2010: A year of change
*The DAILY STAR staff
It was a year of change and new directions in 2010.
Negros Occidental, like the rest of the country in 2010, saw yellow triumph in the battle of colors with the election of President Benigno Aquino III in May.
Sagay Mayor Alfredo Marañon Jr. was elected governor of Negros Occidental along with practically all of his United Negros Alliance partymates, paving the way for revitalized efforts to boost agriculture and health services in the province.
In Bacolod, the team of Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia and Rep. Anthony Golez won, raising hopes for closer coordination in development programs for the city.
Former Negros Occidental Governor Daniel Lacson Jr. was appointed chairman of the Government Service Insurance System and sugar planter Gina Martin was named Sugar Regulatory Administrator.
Droughts and dengue deaths also hit Negros Occidental in 2010, but a surge in the price of sugar amid a tight supply worldwide proved to be a boost for economy of the province.
The Visayan DAILY STAR staff voted the following the top ten stories of Negros Occidental in 2011:
1. LOCAL ELECTIONS
The majority of the United Negros Alliance candidates in Negros Occidental, and Nationalist People’s Coalition bets in Bacolod City won the May 10 polls this year.
UNA chairman Alfredo Marañon Jr. and his runningmate, Genaro Alvarez, were elected governor and vice governor, respectively, together with most of the UNA candidates in the towns and cities of Negros Occidental.
Young blood was also infused in the congressional front for Negros Occidental with the election of Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez in the third district and Rep. Mercedes Alvarez in the sixth district, and former presidential spokesperson Dr. Anthony Golez Jr. in Bacolod City.
Golez of the NPC’s Grupo Progreso, was proclaimed congressman of Bacolod along with partymates, reelectionists Mayor Evelio Leonardia and Vice Mayor Jude Thaddeus Sayson despite attempts to delay their proclamation.
Tension filled the canvassing area a day before their proclamation when their supporters were angered by the decision of the Bacolod Board of Election Canvassers to stop the canvassing while Leonardia and Golez were already leading by wide margins over their rivals, with 96 percent of the votes counted.
Prior to the elections, several cases filed against Leonardia and other officials involving the Bacolod City Government Center, dumpsite, and other issues perceived to be politically motivated, were dismissed by the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas.
Felisa Barangay Captain Mona Dia Jardin won the presidency of the City Liga ng mga Barangay along with her whole slate. Keith Ramos was elected Sangguniang Kabataan president of Bacolod City.
Thea Mae Dino was elected Negros Occidental SK president and George Gitano was re-elected head of the provincial Liga ng mga Barangay.*CGSamillano
2. THE BATTLE OF COLORS
The battle of colors dominated the campaign for the presidency in Negros Occidental in 2010, driven mostly by private sector volunteer power.
Passions ran high among the yellow volunteers of Liberal Party presidential candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and the green forces Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro in Negros Occidental.
And then there were the orange workers of Nacionalista Party standard bearer Manny Villar, and the loyalists of former president Joseph Estrada.
The rich and the poor joined forces in the battle of the colors, and friends and relatives found themselves in opposing camps during the campaign.
The national campaign in Negros was also spiced up by the visits of the presidential bets and a bevy of celebrities, among them Aquino’s movie star sister Kris who was followed by a sea of yellow crowds on her whistle stop campaigns throughout Negros Occidental.
Also making headlines during the presidential campaign was Negrense Gretchen Oppen Cojuangco, wife of business tycoon Eduard Cojuangco, who declared support for anybody but Teodoro whom she accused of family betrayal by leaving her husband’s Nationalist People’s Coalition for Lakas-Kampi-CMD without telling his uncle about it.
Her daughter, Lisa Cojuangco-Cruz, also joined in the fray by openly campaigning for Aquino.
And the yellow volunteer spirit has lived on after the elections with the creation of the Negrense Volunteers for Change with Millie Kilayko as its president.*CPGomez
3. DEADLY DENGUE
Despite preventive measures and information campaigns conducted by local governments in their localities, dengue cases in Bacolod City and Negros Occidental recorded the highest this year surpassing the number of cases recorded in 2007.
Acting Provincial Health Officer Dr. Ernell Tumimbang said that in Negros Occidental, there were 8,305 dengue cases from January 1 to December 8, 2010 with 44 deaths compared to 1,381 cases last year with 15 deaths.
Tumimbang had earlier recommended that massive efforts be made to curb the spread of the disease after 21 barangays in five cities and three towns in Negros Occidental hit dengue outbreak levels.
This includes areas in Pulupandan town, Cadiz City, Hinigaran, Bago, Silay, Talisay, Murcia, Aguisan and Himamaylan City.
Bacolod City Health Officer Dr. Salome Biñas said dengue cases in Bacolod as of December 11, 2010 totaled 3,846 with nine deaths.
Dengue outbreaks are now a major threat to global public health.
The epidemic virus disease is usually transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.*CGSamillano
4. SEARCH FOR POWER
Blackouts triggered by power shortages plagued Negros Occidental in 2010, propelling renewed efforts to establish local plants to ensure power security for the province.
In the first half of the year then Gov. Isidro Zayco met with investors who proposed building hydro electric power plants in Bago and Kabankalan City.
When Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. took over, more investors, aware of Negros need, also came with numerous power solutions for the province. There was renewed talk of building coal power plants, rejected by Negrense environmentalists in the past, and of the more acceptable biomass plants powered by agricultural waste.
To date Global Green Power PLC Corp. has began ground work for the building of a biomass power plant in Sagay City and is eyeing the construction of another in the south.
CENECO had theorized that Negros Occidental was experiencing more brownouts than other provinces and localities in the Visayas, because it does not generate power of its own.
Talks that the frequent power outages are being used as a scenario to increase power rates in the province have been denied outright, not only by CENECO, but also by the Green Core Geothermal Inc. that owns the Palinpinon Geothermal Power Plants in Negros Oriental.
But by December, government was optimistic of stable power supply in the Visayas, including Negros Occidental, next year.
Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras during a visit to Bacolod said that 2011 will be a good year for the Visayas with a lot of new power generating plants going on line and with about 250 megawatts of unutilized power waiting to be tapped.
But the downside is CENECO has announced power rates will definitely be higher this year.*GCTejida
5. SUGAR BONANZA
The tight supply of sugar here and abroad triggered a surge in prices in 2010, boosting the economy in Negros Occidental that produces the bulk of the country’s supply.
But the surge in millgate sugar prices also led to the rise in retail prices, triggering calls for importation to address the complaints of consumers.
Sugar Regulatory Administrator Gina Martin, however, insisted that the country has adequate supply of sugar and there is no need to import.
Sugar planters, on the other hand, have blamed the rise in retail prices to manipulation by some traders.
Planters have also aired complaints of sugar smuggling, which the SRA and the Bureau of Customs acted on in 2010. Numerous container vans of smuggled sugar were seized, especially in the ports of Manila and Cebu.
In 2010, the P3 billion San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. plant in Negros Occidental temporarily stopped producing ethanol from sugarcane to prevent further losses triggered by the entry of cheap Brazilian supply due to government’s failure to impose a tariff on imports.
“In my experience in almost a quarter of century I think this has been the best year for Negros,” Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr., said, noting that the price of sugar, the main product of Negros Occidental, this year has been at its highest.
And Martin said, in 2011 the outlooks for sugar remains good.*CPGomez
6. BRUTAL DEATH OF A CHILD
“Cops detain couple for daughter's death”
This was the headline story of the October 28 Visayan DAILY STAR issue that triggered outrage among many, including Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra.
A battered 6-year-old girl had died at a Bacolod hospital after allegedly having been badly beaten up by her parents.
Couple Rachel Esguera, 26, and Bernard Nolan, 27, of B.S. Aquino Drive, Bacolod, were arrested and detained shortly after their daughter died at the Pablo O. Torre Memorial Hospital in Bacolod City, where they had brought her.
They were charged for parricide and are still in jail, after having been denied bail.
City Medico Legal Officer Ely Cong, who conducted the autopsy on the girl’s body said it appeared that she had suffered tremendous pain, and battering that he had never seen before.
The child had bruises on the face, back, right side of the abdomen and buttocks while at least three old lacerated wounds were noted on her sex organ, an indication that she might have been sexually molested too.
The case that triggered outrage led the bishop to issue a pastoral letter condemning the death of the child.
The hearing of the case against her parents before the Bacolod Regional Trial Court Judge Ray Alan Drilon resumes in January.*APNemes
The prolonged dry spell that hit parts of the country, including Negros Occidental, had accumulated a collective damage of P122,224,132 million worth of crops in the province, according to the final tally of the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist.
El Niño ravaged rice, corn, and sugarcane farms in the province although the provincial government adopted measures to minimize the effect of the drought on crops.
Former Gov. Isidro Zayco approved a P25-million budget to mitigate the impact of the dry spell, mostly for the improvement and rehabilitation of irrigation facilities, while another P1.3 million was earmarked for cloud seeding operations around the province.
He also asked for P59 million from then President Gloria Arroyo as added assistance for the provincial government’s projects to address the problems brought by El Niño.
Farmers, on the other hand, pushed on despite the dry spell, as government and non-government organizations also provided training and strategies to ease the effects of the drought on their production.*PPangilinan
8. MONDIA ASSASSINATED
Seven suspects may have been identified and charged in court for murder, for the killing of former Pulupandan Mayor Luis Mondia, but the mastermind behind his death, which his family linked to politics, appears to have gotten away scot-free.
Mondia, who was running for mayor of Pulupandan in the May 2010 elections against Magdaleno Peña, was gunned down in the presence of his wife and granddaughter as they were leaving the Jaro Cathedral in Iloilo on Ash Wednesday on February 17.
Peña vehemently denied insinuations that he was behind the assassination of his political rival.
The 6th Regional Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, the police unit responsible for the identification and filing of murder charges against the seven suspects before the Iloilo City Prosecutor’s Office, is still gathering more evidence to establish the identity of the mastermind.
Peña, who survived an ambush in Pulupandan on May 30, 2007, had linked the Mondia family to the attempt on his life despite statements from the New People’s Army claiming responsibility for it.
This year, the Department of Justice ordered the withdrawal of the two counts of murder, four counts of frustrated murder and two counts of attempted murder against the slain Mondia, his two sons, brother and several other suspects filed by Peña against them, in connection with his ambush.*GPBayoran
9. ILLEGAL GAMBLING FLOURISHES
No amount of anti-illegal gambling operations of the police has prevented about 15 financiers and operators of “jai-alai” from operating in Bacolod City alone. Claiming that the police is helpless in stopping, if not minimizing illegal gambling operations, a proposal to allow jai-alai franchises in Bacolod City has been filed by a Bacolod councilor.
There are two jai-alai betting stations already operating in Escalante City and Calatrava town, the business permits for which were granted by their local government units. Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia, however, is not inclined to support the legalization of jai-alai in Bacolod City, contrary to the stand of other local government executives.
There are reports that some local government executives and even police officials are in cahoots with the financiers of illegal gambling and serve as their protectors.
However, they remain unsubstantiated until now.
Senior Supt. Celestino Guara, Bacolod police chief, is also under fire from his critics, for his failure to stamp out illegal gambling.
The Police Regional Office 6 and the Negros Occidental Police
Provincial Office have created anti-illegal gambling task forces. But sad to say, policemen merely arrested only bet solicitors, and not even a single financier, so far.*GPBayoran
10. NEGROS FIRST
Drawing up “Negros First” as a roadmap to guide his administration, and “teamplay” to achieve it, Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr., on assuming the governorship in 2010, focused on optimum health care and food security, and allotted P489 million to fuel efforts towards reducing poverty in the countryside.
The provincial government, by December 2010, has shelled out P38.5 million in premiums for over 70,000 indigent Negrenses under the PhilHealth-sponsored program, and registered a total of 7,934 residents under the Negros Occidental Comprehensive Health Program that seeks to give comprehensive health care to Negrenses, to answer for the excess in their medical expenses.
By the end of the year, 17 persons have been benefitted by the NOCHP, accounting for about P128,000 in actual expenses.
Over P46 million was also spent for the renovation, expansion and upgrading of district hospitals under the first 100 days of the Marañon administration, while P11.43 million was allocated for the purchase of medical, dental and laboratory supplies and equipment. The bulk of these hospital development and procurement of medical supplies will take place in 2011, the Economic Enterprise and Development office of the province said.
Through the Negros First development agenda, Marañon said he wants Negros to be known as the “First Organic Island” in the country.
On food security, the province has strengthened its livestock industry through the procurement of 100 heads Brahman cattle from Saranggani; and 70 heads pregnant Holstein Fresian Sahiwal cattle from New Zealand for breeding, fattening and dairy programs.
The province likewise allotted P20 million for certified rice and hybrid corn seeds, and fertilizer for farmers, pegging at 95 percent the rice sufficiency level of the province, despite the climatic challenges.*GCTejida