January 12-15: ASEAN Summit. The Philippines hosted the 2007 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit here in Cebu.
On the first day of the summit, ASEAN member countries signed five agreements pertaining to continuing integration of ASEAN and enhancing political, economic and social cooperation in the region.
Government officials were greatly relieved that the summit came off without major problems or terrorist incidents. Activists meanwhile criticized the Philippine Government for hypocrisy in spending billions of Pesos on the summit while simultaneously tearing down hundreds of squatter shanties near the ASEAN Summit venue.
January 21: Sinulog Grand Parade. An estimated two million people showed up for the Sinulog Grand Parade in Cebu City, which culminates the annual week-long Sinulog festival. Tribu Sinanduloy (pictured) of Tangub City, Misamis Occidental emerged as the grand champion in the Sinulog-Based category and Streetdance award. Sinulog is one of the biggest parties in the Philippines.
February 11-21: Philip Alston Visit. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston visited the Philippines for 10 days at the invitation of the Philippines government. Mr. Alston's visit was precipitated by a degenerating human rights situation in the Philippines, characterized by increasing numbers of extrajudicial executions, disappearances and incidences of torture.
At the conclusion of his visit, Mr. Alston blamed the Philippine military for many of the killings, saying the military leadership was in "almost total denial" about the issue. A storm of public reaction followed, including criticism of his findings by the AFP leadership and agreement by opposition groups who claim to have been targeted by a campaign of military repression.
See my essay on Human Rights in the Philippines.
February 19: Human Security Act. The Philippines Congress passed the Human Security Act, described as an anti-terror law. President Arroyo hailed the bill as a "potent weapon" to shield the country from the "global scourge" of terrorism. Critics of the law fear Mrs. Arroyo - already facing criticism over hundreds of extra-judicial killings in the country - will use the law to curb civil liberties and to crack down on her political adversaries. Some label the legislation as a de facto declaration of martial law
March 16: Satur Ocampo arrested. Bayan Muna Congressional Representative Satur Ocampo was arrested by Philippine National Police and charged with 15 counts of murder, allegedly committed during a purge of suspected "spies and counter-revolutionaries" within the ranks of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People's Army (NPA) between 1985 and 1991. The Congressman claims that he was imprisoned by Ferdinand Marcos during the time of the killings; and that his arrest is politically-motivated pre-election harassment by the Arroyo Administration to prevent him from campaigning for his party, Bayan Muna, in the upcoming national elections.
Ocampo was released on bail on March 3 and was able to participate in the campaign leading up to the May 14 elections. The Government seems to have dropped the legal campaign against him.
March 26: PPT verdict. The Permanent People's Tribunal, a forum of lawyers and human rights activists meeting in The Hague, found the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo responsible for unsolved killings and disappearances in the Philippines. Allies of the Arroyo Administration branded the verdict as black propaganda.
April 28: Jonas Burgos abducted. Agricultural activist Jonas Burgos was kidnapped by armed men from a restaurant inside a Quezon City mall. His family traced the license plate of the car used by the abductors to an Army base in Bulacan. The AFP claims he was a member of the New People's Army but deny any involvement of the military in his abduction. Rather, the military says that Burgos was abducted by the Revolutionary Proletariat Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade, a breakaway group of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Several military intelligence egents have commented off the record to journalists that "all the evidence gathered in the Burgos case so far points to the military." Seven months later Mr. Burgos is still missing, and the military and police deny any knowledge of his whereabouts.
April 21: ZTE-NBN telecommunications project contract signed. The 329 million dollar contract between the Philippine Government and Chinese Telecom giant ZTE aims to connect government agencies throughout the Philippines through the Internet. The contract was signed in Boao, China, during a time when the government was not allowed to sign contracts because of the upcoming national elections. The contract became controversial for alleged overpricing, an anomalous bidding process, and being of questionable necessity (see September stories, below.)
May 14: 2007 Election. The Philippines held national and local elections. At stake were half the seats in the Senate, all the seats in the House of Representatives, and thousands of provincial and municipal positions. As usual, the elections were marred by high levels of pre- and post- election violence: 126 people were killed and 148 others wounded by election-related violence.
In the Senate, the Administration's Team Unity (TU) slate suffered a devastating defeat with the Genuine Opposition (GO) ticket winning seven of ten available seats. The winners included "bad boy" Antonio Trillanes IV who was a leader of the failed 2003 Oakwood Mutiny which tried to overthrow the Government.
In the House of Representatives, Arroyo’s ruling coalition strengthened its grip by winning between 88 and 90 percent of the total congressional districts.
In Cebu, incumbent Mayor Thomas Osmeña, Governor Gwendolyn Garcia and Vice Governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr., all easily won easy re-election.
May 31: Philippines-Australia SOFA. A bilateral Status of Visiting Forces Agreement was signed by Australia and the Philippines during President Arroyo's visit to Australia.
If passed by the Philippine Senate, it will eventually see Australian troops engaged in military exercises in the Philippines. The government characterized the agreement as increasing security cooperation between the two nations against transnational crimes and terrorism. Activists said the entry and deployment of Australian troops in Philippine territory would violate the national sovereignty of the Filipino people.
June 8: Gwen-Tommy War in Cebu. On June 8, chronic bickering between Cebu Provincial Governor Gwen Garcia and Cebu City Mayor Tommy Osmeña erupted into 'open war' when the Province sent a demand letter to the Mayor giving him 15 days to turn over city-occupied Fuente Osmeña Park to the Province. The Governor also claimed ownership of the Cebu Zoo, and had the Province block access on the popular Larsian BBQ road. Mayor Tommy responded by attempting to oust the Provincial Government from a portion of the South Bus Terminal.
What initially started as a disagreement over a failed land swap deal, escalated into a fight over territory and who has more political clout in Cebu. As in most wars, the 'little people' pay the price with a reported 5,000 urban poor families standing to be evicted from Province-owned lots as a result of the ongoing battle.
June 10: Bossi Kidnapping. Italian Father Giancarlo Bossi was kidnapped at gunpoint by Muslim rebels in in Zamboanga Sibugay province, Mindanao. Fourteen government soldiers were killed in July while searching for the priest (see story below). He was eventually released on July 20 by his kidnappers. Father Bossi said he had been told upon his abduction that his kidnappers were with Abu Sayyaf, a notorious Islamic extremist group known to have ties with al-Qaeda. But the Philippine military said it believed rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the main Muslim separatist group in the southern Philippines, to be behind the kidnapping.
June 15: Mayong Auxillo killed. A single assailant shot and critically wounded Bayan Muna-Bohol secretary general Mario "Mayong" Auxillo at the public market of Bien Unido town in Bohol. Mayong died three days later in hosital. Activists believed that the killing was ordered by the military because of Auxillo's active role in organizing farmers and fishermen to oppose "destructive government-initiated projects" in Bohol province, such as the oil exploration project in the Bohol-Cebu Strait. Col. Jessie Dellosa, commander of the Army's 302nd Brigade based in Bohol, dismissed the accusation, claiming the gunman was an ally of Auxillo and that the motive was a personal grudge. Mayong was reportedly a well-loved local activist.
July 1: PNP detain Bedol. The Philippine National Police arrested Maguindanao election officer Lintang Bedol so they could bring him to Manila to appear before the Commission on Elections (Comelec.) The Commission had issued the arrest warrant for Bedol owing to his repeated failure to heed the poll body's summons so he could explain reports of rampant cheating in Maguindanao and the loss of the municipal certificates of canvass (COCs) from the province. Following a brief appearance in Manila, Bedol was then released.
It seemed obvious that Bedol would not be severely punished, because he had been an effective hatchet man for the Arroyo Administration: following failure of an initial, transparent attempt to declare the Senatorial votes in the heavily anti-Administration province as being "100% pro-Administration", he was able to make such a complete mess of things that the government ultimately had to declare a "Failure of election" in the entire province.
July 10: 14 Marines killed. Fourteen Marines were killed and nine wounded following an ambush by Muslim insurgents in Tipo Tipo town on the southern island of Basilan. Ten of the fatalities were later beheaded. The seven-vehicle military convoy was passing through Albarka town on its way back to barracks in Lamitan City after a fruitless search for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi. Three of the vehicles carrying 50 soldiers were attacked by about 400 MILF rebels. The MILF meanwhile said the Marines had attacked an MILF stronghold and rebel forces fought back; they admit it was their troops that clashed with government forces, but denied beheading 10 of the 14 Marines who died in the encounter.
President Arroyo and the AFP leadership vowed to punish those responsible for the beheadings.
July 16-17: Supreme Court-sponsored Human Rights Summit.
Chief Justice Reynato Puno convened a remarkable two-day "National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances - Searching for Solutions." The meeting brought together about 250 representatives from the executive and legislative departments, including the AFP and PNP, as well as the Commission on Human Rights, media, academe, civil society and other interested stakeholders; in search of solutions to the epidemic of summary executions and enforced disappearance that has hounded the nation since 2001.
The most significant outcome of the summit was Justice Puno's declaration of the legal conception of the Philippine Writ of Amaro (Spanish for 'protection'), which would bar military officers in judicial proceedings from issuing denial answers regarding petitions on disappearances or extrajudicial executions, which had been legally permitted in Habeas corpus proceedings. Puno summarized the writ: "In other words, if you have this right, it would be very, very difficult for State agents, State authorities to be able to escape from their culpability."
August 9: 20 more soldiers killed. At least nine Army soldiers were killed and two were wounded in an ambush by Muslim insurgents near the town of Maimbung on Sulu Island. One of the wounded later died.
In a nearby gun battle later in the day, 10 more soldiers were killed.
August 18: 15 Marines killed. Fifteen Marines and an estimated 30 Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed, while nine other government troopers were wounded in a fierce encounter on Basilan Island.
Aug 28: Joma Sison Arrested. Self-exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison was arrested in the Netherlands on charges of being involved in murders of former political associates in the Philippines. Sison is the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its military wing, the New People's Army (NPA). He has been living in Utrecht, Netherlands since 1987. According to the Dutch national prosecutor's office, Sison was suspected of giving orders, from the Netherlands, to murder his former political associates in the Philippines, Romulo Kintanar and Arturo Tabara. The Arroyo Administration welcomed the news of Sison's arrest as a "giant step toward peace." Sison was subsequently released on September 13 after a Dutch court found insufficient evidence to hold him on murder charges.
The Arroyo administration has been negotiating intermittently with the CPP in European countries.
September 8: ZTE-NBN Blow-up. The simmering scandal over the ZTE-NBN deal got much bigger when Jose "Joey" de Venecia III said that Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. tried to bribe him with 10 million dollars to back out from bidding on the NBN project in favor of ZTE, a telecommunications company to which Abalos is apparently connected. The story mushroomed further when in direct Philippine Senate testimony, Venecia named First Gentleman Mike Arroyo as having told him to "Back off" from bidding the contract. His testimony threated to bring down the Arroyo Administration; Malacanang Palce shifted into high gear to contain the explosive scandal.
September 12: Estrada verdict. Following a five-year trial, former President Joseph Estrada was convicted of massive plunder by the Sandiganbayan graft/corruption court. The court found him guilty for having accepted P545 million in protection money from illegal gambling ("jueteng"), and for collecting a P189.7-million personal commission from sale of shares of Belle Corp., after he 'ordered' the Government Service Insurance System and the Social Security System to buy Belle Corp. shares. The crimes are punishable by reclusion perpetua (lifetime imprisonment.) The decision was hailed as a landmark; it is the first time in the country's history that a former president has been held accountable for crimes s/he committed while in office.
October 11: Malacañang bribery scam. In a meeting at Malacañang Palace, administration staff alledgedly distributed envelopes containing P200,000 to P500,000 to local officials and congressmen, in exchange for their support of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo against another impeachment attempt at the House of Representatives.
October 25: Estrada pardon. Six weeks after his conviction for massive corruption, Joseph Estrada was granted a full pardon by President Arroyo. Prosecutors in Estrada's corruption trial who had struggled for six years to get the conviction reacted with livid anger, as did much of the political opposition. The pardon was clearly linked more to President Arroyo's political survival than to an interest in serving justice; it is assumed the two politicos cut a deal whereby in exchange for the pardon Estrada would agree to end his participation in Arroyo impeachment drives.
The day after acknowledging his guilt by accepting the pardon, Estrada insisted that he was innocent of the charges. “I may have committed mistakes in my career in public service, but I assure you corruption is not one of them,” Estrada said at San Juan City Hall to the cheers of some 3,000 supporters who welcomed him home.
Only in da Pilipines.
October 19: Glorietta Mall blast. An explosion at the Glorietta shopping complex in Makati killed eleven persons and injured more than 100. It was initially assumed that the blast was a terrorist incident caused by a bomb. The ensuing investigation has been characterized by turf fights amongst participating agencies and there is as yet no consensus about the cause of the explosion.
1. An accumulation of methane gas in the building's septic tanks and/or other combustible materials in the basement;
2. Explosion of an LPG tank in an in-mall restaurant.
October 29: Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections.
A barangay is the smallest local government unit in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village, district or ward. A barangay is led and governed by its barangay officials. The Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) is the youth legislature in every local village or community, which works with the Barangay Council.
These elections are supposed to be held every two years, but had been already been delayed by Congress five times before this election actually occurred. As expected, the elections were attended by massive confusion and disorganization on the part of COMELEC. Incidents of violence were much more sparse than during the May Congressional national elections.
November 2: Mariannet Amper suicide. A 12-year-old Filipina girl, who became despondent over her family's poverty, hanged herself inside their makeshift house a day after her father told her he could not give her the P100 she needed for a school project. The case became a minor cause celebre in the Philippines, on account of the seemingly intractable problem of endemic poverty in the country.
November 13: Batasang Bombing. A bomb exploded at the House of Representatives (Batasang Pambansa) in Quezon City. The blast killed Basilan Representative Wahab Akbar, one of his aides, the driver of another lawmaker and a member of the staff of yet another solon.
Police publicly suspected that the bomb was directed at the Congressman by his political enemies in the restive Southern province.
November 13: Manny Pacquiao honored by the WBC as Champ Emeritus during its 45th Annual World Convention held at the Manila Hotel. He presently holds the WBC International super featherweight title.
In the May elections, Pacquiao ran for a congressional seat to represent the 1st district of South Cotabato, but was defeated by Darlene Antonino-Custodio. Custodio had 139,061 votes while Pacquiao received 75,908 votes.
On October 6, Manny fought a rematch with Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera in Las Vegas. Pacquiao defeated Barrera by a wide easy unanimous decision.
November 29: Makati Standoff. Detained Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Brigadier General Danilo D. Lim, and 25 other Magdalo officers walked out of their trial and marched through the streets of Makati City. The mutineers called for the ousting of President Arroyo and seized the second floor of the Manila Peninsula Hotel along Ayala Avenue.
Former Vice-President Teofisto Guingona, Jr. joined the march to the hotel, as did some of the soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines. After several hours, Trillanes and Lim surrendered to government forces after several military armored personnel carriers had barged into the lobby of the hotel. Trillanes and the mutineers were arrested while several journalists that covered the event were detained. The journalists were subsequently released.
December 3: Karapatan 2007 Rights Report. In its yearend report, Karapatan (Alliance for the Advance of People's Rights) said there had been 68 extrajudicial killings this year compared to last year's 209. According to the group, this year's killings brought the total of lives lost, mostly of leftist activists, to 887 since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001. Aside from victims of extrajudicial killings, Karapatan also recorded this year 35 victims of political killings; 26 victims of enforced or involuntary disappearance; 8 victims of abduction; 29 victims of torture; 129 victims of illegal arrest; 116 victims of illegal detention; 330 victims of threat, harassment and intimidation; 7,542 victims of forcible evacuation or displacement, and 3,600 victims of "hamletting." Karapatan credits the drop to international pressure and the continued clamor for justice by the people. The military says that Karapatan is a Communist Party-controlled front group and grossly exaggerates the numbers of victims.
December 5: Gloria gets the gold. Spain's University of Alcala de Henares conferred upon visiting President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the Medalla de Oro, lauding her as a champion of human rights. According to Philippine Ambassador to Spain Joseph Bernardo, the award may be compared to the United States Congressional Gold Medal. He said it is the most prestigious and highest award that may be conferred by the university to visiting heads of state.
Well... somebody in Spain seems to have a bizarre sense of humor.
December 10: Outstanding MPA. The Handumon marine sanctuary in Bohol was adjudged "the most outstanding marine protected area (MPA) in the country" by the MPA Support Network (MSN), a multisectoral alliance of organizations seeking to protect the marine environment. The 50-hectare Handumon marine sanctuary is part of a large barrier reef in the waters of Bohol, teeming with fish, seashells and thick mangroves, according to the MSN. The sanctuary was established in 1995, by seaweed farmers and fishers who, years earlier, had set up their Kapunungan sa Nagkahiusang Mananagat ug Lumulupyo sa Handumon (Kanagmaluhan) to protect the area from poachers and illegal fishers and reverse the dwindling trend in the fish population. The sanctuary is particularly known for the seahorses which now thrive there.
December 12: Most corrupt. A nationwide survey by independent pollster Pulse Asia found that 42% of Filipinos believe President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the most corrupt leader in Philippine history. Gloria edged out Ferdinand Marcos who was picked by 35% of respondents, and Joseph Estrada who garnered 16% support.
December 14: MNLF/MILF Agreement. Following a meeting in Manila, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has agreed to start unity talks with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The MNLF was organized by Nur Misuari in the 1970s with the intention of creating an independent "Moro Nation". To achieve this goal, the group initiated rebel activities, leading to the Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines. The MILF broke away from the MNLF in the 1980s due to the MNLF's reluctance to launch an insurgency against the Philippine military, and MNLF movement towards a peace agreement.
Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military affairs chief, said while the MILF and the MNLF agreed to work together, there was no agreement to merge the two forces into one Moro group. Kabalu said leaders of the two groups also agreed on a timetable to finally bring peace to war-ravaged Mindanao.
The MNLF reached a "Final Peace Agreement" with the government in 1996. The MILF is currently talking peace with the government and expects to sign a final peace agreement with the government before the regional elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in August 2008.