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Philippines' biggest news of 2022: Marcos return and new normal

By Juaniyo Arcellana Published Dec 31, 2022 3:50 pm

The news stories that dominated the headlines in the past year were topped by a Marcos restoration at the Palace and the slow exit from a pandemic into the so-called new normal.

Thirty-six years after the family was ousted in a popular revolution, the son and political heir of arguably the most divisive president of the republic, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was elected to the presidency by a landslide in May with 31 million votes, more than the combined votes of his opponents.

Marcos rode on a theme of unity, and coupled with social media savvy and some suspect an army of trolls, reclaimed Malacañang as if it were a birthright. Divine retribution or karma, if not downright charisma channeling the golden years of a lost society, it wasn’t something the Filipinos didn’t see coming, and the pre-election surveys said as much.

The elections were easily the most toxic in memory, especially the back and forth, accusations and counter-accusations between the main parties as well a handful of also-rans, in a sludge and haze of fake news and dubious sources, including debates which the leading contender chose to snub, except for one aired on the station owned by an FBI fugitive former spiritual adviser to the preceding president, attended by a labor leader and some likely stand-ins.

Amid the entertainment, there was the birth of the yellow-pink movement, or pinklawan, with the promise of a better life for all under a trustworthy government.

The coronavirus pandemic made its last stand beginning with the post-holiday surge of Omicron in January, followed by an alphabet soup of variants and subvariants throughout the year, countered by the continuous rollout of boosters, implementation of minimum health protocols such as wearing of face masks, which in later months started to be ignored especially with the executive order making masks optional both indoors and out.

No more lockdowns was among the vows of the newly elected President, and true enough, tourism picked up again in what was deemed revenge travel, with requirements such as quarantine and contact tracing forms done away with, though retaining the QR code and proof of vaccination and prior coordination with LGU of destination.

Schools too were back on full face-to-face mode in the last quarter, with discretion to maintain the hybrid setting where applicable. Malls, parks, public transport were packed and teeming with people again, making the drives and detours through deserted highways and seeming ghost towns of little more than two years ago a distant memory.

Kevin Morillo/Provincial Government of Quezon

Being an archipelago on the Pacific rim of fire makes the Philippines prone to natural disasters, and 2022 was no exception as barely a month into the new presidency there was the magnitude 7 earthquake in the north, epicenter Abra, that killed more than 10 and damaged centuries old churches and heritage sites mostly in the Ilocos. Another quake of lesser magnitude hit the same area three months later.

In the last trimester were a pair of tropical storms, first Karding (Noru) that gained strength overnight catching most forecasters flatfooted in late September, and resulting in widespread damage to crops and deaths of five first responders in Bulacan.

In late October the more severe Paeng (Nalgae) wreaked havoc on south and central Philippines, with dozens of deaths mostly in Maguindanao, landslides and rain cutting off electricity for more than a week and roads rendered impassable. 

Miguel de Guzman/The Philippine Star

Tears of a pope in a recent homily could well sum up the world’s misery over Ukraine, whose invasion in February by neighboring Russia triggered inflation all around because of blocked or bottlenecked supply lines for oil and wheat that had domino effect on economies.

Continual oil price hikes throughout the year and the peso dipping to lows against the dollar resulted in increased fares and runaway inflation, the highest rate in 14 years to breach eight percent by November. Still better than expected GDP growth in the third quarter tended to offset the drawbacks and government swore no recession in 2023.

The assassination of radio broadcaster Percival Mabasa in early October may have since been relegated to the inside pages, but the incident opened the proverbial can of worms in the country’s prison system, and highlighted the prevailing culture of impunity not only against critical media workers but also against anyone who may have displeased the powers that be or that once were. It also revealed a dysfunctional justice system, with convicted felons continuing to run their trade remotely behind bars.

Alex Eala/Instagram

In the run-up to the Philippines’ co-hosting the FIBA world cup next year, following weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz golden feat in the Tokyo Olympics, sports hereabouts maintained its momentum of resurgence with a couple of world beaters.

The women’s soccer team qualified for the World Cup set in Australia 2023, and as an add-on even won a regional tournament for the first time in team history. Alex Eala became the first Filipina to win a tennis grand slam title, the US Open juniors. Diaz herself dominated the worlds, completing her trophy showcase.

Edd Gumban/The Philippine STAR

After the national ID comes the SIM card registration law, whose implementing rules and regulations are out and cellphone users can start to register their numbers before yearend. Questions though still rage whether such a measure can deter scammers and confidence tricksters, and if it is not actually anti-poor as those in remote barrios with weak signal will have difficulty registering, which process is done online.

But with the ID enduring birth pains with the manifestation of a physical card, so too can cellphone users expect some rough spots, where loopholes may be exploited by a determined scammer especially if registered address is Bilibid.

Figures vary as to the number of real dead in the past administration’s drug war. The current dispensation has shown its willingness to do the math by allowing the visits of several UN rapporteurs, to look into the situation on the ground on human rights, child sex trafficking and freedom of expression. Could be a sign of a changing of the guard when senators have tempered their stance: one batting for decriminalizing mere possession of a minimal volume of drugs, another moving for the compassionate use of medical marijuana. 

A moment of silence: F Sionil and Tessie Jose, Fidel Ramos, Jose Maria Sison, Cherie Gil, Susan Roces, Rene Aranda, Joseph Cortes, Antonio Katigbak, Danny Javier, Jovit Baldivino, Ericson Acosta