Deals, controversies but also cheer in 2022

AS THE coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic entered its third year in 2022, the health emergency was no longer the main focus of news coverage as cases waned in the second quarter, the economy reopened, the first elections during a pandemic were held, and other issues surfaced— which is not to say that all was quiet on the pandemic front. Here are the highlights of 2022.

1. LIGHTS OUT. Cebuanos spent the first part of the year in the dark and queuing for water, fuel, and aid to buy goods and rebuild their homes after Typhoon Odette (Rai) hit central and southern Cebu on Dec. 16, 2021, toppling power lines and causing blackouts in several areas. Two months after the storm, power supply had yet to be restored in some areas. Internet service was not fully restored until March.

2. OMICRON, THEN FREEDOM. Cebu City hit a pandemic record of over 1,000 new Covid-19 cases recorded in a day on Jan. 20 as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus brought a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections to Cebu. As the surge ended, Mayor Michael Rama declared on Feb. 24 “Oplan Kagawasan” (Operation Freedom) lifting the curfew on adults and allowing all establishments in the city to reopen.

3. RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR. Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, sending global food and energy prices soaring. Philippine November inflation hit eight percent, the highest in 14 years. The peso plunged to a record low of 59 to the US dollar in October as central banks around the world aggressively raised interest rates to tame inflation. The war has displaced 6.5 million Ukrainians and killed and injured tens of thousands so far. Over 140 nations have condemned the invasion.

4. PANDEMIC ELECTION. In the first elections held during a pandemic last May, the victory of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. returned the Marcos family to Malacañang 36 years after his father was ousted as a dictator in the 1986 People Power Revolution. Presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio became vice president.

In the local contest, Gwendolyn Garcia won her fifth term as governor with 1,478,436 votes, the highest number of votes ever cast for a Cebu governor.

Cebuanos subsequently appointed to top posts in the Marcos administration were Liloan Mayor Christina Garcia Frasco, named tourism secretary; businessman and Tingog party-list regional chairman Terence Calatrava, named head of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas; and Edward Hayco, named commissioner of the Philippine Sports Commission.

5. GWEN, THEN RAMA, VS. DILG. Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia drew sharp responses from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Health for instituting polices that deviated from those issued by the national government on the management of the Covid-19 pandemic: in February, when she allowed Cebu Province to accept unvaccinated foreign tourists starting March 1; in June, when she made mask wearing in well-ventilated and open spaces in the province optional, prompting then DILG secretary Eduardo Año to issue a three-day ultimatum, which she ignored, for the Provincial Government to align its policy with the national policy.

In August, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama also drew the DILG’s attention when he made mask wearing in the city optional, except in health facilities, and for people with flu-like symptoms going outside their homes

6. BIG DEALS. Cebu officials launched a raft of big deals.

In January, the Cebu City Government and Expedition Construction Corp. (ECC) signed a joint venture agreement (JVA) for the development of the former Inayawan landfill in Cebu City and Pond A in the South Road Properties. ECC has set aside P20 billion for the filling in of the 15-hectare landfill and the 60-hectare Pond A and the retrieval of four million metric tons of garbage from the landfill.

In February, the Province of Cebu signed the memorandum of agreement (MOA) of the JVA for the proposed 254-hectare reclamation project in Cordova town with Provincial Board Member Glenn Soco, Cordova Mayor Mary Therese Sitoy-Cho, and JVA proponent Cordova Shores Development Corp., which is composed of Ulticon Builders Inc. and Premium Megastructures Inc.

In May, Mayor Jonas Cortes broke ground on the P20 billion Global City Mandaue, a partnership between the Mandaue City Government, private firm Global City Mandaue Corp. and the Philippine Reclamation Authority, supported by the Cebu Provincial Government, for a waterfront city to be built on a 101-hectare reclamation area along the Mactan Channel near the Marcelo Fernan Bridge.

In June, the Lapu-Lapu City Government, led by Mayor Junard Chan, and Lapu-Lapu Expressway Corp. president Manuel Gonzales Jr. signed a MOA for the P24.8 billion skyway that will connect the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway which ends in Gabi, Cordova to the Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Lapu-Lapu City.

In September, Mayor Michael Rama signed the notice of award to New Sky Energy Philippines Inc. to build a P4.8 billion facility that can use 800 tons of garbage a day to generate electricity.

7. CANCELED CONTRACT. In November, fed up with the slow progress on the construction of the new Cebu City Medical Center, Mayor Michael Rama cancelled the P908 million contract the Cebu City Government had signed on April 6, 2022 with the joint venture of M.E. Sicat Construction Inc. and Avecs Corp. for Phase 4, which involved building the physical structures of the remaining floors of the 10-story hospital and completing the interiors of the building’s third and fourth floors. Different contractors have worked on the public hospital’s construction since 2015.

8. CARBON CONFLICT. Challenges hounded the P8 billion Carbon Public Market redevelopment, a joint venture between the Cebu City Government and Megawide Construction Corp., after vendors initially resisted their transfer to an interim market ahead of the building of a new main public market at their old vending site that will have space for 6,500 vendors. The building of a commercial development beside the Compaña Maritima also hit a snag after the court on Dec. 23 ordered the proponents to restore the Compaña Maritima area to the possession of the Cebu Port Authority.

9. SINGAPORE-LIKE. In June, Mayor Michael Rama announced his vision for a “Singapore-like Cebu City,” later tapping as advisers people who had occupied key posts in the Duterte Administration to help him realize this: former Philippine National Police chief Debold Sinas, former environment secretary Roy Cimatu, former vaccine czar for the region retired general Melquiades Feliciano and former public works secretary Rogelio Singson. Rama went on “investment begging” trips to the National Capital Region to secure investments from billionaires. To fund Rama’s plans, the City Council approved on Dec. 28 a historic P51.4 billion budget for Cebu City for 2023.

10. MURDER, AMBUSH. In February, Barangay Balungag Councilor Malou Baringui-an and her husband, Peter, were killed inside their house in Barangay Panadtaran, San Fernando town. Robbery with double homicide cases were filed against four active police officers and a former policeman for the crime.

In May, Police Lt. Col. Chuck Barandog and his wife, STL Party-list first nominee Yvonne Cania, were wounded after they were ambushed by motorcycle-riding men at the corner of Pope John Paul II Ave. and F. Cabahug St., Cebu City as they headed home in their vehicle.

In September, lawyer Karen Quiñanola-Gonzales of the Cebu Port Authority and her 19-year-old son were shot inside their vehicle by two gunmen riding a motorcycle on Hernan Cortes St., Barangay Banilad, Mandaue City. Tagged as a suspect was ex-coach Ricky Delibo, the subject of complaints from his clients for terminating contracts signed for his swimming lessons after receiving the complete payment. Gonzales was a lawyer for one of Delibo’s victims.

11. INDUSTRY UNDER FIRE. Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia on Sept. 20 ordered operators to demolish all their floating cottages in Cordova after discovering their practice of throwing septic waste into the ocean. She ordered the removal of fixed cottages used for tourism in the town as well, to pave the way for the rehabilitation of the polluted waters and the development of more environmentally friendly coastal tourism ventures.

12. GRAFT CONVICTION. In February, the Sandiganbayan’s Third Division found former Aloguinsan mayor Augustus Caesar Moreno and former municipal bookkeeper Evangeline Manigos guilty of graft over the town’s food purchases from AVG Bakeshop owned by Cynthia, Moreno’s wife.

Also in February, Provincial Board (PB) Member and former Bogo mayor Celestino “Tining” Martinez III and three other former Bogo town officials were found guilty of graft by the Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division for illegally lending out funds from a P20 million grant intended for farmers, fisherfolk and other marginalized sectors in 2007.

In May, the Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division found eight officials, including former Cebu 4th district congresswoman Clavel Asas-Martinez, her son and PB member Celestino Martinez III, her daughter and Bogo City Vice Mayor Maria Cielo “Mayel” Martinez, and Lapu-Lapu City Lone District Rep. Paz Radaza, guilty over the alleged misuse of P25 million of Clavel’s pork barrel funds in 2002.

In December, the Sandiganbayan’s Seventh Division found former Lapu-Lapu City mayor Arturo Radaza and 13 others, including former high-ranking officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways, guilty of graft and corruption over the procurement of overpriced lampposts for the country’s hosting of the 12th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in 2007 in Lapu-Lapu City.

13. STINKY GARBAGE DEAL. In December, the National Bureau of Investigation 7 filed plunder, graft and corruption charges against eight former and incumbent Cebu City officials and seven officials from the joint venture of Docast Construction and JJ & J Construction and General Supply, before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas over their alleged involvement in a garbage collection deal that resulted in over P239 million in damage to the government.

The deal was signed by the Cebu City Government and the joint venture for the collection, hauling and dumping of Cebu City’s garbage in 2021.

The NBI said overbilling, padding and ghost garbage deliveries had been committed in carrying out the deal. Among those charged were former Cebu City administrator Floro Casas Jr., Department of Public Services head John Jigo Dacua, OIC-City Accountant Jerome Visarra Ornopia, and acting city treasurer Mare Vae Fernandez Reyes.

14. CONTROVERSIES. In October, a laptop custom-built for the Department of Education’s “Procurement of DCP Packages” project for public school teachers, was found being sold to the public at a surplus store in Mandaue City—and at only P10,000, which is lower than the DepEd’s P36,100 contract price for the same unit.

In December, Carcar City Mayor Mario Patricio “Patrick” Barcenas denied that the voice in a nine-minute recording posted on Facebook talking of accepting a bribe from a contractor was his. But Anthony John Apura, an ex-officio member of the Carcar City Council, said the recording was authentic as he was in that Sept. 13, 2022 council session where Barcenas allegedly discussed the bribe with City Council members. Barcenas said he would ask the NBI to investigate the matter.

15. RUNWAY ACCIDENT. Korean Air flight KE631 from Incheon, South Korea overshot the runway at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport amid heavy rains on Oct. 23, 2022. There were no casualties.

16. CALAMITY. In April, Tropical Depression Agaton killed 224 people, of whom 202 were from Eastern Visayas, 17 from Western Visayas, three from Davao Region and two from Central Visayas—as 147 people were still missing.

17. SRP FULLY PAID. After 27 years, the Cebu City Government fully repaid its P4.65 billion loan for the construction of the 300-hectare reclamation project, South Road Properties (SRP), in August ahead of the 2025 due date. Since 2015, Mayor Michael Rama had wanted to pay off the loan so the City could save on interest payments and payments for currency fluctuations on the 12.315 billion yen loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

18. CCLEX OPENS. The much-awaited Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway (CCLEX), the third bridge to connect the Cebu mainland to Mactan island, opened on April 30, 2022. It is implemented by Cebu Cordova Link Expressway Corp., a subsidiary of Metro Pacific Tollways Corp., under a joint venture agreement with the City of Cebu and Municipality of Cordova. On Nov. 8, Mayor Michael Rama broke ground for the construction of ramp access of the CCLEX from V. Rama Avenue in Cebu City.

19. 500 YEARS OF FAITH. After the cancellation of many activities for the celebration due to the pandemic, the yearlong commemoration of the 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines ended on April 24, after a grand procession of the image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu led by Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma from the Capitol to the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral that was joined by 10,000 people.

20. BRT MOVES. The Department of Transportation finally bid out the first leg of the 39.88-kilometer Cebu Bus Rapid Transit project, nearly eight years after the Philippine government’s US$198 million in loans from the Agence Francaise de Développement and the World Bank for the project took effect in 2014. China-based firm Hunan Road and Bridge Construction Company Ltd. won the bid to implement the P17.3 billion first BRT alignment that will cover the route from the Cebu South Bus Terminal on N. Bacalso Ave. to the Provincial Capitol via Osmeña Blvd.

21. RETURN TO IN-PERSON CLASSES. After two years of distance learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic, basic education students returned to full face-to-face classes on Nov. 2 without incident. In Central Visayas, this followed the implementation of limited face-to-face classes by 377 public and private schools in the first quarter of the year, up from the 10 public schools that joined the pilot classes in November 2021. The smooth and orderly opening of full in-person classes on Nov. 2 saw an estimated 1.8 million students in the region return to the classroom.

22. ‘VENERABLE’ CAMOMOT. Twelve years since the process for his canonization began, the late Cebuano archbishop Teofilo Camomot was declared “Venerable” by the Vatican on May 21. Two miracles attributed to Camomot, who founded the Daughters of St. Theresa based in Barangay Valladolid, Carcar, are needed to complete the process of his sainthood — the first, to qualify him for beatification, and the second to declare him a full-fledged saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

23. PASSAGE. Death came for incumbent officials like Santander town Vice Mayor Marilyn “Bebe” Wenceslao in March, Cebu City Councilor Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba in April, and Provincial Board Member Horacio Franco in September; journalists Pablito “Bobby” Nalzaro in March and former Superbalita Cebu managing editor Emmanuel “Anol” Mongaya in July; and Cebu’s pioneering exorcist Msgr. Frederick Kriekenbeek in September.