Friday, December 26, 2014

YEAR-ENDER ‘Purisima-geddon,’ Mercado exposes, HUC snafu, booming Palayan mark Nueva Ecija in 2014

CABANATUAN CITY – Suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Alan Purisima’s several allegedly unexplained properties, former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado’s Senate exposes on Vice President Jejomar Binay’s alleged ill-gotten wealth, the repeated scheduling and eventual cancellation of the plebiscite on the conversion of this city into a Highly Urbanized City (HUC), the gradual emergence of Palayan City as a growth center, political posturings among others were among the issues that hogged the limelight in Nueva Ecija in 2014.

          For at least two months, Purisima’s supposed mansion in San Leonardo town, a poultry farm in this city and another property in Atate, Palayan became hot topic after he was tagged for a lifestyle check.

          Finally appearing in the Senate sometime in September, Purisima got an intense grilling by suspicious senators who questioned the construction of a P11-million “White House” in Camp Crame, the huge discount he got in buying a luxury vehicle among others.

          He tried to fight his critics and adverse public opinion in a typical Purisima-geddon and even questioned an Ombudsman order preventing suspending him and several officials in connection with a shady firearms deal to no avail.  

          Later, he invited media to visit his supposed mansion in Barangay Magpapalayok, San Leonardo to show it was not a mansion and just an ordinary house but some of the mediamen were not exactly convinced. It was just an ordinary house, but only by his standard since he was believed to be flaunting a lavish lifestyle.

          Mercado, who lives and owns a resort in Barangay Cabu this city, appeared in the Senate and exposed Binay’s supposed properties and the overpriced annex building in Makati City Hall. The star witness was later charged with plunder himself for his own alleged involvement in the Makati scam and for himself owning several properties such as cockfighting arena and choiced land in Palawan, this city and other areas.

          The HUC issue, which has polarized the alliance between Gov. Aurelio Umali and Cabanatuan Mayor Jay Vergara, appeared to take off when the Comelec set the plebiscite to January 25 which the Supreme Court stopped. It was reset to September then to November 8 but Comelec cancelled it due to funding problems. The city government will have to raise P100 million for the plebiscite to be held which will involve all registered voters of Nueva Ecija not just Cabanatuan based on the ruling of the Supreme Court.         

While Cabanatuan is considered the province’s trade mecca, its neighboring Palayan City – the province’s provincial capital – made a lot of noise in 2014, the loudest of which was the “Lingap sa Mamamayan” event of the Iglesia Ni Cristo sect.

On February 20, four million INC devotees trooped to Barangay Maligaya in this provincial capital for the launch of its two-day event involving dental health check,  blood pressure (BP) readings, and blood glucose level (BGL) tests.

The Maligaya event came on the heels of the INC’s Worldwide Walk which set a new record for the largest charity walk in 24 hours (multiple venue), drawing 519,521 participants in 13 time zones, 54 countries in 24 hours. This broke the previous record set by Canada involving 231,635 participants who walked for a minimum of one kilometer at 1,011 different locations around Canada on October 2, 2007.

Saturday's event also surpassed the record for the largest charity walk in a single venue with 175,000 participants beating the record set in Singapore in May 2000 with more than 77,000 individuals.The walk for a cause of INC was staged in 135 sites across the globe in the USA, in Europe, in Australia/New Zealand and in Asia including the Philippines.

In December, Umali led the ground-breaking for the construction of an estimated P1.5-billion government center cum trade hub in Barangay Atate which could generate up to 13,000 jobs.

          For sheer magnitude, it was the biggest, single project of the Umali administration which was pursued with some help from the city government which donated the lot for the mega-project.

          The provincial government also spearheaded a public hearing on the P50.3-billion new Bilibid prisons project in Genh. Tinio, Nueva ecija, projected to be  finished in 2018.

          The city government, with neophyte Mayor Adrianne Mae Cuevas as its helm, has been driving on the fast lane to development, with City Hall getting a much-needed face-lift, outpacing even Makati, with its employees now drawing ther salaries through ATM.

For the first time in so many years, barangay roads which were found wanting in infrastructure development were paved while a trade depot was also launched.

In April, Alfredo Olivares Jr. of Barangay Malate became the toast of the baseball world, qualifying in a try-out to play in a semi-professional league in Japan.  

In the political front, the governor’s lawmaker-wife Czarina has jumped the gun on her prospective rival for the Capitol, going on a charm offensive throughout the province, ahead of former congressman Rodolfo Antonino who was also slapped with a case before the Ombudsman.

Nine of the Josons’ mayors have voiced support to Congresswoman Umali, boosting her stock.

Talks swirled that Vergara’s wife Rosanna is eyeing the governorship or Congress to challenge the Umalis.

The oldest local chief executive of the province, Nampicuan Mayor Ubaldino Lacurom resigned in June for health reasons, paving the way for the succession of his daughter Lourdes.

In Aliaga, site of the famous Taong Putik which drew 7,000 mud people in April, Reynaldo Ordanes was briefly installed mayor after winning an election protest against incumbent Mayor Elizabeth Vargas but the latter managed to win a TRO.

Vargas has filed a disbarment suit against a judge in Cabanatuan for allegedly invoking an old law in proclaiming Ordanes the winner while the latter has filed a similar case against Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes for allegedly issuing a favorable ruling to Vargasd, his former client.

As early as September, the Comelec has been sending alarm signals on the possible massive disenfranchisement of voters, with artound 200,000 in peril of being not able to vote due to lack of biometrics registration even as 5,000 dead voters still in the voters’ list in Cabanatuan.    

Crimes – as well as loose firearms (about 5,000 according to the provincial director) were aplenty in the province, with San Jose city emerging as crime capital based on crime stats up to early September.

In February, a councilor survived a grenade attack, touching off a long trail that also saw the killing in August of jail warden Enrico Campos by his assailant Renato Galang who himself killed by lawmen a month later.  A week before Christmas, the municipal accountant of Cabiao was gunned down by a motorcycle-riding gun man.

This even amid frantic efforts of Umali to stem the tide, as he was named by President Aquino in May as chairman of the Regional Peace and Order Council. In March, he and Purisima led the ground-breaking of an elegant P20-million hostel for the provincial police force. 

In April, two UP students were arrested by the Army and police for being suspected as NPA rebels and detained in San Jose amid denials by their families. – Manny Galvez


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