The Year That Shocked

The year 2016 blindsided Filipinos around the world, especially those who champion social justice and diversity.

In the United States, the United Kingdom and especially the ancestral homeland, Filipinos woke up the day after national elections to a cold and hard reality check.

SHOCK turned to despair for contented Filipino Americans who had expected their first female compatriot to own the nickname POTUS only to realize that, in fact, a billionaire who had never been elected to public office would succeed President Barack Obama.

Republican Donald Trump on November 8 won the electoral vote by taking 306 over Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 232.  But the business mogul garnered 46.1% of the popular vote against the former senator and secretary of state’s  48.1%.  So while 65,476,535 or a majority of American voters favored Clinton and fewer voters or 62,821,935 chose Trump, the total electoral votes representing congressional districts in each state decided the 45th leader of the free world, per this country’s system aimed by the founding fathers to empower smaller states. 

 President-elect Donald J. Trump (Source: Telegraph UK)

President-elect Donald J. Trump (Source: Telegraph UK)

Trump critics expressed fear that the next administration would fuel a resurgence of anti-immigrant, environmentally flawed policies. Oakland, California- based Filipino Advocates for Justice promptly issued a statement pledging to reject “racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic politics we just witnessed on a national scale and to assess what the immediate and long-term impact will be on our community policies.”

Clinton foes rejoiced over the victor’s promise to “make America great again” and unify the country with policies that include deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, building a wall along the nation’s southern borders, repealing the Affordable Care Act and revising tax codes to “generate jobs.”

Brexit

Months earlier Great Britain’s referendum voters startled Europe by passing “Brexit,” declaring their desire to split from the European Union by March 2017.  The result of the June 23 ballot triggered the resignation of erstwhile Prime Minister David Cameron and ushered in the UK’s second woman premier, Theresa May.  May, ironically, had advocated to remain in the union but said she would respect the people’s will as top tenant of No. 10 Downing Street. 

 A British Independence supporter (Source: The Independent UK)

A British Independence supporter (Source: The Independent UK)

England and Wales voted to leave by over 52%, but 62% of Scots wanted to remain. 

Global terrorism and the flood of refugees obviously influenced the outcome of both U.S. and U.K. polls.  Trump, who applauded Brexit, had pledged to strengthen and “crush” Islamic extremists.  “Leave” leaders from the U.K. Independence Party and the Conservative Party vociferously wanted to stop immigration from the Continent or other parts of Europe, which they said could not happen while the the kingdom remained in EU.

Pro-"remain" British Filipinos wondered about relocating to Scotland while Canada looked pretty attractive to Filipino Americans, whose internet searches may have contributed to the reported post-election crash of the Canadian immigration website.  

U.K. citizen Maria Ronson who retired as Associated Press Vice President for Asia and Pacific the month of the referendum pondered the impending change.  

“I hope that London's vibrant cultural diversity continues even if Brexit's disciples in the UK preached the need to protect its borders," Ronson, who lived in England for 16 years, said from her current home in Santa Rosa, Laguna.  

"This will, understandably, cause some friction as immigrants may be perceived as taking away jobs at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet. But I have lived through the early Thatcher years when unions held protests that seem never ending and resentment against the establishment was high then saw a country transform itself through the years -- buoyant and optimistic. Am hopeful the same will hold true despite some dire predictions for the future,” Ronson added.

Philippines

IN THE PHILIPPINES Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte defeated administration bet Mar Roxas for the presidency during the May 9 election.

 President Rodrigo Duterte (Photo by Ace Morandante)

President Rodrigo Duterte (Photo by Ace Morandante)

The unexpected winner prevailed over legislatively more experienced contenders like Sen. Chiz Escudero and the wildly popular Grace Poe Llamanzares.  The latter topped the 2013 senatorial race and in April won the Supreme Court’s nod on her claim to natural-born Filipino status and 10-year residency required to run for president, but withered in the ultimate contest.

Wharton grad Roxas – grandson of President Manuel Roxas – appeared poised to succeed President Benigno Aquino III.  Aquino had “anointed” his 2008 running mate, whom he had named Interior and Local Government Secretary after Roxas lost the vice presidency to Jejomar Binay.

Despite the Aquino government’s financial and social accomplishments and Roxas’ best attempts to appeal to the masses, voters opted for Duterte, who answered to no one in curbing crime in his Mindanao town.  

The Aquino government's reinforcement of democratic institutions weighed less among voters whose lives changed little. Traditional politicians often from longstanding clans have continued to dominate the political landscape after the 1986 ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.   

This year all sorts of charges rained down on public officials: plunder against Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin in the PhP2-B helicopter deal in 2013; graft against Sen. JV Ejercito for multimillion-peso purchase of high-powered weapons while mayor of San Juan (he was recently exonerated); graft against dismissed Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian in the fire that ravaged his Kentex footwear factory and killed over 72 the year prior (he was also cleared).

Some charges led to conviction.  The Sandiganbayan sentenced Laguna Lake Development Authority General Manager Neric Acosta to 10 years in prison for graft over misuse of pork barrel funds while  representing Bukidnon.

Who knew billions flowed in and out of the country?

Casino operator Kim Wong returned over $38 million to the  Anti-Money Laundering Council he claimed was part of PhP 1 billion he had accepted as payment for debt from high rollers.  The money turned out to be stolen from a Bank of Bangladesh account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  Wong testified at a Senate hearing on a suspected $8.1-billion laundering scheme that he had picked up part of the money at the residence of the owner of a remittance firm.

Under President Aquino, the Philippines shed its economic reputation as the “sick man of Asia" by posting 6% growth or third fastest after China and Vietnam.  But lack of law and order and social discontent dictated the people’s election choice.  Hence the new Philippine President, who unapologetically compares himself to Adolph Hitler, considers due process as an inconvenience in his war on crime, and cussed Obama for assailing executions of suspected drug addicts and pushers (he got a pat on the back from Trump on this).

Duterte prefers to play nice with China even in the wake of the Permanent Court of Arbitration July 9 ruling favoring his own country over the legality of China’s nine-dash line claim to what Filipinos call the West Philippine Sea, aka South China Sea.

 The Nine Dash Line area in the West Philippine Sea claimed by China (Source: UNCLOS, RFA)

The Nine Dash Line area in the West Philippine Sea claimed by China (Source: UNCLOS, RFA)

Filipinos who voted for Duterte had envisioned change, but his initial policies have pointed to a journey back in time.  

Who would have thought that Ferdinand Marcos, who tried to be president for life, would be entombed with revered statesmen at the Heroes’ Cemetery?  Maybe his family did, but certainly not the multitude that marched throughout the country in 1986 demanding and eventually forcing his ouster.

But on Nov. 18, Marcos was buried in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in private rites, resulting in protests by thousands of mostly millennial demonstrators.  Ten days earlier the Supreme Court had voted 9-5 to transfer the strongman’s remains from his hometown mausoleum to the hallowed ground.  Perfect gift to the Marcoses on the 30th anniversary of People Power that booted the dictator out of Malacanan.

 Anti-Marcos burial protestors (Source: Philstar.com)

Anti-Marcos burial protestors (Source: Philstar.com)

Marcos son Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is steadfast in his ambition to become vice president, which was thwarted by his opponent Leni Robredo.  The widow of the popular Interior & Local Government secretary who died in a 2012 plane crash narrowly edged “Bongbong” in the May elections. Still battling her adversary’s attempts to unseat her with allegations of fraud, Robredo -- a lawyer and former member of Congress -- recently resigned abruptly as chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council after being banned by the chief executive from further attending cabinet meetings.

 Vice President Leni Robredo (Source: Rappler.com)

Vice President Leni Robredo (Source: Rappler.com)

"This is the last straw, because it makes it impossible for me to perform my duties,” Robredo said in her Dec. 5 resignation statement, vowing to “support the positive initiatives of this administration and oppose those that are inimical to the people's interest.”

Speaking of political dynasties, Liberal Party congressional candidate Geraldine Roman held the torch for her Bataan clan. Like Poe Llamanzares, Roman is a “balikbayan.”  She lived in Spain where she reportedly was an editor of a news agency. The 49-year-old returned to the Philippines in 2012 to be with her parents and carry on their political plans, which was not unexpected.  What scored headlines was her being the first transgenger to vie for and win an election where a majority are fervently Catholic.  

 Newly elected Representative Geraldine Roman (Source: BBC)

Newly elected Representative Geraldine Roman (Source: BBC)

“Gender is not an important issue really,” the new lawmaker said. “The capacity of a person to serve his or her country does not depend on our gender. It depends on what you have in your heart and your desire to serve others.”

Daly City, California

ACROSS THE GLOBE, Daly City, California, made history as the first municipality in the U.S. mainland with Fil-Ams holding four of the five seats in the City Council.  First-termers Glenn Sylvester and Juslyn Manalo joined longtime council members Mike Guingona, Ray Buenaventura and Judith Christensen at the helm of the town with the highest concentration of Filipino Americans in the continental United States.  The City Council then voted Sylvester, a retired sergeant with the San Francisco Police Deptartment, and Manalo, a community advocate, as Mayor and Vice Mayor – unprecedented for the town’s new council members on their first day in office.  

 Newly-elected Daly City Councillor Juslyn Manalo (Source: Twitter)

Newly-elected Daly City Councillor Juslyn Manalo (Source: Twitter)

 Newly-elected Daly City Councillor Glenn Sylvester (Source: Inquirer.net)

Newly-elected Daly City Councillor Glenn Sylvester (Source: Inquirer.net)

While landmark, the occasion came at the expense of Guingona, who remained in the council after losing his bid for San Mateo County Supervisor representing District 5.  Guingona lost to fellow council member David Canepa, who was supported by  Buenaventura, Sylvester and Manalo.

Guingona’s defeat is the community’s loss, according to Guy Guerrero, co-founder of the nonprofit Filipino American Chamber of Commerce-San Mateo County. He had driven the successful effort to make the county to switch to in-district voting in hopes of getting a person of color (by Guerrero's preference a Fil-Am) elected to county office.    

Part of the problem was Fil-Am disunity, Guerrero stressed.  Officers of Pilipino Bayanihan Resource Center, cradle of area Fil-Am political aspirants, were divided between the two candidates. 

Guingona endorser and President Clinton appointee to the Federal Council on Aging Alice Peña Bulos was spared disappointment over the local and national election results.

 Alice Bulos with Daly City Councillor Ray Buenaventura (Photo courtesy of Ray Buenaventura)

Alice Bulos with Daly City Councillor Ray Buenaventura (Photo courtesy of Ray Buenaventura)

The "mother of FilAm political empowerment" died of heart failure Oct. 21 at Seton Medical Center.  The  selfless community leader was 86 and had been bedridden by severe arthritis.  And yet she welcomed allies and opponents alike seeking counsel to her South San Francisco home.  Four months earlier she had joined friends in memorializing her protégée Erlinda Tiongco Galeon, who lost her battle with cancer on June 13.

 Erlinda T. Galeon (Source: GMA News)

Erlinda T. Galeon (Source: GMA News)

The indefatigable Mrs. Galeon poured her time and resources to nonprofits in Daly City and beyond.  The late library trustee supported education, donating to scholarships for underprivileged children.

Global Pride

FILIPINAS on both sides of the Pacific made news.

CBS Weekend News and CBSN anchor Elaine Quijano moderated during the US vice presidential debate.  The 42-year-old was the first Asian American, digital journalist and reportedly youngest moderator of a national debate since 1988. CBS veteran news reporter Bob Schiffer rated her performance as "splendid."

 Elaine Quijano questions then Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence (Source: CBSN)

Elaine Quijano questions then Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence (Source: CBSN)

ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation chair and anti-mining activist Gina Lopez joined the Duterte cabinet as Department of Environment and Natural Resources secretary.

 Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez and President Rodrigo Duterte (Source: RTVM/Rappler.com)

Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez and President Rodrigo Duterte (Source: RTVM/Rappler.com)

"I don't just want to regulate.  I want to address poverty," said the first scion of the industrialist family in the executive branch of government since her grand uncle Fernando Lopez was Vice President.  

Senator and former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima publicly sparred with President Duterte who accused her and other officials of involvement in drug trafficking in the national penitentiary.  De Lima has denied charges.  At the Annual Conference on Cultural Diplomacy this month in Berlin, she raised alarm over the administration's human rights violations she alleged to have cost 5,882 lives to date.  She has also blasted Duterte's threat to repeal the 1998  Visiting Forces Agreement following the US Millennium Challenge Corporation decision to suspend assistance due to concerns over human rights violations.

 Senator Leila De Lima (Photo by Joan Bondoc/Inquirer.net)

Senator Leila De Lima (Photo by Joan Bondoc/Inquirer.net)

Seniors and youth drew the attention of Philippine lawmakers. Children will receive comprehensive relief in the wake of disasters while elders lucky to mark their 100th birthday will get PhP100,000 and other benefits.

SOURCES OF PRIDE: Diwata-1, the country's first micro-satellite and the first satellite to be built and designed by Filipinos, was launched from the Cygnus to the International Space Station. Groundbreaking took place for the future Clark Green City, the nation’s first sustainable city, in Angeles, Pampanga, site of the former U.S. Air Force base.   June saw the birth of the first Filipino-made hybrid electric train.

 Microsat DOST Scholars and the Diwata-1  satellite (Source: DOST)

Microsat DOST Scholars and the Diwata-1  satellite (Source: DOST)

CAUSES CELEBRE: The US Congress on Nov. 30 greenlighted the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Medal Act of 2015, rousing WWII vets around the country.

 A Filipino World War II veteran (Source: FilVetREP)

A Filipino World War II veteran (Source: FilVetREP)

“Today is truly a great day, a significant seminal period in American history – second only to the liberation of the Philippines and surrender of the Japanese Imperial Forces on August 15, 1945,” Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret), chair of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project or FilVetREP, said Nov. 30 from the east coast. “Now we can tell our veterans with pride in our hearts that this grateful nation has, at last, granted them recognition for the selfless sacrifice they endured in war, and restored their dignity and honor in service to their nation.”

The occasion coincides with the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines,” pointed out Cecilia Gaerlan, executive director of Bataan Legacy History Society in the San Francisco Bay Area.  “The Filipinos formed the majority of the USAFFE and they forged an unbreakable bond with their American brothers in the trenches of Bataan and Corregidor. Their forces were able to delay the timetable of the Imperial Japanese Army despite suffering from massive disease and starvation and fighting without any air support.”

In August, the Filipino soldiers’ contribution to the defense of democracy was approved for inclusion in the U.S. history curriculum framework for Grade 11 in California, thanks to the advocacy of Gaerlan, daughter of a WWII veteran, BLHS and its allies. No secondary school curriculum framework in the other 49 states covers the subject, which is of personal interest to children and descendants of US Filipino WWII veterans.

Hope SPRINGS ETERNAL: The government and the National Democratic Front signed a ceasefire pact Aug. 26days after Satur Ocampo and other leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines received conditional approval to attend peace talks in Oslo with representatives of the Duterte administration.

The Senate reopened hearings one year after the January 2015 Mamasapano confrontation that killed 44 elite police officers and at least 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

 The 44 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force who died while fighting the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. (Source: Politiko)

The 44 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force who died while fighting the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. (Source: Politiko)

Terrorists wreaked havoc anew Aug. 27 in Mindanao where 20 inmates escaped after the Maute band raided the Lanao Del Sur provincial jail.  Months earlier the Abu Sayyaf had beheaded a Canadian tourist in Jolo.

Following a bomb blast in his home province, Duterte in September declared a state of emergency due to lawlessness.  That did not halt preparations for the next major event expected to draw the world's eye on the media-magnet Philippine president.

Neither has the petition initiated in October by women leaders including former beauty pageant winner and Tourism Sec. Gemma Cruz Araneta to cancel the pageant in protest against Duterte's "chauvinism" dampened excitement over the next Miss Universe contest.

At press time the Miss Universe pageant was on schedule for January 30, 2017 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City. Current titleholder and Miss Philippines  Pia Wurtzbach will reunite with last year's emcee, Steve Harvey, who set social media ablaze at the December 2015 coronation by announcing another contestant as the winner only to return to the stage minutes later to correct himself. Harvey recently disclosed that he merely read the prompter as directed.  Makes sense now that he's reprising the role next month. No harm, no foul.

 Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach (Source: USA Today)

Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach (Source: USA Today)

Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said tickets will cost from $160 (general admission) to $1,000 (VIP).

No, President Duterte is not going to be among the judges, but given events throughout the year, anything is possible.


 Cherie Querol Moreno

Cherie Querol Moreno

Cherie M. Querol Moreno is a Commissioner with the San Mateo County Commission on Aging and executive director of nonprofit ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment. She is editor at large of Philippine News, columnist for Philippines Today USA and contributor to Rappler and GMA News Online.