UniversityIn retrospect: The Philippines in 2018

Numerous developments in the Philippines were brought to light this year marked also by numerous controversies that sprung up. Economic developments brought about by policy changes related to taxes and inflation were some of the major factors that drove markets. Various politicians were also the face of different controversies throughout 2018, with impeachment trials, corruption cases, and even international relations being some of the most notable discussions.

With the year on its way out, The LaSallian looks into the highs and lows that shaped the Philippines in 2018.

 

Withdrawal from ICC

As a response to the controversies surrounding EJKs, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that formed the International Criminal Court (ICC), last March 13. This was after the ICC had begun a preliminary examination on a complaint filed to them in connection to the killings related to the war on drugs.

In his statement, Duterte argued that the ICC did not have jurisdiction since the “so-called war against drugs” does not fall under the classification of crimes that the court presides over. Further, he explained that the ICC also had no jurisdiction over him as the Rome Statute is not enforceable in the Philippines since it failed to meet one criteria for laws to take effect: it was never published on the Official Gazette nor was it published in a newspaper of general circulation, as outlined under Article 2 of the New Civil Code.

Lastly, he argued that the 1987 Constitution guarantees the innocence of the President. While the Constitution contains no explicit provisions on his immunity, the SC has ruled in past cases that presidents are immune from suit during their tenure.

Opposition senators filed a petition last May 16 to the SC arguing that the withdrawal was invalid as it needed the concurrence of Senate, which they claim is outlined under Article VII of the 1987 Constitution. The Philippine Coalition for the ICC, meanwhile, filed their own petition to the SC last June 13, agreeing with the previous petition and countering the President’s arguments.

During the oral arguments last August 28, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio stated that Duterte is obligated to execute the law as part of  the presidential oath. According to him, repealing the Rome Statute, which he said is considered as law when it was ratified by the Senate in 2011, would be against what the President had sworn to do.

However, he countered the Senate’s argument that the Constitution’s provision for concurrence would be needed as this only holds for approving treats, not withdrawing from them. Instead, he explained that it can repealed like any other law, which is through a majority vote from Congress.

 

Ousting of Sereno

Former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was removed from her position last May 11 after the Supreme Court, in a 9-5 vote, favored Solicitor General Jose Calida’s quo warranto petition arguing that she had failed to disclose her statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) when she initially applied for the role back in 2012.

An impeachment complaint was initially filed against her due to her not being able to declare the professional fee of P37-million she earned when she was a private lawyer, to which her camp responded saying that the claim was false. This eventually led to Sereno’s six articles of impeachment, where she was accused of violating the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other crimes. These complaints were filed by Atty. Larry Gadon.

A plea for consideration was filed afterwards, hoping to reverse the previous ruling. However, the Supreme Court (SC) stood by their original decision, voting 8-6 to junk the plea, highlighting that their earlier decision was final.

Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro was appointed by Duterte last August 25 as the new Chief Justice, during which she served a brief tenure before retiring last October 10. Last November 28, Duterte had announced that he has appointed Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin to the role to succeed De Castro.

 

Philippine ID System

Last August 6, Duterte signed into law the Philippine Identification System Act, also known as Republic Act 11055, which is set to take effect nationwide in 2019.

The said law seeks to establish the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys), a centralized national identification platform for Filipino citizens and foreign residents. This is expected to contain the important identification information of each individual, such as the Philippine Identification System number, full name, sex, blood type, date of birth, place of birth, marital status, address, among others.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, a sponsor of the bill, stated that PhilSys would enable ID holders to have “hassle-free transactions” with government and certain private institutions, and at the same time, help law enforcement in deterring criminality and terrorism, as it would easily facilitate the process of prosecution. Further, ID holders will no longer need to provide government and private institutions multiple IDs to prove their identity.

Applying for PhilSys would be free of charge, and will prioritize persons with disability, senior citizens, and those who are marginalized, including those from indigenous communities and remote localities.

The Philippines is one of the few countries in the world who has yet to implement a national ID system, despite having been proposed in previous administrations. Previous attempts on the establishment of the system, however, were postponed due to budget issues and legal troubles.

 

Fluctuating inflation rate

Throughout 2018, inflation has been on a steady rise, with the month on month inflation rate peaking at 6.7 percent last September. However, there has been indication early on that this was not unexpected. Most economists have already forecasted at least a higher than average inflation rate for the year for numerous reasons, namely the passage of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, the government’s push for the Build, Build, Build program, rising oil prices in the world market, rice shortages happening locally, and even the weakening of the Philippine peso, among other factors.

Rice shortages have been regarded as one of the biggest factors of inflation this year, a point supported by Angelo King Institute Director Dr. Tereso Tullao. In a previous interview with The LaSallian, Tullao argued that an “artificial shortage” occurred earlier in 2018 because the National Food Authority had used its budget allocation to pay off previous debts to clean its financial reports instead of importing rice. However, once the agency had begun importing the rice, it became difficult to distribute the goods as inclement weather made it a challenge to unload the imported rice.

The Philippine Statistics Authority reported last December a drop in inflation for November, slowing down to six percent. According to their report, the decrease in inflation was driven by the lowering of prices on food and non-alcoholic beverages, rice, and utilities, among others.

 

Trillanes’ Amnesty

Last September, Duterte signed Proclamation No. 572, which revoked the amnesty previously granted to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV for the latter’s involvement in mutinies during the term of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

According to the proclamation, Trillanes did not comply with the minimum requirements needed in order to qualify under the Amnesty Program and ordered the Department of Justice and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to “pursue all criminal and administrative cases” filed against the senator on the two incidents. The AFP and the Philippine National Police were also ordered to apprehend the senator.

However, Trillanes refuted the decision, saying that his amnesty was already granted by former President Benigno Aquino III in 2011 and that he had followed proper procedure when making the request.

On September 25, The Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 150 granted the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) request to issue the warrant of arrest and hold departure order with regard to the 2007 Manila Peninsula incident, the same court that handled the rebellion case years prior. Trillanes voluntarily surrendered to the police, and posted bail worth P200,000. He was released shortly afterwards and returned to the Senate.

Last October 22, Makati RTC Branch 148, the court which handled Trillanes’ case for the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, released a decision which rejected DOJ’s request. The department filed a motion for partial reconsideration the following day, which was again denied last November 26.

 

Charges against Imelda Marcos

Former First Lady Imelda Marcos was found guilty for seven counts of graft by the Sandiganbayan 5th Division last November 9, 27 years after it was first filed in the anti-graft court in 1991. The case was based on charges that Marcos had created fake organizations to funnel public funds out of the country and into overseas Swiss bank accounts during her stint as governor of Metro Manila in the 1970s.

Based on the ruling, her prison sentence was six years and one month to 11 years for each of the seven counts, collectively adding up to a maximum of 77 years in prison. The ruling also forbids her from holding any future positions in public office, which disqualifies her from running in the upcoming 2019 elections.

Last November 12, her attorney filed a motion allowing Marcos to avail of post-conviction remedies, which includes posting of bail. The court granted this request, and on November 16, a week after her conviction, she posted a bail of P150,000, granting her temporary freedom. Sandiganbayan, meanwhile, still is yet to deliberate on her other post-conviction remedies, which, as of press time, is still pending with the court.

 

PH-China relations

In 2018, relations between China and Philippine were seen to have improved greatly, mostly due to agreements reached between the two countries on oil and gas exploration, basic education programs, agricultural cooperatives, and infrastructure projects. This was marked by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s historic visit to the Philippines last November 20 and 21, where over the course of two days, 29 different documents were exchanged and signed by both parties outlining plans for both countries.

Key agreements on oil and gas developments in the West Philippine Sea were made by the two nations as a memorandum of understanding was signed by Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The pact aimed to study how both countries can pursue joint exploration and development in the region.

China had previously proposed conducting a joint exploration, while the Constitution, however, declared that the state will have full control and supervision. Furthermore, the agreement will create an inter-governmental committee, composed of officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Chinese Foreign Ministry, Department of Energy, and Chinese Energy Ministry.

Another memorandum covered cooperatives on agriculture between the Philippines and China, with plans for 60 Philippine agricultural managers and technicians to have training from China’s agriculture agency between 2019 and 2021. The Phil-Sino Center for Agricultural Technology will also be in the forefront for showcasing new agritechnologies.

Governments of both countries have also agreed for their respective enterprises to work closely with each other in key railway, transportation, telecommunications, and road and bridge projects. The following projects targeted for development are Subic-Clark Railway, Mindanao Railway,  Pasig River Ferry System, Philippine National Railways South Long Haul, among others.

Another infrastructure development that was agreed on was the Belt and Road Initiative that will recognize the Philippines’ contribution to China’s plan to integrate the region by developing transportation, telecommunications, energy, and “other areas of mutual interest” among its neighboring countries.

In terms of science and technology, both parties have also inked an agreement to pursue collaborative efforts on rice research, bamboo post-harvest and processing, renewable energy, green oil from cashew, traditional medicine, and technology transfer. With this, the Philippines and China sought to boost cooperation through the exchange of experts and scientists,  aimed to produce not only joint researches, but also seminars, symposiums, and workshops under the framework of the Joint Commission Meeting on Science and Technology.

 

Extrajudicial killings

This year saw a rise in reported extrajudicial killings (EJKs). The official tally provided by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency pegged the deaths related to anti-drug operations at 5,050 as of the end of November, while human rights groups claim that around 20,000 have perished under the campaign since Duterte took office.

Last November 29, the Caloocan RTC Branch had found PO3 Arnel Oares, PO1 Jeremias Pereda, and PO1 Jerwin Cruz guilty of the murder of 17 year old Kian delos Santos. On August 16, 2017, delos Santos was slain by the three policemen as part of a anti-drug operation in Caloocan after being implicated as a drug runner.

The police argued that their response was in self-defense as delos Santos allegedly fought back. Footage from a closed-circuit television camera at the scene showed otherwise; instead, the policemen were found dragging the minor toward the river where his body was eventually found. Analysis of bullet trajectories on the victim’s body corroborated with the ruling that he was not in the position to fight back when he was shot.

The verdict sentenced the three defendants to 40 years in prison with no possibility of parole. However, the court found little evidence to support the charge that the three had planted illegal drugs as evidence.

 

Federalism

Last December 11, the House of Representatives approved the draft federal charter, with a vote of 224-22 and three abstentions on its third and final reading. Resolution of Both Houses No. 15, which called for amendments on the 1987 Constitution, had been the subject of much criticism due to its speedy approval in Congress; the resolution was approved on its second reading only a week prior, while the draft itself, authored by Arroyo and 21 other legislators, only took form in October.

Some of the changes proposed by the charter include the removal of term limits for legislative seats, the requirement that president and vice president be elected in tandem, the removal of anti-dynasty provisions, and the revival of the two-party system.

The Senate, however, has not yet finalized their corresponding bill. Senate President Vicente Sotto III had previously stated that they were still under deliberations for the national budget, which was delayed by the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, members of the consultative committee commissioned by Duterte to review constitutional changes were not pleased by the draft pushed by Congress. Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., one of the members in the committee, questioned the charter’s contents. “I find it a little off tangent for the reason that their version, among other things, does not contain [provisions] against political dynasties and term limits,” he told The Philippine Star.

Meanwhile, another member of the committee, San Beda Graduate School of Law Dean Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, lamented that the draft they had prepared was set aside. The committee had previously submitted their own set of revisions to Duterte last July.

 

Martial Law in Mindanao

The extension of martial law in Mindanao was approved by the Congress last December 12, a move Duterte had expressed support for early on. The extension of writ of habeas corpus will last until the end of year 2019. The votes showed that 235 members from both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted for the extension while 23 voted against, and one abstained. Only Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, Bam Aquino, and Francis Escudero did not agree with the President’s request and voted against the extension.

The need for an extension rose when the letter submitted to the two Houses indicated that acts of rebellion is still evident in the area based on the assessments made by both the police and armed forces. Terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and Daulah Islamiyah are said to still be a threat to the Mindanao region, according to Duterte.

Despite these claims, many lawmakers still opposed the idea of extending martial law as they argued that no evidence proved worthy enough for it to be further implemented. Drilon mentioned that this proposed extension should not be normalized for the life of the farmers. “Martial law is the highest form of self-preservation; it cannot be the norm. We cannot make martial law as an instrument to make governance more effective. That was never the intention of our farmers,” he explained.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, on the other hand, stated that the actions are done to address the rebellion that has been happening in Mindanao, promoting tighter security in the area.

Although seen as a “positive development” by Malacanang and congress, a group of Southeast Asian Lawmakers warned that the said extension may put the human rights of those in Mindanao at risk. Meanwhile, chief implementor of Martial Law, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, emphasized that law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear from Martial Law.