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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.

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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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