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2011: Annus horribilis

President Benigno Aquino III partying, giggling over starlet Valerie Concepcion’s jokes, when at least 1,200 Filipinos just drowned in a typhoon in Mindanao and 60,000 lost their homes, captures the ethos of the past 12 months: a horrible year of natural and man-made disasters, with an incompetent or uncaring national leadership’s mind elsewhere.

Five destructive typhoons hit the country, with the fifth the most horrible, Tropical Storm “Sendong” in December.  Yet government’s disaster preparation and management continued throughout the year to be a bungling one.

Eager to wield his presidential powers, Mr. Aquino fired in August 2010 the head of the weather forecasting agency for allegedly failing to predict the destructiveness of Typhoon “Basyang”—or perhaps for being a noontime appointee of former President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo.

But he’s not firing his own appointee or his other officials who goofed up government’s typhoon-forecasting and disaster management this year.  After all, as Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman implied, it was the flood victims’ fault since, as she was quoted by this paper, it was “common sense” that they should not have been in areas at risk of flooding.

One would be surprised to learn that it is Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin who heads the crucial agency National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), since it has been an obscure, inarticulate retired general who has been the face of the national leadership in times of natural disasters—an indication indeed of this government’s priorities.

Gazmin perhaps could be excused for being too busy confronting the country’s two insurgencies. However, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has never been as kicked around by insurgencies as it has been this year.

In August, Mr. Aquino staged his “historic” peace meeting with Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders in Tokyo.  Two months after, the MILF massacred 19 Special Forces troopers in an ambush in Basilan. Five days later, it attacked another Army unit in Zamboanga, killing five soldiers.  Weeks after, other MILF platoons defiantly roamed Central Mindanao, while the Army attacked alleged—but empty—insurgent camps.   Not a single MILF insurgent responsible for the massacre has been caught or killed.

The communist New People’s Army had earlier sensed that this administration had tied the AFP’s hands against insurgents. On Sept. 27, it attacked and burned a banana plantation in Surigao del Sur run by the Japanese multinational Sumitomo Fruits Corp.  A few days later, it pillaged, within a three-hour period, three mining companies in Surigao del Norte.  The day after Mr. Aquino ordered the AFP on a yuletide ceasefire vis-à-vis the insurgencies, the NPA ambushed an Army “peace and development team,” killing five soldiers.

However, Mr. Aquino was brave to taunt, even dare to a fight, the People’s Republic of China for claiming as its territory what he renamed as the West Philippine Sea. China executed this year four OFWs convicted for drug-smuggling.

The term “culture of impunity” has come to instead perfectly describe the crime wave in the country, from the still-unsolved bombing of a bus in Makati in January where four people were killed, to the cold-blooded murder in November of Ramgen Bautista, son of former Sen. Ramon Revilla, and, to close the year,  the murder of an American retiree in Tagaytay. Veteran politician Ernesto Maceda has fast become a much-read columnist for his meticulous weekly chronicling of the upsurge of crimes in these times.

While his troops and the police are thrashed, Mr. Aquino has devoted his energies to his assaults against his predecessor former President Arroyo and her alleged allies.

In February, Mr. Aquino’s lynch mob in Congress and in media, fired up by accusations made by retired Col. George Rabusa—who had been charged with amassing P50 million in ill-gotten wealth by the Ombudsman way back in 2005—led Arroyo’s former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes to commit suicide.  In April, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, with no money for her legal and media defense, had no choice but to buckle under Mr. Aquino’s mobs, and resign.

In October, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Comelec ChairSixto Brillantes headed a supposedly constitutionally independent body, practically spit at the graves of the 58 victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre by putting into their service the prime suspect’s underling, Norie Unas, alleged as one of the planners of that atrocity.  Unas’ testimony—that he overheard Arroyo order cheating in the 2007 elections for her senatorial slate—is the only basis for the arrest of a former president.  With the threat of being included among those charged for the massacre above Unas’ head so obvious, it is incredible why a judge believed his claim that he ordered the arrest of a former president, who is even a sitting member of the House of Representatives.

Annus horribilis for President Aquino’s Cojuangco clan it has also been though.  Even if Mr. Aquino has become the most powerful man in the country, this Cojuangco—unlike his mother—couldn’t do anything to save the clan’s very kingdom, Hacienda Luisita, which the Supreme Court ruled should immediately be distributed to its farmer-workers.

Or can’t he?  As the year drew to a close, the angry President incited a lynch mob against the Court, and ordered the House of Representatives to impeach its head Chief Justice Renato Corona.  That’s just for starters:  Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda boasted that 10 more justices would be impeached.

All these mad frenzy, while crucial infrastructure projects slowed down, poverty worsened, and the economy decelerated from a 5-percent growth in the first quarter to 3 percent in the third quarter.