2020 started just like any other year with a promising start until it took a sharp turn when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, subsequently forcing everyone to adapt in a “new normal” setup.
A century after the 1918 Spanish Flu, the most recent coronavirus brought the whole world to its knees as it ate more than nine months of the year 2020 spent in home quarantines and social distancing. Palawan had managed to surf through the waves of occasional local transmission cases, now muddling through reopening its economic sectors in a careful balance between health and survival.
On top of the COVID-19 pandemic, here are Palawan News’ top 10 trending stories this year as 2020 draws close.
10. NPA encounter in Brooke’s Point
A Philippine Marines trooper and five communist rebels were killed in an encounter between the military and members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Brooke’s Point, Palawan, in September.
The encounter was a result of “careful planning” since August 28 based on the shared information by the barangay network in the area, 3rd Marine Brigade commander Brig. Gen. Nestor Herico.
Members of the Force Reconnaissance Group (FRG) of the Philippine Marine Corps briefly clashed with around 20 NPA rebels shortly before 6 a.m. in Brgy. Mainit, 3rd Marine Brigade commander Brig. Gen. Nestor Herico told reporters.
Bonifacio “Salvador Luminoso” Magramo, the secretary of the Unite 4E of the Southern Tagalog Regional Party Committee; and Andrea “Ka Naya” Rosal, daughter of late NPA spokesperson Ka Roger Rosal and deputy secretary of the group, were among the five rebels killed.
Local military officials said Noel “Ka Celso” Siasico, NPA’s front operational command; Ren “Ka Amir” Manalo; and a certain “Ka RJ” were likewise killed during the skirmish. All allegedly belong to the NPA’s Bienvinedo Vallever Command (BVC) Palawan.
Herico later identified the fallen government soldier as SSgt. Cesar Barlas, a Palaweño marine.
9. Coron reopens for tourism
With an estimated P3.3 billion tourism loss due to COVID lockdowns as of November 30, the island town of Coron reopened for domestic tourists starting December 1 to revive its income drawer that has suffered from the pandemic.
Coron town mayor Mario T. Reyes Jr., in an earlier phone interview, said that protocols set by the national agencies for tourism reopening will be strictly observed.
Kim Ablaña, Coron municipal tourism officer, on Friday said that the local government ensured guidelines and protocols for the safety of the locals and the tourists, which had been a caution since the island municipality experienced a surge of COVID-19 cases in October.
Coron, now virtually COVID-free, had a surge of local transmission cases in October from an all-time high record of 86 confirmed cases, with 85 recoveries and one death.
8. Healthcare workers test positive for COVID-19
The Ospital Ng Palawan (ONP) has temporarily suspended its operations in June after a string of its healthcare workers tested positive for the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Dr. Audie Cipriano, chief of the medical professional staff of the ONP, in an earlier statement, said that the provincial hospital was “undermanned” as contact tracing for the other personnel were undertaken after a string of local transmission cases emerged in Palawan’s primary COVID-19 facility.
At least eight hospital personnel had recovered, with no casualty.
7. PSU tops 2019 Bar Exams
A graduate of the Palawan State University (PSU) School of Law has landed fifth (5th) in the 2019 Bar Exams, a first and a milestone in the province’s only law school.
Jocelyn Fabello, who scored 88.26 percent, was the first PSU law graduate to make it to the top of the bar.
“Actually, ‘yong pumasa pa lang sobrang grateful na ako kasi a few hours ago and a few days ago ang buong pamilya talagang [anxious] na sila na lalabas ‘yong result,” Fabello said.
Lawyer Perry Pe, dean of PSU School of Law, said that it was a “ray of sunshine amid the [COVID-19] crisis” and pointed out that it was a testament to the school’s excellence citing its previous track record where it garnered 100 percent passing rate in 2016.
Lawyer Maria Gisela Josol-Trampe, associate dean of PSU Law, expressed joy on Fabello’s historic bar ranking pointing out that it is a validation of the school’s continued effort in producing quality education for aspiring lawyers.
Ten other PSU Law graduates were among the successful examinees, based on the results released on April 29 by the Supreme Court. They were: Abrina, Joshua; Babao, Anniza; Bautista, Vanessa; Besa, Tristan; Dela Cruz, Lourdes; Diva, Sarah; Fabello, Jocelyn; Madeja, Ruby; Magrata, Rhodel; Rodriguez, Alena; and Tubog, Rishel.
6. The good Samaritans of pandemic
Residents in San Vicente have received food assistance and over 2,000 kilos of assorted fish from good Samaritans amidst the total lockdown in this northern municipality.
Ken Radam Ebno from the information and communications section of the municipality, said since March 25, they have distributed groceries to 10 barangays from the donation of Meriam Eugenio and fish supplies from spouses Nelson and Mila Padul.
This initiative, Ebno said, was followed by more donations from San Vicente residents who also want to help their townmates, like the Padul family who has been giving free supplies of salay ginto, galunggong, sapsap, and other types of fish.
5. Provincial government suspends Danao
Mayor Gerandy Danao of Narra town was ordered suspended for 20 months, after the provincial government here found him administratively liable for several offenses, including the issuance of an unauthorized permit that allowed a cockfighting arena to operate in his town.
The suspension order took effect in October this year until May 2022.
Three months after the suspension order, the supporters of Danao on December filed a recall petition against the suspended mayor’s political detractors, who were behind the administrative raps that resulted in Danao’s 20-month suspension after the Provincial Board pronounced him guilty of various counts of grave misconduct, gross negligence, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service.
The provincial board, acting as a quasi-judicial body, heard the administrative cases filed against Danao on May 25 by the municipal council for grave misconduct, gross negligence, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service in violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The complaint was anchored on the permit that Danao had granted to a cockpit arena in Barangay Antipuluan, which was issued without the approval of the municipal council.
The municipal council also pointed out that Danao allegedly failed to prepare and submit the executive budget for 2020 and failed to efficiently enforce and implement Municipal Ordinance No. 2020-976, a budget measure appropriating P9,864,598.24 for the purchase of equipment and facilities needed by the locality to effectively respond to the coronavirus disease threat.
The municipal council also accused Danao of mismanagement that subsequently resulted in an alleged “decrease in the productivity” of the Narra Municipal Water System.
4. Undocumented Chinese nationals enter PPC
A Palawan court has convicted 10 Chinese nationals who illegally entered the city waters at Barangay Concepcion in Puerto Princesa early July 21.
Presiding judge Ambrosio De Luna of Regional Trial Court Branch 51 in Puerto Princesa City, in a decision rendered on November 6, found guilty Deng Kang Xiang, 44; Luo Xiao Giang, 34; Xu Yuan Sen, 21; Chen Zhen Gi, 65; Zhou Wei, 35; Chang Liu Ging,27; Zhao Jian Hui, 37; Lien Nua Wei, 27; Zhao Zhou Yin, 37; and Luo Shui Sheng, 35, in violation of Section 46 of Commonwealth Act 613, or Philippine Immigration Act of 1940.
The group of Chinese nationals was sentenced to five years of imprisonment, and a penalty of P5,000 each.
3. Illegal wildlife trade
A report published by TRAFFIC, a non-government organization that monitors the international trade of wild animals and plants, found that the illegal pangolin trade in the Philippines increased nine-fold in the last two years, with the authorities confiscating an estimated 6,894 pangolins between 2018 and 2019.
In January, authorities seized 20 Philippine pangolins from a local wildlife trafficker in El Nido, Palawan, and released them back into the wild. There have also been three more retrieval incidents of smuggled pangolins since the start of the year.
An estimated 25,000 kilos of empty giant clam shells worth P25 million were seized by local officials in Sitio Dandulit in the village of Buliluyan in the southern Palawan municipality of Bataraza in November.
Local resident Junie Ocampo, whom the authorities believed to be the owner of the seized taklobo shells, was reportedly due to trade them illegally to an unidentified buyer when personnel from the barangay, Naval Forces West (NFW), and Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) intercepted the operation.
In October, a resident of Narra town has been charged by maritime police authorities for violating the Philippine Fisheries Code by selling giant clam shells worth around P2.5 million.
In Taytay, wildlife products estimated to value around P700,000 were seized from suspected traders in June. The law enforcers found more or less 27 kilograms of seahorses and 78 kilograms of endangered seadragons amounting to around P700,000, without necessary documents from the proper authorities.
2. Top Palawan education official suspended for grafts charges
The Department of Education (DepEd) had placed Palawan’s top education official, DepEd Schools Division Superintendent Natividad Bayubay, under a 90-day preventive suspension effective last December 1 in connection with multiple administrative charges filed against her by several local senior officials.
The suspension order was approved by education secretary Leonor Briones on December 1 upon the recommendation of the department’s legal office and was effective upon the signing date, after Bayubay had been slapped with formal administrative charges after a preliminary investigation process conducted by the department on the complaints.
Bayubay had been accused by three senior Palawan schoolteachers of allegedly mismanaging funds amounting to nearly P84.7 million based on a report by the Commission on Audit (COA).
One case involved infractions on the procurement and liquidation of special cash advances amounting to P13.2 million. Another case involves the holding of a webinar by the Division office where the participants were charged with P2,000 each without complying with government audit procedures. The third complaint pertains to the holding of another training for senior teachers where the participants were asked to pay P4,500 each.
1. Magcamit murder-slay
As the suspected mastermind has voluntarily surrendered, the local police authorities considered as “solved” case the murder-slay of private lawyer Eric Jay Magcamit, who was gunned down on November 17 in Narra town as he makes his way to a court hearing in Quezon.
Former Palawan provincial police director P/Lt. Col. Nicolas Torre III, in an earlier statement, said Mariano Quioyo, believed to be the mastermind, surrendered on November 28 to the Special Investigation Task Force (SITG) Magcamit.
Quiyo was among nine other suspects (six John Does) implicated in the murder of Magcamit. The other suspects who had already been charged were P/SMSgt. Ariel Pareja and a certain Jazer del Rosario.
According to the police investigation, Quioyo was involved in a land dispute case with Magcamit’s client. Magcamit was shot dead along the national road in Narra municipality in southern Palawan.