YEAR IN REVIEW: Stories that shaped Negros in 2023

Posted by watchmen
December 30, 2023
Posted in News, Year in Review

 


(First of two parts)

As we collectively navigate the threshold into 2024, let us look back at the stories and events that shaped Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental in 2023, a journey to ponder the narratives as we await for the unwritten pages of the year ahead.

 

Degamo slay

Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo and nine individuals were killed in a broad daylight attack after a group of armed men barged into his residential compound at Barangay San Isidro in the province’s Pamplona town on March 4.

Degamo was attending to the beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program when six men — in military uniforms and in full tactical gear, opened fire at the governor and the crowd.

The suspects fled on board two sports utility vehicles.

Degamo and several injured staff and individuals were rushed to several hospitals in Dumaguete City for treatment.

However, the governor passed away due to multiple gunshot wounds.

Around 14 individuals were injured in the attack.

Hours later, three gunmen were arrested by the Philippine Army and the Special Action Force, which later confirmed they were former military personnel.

A fourth suspect was later killed after engaging in a gunfight with law enforcement in Negros Oriental’s Bayawan City.

Negros Oriental Vice Governor Carlo Jorge Joan Reyes was formally sworn in as the new governor.

However, he died after battling a terminal illness in May.

Two of the four suspects in the murder were placed under a witness protection program by the Department of Justice.

One of the suspects, Joric Garrido Labrador, claimed that it was Negros Oriental 3rd district Congressman Arnolfo Teves, Jr. who ordered the killings.

However, Teves Jr. denied any involvement in the attack.

He was in the United States undergoing stem cell treatment, and has not returned to the country since March of this year amid safety concerns.

Teves said the incident was neither desirable nor beneficial for the progress of his own district and the entire Negros Oriental.

Degamo and Teves are known to be bitter political rivals in Negros Oriental.

Teves’ lead counsel, Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, said the lawmaker strongly denounced and denied involvement in the murder.

He said Teves and his brother, former Negros Oriental Governor Henry Pryde Teves, would not be the ones who would benefit from Degamo’s death.

Degamo ousted Henry after the votes of a nuisance candidate were credited in his favor.

In April, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla claimed that Teves Jr. was the lead mastermind in the murder of Degamo and nine others, and compared him to a “film executive producer” in the killings.

Remulla also urged the lawmaker to return to the Philippines and face charges.

He said the case was already 99 percent solved and Teves fit in the “middle of everything.”

In May, four suspects recanted their testimonies in the killings.

In August, Teves Jr. was expelled from the House of Representatives for “disorderly behavior and for violating the code of conduct of the House.”

Teves also made accusations against Bacolod City Mayor Alfredo Abelardo Benitez, after the lawmaker was tagged as a “terrorist” by the Anti-Terrorism Council.

He referred to Benitez as his “boss” and accused him of betraying him in their “agreement.”

Teves also wants the mayor to pay his alleged “personal debt” to him.

However, Benitez said he is the first person that would never, ever break the law.

The expelled congressman has already denied allegations that he was part of any armed groups that sow fear in Negros Oriental.

Pryde’s lawyer also denied his involvement in terrorism.

A total of 31 cases were filed against Teves, including three murder charges over the death of three individuals in 2019 in Negros Oriental.

Justice Assistant Secretary Mico Clavano said 14 counts of frustrated murder, 10 counts of murder, and four counts of attempted murder had been filed against Teves before the Manila Regional Trial Court.

In September, a Manila court handed down an arrest warrant against Teves Jr. and three others.

The government has asked a Manila court to revoke the passport of Teves Jr., who has been on the run since being implicated in several murder cases.

 

Pork ban and ASF

Some hog raisers in Negros Occidental were forced to divert their shipments to Luzon in March, as Cebu province imposed a ban on pork byproducts.

Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson appealed to Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia to let pork shipments from Negros, bound for Eastern Visayas, pass through Cebu.

Garcia later rescinded the entry ban on March 21.

The Negros Occidental Provincial Veterinary Office said hog growers would lose P18 million each week if Cebu continues its border closure for pork-related products.

Also in that month, Negros Occidental remained free of African swine fever (ASF).

In May, Lacson called on other local government units to step up biosecurity measures against ASF entry to the province.

More than 2,000 swine deaths due to hog cholera were recorded in April, despite the province remaining free from ASF.

The province logged a total of 2,421 hog deaths, with Bago City recording the highest number of fatalities with 755.

San Enrique town was tagged as a “red zone” after the locality recorded 726 hog deaths due to hog illness.

Hog cholera also affected 546 local raisers in 57 barangays.

In May, Negros Occidental recorded its first confirmed ASF case in Pulupandan town.

Victorias City, Hinigaran town and Silay City have also confirmed cases of the highly contagious hog disease.

The ASF-positive specimens were taken from villages in Kabankalan City and San Carlos City after the localities recorded their first cases in June.

Its capital, Bacolod City, also reported two ASF cases in Barangays Taculing and Tangub.

The city task force strengthened border control and monitoring measures to prevent the spread of hog illness.

The province has been implementing anti-ASF measures since last year.

Negros Occidental, with a P6 billion swine industry, recorded 7,229 swine deaths due to hog cholera and other diseases in 14 local government units.

Losses due to hog deaths were more than P93 million.

Neighboring Negros Oriental reported its first ASF case in Dauin town’s Barangay Maayong Tubig in May.

In October, the Department of Agriculture urged hog raisers to be cautious in proceeding with hog repopulation as the province is still under ASF threat.

Local hog raisers are advised not to be complacent, despite a significant drop in the number of ASF cases in the province.

As part of hog pre-sentinel procedures, a thorough disinfection and cleaning of hog pens is required, especially for hog raisers affected by swine diseases.

The PVO personnel conducted inspections of hog farms across the province to identify qualified hog raisers for the sentinelling program.

The program is a science-based approach to detecting the presence of ASF in a particular area.

 

NIR bill passage

Senate Bill (SB) 2507, seeking the reestablishment of the Negros Island Region (NIR), was approved on second reading during the Senate’s regular session on December 13.

The NIR bill, which also seeks to improve the delivery of basic government services in Negros Island through the establishment of regional government offices and to promote decentralization to strengthen local autonomy, has only one final reading to hurdle.

Under SB 2507, a technical working group will formulate a roadmap for NIR’s institutional arrangements, set up organizational requirements for development planning and investment programming, and map out the provision of public services in the proposed region.

The new region will consist of Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental and Siquijor provinces.

Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson said the funding for NIR has always been the primary issue in the advancement of the bill.

In March, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading House Bill 7355.

The bill’s passage slowed down earlier this year as Negros Oriental has yet to give its official paper regarding the proposal.

Lacson hopes the bill will become a law as a majority of the senators are supportive of re-establishing the NIR.

Before his assassination in March, former Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo said he opposed the idea of reestablishing the region.

Degamo reasoned out his opposition because of the cultural divide between the Hiligaynon-speaking Negros Occidental side and the Cebuano-speaking Negros Oriental side, the Occidental’s political dominance, and unequal voting at the Regional Development Council should the NIR be established.

He proposed the creation of a new province in the northern part of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental instead, before agreeing to NIR’s reestablishment.

Under his proposal, Degamo wants Negros Oriental’s Vallehermoso town, and Negros Occidental’s cities of San Carlos, Escalante and Sagay, and the towns of Calatrava and Toboso to form a new province.

The late governor’s proposal raised eyebrows among government officials in Negros, as some immediately rejected his idea that this would take too long.

Lacson said that he was hoping that Degamo would have a “change of heart,” and support the passage of the NIR bill.

Lacson also admitted that the full passage of the NIR bill may not be easy, but with the present developments, things are moving towards the right direction.

In March, Negros Occidental 3rd district Congressman Francisco “Kiko” Benitez, said Degamo was already softening his stance and leaning closer to the NIR’s reestablishment.

Degamo was killed along with nine others in the Pamplona massacre on March 4.

Earlier this year, Lacson said he would prefer seeing a fully-reestablished NIR, composing the provinces of Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental and Siquijor, compared to the sub-region proposal by Bacolod City Mayor Alfredo Benitez.

Benitez’s proposal was the creation of Region 6-A, composed of Bacolod City and Negros Occidental; and Region 7-A, composed of Dumaguete City and Negros Oriental.

 

Low sugar prices

The United Sugar Producers Federation (Unifed) is calling for “much-needed intervention” from the national government following a decline in the prices of sugar, way below the comfortable profit margin for sugar producers, particularly small farmers.

Unifed president Manuel Lamata asked for possible state intervention from President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jr. as sugar prices continue to plummet between P2,500 and P2,750 per bag in Negros Island, compared to P3,200 last year.

In October, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) was looking into the possibility of sugar price manipulation amid the drop in the farm gate prices of locally-produced sugar.

The average price of raw sugar “continues to go down, to the detriment of the sugar farmers, allegedly by reason of oversupply.”

The SRA noted that although farm gate prices are dropping, retail prices are maintained.

Azcona said Unifed wants intervention as they suspect that somebody is manipulating the trade, either the price or demand is low.

The SRA said they ordered the inspection of all warehouses “holding on to reserve sugar to make sure they are still there.”

Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson said they have always hoped to sustain prices of sugar at P3,000 per bag.

His statement was in response to reports indicating that certain sugar mills in the province were only buying sugar at P2,600 per bag.

Others set their buying prices above P3,000 per bag.

Lacson further explained that when prices surpass P3,000, there will be extra income for sugar farmers after milling.

However, anything below that mark leaves farmers barely breaking even.

 

Ceneco-NEPC JVA

Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) and Primelectric Holdings Inc. / Negros Electric and Power Corporation (NEPC) entered into a joint venture agreement (JVA) in June, which seeks to improve power distribution services in Ceneco’s franchise areas.

The JVA will become effective once the 50 percent plus one or the majority of member-consumer-owners (MCOs) will ratify the agreement with a “yes” vote through a plebiscite.

Ceneco conducted the ongoing referendum for the JVA on June 24 and 25, and July 1, 2, 8, and 9.

There are a total of 177,737 member-consumer-owners (MCOs) eligible to vote in the plebiscite.

Ceneco has 210,000 MCOs in franchise areas in Negros Occidental cities of Silay, Talisay and Bago; as well as the municipalities of Murcia and Don Salvador Benedicto, and capital Bacolod City.

The cooperative resumed the plebiscite in August after it was temporarily suspended by the National Electrification Administration (NEA), asking them to verify the list of voters to ensure its sanctity before the process is allowed to proceed.

The plebiscite was rescheduled on August 26, September 2 and 3.

The JVA will be later known as NEPC, which will pour in at least P2 billion in capital expenditures to be used in the massive system rehabilitation to improve power distribution services in the cooperative’s franchise areas.

In September, NEA administrator Antonio Mariano Almeda said the majority of Ceneco’s eligible MCOs favored the JVA, with 98,591 approval votes.

At least 89,119 “yes” votes, which is 50 percent plus one, or a majority from the total 178,236 MCOs eligible to participate in the plebiscite, were required for JVA’s approval.

The JVA, which aims to promote quality service for the consumers, also underwent assessment by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) on October 4, tackling the agreement’s implications that will strengthen its service to the consumers of the electric cooperative.

Primelectric said that along with rehabilitating the distribution system, the P2.1 billion investment will aid in reducing the system losses and improving reliability.

In November, the NEA granted consent to the JVA, with a condition for Ceneco to settle its outstanding loans and obligations.

NEA administrator Antonio Mariano Almeda said Ceneco must submit a full accounting of the settlement of its obligations and the net cash amount after the JVA’s implementation.

It also includes all outstanding loans and obligations, as well as the value of the assets funded or sourced from grants, subsidies or other assistance from NEA.

The bill’s approval signifies a critical juncture in reshaping the energy landscape in central Negros, with NEPC poised to play a transformative role in electric distribution services.

In November, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises gave its preliminary approval to House Bill (HB) 9310, which seeks to grant NEPC a franchise to operate and maintain a power distribution system in Negros Occidental.

A month later, the House unanimously approved the franchise.

The amendment will be included in the rules meeting, and HB 9310 will be discussed at the plenary for the second reading in January 2024.

 

To be continued./WDJ

 

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