Mass murders, surprise burial, and other things that were normalized in 2016

THE year 2016 is now being collectively regarded by many as the “worst year ever” due to its series of tragedies that shook the global status quo.

Brexit, Donald Trump's election, the rise of Isis, these are just some of the things that happened in 2016 that will surely redefine the years to follow.

But in the Philippines, change has really come as early as May in the person of Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

May 9 elections

The May 9 national elections was a historic event in the country, as two "political outsiders," Rodrigo Duterte - the first elected President from Mindanao - and Leni Robredo, had trounced the other candidates who vied for the two highest positions in the land.

It came as a surprise that Duterte, who was a former Davao City mayor and just a substitute candidate of the Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan, edged out his four rivals – then-Vice President Jejomar Binay, then-Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Senator Grace Poe, and the late Senator Miriam Santiago.

Duterte made a landslide victory, garnering 16,601,997 votes, the highest number of votes recorded in the presidential race.

He was able to capture the hearts of many Filipinos because of his campaign promise to achieve “change” by ending criminality, corruption and drug problem in the country.

Duterte also vowed to ease Filipinos’ plight by forming a federal type of government from the current unitary form of administration, as well as by lowering income tax rates.

Robredo, meanwhile, was a Camarines Sur lawmaker at the time she ran. She made headlines after she won over his closest rival, former Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. with only a slim margin of 263,473 votes.

The Duterte presidency

In merely six months, Duterte has benched popularity not only nationwide but also internationally for his staunch war on illicit drugs and his mere rhetoric against his adversaries.

Duterte had been acknowledged as one of the most influential people in the world by the Forbes Magazine and the most Googled person in the Philippines because of his deadly war on drugs.

A man whose campaign promise is to bring forth “real change,” Duterte made a vow to eradicate the drug menace in the country in three to six months.

But after sensing that his self-imposed deadline was apparently unattainable, the President had asked for another six months to curb the drug menace, admitting that he could not address it alone.

“I did not realize how severe and how serious the problem of drug menace in this republic until I became President,” Duterte said on September 18 during the presentation of the Norwegian kidnap victim Kjartan Sekkingstad in Davao City.

“I never have that idea of hundreds of thousands of people in the drug business. And what makes it worst is, they are now operated by people in government, especially those elected officials,” he added.

Duterte, as he intensified his anti-drugs campaign, had already named government officials all listed in what he calls the "narcolist." The infamous list contains the names of lawmakers, judges, police officials, local officials, and barangay captains.

Being his most vocal critic, neophyte Senator Leila de Lima has been tagged by Duterte in his so-called Bilibid drug matrix as the highest public official involved in narcotics trade.

The alarming death toll of drug personalities had caused concern among his local opponents, as well as the international community. The potshots had then provoked the frantic President to repeatedly lambast his critics, including the United Nations, the United States, and the European Union.

Amid criticisms, he had challenged the international bodies to withdraw their aid to the Philippines.

“If you think it’s high time for you to withdraw assistance, go ahead. We will not beg for it,” said Duterte last October 6 in a speech delivered in Butuan City. “Even though it will be difficult for us, we will survive, and I’ll be the first one to go hungry and the first one to die. Don’t worry, we’ll never compromise our dignity as a Filipino.”

Standing resolute to stamp out drugs, Duterte was able to build a 100-square-meter drug abuse and rehabilitation center at Camp Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija, which can accommodate 10,000 drug dependents. It was funded by a Chinese billionaire.

The President had also threatened to sever ties with the US, suspend the writ of habeas corpus and declare Martial Law.

On December 23, Duterte said he would amend the 1987 Constitution to exclude the Congress and the Supreme Court from the process in declaring the Martial Law, giving him the sole prerogative to do so.

Despite the woes under the Duterte administration, it also touted its accomplishments by successfully implementing the executive order on the Freedom of Information that aims to make the executive branch transparent and available for public scrutiny.

Adding to the list of accomplishments were the move to cut the red tape in government, the ongoing peace process of the government with the communist rebels to end the decade-long problems in strife-torn Mindanao as well as the launching of the 911 rescue and 8888 complaint hotlines.

Bloody war on drugs

There is no hiding that 6,000 persons were killed since Duterte took office and immediately ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to intensify its campaign and police operations against the illegal drugs.

From July 1 to December 23, the PNP recorded 6,187 incidents of killings in line with their war against illegal drugs: 2,138 were killed in legitimate police operations while 4,049 were killed in vigilante-style executions where victims were either handcuffed or tied/wrapped by packaging tapes all over their bodies.

The PNP said the killings of the 4,049 persons outside police operations are tagged as “deaths under investigation” or DUI.

However, PNP chief Ronald Dela Rosa said only at least one third of the "deaths under investigation" are related to the war on drugs while the others “may be from criminal syndicates who are taking advantage of the crackdown."

"Maraming nakisakay sa ating war on drugs, maraming sumabay. So 'yan dapat ang ma-address natin and we are working on that. Hindi po natin 'yan tinigilan," Dela Rosa said.

The PNP called its fight against dangerous drugs as “Oplan Double Barrel.” Under it is the “Oplan Tokhang” which is derived from two Visayan words “Toktok” and “Hangyo” which respectively means to knock and to plead.

In Oplan Tokhang, PNP personnel are visiting the houses of suspected drug personalities and encourage them to surrender to the authorities and to turn their back from the illegal drugs. However, suspects are usually killed and were said to be resisting arrest.

In its update, the PNP said that as of December 23, 39,760 anti-illegal drugs operations were conducted nationwide, where 42,155 drug personalities were arrested.

It added that 5,582,346 houses were visited through the Oplan Tokhang, which resulted in the surrender of 74,100 drug pushers and 894, 268 drug users.

In the Senate committee on justice and human rights hearing on extrajudicial killings, Dela Rosa said 1,611 or 94 percent of the total number of barangays in the National Capital Region are affected by the illegal drugs. The numbers in Calabarzon are a bit lower at 75 percent.

The 5 narcogenerals

Among the first to be hit by the administration’s war against illegal drugs were the police generals who Duterte alleged of being involved in narcotics trade.

They were former PNP Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo Jr., former NCR Police Office Chief Director Joel Pagdilao, Western Visayas regional Director Chief Superintendent Bernardo Diaz, former Quezon City Police District Director Chief Superintendent Edgardo Tinio and retired Police General and now Daanbantayan, Cebu Mayor Vicente Loot.

Duterte accused Garbo of protecting the illegal drug activities of bigtime drug lords, including Peter Lim, Cebu's alleged top drug lord, and Peter Co and Herbert Colanggo, both detained at the National Bilibid Prison (NBP).

Meanwhile, the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) said there are no evidences which directly link Tinio and Pagdilao to illegal drugs. But the two are still facing charges of serious neglect of duty, serious irregularities in the performance of duty, and conduct unbecoming of a police officer before the Napolcom for allegedly letting drugs thrive under their watch.

The case against Diaz is still in its build up stage by the Department of Interior and Local Government. Garbo, on the other hand, is under the investigation of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).

Aside from the narco-cops, Duterte also named several politicians and businessmen allegedly involved in the illegal drugs.

Among the personalities identified were Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa and his son Kerwin and Iloilo businessman Melvin Odicta.

The older Espinosa and Odicta surrendered to Dela Rosa and DILG chief Ismael Sueno, respectively, but both denied involvement in the illegal drug trade.

Mayor Espinosa, however, admitted his son’s illegal drug operations in the Eastern Visayas.

After being implicated on illegal drugs, Odicta and the older Espinosa were both killed in separate events.

Odicta and his wife Meriam were gunned down by a lone suspect as they alighted a RoRo vessel in the Caticlan Jetty Port, days after they submitted themselves to authorities.

The family's legal counsel Raymond Fortun expressed belief that the suspect responsible in the Odictas' elimination is with the PNP, saying that he was told by his clients about the death threats they are receiving.

"As early as June 2016, takot na takot ang mag-asawa na may papatay sa kanila and it will come daw from PNP," he said.

The Odicta slay case is still under investigation.

Meanwhile, on November 5, Mayor Espinosa was killed by the CIDG region 8 operatives while being served a search warrant inside his detention cell for allegedly possessing firearms and selling illegal drugs to the other inmates.

In the light of the Mayor’s killing, the PNP initiated an investigation on the CIDG operatives who conducted the raid.

PNP-Internal Affairs Service chief Leo Angelo Leuterio said there were several glaring irregularities in the operations, such as time element, coordination, use of force, pre-operational planning and the tapping of the maritime units in the operation.

As of press time, the NBI in its separate probe concluded that the operation was a rubout and was in fact premeditated.

De Lima challenges presidential immunity

After filing a resolution opening the investigation against the spate of the summary killings in the country unleashed by the President's declaration of an all out war against drugs, De Lima's name has never left the limelight.

The probe against Duterte and his alleged involvement in the extrajudicial killings in the country however did not flourish after some Senators refused to back De Lima up and continue the probe she initiated.

De Lima, the undaunted and staunchest critic of Duterte, is now the subject of the probe being conducted by the Department of Justice on the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison.

In the House hearing on drug proliferation in the state penitentiary, high profile inmates accused the then-Justice Secretary of receiving monthly payola from drug lords for her senatorial bid.

All these accusations, however, were denied by the Senator.

Challenging the president's immunity from suit, she eventually filed a writ of hebeas data with the SC seeking to stop the President and his alleged cohorts from obtaining private information about her life and committing unlawful acts that violated her right to privacy, liberty and security.

Robredo trumps Marcos

Leni Robredo, the Liberal Party bet, defeated Bongbong Marcos by only 263,473 votes. Her victory is considered as the shock of the May polls since his rival Marcos was a consistent top placer in pre-election surveys.

Claiming that Robredo's victory was marred by "massive electoral fraud, anomalies and irregularities," Marcos thereafter filed with the Supreme Court (SC), acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), a poll protest seeking to set aside the oath taking of Robredo and declare him the country's Vice President.

Acting on the petition of Marcos, the high court on July 12 issued a Precautionary Protection Order (PPO) directing the Commission on Elections to preserve the integrity and safety of all the ballots and election returns used during the May 9 polls.

Pending the investigation and the finality of the Court's decision, Robredo will remain as Vice President of the country.

SC Acquits Arroyo

On July 19, the SC has ordered the release of former President and now Pampanga representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from detention.

After 4 years of hospital arrest, Arroyo walked free after the SC granted her petition for demurer to evidence and dismissed the plunder cases filed against her in connection with her alleged involvement in the release of the confidential and intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office from 2008 to 2010 when she was President.

A demurrer challenges the sufficiency of evidence presented by the prosecution to sustain a verdict.

The grant of Arroyo's petition means that all the evidence the prosecution filed against her were not enough to prove her guilt.

Months after her release from the Veterans Memorial Medical Clinic, Duterte appointed her as House Deputy Speaker.

Ex-Dictator Marcos' stealth burial

Almost three decades after his death, former dictator and late president Ferdinand Marcos was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB) in Taguig City.

On early morning of November 18, Marcos' remains were secretly airlifted from his family's mausoleum in Batac, Ilocos Norte to LNMB.

Members of the media were only informed of the news two hours before the interment. They were also barred from entering the cemetery.

The Marcos family requested a "simple and low-key burial" for the former president. He was given a 21-gun salute while the interment was witnessed by his wife, Representative Imelda Marcos, his three children, grandchildren and close friends.

The much-contested interment at LNMB came after Duterte made true to his campaign promise to bury the late president to the heroes’ cemetery.

Last August 7, Duterte gave his go signal to process Marcos' burial explaining that the latter should be afforded a resting place at LNMB as he was an ex-president and served in the military.

A total of six petitions were filed at the SC challenging the executive department's decision to allow Marcos' interment. It argued that the burial is "illegal, and contrary to law, public policy, morals, and justice" as Marcos has been established by the High Court itself as "dictator" in at least 20 jurisprudence.

But on November 8, voting 9-5, the SC dismissed the petitions filed by human rights groups and victims of Martial Law. The SC said there was no grave abuse of discretion on the part of Duterte when he ordered the remains of Marcos to be buried at LNMB.

Hidilyn Diaz's Olympic silver

Hidilyn Diaz made history after ending the country's 20-year Olympic medal drought.

The 25-year-old secured the Philippines a silver medal in the women's 53kg weightlifting competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Diaz recorded a total weight of 200kg, bagging the country's first silverware in weightlifting.

The Zamboanga City native also became the first female athlete to win an Olympic medal for the Philippines. (Sunnex)
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