January 3: Janjan medical scandal. Doctors at Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City removed a spray canister from a gay man's rectum. The operation was then posted on YouTube, causing a national scandal; the video showed doctors, nurses and nursing students laughing, jeering, and cheering before and after the perfume canister was removed from the patient's rectum.
"Janjan" (an alias) sought P6 million in damages from the medical team. The surgeon and nurses were temporarily placed on administrative suspension, but then later were allowed to return to work without penalties.
The scandal brought ridicule to the Philippine medical establishment which in recent years has been attempting to market the country as a medical tourism destination.
January 9: Two die in Black Nazarene feast. In Quiapo, Manila, the number of devotees joining the annual procession swelled to a reported 2.6 million along the 4.7-km route. Two people died and around 50 injured devotees were rushed to 2 hospitals and a makeshift clinic of the Philippine National Red Cross for first aid treatment, as the procession proceeded.
The Black Nazarene is a life-sized, dark-colored, wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ held to be miraculous by its devotees. Its original carver was an anonymous Aztec carpenter, and the image was transported by galleon from Mexico. For more than 200 years, the statue has been placed on a gilded carriage every January 9th and pulled through the streets of Quiapo by male devotees clad in maroon. People who have touched the Nazarene are reported to have sometimes been healed of their diseases.
January 11: P1 billion Erap assets discovered. The anti-graft court have found over P1 billion worth of suspected assets of pardoned former President Joseph Estrada placed in a trust account with Equitable PCI Bank, which is now known as Banco de Oro-EPCI, Inc. The money is being eyed for forfeiture in favor of the government for allegedly being part of the ill-gotten wealth of Estrada, who in September last year was convicted of plunder by the Sandiganbayan Special Division. He was shortly thereafter pardoned by President Arroyo, but the court-awarded claim on his ill-gotten wealth is still in force.
February 4: Ipil, Sulu massacre. A military operation which the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) says was conducted to free two local residents kidnapped by suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen, resulted in the killing of eight persons, including two children and a pregnant woman. Survivors called the incident in Ipil, Maimburg, Sulu, a massacre in which soldiers burned down houes and indiscriminately fired upon villagers. Some survivors claim to have seen US soldiers during the raid: Sandrawina Wahid, whose vacationing soldier-husband was among those killed in the operation, told reporters in Sulu on Tuesday that she saw four US soldiers when the Filipino troops stormed the village. The AFP and American Embassy denied the presence of US soldiers during the operation, citing laws which prohibit US troops from participating in combat operations.
Subsequently, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said it was not able to file charges against military troopers allegedly involved in the massacre. The CHR reported that the filing of the case was bungled after the families of the eight massacre victims accepted a financial settlement from the military.
February 8: Jun Lozada testifies in Senate. Former Philippine Forest Corp. president Rodolfo Noel "Jun" Lozada Jr., an IT expert who allegedly knew how the NBN-ZTE telecommunications contract was overpriced, gave explosive testimony before the Philippine Senate. His claims:
- Comelec Director Benjamin Abalos had wanted a kickback of $130 million, with $70 million meant for First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.
- Abalos had threatened to have him killed if he failed to deliver $130 million in kickbacks on the government contrac.
- When he quit the project in January 2007, it was priced at $262 million, but when finally approved in March 2007 the cost had already mushroomed to $329.5 million.
- He did not know the people who took him from the airport, but Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza had ordered him to be fetched from the airport.
- He had been forced to sign statements to make it appear he had requested police security upon his arrival at the airport (he subsequently claimed to have been kidnapped.)
February 29: Makati rally. More than 50,000 people gathered at the heart of Makati’s central business district for an interfaith prayer rally, most of them demanding President Arroyo’s resignation following damning allegations of corruption over the aborted NBN-ZTE Project. Attendees included former Presidents Corazon Aquino and Joseph Estrada, former Vice-President Teofisto Guingona, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, and Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani.
March 25: M'Lang residents selling kidneys . Ten M'lang, North Cotabato residents report that they sold have sold their kidneys to some buyers in Davao City. The payments and operations were allegedly done in a private hospital in the city. It is said that kidney donors are paid P200,000 plus a 10-year PhilHealth membership and one year free check-up at the private hospital at the expense of the kidney recipient. "If the government will give us money then we will stop selling our kidneys. But since they can’t, we’ll continue with the practice," a resident identified only as Vilma was quoted as saying. However, the Department of Health (DOH) in Southern Mindanao denied receiving any reports that kidneys are being sold in Davao City, or in any other part of the region contrary to the claims.
March 6: Nursing student killed for cellphone. Two men on a motorcycle shot and killed a Cebu nursing student in a cellphone robbery. The victim, Ruby Jade Ruba, 20, was reportedly texting on her cellphone as she waited on a near-empty street in barangay Capitol Site, Cebu City. Two men on a red motorcycle arrived and a classic roadside holdup unfolded: one man got off the back seat and aimed a gun at her.
She tried to move away. A single shot of a .38 caliber revolver pierced her wrist and chest. Her cellphone was grabbed. She was taken to a nearby hospital by a security guard but was decalred dead on arrival.
She was three weeks away from graduating as a nurse. The cellphone was reportedly worth P5000.
March 17: Sumilao farmers set foot on reclaimed land. The exodus of 55 Sumilao farmers ended Sunday when they entered the 144-hectare land of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) for the first time after struggling for more than 12 years to own it.
In 2007, the farmers had spent two months marching 1,700 kilometers from Mindanao to Manila to petition the government to stop the conversion of the land they are claiming into a hog farm. In December, President Arroyo revoked the conversion order on the disputed 144-hectare lot, resulting in return of the land ownership to the 55 members of the Higaonon tribe.
March 24: Cory Aquino has colon cancer. The Aquino family announced that former President Corazon Auino had been diagnosed with colon cancer. Following the announcement, Aquino underwent chemotherapy, and in public remarks on May 13, she announced that blood tests indicated she was responding positively to the treatment.
A self-proclaimed "plain housewife", Aquino is the widow of Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., a leading figure in the political opposition against the autocratic rule of President Ferdinand Marcos. She ruled as President of the Philippines from 1986 to 1992 following the People Power uprising which removed Marcos from power.
April: Rice crisis. A global rice shortage triggered a severe rice crisis in the Philippines, as average prices of rice rose P10 to P15 per kilogram since the rice shortage hit in January. Rice which cost P25-P30 per kilogram in 2007 now goes for P35-P45 in Manila and P45-P51 in Mindanao. The media carried sensational stories about rice smuggling, and the government deployed police and military to crack down on rice hoarders. Meanwhile, activists warned of the risk of food riots. The government announced plans to import up to 2.7 million tons in 2008 even as prices soared to near-historic levels amistd tight global supplies. Rice is the most important food commodity in the Philippines, and the rice crisis pushed many more Filipino families into poverty.
April 8: Makati mutineers sentenced. The Makati City Regional Trial Court sentenced two junior Army officers to life in prison for their part in a failed coup against President Arroyo in 2003, while seven other officers were given jail terms of up to 12 years. Army captains Gerardo Gambala and Milo Maestrocampo, who were among several leaders, stood silently and showed no emotion as the sentence was handed down by Judge Oscar Pimentel. Captains Alvin Ebreo, Laurence Louis Somera, Albert Baloloy and John Andres, 1st Lt. Florentino Somera, 2nd Lt. Kristoffer Bryan Yasay and 1st Lt. Cleo Dongga, meanwhile, were sentenced to prision mayor or from six to 12 years imprisonment. The nine were among 31 officers who changed their plea to guilty last week after earlier denying the mutiny charges. It was unclear why they changed their plea, but press reports have suggested they may have entered into a deal with government. Other accused are continuing to argue their case in court.
April 13: Bomb rips Zamboanga Cathedral. A powerful explosion ripped through the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in the southern port city of Zamboanga. Another bomb exploded near a Zamboanga bank. The explosions caused no injuries, but revived fears of terrorism in the area.
A caretaker at the cathedral reportedly saw three men entering the church premises before the first explosion occurred. They were then seen leaving on a motorcycle that headed towards downtown Zamboanga, where the second blast happened. The caretaker said he heard the men talk in Tausug, a dialect spoken in Jolo, which is a known bailiwick of the Abu Sayyaf.
May 12: Nationwide Transport Strike. A nationwide transport strike led by a militant driver's group failed to totally paralyze the flow of traffic in key cities in the country. However the militant driver's group, Pinag-isang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytors Nationwide (Piston), claimed the transport strike was a success. Piston and other militant groups were protesting soaring fuel prices and demanded for the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law and the 12 percent expanded value-added (VAT) on petroleum products as ways to control the surge of oil prices.
May 16: Laguna Bank robbery. Ten people at a RCBC (Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation) branch in Laguna were killed during a bank robbery. Nine of the victims died on the scene and one died later at a hospital. Laguna police chief Felipe Rojas said it was the worst bank robbery in Philippine history. The victims were apparently lined up and shot in the head. The shooter(s) may have used a silencer, since no residents in the area had heard any gunshots.
On May 22, members of the Philippine National Police Task Force RCBC went to Tanauan City and killed men who it was claimed were suspects in the robbery. Witnesses to the killings claimed it was a rubout not a shootout; Commission on Human Rights chairperson Leila de Lima said they have at least 10 first-hand eye witnesses who claimed that three of the suspects had already held up their hands but policemen still shoved them to the ground and shot them. At least two law enforcement officers have been linked to the bloody May 16 robbery-massacre.
June 8: Ces Drilon kidnapping.. ABS-CBN television journalist Ces Drilon was kidnapped and held for ransom for nine days after being abducted together with ABS-CBN cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderrama while in Sulu. The Drilon team had been invited by Professor Octavio Dinampo, an academic at Mindanao State University in Sulu. They were reportedly abducted by al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants including Albader Parad, an Abu Sayyaf leader, and Gapur Jundain, former member of the Moro National Liberation Front. The victims were released on June 17 following negotiations with Philippine security and government officials.
On June 20, Octavio Dinampo claimed that Mayor Alvarez Isnaji, who negotiated the release, had pocketed much of the "first" ransom of P5 million ($112,500 US). Isnaji's lawyer, Ernesto Francisco, however, said his clients were innocent and were being prosecuted for political reasons.
On July 5, ABS-CBN punished Drilon with three months suspension as news anchor of Bandila and as Senior Correspondent, for disobeying orders not to go to Indanan, Sulu (violation of Standards and Ethics Manual). Earlier, Drilon apologized "for unwittingly endangering lives."
June 21: MV Princess of the Stars sinks. The ship, flagship of the Sulpicio Lines fleet, capsized off the coast of San Fernando, Romblon at the height of Typhoon Fengshen which passed directly over Romblon Island as a Category 2 storm. Sulpicio reported 864 passengers listed on the ship's manifest; of these, 56 survived the tragedy, 350 bodies were recovered and at least 500 missing were allegedly trapped inside the capsized vessel.
The company has a poor safety record: on December 20, 1987, Sulpicio's MV Doña Paz figured in the worst maritime disaster during peace time wherein 4,375 people died when the ship struck an oil tanker (M/T Vector) in the Philippines. Altogether its vessels have figured in four major maritime disasters, killing a total of more than 5,300 passengers and crew members over the past 21 years.
June 29: Manny KOs Diaz. . Manny Pacquiao became the first Asian boxer to win major titles in four weights, knocking out David Diaz in the ninth round of their WBC lightweight bout yesterday. After starting his career 13 years ago as a flyweight, Pacquiao (47-3-2, 35 KOs) has evolved into a dominant fighter in five divisions. His lightweight debut was every bit as action-packed as his long history of brawls at lower weights - and like most of his opponents, Diaz (34-2-1) couldn't match Pac-Man's ferocious pace.
"I feel much, much stronger and more powerful at 135," said Pacquiao. "This is where I plan to stay. I did real well. I was really surprised it wasn't stopped sooner."
July 9: Jeepney fare increase. Fares for all public utility vehicles nationwide were increased in response to surging fuel costs. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) board approved the fare increases of public utility jeepneys for the first four kilometers from the base of P7.50 up to P8.50. For ordinary buses, the increase would be P1 for the first five kilometers on top of the existing P9 minimum fare for a new total of P10. Air-conditioned buses had fare increases 20 percent higher than the new rates for ordinary buses.
Pump prices have increased 18 times for a total of 35 percent since January.
July 14: Court of Appeals issues decision in MERALCO-GSIS case. The Court of Appeals Eighth Division ruled that the Security and Exchange Commission had no jurisdiction over a decision to stop the counting of proxy votes at the annual stockholders’ meeting of the Manila Electric Co., or Meralco, on May 27. The case stems from attempts by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) to take control of the Lopez family-controlled MERALCO (Manila Electric Company) board of directors. MERALCO is the Philippines' largest distributor of electrical power.
Later, the Supreme Court agreed to look into the matter, based on "irregularities" in the case such as Court of Appeals division having conducted "no prior deliberations" on the case before releasing its decision. (See continuation of this story below: Court of Appeals Justice dismissed).
July 27: GRP, MILF reach agreement on ancestral domain. The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) initialed a long-awaited draft Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain aspect (MOA-AD) peace agreement in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. According to Camilo Miguel Montesa, policy adviser of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), under the agreement the Philippine government agreed to:
- Recognize the Bangsamoro people as "distinct from the rest of the national communities";
- Grant the Bangsamoro people their own "distinct territory";
- Grant the Bangsamoro pople their own "government"; and,
- Concede international recognition to the Bangsamoro people.
The parties agreed to an official signing ceremony for the document on August 5 in Kuala Lumpur.
August 4: Supreme Court blocks MOA-AD. One day before the GRP and MILF were scheduled to sign the Memorandum of Agreement - Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in Kuala Lumpur, the Supreme Court of the Philippines issued a temporary restraining order (TRO), preventing the Government from signing the agreement. The Court thus accepted motions by two southern provincial governments (led by Christians) that objected to the extended boundaries for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao envisioned in the peace deal.
August 4: Mindanao fighting breaks out. In direct response to the Supreme Court's TRO against the MOA-AD, large scale fighting broke out in Mindanao between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and rogue MILF rebels. Conflict grew expecially intense in North Cotabato Province, where 1000 MILF rebels under the command of Umbra Kato seized control of thirty five villages. 2000 Philippine troops with helicopters and artillery were sent to the seized area on August 9th to liberate it from the rebels. The rebel troops were ordered to leave the area by their commanders but the contingents under Kato refused to leave the villages they had occupied and instead dug in. The Philippine army responded with bombardments and attempts to retake the villages. On August 12, it was reported that 130,000 villagers were fleeing the fighting in North Cotabato, creating a huge humanitarian disaster.
The MILF had wanted North Cotabato to be included in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The government and MILF had been negotiating for the inclusion of the province in the Muslim Autonomous Region but the Supreme Court had struck down the proposal after hearing concern from local Christian leaders in the region.
Months later, President Arroyo formally disavowed the MOA, saying that her administration "cannot be forced to sign a deal on an expanded Bangsamoro homeland at gunpoint” and that henceforth, peace negotiations would be based on “demobilization, disarmament, and rehabilitation.” The MILF responded that this would be tatamount to surrender.
At the height of the fighting in August, approximately 700,000 people were affected. By December the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported that almost all of the 185,000 refugees staying in DSWD evacuation centers had returned to their own homes.
September 4: Supreme Court affirms Neri's executive privilege. In a 9-6 split decision, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of former socio-economic planning secretary Romulo Neri's September 2007 invocation of executive privilege in refusing to divulge his conversations with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regarding the botched National Broadband Network (NBN) telecommunications project. The decision ended the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee's attempt to compel Neri to reveal what many believe are secret details about the President's involvement in the deal.
When he testified before the Senate Committee in 2007, Neri had disclosed that then Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos, brokering for ZTE, had offered him P200 million in exchange for his approval of the NBN Project. He had further narrated that he informed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo about the bribery attempt and that she instructed him not to accept the bribe. However, when probed further on his discussion with the President about the NBN Project, he had refused to answer, invoking “executive privilege.” In particular, he had refused to answer:
1. Whether or not the President followed up the NBN Project;
2. Whether or not she directed him to prioritize it;
3. Whether or not she directed him to approve it.
September 9: Court of Appeals Justice dismissed in bribery case.
In a 12-1 decision, the Supreme Court dismissed Associate Justice Vicente Q. Roxas for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct, and penalized four other justices in the GSIS-Meralco bribery controversy at the Court of Appeals. In a 58-page per curiam decision, the high court dismissed Roxas because of his "undue interest" in the Manila Electric Company's case against the Government Service Insurance System. At the same time, the high tribunal said Roxas failed to rule on several motions, including a motion for his inhibition before issuing a ruling that voided the Securities and Exchange Commission order stopping Meralco from including proxy votes in its board elections on May 27.
In the same case, the Supreme Court also ruled that:
- Judge Jose L. Sabio, Jr. be suspended for two months after he was found guilty of simple misconduct and conduct unbecoming of a justice of the CA;
- Judge Conrado M. Vasquez, Jr. be severely reprimanded “for his failure to act promptly and decisively in order to avert the incidence that damaged the image of the Court of Appeals”;
- Judge Bienvenido L. Reyes was found guilty of simple misconduct with mitigating circumstance;
- Judge Myrna Dymarana-Vidal, was found guilty of conduct unbecoming of a court justice for being “too compliant" when she allowed herself to sign the July 14 decision without reading the parties’ memorandum.
September 17: Court of Appeals orders AFP to free two missing UP students, man. In a landmark ruling, the Court of Appeals directed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to free two University of the Philippines students and a man abducted and missing since 2006. Farmer Raymond Manalo, who earlier escaped from his military captors, convinced the court that Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeño and Manuel Merino are under military custody. The court granted the writ of amparo and writ of habeas corpus petitions filed by Cadapan and Empeño's mothers, Erlinda and Concepcion, and ordered the three missing persons' release. The appellate court said "There is now a clear and credible evidence that the three missing persons are being detained in military camps and bases under the 7th Infantry Division. Being not held for a lawful cause, they should be immediately released from detention."
On Ocober 14, in a followup to the court decision, a human rights investigating team including anthropologists found pieces of burnt human bone at the site where Manalo said he saw farmer Manuel Merino being burned by soldiers in June 2007.
October 8: JPEPA Ratified. The Senate, by a vote of 16-4, ratified the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) that will allow Filipino nurses and caregivers to work in Japan. The treaty had been signed by President Arroyo and then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Helsinki in September 2006. While JPEPA is an "economic" agreement and one of the main purposes is to reduce barriers to products like bananas, it also aims to facilitate the movement of human beings, in particular, Filipino nurses and caregivers to Japan. Upon ratification, 400 Filipino nurses and 600 caregivers are to be allowed to undergo training in Japan for the next years under the JPEPA scheme. There was significant public opposition to the agreement in the Philippines by migrant groups, trade unions, NGOs and the Philippine Nurses Association, in part because during the JPEPA negotiations the Philippine government did not consult with those stakeholders, whereas the Japanese government fully took into consideration the opinion of the Japanese Nursing Association.
October 11: Euro General Scandal. Former Philippine National Police comptroller Eliseo Dela Paz was held overnight by Russian Customs officials at Moscow International Airport for carrying 105,000 Euros (P6.9 million) caught in his possession as he was returning home. This is above the $3,000 outbound limit allowed under Russian law. Asked to explain the large amount of cash he was carrying, Dela Paz described the cash as a "contingency fund" for any calamitites that might arise during the meeting. Dela Paz was with a group of eight PNP officers and their wives attending the 77th Interpol Assembly in Russia. The discovery of the cash caused an uproar on several counts, including the prior existence of Presidential Administrative Order 103, which had suspended all foreign travel as part of government "austerity measures", and discovery that the entire funding for the trip had been done without authority from PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa. The initial Senate foreign relations committee investigation of the incident found the PNP delegation guilty of malversation of funds, money-laundering, graft and violation of banking laws and a travel ban. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, refused to accept the PNP officials’ differing explanations for the money, saying she believed the money was “shopping money” the police officials had extorted from Chinese-Filipino businessmen.
October 13: Fourth Impeachment motion filed. In what has become an annual rite, a new 97-page impeachment complaint was filed against President Arroyo at the House of Representatives with the required endorsements by Party list Representatives Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casiño and Liza Maza. The complaint accuses Arroyo of corruption, extra-judicial killings, torture and illegal arrests. The impeachment further raised the issues on "national broadband network agreement with China, human rights violations, the Northrail project, the Mt. Diwalwal project, fertilizer fund scam, alleged bribery of members of the House, the swine scam under the Rural Credit Guarantee Corporation, and 2004 electoral fraud."
Previous impeachment attempts in 2005, 2006 and 2007 failed due to inability to get the required endorsement of 1/3 of House members for transmittal to and trial by the Senate. The President still controls the House and so this new impeachment complaint was expected to share the same fate.
October 14: Supreme Court final ruling against the MOA-AD.
In a follow-up to its August issuance of a TRO, the Court, by a highly divided vote of 8-7, declared "contrary to law and the Constitution" the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain Aspect (MOA-AD) of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001. The 89-page decision ruled: "In sum, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process committed grave abuse of discretion when he failed to carry out the pertinent consultation process, as mandated by EO No. 3, RA 7160, and RA 8371. The furtive process by which the MOA-AD was designed and crafted runs contrary to and in excess of the legal authority, and amounts to a whimsical, capricious, oppressive, arbitrary and despotic exercise thereof. It illustrates a gross evasion of positive duty and a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined."
October 15: Recall petition against Governor Panlilio. A formal recall petition against Pampanga Governor Eddie "Among Ed" Panlilio for loss of confidence was filed with the Commission on Elections. Petitioners delivered 168 boxes containing 224,875 voters' signatures from 20 Pampanga towns and San Fernando City. In response, Panlilio moved to dismiss the recall petition.
Panlilio was elected governor in 2007. Panlilio defends his controversial decision to pursue a political role as a logical continuation of his ministry for the poor, whom he sees as having been exploited and neglected for too long by successive administrations of corrupt and uncaring politicians. On January 13, 2008, Panilio was named the Philippine Daily Inquirer "Filipino of the Year 2007." His tenure as governor has elicited significant resistance. Pampanga has a long history of patronage politics and corruption, with a reputation of being the country's "Vatican of jueteng" or illegal gambling.
October 17: Mayor Tommy cancer surgery. Cebu City Mayor Thomas Osmeña had surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to remove an egg-sized malignant tumor from his bladder. Following the surgery, Osmeña returned to Cebu for a brief visit to attend to problems with his pet project, the South Road Properties (SRP) sale. Then he returned to the US for further treatment, including a planned second surgery to remove his entire bladder and an extended course of chemotherapy in Texas.
The mayor's trips to the US for extensive medical treatment are notable considering his announced intention to sell the Cebu City Medical Center (CCMC), the only hospital in Cebu which provides free or low-cost treatment to city residents too poor to afford private hospitals. The Mayor has been upset because the facility fails to turn a profit, and he has had ongoing disagreements with the medical director. Mayor Osmeña says he plans to return to Cebu in 2009 to resume Mayoral duties; Vice-Mayor Michael Rama has meanwhile been filling in as acting Mayor.
October 25: NPA rebels spring prisoners. 30 New People's Army rebels disguised as drug enforcement officials infiltrated the Quezon Provincial Jail, overpowered the guards and freed seven of their comrades being held for murder and other crimes. The rebels quickly disarmed the four jail guards on duty, confined them in one place, continued to open the cells and shouted, "Lahat ng mga political prisoners d'yan, sumama na sa amin! [All political prisoners, come with us]." Following the breakout, four stolen vans carrying the rebels and the rescued inmates fled toward different directions.
October 28: Joc-joc Bolante arrested. Former Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-joc" Bolante was arrested by the Philippine Senate as he arrived back in the Philippines from the USA. Bolante has been a fugitive in America since 2005, when he was charged in the Philippines with graft in connection with the 2004 "Fertizilizer fund scam." Bolante had just been deported by the US; his arrest by Senate officers was expected to compel him to testify in long-delayed Senate hearings on the fertilizer scam. He is the alleged architect of the fertilizer fund scam involving the purpoted transfer of P728 million of funds for farming implements (ike fertilizer and pesticide) to the campaign kitty of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the 2004 elections.
October 28: Bishops slam government. Leaders of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a statement slamming massive government corruption and urged the public to help overhaul President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's graft-ridden administration. The criticism issued by CBCP president Angel Lagdameo (pictured), along with Archbishop Oscar Cruz and Bishops Joel Baylon, Socrates Villegas and Emeritus Jose Sorra, was one of their strongest yet against Arroyo's administration, but it stopped short of urging her to step down. They called on the faithful to start preparing for a new government.
Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez Sr. said the CBCP president treaded on thin ice by uttering seditious statements by calling on the laity to take communal action in preparing for a new government. "Strictly speaking, those are seditious (statements)," he told reporters covering the Justice Department. President Arroyo, who has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and vowed to eliminate corruption, has survived three impeachment bids over allegations of corruption. She also has survived at least four coup plots in her tumultuous years in office.
November 11: MV Princess body search ends . The search for bodies aboard MV princess of the Stars has come to an end with the retrieval of 199 additional bodies. The total body count has been raised to 513.. "We are really trying to figure out scientifically where the bodies are. I personally saw how thorough the entire search was. Maybe they are at the deeper area of the vessel, but they (retrieval team) really checked in the deep areas (of the vessel)," said Bautista. More than 300 passengers believed killed in the disaster are still missing.
November 12: Foreign Lawyers, Judges See No Visible Results. An eight-member delegation from the Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation, visiting the country from November 3-12, concluded that the measures supposedly implemented by the Philippine government to address the issue of extrajudicial killings have not led to visible results. This was part of the initial findings of the L4L’s International Verification and Fact-Finding Mission (IVFFM) on the Attacks against Lawyers and Judges. The IVFFM team met with representatives of various government agencies, including the Philippine National Police and Task Force Usig, with 19 lawyers and judges who have been under threats of attack, and relatives of slain lawyers and judges.
Based on the monitoring and documentation of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL), 22 lawyers have been killed since 2001 and 15 judges killed since 1999. Dutch attorney Judith Lichtenberg, head of the mission, said “Apparently only one person has been convicted for these killings and that was in 2006. So impunity still seems to exist.... In the cases we investigated in 2006, little or no progress has been made so far.” She said further, “The willingness to investigate serious allegations of involvement of state agents in these killings is still lacking among government authorities concerned.”
November 13: Bolante pulls a Garci. Former Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-joc" Bolante finally apeared before the Philippine Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigating the P728-million fertilizer fund scam. The witness denied that President Arroyo had been involved in the controversial funding allocation, eliciting immediate disbelief from the interrogating senators: "That's unbelievable," responded Senator Mar Roxas. “Let’s say the President was not involved in the anomaly. But that she did not know such a big amount of money has been released is truly unbelievable."
Pundits were impressed by Bolante's unwavering loyalty to President Arroyo: in nine hours of grilling by his tormentors at the Senate hearing, he refused to link her with the scam. Inquirer columnist Ramon Tulfo said "Bolante would make an excellent member of the Mafia that follows the vow of omerta or silence."
(In 2005, former COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio "Garci" Garcillano appeared before Congressional inquiries and denied having colluded with President Arroyo to rig the 2004 national elections.)
November 15: De la Paz takes fall in Euro General mess. Eliseo de la Paz on Saturday declared he was the only one to blame for the Moscow fund mess and that he was willing to go to prison for his mistake.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said De La Paz’s refusal to tell the truth and reveal the role of his superiors in the fund mess was a blow to the country’s efforts to get rid of corruption.
November 24-25: House listens to Impeachment complaints. In sworn testimony before the House of Representatives Justice Committee conducting hearings on impeachment complaints against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, seven endorsers of the impeachment complaint presented a “recital of facts.”
- Pangasinan Rep. and former House Speaker Jose De Venecia, who implicated the President in several controversial topics. First, he pointed to Arroyo as being behind the purported bribery of congressmen and governors by P500,000 in October 2007: "During that meeting in Malacañang, many were given P500,000 cash in bags." He also linked Arroyo to the allegedly anomalous NBN contract: De Venecia said it was First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo who had proposed to the President to approve the NBN contract with China's ZTE Corp. by drafting a government-to-government contract instead of coursing it through the required build-operate-transfer scheme. De Venecia also said Arroyo and some of her officials have "a lot explaining to do" on why the North Rail project has yet to begin four years after her government signed an agreement with China.
- Bukidnon Representative Teofisto Guingona III presented evidence on the alleged electoral fraud in the 2004 election. He read the alleged conversations in the "Hello Garci" recordings between Arroyo and former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.
- Representative Teodoro Casiño of Bayan Muna partylist who said the government's contract with China for the P503-million North Rail project violated several laws but the President did not terminate the contract. Casiño cited a Supreme Court ruling, which said that the "acts of secretaries, unless disapproved or reprobated, were presumptively the acts of the President." He said the North Rail project with China, signed in 2004, was without the prior concurrence of the Monetary Board, as required by law. It also did not pass through competitive bidding because the project was claimed to be an executive agreement. A Makati court in 2007 ruled that the contract did not comply with the government's auditing code and was grossly overpriced.
- Gabriela partylist Representative Luz Ilagan talked about the allegedly anomalous mining contract in Compostela Valley, which she said was a betrayal of public trust because it sold the country's gold reserve in Mt. Diwalwal to China's ZTE Corp. under terms of agreement that were allegedly grossly disadvantageous to the country's interests.
- Representative Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis partylist discussed the 2004 P728-million fertilizer fund, used to boost the presidential bid of Arroyo. He said the President had a hand on who would receive the funds. "The farmers claimed that the P728 million was used for the candidacy of Mrs. Arroyo and not for rice and corn" Mariano said. He said Malacañang used the former undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante at the Department of Agriculture to facilitate the transfer of funds from the department to its recipients.
- Gabriela partylist Representative Liza Maza, also spoke on the alleged bribery of House members and local officials by the Arroyo administration.
- Bayan Muna partylist Representative Satur Ocampo spoke on human rights violations and enforced disappearances.
On November 26 the House Justice Committee, which is controlled by Administration loyalists, declared the complaint “insufficient in substance” by a vote of 42-8. On December 3, the full House voted 183-21 to reject the impeachment complaint.
November 28: First Gentleman said blocking land reform. First Gentleman Mike Arroyo is being blamed by various groups for the continuing delay in the distribution of Arroyo family lands and for growing restiveness of farmer-beneficiaries in Negros Occidental. "The First Gentleman is becoming the symbol of landowner resistance to CARP [Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program]," said Pastor Emmanuel Alano, convener and spokesman of the Bacolod City-based multi-sector group Negros CARP Reform Movement (NCRM). Alano commented after Quezon City policemen arrested 30 farmers who were seeking the distribution of the 157-hectare Hacienda Bacan, owned by the Arroyo family in Barangay Guintubhan, Isabela, Negros Occidental.
The case is reminiscient of then-President Cory Aquino's Presidential decree in 1986 declaring the family-owned Hacienda Luisita, the second largest landholding in the Philippines, as exempt from CARP.
December 3: 590,000 Filipinos at risk of losing jobs. Speaking at Senate hearings for the 2009 budget, Senator Edgardo Angara warned that 590,000 of the 5.1 million overseas Filipino workers were "at risk of losing their jobs" due to the global recession. These include 129,000 in the US under temporary working visas, particularly those in hotels, casinos as well as agricultural workers; 48,000 seafarers in cruise ships; 268,000 factory workers in South Korea, Taiwan and Macau; 130,000 household service workers in Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong, according to the senator, chair of the Senate finance committee. "Of this number, 50,000 to 100,00 are losing their jobs now," he said. Angara said the shifting of the government’s spending priorities in the proposed 2009 budget "sends a clear signal that we are girding for a coming storm." He claimed the government is targeting its 2009 spending at basic infrastructure, education and health, housing and environment.
December 3: Talks collapse with CPP/NPA. Informal talks between the Government of the Philippines (GRP) and the Communist Party of the Philippines and its 5,000-member New People's Army (NPA) collapsed after the rebels rejected a general ceasefire. The GRP had asked for a general ceaefire as a preconditon of further talks, but the guerrillas called a ceasefire tantamount to surrender. Nevertheless, the government announced that it will declare a unilateral suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) against the NPA for the Christmas holidays, a holiday truce. A few days later, continuing the verbal war against the rebels, a government statement said that "during a 10-month period from January 1 to October 31, 2008, the NPA conducted 94 summary killings of innocent civilians they perceived as pro-government."
December 4: RP 'most dangerous' for radiomen. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called the Philippines the "most dangerous country in Asia-Pacific for radio broadcasters" and demanded an explanation from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for what it called "her government's lack of protection for journalists." The organization also called for justice for the murder of Leo Luna Mila, 35, a commentator of Radyo Natin. Mila was shot dead by unknown gunmen December 2 in San Roque town, Northern Samar. He was the seventh journalist -- and the fifth broadcaster -- killed this year and the 62nd to be murdered under Arroyo's seven-year administration, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), an IFJ affiliate. "The death toll for journalists [under Arroyo] is the worst under any administration in the Philippines' history, including the regime of Ferdinand Marcos," IFJ Asia-Pacific said. Last November 17, another Radyo Natin broadcaster, Arceio Padrigeo, was shot dead in the province of Misamis Oriental.
December 5: 16 killed in Parañaque shootout. Gunmen armed with automatic weapons and grenades fired on Philippine police officers who were tailing them, leaving 16 people dead in a fierce shootout. Officers were following suspected members of a robbery gang when the gunmen sensed the surveillance and opened fire, triggering the gunfight in suburban Paranaque city. A witness said the gunmen, some armed with M-16 rifles fitted with grenade launchers, thought they had been cornered and fired at everyone in sight. "When they found out they were being trailed ... they went berserk," he said. "They fired all around, including at a flammable tanker beside a warehouse." Killed during the shootout were nine robbery suspects, four civilian bystanders, a barangay watchman, a private security guard and a member of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force.
December 7: Pacquiao stuns De La Hoya. Filipino ring hero Manny Pacquiao continued to validate his status as the world's top pound-for-pound fighter when he defied the odds in knocking out six-division world champion Oscar "Golden Boy" De La Hoya in their welterweight Dream Match at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. There was no knockdown but a relentless Pacquiao gave the Mexican De La Hoya all that he could handle, before De La Hoya called it quits at the end of the eighth round, prompting referee Tony Weeks to declare the Filipino the winner by technical knockout. The Philippines came to a virtual halt during the fight, with streets free of traffic, few crimes being permitted and millions of Filipinos glued to television monitors watching the fight. To some Filipinos, it was “like David slaying Goliath”: a huge Christmas gift to a nation bedeviled by poverty and political scandals.
December 12: Protestors reject Charter Change. Thousands of protesters converged at the junction of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas in Makati City for a rally against moves by administration lawmakers to amend the Constitution. The protest turned into a huge Christmas party for several organizations, with song and dance numbers being staged on a colorfully lit street with holiday decorations all over the buildings in the city's financial district.
The Arroyo Administration is once again attempting to enact Charter change (dubbed “Chacha”) on the Philippines Constitution. The current initiative is to convene Congress as a constituent assembly, openly led by House Speaker Prospero Nograles and Mrs. Arroyo’s eldest son Rep. Mikey Arroyo and despite stiff opposition from the Senate. Critics say "the same all-consuming motivation" is still driving this latest attempt to revive Chacha: that is, to hold on to power, percs and privilege beyond 2010 as well as to inoculate Mrs. Arroyo and her men from prosecution for their innumerable crimes against the people.
December 17: CARP watered down. On the last session day of the year, the Philippine Congress passed Joint Resolution 19 extending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law for six more months but excluding compulsory acquisition. Supporters claimed it was the best they could do. Critics pointed out that with compulsory acquisition of targeted lands excluded from coverage under the bill, the "heart and soul" of land reform had been removed. Bayan Muna (People First), Anakpawis (Toiling Masses), and Gabriela issued a joint statement which stated: "This sham joint resolution further strengthens the landlord's monopoly and control over vast tracts of agricultural lands in the country and will surely lead to the massive eviction of peasants and land-grabbing in the countryside." According to Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna, it was Rep. Mikey Arroyo of Pampanga province, the eldest child of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who led the landlord lobby in the House of Representatives that resulted in the gutting of the law.
December 18: 2 killed, 38 wounded in Iligan City bombings. The first bomb exploded at around 1:25 p.m. inside the Unicity Commercial Center in Iligan City and this was followed by another blast 20 minutes later at the Jerry Supermart in downtown Iligan City, said Army Lt. Steffani Cacho, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command. "The improvised explosives were left at the baggage counters of both Unicity and Jerry's Supermart," Cacho told reporters. Col. Benito de Leon, commander of the 104th Infantry Brigade, sent bomb-sniffing dogs and explosives experts to help police in the investigations. Last month, at least three people were also wounded in the bombings of two budget hotels - the Traveler's Inn and the Caprice Lodge - in Iligan City. No group or individuals claimed responsibility for the bombings, she said, but previous attacks in the city had been blamed to Moro rebels and local militants trained by Jemaah Islamiah. Investigators had no immediate motive or suspects.
December 18: DSWD hits sale of babies. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) on Wednesday condemned the reported sale of babies found in the house of a former town mayor in Rizal province, outside Manila. "We reiterate a very strong warning to all those who engage or plan to engage in human trafficking. We, at the DSWD assure everybody that they will be dealt with accordingly, with the full force of the law," Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said in a statement. The DSWD said it is exerting "diligent efforts" to locate the parents of the babies. The babies were rescued on Tuesday from the house of former Jala-Jala town mayor Voltaire Gellido in the town proper that a Singaporean national, Low Ai Lian Irene, rented. The DSWD said that Low was suspected to be a member of a syndicate selling babies in Singapore.
December 22: Hunger rate hits record-high. According to the most recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, the number of families experiencing hunger at least once in the past three months has reached a record-high of 23.7 percent or 4.3 million households following increases in Metro Manila and Mindanao. The November 28-December 1, 2008 survey, which had 1,200 respondents, showed hunger at 23.7 percent, with moderate hunger at 18.5 percent and total hunger at 5.2 percent. Moderate hunger refers to those who experienced it "Only Once" or "A Few Times" in the last three months while severe hunger refers to those who experienced it "Often" or "Always" in the last three months. The previous record was 21.5 percent in September 2007.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo said the Arroyo administration has strong anti-poverty and anti-hunger programs in place.