New leader, poll violence, war vs. insurgency in NegOcc

BACOLOD CITY — The year 2019 saw a change in political leadership, heightened campaign for various causes, and new directions in the Province of Negros Occidental.

The past 12 months tested the Negrenses in many ways amid the takeover of new Capitol officials, violence in the May elections, challenges faced by the sugar industry, threat to the province’s multi-billion hog industry, and the campaign against insurgency.

As the year ends, these are the major events that transpired in Negros Occidental in 2019.

Leadership change

After serving as governor for three terms in the past nine years, Alfredo Marañon Jr. stepped down on June 30, and relinquished the top Capitol post to his deputy, Eugenio Jose “Bong” Lacson, who was elected the 35th governor in a landslide victory.

Marañon’s completion of his term as governor signaled his apparent retirement from a career in government service and politics, spanning more than five decades.

Lacson, who has served as vice governor for two terms, was succeeded by former fourth district congressman Jeffrey Ferrer.

The new governor has adopted the battle cry “Abanse Negrense”, which stands for Agriculture and Food Security; Building of Infrastructure, Roads and Other Structures; Advancement of Economic, Trade, Investment and Employment Opportunities; Nurturing of Public Health by creating responsive hospital and other social services; Sustainable Environmental Management and Tourism Development; Education, Culture, Sports and ICT; and the Negrense brand of Good Governance and Human Development.

Violence-marred polls

The election-related killings in Moises Padilla prompted no less than President Rodrigo Duterte to visit the central Negros town days before the May 13 elections to order a stop to violence amid the battle for the mayoral post between then mayor Magdaleno Peña and niece, vice mayor Ella Garcia-Yulo.

On May 6, or a week before the polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) officially placed Moises Padilla under its control, and two days later, the President arrived to preside over a security meeting with police and military officials.

While campaigning on April 25, Garcia-Yulo’s brother Jose Marcelino “Marc” Garcia, and nephew reelectionist Jose Antonio “Michael” Garcia died in an ambush.

Councilor Jolomar Hilario, also a reelectionist, was killed by suspected members of the New People’s Army inside his residence on March 31.

Eventually, Garcia-Yulo won over Peña, who filed an election protest, which was dismissed by the local court.

Proposed sugar import liberalization

Tatak Kalamay, a multi-sector group based in Negros Occidental composed of the country’s sugar industry stakeholders, led the opposition to the planned liberalization of the sugar industry.

The efforts of Tatak Kalamay, which supported seven senators who won in the May polls, bore fruit when in November, the Senate unanimously approved Resolution 213, urging the Executive Department not to pursue the planned liberalization of the sugar industry to safeguard the welfare of sugar farmers and industry workers in more than 20 provinces in the country.

Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) Board Member Dino Yulo, who hails from Negros Occidental, thanked the Senate for recognizing the importance of the SRA as a vital agency that will look after the welfare of industry stakeholders and the consuming public.

Negros Occidental, dubbed the country’s sugar capital, produces some 60 percent of the Philippines’ sugar output.

‘ASF-free Negros’

On November 26, Negros Occidental has strengthened efforts to protect its PHP6-billion swine industry from African swine fever (ASF) by imposing a permanent ban on the entry of pork from Luzon and other affected areas to the province through an ordinance.

Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson and Vice Governor Jeffrey Ferrer signed Provincial Ordinance 2019-024, otherwise known as “The ASF Prevention Ordinance of Negros Occidental” to keep the province free from the virus.

Lacson also declared Negros Occidental as ASF-free province by virtue of Provincial Board Resolution 1042.

After the ordinance took effect on December 9, all live pigs, pork, and pork products arriving at the airport and seaports in Negros Occidental have been seized, and those sold in grocery stores and supermarket have been pulled out.

Drive vs. insurgency

In March, authorities had a breakthrough with the arrest of Francisco “Frank” Fernandez, the highest- ranking communist rebel leader on Negros Island, and his partner Cleofe Lagtapon in Liliw, Laguna.

The Negros Occidental provincial government has expressed support for the campaign against insurgency of the Duterte administration through the “whole-of-nation” approach with the creation of the Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC) in August.

Several LGUs, including the first district cities of San Carlos and Escalante, and towns of Calatrava and Toboso, declared the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) persona non grata, and condemned communist-terrorist group’s atrocities.

The first district has been considered a hotbed of insurgency in northern Negros.

In the province’s capital of Bacolod, the City Council also passed a resolution on December 4, declaring the CPP-NPA persona non grata.

On September 20, a total of 2,510 former combatants and members of the NPA took their oath of allegiance to the Philippine government in what can be considered as the biggest mass surrender in Negros Occidental.

The surrender took place during the second day of the three-day North Negros Peace Summit, coinciding with the 34th year of the Escalante Massacre, hosted by the Escalante city government with the Philippine Army’s 79th Infantry Battalion.

Two days before in Escalante, eight suspected CPP-NPA members, possessing firearms and improvised explosives, were arrested in a police checkpoint operation as they were allegedly planning to disrupt the peace summit.

On October 31, the police and the military arrested 55 persons, including 13 minors, and seized 32 firearms, 130 rounds of ammunition, and five explosives in simultaneous search warrant operations conducted in four areas in Bacolod occupied by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Gabriela, Anakpawis and National Federation of Sugar Workers.

The minors, who were believed being recruited as NPA members, came from various localities in Negros Occidental.

A total of 42 suspected CPP-NPA members have been charged by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG)-6 with illegal possession of firearms, ammunition and explosives, but Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Fernand Castro dismissed the charges against the 31 for lack of probable cause. The PNP-CIDG-6 has appealed the ruling in favor of the 31.

On November 1, two persons, identified in search warrants as Imelda Sultan and Ma. Lindy Perucho, believed to have links with the CPP-NPA were also arrested in Escalante City. They yielded firearms and ammunition during separate police operations. 

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Source: By Nanette Guadalquiver, Philippine News Agency (PNA)

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