2004 presidential race. He positioned his candidacy at the same poor and downtrodden class whom he championed in his movies, promising to deal with the problems of the Philippines' large lower class society. Initially favored to win the election based on his huge popularity, his campaign faltered because he often appeared tongue-tied in public, was reluctant to engage in public speaking, and lacked a coherent political platform.
FPJ funeralTens of thousands attended Poe's Manila funeral.


Typhoon YoyongTyphoon Yoyong
From November 20 to December 2, 2004, the Philippines was battered by a series of four typhoons: Unding, Violeta, Winnie and Yoyong. The storms left a trail of devastation and suffering in their wake: according to a government report, the disaster affected some three million people, including 939 dead, 837 missing and 752 injured persons. Damage to crops, fishing and infrastructure is estimated at 4.69 billion pesos. Around 800,000 evacuees fled their homes which were destroyed by landslides, floodwaters and deadly avalanches. Whole villages were washed away and buried in landslides.
Critics blame massive illegal logging of Philippines forests for exacerbating the effects of the storms. In just one decade between 1990 and 2000, the area of Philippines forests fell by 20%.
Damaged bridge in Quezon ProvinceDamaged bridge in Quezon Province


Is the glass half full or half empty?
On the bright side, the Philippine economy likely grew 6.1 percent in 2004, higher than the government's target of between 4.9 and 5.8 percent, according to Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri. The projection was based on the strong performance of the services and agriculture sectors. Neri said "growth will moderate in 2005 due to lingering effect of high oil prices and deceleration in world growth," according to documents from government agencies detailing the economic performance this year and the outlook for the next.
Conversely, a group of economists at the University of the Philippines has been warning that the Philippines faces an Argentinian-type debt default within the next three years unless drastic steps are taken to improve the nation's finances. The Philippines government debt has more than doubled since the mid-1997 Asian crisis to 3.36 trillion pesos (60.32 billion dollars), or 130 percentof the gross domestic product (GDP.) Defaulting on even the domestic debt would cause "major difficulties and bankruptcies for the domestic banking system" and "ruin millions of depositors," which would lead to "severe economic contraction, causing thousands of bankruptcies and throwing millions onto the streets." The professors said these scenarios "are being fended off only" by the billions of dollars in annual remittances of the Philippines' seven million-strong overseas work force.

GDP: US$310 billion
GDP per capita: US$3,700
Per Capita Income (2003): US$1,005
Annual Growth: 6.1%
Inflation: 4.4%
Major Industries: Electronic and electrical products, textiles
Major Trading Partners: USA, Japan, Taiwan
Currency: Philippines Peso

10 Peso bill

10o Peso bill

500 Peso bill


Crime Wave
dead body It is generally acknowledged that the "law and order" situation here is deteriorating. There are a number of troubling developments:
The general situation in the Philippines with more unsolved robberies and violent crimes of all kinds.
Targeting of journalists: thirteen have been murdered in the Philippines during 2004; a total of 62 have been murdered since the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. After Iraq, the Philippines is now the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.
Here in Cebu, a spate of unsolved robberies and murders led Mayor Tommy Osmena to announce on December 22 the formation of a "Hunter Team" of police sharpshooters who will be offered cash rewards of up to 20,000 Pesos "for anyone who could permanently disable or neutralize criminals." The day after his announcement, a rash of street killings of suspected criminals began. In the past nine days alone, fourteen suspected criminals have been publicly executed, most of them on the street by an unidentified shooter riding a motorcycle. This suggests the birth of a vigilante squad, and it is assumed that police officers are involved (the Mayor's "Hunter Team" has supposedly not yet been activated.) As of December 31, the police say they have no leads in any of the killings, and the mayor has offered no comments. A lawyers' group and some political and church leaders are alarmed, saying the trend may lead to a "breakdown of society."
Imagine that.
masked journalist


Arbet Yongco Death
Arbet YongcoArbet Yongco
Arbet Yongco, the private prosecutor handling the parricide (murder) case against Philippine Benevolent Missionary Association "Divine Master" Ruben Ecleo Jr., was shot dead inside her Cebu City office on October 11. She was a well-known and respected human rights lawyer, volunteer and champion of children and women's rights, and a devoted wife and mother. The prime suspect, Michael Favila Sr., was finally charged on December 22 and is currently in jail awaiting trial. He is presumed to have been acting on orders from Ruben Ecleo, Jr (see next story.)
Michael FavilaMichael Favila


Ecleo Trial Drags on...
Ruben Ecleo Jr. Ruben Ecleo, Jr. is the "Divine Master" of the Philippine Benevolent Missionary Association (PBMA), a cult-like religious organization headquartered in Surigao del Norte. Ecleo stands accused of killing his wife Alona in their house in Cebu City in January 2002. The subsequent two years have seen the following developments:
--In June 2002, 23 of Ecleo's devout followers were killed in a bloody confrontation with police attempting to arrest Ecleo at PBMA headquarters in San Jose Town, Surigao.
--Shortly thereafter, four members of his dead wife's family were massacred by a PBMA "hitman" who was then himself killed by police while attempting to flee the scene.
--Ecleo caused a stir in jail here in Cebu by allegedly bribing jail guards and officials; he was caught with a chainsaw and "lady visitors" in his cell even though such things are expressly forbidden.
--The careers of a Cebu provincial judge and several attorneys were ruined following the setting up of a PBMA member who "confessed" to the original crime, apparently to draw attention away from Ecleo.
--Arbet Yongco, the private prosecutor handling the prosecution against Ecleo, was shot dead three months ago, apparently by prominent member PBMA Michael Favila.
--On December 3, 2004, police intercepted eight battle-ready PBMA members at a checkpoint in Lapu-Lapu City, seizing a variety of high-powered firearms, ammunition, grenades, kevlar body armor, and even police SWAT uniforms; "Enough for a raid on a police camp" according to a police spokesperson. Who were they planning to kill?
--Ecleo is currently out on bail, awaiting trial. He was able to secure bail because a doctor testified that Eceleo's heart was a "ticking time bomb" although since his relase from jail he has reportedly been traveling around the Philippines and enjoying life.
--A local newspaper editorial recently asked, "When can Cebu get peace from Ecleo and company?"


Estrada Trial Drags on...
Speaking of delayed justice........Joseph "Erap" Estrada has been awaiting trial for nearly four years on corruption charges after he was ousted in massive anti-corruption protests in 2001. The 67-year-old former President, who is not allowed to bail, has been held in house arrest at his holiday home in Tanay, Rizal.
A court recently granted Estrada permission to leave the Philippines for knee replacement surgery after a P1-million travel bond for him was posted (He's "promised" to return....) and he is currently in Hong Kong awaiting the surgery. Prosecutors allege that while in office, he amassed about four billion pesos in illegal gambling payoffs, tax kickbacks and commissions stashed in secret bank accounts. Potentially facing execution, Estrada has denied any wrongdoing.
Joseph Estrada


"Mega-Shabu Laboratory" Raided
Mandaue shabu labInside the lab
On September 25 agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Philippine National Police raided a "mega-shabu" laboratory in Mandaue City, Cebu and seized 675 kilograms of high-grade shabu worth P1.3 billion. It is believed to have been the largest shabu laboratory in Southeast Asia. Shabu (methamphetamine) is the preferred drug of choice in the Philippines, according to the Dangerous Drugs Board.
The laboratory was housed in the 'Caps R Us Inc.' warehouse in Umapad Village, Mandaue, not far from the houses of Mayor Mayor Thadeo Ouano and Umapad Barangay Captain Zaldy Lumapas. Both have denied prior knowledge of the warehouse, although Ouano was hauled before a Congressional House committee investigating the scandal. The mayor passed the buck for failure to detect existence of the laboratory to local police and the PDEA. It has been reported that the PDEA intentionally failed to forewarn the local Philippine National Police office of the planned bust because of concern that the operation would be compromised.
The alleged mastermind in the operation, Calvin de Jesus Tan, was arrested by immigration officials in Hong Kong. The Philippines Government has been attempting without success to extradite him to the Philippines for prosecution.
Eleven suspects, eight of whom are Chinese nationals, were arrested at the warehouse and are being held awaiting trial (apparently they haven't been able to come up with enough bribe money to get out of the country yet....)
President Arroyo inside shabu labPresident Arroyo visits


Philippines Population Grows...
1800: 1,561,251
1900: 7,158,000
1950: 20,275,000
1980: 48,098,460
1990: 60,703,206
2000: 79,740,000
2003: 84,619,974
2004: 86,241,697
2025 (projected): 107,073,000


2004 Philippines Asshole of the Year
Pope John Paul II He's not even a Filipino, but he has made his mark here. Pope John Paul II has offered 26 years of unrelenting, authoritarian resistance to birth control and family planning.
While most Asian countries have reduced their birth rates in recent years, the Philippines is growing at 2.36 percent annually, or 1.7 million new births every year, according to the Commission on Population. Observers say the figures represent a massive burden on the Philippines that will undermine any future attempts to shore up the country's beleaguered finances, despite President Arroyo's ambitious pledge to create six million to 10 million jobs during her six-year term in office. Philippine Institute for Development Studies research fellow Aniceto Orbeta says the government can ignore the "population problem only for a while."
For his contribution to misery and suffering, for his assistance in bringing millions of malnourished, stunted and unwanted children with little chance of a happy life into the world, I offer his holiness this richly-deserved award.
Street urchin


Main page of Chris in the Philippines 3