By Dave S. Albarado
There is no doubt 2017 is perhaps one of the most vibrant years in Bohol. There have been a lot of things that happened that changed the landscape of the province and changed the life of its people. Good or bad, these big stories, have changed the game, deepened our perspective, made us rejoice – and some of the stories made us feel proud.
As we look back, 2017 is a year of turmoil, challenges and extreme efforts. It is also a year where we look back and say we have done more than enough to be blessed with the bounty and the maintenance of peace and order.
Challenges happened along the way, but each one of those episodes only made us stronger. After all, the one that doesn’t kill us will make us stronger.
As the year draws to a close, and we usher a new year tomorrow, we make a fitting throwback to the year that was and remember the good memories and keep the hard lessons from the events that had happened.
It perhaps fits to do a retrospective on the year 2017, so we all could look forward to a brighter and more exciting year this 2018.
Here are the choices for the top 10 stories that The Bohol Tribune published in 2017, which indeed helped shape the Bohol we know today.
10. Miss Universe Beauties Visit Bohol – Three candidates of the recently-concluded Miss Universe 2017 made a brief visit to Bohol in the first week of December as part of the effort to promote the different tourism areas of the country to the world, leveraging the popularity of the most-watched beauty pageant in the world.
Miss Malaysia Samantha Katie James, Miss Russia Kseniya Alexandrova, and Binibining Pilipinas Rachel Peters made a quick stop to see the various tourist destinations in the province.
The visit of the Miss Universe beauties is part of the “Bring Home a Friend” program initiated by the Department of Tourism.
The choice of Bohol as one of the stops proves how the province has been able to position itself as a tourism powerhouse.
All three ladies said the half-day encounter with various tourist destinations in the province and the beautiful people of Bohol is too short.
The ladies said they would return soon and try to see more sights in the province and other places in the country.
Due to tight schedules, the beauties weren’t able to see other tourism nooks such as the Chocolate Hills in Carmen among others.
Despite the short trip, the choice of Bohol shows how massive the tourism industry here has become. The DOT has recognized the effort of the provincial government in developing the Bohol tourism sector.
9. Behold Bohol Capturing Awards – It was a bountiful harvest for Bohol regarding awards and accolades. In 2017, Bohol gained its third straight Seal of Good Local Governance, the highest honor given by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to local government units which have been outstanding.
The third straight award elevated the province to the Hall of Fame status.
Aside from the province four other towns, Alicia, Bien Unido, Tubigon and Duero with Tagbilaran also got their respective Seals of Good Local Governance (SGLG).
Bohol is set to receive P7 million while Tagbilaran City will get P5 million.
The four LGUs will receive P3 million each through the DILG Performance Challenge Fund.
The SGLG is a progressive assessment system adopted by DILG to give distinction to remarkable local government performance across several areas.
To win the award, LGUs must pass the several essential elements including financial administration, disaster preparedness, social protection and tourism, culture and arts.
For this year, the DILG raised its overall assessment criteria by including peace and order to its list of core areas.
The province also slew the giants after capturing the award for the Most Business-Friendly Province from the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
It was the first time that Bohol captured the award and bested the so-called Goliaths with the likes of Bulacan and Cebu provinces were beaten to the punch.
The award reinforced the efforts of the province to attract more investors into her fold despite the sagging investment climate in the whole of Central Visayas.
Bohol province and its Bohol Employment Placement Office (BEPO) won twin awards for their efforts against illegal recruitment.
The BEPO has been in the forefront of the effort against illegal recruitment and has been a reliable partner of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in fighting illegal recruitment and helping in solving the sad plight of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).
8. Vice Guv, et al. suspension – The news of the suspension of Vice Governor Dionesio Balite and others blindsided almost everyone.
The Bohol Tribune was able to carry the news as its banner story, which gave it more prominence and exclusive treatment.
The suspension stemmed from the act of the provincial government both executive and legislative branches on the use of letters of credit in the purchase of heavy equipment back in 2007.
The order of the Ombudsman sent several officials both currently serving, and those who are no longer in office suspended or had to pay fines.
7. Power Crisis in Bohol – The 6.5 magnitude Leyte earthquake last July exposed a colossal risk about the power supply situation for the province.
With the Leyt geothermal plants unable to provide power to Bohol due to the earthquake, the province plunged into darkness, and the people got worried anew as shades of the power crisis that happened as a result of the 2013 earthquake and super-typhoon Yolanda returned to the minds of some Boholanos.
Spare electrical power was rationed using the erstwhile mothballed Bohol Diesel Power Plant in Dampas and several low-capacity hydroelectric plants. Unfortunately, power was so scarce as some areas in the province had to endure without any power, even for a moment, for several days.
A bypass line from Cebu was the stop-gap measure seen to alleviate the situation. The idea is to draw power from Cebu for Bohol without having to pass through the marshaling station in Leyte, but the solution was far from ideal.
The whole saga made people realize how vulnerable Bohol’s power supply is. After which, clamor for an in-land power supply surfaced. Having in-land power has been seen as a solution to the vulnerability. However, having a power plant for Bohol is a pipe dream for now. With Bohol’s distribution utilities still under contract, realizing a power plant to supply electricity for Bohol may be only achieved years from now.
With the swift action of several sectors and with the assistance of the Department of Energy, little by little the power situation returned to normal, but it did not come without Bohol having to declare a state of calamity.
6. Oil and fish prices mess in Bohol – As the year ends, the issue of the high costs of fuel and fish in Bohol remains unsolved.
The Provincial Board got involved into the issue and went to the bottom of the mess to find out the cause of the high prices.
After several discussions on the prices of fish and even the revelation of personnel from Department of Energy (DOE) about the reasons why the prices of fuel are higher in the province, no concrete steps to remedy the situation are in sight.
Boholanos have been complaining why fish prices in the province are higher compared to other places in the region.
Some fishermen are forced to sell their produce to intermediaries who can lend them money. At the same time, fisherfolks want security regarding people able to buy their produce once they got off from their boats.
On the other hand, fuel prices here have been observed to be higher compared to other cities such as Dumaguete and Cebu.
The DOE explained having only one depot, lack of competition in the distribution line and the absence of direct importation are the reasons why prices here are higher compared to other cities in the Visayas.
With the problems causing the rise in fuel prices identified, and it is now in the hands of the relevant agencies to push for reforms and to invite investors to create more distribution platforms or depots to make the fuel prices in the province more competitive.
5. Large-Scale Scam Hits Bohol – It happened before, and it happened here again.
A group of suspected scammers defrauded at least 26 business establishments in the city and carting away at least P5 million worth of products.
A certain Feliza Domingo Torralba allegedly led a Mindanao-based swindling syndicate and staged a series of scams using bank checks paid to Boholano business persons but bounced as there were no funds in the account.
A manhunt has been initiated against the group led by Torralba in what seemed to be a well-orchestrated scam designed to exploit the weaknesses in the system.
The group managed to open a checking account with the bank since they were able to use the bank instrument to pay the victims purportedly.
Torralba and her cohorts were able to secure business permits and other licenses to create an impression of operating a legitimate business to gain the trust of the victims.
In a well-orchestrated plot, the Torralba-led gang was able to exploit the gaps in the system and may have gotten help from locals to unleash the nefarious schemes.
Using the holidays as a shield, the gang was able to secure several items and used checks as payment. There was no way to verify whether the checks were good or not since there was a string of holiday. When it was time to clear the checks, the account was bare, and the scam was uncovered.
Several weeks after, the police have yet to come up with a breakthrough in the case that has been so sensational the Sangguniang Panlalawigan had to step in and ask for clarifications. The sheer scope of the scandal had reached far and wide, but the police have yet to come up with closure in this case.
4. ASEAN Hosting Success Amid Challenges – Bohol’s ability to host an international meeting was tested to the hilt in 2017. No other venue for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was challenged the way Bohol was tested.
At the first ASEAN meeting in April, the whole activity was made doubly tense with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) trying to fight it out against government security forces in Inabanga, days before the start of the meeting.
While Panglao is far from the actual conflict zone, it can’t be denied the organizers of the ASEAN meeting were walking on pins and needles before the meeting.
However, the conduct of the first meeting was a success with zero major incidents happening. Despite the fact Bohol was supposed to host only one meeting, three other meetings were held in the province.
After passing with flying colors, Bohol was given the task to host to three more meetings one in September, October and in November. Bohol was supposed to host only one but was given three more. It shows trust and confidence from the organizers. Bohol has been able to show all and sundry its ability to hold an international conference and maintain zero significant incidents.
During the appreciation night to those contributed to the success of the hosting of the ASEAN summit, Bohol was at the front and center. The whole hosting was not just a test whether the province is capable, but a real test of character and tenacity under pressure amid the challenge of terrorism.
3. Alleged Murder OF Bien Unido Mayor – If there is another case that sent shock-waves to the Boholano society, it should be the alleged murder of Bien Unido town mayor Gisela Bendong-Boniel.
No one expected, allegedly a Board Member would take matters into his hand and murder his wife who happened to replace him as mayor of Bien Unido town.
The Boholano public woke up one morning in June with pictures of Second District Board Member Niño Rey “En-en” Boniel in posted on social media, already in the custody of the regional Philippine National Police office and being questioned for the alleged kidnapping and disappearance of Mayor Gisela.
The story goes, the lady mayor was with her best friend and the best friend’s son before an altercation. Allegedly the Board Member’s men took Angela Leyson and her son away from a resort in Bien Unido town. On the other hand, Mayor Gisela was also taken by persons and was brought to Cebu province via Tubigon.
Later it was learned that allegedly Inin Boniel killed his wife while in Cebu and allegedly dumped the body in a deep part of the waters off Caubian Island in Lapu Lapu City.
Then regional director of Police Regional Office 7, Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, said BM Boniel confessed killing his wife. But things turned south when the camp of the Board Member denied any hand in the disappearance and alleged murder of the lady mayor.
He even insinuated his wife was just in hiding from creditors and could be somewhere in the Middle East.
The police began a search for the body using the testimony of Riolito “Etad” Boniel who was allegedly present when the body was dumped into the water. Etad is one of the primary witnesses for the alleged killing of Mayor Gisela and dumping of the body off the waters of Lapu-Lapu City.
A prolonged search for the body of the lady mayor ended in a dud. No dead body was recovered despite the efforts of some divers and even with the help of tools from the United States Navy. No remains came up to bolster the claim the lady mayor was murdered.
Today, charges of parricide and murder have been filed against BM Boniel and his alleged cohorts. The Supreme Court has ordered the transfer of the hearings of the case about BM Boniel to Cebu City recently.
Charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention were filed against the provincial solon, who has been kept away from his duties due to incarceration.
The wheels of justices have started to move, but we all know it will take years before everyone will learn and know the real story of what happened to a sweet and loving relationship that had gone awry.
2. Mia Mascarinas-Green’s Daylight Assassination – The daylight murder of a high-profile lawyer in Bohol sent shockwaves not just in the province but other parts of the country as well.
Lawyer Mia Macariñas-Green was driving home, back in February, with her children and their nanny when motorcycle men cut her path as a gunman opened fire at the vehicle she was driving.
The lawyer was riddled with bullets and killed in plain view of the children on board.
It was surmised the killing might be about a case handled by Mascarinas-Green particularly the one involving the alleged mastermind of the case.
The case was about to be decided in favor of the lady lawyer’s client, reports say. Perhaps the killing may be an attempt to silence the lady lawyer, as the mastermind allegedly took the matter into his hands and sent someone to assassinate the lady lawyer.
The horrible killing sent the Boholano public into an outrage and made a show of indignation against the manner how the lawyer was killed.
The furor over the killing of the lady lawyer also extended to other circles including the environmentalist groups. Mascarinas-Green was a known environmental lawyer.
Manhunts against the mastermind and the gunman were initiated, but it took some time before a breakthrough happened. Gonzaga was finally arrested in Davao and was sent back to Tagbilaran to face the charges for the murder of the lady lawyer and also other charges leveled against him.
The mastermind may have been captured, but it could no longer change the fact that some kids lost their mother and a husband lost a wife in a gruesome episode the Boholano community will never forget.
1. The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) incursion – Back in 2016, if you tell a person that Bohol will be infiltrated by Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members, he or she will tell you, you’re nuts. There’s no way on earth Bohol will be terrorized by Abu Sayyaf back in 2016. Well, it happened in 2017. The rules of the game have been transformed, and the incursion of the Abu Sayyaf has changed the lives of Boholanos forever.
Making the story of the ASG incursion more interesting is the capture of a police officer identified as Ma. Cristina Nobleza who purportedly a lover of a suspected ASG member identified as Regner Dongon. More about the Nobleza-Dungon caper later.
The story started when about 11 members of the ASG intruded into the waters of Bohol and entered barangay Napo in Inabanga town.
Sources say residents alerted their leaders to strangers with high-powered firearms entered their barangay.
As this developed, a firefight between joint forces of the local police and the Army and the terrorists ensued at around 5 am. Airstrikes happened later in the afternoon by planes from the Philippine Air Force as the Philippine Navy deployed a naval blockade to prevent the terrorists from escaping via the sea.
During the initial skirmish, four ASG members were killed. The surviving members of the terrorist group fled for their lives.
The ASG bandits in Bohol were led by a Boholano native purportedly a convert to Islam identified as Joselito Meloria also known as Abu Alih. Meloria was killed with two others in a clash with government security forces in Clarin town.
During the Clarin clash, an attempt to allegedly rescue or aid the terrorists happened when Nobleza and Dongon went from Panglao to Clarin with two other persons driving a pick-up truck.
The two were stopped at a checkpoint at the height of the skirmishes. It took a day before the truck was inspected where the contents shocked the probers. Several items were found inside the pick-up truck including SIM cards, first-aid kits, food items, clothing and energy drinks.
After several days, and with the public already hot on the tracks of ASG stragglers, an ASG member named Abu Saad was captured. The police interrogated him, but he was reportedly killed when trying to escape from police custody as he was being transported to the jail facility.
The last two members of the ASG, considered as stragglers, were killed after residents gave tips to the security forces. Security forces engaged with the two remaining members of the ASG as a firefight ensued on May 15. The skirmish efficiently neutralized all elements of the terrorists that made the trip to Bohol.
The game has truly changed, and Bohol is no longer insulated from the threats of terror. The only positive thing Boholanos got from this episode is the fact we can rely on each other to protect our province against those who will try to take away peace from our homes.
Indeed, 2017, is one of the most memorable years in Bohol’s history. Other worthy news items made a difference in the lives of Boholanos. However, these stories have been able to define the color, vibrancy and the emotions of 2017.
The fervent hope, this 2018, will be as vibrant to the lives of Boholanos and be more positive pinning our hopes and dreams for the future.