The year 2016 has been quite challenging for the Philippines. The country dealt with a highly toxic presidential election in the first half of the year and a spate of drug-related killings in the second half. In between these life-changing tragedies, we had our usual dose of fiascos, scams, terrorist activity, corruption, territorial woes, and disenfranchisement.
There's no doubt that 2016 qualifies as "Annus Horribilis." Some serious shit hit the fan and it's been particularly stinky for some people.
House of Pervs
In September, amid the allegations concerning Senator Leila de Lima's connections to the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison, some lawmakers insisted that a sex video should be presented as "evidence" against her.
It may be recalled that President Rodrigo Duterte had claimed that De Lima had a romantic relationship with her driver, Ronnie Dayan, whom she also supposedly tasked to collect money from the drug lords at the New Bilibid Prison.
Thus, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Rep. Danilo Suarez, and other like-minded gentlemen asserted that it was necessary to have a public viewing of a sex video allegedly featuring De Lima and Dayan in order to prove that the two had a relationship.
In November, House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro, 1-Ang Edukasyon Rep. Salvador Belaro Jr., and Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque had a field day asking Dayan questions that were clearly sexual innuendos.
What should have been an inquiry in aid of legislation turned into misogynist extravaganza. But, of course, the participants said they meant no harm. Castro later told ABS-CBN News: "Walang malisya ang aking pagtatanong. Walang regrets (There was no malice in my line of questioning. I have no regrets). I stand by my questions.
Indeed, malice may not have been present, but sleaze was definitely in abundance.
While we have long suspected that some lawmakers have the capacity to give Satan a run for his money, it's something else when you see them in action on national TV.
The Color Yellow
For the record, the hue of choice of the now-decimated Liberal Party started getting a bad rap in the latter half of President Noynoy Aquino's term. The tragedy of the Yolanda aftermath, the Mamasapano massacre, the lumad killings, and the violent dispersal of farmers in Kidapawan City incident colored the public's perception of Aquino and his posse.
Yellow, though, reached a new low this year.
The color is now widely used to refer to anyone who questions the current administration's decisions. Anyone who dares to suggest that things are less-than-perfect may find himself branded as "dilawan" (rough translation: yellow-colored) even if he doesn't support the Liberal Party.
Variations of this slur include "yellowtard" (an easily discernible portmanteau) or "Yellow Zombie."
The Character Assassination of Leni Robredo
The last man standing is a woman—and there are people who have a big problem with that. From the moment she got elected as Vice President, Robredo has been neck-deep in vitriol.
Despite the lack of evidence, Robredo has been accused of participating in poll anomalies, conspiring in a plot to overthrow President Rodrigo Duterte, and being remiss in her duties during her all-too-brief stint as the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) chief.
Former senator Bongbong Marcos—whom Robredo beat in the VP race by a margin of 219,127 votes—claims that he is the real winner. As such, many of Marcos' supporters have waged an all-out online war against the woman whom they never saw coming. They've thrown everything—including a pregnancy rumor—at her.
Our collective naivete also had us envisioning an ideal Duterte-Robredo working relationship wherein she would balance his bluster with reason. That didn't happen.
Instead, just five months into her term as HUDCC chair, Robredo got a text message from Cabinet Secretary Leoncio "Jun" Evasco Jr. telling her that Duterte wanted her to "cease and desist" from attending Cabinet meetings. Now, is that a passive-aggressive notice of resignation or what?
The Eternal Sunshine of Martin Andanar's Spotless Mind
In his his first few days as the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) chief, former TV5 newsman Martin Andanar had the enthusiasm of 100 men who are about to shake the hand of Maria Ozawa.
Andanar declared that he had plans of reorganizing state-run PTV-4 network and transforming it into something like the UK's British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). "We'll hire the best news director. We'll hire the best people on the bus," he said.
Alas, a series of unfortunate events made it clear that the bus Andanar is on needs to have some of its parts replaced.
For starters, Andanar decided to turn the Official Gazette website into an online repository of memos and executive orders. He alleged that the previous administration had turned it into "a lifestyle magazine." The Manila Times columnist Katrina Stuart Santiago explained that Andanar made the change in accordance with Act No. 453 from 1902 and the Commonwealth Act No. 638 of 1941.
Andanar said the Duterte administration would keep in touch with the people via Facebook and Twitter.
However, Santiago pointed out, "If those are the laws he holds dear, why are they using Facebook and Twitter and the Internet at all? Why do they have a tabloid? Those are not in the laws either, but are critical venues for information dissemination."
Speaking of the tabloid... In August, Andanar unveiled Mula Sa Masa, Para Sa Masa (From the Masses, For the Masses)—whose title is wrought from Duterte's public service TV show when he was Davao City mayor. The free bi-monthly publication had an initial print run of 5,000 copies. It drew flak, though, for featuring blind item pieces on showbiz personalities who allegedly suffered the consequences of drug addiction.
In September, the Official Gazette was slammed for "historical revisionism," as the Facebook post on the birth anniversary of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos practically praised him for declaring martial law in 1972. That same month, the PCO also mistakenly announced that Duterte would be seated between US President Barack Obama and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at a gala dinner during the Asean summit in Laos. The seating arrangement that would have forced Duterte to exchange pleasantries with two people whom he had slammed for calling him out on possible human rights violations amid his administration's drug war. Unfortunately, the scenario didn't materialize.
Andanar ended up apologizing for the gaffes—but went on to do more. (We realize, though, that his job is quite difficult—what with an excess of controversial statements to interpret and explain to clueless journalists. "We don't take all the President's statements literally, but we take his statements seriously," Andanar quipped in one interview.)
Andanar found himself embroiled in a controversy after the publication of his November 14 entry for his Philippine Daily Inquirer column "Brew Point." In it, he referred to those who opposed the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani as "temperamental brats." He later said sorry for it. That same month, though, the Inquirer published a mock report where Andanar was supposedly named "Communicator of the Year" by a group called Committee for the Advancement of Creative Imagination and the Systematic Institutionalization of Rodrigo’s Aspirations or CACI SIRA.
In light of all the things that he's done and what he has failed to do, we suspect that Andanar undergoes a daily procedure to wipe out the memories of his foot-in-mouth moments. Otherwise, how else could he continue to present such a proud and cheerful face to the world? He almost makes us believe that everything is going to be all right. Almost.
The Misinformation of the Filipino People
Fake news has been around forever—but it really made huge strides this year.
BBC News observed, "The deliberate making up of news stories to fool or entertain is nothing new. But the arrival of social media has meant real and fictional stories are now presented in such a similar way that it can sometimes be difficult to tell the two apart."
It being an election year, fake news sites mushroomed and were used to spread ridiculous stories to either prop up a politician or besmirch his rivals and critics. These often-incendiary faux reports quickly went viral as many Filipinos made no effort to check the validity of the stories they were sharing on their Facebook pages.
It's not that they were all gullible—it's just that many of them relied on the false headlines alone. It's either they didn't have the time to actually read the article with a critical eye or they simply didn't want to be charged for logging on to sites that are not covered by the so-called "free data" perks.
News website Rappler pointed out, "For these sites, the desired effect is that they immediately gain a reader's trust, owing to the presence of a familiar news brand in their name. Those who do not pay enough attention will believe that they're reading or sharing an item from an established news institution."
The success of these fake news sites could be considered a tragic testament to our breaking news mentality. As Sapna Maheshwari noted in her piece for The New York Times, we live "in an ever-connected world where speed often takes precedence over truth."
When the desire to be first is greater than the need to be accurate, we end up in a world of trouble.
The issue concerning the burial of the remains of the late dictator President Ferdinand Marcos has long been an open wound on the national psyche. This year, the wound got reinfected.
On November 18, 2016, whatever was left of Marcos got buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB)—which is designated for the remains of military personnel, heroes, martyrs, patriots, Philippine presidents, National Artists, and National Scientists. Only a few people were privy to the Marcos clan's plans. Everyone else was blindsided by the sneaky burial.
While the Marcoses and their supporters viewed the burial as a milestone, there were those who saw it as an abomination. The burial sparked impromptu street protests in various parts of the country.
In Metro Manila, there were protesters who gathered along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue or EDSA, right in front of the People Power Monument—a landmark paying tribute to the so-called "bloodless revolution" that toppled the Marcos dictatorship in 1986.
So, how did this whole mess blow up in our faces? Well, it began when Marcos was first elected as President of the Philippines in 1965. He ran for a second term and won in 1969. In 1972, the year his second term was going to end, he declared martial law. This made it possible for him to stay in power longer.
Numerous human rights abuses were committed in the name of hunting down the so-called enemies of the state during that time. According to Amnesty International, 70,000 people were jailed, 34,000 were tortured, and 3,240 were killed from 1972 to 1981.
Moreover, Marcos and his cronies—under the guise of taking down the oligarchs who owned country's biggest companies—took control of key corporations and used them as their personal cash cows. They also shuttered media outfits and plundered the nation's coffers.
In 1986, Marcos agreed to hold snap elections, which his administration also rigged. People finally had enough. Marcos was ousted via the People Power Revolution, which installed President Corazon "Cory" Aquino—the widow of former Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr., who one of Marcos' most vocal critics who was assassinated in 1983.
The Marcoses were exiled to Hawaii. Marcos died at the age of 72—due to kidney, heart, and lung complications—on September 28, 1989 in Honolulu.
In 1991, President Cory Aquino allowed former First Lady Imelda Marcos to return to the Philippines to face charges of graft and tax evasion.
In 1992, Imelda Marcos ran for President. She lost to President Fidel Ramos. Her son, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., fared better. He won a congressional seat representing Ilocos Norte, the Marcos clan's bailiwick.
In 1993, President Fidel Ramos allowed the return of Marcos' body to the Philippines. However, Ramos objected to giving him a state burial. Ramos made it clear that there would be no burial for Marcos at LNMB. Thus, the ousted ruler's remains were flown to Ilocos Norte.
In 1995, Imelda Marcos was elected as congresswoman in her home province of Leyte in central Philippines.
In 1998, Imelda Marcos once again ran for president. However, she withdrew from the race after it became evident that she had no chance of winning. Her children, though, remained solid in Ilocos Norte. Bongbong Marcos was elected as provincial governor while Imee Marcos took over as a congresswoman representing Ilocos Norte.
From 1999 to 2010, the Marcoses further cemented their hold in their bailiwick. Eventually, Imelda also became Ilocos Norte congresswoman.
In 2010, Bongbong Marcos was elected as senator. At this time, Imelda was also elected as an Ilocos Norte congresswoman and Imee served as the provincial governor. In 2013, Imelda and Imee Marcos were re-elected to their posts in Ilocos Norte.
In 2016, Bongbong Marcos ran for vice president, but he lost to Leni Robredo.
However, there was a silver lining for the Marcos family. Their longtime ally, former Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte, was elected President. Duterte—who has always been consistent on his stand on the Marcos burial issue—announced that he would allow the late dictator to be buried at LNMB.
On November 8, 2016, the Supreme Court (SC)—voting 9-5 with one inhibition—junked seven consolidated petitions that sought to block the Duterte administration's move to allow the burial of the late strongman at LNMB.
Just 10 days after the SC ruling, Marcos' remains were flown via helicopter from the mausoleum in Ilocos Norte to LNMB. The burial was underway at around noon and was over shortly after that. Marcos was given military honors despite significant proof that he had faked his war records.
That offense of course, is on top of the other offenses that he committed or tolerated during his two-decade rule in the country.
For many of those who protested against Marcos in the past, 2016 is definitely The Year of Déjà Vu. This time around, there's the added pain of Filipinos who keep insisting that the Marcos era was "The Golden Age of the Philippines."
Marcos may have died in 1989, but he continues to walk among us.
The Quick and the Thousands Dead
If we bring up the need to respect human rights and due process in order to ensure that those who are arrested are guilty beyond reasonable doubt, we're going to be accused of taking the side of criminals or of being criminals outselves. We know the drill, so we're not going to waste time making a useless plea for logic.
So, in the spirit of change, we'll take a detached approach and focus on the stats instead—specifically, the number of people who have died amid the government's war on drugs. These people can be grouped into three: those who resisted arrest (Team Nanlaban), those targeted by vigilantes (Team Cardboard Justice), and innocent bystanders (Team Collateral Damage).
As of December 27, 2016, Rappler reports that 6,206 people have been killed in connection with the drug war. That an average of 1,000 people killed each month. Team Cardboard Justice is leading with 4,049 deaths, while Team Nanlaban logged 2,157 kills. There are no numbers available for Team Collateral Damage—so we expect to be told anytime now that they do not exist.
Early on, somebody remarked that the inevitable death toll surge would mean more business for funeral homes. That morbid projection is far from the truth. A Philippine Daily Inquirer report by Aie Balagtas See quoted a funeral home proprietor as saying, "Allow me to be frank here. They kill only the poorest of the poor, whose relatives have no means to pay. When these people were still alive, they could buy shabu but never had the money to buy a house. With that, I'll let you do the math."
At the rate things are going, we're going to end up doing a lot of mad math. That is, whenever we take a break from praying that we ourselves don't get killed. In these moments, we recall the words of journalist Hunter S. Thompson who quipped, "There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment."
The Curious Case of Mar Roxas
In 2010, Mar Roxas put his presidential dreams in the backburner and let his friend, then-senator Noynoy Aquino carry the Liberal Party torch. Pundits called Roxas' move "the ultimate political sacrifice." The words—which were used to praise Roxas in 2010—would prove painful in 2016.
During Aquino's reign, Roxas—who successfully used his "Mr. Palengke" persona to snag a Senate seat in 2004—was given mocking monikers like "Boy Sibuyas" and "Boy Pick-Up." Roxas' efforts to present himself as Everyman—lifting a few kilos of onions, carrying a sack of rice, directing traffic, riding a motorcycle sans helmet—were ridiculed. By the time Roxas announced his presidential run anew, another man stood in his way—Davao City's tough guy mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
For some reason, the folks running Roxas' campaign still packaged him as "just your average Pinoy." Roxas then proceeded to engage in a nasty word war with Duterte, a man who could give a master class in down-and-dirty verbal skirmishes.
Roxas gave it his best shot, but Duterte—who relentlessly baited him with comments doubting his Wharton degree and below-the-belt quips about his manhood—had the upper hand. It was a gutter fight and Roxas was no guttersnipe.
Ultimately, "Daang Matuwid"—for all its good intentions—led Roxas to a second-place finish in a race where only the first place counts. We can only imagine how much it hurts to be politically cockblocked not just once, but twice.
Main image photo credits: stock photo of Bongbong Marcos, Leni Robredo (Francisco Guerrero), Martin Andanar (Martin Andanar's official Facebook page)