Flashback 2016: The past year’s biggest local stories

SO 2017 has arrived, and in this first issue of the year, Sun.Star Bacolod looks back at the biggest stories in Negros Occidental and Bacolod City in the past 12 months.

The year that was 2016 witnessed the triumphs and defeats, celebrations and griefs, and jubilations and struggles among the Negrenses and Bacolodnons in politics and governance, business, peace and order, and festivities.

Once again, here’s a glimpse of the top stories we covered in the previous year.

Duterte opens the 2016 MassKara

The 23-day MassKara Festival 2016, the longest celebration so far, was declared open by President Rodrigo Duterte on October 2 at the Bacolod public plaza.

Mayor Evelio Leonardia described the 37th MassKara Festival as unique, historic, and unforgettable because of one major reason, the presence of President Duterte.

He said that for 37 years, the Bacolodnons have embraced and nurtured the MassKara which has grown into proportions beyond wildest dreams, and expectations.

“We will be proud of this. Year in and year out,” Leonardia said

Food, waterborne diseases outbreak, dengue deaths

Food and waterborne diseases outbreak, and dengue deaths in Bacolod City were declared alarming in 2016.

In October, at least 145 pupils of Handumanan Elementary School-I were hospitalized after eating various food items from the canteen and also from ambulant vendors, prompting the City Health Office (CHO) to declare a “food and waterborne diseases outbreak” in the village.

The pupils were rushed to the hospital due to alleged food poisoning.

The pupils suffered nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea due to acute gastroenteritis and cholera amoebiasis.

Meanwhile, the death toll due to dengue has increased to 17 between the months of July and December, records of the CHO showed.

From January to December 15, 2016, Bacolod has a total of 1,803 dengue cases, CHO records showed.

Grupo Progreso’s big win

Grupo Progreso (GP)-Nationalist People’s Coalition led by Bacolod City Evelio Leonardia dominated the May 2016 local elections.

Leonardia, with 120,231 votes, won against former Mayor Monico Puentevella of Partido Magbinuligay Kita Para sa Kauswagan, who garnered only 97,993 votes.

Leonardia’s ally Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran also won, defeating businessman Vladimir Gonzalez.

Then vice mayor Greg Gasataya, also their partymate, became congressman after winning against his closest rival former vice mayor Jude Thaddeus Sayson.

Eight out of the 12 councilors were also from Grupo Progreso, including Ricardo Tan, Caesar Distrito, Cindy Rojas, Renecito Novero, Em Ang, Elmer Sy, Dindo Ramos, and Bartolome Orola.

Puentevella and Gonzalez filed an election protest before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) while Sayson also filed an election protest before the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal seeking a manual recount.

Puentevella’s supporters also filed an election protest before the Regional Trial Court (RTC).

Puentevella and Gonzalez’s petitions were already dismissed by the Comelec. The petitions filed by MKK’s supporters were also junked by the RTC.

Southeast Asia’s biggest solar farm

In 2016, the province has fully realized its goal of becoming the country’s leader in renewable energy generation particularly solar.

On March 3, the 132.5-megawatt (MW) solar power plant in Cadiz City was unveiled. It is considered as the biggest solar farm in Southeast Asia and the seventh largest in the world.

The P10-billion solar generation facility located on a 176-hectare area at Hacienda Paz in Barangay Tinampaan is run by Helios Solar Energy Corp. and developed through a partnership between Gregorio Araneta Inc. (GAI) and Soleq Holdings Inc.

The project is hugely part of at least 340-MW current solar power generation capacity of the province through five firms operating seven plants, including that of Aboitiz Power’s 59-MW solar power facility in San Carlos City which was inaugurated in April by then president Benigno Aquino III.

Envoys visit Negros Occidental

Negros Occidental also marked 2016 with visits of several members of the diplomatic corps.

In February and March, French Ambassador to the Philippines Thierry Mathou was in Cadiz City to grace the turnover of the rehabilitated classrooms and inauguration of the P132.5-MW solar power plant, respectively.

Israeli Ambassador Effie Ben Matityau was in Victorias City last June to witness the oath of office of the city officials and Third District Representative Alfredo Benitez.

Bangladesh Ambassador John Gomes took part in celebrating the 37th MassKara Festival in Bacolod City.

Argentina’s Ambassador Roberto Bosch capped the year’s envoy visits in the province.

Major infrastructure projects, investments

Property giant Megaworld Corp. has started the development of its P35-billion worth of two townships in Bacolod City.

In October, the firm, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Suntrust Properties Inc., launched the start of construction of its four model houses for the 24.52-hectare mid-cost residential project called The Fountain Grove.

Before 2016 ended, Megaworld also announced that early this year, they will start the development of its 7.5-hectare Northill Town Center.

Double Dragon Properties opened the City Mall in Mandalagan, Bacolod City last November, the first of its three malls in the province.

Telecommunication companies PLDT Inc. and Smart Communications Inc. launched their free Wi-Fi project at the Bacolod-Silay Airport in August. This forms part of the P1-billion free Wi-Fi installation project fund for 2016, which will mainly cover 16 airports in the country.

The Provincial Government of Negros Occidental has started the implementation of the P500-million infrastructure projects.

These included the P185.9-million renovation and expansion of the Provincial Administration Center; P115.5-million construction of the Negros First Food Terminal; P113.9-million development of the Capitol-run Sweet City Captel for conversion to Negros First Hostel; and the P84.8-million renovation and construction of Mambukal Mountain Resort Hotel and Convention Center.

El Niño hits agro-fishery sector

The year 2016 brought challenges to the province’s agro-fishery sector with the onset of El Niño.

In April, Negros Occidental was placed under a state of calamity due to the adverse effects of dry spell brought by El Niño phenomenon.

The agro-fishery sector of the province sufferred damages and losses amounting to about P500 million.

In different months, some LGUs were hit by disasters like heavy rains, floods and tornados.

Recent was in December, strong winds and surges felt in areas of E.B. Magalona, Manapla, Victorias City and Cadiz City.

Due to the intensity of damage the City Government of Cadiz declared state of calamity.

NegOcc, Bacolod officials join PDP-Laban

Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. lead elected officials in Negros Occidental, including Bacolod City, in taking their oaths as members of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas Ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) of President Rodrigo Duterte on September 30.

Majority of the local officials supported the presidential bid of former Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who had an overwhelming win in the province in the May 9 elections.

However, after the elections, Marañon, along with 20 mayors, 19 vice mayors, 152 councilors, and two board members, pledged their allegiance to the administration party.

The oath-taking of about 200 Negrense officials was administered by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, PDP-Laban secretary-general.

Third District Representative Alfredo Benitez, who supported the presidential bid of Senator Grace Poe in the May 9 polls, swore in with PDP-Laban after the elections.

Marañon unopposed; Ferrer loses

Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. ran unopposed for his third and final term, but his bailiwick in the Second District failed to deliver the expected substantial votes for his running mate, former Fourth District representative Jeffrey Ferrer.

Ferrer lost by a margin of 12,316 votes against incumbent Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson.

Lacson got 479,206 votes against Ferrer’s 466,890.

Marañon admitted that Ferrer’s defeat was due to failure of machinery and overconfidence as the Second District leaders did not delivered overwhelming votes for the governor’s running mate.

Second District, which has a total of 183,269 registered voters, is composed of the cities of Sagay and Cadiz and Manapla town. Ferrer got 73,223 votes in the Second District while Lacson garnered 47,037.

Lacson even won in Manapla with 11,695 votes compared to Ferrer with 8,436.

Negros Island Region survives

Negros Island Region (NIR) survived the year even after reports that President Rodrigo Duterte is ready to sign the executive order (EO) abolishing the region.

Negrenses led by Governors Alfredo Marañon Jr. of Negros Occidental and Roel Degamo of Negros Oriental lobbied for its retention.

A signature campaign to save NIR was launched by the Negros Occidental provincial government in November. Various sectors also signified its support to the region.

NIR was created through EO signed by former president Benigno Aquino III on May 29, 2015, separating Negros Occidental from Western Visayas, or Region 6, and Negros Oriental from Central Visayas, or Region 7.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno, who supports NIR, said that Duterte seemed to have a change of heart on the existence of the young region after hearing the clamor of the people.

The fate of NIR will be tackled in the Cabinet meeting this January.

9 killed in NPA atrocities

The New People’s Army (NPA) launched successive attacks in Negros Occidental in the first half of the year, which claimed the lives of nine people, including four soldiers, two policemen, and a reelected councilor.

On January 23, some armed men ransacked the house of Barangay San Agustin chief Agapito Euraoba of Isabela town to serve the village leader an order from the People’s Court for alleged corruption.

Three weeks later, some 60 rebels came to Barangay Mansablay in Isabela to ransack the house of its village chief, Aurelio Tolero, to look for firearms.

Seven days later, the NPA ambushed the personnel of Candoni Municipal Police Station near Panaculan Creek Bridge in Barangay Caningay, Candoni on February 18, which killed two policemen and wounded two others and a civilian.

On May 1, Corporal Nelski Marino, a member of the 62nd Infantry Battalion assigned in Barangay Bato, Sagay City, was killed in Barangay San Isidro, Toboso.

Members of the 79th IB encountered eight rebels while they were conducting security operations at Sitio Malangsa in Barangay Talacdan, Cauayan.

The next day, about 15 rebels attacked the property of Isabela Mayor Enrique Montilla III at Sitio Iscuala in Barangay San Agustin.

A week after, the rebels staged an ambush at Sitio Carbon in Barangay San Isidro, Toboso on May 14, which killed three soldiers and wounded two others.

On May 22, rebels hit a farm workers’ bunkhouse at Barangay General Luna in Sagay City, which killed two farmers and injured two others. They also captured a paramilitary man, and later released him.

Reelected Isabela Councilor Crispin Posadas Jr. was gunned down at the town’s public market on June 29.

Two town mayors, ex-Bacolod mayor pass away

Two reelected mayors in Negros Occidental passed away in 2016 due to ailments.

On May 27, reelected San Enrique Mayor Mario Magno succumbed to multiple organ failure on May 27. He was 64.

Magno was proclaimed for his third and final term a day after the May 9 elections.

Vice Mayor-elect Jilson Tubillara assumed the mayoral post on July 1.

On October 5, Cauayan Mayor Jerry Tabujara, then 68, succumbed to liver ailment.

Former Bacolod City Mayor Oscar Verdeflor, who was 80, served Bacolod for one term from 1998 to 2001. He succumbed to septic shock on Nov. 21 at the Dr. Pablo O. Torre Memorial Hospital in Bacolod.

Fatal shootings in Bacolod

On the morning of March 3, a suspected hired gunman was shot to death by one of the two unidentified assailants on board a motorcycle in Barangay Mansilingan, Bacolod City.

Romulo “Kid Ramir” Arseña, 50 years old, was driving his Isuzu pick-up, when the gunman fired at him using a .45-caliber pistol.

On the night of April 1, retired Senior Police Officer 2 Jonathan Hermosura, 54, and carpenter Renato Cuesta were gunned down by two unidentified men on a motorcycle outside Hermosura’s house also in Barangay Mansilingan.

Towards the end of the year, three men were killed while six others, including three drug personalities, were injured after they were shot by two unidentified men on a motorcycle in separate incidents in Bacolod on December 20.

The first incident happened at Purok Kawayan, Barangay 28, that resulted to the death of Johnny Sisbrenio, Edwin Magbanua Despi and Ben Nabor, when the assailants, who wore bonnets fired at them in front of a sari-sari store.

Also injured was Allan Torrecarion, 40, a drug surrenderer.

Two unidentified suspects on a motorcycle also injured five men, including two top drug personalities and a pedicab driver, at Purok Sigay, Barangay 2.

The victims identified as Franklin Dadivas, Alfred Mendoza, Harold Young, and Noel Diaz, and pedicab driver Jose Sin Coja.

Last December 25, a Chinese businessman and a security guard were killed after an unidentified man carted away P1 million worth of cash sales from their store on Locsin-Luzuriaga Streets in Barangay 13.

Changle Wu, who owns JDS Mindoro Enterprises Corporation, and security guard Jilbert Mayang, 40, were killed while three others were injured after they were shot by unidentified robber minutes after they closed the store on Christmas night. Injured were Chinese nationals Wei Quang Huang, Yuan Long Huang, and Zhang Xiao Dong.

28,277 surrender thru Oplan Tokhang

In a span of six months, the intensified anti-drug campaign of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte led to a total of 28,277 drug surrenderers, including pushers and users in Negros Island Region (NIR) through “Oplan Tokhang” from July 1 to December 22.

Of the total drug surrenderers, 26,275 were users and 2,002 were pushers.

Newly-identified drug personalities reached 25,565, with 24,269 users and 1,296 pushers.

A total of 13,248 yielded to Negros Oriental Police Provincial Office (Norppo); 11,378, Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office (Nocppo); and 3,651, Bacolod City Police Office (BCPO).

Norppo recorded 12,320 users and 928 pushers, while Nocppo listed 10,578 users and 800 pushers. The BCPO recorded 3,377 users and 274 pushers.
Police visited 16,929 houses as of June 30.

A total of 6,708 drug personalities were visited in Norppo; 8,130 in Nocppo; and 2,091 in BCPO.

Records showed 19 drug personalities were killed, mostly in police operations since the implementation of Oplan Tokhang and Oplan Doble Barrel on July 1.

One user and two pushers killed were listed while two users and 14 pushers killed were not listed, records further said.

A total of 883 drug personalities were arrested. Of the 883 arrested, 344 were users and 539 were pushers. Thirty-seven of which were listed and 603 were not listed.

Records showed that 229 drug personalities were recorded in Norppo; 356 in Nocppo and 298 in BCPO.

Public officials linked to drugs yield, arrested

A town councilor and a former vice mayor in Negros Occidental voluntarily surrendered while a village chief in Bacolod City was arrested and charged in relation to the government massive anti-illegal drug campaign.

On July 11, Joseph Gerald Marañon, a former vice mayor of Sagay City, voluntarily surrendered to Senior Superintendent William Señoron, acting provincial director of Nocppo.

He is the son of the late governor Joseph Marañon and nephew of Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr.

On November 9, Councilor Alberto “White” Nicor III of La Castellana town, yielded to officials of Police Regional Office (PRO) - 18.

He is the brother of La Castellana Mayor Rhumyla Nicor Mangilimutan and son of Alberto Nicor Jr., a former mayor of the said town.

Both admitted they were once drug users, but have decided to stop engaging in illegal drug activity even before the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.

On November 29, village head Manuel “Maui” Huelar Jr. of Barangay 35, Bacolod City was arrested by Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency-Negros Island Region operatives in a drug bust inside a pension house in Barangay Singcang-Airport.

Charges were filed before the City Prosecutor’s Office against Huelar, who denied being a drug pusher, for violation of Section 5 (sale of dangerous drugs) and Section 11 (possession of dangerous drugs) of Republic Act 9165 or Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

32 Negrense ‘narco-cops’ sacked

Policemen in Negros Island Region were among those included in the lists of personalities tagged as drug protectors.

On August 9, Senior Superintendent Ricardo de la Paz, former officer-in-charge of Directorial Staff of Police Regional Office (PRO)-18; and Senior Superintendent Ruperto Floro Jr., former OIC of Personnel and Human Resource Development Division of PRO-18, were stripped of their functions, after they were being allegedly tagged as drug protectors.

It was followed by series of relief of some commissioned and non-commissioned officers in PRO-18 in October, November, and December. They were transferred to PRO-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and PRO-Cordillera Administrative Region.

Relieved last October 28 were Superintendents Jacob Crisostomo, Santiago Rapiz, Lino Dalisay, and Rosauro Francisco, Chief Inspectors Joemarie Occeño and Rico Santotome, and Superintendent Leonardo Angcon.

Also relieved were Chief Inspector Jose Mulleta, Senior Inspector Gideon Montaño, Police Officer 3 Dennis Ywayan, Police Officers 2 Ferdimark Peñaroyo, Jett Baloya, Jeffrey Toquero, and Amor Firmeza.

Added to the list were Senior Police Officer 4 Randy Rentillo, Senior Police Officer 2 Jo Raymund Eraula, Senior Police Officers 1 Fidel Alcoma, Joebert Benjamin and Joey Genterola, Police Officer 3 Lyle Canazares, Police Officers 2 Conrado Juguan III, Venjo Tortosa and Armar Mariano, Police Officers 1 Ivan Torch Irog, Jezreel Dalisay, Harvey Mash Tison, Raymar Geocadin, and Job Santander, who were relieved effective November 19.

The two Bacolod policemen relieved in December were Inspector Stephen Boniba, and Police Officer 3 Dave Dapat.

PNP chief visits Bacolod

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald de la Rosa came to Bacolod City last August 25 and met with more than 800 drug surrenderers at the Bays Center, where he told them to kill the drug lords and burn their houses if they want to.

De la Rosa apologized for his “controversial” statement and instead explained what he meant about it.

During his visit, De la Rosa also witnessed the assumption of Chief Superintendent Renato Gumban as the second police regional director.
He took over the post from Chief Superintendent Conrado Capa, who led the police force for nine months until his official retirement on August 29.