ANOTHER year is flying by really quick, and I guess we can all agree that 2023 has been a crazy year. While it was the time that the world declared the end of Covid-19 as a global health emergency, we saw Russia’s continuing invasion of Ukraine and the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war dominating the news like no other, affecting the lives even of Filipinos here and abroad.
As we bid farewell to 2023, it’s time to remember the events and stories that shaped the year in the Philippines. Here’s a look back at those that SunStar reported on and caught our readers’ attention.
1. End of Covid-19 emergency
You heard it right! We surpassed the Covid-19 pandemic. It was on July 21, three days before his second State of the Nation Address (Sona), when President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. lifted the state of public health emergency in the country through Proclamation 297.
The lifting was made based on the decline in deaths caused by the disease, as well as the decrease in Covid-related hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions and the public’s immunity to the virus. The International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) also acknowledged this when it declared the end to Covid-19 as a global health emergency in May three years after it broke out. The WHO stressed though that the virus is here to stay. “It is still killing and it is still changing. The risk remains of new variants emerging that cause new surges in cases and deaths,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general.
The Philippines, as of December 22, 2023 had a total of 4,132,200 Covid-19 cases, of which 66,795 have died and 5,569 cases have remained active. The rest have recovered.
2. Passage of Maharlika Investment Fund law
July 2023 was also the time when Marcos signed Republic Act 11954 establishing the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF).
According to the Department of Finance, the MIF will “catalyze economic development and accelerate the country’s growth by optimizing the use of government financial assets and promoting their intergenerational management.”
The government approved the revised implementing rules and regulations of the controversial MIF in November, paving the way for the fund’s implementation.
Marcos named Rafael D. Consing Jr. president and chief executive officer of the Maharlika Investment Corp.
A sovereign wealth fund is a state-owned investment fund comprised of money generated by the government, often derived from a country’s surplus reserves typically generated from commodity exports, that is invested in real and financial assets.
3. Degamo killing; Teves’ expulsion
The House of Representatives expelled Negros Oriental Third District Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. from its rolls in August, five months after the lawmaker was tagged as mastermind in the killing of the province’s governor, Roel Degamo, in March.
Degamo was shot to death inside his residential compound in Barangay San Isidro, Pamplona, Negros Oriental while he was attending to beneficiaries of the government’s cash dole-out program on March 4. He sustained several gunshot wounds. Nine other people were also killed and 16 were wounded.
Teves, who flew to Timor Leste to seek asylum, has denied involvement in the killing, but he was expelled from the House of Representatives due to his continued absence as he refused to return home, citing concerns over his safety. The House also cited Teves’ pursuit of political asylum and indecent behavior as other reasons for his expulsion.
4. Leila de Lima out, vows to fight back
A fierce critic of former President Rodrigo Duterte, former senator Leila de Lima walked free on November 13, 2023, after almost seven years of detention due to what she has said were politically motivated illegal drug charges filed against her. A Muntinlupa court had granted her bail petition for her remaining drug case.
In two other cases filed against her, she had been acquitted—in May 2023, after witnesses recanted and said they had lied about her involvement in narcotics trafficking, and in 2021, after the prosecution failed to establish a link between her and her co-accused.
She vowed to fight back, saying plans to file counter-charges against her persecutors are already on the table.
5. Confidential funds brouhaha
Amid criticism on the allocation of these funds, Congress cut down the requested confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) of civilian agencies of the Marcos administration without a mandate to perform investigations or surveillance under the 2024 National Expenditures Program.
The criticism came after it was revealed in September that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) under Sara Duterte had spent its P125 million in confidential funds in 2022 in just 11 days, despite it not being in the line budgeting of the agency during the fiscal year.
Duterte’s offices, the OVP and Department of Education, had requested for a combined P650 million CIF under the 2024 proposed budget. The Vice President, though, later expressed disinterest in pursuing the request due to criticism.
This led her father, former President Rodrigo Duterte, to come to her defense. But he ended up being summoned by the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office to answer charges of grave threats after he suggested killing opposition lawmaker France Castro as a possible use for his daughter’s confidential funds in the proposed 2024 budget. The 2024 General Appropriations Act was signed by President Marcos into law on December 20, 2023.
6. Socorro ‘cult’
The president and other officials of Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI), which was referred to as a “cult,” were arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation on November 7, 2023 for qualified trafficking in persons, facilitation of child marriage, solemnization of child marriage and child abuse.
SBSI president Jey Rence Quilario, also known as Senior Agila, Mamerto Galanida, Karren Sanico and Janeth Ajoc were called to a Senate probe into the group’s alleged illegal activities in Surigao del Norte in September. The group was accused of forcing children to get married, rape, and for not allowing sick members, including children, to be brought to hospital for treatment.
Quilario and the other members were cited in contempt during a Senate probe in September for parrying inquiries about child marriages supposedly happening within SBSI.
7. Israel-Hamas war
The ongoing Israel-Hamas war, which has so far killed over 20,000 people, has left at least four Filipinos, all of them overseas Filipino workers, dead. The war started on October 7 when Hamas launched an unprecedented surprise attack from Gaza on Israel.
Two other Filipinos taken by Hamas to Gaza as hostages were released in November.
The conflict also led to the seizure of an Israeli-linked cargo ship with 17 Filipino seafarers in the Red Sea. President Marcos has vowed to ensure the safe release of the 17 Filipinos who were seized along with other nationalities by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
Marcos has vowed that the Philippines will stand with Israel.
8. MSU Marawi bombing
At least four people were killed and 45 others were wounded when alleged members of the Daulah Islamiyah-Maute group detonated a bomb while a mass was ongoing inside a gym of Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi City on December 3, 2023.
The bombing resulted in the cancellation of classes at MSU Marawi for several days. Reports said the December 1 military operation in Maguindanao del Sur that resulted in the killing of 11 militants, including several members of the Daulah Islamiyah, might have been the reason for the MSU Marawi bombing.
At least four suspects have so far been identified.
9. Parojinog conviction
Ozamiz City Vice Mayor Nova Princess Parojinog was sentenced to life in prison and ordered to pay a fine of P500,000 in December 2023 after she was found guilty of possession of 677.6796 grams of illegal drugs.
She had been arrested on July 30, 2017, during a raid on their residence in Barangay San Roque, Ozamiz City that resulted in the killing of her family members, including her father, former mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr., mother Susan, sister Mona, brother Octavio and 12 other people.
The Parojinogs of Ozamiz had been linked to the illegal drug trade and other criminal activities by then President Rodrigo Duterte amid his deadly war on drugs.
10. Kapa scam conviction
Kapa Community Ministry International Inc.’s founder, Pastor Joel Apolinario, and its incorporators Cristobal Baradad and Joji Jusay were sentenced to life imprisonment in December for duping investors out of millions of pesos. They were found guilty of eight counts of syndicated estafa and were sentenced to pay eight actual damages amounting to P195,000 to the complainants.
The case against Kapa was filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2019 after the agency found Kapa enticing the public to donate at least P10,000 in exchange for a 30 percent monthly “blessing” or “love gift” for life, “without having to do anything other than invest and wait for the payout.”
Branch 33 of the Regional Trial Court of Butuan City, in a ruling issued on December 12, affirmed the SEC’s finding that the solicitation activities of Kapa were consistent with a Ponzi scheme.
Apolinario was arrested in July 2020 in Lingig, Surigao del Sur. Apolinario claimed that Kapa had five million members.