The impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, the government’s "cold war" with China over maritime disputes in the South China Sea, and deadly tropical storms were the top news stories in the Philippines in 2012.
Accused of corruption, Corona was found guilty by the Senate impeachment court last May. Corona was also accused of protecting his patron, former President Gloria Arroyo, who is charged with several counts of election fraud and corruption cases. The historic trial lasted for almost half a year which Corona condemned as a political demolition job aimed at undermining the country’s judiciary. Indeed, Corona’s ouster has paved the way for President Benigno Aquino III to gain more influence in the Supreme Court.
The dispute with China also grabbed headlines this year. Many Filipinos see Beijing as a bully because of its claims over various islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). On several instances, the Philippine government has protested the presence of oversized Chinese fishing boats in its territorial waters. Unfortunately for the Philippines, it has failed to convince the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to issue a strong, unambigious denouncement of China’s ”aggressive behavior” in the region. The rift with China has pushed the Philippines closer to the United States.
But if the Corona political storm and the Chinese diplomatic storm were not enough, the Bopha (Pablo) tropical storm that battered the southern Philippine island of Mindanao and left a bloody trail of devastation last week. As of December 11, the storm had killed 714 people and injured 1,906 with 890 still missing. At that time there was also still 116,404 people scattered across 134 evacuation centers with 114,583 damaged houses (43,992 destroyed). Bhopa is the strongest typhoon to hit Mindanao, the country’s second biggest island.
The high number of casualties during recent storms reflects the fast deterioration of the country’s fragile ecosystem. The deadly landslides, mudslides, and flashfloods were not only caused by freak storms but also by polluting activities, especially mining.
Indeed, 2012 has also been a memorable year for the mining sector. Responding to the growing grassroots resistance to destructive mining operations, the government issued a new mining policy last July which aims to impose stricter environment standards and raise more revenues from mining. But an accident in the Philex mining site last August, which triggered the worst mining spill in the country, could further erode public support for the mining industry.
It has been a busy year for Congress as well which was able to pass several notable but controversial legislative measures like the K-12 education reform bill, an anti-cybercrime bill, and the sin tax reform measure. Congress will soon vote on the Reproductive Health Bill, which would provide universal access to contraception and sexual education. The proposal is being fiercely opposed by the influential Catholic Church hierarchy.
The year 2013 promises to be another exciting year for Philippine politics as voters and candidates prepare for the midterm elections in May.