A year of political surprises, uncertainty in US-PH relations and more.
With 2016 now behind us, the Asian Journal editorial team takes a look back at the top news stories of the past year. From the elections of Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte as the presidents of the United States and the Philippines, respectively, to long-awaited recognition for Filipino World War II veterans, the Asian Journal has been there reporting as these stories unfolded, and how they have impacted Filipinos in the United States and around the globe.
Here is our roundup of top issues and events — broken down by month — that have dominated the front pages of our six editions:
PH Supreme Court rules EDCA constitutional
The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday, Jan. 12, upheld the constitutionality of an executive agreement between the Philippines and the United States that permits increased rotational presence of US military troops in the country. In a 10-4-1 vote, the top court ruled in favor of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which was signed by the Philippines and U.S. in 2014 but was not implemented due to legal challenges. The agreement, which has a 10-year lifespan, also allows U.S. troops access to Philippine military bases. The decision comes amid the ongoing dispute between the Philippines and China regarding conflicting claims in the South China Sea.
Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach returns to PH after win
More than a month after she was crowned as Miss Universe 2015, Pia Wurtzbach returned home to the Philippines. Wurtzbach arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on January 23 after triumphing at the international beauty pageant held in Las Vegas in 2015. It was later followed by a Grand Homecoming Parade on January 25, where she received a warm welcome from her fans and thousands of fellow Filipinos. During the coronation night on December 20, the pageant’s host Steve Harvey, incorrectly announced Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez as the winner instead of Wurtzbach.
PH Pres. Benigno Aquino visits LA Fil-Am community, earns honorary degree from Loyola Marymount University
More than 800 members of Filipino community groups from the southwestern United States gathered in Los Angeles to hear Philippine President Benigno Aquino speak about the progress of the country. Some of the achievements under Aquino’s leadership include 91 percent of health coverage of Filipinos, the country’s reputation as one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, and the addition of 180,000 classrooms around the nation. Earlier in his trip, Aquino received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Loyola Marymount University for his administration’s work in improving the lives of Filipinos.
Manny Pacquiao under fire for homophobic statements
Filipino boxing champ Manny Pacquiao apologized on Tuesday, Feb. 16 after he said that those who are in same-sex relationships are “worse than animals.” In an interview with TV5 network, Pacquiao — who ran in the Senate under the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) party — was asked to share his views on same-sex marriage. Responding to the backlash, Pacquiao issued an apology on social media for his remarks, saying he was “just telling the truth of what the Bible says,” however, he said his stance on same-sex marriage remains unchanged. The boxer was criticized by local and international figures and was dropped by Nike as an endorser.
Obama visits Cuba, re-opens diplomatic ties
President Barack Obama made history on Sunday, March 20 when he became the first sitting president to visit Cuba since 1928. Human rights and a potential end to a 54-year-old economic embargo were among the topics discussed by Obama and his Cuban counterpart, President Raul Castro. Obama also visited the recently reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana and paid tribute to Cuban independence hero Jose Marti during his trip. At the outset of his journey, the American president said the island nation was ripe for change and later encouraged the Cuban people to play an active role in their country’s future.
Fil-Am director of “Inside Out” wins Oscar
Filipino-American Ronnie del Carmen, co-director of the Pixar Film “Inside Out,” bagged this year’s Best Animated Feature Film at the 88th Academy Awards. Del Carmen, who hails from Cavite, is the first Filipino to co-direct a Pixar film, and, at the same time, the first Filipino to win an Oscar award. “Inside Out” was also the seventh Pixar movie to win an Oscar.
Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill making CA’s min. wage $15/hour
California, along with New York, became the first states to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. The California legislation will raise the statewide minimum to $10.50 on Jan. 1 for businesses with 26 or more workers, the first of several incremental increases to $15, with future raises tied to inflation. Smaller businesses will have an additional year to phase in each increase. The law follows measures in Los Angeles and San Francisco, among other cities, to gradually raise their own minimum wages to $15. It is expected to affect millions of low-wage workers and businesses that employ them, especially in the state’s agriculture, restaurant and retail industries. By 2022, a full-time minimum-wage worker would see annual earnings increase to $30,000 from $20,000 today.
Canadian hostage beheaded by Abu Sayyaf
Canadian John Ridsdel was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf after Canada’s refusal to pay the terrorists his ransom. Ridsdel and his companions — another Canadian Robert Hall, Kjartan Sekkingstad of Norway and Hall’s Filipino girlfriend, Marites Flor — were abducted at a resort in Samal Island, Davao in September 2015 and were taken to the island of Jolo. In November, the terrorists demanded $80 million for their release. In March, the group set a one-month deadline, then released a final 10-day warning in mid-April, setting April 25 as the last date to receive a ransom payment. Hall, the other Canadian, was beheaded in June.
Duterte, Robredo elected president & vice president of the Philippines
After a tumultuous campaign, former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo won as president and vice president of the Philippines, respectively. Based on the final official tally, Duterte won the presidential race with 16,601,997 votes beating out other aspirants, including former Vice Pres. Jejomar Binay, Sen. Grace Poe, former Interior Sec. Mar Roxas, and the late Sen. Miriam Defensor- Santiago. The mayor’s victory was in spite of accusations of having ties to death squads in Davao, his hands-on style of leadership and off-color remarks. For vice president, the race was tight, as the numbers were a cliffhanger between Robredo and closest rival, Bongbong Marcos. In the months following the election, Marcos filed a protest with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal for election fraud against Robredo.
Filipino World War II veterans can reunite with family under new parole program
A new policy introduced by the White House is now helping Filipino World War II veterans be reunited with their families in the U.S. The policy will allow certain family members of veterans who fought in the second world war to seek parole under a program set up by the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS). It is estimated that as many as 26,000 Filipino vets (of the over 260,000 who fought) are U.S. citizens, and their petitions for family members in the Philippines have to wait as long as more than 20 years due to statutory visa caps. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis for a temporary period of time based upon “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.”
U.S. Supreme Court fails to decide on Obama’s immigration orders
On Thursday, June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court arrived at a deadlocked decision on a landmark case concerning President Barack Obama’s immigration policies, leaving 5 million undocumented immigrants uncertain of their future. The 4-4 ruling delayed a definitive judgment on the president’s executive order that would have implemented the Deferred Action for Parents of US Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and granted expansions to the championed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The tied ruling further ignited the ongoing national conversation concerning immigration reform in the contentious election year with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s strict immigration promises and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s commitment to creating a pathway to citizenship.
Orlando, Florida nightclub shooting claims 49 lives
A terrorist attack in an Orlando gay nightclub on Sunday, June 12 claimed the lives of 49 people and injured 53 others. The attack occurred at around 2 a.m. and witnesses said the gunman fired shots into the crowd with an assault rifle before police arrived on the scene. A gunfight with police ensued which prompted the shooter to retreat to the club bathroom, holding hostages in a three-hour stand-off. That was followed by a second gun battle which killed the shooter. There was no evidence that suggested that the perpetrator, Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce, Florida, was tied to any major terrorist group, but the FBI had interviewed him twice regarding comments he made to co-workers about radical Islamic propaganda in 2013 and 2014.
Philippines wins arbitration case against China
On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the The Hague sided with the Philippines and ruled that China has no legal basis over its territorial claims in South China Sea. After several months of deliberations, the Tribunal declared China’s claim to ‘historic rights’ to resources within the sea areas that fall within the ‘nine-dash line’ as invalid. According to the Court, China also violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, constructing artificial islands, and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone. The Philippines filed its case at the PCA in 2013 after engaging with China in a stand-off in 2012. China, which refused to take part in the proceedings, has said it will not recognize the ruling and will continue to take measures to protect its sovereignty over the disputed sea.
Clinton, Trump win nominations for respective parties
On the final night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, Donald J. Trump defied the odds and clinched the Republican nomination for president, garnering a whopping 1,725 delegate votes. Some Filipino-American Republicans shared their praise for the results, saying they believe Trump’s family, religious and business values will benefit the community. The following week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton formally became the Democratic presidential nominee, making history as the first woman to be on the top ticket of a major U.S. political party. Many Democratic Filipino Americans expressed faith in the seasoned politician and saw Clinton’s nomination as an open door for more representation of women as well as ethnic minorities in the government.
PH wins Silver Medal at 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil
The Philippines has earned its first Olympic medal in 20 years after Filipina weightlifter, Hidilyn Diaz, won the silver medal in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games held in Brazil. Diaz, who hails from Zamboanga city, scored 88 in snatch and 112 in clean and jerk, with a total of 200 points. Chinese Taipei’s Hsu Shu-Ching won the division with a score of 212, while South Korea’s Yoon Jin Hee, who placed third, finished with 199.
Filipinos angered by Trump’s immigration plan, suggesting PH is a ‘terrorist nation’
In his speech on August 4, Donald Trump, who was then a presidential nominee, proposed a ban on immigration from countries with high rates of terrorism. Trump narrated names of what he described as terrorist nations, mentioning the Philippines in his list. Trump also suggested that immigrants should be heavily scrutinized, even those who obtained citizenship legally. Many Filipino immigrants condemned Trump’s pronouncements, asserting that his remarks disregarded the contributions Filipinos have made to the country. Some however, argued that Trump’s comments were taken out of context, citing that Trump previously professed his love for the Philippines during the launch of his 57-story luxury apartment in Makati.
Duterte, Obama meeting at ASEAN Summit canceled
U.S. President Barack Obama canceled a much-anticipated meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, that had been scheduled to take place at the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Vientiane, Laos. The move came after Duterte appeared to use an expletive to refer to Obama while responding to a question about extrajudicial killings during a press conference on September 5. However, Filipino officials explained that Duterte was actually directing his comments at the news media. The two world leaders did wind up speaking informally and shaking hands before a gala dinner at the summit on Wednesday, September 7. It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two presidents.
PH gearing up for Miss Universe next year; Duterte opposes Steve Harvey as host
Philippine Department of Tourism officials said President Rodrigo Duterte was displeased to learn that Steve Harvey had been selected to host the upcoming 2017 Miss Universe Pageant set to take place in the Philippines next January. Although the president has downplayed certain comments as jokes in the past, D.O.T. Secretary Wanda Teo said the president was not laughing when he expressed his disapproval with Harvey. When the comedian hosted the pageant in 2015, he mistakenly announced that Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez, had won before retracting his statement and proclaiming victory for Filipino contestant, Pia Wurtzbach. Teo said the DOT would recommend a local media personality to take Harvey’s place.
U.S. celebrates Fil-Am History Month
People observing Filipino-American History Month this past October had even more reasons to celebrate this year. 2016 marked the 70th anniversary of the Philippines’ independence from the U.S. and several other momentous events in Fil-Am history. 1946 was also the year of the Great Sugar Strike in Hawaii, during which roughly 6,000 foreign Filipino field workers joined picket lines and demonstrations instead of undercutting the wages of fellow laborers. In Los Angeles, the Fil-Am community held several events to celebrate the month, including the Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture (FPAC).
Duterte marks first 100 days in office with rise in death toll and China visit
President Rodrigo Duterte marked his first 100 days as president with a “very good” satisfaction rating from the Filipino public, anchored by his strong stance on his anti-drugs, anti-crime and anti-corruption agenda. However, his intense campaign against illegal drugs has left more than 3,600 suspects dead, including more than 1,300 killed in gun battles with authorities—an average of 36 killings a day since he took office on June 30. Despite drawing ire from the international community, Duterte has been adamant on his ways and managed to alienate himself from the U.S., European Union, the United Nations and other international organizations that have criticized his anti-drug campaign. Additionally, he made headlines for his state visit to China that seemingly suggested reopening diplomatic ties with the country, despite the years-long territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Fil-Am shortstop helps Cubs win World Series
The Chicago Cubs made history when they won game 7 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians, for the first time in 108 years. The Cubs fought back from a 3-1 deficit in the series, winning four matches in a row to end one of sport’s longest running dry spells. That win was fuelled in no small part by the contributions of 20-year-old Filipino-American shortstop Addison Russell, who hit a grand slam in the third inning and sent home five other runners that evening to tie a Major League Baseball record with six runs batted in during a single world series game. In doing so, he became the first Cubs player to ever hit a homerun with the bases loaded in the season’s final series.
Donald Trump elected as 45th president of the United States
In a truly stunning victory, Republican nominee and real estate billionaire Donald Trump — whose campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again” — was declared the 45th president of the United States, beating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who had been leading in the polls leading up to Election Day. With ballots still being counted weeks after the election, Clinton leads the popular vote with over 2 million votes, while Trump has 306 electoral votes to her 232. Trump, who will be inaugurated into the presidency on January 20, 2017, has drawn criticism for his administration picks so far, including Steve Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson for the Housing and Urban Development secretary.
Former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos buried at the Heroes’ Cemetery
In a ceremony on November 18, former Philippine president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ‘secretly’ buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) in Manila. Surrounded by his surviving family and military personnel, Marcos was given honors and a 21-gun salute. This ceremony came after the Philippine Supreme Court dismissed petitions that sought to stop the former president’s interment, which was supposed to be scheduled back in September. Though Malacañang was not informed about the surprised burial, President Rodrigo Duterte previously said Marcos was worthy of a hero’s burial because of his military and presidential service. Meanwhile, many activists and martial law victims have opposed the burial, saying it does not heal the country’s wounds. The remains of Marcos — who died of kidney, heart and lung ailments while in exile in 1989 — were brought back to the Philippines in 1993 and have stayed in a glass coffin in Ilocos Norte before the burial.
PH Vice President Leni Robredo resigns from Cabinet, vows to finish term
Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo stepped down as chairperson of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council on Dec. 5 after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered her not to attend future Cabinet meetings. She said that being barred from meetings would prevent her from doing her job properly. However, she will remain as Vice President, and said she will continue to voice her opposition to the administration’s actions she disagrees with. Robredo, whom Duterte and his supporters have accused of being involved in a plot to unseat him, asserted that she is not eyeing the presidency.
Trump praises Duterte’s drug war
In a call with President Rodrigo Duterte, United States President-elect Donald Trump reportedly praised the Philippine leader’s war against the illegal drug trade as the ‘right way’. The two leaders — whom many have drawn comparisons for their unfiltered way of speaking — spoke for the first time earlier this month during a seven-minute phone call. Trump went on to invite Duterte to visit the White House next year. Duterte said hearing the real estate billionaire’s praise made him ‘feel like a saint.’