Twenty-three notable news of 2023

Art by Riana Laurice Fajardo/THE FLAME

THE YEAR 2023 was a period of revival and transition.

It witnessed the revival of economic activity and social gatherings with the lifting of a global health emergency caused by a three-year pandemic. The year likewise saw the return of the women’s basketball title to UST after nearly a decade and the resurrection of the peace process between the government and communist rebels.

The previous year was also filled with transitions.

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.’s political coalition transitioned from a victorious ticket to a controversy-plagued alliance due to the issues that hounded the intelligence funds of agencies led by Vice President Sara Duterte.

The Philippines also joined the list of countries employing sovereign wealth funds to bankroll its priority projects through the law creating the Maharlika fund, which is now facing a legal challenge before the Supreme Court.

Noontime kings Tito, Vic and Joey likewise transitioned from Kapuso to Kapatid following an ugly dispute with their former producer, which also led to a shocking plot twist in Philippine television.

The Marcos administration also refused to extend the deadline for the consolidation of public utility vehicles (PUV), formally starting the transition towards the modern jeepney.

There were triumphs like Filipinas making history in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, UST debuting in a reputable ranking for universities worldwide and Philippine churches achieving cultural milestones.

However, there were also tragedies and sad episodes like the passing of esteemed figures in journalism, literature, arts and education; the escalation of longstanding conflicts; the destruction of a century-old landmark due to an accidental fire; cyberattacks on government agencies; and the breakups of celebrity couples.

The Flame presents 23 events that made an impact on the Artlets community, the University, the nation and the world in 2023.

  1. COVID-19 no longer a public health emergency; UST still in hybrid mode
Thomasians remain in hybrid mode despite the lifting of COVID-19 as a global health emergency. Photo by Aaron La Torre/THE FLAME

Because of the decline in the number of COVID infections, Filipinos have returned to their pre-pandemic practices although some remnants of the health crisis remained.

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. lifted the COVID-19 state of public health emergency on July 21, citing the decrease in the number of infections and the high levels of population immunity to the virus. It came a month after the World Health Organization declared the end to COVID-19 as a global health emergency.

Despite the easing of restrictions, UST did not implement full onsite classes for Academic Year 2023 to 2024. According to the University, hybrid learning would improve instruction and maximize the use of the UST Cloud Campus and its various technologies.

While the ratio of online-onsite classes remains dependent on academic units, all programs are required to hold at least half of their learning hours onsite. Unlike the past three academic years, Thomasians no longer need to declare their daily health status upon entering the UST campus and its facilities.


  1. A tale of contrasting fortunes: Tigresses reclaim UAAP crown; Tigers still the league’s worst
UST Growling Tigresses emerge as champions in UAAP Season 86 after 17 years. Art by Mei Lin Weng/THE FLAME

After a 17-year-long title drought, the UST Growling Tigresses were hailed champions in one of the country’s oldest collegiate leagues.

The Tigresses ended the seven-season reign of National University Lady Bulldogs during the UAAP Season 86 finals last Dec. 6 with a two-point lead, 71-69. The victory was UST’s 12th UAAP crown overall in the women’s division, breaking the tie with FEU for the most number of championships.

But the men’s basketball team suffered a different fate. Under the helm of returning coach Pido Jarencio, the Growling Tigers chalked up a league-worst 2-12 win-loss record, only slightly better than last season’s 1-13 standing. Both wins came from their games with the FEU Tamaraws during the first and second rounds of the season.


  1. Journalism alumnus tops 2023 Bar exam
Journalism alumnus and 2023 Bar exam No. 1 Ephraim Bie poses for a photo at the UST Field on Dec. 5, following the release of the test results. Photo by Franz Martin Dizon/THE FLAME

Fireworks lit the España sky after an Artlets alumnus topped the 2023 Bar examination, the first Thomasian in 21 years to obtain the highest score in the test.

Ephraim Bie, who earned his journalism degree in 2015, led the new batch of lawyers with an 89.26% rating. He finished his juris doctorate degree magna cum laude at the UST Faculty of Civil Law in 2023. Bie also served as a writer for the issues section of The Flame during the publication year 2013 to 2014.

He was rewarded with a total of P1.95 million for his milestone, sponsored by the Divina Law Foundation, Thomasian lawyer Rey Oben and the UST Law Alumni Foundation Inc.

Four other UST alumni were among the examinees with 20 highest scores: political science graduate Mark Josel Vivit ranked second (89.125%), legal management graduate David Flores placed fifth (88.55%), nursing graduate Pio Vincent Buencamino placed eighth (88.25%) and political science alumna Rockylle Dominique Balisong ranked 18th (87.74%).

Bie is UST’s fifth Bar exam topnotcher, succeeding legal management alumna Arlene Maneja (2002), former senator Jose Diokno (1944), late president Diosdado Macapagal (1936) and late Chief Justice Robert Concepcion (1924).


  1. UST finally secures THE rank, improves in QS 
UST debuts in 2024 Times Higher Education, emerging as the country’s third best university. File photo of The Flame

After only having a ‘Reporter’ status in the previous edition due to its failure to meet a publication requirement, UST debuted as the third best Philippine university in the 2024 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings.

The España-based university placed within the 1501+ bracket, its first-ever ranking since the assessment was launched in 2004.

UST tied with De La Salle University for third place among the four ranked Philippine institutions. Ateneo de Manila University (1001-1200) was the country’s top university, followed by University of the Philippines (1201-1500).

UST also performed better in the 2024 Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings. It ranked within the 801-850 bracket, higher than its previous ranking of 800-1000.


  1. Passing of prominent Artlets alumni and other well-known personalities
Photos compiled by Shayne Lee Andreas Macaraeg/THE FLAME

The Philippines bid farewell to a number of veteran journalists.

Thomasian litterateur and editor Adoracion “Doris” Trinidad-Gamalinda died on Feb. 13 at the age of 95. A graduate of the defunct UST Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, Gamalinda was an editor for various publications, including The Manila Times, Focus Magazine, and Woman’s Home Companion Magazine.

Veteran journalism educator Luis Teodoro passed away on March 13 at 81 years old. Teodoro, honored for his contributions to journalistic standards, served as the deputy director for the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. He was also a distinguished writer for BusinessWorld under his column, “Vantage Point.”

ABS-CBN’s Mario Dumaual, whose career spanned over four decades, died at the age of 64 on July 5 due to septic shock. He was best known for his contribution to entertainment journalism. Months before his death, he received recognition in the form of a five-point brass star in the Eastwood City Walk of Fame in Quezon City with other personalities, including Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz and actress Maja Salvador.

Acclaimed political journalist Amando Doronila died on July 7 at the age of 95. Doronila became an editor-in-chief at Manila Chronicle, where he remained a vocal critic of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. until the publication was shut down in 1972. He was one of the journalists who were detained during the Marcos Sr. regime but was released in December 1972. He also provided political expositions under his columns “News Analysis” for The Manila Times and “Analysis” for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Long-time news anchor Mike Enriquez passed away on Aug. 29 at the age of 71. He began his career as a broadcaster at 19 years old, eventually becoming one of the anchors of GMA’s evening news broadcast “24 Oras” and investigative television programs “Saksi” and “Imbestigador.” In 2014, he was granted the Excellence in Broadcasting Lifetime Achievement Award by the Philippine Movie Press Club.

Jose Enriquez, Jr., better known by his stage name “DJ Richard,” passed on last Oct. 5 at the age of 59. Enriquez was the host of DZBB Super Radyo’s “Golden Memories with Richard Enriquez” held from 12 a.m. to 3 a.m.

Conrado de Quiros, an esteemed columnist for Inquirer, died on Nov. 6 at 72 years old. De Quiros was best known for his 23-year-old column “There’s the Rub.” One of his famous columns was “The state of the nation,” where he filled the space with “Hello, Garci…,” a soundbite from a phone conversation believed to have been between former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and then election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

Thomasian alumna and esteemed columnist Rina Jimenez-David passed on last Nov. 29 at 68 years old. David was best known for her columns on women’s and children’s rights. In 1995, she was awarded the Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service for Women’s Rights Advocacy.

Aside from David and Gamalinda, several other prominent Artlets alumni passed away in 2023.

Late migrant workers chief and communication arts alumna Maria Susana “Toots” Ople died on Aug. 22 at the age of 61. Known for championing the rights of overseas Filipino workers, Ople was the first migrant workers secretary under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.

Former Budget Undersecretary Tina Rose Marie Canda, a graduate of economics, passed away the next day, Aug. 23, also at 61 years old. She served four decades of service in the budget department, leading the agency during the peak of the COVID-19 health crisis.

Communication arts and Salinggawi Dance Troupe alumnus Osias Barroso, Jr. took his final bow on Dec. 16 after succumbing to a prolonged illness. He was 58. Dubbed the “Ballerina’s Prince,” Barroso was awarded the Outstanding Thomasian Alumni Award in 2014 for his exemplary contribution to performing arts.

The UST Faculty of Arts and Letters (AB) also lost several of its former administrative officials and faculty members.

Former AB dean Magdalena Alonso-Villaba, who served her post from 1976 to 1987, passed away last Sept. 11 at 95 years old. She was known for designing the faculty’s female uniform with the iconic lambda.

Veteran Spanish Prof. Josefina Gonzalez, the faculty’s assistant dean from 1996 to 2007, died on Nov. 20 at 82 years old.

Former political science professor and UNESCO commissioner Jose David Lapuz died on March 8, aged 84. Aside from serving as UNESCO commissioner during the presidency of Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, he became former president Rodrigo Duterte’s consultant for education.

Luis Dery, also a former Artlets professor and a prominent historian, died on July 31 at the age of 77. He was president of the Philippine Historical Association, the country’s oldest professional association of historians, from 2013 to 2014.

Philosophy professor Emmanuel Mara died of cancer on Aug. 18. He was 37.

Former Artlets professor Lourdes “Nena” Syquia-Bautista passed away on Oct. 26 at 99 years old. A Philets alumna, Bautista taught for 38 years at the University and pioneered the UST Center for Campus Ministry.


  1. UST shifts to Canvas, launches integrated MyUSTE portal
UST adopts Canvas as its learning management, replacing Blackboard. Art by Janssen Judd Romero/THE FLAME

The year marked another transition for the University as it shifted to the learning management system Canvas, replacing Blackboard after two decades.

UST said the decision was made to improve the efficiency of content-sharing and achieve its learning outcomes. However, the transition faced some challenges such as a delay in installing an anti-plagiarism tool in the system, which raised concerns on academic integrity among some faculty members. Anti-plagiarism program Turnitin only became available in Canvas on Oct. 10, a day after UST’s preliminary examination week began.

The University offered another tool, Grammarly for Education, to all Thomasians on Sept. 20, allowing stakeholders to obtain a premium version of the typing assistant tool for free.

An integrated version of the MyUSTe portal also went live in 2023 before the start of this academic year. The site provided users with all-in-one access to the University’s online services and applications via one centralized web directory.


  1. Fire ravages historic Manila Post Central Office 
Smoke engulfs the Manila Post Office after a seven-hour fire broke out in May. Photo from the Manila Public Information Office’s Facebook page.

Important documents and nearly a century’s worth of history were destroyed after a massive fire engulfed the Manila Central Post Office on May 21.

The seven-hour fire was caused by the explosion of a car battery in the landmark’s basement.  The incident caused P300 million worth of damages, including a time capsule containing historical documents and artifacts that would have been opened for the building’s centennial anniversary in 2026.

Plans to restore the Manila Post Office are underway, led by the Philippine Postal Corp. in collaboration with various agencies including the National Historical Commission and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

The 97-year-old neoclassical structure was designed by architects Tomas Mapua, Juan Marcos de Guzman Arellano and Ralph Doane. It was first damaged during the 1945 Battle of Manila but was rebuilt a year later with most of its original design preserved.


  1. ‘Legit Dabarkads’ exit TAPE Inc.
‘Legit Dabarkads’ files for mass resignation from Television and Production Exponents Inc. Photo from Legit Dabarkads’ Facebook page.

The year saw some of the greatest plot twists in the Philippine entertainment industry, spotlighting stories of both parting and collaboration.

The original hosts of the Philippines’ longest-running noontime show “Eat Bulaga!” resigned from Television and Production Exponents Inc. (TAPE) last May 31 over a number of internal disputes.

The departure of noontime show kings Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto and Joey De Leon were followed by the resignation of their co-hosts Allan K, Paolo Ballesteros, Jose Manalo, Maine Mendoza, Ryzza Mae Dizon, Wally Bayola and Ryan Agoncillo.

The trio’s exit was reportedly due to disputes on salary and TAPE’s supposed plan to replace the show’s hosts and segments.

TAPE, which is owned by the Jalosjos family, continues to air “Eat Bulaga!” on GMA under a new set of hosts, including former Manila mayor Isko Moreno, Paolo Contis, Cassy and Mavi Legaspi and Alexa Miro.

On June 27, Tito, Vic and Joey filed a complaint to assert their copyright ownership to Eat Bulaga, its logo and the jingle. The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines ruled in their favor on Dec. 4, saying the show’s name was coined by de Leon. The office also ordered the cancelation of TAPE’s trademark registrations for Eat Bulaga. TAPE has vowed to exhaust available legal remedies to reverse the decision.

The episode paved the way to a surprising development that saw former rivals ABS-CBN and GMA Network forging another partnership. The deal led to the airing of Kapamilya noontime show “It’s Showtime” on Good Television (GTV), a free TV channel owned by GMA Network.

“It’s Showtime” used to air on TV5 but was forced to look for another network when the Kapatid network decided to co-produce the noontime show of Tito, Vic and Joey.


  1. New PH tourism slogan
The “Love the Philippines” replaces the country’s “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” slogan. Photo from the Department of Tourism’s website.

A new tourism slogan, “Love the Philippines,” was unveiled on June 27, replacing the 11-year-old “It’s More Fun in the Philippines.”

Tourism chief Christina Garcia-Frasco said the change was made to meet the demands of the post-pandemic preferences of tourists and to highlight other aspects of the Philippines that go beyond fun.

Some Filipinos, however, did not love the new tourism slogan of the Philippines. Others claimed that the slogan lacked creativity and that the P49-million campaign sounded more like an order than an encouragement.

The tension peaked when DDB Philippines, the campaign’s advertising agency, faced allegations of plagiarism following the slogan’s promotional video launch on June 27. Stock footages from other countries were found in the video featuring the Philippines as a holiday destination.

The tourism department terminated its contract with the ad agency on July 3, less than a week after the campaign’s launch, and clarified that no public funds were used on the video. Despite the development, the tourism department retained the slogan.


  1. PH’s first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup win
Philippine football team Filipinas makes history after claiming its first-ever win on July 25. Photo from the Philippine Women’s National Football Team’s Facebook page.

The year 2023 was also a historic feat for Philippine football after the Filipinas national women’s football team secured its first-ever victory in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Filipinas midfielder Sarina Bolden led the team to a 1-0 triumph against the New Zealand Football Ferns on July 25 with a header at the 24-minute mark. Head coach Alen Stajcic described the win as one of the “best achievements in the history of the country” for team sport.

It was also the country’s first-ever FIFA World Cup participation in both men’s and women’s divisions. As of December 2023, the Philippines ranked a record-high 38th in the women’s ranking with a score of 1571.64. Spain was at the top (2066.05), followed by the United States of America (2045.12) and France (2021.69).


  1. Change in AB leadership after a year
Artlets Acting Dean Prof. Melanie Turingan receives the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters flag from her predecessor, Jacqueline Lopez-Kaw, during the deanship turnover ceremony on Dec. 20. Photo by Cali Asajar/THE FLAME

The UST Faculty of Arts and Letters (AB) welcomed a new acting dean in January and was informed in December that a leadership change would take place in 2024.

Former Artlets assistant dean Prof. Melanie Turingan began her term as the faculty’s new acting dean on Jan. 1, a year after she assumed her role as AB’s second-highest administrative official.

Turingan earned both her bachelor’s degree in Asian studies (2002) and master’s degree in history (2004) at UST. She finished her doctorate in Philippine studies (2016) at De La Salle University. From 2018 to 2022, she was UST assistant registrar.

Turingan succeeded lawyer Jacqueline Lopez-Kaw, who served one year as acting dean of the country’s oldest liberal college.

Kaw succeeded former AB dean and UST English language studies founder Marilu Madrunio, who led the faculty during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kaw has been named acting dean of the UST Graduate School of Law, replacing Assoc. Prof. Maria Liza Rosario. 


  1. Several calamities
The Bureau of Fire Protection in the  Cordillera Administrative region responds to damages brought by typhoon ‘Egay’ in the provinces of Ifugao and Kalinga on July 26. Photo from the Bfp Cordillera Pis’ Facebook page.

Calamities once more challenged the resilience of Filipinos.

More than 20,000 people were displaced, while 10,000 families were affected after the Mayon Volcano was placed under Alert Level 2 on June 5 due to increased rockfall from its summit lava dome. It was then raised to Alert Level 3 three days later, following increased seismic activity and ground deformation in the volcano.

Phivolcs lowered Mayon Volcano’s status to Alert Level 2 on Dec. 8, signifying moderate unrest.

The onset of El Niño was declared on July 4, seven years after its last occurrence. The country experienced below-normal rainfall conditions in 2023, with only 11 tropical storms entering its area of responsibility, down from the annual average of 20. El Niño or the warming of surface waters in the Pacific Ocean is seen to persist until 2024.

Typhoons “Egay” and “Falcon” and the southwest monsoon ravaged the country from July to August, sustaining more than P12 billion worth of damage to agriculture and infrastructure. More than 1.3 million families were affected, while 30 deaths were recorded.


  1. Secret funds stir issues on transparency, create political intrigue
Secret funds stir issues on transparency, sparking speculations that there is a rift within the Uniteam coalition. Art by Trisha Tamio/THE FLAME

Congress, which is dominated by Marcos’ allies, realigned the intelligence funds of the agencies led by Vice President Sara Duterte, triggering speculations that there is a rift within the Uniteam coalition.

The secret funds, which were supposed to be included in the 2024 outlay, were allocated to agencies dealing with security issues in the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte dropped the request for secret funds in November, saying it “seemed to be divisive.” Marcos has denied that there are cracks in UniTeam and reaffirmed his support for the vice president.

The controversy has prompted retired senior associate justice Antonio Carpio and lawyers Howard Calleja and Joseph Peter Calleja to file a petition before the Supreme Court, seeking the nullification of confidential funds’ use, transfer and disbursement. They argued that the secrecy surrounding CIF expenditures goes against Section 28, Article II of the 1987 Constitution, which emphasizes the state’s commitment to full disclosure of transactions involving public interest. They added that it also infringes upon the people’s right to information, as Section 7, Article III of the Constitution outlines.


  1. Marcos inks controversial Maharlika Investment Fund Act
President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. signs the measure establishing the Maharlika Investment Fund into law on July 18. Photo from the News and Information Bureau-Philippine News Agency’s website.

The President signed the measure establishing the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) into law last July 18, creating the country’s first sovereign wealth fund.

The fund, which will source its start-up capital from government financial institutions, will be invested in multiple assets that aim to strengthen the economy’s development and sustainability. Foreign currencies, domestic and foreign corporate bonds and high-impact infrastructure projects are among the assets that will be tackled.

Marcos gave assurance that the sovereign wealth fund would be managed well by professionals but some sectors warned that the policy poses risks to the economy.

Marcos also signed the New Agrarian Emancipation Act, which frees agrarian reform beneficiaries from unpaid obligations; and the Trabaho Para Sa Bayan Act which seeks to generate employment. 


  1. Antipolo Cathedral now an int’l shrine, Quiapo Church to be declared a nat’l shrine 
Philippine Catholic churches gain local and international prominence in 2023. Art by Cali Asajar/THE FLAME

Some Philippine Catholic churches gained local and international prominence in 2023.

The Antipolo Cathedral was elevated to an international shrine on March 25, becoming the first one to receive the title in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia. It enshrines the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, one of the country’s venerated Marian images. Founded in 1632, the site has become a famous pilgrimage site for many devotees.

Meanwhile, the Quiapo Church will officially be declared the country’s 29th national shrine on Jan. 29.  It houses the Black Nazarene, an image depicting Jesus Christ carrying His cross. Devotees commemorate the Traslacion, the transfer of the image from Intramuros to Quiapo in 1767, every Jan. 9.


  1. PH drops to fifth in SEA Games
Philippine athletes of the 32nd Southeast Asian Games pose with President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. in Malacañang. Photo from Presidential Communications Office

The Philippines finished fifth out of 11 countries during the 2023 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games hosted by Cambodia.

The team, composed of 905 athletes, racked up a total of 260 medals. It earned 58 gold medals, 85 silver medals and 117 bronze models across different sports.

Despite the 33-medal increase from its 2021 stint, the Philippines fell one spot lower in the overall ranking. It placed behind Brunei Darussalam, the best-performing country, followed by Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia.


  1. The end of some of PH’s biggest love teams
Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla are among the celebrity couples who called it quits in 2023. Art by Riana Laurice Fajardo/THE FLAME                                                                                       

Several of the country’s biggest reel-to-real couples in the entertainment industry called it quits this year.

Actress Kathryn Bernardo and actor Daniel Padilla, collectively known as KathNiel, ended their 11-year romance, confirming their split via Instagram last Nov. 30.

The former couple began their on-screen partnership in 2012 hit series “Princess and I.” They returned for a comeback series “Got To Believe” in 2013 and a movie adaptation of web novel “She’s Dating the Gangster” in 2014.  The love team also made a mark in the industry through their 2018 movie “The Hows of Us,” the second-highest grossing Filipino movie.

Bernardo also gained a million followers on Instagram days after she posted the breakup announcement, surpassing Anne Curtis as the most-followed Filipino celebrity on the platform.

Another couple that began as a love team came to a curtain call after actress Kim Chiu and actor Xian Lim announced the end of their 12-year relationship two days before Christmas.

KimXi or the two starred together in 2011 series “My Binondo Girl,” followed by the family drama “Ina, Kapatid, Anak” in 2012. It was succeeded by their first big screen project “Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo?”

Celebrity couple Elijah Canlas and Miles Ocampo, whose relationship was confirmed in 2022, also parted ways.


  1. De Lima walks free
Former senator Leila de Lima leaves Camp Crame after her bail was granted on Nov. 13. Photo from Associated Press.

After nearly seven years in detention, former senator Leila de Lima was released on bail.

On Nov. 13, de Lima was allowed temporary freedom from Camp Crame after the Muntinlupa City Regional Court Branch 206 granted her P300,000 bail for her third and last drug case. The court cited the weak allegations against the former senator, who served as justice secretary during the time of former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

A vocal critic of then-president Rodrigo Duterte, de Lima faced drug-related charges in 2017, which she claimed were politically motivated. Two of her three cases had been dismissed in February 2021 and May 2023. 


  1. Hamas attacks Israel
Smoke is seen over the Israeli border of Gaza. Photo from Getty Images.

The year witnessed the escalation of conflict between Islamist militant group Hamas and Israel, sparking a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

On Oct. 7, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets to attack Israel from the Gaza Strip, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare a war on the group and to order the conduct of retaliatory airstrikes.

Two days later, Israel declared a “complete besiege” of Gaza, cutting off the city’s source of food, water, gas and electricity.

As the conflict rages on, more than 21,000 individuals have been killed in the Gaza Strip, including around 8,000 children and 6,200 women, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Over 1.5 million people have been displaced, based on the United Nations Relief’s report. 


  1. No extension of deadline for PUV consolidation
Uncosonsolidated public utility vehicles may only operate in selected routes until Jan 31. File photo by Rainiel Angelyn Figueroa/ THE FLAME

Despite the series of nationwide transport strikes, the deadline for the consolidation of public utility vehicle (PUV) operators was not extended, leaving thousands to lose their franchises in the new year.

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. said the decision was made to ensure the country reaps the benefit of its full transition to having a modernized public transport system. Disclosing that 70% of operators have already consolidated under the PUV modernization program, Marcos said such a program should not be hindered by a minority.

The operation of unconsolidated PUVs in selected areas has been extended until Jan. 31, according to a memorandum issued by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board issued on Dec. 29. The policy applies in routes with less than 60% of the consolidated number of authorized units. Operators who failed to meet the Dec. 31 deadline will still not be able to consolidate after the grace period.

The major transport strikes were held in March, October, November and December, which have forced some schools, including UST, to shift to online classes and remote work.


  1. Multiple cyberattacks on gov’t agencies
A screenshot of the House of Representatives website defaced with the ‘Trollface’ meme last Oct. 15.

Numerous government agencies in the country were targets of cyber attacks in 2023.

The  Philippine Health (PhilHealth) Insurance Corp. suffered a data breach after it was struck by a Medusa ransomware attack on Sept. 22, resulting in about 730 gigabytes worth of private information from member accounts being stolen. It was the largest government security breach since the 2016 ‘Comeleak,’ when the personal information of over 55 million registered voters was stolen from the Commission on Elections’ database.

The Philippine Statistics Authority also reportedly experienced a data leak on Oct. 7, less than a month after the PhilHealth incident. According to a statement from the agency, only one system was affected by the breach, excluding the Philippine Identification System and the Civil Registration System.

After the two major agency data breaches, the official website of the House of Representatives was hacked on Oct. 15. An image of the famous “Trollface” meme accompanied by the text, “You’ve been hacked,” defaced the website’s Photo Journals section, while the streaming section had a video of the same avatar dancing. The website was restored a day after the incident.

The Department of Information and Technology has given assurances that cybersecurity experts from different sectors are working together to tackle the issue.


  1. Twitter rebrands to X
The iconic blue bird icon of former Twitter shifts to X following the platform rebrand. Photo from iStock.

Less than a year after tech billionaire Elon Musk bought Twitter, the famed blue bird icon was laid to rest as the 17-year-old social media platform officially rebranded to “X” on July 24. Tweets, retweets and quote tweets were renamed to posts, reposts and quotes, respectively.

Musk, who spent $44 billion to acquire Twitter in October 2022, said the change was part of his plans to turn X into an “everything app” that centers on communication and handling finances.

Plans to make X a paid platform were also mentioned by Musk in a live stream last September. While no other details have been disclosed, he said such a change would be needed to tackle bots or automated accounts on the platform.

Since his takeover in 2022, content monetization and premium subscriptions have been made available to users. Several features have been removed, like the legacy blue-tick verified marks, which sought to prevent impersonation of public figures, and article headlines from posts. Musk has also laid off thousands of employees and has halved the allotted cost for employees’ fertility benefits.

The platform has around 550 million monthly users as of September 2023, more than twice the estimated 229 monthly active users in May 2022 before Musk’s purchase.


  1. PH to revive peace talks with communist rebels
Special Assistant to the President Antonio Lagdameo Jr. and communist New Democratic Front chairman Luis Jalandoni shake hands after signing their Joint Statement for Peace in Oslo, Norway, last Nov. 28. Photo from the Presidential Communications Office.

The Philippine government and the National Democratic Front have agreed to reopen peace negotiations to put an end to years of armed conflict.

According to Norway’s foreign ministry mediators, both parties reached terms towards a “common vision for peace” that is aimed to address the main obstacles at hand. If negotiations fall through, the rebels will transform into a political movement and end their armed insurgency, Norway officials said.

However, Vice President Sara Duterte, also vice chair of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, opposed the revival of peace talks, describing the move as a deal “with the devil.” She urged Marcos to review the policy of granting amnesty to rebels, claiming that insurgents would use the negotiations to “betray government and deceive the public.”

Her father, former president Rodrigo Duterte terminated formal talks in 2017 due to the rebels’ successive attacks against government troops.  F — Barbra Althea Gavilan, Shayne Lee Andreas Macaraeg, Carlo Jose Ruga, Ma. Alyanna Selda, Trisha Tamio and Nolan Adrian Villamor, Jr. 

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