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A year that probably left us a bit
further behind scratch

HONG KONG (Mabuhay) : The year opened with the release of the results of a survey showing that Filipinos believe that politicians are the most corrupt people in the country, closely followed by law enforcement officers.

Events during 2011 did nothing to dissuade them from their belief. In early January, Archbishop Oscar Cruz threatened to disclose the names of politicians and members of the police force involved in the jueteng gambling racket.

However, his campaign resulted in a few grumbled death threats and little else.

As in every year, the Santo Niño was celebrated with great fanfare in Quiapo, with organisers asking people not to drink so much in future years.

While commentators reflected that the feast has a lesson in humility for modern society, they also noted that Filipino spirituality still lacks a strong transformative element.

A standoff between local people and mining companies in Midsalip over the preservation of the pristine Mt. Punikis watershed area continued throughout the new year without resolution.

A bizarre hearing in an environmental court saw the judge decide in favour of the mining company, despite the fact that the constitution of The Philippines forbids operations in watershed areas.

Although acting without a warrant or authority from the court, the police assisted the mining companies in the breaking up of a picket line that had been sustained by local people for almost a whole year.

The locals had placed between 30 and 300 people on the line each day and complained about the presence of the police as they said despite being shot, attacked with knives, beaten up and threatened, they had never been violent.

Nevertheless, they have not given up and are continuing their fight to keep their water clean through a Writ of Kalikasan in the Supreme Court.

The bishops pricked up their ears when a bill designed to simplify the annulment procedure and make it available in concrete terms to those who are not rich had Church wires buzzing.

However, community leaders in Hong Kong commented that the big losers in the equation are most often the children, as Philippine law offers them little protection in a broken marriage.

On February 13, high profile anti-mining journalist, Gerry Ortega, was shot dead in broad daylight in a street market in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

The death of the long-term environmentalist, sometime politician and dedicated pursuer of corruption in business and government raised a cry across the whole country.

However, to date, no arrest has been made and police seem to doggedly resist pursuing the case too closely.

Dialogue between the Church and Malacañang over the Reproductive Health Bill came to an abrupt halt. Bishop Nereo Odchimar, the outgoing president of the bishops’ conference, said that the gap is so wide the bishops figure they may as well give up on dialogue.

The peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front began with high hopes on February 9. An officer from the military prayed at a candlelight vigil on the eve of the talks, “In war there is no such thing as a wounded soldier. And in war there is no victor, only victims.”

However, the year came to an end with the stalemate firmly in place.

Also in February, the outbreak of the Arab Spring left Filipino migrant workers in Libya and Syria in difficult situations. The government was under fire for failing to protect them adequately, but in Tripoli the medical workers were praised for their dedication to duty and thanked for their heroism.

The former archbishop of Manila, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, said at a Mass for Migration Sunday on March 13 that the mass export of labour from the country only highlights the failure of the local economy and the pain that is inflicted on families in order to sustain it.

Despite the lessons learned from the March 11 tsunami in Japan about the dangers of nuclear energy, Philippine politicians were still pushing for nuclear plants in the seismically unstable terrain of the Pearl of the Orient.

They were pushing it as being a great way to protect the environment, despite the destruction of the land the meltdown in Japan caused.

At the end of March the Church built a bit of momentum in the health bill debate with what was termed the mother of all rallies and a Mass under the stars in Luneta Park on March 25.

In May, the bishops recruited boxing champion, Manny Pacquiao, but he proved to pack a bigger punch in the boxing ring.

What seemed headed to a quick push through the congress is still a matter for hot debate nine months later, with no certainly as to which way it will go.

Also at the end of March, life hotted up for Filipinos in Hong Kong with a finding at a local enquiry that the Philippine police were at fault in the August 23 bus hijack of 2009.

The August 23 anniversary also opened old wounds. The brother of tour guide, Masa Tse Ting-chun, said that he would like to hear a word of regret from the Philippine government over the death of his brother.

On top of the backlash that erupted at the time of the hijack, Filipinos were subjected to criticism for the apparent refusal to cooperate in the Hong Kong enquiry on the part of the government in Quezon City and the blunt refusal of the president, Noynoy Aquino, to apologise.

There was widespread sorrow among Filipinos, when three of their number were executed for running drugs by the Chinese government on March 30. A fourth Philippine national was executed on December 8, but attracted far less attention or sympathy.

However, some thought that Aquino put more resources into trying to secure a commutation of the sentence than he does into solving the problems of the average citizen in the country.

At the end of April, migrant workers in Hong Kong got their own tour guides, when 24 members of Lakbay Dangal finished their training and began running tours around Central of sites with significance in Philippine history.

The group hopes to expand its repertoire to include the general history of Hong Kong.

The bishops’ feathers may have been ruffled over the annulment debate, but when a divorce bill was put before the congress on May 31 they brought the big guns out. However, once again, community leaders pointed out that it is the children who tend to be the big losers and most unprotected.

There was excitement in June when the International Labour Organisation approved a convention on domestic work. Although a final resolution is still a long way off, it took 60 years to get this far and people accepted it as a sign of hope.

Even though they were eventually exonerated, the bishops lost a lot of face in the sweepstakes smear campaign over the financing of motor vehicles for charitable work.

In a case that saw little truth spoken and lacked any coherent argument, the reputation of the Church was sullied, the bishops reflected.

There was a lot of excitement surrounding World Youth Day, with Internet streams being made available and much recruitment work. However, the number who could participate was limited by the cost and organisers tended to be critical of the group when it returned.

Jaime Aristotle Alip, from the micro-credit union, CARD-MRI, was in Hong Kong to promote financial literacy among migrant workers. He said that it is at least as important as reading and writing.

In the run up to the September elections in Hong Kong, migrant bashing became a local pastime, especially with a landmark decision from the Supreme Court of September 30 allowing migrant workers to apply for the right of abode.

Despite the practical difficulties in making the next step, it was seen as being worth its weight in gold in terms of recognition of equal status with other migrants.

Mostly politically driven, the smear campaign lost momentum when the elections were over. However, Filipinos did learn who their friends are in the Chinese community, with many of them being the very same ones they had cared for as young children.

The brutal October 17 murder of Italian missionary, Father Fausto Tentorio, brought the cowboy-style law and order of the Philippines back into world focus. Once again, despite the outpouring of promises, two months later little has been achieved.

The year ended on a brighter note, as the former president of The Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was refused permission to leave the country and subsequently arrested to stand trial for electoral fraud in 2004.

And the new archbishop of Manila, Archbishop Luis Tagle, was installed on December 11 with the popular acclaim of the people.

A year of ups and downs ended on a sour note with the news that over 2,000 people were either dead or missing after a typhoon swept through Mindanao. While a few gains were made during 2011, probably a bit more was lost.