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Top Cebu news stories in 2015: politics heats up, traffic worsens, Cebu pulls off successful APEC hosting, economy continues strong growth

With 2016 being an election year, local politicians started bracing for a showdown and jockeying for positions in 2015. Alliances were forged, strengthened, and, for some, broken.

The year saw political discord worsen at the Cebu City Hall with conflict breaking out over issues ranging from the South Road Properties to the budget. The year ended dramatically with Mayor Michael Rama getting suspended for 60 days and the City Council deadlocked over the supplemental budget.

It was a year that saw Cebu successfully hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) 3. It was also a year marked by the Cebu economy hitting its stride with real estate and tourism going strong and retail getting a boost with the opening of two big malls.

2015, however, was also the year when traffic seemed worsened to such a state that people have been complaining loudly, mostly on social media. It was also in 2015 that smaze – that horrible combination of smoke and haze from forest fires in Indonesia – blanketed Cebu and other parts of Visayas and Mindanao.

Here are the top 10 news stories of Cebu in 2015:

Mayor Rama rides jeepney
RIDING A JEEPNEY. Mayor Michael Rama talks to fellow jeepney passengers after starting to serve his suspension. (Taken from Mayor Rama’s Facebook Page)

1) Cebu politics heats up: Rama, other Cebu officials suspended; political violence reported in Dumanjug

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama was suspended in December for 60 days on a complaint filed by Labangon Barangay Captain Victor Buendia over the mayor’s decision to demolish a center island that he approved of in the first place.

Rama decried the suspension as being politically motivated and said in a dramatic gathering at City Hall that he was being crucified for being a member of the opposition. He denied approving the center island project in Labangon and stressed that the order to clear it was legal. He also filed a petition for review with the Court of Appeals.

Suspended Mayor Michael Rama, on bended knees, said he was crucified.

Posted by The Freeman reporter Jean Marvette Demecillo on Thursday, December 10, 2015

In August, Cebu City Councilor Mary Ann Delos Santos announced what had been rumored for some time: that she is now with the Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BO-PK) of former mayor Tomas Osmeña. She blamed “bullying” and betrayal by Team Rama colleagues for her decision. (READ: Mary Ann Delos Santos joins BOPK )

Erstwhile allies but now bitter rivals Rama and Osmeña will face off again in 2016. In 2013, Rama won over Osmeña by a razor-thin margin of 6,367 votes out of close to 500,000 voters.

The Team Rama-BO-PK rivalry at the Cebu City Council sizzled in 2015, culminating in a year-end squabble over a supplemental budget that saw 4 failed attempts at mustering a quorum to vote on the P2.8-billion measure. (READ: Sun.Star Cebu: Goodbye, SB 1, both sides say)

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Other Cebu officials who were suspended in 2015 included Dumanjug Mayor Nelson Garcia for 6 months over the appointment of the town council secretary; Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza and Provincial Board Member Celestino “Tining” Martinez III over the alleged misuse of pork barrel funds of former congresswoman Clavel Martinez; and 5 Alegria town councilors for not attending sessions.

On December 4, armed men ambushed the group of Dumanjug Vice Mayor Efren “Gungun” Gica, who is running for mayor against Garcia, and his vice mayoralty bet Rene Asentista.

Dumanjug ambush
The vehicle of vice mayoralty bet Rene Asentista after the ambush. (Photo taken from the Facebook page of Dumanjug Vice Mayor Efren Gica)

Police later arrested 3 suspects. Garcia, on the other hand, dismissed the incident as staged.

“This could be a move to put the town in the list of election hotspots or to gain sympathy or divert the issue away from the issuance of an arrest warrant against the vice mayor for malversation.” – Dumanjug Mayor Nelson Garcia.

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2) Cebu pulls off successful hosting of APEC

Delegates who attended the more than 60 APEC meetings held in Cebu had a pleasant experience, according to a top official. Cebu hosted the Third Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM 3) and Related Meetings as well as ministerial conferences, from August to October.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Laura del Rosario said the APEC members had a “very pleasant impression” of Cebu. Those who attended the meeting were not only feted but also taken to themed tours of tourist attractions in the province.

A highlight of the Cebu hosting was the signing of the Cebu Declaration, where energy officials from the 21 economies of APEC set out policies and programs related to energy, including climate-proofing, resiliency, regional connectivity, green investments, among others.

Apec Cebu
APEC IN CEBU. Dancers perform to welcome Apec delegates in Cebu.

APEC Cebu Organizing Committee Overall Chair Lito Maderazo credited cooperation by Cebu residents as well as its public and private sectors for the successful hosting of the event. Organizers implemented an extended truck ban and closed some roads to make way for delegates.

“In fact, the delegates made a byword for us, Unforgettably Cebu,” Maderazo told Sun.Star Cebu.

In the days leading to the meetings, however, there was a minor kerfuffle over the steep increase in rates of hotels in Cebu.

“They are upset… ‘Why is Cebu doing this? Please don’t treat us like tourists.’ The delegates are coming here for a meeting that’s very important. Please don’t kill it.” – DFA Undersecretary Laura del Rosario del Rosario talking about delegates’ complaint on hotel rates in Cebu during a briefing for government information officers and media, as quoted by Sun.Star Cebu

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3) Smaze blankets Cebu

A combination of smoke and haze blanketed parts of southern Philippines, including Cebu, in October. The smaze were said to have come from forest fires in Indonesia that were deliberately set to clear areas for agriculture. It was blown into the Philippines by winds brought by Typhoon Lando.

The smaze in Cebu worsened to a point that health and environment officials issued a warning for people with respiratory diseases to stay indoors. Those who had to go out were told to wear masks.

Smaze or smoke and haze over Cebu.
Smaze or smoke and haze over Cebu.

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4) Cebu economy continues to grow

Cebu is likely to grow higher in 2015 compared with the previous year, officials said. “Generally, it was a good year for Cebu, better than it was last year,” National Economic and Development Authority 7 Director Efren Carreon told Sun.Star Cebu.

Underpinning the growth were the key sectors of tourism, real estate and business process management.

AT A GLANCE

Tourism: Central Visayas arrivals in the first 10 months of 2015 were 4.2 percent higher than in the same period in 2014 at 3.5 million. Cebu accounted for most of the tourist arrivals at 64% of domestic tourists and 84% of foreign arrivals.

BPO: Industry now accounts for 120,000 employees, according to records of the Cebu Educational Development Foundation for Information Technology (Cedf-IT). It continues to be one of the strongest economic drivers in 2015, said Cedf-IT executive director Jun Sa-a.

Real Estate: There were fewer construction projects in the first half of 2015, according to NEDA 7 records. The decline, however, was because of the surge of projects as part of the reconstruction effort in 2014 after the 2013 earthquake and Supertyphoon Yolanda. This year, however, at least 860 new residential and office buildings will rise in Cebu in 2016, based on permits approved by the Cebu City Office of the Building Official

Exports: The industry is still sluggish and is seen to contract in 2015. “Cebu, which for accounts two percent of the country’s total exports, dropped by nine percent from January to September. It’s a negative growth for Cebu’s export industry,” Philexport Cebu President Nelson Bascones told Sun.Star Cebu.

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5) Metro Cebu traffic worsens

Cebu traffic is a “nightmare,” Chi-Kuo Lin of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications of Chinese Taipei said during the APEC meetings in Cebu. Traffic gridlock in Metro Cebu has exacerbated in 2015 with the confluence of unfinished road works and the increased number of vehicles.

Cebu loses P2 billion to P3 billion every day due to traffic, Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Donato Busa told Sun.Star Cebu.

Cebu traffic mess
Cebu imploding from traffic mess, The Freeman warned in an editorial.

To ease congestion, Mandaue City implemented one-way traffic on 2 roads in its central area, which helped ease the gridlock a bit.

Experts point to mass transportation as solution to the traffic mess but the planned Bus Rapid Transit or BRT system that is set to be implemented in Cebu still has to start civil works. By yearend of 2015, however, MyBus units started to ply the SM City Seaside to SM City Cebu route and, to help address the lack of taxi units, extended to the Mactan Cebu International Airport.

The 3rd Mactan bridge or the Cebu-Cordova Bridge moved closer to being built with the issuance of the notice of award to the Metro Pacific Tollways Development Corp. The bridge is seen to help decongest traffic.

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6) SM Seaside City, Robinsons Galleria Cebu open

Two big malls opened weeks apart in Cebu to a packed and traffic-jammed inaugural. SM Seaside City at the South Road Properties is the biggest mall in Visayas and Mindanao with a floor area of 430,000 square meters. When it opened on November 27, thousands packed the mall and caused a monstrous traffic jam that extended late at night.

Robinsons Galleria Cebu, meanwhile, opened on December 10 on General Maxilom Ave. near the port area in Cebu City. The mall is the chain’s biggest outside Metro Manila and marks a homecoming of sorts for John Gokongwei, the tycoon who started his business empire from Cebu.

The 2 malls expand retail choices of consumers from the existing Ayala Center Cebu, SM City Cebu, Parkmall, JCentre Mall and SM Consolacion.

7) SRP accidents spur call for motorcycle ban, lower speed limit

A series of vehicular accidents at the South Road Properties spurred Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama to threaten to close it, ban motorcycles and ultimately enforce a 40-kilometer per hour speed limit in the area.

SRP accident fire
SRP Accident. SRP accidents like this one, when a car went up in flames after hitting a motorcycle, has forced the City Government to impose strict safety measures at the area. (Photo by Jojo Abcede)

Traffic records in January 2015 showed that of the 1,617 accidents at the SRP, 592 involved motorcycles where 9 people died.

“I think it is about time that motorcycles should not even be allowed to pass that area. Kuyaw kaayo na nga area for a small motorcycle.”
— Mayor Michael Rama

Rama later ordered a 40kph at the SRP that, based on experience, seems to be no longer enforced.

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MyCebu.ph: Mayor Rama to ban motorcycles from SRP

8) Cebu International Convention Center issue resurfaces

The controversy over the construction of the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) resurfaced in October when a banner was placed on the structure with the words, “Never Again.” That banner was replaced with another one that included the phrase “P840,202,438.05 million of people’s money wasted!!!”

The CICC was built during the term of former Cebu governor Gwendolyn Garcia for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in 2007. It was damaged by the strong earthquake that hit parts of Cebu and Bohol in 2013.

This huge yellow banner with the words “NEVER AGAIN…” has surfaced at the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC)…

Posted by The Freeman on Friday, October 23, 2015

Accusations were raised that the CICC was overpriced and charges were eventually filed. Garcia was spared from administrative liability because of her reelection in 2007 and 2010, under the Aguinaldo Doctrine that clears a public official of administrative liability when they are reelected to the post.

Nine others – 8 former Capitol officials and a lawyer – were dismissed by the Ombudsman in December, barred from holding public office and fined a year’s worth of salaries, deducted from their retirement credits. They were found liable for violating government procurement processes.

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9) Fires raze parts of Cebu; warning out against refilling of butane canisters

The year ended with a tragic fire that razed 81 houses in Barangay Lahug. When the University of the Philippines moved to fence the area that it owns, an argument broke out between school and City officials.

Several fires broke out in areas all over Cebu in 2015. A worrying trend in the incidents, however, was the increasing reports of blazes started by the refilling of butane canisters with LPG or liquefied petroleum gas, a popular choice of fuel for cooking because it is cheap.

Sambag fire
Sambag fire. (Photo by Ryan Sorote of Aksyon TV 5)

A refilled butane canister was blamed for the fire that hit 31 houses in Barangay Cogon in Cordova on April 10, 2015. It was also blamed for the October fire that destroyed 8 houses in Barangay Mactan in Lapu-Lapu City and the July fire that hit a building in San Nicolas, Cebu City.

The Lapu-Lapu City Government is looking into banner the refilling of butane canisters as a way to prevent fires.

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10) Crime in 2015: Pawnshop robbed; Chinese consulate officials killed

The MyGold pawnshop on Colon St. was robbed in April with armed men breaking into the store and grabbing jewelry and cash. A month later, one of the suspects would be arrested and identified by pawnshop workers. Initial police estimates indicated the robbers got P10 million in jewelry.

In March, a businesswoman was robbed at gunpoint in Bankal, Lapu-Lapu City of P7 million in cash and other valuables. The robbers, however, were caught hours after the incident.

In October, Chinese Deputy Consul Sun Shan and finance officer Hui Li were shot dead during a birthday luncheon in Lighthouse, a restaurant on Gen. Maxilom Avenue in Cebu City. Li Qing Ling, 60, and his wife, Consul Gou Jing, were taken into custody for the killing and later turned over to the Chinese Government. Police officials said security camera footage showed Li shooting the consulate officials.

Pearl Ungab
CHASED, RAMMED. Lawyer Jiecel Tiu said Pearl Ungab, the wife of Ronda Vice Mayor Jonah John Ungab, rammed her car and attacked her with a baseball bat. (Photo posed on Facebook by TV 5 reporter Ryan Sorote)

In September, 68 Chinese and Taiwanese citizens were arrested for online fraud and deported. The NBI also arrested 60 Japanese employees accused of working without permits at the Cebu IT Park.

In February, Pearl Ungab, the wife of Ronda Vice Mayor Jonah John Ungab, hogged the headlines when she was accused of attacking lawyer Jiecel Tiu with a baseball bat after ramming her car. Pearl accused Tiu of being her husband’s mistress.

In January 2015, photos of drunken Sinulog revelers sleeping on the streets as well as reports of boorish behavior led organizers to decide not to issue permits for street parties along the parade route in this year’s Sinulog.

PASSED OUT. They passed out after a night of heavy partying. These photos as well as reports of boorish behavior in stree parties spurred organizers not to issue permits for street parties in Sinulog 2016. (Photos posted on Facebook by Carlo Borromeo)
PASSED OUT. They passed out after a night of heavy partying. These photos as well as reports of boorish behavior in stree parties spurred organizers not to issue permits for street parties along the parade route in Sinulog 2016. (Photos posted on Facebook by Carlo Borromeo)

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News

Cebu News Digest: March 5, 2015: Heavier traffic expected in North Recla today; Former law student, old case surface vs. Ronda vice mayor

Heavier traffic is expected along the North Reclamation Area starting today, as some public vehicles on the S. Osmeña Blvd. route will be diverted as concreting work continues.

A former law student claims that Vice Mayor Jonah John Ungab of Ronda town is father of her child. She filed a sexual harassment case against the politician. Pearl, the vice mayor’s wife, is facing charges for attacking lawyer Jiecel Tiu with a baseball bat last week over allegations of infidelity.

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S. Osmeña Blvd
This stretch of road will be closed to vehicles coming from Mandaue City. Motorists coming from the Mandaue City side of the North Reclamation Area will have to turn right to the access road going to the Aboitiz football field.

Here are the top stories for today, March 5, 2015:

Traffic rerouting today

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) 7 will start implementing the next phase of its road-widening project on S. Osmeña Blvd.

This is expected to cause heavier traffic along the North Reclamation Area (NRA), prompting the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (Citom) to advice the public to leave their houses earlier than usual to avoid getting stuck in traffic.

Here are some route changes:

  • Public utility jeepneys (PUJ) with route number 12I, or those bound for SM City Cebu from Barangay Labangon, and 03Q jeepneys from Barangay Mabolo will not be allowed to use Cabahug St., the road between the Total gas station and the City-owned Block 27 lot in NRA.
  • 12I jeepney drivers will have to turn left to Kaoshioung St., left to A. Soriano Ave. then back to Kaoshioung St. and proceed to their usual route while 03Q jeepneys will be asked to take J. Luna St. and turn right to Humabon St. toward the SM PUJ terminal and back to their usual route.
  • Vehicles coming from the Mandaue City side of the NRA will have to turn right to the access road going to the Aboitiz football field and turn left to Logarta St. before turning right on either F. Cabahug St. or Kaohsiung St.
  • Trucks going inside the Cebu International Port will be directed to take Logarta St. and turn left to Cabahug St. and cross S. Osmeña Blvd. to enter the port.

Private vehicles bound for Mandaue City may pass through S. Osmeña Blvd. since the northbound lane is open to vehicular traffic. Those coming from Lapu-Lapu City may take the ferry.

Another incident against Ronda vice mayor surfaces

Ronda Vice Mayor Jonah John Ungab’s former law school student filed a sexual harassment case against him last December. She posted a “Dear John” message on her Facebook account saying she would pursue her complaint which is about to be resolved by the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office.

Prosecutor Ma. Theresa Casiño confirmed that the case is now due for resolution.

In the earlier investigation, Ungab denied the 27-year-old woman’s allegations that she was forced to have sex with him when he, as her law professor in Southwestern University in 2013, refused to release her grades.

In response to this development that happened after his wife, Pearl Ungab, attacked lawyer Jiecel Tiu with a baseball bat last week over allegations of infidelity, the vice mayor wants to maintain his silence.

Meanwhile, Tiu wants the court to suspend proceedings in the slight physical injuries against Pearl Ungab, while her bid to pursue a more serious case against the vice mayor’s wife is being reviewed.

Cebu Daily News: Vice mayor’s new thorn
Sun.Star Cebu: Injuries ‘not slight’; lawyer asks for review
The Freeman: Tiu: Reconsider downgrade

Other top Cebu News stories:

Sun.Star Cebu: Councilor asks for investigation on police officers allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade
The Freeman: Cebu has highest number of underweight children
Cebu Daily News: 100 more beds for interim CCMC; Mayor wants to expand space
The Freeman: Rama endorses 4 names as Binay’s runningmate
The Freeman: Osmeña to sue RSP Gubalane

Cebu Business headlines:

Sun.Star Cebu: Port congestion ‘now affecting business’
Sun.Star Cebu: App built by students will soon allow people to order rice, veggies
Sun.Star Cebu: Japan’s second largest bank Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. set to open in PH
The Freeman: January 2015 BIR 13 collection falls short of target
The Freeman: Cheap oil price has minimal impact to power cost – Veco

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News

Cebu News Digest: March 3, 2015: Lady lawyer denies being mistress, presents more proof against wife of Ronda vice mayor; 11-year-old CVIRAA athlete accuses coach for molesting him

Lawyer Jiecel Tiu presented additional proof against Pearl Ungab, the wife of Ronda Vice Mayor Jonah John Ungab. Pearl allegedly rammed Tiu’s Toyota Vios with a pick-up then hit her with a baseball bat in Barangay Cogon-Ramos. At the same time, Tiu denied Pearl’s accusations of her being Ronda Vice Mayor’s mistress.

A young participant of the Central Visayas Regional Athletics Association (Cviraa) tournament in Balamban, meanwhile, has accused a coach of molesting him Thursday night in the middle of a regional sports meet.

Due to cheaper raw materials and not necessarily due to the current cheap oil prices, prices of milk have started to drop.

Are you thinking of buying a house? How about getting one in Argao?

Primary Homes Inc. makes it possible for you to easily enjoy the charms of Southern Cebu with its resort-inspired community Argao Royal Palms and Tropical Flats. Built alongside Argao’s aquamarine seas in Barangay Suba, the development features two-storey houses, bungalows, townhouses, and condominium units. (Read more about the project)

Here are the top stories for today, March 3, 2015:

Jiecel Tiu Pearl Ungab case
CHASED, RAMMED. Lawyer Jiecel Tiu said Pearl Ungab, the wife of Ronda Vice Mayor Jonah John Ungab, rammed her car and attacked her with a baseball bat. (Photo posed on Facebook by TV 5 reporter Ryan Sorote)

Accused of being a mistress, lawyer calls on Ronda VM to speak up

Lawyer Jiecel Tiu, who earlier filed a complaint for frustrated murder against Pearl Ungab, presented supplemental affidavit, medical certificate, affidavit of arrest, and pictures of the Toyota Vios owned by Tiu that was allegedly smashed by Ungab to prosecutor Liceria Rabillas

She also urged Ronda Vice Mayor Jonah John Ungab to speak up about the real score between them to put an end to the issue.

“If you still consider me as a friend, please make a public statement. Just this once, I would like to set matters straight, dili ko kabit (I am not a mistress).” — lawyer Jiecel Tiu

Today, the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor will file a criminal case in court against Pearl for allegedly attacking Tiu with a baseball bat last Feb. 26.

11-year-old athlete: Coach touched my private parts

Ben (not his real name), 11, from Talisay City told the police that a coach had touched his privates and that he received P100 from him with the instruction not to tell anyone what happened.

But Ben told his other teachers that the coach abused him. The incident was reported to the Asturias Police Station’s Women and Children’s Protection Desk last Saturday.

The coach, who is also a high school teacher, will be charged with violating Republic Act 7610, or the Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.

Decline in milk prices, no change in costs of other basic goods

Amidst drop of prices of raw materials and the plunging oil prices, prices of milk have started to go down. However, the market rates for basic commodities have remained unchanged.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry, the price of a 150g Bear Brand powdered milk, for instance, has decreased by 1.96% from P51 to P50 effective early last month while a 150g Birch Tree full cream milk powder will go down 1.72% from P58.10 to P57.10 starting March 15. Price of imported skimmed milk, which accounts at least 50% of price components of powdered, condensed and evaporated milk has also dropped.

The trade department hopes that manufacturers would now think of slashing prices of other basic commodities, such as coffee, noodles and canned sardines.

Top Cebu news stories
TOP CEBU NEWS STORIES. The front pages today of Cebu’s English dailies.

Other top Cebu News stories:

Sun.Star Cebu: ‘Too much’ spent on Teachers’ Day, says auditor

Sun.Star Cebu: Cebu Provincial Board defers discussion, approval of a recommendation to suspend Dumanjug mayor

The Freeman: 2 days after P7M drug bust P6M shabu seized

Cebu Business headlines:

The Freeman: CBM 2015 focuses on bracing entrepreneurs for globalization

The Freeman: Upbeat tourism boosts Lapu-Lapu revenues

The Freeman: Cebu hotels performance at all-time-high in 2014

Sun.Star Cebu: Entry of luxury brands ‘to boost shopping tourism’ in Philippines

Sun.Star Cebu: P4B project to rise in Lapu-Lapu City

Sun.Star Cebu: Radisson Blu sees great year ahead