The year that was: 5 people who hogged the headlines
MANILA, Philippines—It’s been a colorful and remarkable year for good and bad news, including those that fall in between. But in over 300 days, some stories are more controversial than others.
As we turn the page to another year, let’s look back and see who grabbed headlines in 2022.
Just as 2022 nears its end, the walls of prison can’t stop reports on anomalies and scandals from freeing themselves.
The New Bilibid Prison (NBP), the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City, is run by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).
Irregularities in the NBP began to surface after the killing of broadcaster Percival Mabasa, popularly known as Percy Lapid.
BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag was suspended from his duty amid the investigation of the Lapid murder case and the death of the alleged middleman in the hit contract who was said to be from the penitentiary.
The middleman was identified as Cristito Palaña, earlier referred to as Crisanto or Jun Villamor.
Bantag, who is facing murder complaints and among the persons of interests in the slay case, was named by authorities as the “mastermind” who gave the order to kill Lapid and Palaña.
“From the results of the fact-finding investigation of the [Department of Justice], as Secretary [Jesus Crispin] Remulla said, the totality of evidence points to General Bantag as the mastermind. Although, we are not discounting the possibility that there could be persons higher than Bantag that can be involved in the killings,” Danilo Pelagio, Lapid’s family lawyer, said in an ANC interview.
Remulla, meanwhile, in a news conference said: “I’d like to ask [Ricardo] Zulueta and Bantag to surrender and face the charges. If they are innocent, the law will uphold them. If they are guilty, then they would have to face the consequences.”
Ricardo Zulueta, BuCor deputy security officer, was tagged as the one who supposedly relayed directions to the hitmen.
Bantag had denied involvement in the murder case.
Following Bantag’s suspension, former armed forces chief-of-staff Gregorio Catapang Jr. took over and had been designated as BuCor officer-in-charge (OIC).
Catapang’s leadership led to a series of discoveries, including the seizure of contraband of canned beers and crystal meth or shabu in the NBP’s Maximum Security Compound last November.
The BuCor OIC also revealed an excavation inside the NBP, adjacent the director’s quarters, the official residence of the agency’s director general.
The excavation, which included a tunnel, covered four hectares and has a depth of up to 30 meters.
Bantag argued that the excavation was for his bid to create the “deepest swimming pool” in Metro Manila for BuCor personnel who are scuba diving enthusiasts like him.
Further, an inspection of the penitentiary revealed a mini zoo which housed horses, game fowl and pythons, according to Catapang.
Leila de Lima
Former senator Leila de Lima has been making headlines since she linked then President Rodrigo Duterte to extrajudicial killings in connection with his bloody anti-drug campaign.
De Lima has been detained since 2017 over what she branded as trumped-up drug charges. She has been acquitted in one of three cases.
This year, De Lima became the talk of town again due to her “near-death experience” as other detainees attempted to hold her hostage inside her cell in Camp Crame in Quezon City.
The former legislator was unharmed.
Identified hostage-taker Feliciano Sulayao Jr. and fellow detainees Arnel Cabintoy and Idang Susukan ganged up on and stabbed a Philippine National Police (PNP) officer as they tried to escape the detention facility.
Another officer saw the jailbreak attempt and shot Cabintoy and Susukan who were both killed.
Sulayao ran to De Lima’s cell and held her hostage. Officers negotiated with Sulayao but to no avail.
The hostage taker was killed after a police team engaged with him.
“If not for the timely intervention of the PNP security forces, I don’t think I would have come out alive since the hostage-taker was already determined to die and take me with him,” De Lima recounted in a statement.
“I consider what happened to me as a near-death experience,” she said.
The PNP acknowledged that there may have been lapses in its handling of prisoners.
After the foiled hostage attempt, calls to free De Lima resurfaced.
Despite entering national consciousness just this year, Vic Rodriguez’s stint as executive secretary lasted for only a few months.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. named Rodriguez, his long-time chief-of-staff and spokesperson during the 2022 presidential campaign, as executive secretary, a post known as “little president” because of the power it carried.
After 79 days, Rodriguez stepped down from his post last September, citing the need to focus on his family.
But before the little president’s exit, he was entangled in the controversial sugar importation fiasco.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee looked into Sugar Order No. 4, which authorized the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar, on the website of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).
The order was disowned by Malacañang, saying that the president, who concurrently sits as agriculture chief, rejected the proposed importation.
While the panel recommended charges to be filed against four officials of the Department of Agriculture and SRA over the issue, the Senate minority bloc stressed that Rodriguez is “not entirely blameless” in the blunder.
“He [Rodriguez] is the primary person to protect the principal, protect the president,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said at a press conference.
“He has shortcomings because he did not fully inform the president at a timely manner about the progress of the process that led to Sugar Order No. 4,” she added in Filipino.
Last October, Rodriguez confirmed his “complete exit” from the Marcos administration following a lengthy talk with Marcos.
In one of the most known cases of red-tagging, a doctor made headlines after being accused of involvement in the insurgency.
Dr. Maria Natividad “Naty” Castro, a red-tagged human rights advocate, was arrested by the San Juan City police last February for supposed kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges.
Authorities alleged that Castro was part of the CPP’s central committee and head of the New People’s Army’s National Health Bureau.
Rights group Karapatan, however, asserted that she was a human rights and health worker in Mindanao.
“Karapatan denounces the arrest of human rights and health worker Dr. Naty Castro as yet another form of attack against human rights defenders. This despicable policy and practice of the Duterte regime of filing trumped-up charges against rights defenders in an attempt to silence them should stop,” the group said in a statement.
Last March, Castro was released following the ruling of the Bayugan City Regional Trial Court Branch 7 which stated that it found no probable cause against the doctor.
However, state prosecutors continued to hound Castro, filing a motion for reconsideration, pushing the court to review the case.
A June 16 order reversed the dismissal of the case against Castro.
Castro was involved in setting up community centers in Mindanao and had trained several human rights workers for years.
The doctor had also participated in a delegation of human rights defenders in the United Nations Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva, Switzerland in 2016. There, she raised the plight of lumad communities in Mindanao.
Lumad suffered killings, arrests, and forced evacuations in Mindanao during the martial law declaration of then-President Duterte.
Aside from a new president, the country also welcomed a new set of senators this year following the May 9 elections.
On the list of winning senators, actor Robin Padilla led the race with over 26 million votes.
Padilla’s time in the political limelight was just starting. His views on pressing issues piqued public interest.
One of Padilla’s views that sparked widespread discussion was his bid to institutionalize civil unions of same-sex couples in the Philippines.
The Grand Imam of the Marawi Grand Mosque and his followers withdrew support for Padilla, a Muslim convert.
“I regret to inform all Muslims in general and the Muslims in the Philippines that I and those who follow me have withdrawn our support for Senator Robin Padilla and strongly condemn his sponsorship of Same-Sex Marriage Bill No. (449) Civil Unions Acts in the Senate,” Grand Imam Alim Abdulmajeed Djamla said.
Hontiveros, on the other hand, was “thrilled” to have an ally on gender equality issues.
“I am thrilled to have a passionate ally in Senator Padilla and I look forward to working with him in championing equality and LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) rights on the Senate floor,” she said.
On another issue, Padilla is insisting on legalizing drug use in the country.
“We can always amend the law. We need to try. We also need to hear the medical point of view because we’ve already acted from the law enforcement point of view. There’s nothing wrong with that. If it’s not effective, then let’s change it next year. Let’s remove that law,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino at a Senate panel hearing.
Just a month before voicing out his opinion on the matter, he underwent a drug test in a public display of support for Duterte’s controversial anti-drug campaign.
“Authorities should just be going after drug dealers and us, civilians, so that their work will be easier – if we have the means – don’t wait for it to be mandatory, volunteer already to undergo a drug test,” he said in Filipino.
Moreover, as traffic congestion continued to pester commuters and motorists, the neophyte senator proposed the use of cable cars. Padilla’s suggestion garnered both criticism and support from the public.
READ: Mungkahing cable car ni Sen. Robinhood Padilla matagal nang aprub; KSMBPI balak i-merge ang traditional media at vloggers
As we look back at 2022, we look forward to 2023 and ask: Who will grab next year’s headlines?
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