The year that was saw countries around the world hit by devastating tsunamis, earthquakes and floods that left thousands dead and homeless. And the Philippines had its share of deadly natural calamities, with Negros Occidental hit by floods that caused thousands to evacuate as 2011 ended.
Negros Occidental and Bacolod City were also not spared from bloodbaths caused by crazed-gunmen and numerous controversies that hogged the headlines in 2011.
The following events were voted by your DAILY STAR staff as the top 10 stories of 2011.
Bloodbaths in Silay, Sagay and EB Magalona hogged the headlines in 2011 and justice remained elusive as the year ended with the culprits still at large.
Former barangay captain Noel Ayalin was charged for the massacre of four barangay officials and for injuring three others in Silay City on March 6, 2011. A P500,000 reward has been offered for his immediate arrest.
This was followed by another massacre in Sagay City in July, where former Land Transportation Office deputized agent Romeo Corbo was tagged as the suspect.
Corbo was charged for killing an elderly couple and their daughter.
Ayalin and Corbo top the list of the 10 most-wanted persons in Negros Occidental.
EB Magalona was also tagged as a “killing field”, following the assassination of radio blocktimer Niel “Lito” Jimena at the town proper, and a spate of murder incidents in the hinterland barangay of Canlusong that claimed the lives of members of the Lozada and Esguirran families, as well as the abduction of four farmers, perpetrated by a bandit group.
Mayor David Albert Lacson, however, described the incidents as isolated cases.
In July, Ilog Councilor Antonio “Karem” Gequillana Jr. was also gunned down in Bacolod City. While his suspected assailant has been arrested and charged in court, Gequillana’s family continue to search for the mastermind.*Gilbert P. Bayoran
2. ESCALANTE KILLINGS
Complaints of unsolved extra-judicial killings in Escalante City, which, of last count had reached 19, reached the attention of President Benigno Aquino III in 2011.
The president ordered the creation of a joint task force of the Department of Justice, Department of Interior on Local Government and Commission on Human Rights to investigate the reported extra-judicial killings and other alleged illegal activities in Escalante City.
As 2011 ended, action by the task force was still being awaited.
Some policemen assigned in Escalante were also dragged into the controversy, which has led to the relief of 22 since June.
Angry at not being consulted on the matter, the city government of Escalante recalled all the equipment and support it had given to the city police force.
The recall of support to the Escalante police was preceded by the suspension by the National Police Commission of Mayor Melicio Yap’s administrative and operational control over the local police force, citing numerous extra-judicial killings in Escalante, and his alleged close association with the New People’s Army.
Yap denied the allegations.
Majority of the killings in Escalante since 2007 have been claimed by the NPA Jean Pelle Command.*Gilbert P.Bayoran
3. THE AYALA, SM FIGHT
The battle between SM Prime Holdings Inc. and Ayala Land for the purchase and lease of the Negros Occidental provincial government-owned 7.7-hectare prime property in Bacolod City also hogged the headlines in 2011.
Development plans were presented by both firms for the property adjacent to the provincial Capitol building, bids were made, accusations were hurled and suits were filed.
The Capitol had declared the bids entered by both firms a failure, pointing out that both SMPHI and Ayala had failed to meet the floor price of the property approved by the Commission on Audit.
SMPHI refused to join the negotiated bidding that followed, saying it had entered a higher bid than Ayala in the bidding held on July 7, prompting it to seek a Court of Appeals temporary restraining order on the negotiated sale and lease of the property.
Multi-sectoral groups issued resolutions in support of Ayala, while SM stood its ground.
The CA eventually lifted the TRO freeing the Capitol to proceed with the sale and lease.
But as 2011 ended the Capitol was still awaiting Commission on Audit approval of its draft contracts to proceed with the sale and lease of the property to Ayala Land.*Carla P. Gomez
4. SUGARMEN BATTLE COKE
The country’s sugar industry that was enjoying high prices for most of crop year 2010-2011 slammed Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines for an eventual drop in prices.
Sugar industry leaders and labor groups claimed Coca-Cola’s importation of huge amounts of sugar in the guise of premix at zero tariff and high fructose corn sugar (HFCS), caused the slump in domestic sugar prices.
Coca-Cola, on the other hand, insisted that it did not violate the law.
However, the sugar industry leaders were not appeased and, along with labor groups, staged rallies and a boycott of Coca-Cola products. As 2011 ended, they were still awaiting a Bureau of Customs ruling on their complaint against the softdrinks giant.
In July, officials of Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines informed members of the Philippine Sugar Alliance that their firm had cancelled its importation of premix sugar for the third and fourth quarter of 2011, and will source all its sugar needs for 2012 domestically.
The impending lifting of tariffs on imported sugar has also prompted Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3rd District) to propose the filing of a bill for the establishment of a Sugar Act.
Benitez said he hopes for industry inputs into the bill aimed to cushion the impact of sugar trade liberalization in the country in 2015.*Carla P. Gomez
5. OIL PRICE DISPARITY
The oil price disparity that has forced Negrenses to pay higher prices for fuel than consumers in the National Capital Region and other parts of the country hogged the headlines in 2011.
Government leaders, business and transport groups, along with various other sectors aired their strong opposition to the price disparity triggering rallies, Department of Energy officials’ dialogs with Negrenses and a congressional inquiry.
A House Committee on Energy hearing on the matter sought by Rep. Albee Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3rd District) and Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna was held in Bacolod City.
The Department of Energy and oil firms announced that the price disparity between fuel sold in Negros Occidental and Metro Manila had dropped to P3 from a high of P5, but Negrense congressmen said it was still excessive and should go down further.
In 2011, DOE also warned gas stations in Negros Occidental whose pumps are not properly calibrated and are short-selling customers that three offenses would lead to their closure.
The warning came after DOE inspections discovered several violations.*Adrian P. Nemes III
6. POWER RATE WOES
The Central Negros Electric Cooperative went through 2011 with a row on power sourcing contracts and complaints on renewed rate increases that got the attention not only of the usual consumer groups but also of power regulation organizations and local governments.
In June, General manager Sulpicio Lagarde justified the coop’s increases in its rates, saying that power prices have also increased all over the country and that the firm’s supply was coming from Independent Power Producers, with only 16 to 18 percent from NAPOCOR that sells at subsidized rates.
But these justifications were followed by a resolution by the Bacolod Sangguniang Panlungsod, urging the Energy Regulatory Commission make CENECO explain its rate hikes, amid accusations that the cooperative failed to avail of cheaper geothermal power from Green Core Geothermal Inc. that owns the Palinpinon geothermal plants in Negros Oriental.
CENECO continued to defend its actions, particularly through its denial of a contract that it allegedly made with Manta Energy Inc., a power supplier, which, in turn, maintained that it offers relatively cheaper rates for the cooperative.
Later, the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms Inc. joined the fray when it filed a petition with the ERC to ask CENECO and its officers to stop purchasing power from Panay Energy Development Corp. and collecting charges from its consumers.
As lawyer, Arnel Lapore, was chosen as its new president, however, CENECO seems to be on top of the various rows again, with promises of more transparency in its operations and an appeal for understanding and support from its stakeholders, particularly its member-consumers.*Patrick Pangilinan
7. RPA, GOV’T PEACE PACT
The administration of President Benigno Aquino III in 2011 resumed efforts, too, achieve closure to a government peace pact with the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa-Pilipinas/Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade in the first quarter of 2012.
The peace agreement between the RPA-ABB and the government appeared to be inching towards closure as 2011 ended, with the signing of a memorandum of agreement for the P23 million livelihood and infrastructure projects in identified conflict areas of Negros Occidental.
This was preceded by the completion of the profiling of RPA-ABB Tabara-Paduano Group members that totaled 441, while 39 more are still being processed, in Negros Occidental alone.
The RPM-P/RPA-ABB signed a peace agreement with the national government in Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental in year 2000, while the National Democratic Front-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army entered into peace talks with the government in 1987, which has yet to show signs of nearing conclusion.
Despite the NDF-government peace talks, armed clashes have continued between the NPA rebels and government forces in Negros Occidental.
Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Maranon Jr., on the other hand, in 2011 continued to call on NPA forces in Negros Occidental to lay down their arms and join him in the fight against poverty. Several top NPA leaders in Negros island were captured, while 55 rebels, who abandoned the armed struggle, received financial and livelihood assistance from the provincial government of Negros Occidental.*Gilbert P. Bayoran
8. BACOLOD CONTROVERSIES
In Bacolod, courts ruled as old controversies, and new ones arose.
The Supreme Court First Division denied for lack of merit the motion of reconsideration filed by retired policeman Victor Eduardo on the cases he filed against Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia et al, involving the Bacolod City Government Center.
The high court decision upheld the earlier resolution of the Ombudsman and the Supreme Court denying the same cases.
On September 17, 2009 the Ombudsman in the Visayas dismissed all the 12 administrative and criminal cases filed by Eduardo and Sancho Nagar Sr. against Leonardia and other city officials. The dismissal was approved by Ombudsman Ms. Merceditas Gutierrez.
Meanwhile, the establishment by the Bacolod City government of the northbound and southbound terminals late this year to address the traffic woes in Bacolod City has drawn opposition from affected transport groups and individuals.
Four southbound public utility vehicle operators, Nenita Peters, Rizalina Alon, Noel Moncay and Jovito Gahataon had filed a petition before the Regional Trial Court on Sept. 12, 2011 against o Leonardia, Police Chief Inspector Luisito Acebuche of the Bacolod Traffic Authority, City Legal Officer Joselito Bayatan, Bacolod City Police Director Senior Supt. Ricardo de la Paz and four department heads asking the court to prevent the city from requiring them to use the Sambok south terminal in Lopez Jaena and from closing the waiting station in Libertad.
Judge Manuel Cardinal Jr. of Branch 49 had earlier denied the 20-day temporary restraining order sought by the petitioners.
The defendants filed the motion to dismiss stating that the implementation of the southbound waiting station is in pursuance of C.O 187 which established only two terminals – the north and south terminals.
Meanwhile, the opening of the new Northbound terminal in Barangay Bata, Bacolod City, last September has decongested traffic along Lacson Street and B.S. Aquino Drive-La Salle.
But the Consumers Alliance in Negros claimed that the north terminal only brought misery and burden to the majority of the commuters, especially students who it said are forced to take an additional ride to school, and should be closed, and it demanded that the routes be returned to status quo until further study is conducted taking into consideration the interest of commuters and drivers especially those from Talisay.*Chrysee G. Samillano
9. IRA CUTS
Bacolod City and Negros Occidental are bracing for a reduction in their Internal Revenue Allotment in 2012 triggered by a drop in the collection of taxes by the national government during the Arroyo administration, and the creation of 16 more cities in the country.
The Negros Occidental provincial government and its 13 cities and 19 towns were expected to face as an IRA cut of P940,585,592.
Bacolod City, on the other hand, is losing about P80 million.
The new tax code to be implemented by the provincial government in 2012 targets more than P131 million-additional taxes that is expected to offset the IRA reduction in its IRA.
When the New Revenue Code of Bacolod City is fully implemented in 2012, it is also projected to generate an income between P50 and P100 million.
President Benigno Aquino III, in his speech at the 20th anniversary of the Local Government Code, said that the government has savings to reduce the P13 billion expected cut in the 2012 IRA.
The President said he will provide P6.5 billion to meet the shortfall.
With Aquino’s announcement of the availability of P6.5 billion, the effect of IRA cut of the local governments is expected to be lessened.*Chrysee G. Samillano
10. SILAY SUSPENSIONS
Seventeen officials of Silay City, Negros Occidental were ordered suspended from office for eight months and one day by the Office of the Ombudsman, for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
The graft charge stemmed from a complaint filed by Lindy Chan, for the alleged anomalous P18-million information and communication technology project in 2008.
The complaint stated that the project was awarded despite the absence of a competitive public bidding, and without compliance with the legal requirements under Republic Act 9184, the Government Procurement Reform Act.
In its July 6, 2011 order, the Ombudsman ordered the suspension of City Administrator Ignacio Salmingo, OIC City Treasurer Elsie Jimenea, OIC City Accountant Emmanuel Arsenal, Bids and Award Committee chair and City Legal Officer Kara Aimee Quevenco; BAC members and staff Pepito Hechanova Jr., Alma de la Cruz, Ricardo Ledesma Jr., Sonia Cordero, Rene Roy Pahilanga, Giovanni Guzon, Jesus Oppus, Arnie Trajera, Jose Genaro Estrañero, Macarse Tionko, Armin Paredes, Alore Golez and Vilma Dooma, all of the Silay City government.
It, however, said that based on the Aguinaldo Doctrine, the suspension could not be imposed on Mayor Jose Montelibano, Vice Mayor Mark Andrew Arthur Golez and Councilor Jose Raymundo Locsin because they were reelected in the May 2010 elections; and on Michael Maravilla, Mario Torres, Ramon Jison, Warlito Go, Salvador Segovia, Joedith Gallego and April Grace de los Reyes since they are no longer holding public office.*Guillermo Tejida III