New Year, New Hope

Pinoys join world cheer, bid farewell to bad year

FILIPINOS ushered in 2014, the year of the wooden horse, with the usual flair and festivity--hearing mass, feasting on traditional media noche with family and friends and lighting fireworks to mark the beginning of the New Year, even before midnight arrived.

In capital Manila, event organizers busied themselves staging concerts, dinners, and open bars to raise everybody’s spirit, and synchronizing their clocks to Philippine Standard Time for the 10-second countdown to the New Year.

In Manila, Mayor Joseph Estrada and Vice Mayor Isko Moreno led Manilenos in welcoming 2014 at Salubong 2014—Countdown ng Masa in Divisoria, with a fireworks display and a concert.

For its New Year’s countdown presentation, giant media network GMA7 with its artists lined up a nationwide televised show by the sea, along SM Mall of Asia’s Seaside Boulevard, lighting up the night with traditional folk dance and a modern fashion show.

Top bars and hotels across Manila like Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila’s Le Bar, Republiq Club, Solaire, Vask in Bonifacio Global City, Discovery Suites, The Peninsula Manila’s Salon de Ning, and Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay each staged their own version of the countdown celebration.

In Eastwood Mall’s Open Park, a grand fireworks display lit up the sky at the stroke of midnight punctuated by live performances from Up Dharma Down, Bamboo, South Border, Mitoy Yonting, and American Idol Season 11 Runner-Up Jessica Sanchez. Proceeds from the sale of the New Year Countdown merchandise will go to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.

At the Freedom Park in Davao City, aiming for world record, the local government set up a torotot festival on New Year’s Eve, as residents welcomed the New Year without lighting fireworks.

“Davao City is going one step further this year by welcoming 2014 with party horns (torotot),” the city government said on its social media account. Residents said they would try for a world record “for

the biggest number of people blowing party horns at the same time.”

In typhoon-struck Visayas, the New Year was celebrated despite the grim reminders of the tragedy left by Yolanda and the recent rains in the past weeks.

Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, his cousin Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and the rest of the locals were elated over the fireworks display sponsored by a multi-awarded pyrotechnics manufacturer Dragon Fireworks, boosting the morale of the residents in welcoming 2014 with renewed hope and optimism.

People also trooped into the concert by Rico Blanco, who comes from the Visayas.

“I sincerely hope that other civic-minded and sympathetic companies out there will continue to join us in aiding and rebuilding the lives of our constituents in Tacloban City,” congressman Romualdez said in a statement.

“We still have a lot of work to do. But I am confident that Dragon Fireworks has just set a good example for their colleagues in the business community to follow,” Romualdez added.

“We hope we can put a smile on the residents’ faces and help reassure them that a bright tomorrow still lies ahead,” Dragon Fireworks Managing Director Joven Ong said.

Romualdez, the leader of the independent minority bloc in the House of Representatives, expressed his heartfelt appreciation to Dragon Fireworks in behalf of the people of Tacloban City.

The spokesman for the Palo Archdiocese, Amadeo Alvero, also sent a New Year’s message to the public, bringing good tidings to the faithful.

“Many people would say that 2013 was the worst year for us here in Tacloban, Leyte, Region 8 and the rest of the country. But for me, the year 2013 was the great opportunity to make 2014 the best year for all of us to renew ourselves before God and the best year to work together for a better Tacloban, Leyte, Region 8 and Philippines.”

“May the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose Motherhood we celebrate every New Year, accompany us in achieving our hopes and aspirations for our city, province, region, and for the whole of our beloved country. God bless the Philippines! Happy New Year!” Alvero said.

For her new year’s resolution, Danika Christyn Astilla, a Tacloban resident and Yolanda survivor, said she will “drop all the negativity (and) do what’s necessary and move forward.”

Elsewhere in the world, crowds gathered in public spaces in major cities, greeting the new year with music, fireworks, and revelry.

In Sydney, Australia, about 1.6 million people turned up for a celebration that, for the first time in a decade, included fireworks launched from the sails of the city’s famed waterfront opera house.

In Hong Kong, Moscow and London, big and glitzy celebrations were also prepared.

In New York City, a million people gathered in Times Square to watch the giant ball drop at the stroke of midnight.

In Japan, many residents began eating noodles and seafood, thought to bring good luck in 2014. Others offered prayers at Buddhist shrines and temples.

In Cape Town, South Africa, a particularly poignant celebration include a tribute to anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, who died Dec. 5.

While Filipinos looked forward to 2014 with hope, 2013 was the best and worst of times for the Philippines.

It was a year of robust economic growth—an expected full year growth 6 to 7 percent and investment grade status from the three international credit ratings agencies.

It was also a year when natural disasters struck one after the other – the southwest monsoon that battered most parts of Luzon in August; a three-week hostage siege in Zamboanga City in September; typhoon Santi hammering Central and Nothern Luzon and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hitting Bohol and Cebu in October; and super typhoon Yolanda devastating most parts of Central and Eastern Visayas in November.

President Benigno Aquino III described the problems as being “successive and overlapping,” mindful that the country was still reeling from the devastation caused by typhoon Pablo in Mindanao in December 2012 when the string of disasters occurred.

As a result, the government missed two of its targets for 2013: that of rice self-sufficiency and that of reaching its target of 5 million tourist arrivals.

On the political front, three out of four annexes needed to complete a comprehensive peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have been signed. This leaves only one more document which both sides hope to conclude this month.

The peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New People’s Army, however, have remained stalled since February 2011. The Reds have also marked their 45th anniversary with a call to oust or force President Aquino from office.

Charges have been filed against Janet Lim Napoles, the supposed mastermind of a scam that diverted billions of pork barrel funds into ghost projects. Senators and congressmen who were allegedly involved in the scam have also been charged, and the Supreme Court has since declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund as illegal.

On the other hand, nine petitions are still pending before the Supreme Court over the equally controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program, which, if proven to be unconstitutional, can be used to start an impeachment complaint against the President. Quick to the draw, Aquino’s ally in Congress, Mindoro Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali, threatened to impeach the magistrates instead.

The year also saw highs and lows in foreign relations. In May, a Taiwanese fisherman was killed off the waters of Balintang Channel. The August 2010 bus hostage crisis that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead also haunted the President like a bad dream when three Hong Kong journalists heckled him during the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Bali. China has maintained a near-permanent

presence in the Bajo de Masinloc, and in so many diplomatic words, advised Aquino not to push through with his trip to Nanning to attend the 10th Asean-China Expo in September.

Better ties, though, were established with the country’s only two strategic allies - the United States and Japan. Aquino made a state visit to Tokyo last month while US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Manila - a signal that both countries are close to concluding talks on a framework agreement that will allow more American troops, aircraft and ships to temporarily pass through the Philippines.

With an overwhelming majority of Filipinos - or 94 percent based on the survey of the Social Weather Stations, hopeful for the Year of the Wooden Horse, Aquino is putting his legacy on the line in rallying the country to continue treading the straight path, even if there are bumps and potholes along the way.

“To use an analogy from the sport of basketball, we are also entering the last two minutes: in the remaining chapters of our term, we will not waste a single second; every meaningful contribution of every Filipino will help us to win the fight to achieve true progress,” the President said.

“Just as it is in basketball, we will continue to face challenges up to the very last second. We know that the dregs of the old system will not disappear easily; as we move closer to our shared triumph, they grow even more desperate, and continue in their attempts to derail our agenda. We also know that there are more calamities in our future—calamities that will again try our stability as a nation. Despite all this, we are always ready to prove: even if corrupt elements try to sow disorder and mistrust, even if we are shaken by earthquakes or battered by typhoons, what will rise above all is our solidarity and strength as a nation.” With Joyce P. Pañares



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