THE year 2017 was once again an eventful episode for Bacolod City and Negros Occidental – full of challenges, but also filled with bright spots.
Among the highlights were the abolition of the Negros Island Region and the low sugar prices tied up with the protests against the unregulated entry of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and the boycott of Coca-Cola products in Negros Occidental.
Last year also saw majority of the local officials in Negros Occidental, including Bacolod City, joining the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Negros Occidental, Bacolod City and other local government units in the province also received recognitions in various categories, including local governance and tourism.
Major infrastructure projects like the Bacolod Economic Highway road project was started last year while the Araneta-Magsaysay flyover also in Bacolod opened just before the year ended.
In this feature, we take you back to these stories and other biggest local developments in 2017.
No more Negros Island Region
The two-year run of Negros Island Region (NIR) ended on October 9, or 60 days after President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order 38, revoking the creation of the region due to lack of funds.
With the abolition of NIR, the two Negros provinces, along with the regional offices, reverted to their previous regions – Negros Occidental to Western Visayas, or Region 6, and Negros Oriental to Central Visayas, or Region 7.
The special bodies – Regional Development Council, Regional Peace and Order Council, Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council – created under the NIR also merged with those of their previous regions.
READ: Duterte dissolves Negros Island Region
Regulating HFCS, boycott of Coke products
Early last year, amid the declining prices of sugar, industry leaders spearheaded a boycott on the sale of Coca-Cola products in Negros Occidental, claiming that the beverage firm’s use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as alternative sweetener contributes to the unregulated importation of HFCS, which is killing the sugar industry.
This prompted the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to issue Sugar Order No. 3, regulating the entry of HFCS. Coca-Cola Femsa Philippines had sought the nullification of the sugar order, but they later withdrew the case.
The boycott drew support from the Provincial Government when Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. was the first to declare the ban of Coke products in the Panaad sa Negros Festival.
Towns and cities celebrating their festivals also banned the sale of Coke products during the celebrations.
READ: ‘Boycott softdrinks’ call up as HFCS probe finalized
Capitol officials tagged in drugs; Moises Padilla vice mayor nabbed
In October, Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr., Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, Fourth District Representative Juliet Ferrer, and husband, former congressman Jeffrey Ferrer, and other personalities were allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade in the province, according to detained Barangay 35 Captain Manuel “Maui” Huelar Jr.
Huelar supposedly executed an affidavit while in prison that linked the province’s top leaders, along with their kin, and other politicians into illegal drugs.
Both the governor and vice governor, along with the Ferrers, have vehemently denied the accusations of Huelar.
READ: Capitol top leaders hit back at village chief
The Ferrers have already filed two counts of libel and one count of perjury against Huelar as they sought P5 million worth of damages.
More than week before year ended, Moises Padilla Vice Mayor Ella Celestina Garcia-Yulo and her husband, Felix Yulo III, were arrested in a police checkpoint for alleged possession of firearms, grenades and illegal drugs. They are now facing charges for possession of explosives, a non-bailable offense.
Yulo had vehemently denied the allegations of the police, claiming the evidence were planted. The vice mayor also cried harassment during the police checkpoint.
READ: Vice mayor of Negros town arrested with guns, drugs
Mount Kanlaon on Alert Level 2
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) raised the alert status of Mount Kanlaon in Negros Island from Alert Level 1 to Alert Level 2 on November 15 after the seismic monitoring network recorded 279 volcanic earthquakes.
The Provincial Government of Negros Occidental continues to prepare the surrounding localities especially La Castellana town for possible eruption.
Five of the 13 barangays in La Castellana are within the four-kilometer danger zone.
READ: Alert Level 2 raised over Mt. Kanlaon
PDP-Laban dominates Negros Occidental
Majority of local officials in Negros Occidental joined the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
On October 10, more than 11,000 officials, including 15 mayors and community leaders, took their oath in the cities of Bacolod and Victorias in rites administered by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, the party secretary-general.
Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. and Third District Alfredo Benitez, along with more than 200 officials, took their oath with PDP-Laban in 2016.
READ: 11,500 Negrenses to swear in as PDP-Laban members
Notorious robbery groups fall
Leaders and members of notorious robbery groups in Bacolod City were arrested following weeks of victimizing people in various incidents in Bacolod and the neighboring cities of Talisay and Silay.
On October 2, Barredo group leader Alex “Rondoy” Barredo, 24, of Barangay Mambulac, Silay, was arrested during a stakeout operation in Bacolod.
Eight victims have identified him as suspect in hold-up incidents.
On August 18, Johnnie Villarete III, 31, of Purok Riverside, Barangay Bata, and his members Alvin Jimenez, 25, and Paul Martin Duque, 22, were arrested in a hot pursuit operation in Barangay Bata.
Villarete’s group is identified by the police as the number one robbery group operating in the three cities.
READ: Notorious robbery group leader falls
The series of atrocities perpetrated by the NPA in Negros Island threaten the peace and order situation as ambush incidents claimed lives of several policemen, and injured soldiers and civilians.
On July 21, six policemen and a civilian were killed in an ambush staged by suspected NPA rebels in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental.
Killed were Guihulngan City police chief Supt. Arnel Arpon, who hailed from Hinoba-an, Negros Occidental, and who served under the police units in Bacolod City and Bago City, before he was assigned to Negros Oriental.
Other fatalities included Senior Police Officers 2 Mecasio Tabilon and Chavic Agosto, SPO1 Jesael Ancheta, PO2s Alvin Paul Bulandres and Alfredo Dunque.Wounded were SPO4 Jerome Delara, PO3 Jordan Balderas and PO2 Jorie Maribao.
Arpon’s team responded to a call for assistance from a councilor, who reported that he was ambushed.
In October, personnel of Cauayan Municipal Police Station in Negros Occidental survived the ambush staged by alleged NPA members at Sitio Sohoton, Barangay Caliling.
Karl Christer Arvidson, a Brazilian national; Juliana Palmero, a Swedish national; and Jason Tumayao, their Filipino driver, were injured after they were caught in the middle of the crossfire on their way to Sipalay City for an outing.
On December 7, two soldiers were wounded after engaging in a firefight with suspected NPA rebels at Sitio Cunalom, Barangay Carabalan in Himamaylan City.
Cops sacked due to drugs
More than 40 policemen in Bacolod City and Negros Occidental were transferred to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Cordillera Administrative Region after they were tagged in the illegal drug trade by Negros Island’s top drug suspect Ricky Serenio.
On January 13, Serenio executed an affidavit detailing how police officials received protection money and other law enforcers were involved in the drug trade. It was followed by a supplemental affidavit subscribed before the 4th Municipal Circuit Trial Court in Pulupandan town on March 10.
Serenio, the alleged bagman of Berya drug group, was arrested on January 8 in Talisay City for grave coercion, but was able to post bail for each of his cases.
Serenio’s younger brother, Wilmar, 31, was gunned down outside their house in Barangay Singcang-Airport in Bacolod City last April 10 while his father Wilfredo, 53, was also shot to death on May 23.
Senior Police Officer 1 Joshua Barile was charged for the two murders, which he vehemently denied.
On September 22, Barile was arrested following a raid at his house in Barangay Alijis, Bacolod City, which resulted in the confiscation of more than 50 firearms, four grenades, more than 1,000 assorted ammunition, and a sachet containing suspected “shabu” (methamphetamine hydrochloride).
2 national NPA leaders nabbed
On October 19, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Negros Occidental arrested two national leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing New People’s Army (NPA) at Barangay Poblacion, Kabankalan City by virtue of arrest warrants.
Arrested were Aurora “Lilay” Cayon, a staff member of the CPP-NPA National Finance Commission, and Louie Antonio Martinez, a national military staff.
Both suspects were presented by Philippine National Police chief Ronald de la Rosa in a press conference at the PNP national headquarters on October 24.
Ombudsman dismissal order vs Leonardia, 8 others overturned
The Court of Appeals Visayas Station 18th Division in Cebu City reversed the dismissal order of the Office of the Ombudsman against Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia and eight city executives in the procurement of furniture and fixtures for the Bacolod Government Center worth almost P50 million in 2008.
The 16-page decision promulgated on September 6, 2017 modified the December 2, 2016 joint resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman, dismissing the charges against petitioners Leonardia, Goldwyn Nifras, Luzviminda Treyes, Nelson Sedillo Sr., Belly Aguillon, Aladino Agbones, and Jaries Ebenizer Encabo.
Petitioners Melvin Recabar and Eduardo Ravena were found guilty of simple misconduct instead of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty, and meted the penalty of suspension for a period of three months without pay.
READ: CA overturns Ombudsman dismissal order vs Leonardia, 8 others
Economic highway construction starts; Araneta-Magsaysay flyover inaugurated
The construction of the P300-million, three-kilometer initial portion of the New Bacolod Economic Highway (BEH) road project started on April 21.
The project involves a four-lane road from Barangay Sum-ag to Barangay Cabug.
Spanning three kilometers from Barangay Sum-ag to Barangay Cabug, the road project, which is part of the 21-kilometer BEH amounting to P4.8 billion, is expected to be completed by May 20, 2018.
On December 19, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar led the P365-million inauguration of the Araneta-Magsaysay flyover in Bacolod City.
READ: Civil works for 3-km portion of Bacolod economic highway starts
MassKara wows Duterte
“Bilib gid ko a.”
This was how President Rodrigo Duterte described the MassKara Festival when he attended the highlights of its 38th edition held at the public plaza of Bacolod City on October 22.
Duterte had been attending MassKara Festival for two consecutive years. He was also the guest of honor at the opening rites of the festivity in 2016.
Mayor Evelio Leonardia said Duterte’s presence makes the 2017 festivity more unique and more historic.
He said there is no other festival in the country, aside from the one in his hometown Davao City, which the President has attended for two years in a row.
READ: MassKara wows Duterte
Bacolod awarded ‘Top Philippine Model City’
In 2017, Bacolod has been chosen as Top Philippine Model City by The Manila Times in “The Philippine Model Cities” search for the most livable urban centers in the country.
On May 11, Mayor Evelio Leonardia received the award at the New World Manila Bay Hotel.
“This award validates what Bacolod is now. This will inspire us more to cultivate a culture of excellence, not just for contests like this, but for our values as a people with a high sense of responsibility,” Leonardia said.
READ: Bacolod as ‘Top Philippine Model City’
3 Bacolod councilors suspended
In late November, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered the suspension for one month and one day of three incumbent councilors and four former councilors of Bacolod City after they were found administratively liable for simple neglect of duty in a 10-page resolution approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on September 22, 2017.
Suspended were incumbent Councilors Em Ang, Sonya Verdeflor and Wilson Gamboa Jr., and four former councilors, including Jocelle Batapa-Sigue, Roberto Rojas, Alex Paglumotan, and Archie Baribar.
The complaint was filed by former city councilor Juan Ramon Guanzon, also former chairman of Games Amusement Board, for allegedly approving a resolution authorizing the holding of cockfights on certain dates contrary to the city ordinance.
READ: 3 Bacolod councilors suspended for 1 month
Cordova elected Ceneco board president; Baciwa reinstates Carbon amid water woes
In May, former union president Roy Cordova was elected board president of the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco), replacing lawyer Arnel Lapore, who expressed surprised that he was unseated.
Cordova then initiated transparency meetings, assuring consumer groups transparency and immediate actions on their concerns through interventions from the Energy Regulatory Commission.
In August, the Board of Directors of Bacolod City Water District (Baciwa) unanimously approved a resolution affirming the Civil Service Commission (CSC) decision ordering the reinstatement of lawyer Juliana Carbon as general manager of Baciwa.
The CSC had earlier ordered the reinstatement of Carbon after invalidating the appointment of current general manager Mario Macatangay.
In October, the Bacolod Bulk Water Inc. (BBWI) inaugurated its water treatment in Barangay Granada, but it was able to secure an occupancy permit only in December for the operation of its facilities.
The BBWI’s Injection Point 1 operation underwent a test run and subsequent commissioning.
READ: Cordova elected Ceneco president
Although Bacolod City slid from 85th place in 2016 to the 97th spot in the 2017 Tholons Services Globalization Index, a research report and ranking of the Top 50 “Digital Nations” and Top 100 “Super Cities,” it remains a key destination for business process outsourcing (BPO) operations.
In September, global real estate services company Colliers International Philippines reported that the city is among the pioneering provincial locations that managed to entice global outsourcing companies.
The city’s growing ICT industry was featured during the Guatemala BPO Convention 2017 in November.
In September, thousands of local and foreign visitors witnessed a showcase of best local products during the 32nd Negros Trade Fair at the Glorietta Mall Activity Center in Makati City.
Aside from raking in higher sales of almost P26 million, the trade fair also served as a sustaining platform that enables local entrepreneurs to conquer the world market.
Among the globally-recognized talents is that of Christina Gaston, owner of Hacienda Crafts in Manapla town, and president of the Association of Negros Producers (ANP), who was chosen as the country’s awardee in the Asean Selection 2017 by the Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand in July.
May Uy, owner of May’s Organic Garden in Bacolod City, was chosen as an Asean Women Entrepreneur of the Year.
The recognition was given by the Asean Women Entrepreneurs Network in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Philippine Commission on Women last October.
In August, the Sipalay Airport started catering to passengers going to Cebu and Iloilo. Eventually, it opened additional flights between the city and Puerto Princesa in Palawan.
The newly-opened facility is seen to spur more developments and put the southern part of Negros Occidental on the map.
In mid-December, the Philippine Airlines opened its new flight route connecting the provinces of Negros Occidental and Pampanga, which then signed a sisterhood agreement.
Both PAL executives and government officials expressed optimism that the new route will create more trade and tourism traffic between the two provinces.
Major tourism leap
In July, the Department of Tourism (DOT) and Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that Negros Occidental is the second most visited place in the country by Filipino domestic travelers based on the agencies’ 2016 Household Survey on Domestics Visitors.
Behind only the National Capital Region, Negros Occidental outranked Pangasinan, Cavite, Quezon, Bohol, Cebu, Camarines Sur, Laguna, and Leyte in the list of top 10 most visited places.
The province also won big in the 2017 Pearl Awards held in Iloilo City last October. It is now a Hall of Fame awardee for its Panaad sa Negros Festival as Best Tourism Event Provincial Category.
In terms of food tourism, Sharyn’s Cansi House in Bacolod City was included in this year’s top 50 “street food masters” in the world by the World Street Food Congress.
The DOT said it is a validation that the province really has rich culinary tourism offerings.
The Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board in Western Visayas issued two wage orders this year benefiting workers in the region, including Negros Occidental.
In March, the P15 to P25 daily minimum wage increase took effect. Workers in the region now have daily rates of P271.50 to P323.50 depending on the classification of works.
Before the year ended, domestic helpers or “kasambahays” were granted a uniform monthly wage of P3,500 effective December 8.
Under the previous wage order, which lapsed last February, domestic workers in cities and first class municipalities received P2,500 per month while those in other towns were entitled to P2,000 only.