The Southeast Asian Times
NEWS FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA AND SOUTHEAST ASIA
LETTERS:


Philippines Makati Medical Center denies
Backlog of 8,000 Covid-19 tests
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 4 July 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer Friday 3 July 2020

We categorically deny that Makati Medical Center (MMC) has a backlog of close to 8,000 COVID-19 tests as stated by Manuel L. Quezon III in his column “Shotgun approach puts everyone at risk” Philippine Inquirer July 1, 2020.
The information cited by Mr. Quezon from a certain Andrei Diamante based in Australia is erroneous and ludicrous.
We deplore that during these unprecedented and challenging times, a medical institution and its frontliners would be put in a bad light by such misinformation.
As of June 14, Makati Medical Center (MMC) was one of the top 10 licensed centers doing RT-PCR tests for COVID-19.
The Makati Medical Center (MMC) molecular laboratory has undertaken 14,558 PCR tests since it was accredited in April 2020 averaging 250 tests per day.
The probable underlying reason is a reporting or encoding error on a daily report obtained by the Department of Health (DOH).
This has previously been clarified and addressed by both Makati Medical Center (MMC) and the Department of Health (DOH).
The source, Mr. Diamante, must have obtained the erroneous report, not the corrected version.
I have always held Mr. Quezon in high regard because of his insightful columns.
In this instance, however, he failed to undertake a very important task incumbent on any responsible journalist - which is a simple source verification.
A basic communication with Makati Medical Center (MMC) to clarify this matter could have averted the publication of misleading information that puts a hospital’s credibility and reputation on the line.

Saturnino P. Javier,
MD, medical director,
Makati Medical Center,
Manila,
Philippines




The renaming of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)
Is a national disgrace
The Southeast Asian Tmes, Friday 3 June 2020

Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara is absolutely right in saying " The Manila International Airport ( MIA ) was renamed in recognition of the historical impact that Ninoy Aquino's assassination had not only on our country the Philippines, but around the world " ( The Southeast Asian Times 30 June ).
We received the news of the brutal assassination with profound shock and sorrow in remote Fiji .
It brought home to us just how ruthless the Marcos dictatorship really was.
Kashiwahara is again right : " The blood he shed on the airport's tarmac ( he was shot in the back of his head ) symbolises the ultimate sacrifice he made ( as he fought ) for the return to democracy in the Philippines ".
Ninoy Aquino's death at the hands of the military henchmen of the Marcos dictatorship was not in vain.
It galvanised the people power movement for the eventual overthrow of the dictatorship and a return to democracy.
The proposed rename change is a debasement of that historical heritage of the Philippines and illustrates just how much the current State in the Philippines has strayed from upholding the ideals of democracy that the national hero Ninoy Aquino stood for.
The name change is a national disgrace.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia

 


Malaysia continues to be the hub
For human trafficking
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 2 July 2020
First published in the Star, Wednesday 29 June 2020

For the third consecutive year, Malaysia remains on the “Tier 2” Watchlist of the Trafficking In Persons Report.
The report was released by the US State Department on June 25, 2020.
The tier rankings are based on an assessment of a country’s efforts to prevent trafficking in persons, to prosecute traffickers and to protect survivors of trafficking through a combination of legislative acts, collaboration with civil society, funding, and other proactive measures to identify and protect victims of trafficking.
Malaysia’s position on Tier 2 reflects a lack of political will on the part of the Malaysian government to collectively, systematically and holistically combat modern day slavery and human trafficking.
There appears to be confusion about what exactly human trafficking is.
Each enforcement unit, the ministries, the National Council on Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (Mapo) as well as civil societies and non-governmental organisations have different ideas about and interpretations of human trafficking.
We are still grappling to understand what constitutes human trafficking without basing these efforts on the protection of the victim/survivor.
We are constantly giving excuses and justifications for our failure to identify victims based on the misconception that migrants and trafficked victims are “bad people” and therefore deported without delay.
What is even worse is that many victims/survivors of human trafficking are charged with offences under the Immigration Act and penalised instead of being protected. As long as the authorities and the Attorney General’s Chambers continue to labour under these misconceptions, stopping human trafficking will not be a priority in Malaysia.
And it does not help when other countries in the region move up to tier two and one.
The most immediate step is for Malaysia to have the fortitude to buck up to fight corruption – if we fail at this, we will be in the same position or pushed down to Tier 3 next year.
Many efforts and initiatives in the past to combat human trafficking have failed simply because of the corruption embedded in all our systems.
Malaysia continues to be a hub for human trafficking for that very reason, so there is a burning need for all to come together to fight corruption without fear or favour.
We must put corrupt people behind bars, not just fine them, seize all their assets and their bank accounts, and take all the actions provided for in the Anti-Trafficking Act to cripple their operations.
Furthermore, it is of utmost importance that the government invests in strengthening the competencies of prosecutors and enforcement officers, and demonstrates increased transparency in case management and prosecutions of human trafficking cases.
This can be carried out with the establishment of a review committee Mapo to review all human trafficking cases handled by the authorities.
This is crucial in moving forward in the right direction because transparency is critical – especially where corrupt officials may work hand-in-glove with human traffickers.
Tenaganita is aware that Mapo is trying very hard to bring about changes by putting together the National Action Plan on Anti-Trafficking of Persons, and we appreciate the collaboration but it is also high time that different ministries and authorities start listening to survivors/victims, civil society and non-government organisatons.
We cannot just talk about victim-centred approaches without placing the victim/survivors’ needs at the centre of the discussions, debates and actions.
Until and unless the key players in the different government agencies and departments are prepared to listen, to sit together, to debate and change the style of working, we will continue to languish on Tier 2 and maybe even slip down to Tier 3.
There is no other way, we cannot hoodwink ourselves and the global community with national action plans.
Let us have the courage to take a stand against the perpetrators of human trafficking rather than choosing to prosecute and punish innocent victims.
So let’s stop simply having diplomatic handshakes and sit together seriously with other stakeholders to discuss critical issues that concerns the heinous crime against humanity, human trafficking, once and for all.

Glorene A Das,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia



Wanted: Red Bull Boss
For hit and run killing of police
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 1 July 2020
First published in Bangkok Post, Tuesday 30 June 2020

Re: "Prosecutors tell cops to hurry up and find "Boss", in Bangkok Post,
June 28.
I fully agree with Office of the Attorney-General Deputy Spokesman Prayut Phetkun that the cops should urgently pursue Red Bull scion Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya, wanted in the high-profile 2012 hit-and-run killing of a motorcycle cop. Years ago, the Associated Press tracked the fugitive down without trouble to his London apartment - yet our highly skilled police, who know exactly where every critic of the regime or royalty is, cannot find this alleged cop-killer?
Try Chelsea or a Red Bull-sponsored car racing event.
You have just seven years before the statute of limitations runs out.
But the prosecutors are also accountable for the slow-as-molasses pace of this case - for they took five years to charge him with reckless driving causing death and failing to help a crash victim.
They knew the court dates, approved hearing postponements seven times, and took no action to have his passport seized.
The Office of the Attorney General should keep the case before the media - and clean up its house to be ready in case PM Prayut Chan-o-cha finally extends rule of law to cover the mega-rich "Boss".

Burin Kantabutra,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Ninoy Aquino International Airport
Symbol of return of democracy to Philippines
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 30 June 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Monday 29 June 2020

The Manila International Airport (MIA) was renamed in recognition of the historical impact that Ninoy Aquino’s assassination had not only on our country the Philippines, but around the world.
The blood he shed on the airport’s tarmac (he was shot in the head), symbolized the ultimate sacrifice he made (as he fought) for a return to democracy in the Philippines.
I wonder whether those proposing to change the airport’s name would even be in office today had it not been for Ninoy.
Many countries have used airports to honor their own historical figures, including Indonesia, India, Thailand, and the United States.
In doing so, they have not lost their national identities.
If the congressmen proposing change intend to rebrand the Philippines as a tourist destination, the question is, for whom?
Most foreign tourists will have no idea what the Tagalog name means, and Filipinos already know the airport is in the Philippines.
The revisionist congressmen are playing politics while attempting to deny their country’s history.

Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara,
Manila,
Philippines





Call for Thai government to give
Covid-19 stranded international students a visa
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 29 June 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post Sunday 28 June 2020

There are at least 200 international schools and a dozen universities that offer courses in English in Thailand.
Most of them are hit by the financial crisis induced by the coronavirus and are desperately seeking students whose visas are most likely to end soon.
Many of them came on campus visits in March on tourist visas, and are now held up in the country due to lack of international flights.
There is an international school on Bangna-Trat Road that started with plenty of fanfare after spending 3 billion baht in infrastructure.
Today they want students to join without paying tuition fees.
That is how distressed the educational institutions are.
The government must facilitate educational visas to all students by relaxing the visa norms.
That way it will help prevent educational institutions, who haven't paid their teachers for at least a couple of months, from collapsing.

Kaito Yamamoto,
Bangkok,
Thailand

 


Risk that Singapore election is reduced to a referendum
On the Government's managment of pandemic
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 28 June 2020
First published in the Straits Times, Wednesday 24 June 2020

News of the upcoming general election has been welcomed.
The pandemic has created urgency for us to re-examine many of the fundamental socio-economic issues that should be decided through the political election process.
This will, however, be an election vastly different from the ones we have experienced before.
Gone will be the familiar rallies, when the entire country takes on a festive atmosphere and many are focused on the political contests. This time, it will be a very sedate affair.
But it should not be any less significant, because what is at stake is our future, which is now dependent on how we successfully complete a political transformation.
Those elected will have to craft a new economic and social narrative to make Singapore as exceptional as before despite the challenging conditions ahead.
In the midst of a pandemic, there is also the risk that the election is reduced to a referendum on the Government's performance in managing the crisis.
This is certainly an important issue, but not the only one.
But discussions on a whole range of critical issues that affect our lives need a social context and atmosphere that may be missing - the hustings and rallies, as well as arguments in coffee shops and our neighbourhoods.
Even with the limitations, we can still be passionately engaged.
New election rules must not dampen the spirit and avenues for robust discussions on our collective interests.
In recent months, many people have gone through an experience that has affected and shaped their lives and choices, perhaps forever.
We must hear their stories, because those elected carry a responsibility to represent their constituents in the highest office.
This is also about our own political education.
We must respect anyone who wishes to take up the noble cause to represent and serve the people, regardless of his background and political persuasion.
We should not dismiss those who are brave enough to mount an attempt to defeat the familiar incumbents who have been consistently elected in the past.
Instead, we should collectively ensure that despite the restrictions imposed for necessary safe distancing, there is a good, clean, transparent and honest fight.

Zulkifli Baharudin,
Singapore




Philippines call for new strategic plan
To halt the spread of Covid-19
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 27 June 2020
Firts published in the Philippine Inquirer, Thursday 25 June 2020

The Philippines, as of June 21, has one of the world’s longest lockdowns, at 98 days, counting from March 15.
It is time we raise two consequential questions:
With 98 days of lockdown, are we winning the fight against the COVID-19 threat?
Are our sacrifices from the draconian lockdown measures enforced by the government for 98 days worth it?
To both questions, my answer is no!
From April 1 to 30, the positive cases reported by the Department of Health averaged 243.5 per day.
From May 1 to 31, the average was 309.6; and in the first 21 days of June, it was 561.8!
In terms of cumulative cases, it was 2,311 as of April 1, and 30,052 as of June 21 - an unimaginable increase of 1,200.3 percent over that 82-day period.
These numbers say we are nowhere near “flattening the curve.”
We need a new strategic response plan that gives priority to isolating and blocking the sources of community transmission, cutting the chain of infections at the roots, and halting the spread of the virus.
And we need a plan that will enable the full reopening of our economy soonest - before businesses are bankrupted beyond help, and before hunger and diseases hit the jobless, the poor, and the most vulnerable among us.
As part of “consolidation of forces,” using military terminology, on where they are most needed, let us, for one, put the plan for mass testing in the back burner for now.
Testing - rapid or clinical l - does not cure the sick.
It should not be a priority item in the response plan except for use in quarantined barangays and in testing and critical care facilities.
Besides, we do not have enough resources for mass testing. It should be targeted testing.
Let us stop the checkpoints as they do not contribute at all to preventing the spread of the virus - even if we spend considerable man-hours and energy keeping policemen and soldiers there.
In all probability, individuals being accosted in the streets are some of the 99.985 percent of the National Capital Region (NCR) population who are healthy.
They have no virus to spread around.
Why plan on arresting and detaining them, even for minor lockdown violations?
Let us mobilize those soldiers and policemen instead to do contact tracing work.
As part of the consolidation of forces, the new strategic response plan should provide for selective quarantine and enforce hard lockdowns on those with reported cases until declared virus-free; simultaneously do 100-percent testing of residents and contact tracing covering those identified as having come in contact with positive cases.
Organize and mobilize health workers for deployment in those barangays, recruit armies of contact tracers to do a quick job of finding those who are possibly infected, and undertake response operations simultaneously in all barangays with reported cases.
We then plan to free residents of virus-free barangays from quarantine restrictions so they can go back to the workplace, and so we can reopen businesses.
The International Automotive Task Force (IATF) can make use of experts in epidemiology and in crisis management.
I also propose that the poor and the vulnerable be represented in the International Automotive Task Force (IATF) so that, if necessary, the representative can push back on measures that make ordinary workers jobless, and keep the poor from moving out of their homes to find work and food for the table, before adequate mitigation measures are put in place.

Col. Leonardo O. Odono (Ret.),
Manila,
Philippines





Philippines experiencing second wave Covid-19
"God save our country"
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 26 June 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Saturday 20 June 2020

Malacañang debunked the claim of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III that we are already experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
National Capital Region Police Office chief Debold Sinas did not only keep his badge, President Duterte even reaffirmed his trust, confidence, and support for him despite the general’s violation of COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
When will our leaders pull themselves together?
How much longer do we have to suffer from a government that knows not what to do about anything except through guesswork, and pushes down our throats government people who are untouchable and above the law?
Incoherence and inconsistency of policies, and speaking without thinking, have always been the hallmark and downfall of our government.
God save our country!

Reginald B. Tamayo,
Marikina City
Philippines



Thailand wants policies that will not not intensify
The extreme disparity in wealth distribution
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 25 June 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Sunday 21 June 2020

The minister of tourism has said he wants to use the coronavirus hiatus to reset tourism to attract only big spenders.
Big spenders are always desirable, but over the past 50 years Thailand, encouraged by its governments, has courted and catered for mostly mass tourism.
This means that up to 5 million people are dependent on the industry, which some estimates say contributes up to 20 percent of GDP.
Airlines, taxis, hotels, guest houses, small restaurants, car hire, retailers of clothing and souvenirs; the list is endless.
If you filled every five star hotel I doubt 95 percent of these people would get a single baht of income.
The money would go to the already rich and international hotel chains.
Europeans and Americans already have a multitude of luxury holiday locations like Majorca, Sardinia, the south of France, Italian Riviera, the Caribbean.
How successful are we going to be getting them to take a 12-hour flight post coronavirus?
Or are we to rely on the rich Chinese?
We put our eggs in that basket before and it did not end well.
The most important focus for the government is to improve the lot of the mass population.
Not develop policies that will intensify the extreme disparity in wealth distribution.

Phil Cox,
Bangkok,
Thailand





Huge influx of stimulus money in Thailand
To build roads and bridges to nowhere
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 24 June 2020
First Published in the Bangkok Post, Monday 22 June 2020

Re: "MPs plot while the people struggle", in Bangkok Post, June 15.
It comes as no surprise that more than 10,000 projects proposed for funding under the government's social and economic rehabilitation programme relate to road construction and maintenance or digging artesian wells.
Road construction projects are among the most abused and corruption-riddled around the world.
As Covid-19 restrictions have eased slightly, I've recently made several short forays outside Bangkok.
Everywhere I go, I see new roads and bridges under construction, many of which seem unnecessary or illogically located.
With the huge influx of stimulus money, it's likely we will see even more of these "roads and bridges to nowhere" and many cases of disappearing taxpayer money and shoddy road construction.

Samanea Saman,
Bankok,
Thailand




A law that results in inequality and injustice
Is not a good law
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 23 June 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Thursday 18 June 2020

The editorial “Harsh only on the powerless” in the Philippine Inquirer June 11, 2020 vividly illustrates how laws were construed in favor of the powerful.
The administration apologists and minions love to argue: Dura lex sed lex, the law is harsh but it is the law.
But a law that results in inequity and injustice is not a good law.
A law that is not applied equally is mirrored like a spider web.
Diogenes Laertius, quoting Solon in “Lives of the Eminent Philosophers,” said: “Laws are like spiders’ webs: if some light or powerless thing falls into them, it is caught, but a bigger one can break through and get away.”
Former Manila mayor Alfredo Lim had this slogan: “The law is applied to all, otherwise none at all.”

Diosdado V. Calonge,
Manila,
Philippines



Struggle for basic rights in the Philippines
A marathon run in the mud
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 22 June 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Thursday 18 June 2020

The struggle for basic rights in our country can be compared to a “marathon run in the mud.”
From the period of martial law imposed in the ’70s until today, which has been characterized by killings in our inner cities with impunity, we have stood together against the repressive reality and rhetoric in our midst.
In the face of the anti-terrorism bill, it is important to realize that once again the basic rights of our people to express ourselves, to dissent, and to associate freely - all enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution - are under threat.
Moreover, this legislative overreach reinforces the long-standing politics that exclude the more vulnerable in society.
It is the disadvantaged and those who stand with them who will be the most probable victims of this policy that is open to abuse and the arbitrary application of ambiguous provisions.
It is apparent that under the present dispensation, not only manifested in the anti-terrorism bill but also in House Bill No. 78 that undermines Filipino ownership of vital public utilities such as telecommunications companies, the mindset and the actions of this government tend to violate the letter and the spirit of the 1987 Constitution, which was forged in the aftermath of the people’s overthrow of dictatorship and later reaffirmed in the ousting of foreign military bases in our national territory.
True to the reckless remarks of the President who has at least once derided our Charter, we stand foursquare against this alarming attitude and cavalier posture of our so-called leaders in setting aside provisions of the fundamental law of the land, undermining the respect for the rule of law.
We take this stand precisely in the midst of this para-pandemic period where we face the combined and intertwined health, economic, and climate crises that will be with us for some time to come.
There is, moreover, a moral meltdown in our politics here at home that mirrors the social unrest spreading across the United State due to the racist virus that has been endemic in American society since its founding.
We need to convert this breakdown into a breakthrough in our societies.
Fellow citizens, our imperative is to reinvent resistance!
In big and small ways, directly and indirectly, as well as virtually, young and old alike, we need to rise up and not be afraid.
We need to be brave and breathe freely together.
This a turning point, and there can be no turning back.

Former senator Bobby Tañada and Prof. Ed Garcia.
Manila,
Philippines



Call for compensation for victims
Of nuclear weapons testing in South Pacific
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 21 June 2020

It is good news to hear the court in French Polynesia has ordered the French State to pay compensation to a cancer victim of its nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific ( 'Compensation for nuclear victim' The Fiji Times 19/6p.25 ).
France carried out 193 nuclear weapons test between 1966 and 1996 .
Until a decade ago France strenuously claimed its test "were clean and caused no harm to humans".
There is solid empirical evidence to show the tests were far from clean.
They were environmentally destructive and they damaged the lives of thousands of people living in the area.
The American State did the same with its nuclear testing in Bikini and Rongelap in the Marshall Islands.
The same is true for "the British government exploding twelve atomic bombs on Australian soil" ( see acclaimed journalist and best selling author Frank Walker's book Maralinga (2014).
Many lives have been destroyed by these weapons tests.
It is high time the Government's responsible were held accountable and made to do the right thing by the victims.

Rajend Naidu
Sydney,
Australia




Covid-19 pandemic has produced
Long term damage to earning prospects
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 20 June 2020
First published in the Star, Wednesday 17 June 2020

In the past three months, we have all been adjusting to the realities of partial lockdown brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has produced a labour-market “scarring” or long-term damage to our earning prospects.
Malaysia’s labour market felt the brunt of the Movement Control Order (MCO) implementation, with unemployment in April spiking to 5 percent, the highest since 1990.
Economists say it is likely to go higher in the coming months.
The government, particularly the Health Ministry led by Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, has been recognised as one of the best institutions in curbing the spread of the pandemic.
The government, with strict implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO) assisted by various parties including the armed forces, has provided some flexibility for essential services to continue operating.
This is to ensure that the economy still ran despite the Movement Control Order (MCO).
So far, there are no cases or new clusters from these essential services.
This deserves our praise.
The same measures should also be imposed on other services in stages to ensure the survival of the nation’s economy without compromising precautionary
measures – social distancing, no direct contact between individuals and the compulsory use of face masks for business owners who wish to resume operations.
These measures would help reduce the burden shouldered by employers earning zero income to provide an opportunity for them to retain their employees as well as to indirectly reduce the unemployment rate.
An economic recovery plan, which includes short-term, medium-term and long-term measures, needs to be created on an urgent basis in order to diversify the economy and create new employment opportunities.
Lack of experience, low English proficiency and monetary issues are the usual reasons, but looking at different perspectives, difficult circumstances are also contributing to unemployment.
Now, people either work in low-paying, “dirty” jobs or remain unemployed.
Recently, a fitness trainer’s determination and willingness to work at a wet market that had been allowed to reopen has earned wide-ranging praise.
This would be able to “wake” up people who were emotional and having a hard time. Some youths are even starting to consider working as labourers in plantations and farms.
Tough times are not exactly about choice but survival.
To find a job in a flaky market, we must be prepared to step out of our comfort zone.
When the employment market is down, demand for jobs will exceed supply.
As a result, salaries will also be lower, which is intuitive.
To adapt to this environment, we need to be flexible and realistic in our expectations.

Jack Wong Kin Tung,
Ipoh.
Malaysia



Xenophobia and racism
Hidden behind the Thai smile
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 19 June 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post Wednesday 17 June 2020

Re: "'Thais-only' policy is racism, pure and simple", Commentary Bangkok Post June 13.
Most Thais will deny till the end of their breath that they are racist, yet the facts speak differently.
It is not only in this time of Covid-19 that Thais demonstrate shocking prejudice toward foreigners.
It's a rare Thai who doesn't look down upon migrant workers from neighbouring countries, black Africans, kee nok backpackers, loud Americans, overweight Europeans and poorly behaving Chinese, among others.
Aside from the notorious formalised two-tier pricing schemes at national parks and temples, Thais at every level - from the neighbourhood fruit vendor, to the hotel marketing representative, to the mechanic at the local garage - blatantly charge foreigners more than the "going rate" for goods and services based solely on the fact that the buyer is not Thai.
Rather than striving to change such practices, even those Thais who don't approve will usually just shrug and admit, "that's the way it is".
Thailand is a lovely country in many ways and Thais are generally warm and friendly at the core.
But most Thais are xenophobic and too many are also racist.
Xenophobia and racism hidden behind a smile are still xenophobia and racism.

Samanea Saman,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Pattaya economy
Based on the sex industry
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 18 June 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post. Wednesday 17 June 2020

The scheme to gentrify Pattaya's world-famous "walking street" is flawed on so many levels.
Since the 1960s when Americans landed for R&R during the Vietnam War, the economy of Pattaya has been based around the sex industry.
Tourists have flocked there to partake, gawk, or be shocked ever since.
Many expats have retired there enjoying cheaper living and an easy-going environment. Is it pretty?
No.
Does the military government hate it?
Yes.
Should the eyesore be removed?
Absolutely not.
It may be inconvenient but Pattaya is a major source of revenue for the country and billions are being spent on improved road, rail and air communications.
The desire to replace existing tourists with more affluent or family orientated visitors is laudable but unlikely to succeed.
Pattaya simply cannot compete with the scenic beauty of Samui, Phuket, or Krabi. Removing the sex industry would be "throwing out the baby with the bathwater".
The policy is also flawed because it will remove needed controls.
Prostitution cannot be removed by any government.
At present, the police can easily check the age of bar workers, many bars insist on regular health checks for STDs and prostitution is concentrated in certain areas, with less activity in residential areas.
By all means, clean up the streets but leave Walking Street alone.
The country is going to need every tourist dollar soon.

Phil Cox,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Chinese President Xi Jinping is now
Philippine President Duterte's best friend forever
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 17 June 2020
First published in the Philippine Inqirer, Tuesday 16 June 2020

Whenever he is asked why he has not lifted a finger to oppose China’s blatant aggression, invasion, and occupation of Philippine territories in the West Philippine Sea, President Duterte would get irritated and snap back along the lines of: Kaya ba nating kalabanin ang Tsina?
A war with China would annihilate all of us in the blink of an eye!
The saying, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” has been applied by Mr. Duterte to the perverse extent of repeatedly bloviating about his “love” for Chinese President Xi Jinping, now his BFF.
He even bragged that Xi would readily protect him against any coup to oust him. The Chinese people must have been laughing hysterically behind his back - and at the Filipino people - for being so gullible and stupid.
Taiwan is the biggest argument against Mr. Duterte’s foolish fear of China going to war if he went against its hegemonic intentions.
Despite Taiwan’s continuing defiance of its threats since the 1950s, China has never given up on its efforts to bring back that recalcitrant “province” under its control and jurisdiction. Geographically, Taiwan is just in mainland China’s backyard, 180 kilometers from its southeastern coast.
The shoals in the West Philippine Sea that China has gobbled up are more than a thousand kilometers away. Being a military and economic superpower, China could easily smother and swamp Taiwan and bring it to its knees in no time at all.
But has China ever gone to war against Taiwan, as Mr. Duterte constantly fears it might do against the Philippines if he stood up to its bullying? Did China go to war with Vietnam or Indonesia after they called Beijing’s bluff recently?
We have lost so much of our territories and natural resources in the West Philippine Sea, now forever deemed no longer ours, mainly because of a bogey that Mr. Duterte has been foisting on the Filipino people.
And we thought all along that he was street-smart, as a former kingpin feared by all hoodlums in Davao City!

Janno M. Montecristo,
Manila,
Philippines





Corporations can sue governments but not the reverse
In the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 16 June 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Monday 15 June 2020

Re: "Special panel to study worth of CPTPP deal", in Bangkok Post
June, 12.
After the parliament deliberation ended, a governmental committee of 49 members has been set up to study the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) for 30 days.
In addition to concerns about patented-drugs and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) which farmers will inevitably be forced to buy, and which will affect consumers' welfare, I am very disturbed by the "Investor-State Dispute Settlement" (ISDS) clause hidden in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
ISDS stands for "Investor-State Dispute Settlement".
In plain English: Multinational corporations can sue the government for financial losses or "unrealised expected profit" arising from their investment in the country.
As a case in point, in 2012, the largest tobacco company Philip Morris sued the Australian government for legislating the world's first plain packaging for cigarettes to reduce the number of young smokers.
The government had an interest in protecting its citizens' health and welfare.
What they got was seven years of legal battles via an "international arbitration tribunal court".
While the Australian government did eventually win, through legal manoeuvres Phillip Morris ended up paying only half the cost of the Australia's government legal expenses, and zero compensation.
Another case was the Ecuadorian government paying more than US$1 billion (31 billion baht) to US oil company Occidental Petroleum for cancelling a contract in 2006.
At this writing, there are 1,023 ISDS cases involving health, environment, land rights and labour laws disputes which you can find on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development website (unctad.org).
In theory Investor-State Dispute Settlement ISDS protects corporations' rights from unfair behaviour by the state.
In practice, however, it is a powerful corporate weapon to delay, weaken and kill regulations protecting consumers, environment and democracy, intimidating sovereign governments into submission.
All in the name of profit.
Moreover, Investor-State Dispute Settlement ISDS isn't a two-way street. Corporations can sue governments, but not the reverse.
Like other developing countries, Thailand has relatively weak rules of law on taxation, environment and consumer protection rights, with a large market size attractive to investors.
Letting Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and Investor-State Dispute Settlement ISDS in would be tantamount to letting corporate predators in to take advantage of our resources.
And those very resources belong to taxpayers.

Edward Kitlertsirivatana,
Bangkok,
Thailand




ASEAN is not a political union
Like the Europeam Union
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 15 June 2020
First published in the Star, Tuesday 9 June 2020

There is a need for regional integration to accelerate and deepen post-Covid-19, as embodied in the Asean Economic Community (AEC).
The pandemic’s highly disruptive effect on global and regional economies has highlighted the case for a more integrated and cohesive Asean through AEC as the primary vehicle.
Asean is not a political let alone economic union like the European Union (EU). There is no need to aim that high, but aim we must towards fulfilling the vision of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) premised upon the free flow of goods and services, investment, capital, and skilled labour, revolving around one production base.
The push for accelerating regional integration now couldn’t be stronger, with the goal of an economically inter-linked, multilaterally-dependent, highly converged Asean within the framework of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) by 2025, which is only five years away, as outlined in its blueprint.
Even if for argument’s sake externalities such as supply chain reconfiguration, reshoring, a shifting balance of economic power, evolving trends in consumer spending habits through digitalisation are not unprecedented, it is undeniable that Covid-19 is.
It is a catalyst and impetus for economic transformation.
And regional integration is one of the definitive routes by which Malaysia can transform and uplift its economy.
In driving regional integration, we can enhance and boost the pooling of resources and tap into respective advantages and work to move forward together as one bloc.
In other words, instead of acting singularly as separate countries, it’s better to move forward and outward as a bloc of countries offering the rest of the world access to what is a “single market” comprising a population of some 600-plus million and growing.
At the same time, each country would naturally, strategically and seamlessly serve as a gateway into the rest of the bloc - providing exporters and investors ease of access to a huge and growing market that is part of the wider Asia-Pacific geoeconomic centre towards which the shifting power balance is heading.
Put simply, what this means is that the unprecedented nature of Covid-19 should compel us to take a look closer to home where we might have taken things for granted and benignly neglected our neighbourhood, so to speak, in favour of the horizons beyond with the allurements of rich markets with strong purchasing power, backed by powerful currencies.
But as it is, with a growing middle-class population and increasing purchasing power, other Asean member-countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam are playing catch up.
The growing markets within our own neighbourhood are, of course, a result of the growing economies in the region driven by foreign direct investment (FDI), industrialisation and moving up the value chain.
In adapting to the rapidly evolving dynamics of globalisation precipitated by
Covid-19, regional integration is not meant to promote isolationism and protectionism.
It is not intended to forge and foster a political union a la European Union EU but is more akin to the European Economic Community as embodied by the single or common market founded upon the four fundamental freedoms, of movement, of people, of capital, and of labour and services, but without a separate “high authority” or (centralised) government as the EU has.
The idea of a common currency is not feasible for Asean.
The European Union's EU’s experience shows that for a single currency to work, there must be more than just monetary union - there must also be a fiscal and banking union.
The purpose of the Asean Economic Community (AEC), however, is more modest though no less important: to advance the common interests of the region that will, at the same time, promote regional stability and peace and prosperity.
A more integrated Asean will be a stronger, long-term partner of other regional groupings such as the emerging Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, East Asian Community, and not least the Asia-Pacific Economic Community, to which Malaysia plays host this time around.
In addition, the specific advantages of enhanced and deeper regional integration in the form of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) are as follows:
More than 99 percent of the products in the Common Effective Preferential Tariff inclusion list of Asean-6 - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – have been brought down to the 0 percent - 5 percent tariff range. The Asean Economic Community (AEC) would further allow member countries to take advantage of the lower costs by collaborating on joint production efforts to manufacture exports.
Our common regional production base would also be complemented and supplemented by the advantages and benefits of further regional integration through increased capital and investment flows alongside the transfer and sharing of skills and expertise through the movement of labour.
By extension, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) should also empower and spur member-countries to consolidate their economic interests into a stronger bargaining and negotiating power at the international table and fora such as the World Trade Organisation.
In view of the supply chain reconfiguration and shifting trends in globalisation such as digitalisation, the Asean Economic Community AEC would allow Malaysia to diversify and intensify its regional base so we will not be overly reliant on our traditional export markets and production networks.
Regional integration in the form of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) presents a golden opportunity for us to come out of Covid-19 in a much more dynamic and resilient state, ready to embrace a brave new world. Post Covid-19 regional integration is the way to go – for it is only by first turning inwards to rediscover our inner strength and core that we can turn outwards again with renewed spirit, hope and optimism.

Jason Loh,
Head of Social,
Law and Human Rights,
Emir Research
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia

 


Alot of Malaysian citizen's money
Used to build palatial government buildings
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 14 June 2020
First published in the Star, Friday 12 June 2012

A tale of architecture and democracy” in Over the Top, The Star, June 9 by Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is enlightening and insightful.
It is sad but true that many of us do not have a deep understanding of democracy and what it should mean in Malaysia.
Our education system does not provide sufficient information on this.
It is really interesting how the columnist highlights the lack of three important characteristics of a democratic system – ie representation, accessibility and accountability - by analysing the architecture of some important buildings in our country.
A lot of the rakyat’s or Malaysan citizen's money is used to build palatial government buildings.
Yet how many of us actually feel that our politicians or civil servants are there to serve us and not to make us feel that they are doing us a favour when attending to us?
Incidentally, now that Prof Tajuddin has pointed out that the architecture of Johor Baru’s Dewan Jubli Intan has elements of Malay, Chinese and Indian heritage, I will be viewing the building with fresh eyes the next time I see it.

Of Siew,
Johor Baru,
Malaysia



Alcohol control laws in Thailand
Are rife with double standards
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 13 June 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Thursday 11 June 2020

So, no wine to be served in restaurants after such a long shutdown?
Now Thais may incur hefty fines for posting images of their favourite tipple on Facebook!
No wonder the news has caused outrage.
For years, the powers that be have seemed wholly incapable of getting drunks off the streets of our city.
It's not as if drunks are hard to find in Bangkok.
But even aided by curfews and the recent lockdown, this apparently simple task has proved beyond the authorities.
Miraculously, though, the authorities are ingenious enough to hunt down netizens who post a flute of champagne or a can of lager among snaps of cute pets and funny road signs.
The kingdom's so-called alcohol control laws are rife with double standards, and all too easily exploited by less than scrupulous officials.
Similarly twisted logic surrounds the measures against Covid-19.
I can buy multipacks of alcohol at convenience stores and supermarkets with no questions asked.
But woe betide the restaurateur who offers me a glass of merlot with my filet mignon!
After many weeks bereft of conviviality, a country once fabled for its hospitality now seems intent on discouraging visitors in perpetuity.
We're asked to believe that the civilised custom of wine with a meal - more a matter of culture than binge drinking - threatens good order and the health of the nation.
But apparently there's no such danger from drinks bought at the local 7-Eleven or the nearest branch of Tops.
I'm told some eateries are serving alcoholic drinks, often disguised improbably in tea or coffee cups.
No doubt there's an unscrupulous official somewhere, smiling broadly.
Meanwhile, the instantly recognisable logos of Thailand's two most famous breweries are displayed all over the place.
They carry an unmistakable message, and it has nothing to do with abstinence.
But I doubt if 50,000 baht fines are threatened in these cases.
Does this bizarre mess originate from hypocrisy?
Or incompetence?
A mix of the two, of course - and it's not a cocktail I'd ever want to post on my Facebook page.

Linus,
Bangkok,
Thailand

 


Call for relaxation of State of Emergency
In Papua New Guinea
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 12 June 2020
First published in the Papua New Guinea, Thursday 11 June 2020

Any extension after the two months State of Emergency (SOE) by the government will have a significant impact on the lives of every Papua New Guinean.
People living in the cities are the ones who are badly affected.
We have seen an increase in unemployment, Small to Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME)s shutting down, petty crimes increasing and the increase in police brutality during the SOE period.
The State of Emergency SOE came about due to the Covid-19 but the virus itself did not spread rapidly in Papua New Guinea PNG as compared to other countries.
We can only thank God for this as we all know that Papua New Guinea PNG does not have the capacity and capability to fight the Covid-19.
The eight cases is the lowest and all have recovered.
We have recorded no deaths.
Thus, do we still need to have the State of Emergency (SOE) in place?
Leaders, please consider all aspects when making decisions as a lot of Papua New Guineans are in the informal sector and live by the daily takings they make.
If you make it hard for them to make ends meet, they turn to illegal activities.
Small to Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME)s are shutting down and the badly needed funding that was promised by the Government have not been made available – not sure how long this will take.
By the time it is available, how many Small to Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME)s will benefit from that funding?
One can argue that a lot of people have died from the Covid-19 but that’s in other countries.
As pointed out by East Sepik Governor Allan Bird, we cannot compare ourselves to others countries.
We need to do our own research to come up with better decision making.
Relevant authorities that advised the Government for an extension should support their decision with actual facts and figures.
I personal think that we need to relax the State of Emergency (SOE) in-country but focus more on our international borders.
That way we boost our local economy which supports the informal sector while maintaining vigilance on any imported the Covid-19 cases.
The impact of the two months State of Emergency (SOE) has made life hard for most ordinary Papuan New Guineans. Extending it will only worsen the situation.
Let’s learn to live with the Covid-19 as part of the new normal.

Zuguru,
Bena Bridge,
Papua New Guinea





Call for visits by health inspecters
To restuarants in the Philippines
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 11 June 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Monday 1 June 2020

I would like to bring to the attention of Metro Manila mayors the observations I have encountered during my several visits to the Philippines, with the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in mind.
These observations, if implemented and enforced through ordinances, will prevent food-borne microbial illnesses.
Most restaurants in the Philippines, especially mom-and-pop operations, do not have a supply of toilet paper in their restroom, or running water and soap for customers to wash their hands.
Additionally, restrooms must have a conducive environment, without unpleasant odor.
Street food vendors must also be regulated and educated about good hygiene.
Public market wet areas need to be reinspected to ensure that they follow cleanliness standards.
This practice must be adhered to before opening and closing individual stalls. Peculiar smells must be eliminated to ensure shopper satisfaction.
There should be no wet surfaces to prevent slippage and accidents.
Visits by health inspectors must be conducted regularly to prevent bad products, especially meat and poultry, from being sold.
Slaughterhouses must be kept clean all the time to prevent transmission of diseases. Periodic inspection must be done to ensure that they comply with health and environmental regulations.
Personnel in these areas must be properly trained to perform sanitary practices and prevent sick animals from being sold to the public.
Observing good hygiene prevents diseases and transmission.
If constituents are healthy, the public health system will not be overburdened.
This will ultimately save the government precious funds.

Zos Eusebio,
Manila,
Philippines




There are times
When a person just has to sppeak up
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 10 June 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Saturday 6 June 2020

Re: "Exiled Thai activist 'abducted in Cambodia'", in Bangkok Post,
June 6.
Sometimes it's difficult to consider yourself a guest when you were working here when six locomotives plowed into Hua Lamphong station in 1986, when your host government has undergone three violent military coups and you have witnessed 20 prime ministers in in-action and when you have a 29-year-old Thai national as a child.
In almost any other country of the world that guest tag would not exist - but then, not many countries try so hard to ensure foreigners never become immigrants.
But even if I felt like a guest, would it be incumbent on me to overlook the torture, the forced disappearances, the extrajudicial killings and the political trickery to produce a constitution and election result which defy normal standards and produce governments which refuse their citizens the most basic of human rights?
Is it right to say "It's not my problem" and ignore the moral imperative of speaking out when we see wrong?
I come from a country and an era when the convenient disappearances of Somchai, Billy, Kotee, Siam and Wanchalearm are things that can't be simply shrugged off or forgotten without proper investigation and explanation.
There are times when a person just has to speak up.

Fly-on-the-wall,
Bangkok,
Thailand




Australians call for change to system
In which indigenous deaths are a societal norm
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 9 June 2020

The thousands of people who joined the Black Lives Matter protests in Sydney and across Australia are progressive people fighting to change the existing system in which racism, discrimination, police brutality and black deaths in custody have become a shameful societal norm.
That is unacceptable.
They want racial justice for all Australians .
The protesters are people with conscience committed to creating a society where everyone is treated with respect and human dignity regardless of race.
('Australian protest racial discrimination in Australia in Sydney' ( Southeast Asian Times 8 June ).
By contrast with his condemnation of the protesters as " incredibly selfish " government Minister Mathias Corman and other ministers show just what a reactionary mob they are.
The change for a better world, a fair and just world that the Black Lives Matter movement is seeking is not likely to be facilitated by these reactionary political leaders in Australia just as it is not likely in America under Trump.
It's all the more reason why the protest is so relevant and why it must persist until the destiny of a better world order is reached.
I am immensely proud of the courage of conviction, the commitment to higher order values and altruism displayed by the protesters.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia

 


Call for UNHCR to conduct health checks
On migrant schools in Malaysia
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 8 June 2020
First published in the Star Friday 5 June 2020

I wait for the director-general of Health's announcement on the Covid-19 statistics every day and sigh with relief when I hear that the number of new infected cases is low.
Our government did a very good job in implementing the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curtail the spread of Covid-19.
Most businesses are now open but they must follow Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) otherwise they will be slapped with fines or forced to close. This shows that our government wants businesses to get back on their feet but they must do so by strictly following the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in place to prevent new Covid-19 infections.
With the reopening of childcare centres (tadika/tabika), mothers can also go back to work.
I am glad to know that reopening of schools will be done in stages, with the Education Ministry allowing Forms 5 and 6 to start first.
I am sure the Education Ministry will allow primary schools to reopen after studying how the secondary schools are faring.
Recent statistics show that refugees and migrants were the biggest contributor to the number of new Covid-19 cases.
As such, it would be a matter of concern when refugee and migrant schools under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reopen.
Most of the refugee and migrant children attend schools set up by Non Government Organisations (NGO) in shop lots.
As all refugee and migrant schools come under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), I think it is this agency's responsibility to screen all children as well as their families before they are allowed to return to school.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should also conduct health checks on the school premises.
The government should oversee the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in doing these tasks.
Just like businesses, if non government organisations NGOs flout the law and reopen refugee schools without approval from the government, they should be fined and the school should be closed.
It is the duty of our government to safeguard its citizens at all costs.

Deeply concerned,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia




Thai government in 2020
Making same mistakes as in 1929
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 7 June 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Friday 5 June 2020

It has often been said that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat mistakes of the past.
Well, it seems that Samanea Saman's June 4 letter "Free the market", goes to prove that point.
The writer pointed out that whilst the Thai government did have good intentions in installing a protectionist egg export policy, the actual results two months later are a depressed market, supply chain problems and even more cries for government intervention - ie more debt.
I would like to add that the Thai government in 2020 is making most of the same mistakes which our forefathers did in 1929.
Back in 1929 and the 30s, countries around the world installed a raft of knee-jerk, protectionist policies for all the same reasons that Thailand restricted egg exports and the results are exactly the same: Markets collapsed, the economic crisis deepened and governments were called upon for more bailout and more social welfare programmes.
This is what I call "the FDR trap". Rather than cutting taxes and allowing the market to correct itself, President Franklin Roosevelt FDR responded to crises like this by unleashing large government intervention.
However, every time Franklin Delano Roosevelt FDR did that, the markets significantly declined and/or slowed; culminating with Franklin Delano Roosevelt FDR pushing America into an avoidable second recession in 1937. It seems to me that history is once again repeating itself.

Jason A Jellison,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Failed state applies to US
More than Thailand
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 6 June 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Monday 1 June 2020

Re: "Are we a failed state?", in Philippine Inquirer PostBag, June 1.
In reading Khun Lungstib's description of a "failed state," I can't help but think that it applies far more accurately to the current state of affairs in the US than it does to Thailand.
The US is sadly now a state seemingly incapable of enforcing its laws uniformly and justly, a place where police intimidate minorities and carry out extra-judicial killings with impunity, a country with out-of-control urban violence, high drug addiction rates, near-record unemployment, government institutions undermined and misused for personal and political advantage, and a judicial system hijacked to serve political agendas.
It's a nation with among the highest health-care costs in the world yet unable to effectively stem the Covid-19 pandemic, a failing education system, inept and untruthful political leadership, and a population prone to propaganda and wild conspiracy theories advanced to divide the people.
Ronald Reagan once spoke of America as "the shining city upon a hill".
Martin Luther King had a "dream" of little black boys and black girls able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
For the time being at least, it appears the dream has been extinguished and the city no longer shines.
The encouraging thing about America, however, is that it has proven time and time again over the course of its history that it can overcome incredible adversity.
With a change of leadership and a renewed sense of purpose, there is reason to believe the country can again shine as a beacon for others.

Samanea Saman,
Bangkok,
Thailand




Call for Malaysia to uphold Malaysia's non-interference policy
On Hong Kong National Security Law
First published in the New Straits Times, Wednesday 3 June 2020
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 5 June 2020

The Perikatan Nasional administration, led by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, is concentrating its efforts in dealing with the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic by focusing on economic improvement while addressing social and health issues.
With the impact of Covid-19 expected to disrupt the societal climate, causing a surge in unemployment and reducing revenue for this year and the next, the federal government also manages foreign policy as well as it can especially in relation to recent developments along our border or territorial waters.
Over the years, Malaysia has solidified its mark as a tolerant and open nation, safeguarding its national borders with care, despite the risk of encroachment by outside parties, as well as threats, like pirates.
It is only logical and right that the country be more vocal and demanding in exercising its rights as a sovereign nation.
The presence of Chinese and American warships in the South China Sea, for instance, presents a real threat to regional peace and security, which directly affects us.
Judging by Parliamentary responses given by the foreign minister from 2018 to last year under the previous administration, the federal government, including the current administration, wants to avoid conflict with global superpowers and so will keep emphasising diplomacy, restraint and moderation as the way to go.
With developments still centred on US-China ties along the lines of trade policies, health-driven action plans due to Covid-19 and security co-operation, Malaysia, along with other Asean members, will probably continue to adopt a collective stance founded on the principles of global peace and harmony.
In addition, Malaysia's worrying economic prospects require policy flexibility, including in managing foreign affairs.
As Sino-Malaysian trade relations strengthened on the back of large Chinese investments in key industries such as manufacturing, information technology, agriculture and construction, the government should seek to maintain positive ties.
Within this context, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein should be measured in addressing related concerns, which includes Malaysia's position in the Hong Kong-China dispute over the proposed and recently passed National Security Law by respecting established norm.
Along this line, the most effective move could be to uphold Malaysia's non-interference policy, while championing democracy and the right to speak through alternative mechanisms.
To withstand the fragility of present economic terrain, coordinated internal policy execution and the preservation of external relations must go hand in hand - avoiding confrontation and focusing on continuous growth projection through close cooperation with indispensable partners instead.

Fadhil Rahman,
Shah Alam,
Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia

 


People power movement in Southeast Asia
Overthrew former Philippines President, Ferdinand Marcos
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 4 June 2020
First published in the Star, Tuesday 2 June 2020

China is allowing the people of Hong Kong to exercise democracy.
If they have democracy then they have the right to protest.
In a democracy, it is your right to support whom you want to support.
We too live in a democracy and, hopefully, we should support people who also want democracy.
Yes, business and security will be affected.
But just to remind everyone, do you think the French and Russian Revolutions could have happened if people kept quiet and worried only about business and security?
What about the American Civil War and the civil rights protests of African-Americans led by Martin Luther King Jr?
What about the Iran Revolution and the Arab Spring?
And let’s not forget the people power movements in this part of the world that overthrew Marcos, Soekarno, Suharto - all this happened and changed lives for the better because people protested.
There was also the Red and Yellow protests in Thailand.
And we had our own protests in 1968 and 2008 and the protests by Bersih. Nothing will be changed by sitting at home.
It is not that people like to protest.
What do you get for protesting except tear-gassed, sprayed by water cannon, arrested and even jailed.
But saying people cannot protest insults people like King Jr and Nelson Mandela, and puts you on the side of dictators.
Yes, there will be peace and security but also hardship and suffering.
Let me make my point very clearly: I am not supporting any country.
I am just saying that things can only get better if there is protest.
There are protests almost daily in India because they believe strongly in democracy.
Today there are huge protests in the United States over the killing of an African-American by a white policeman.
We have to protest for change, we can’t just sit at home and write about it.

Ambiagapathi Samarasan,
George Town,
Malaysia



Papua New Guinea Covid-19 food donation
Not working
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 2 June 2020
First published in the National, Monday 1 June 2020

This is a plea to the state of emergency (SOE) controller not to extend the national emergency after June 2.
There have not been any new cases of Covid-19 reported so far.
People will die from hunger instead of dying from the Covid-19.
The Prime Minister James Marape’s idea of donating food is not working.
The programme did not accommodate for the many struggling families in the city.
People who were affected in the private sector were never compensated well.
If the state of emergency (SOE) is to be extended, those who were already affected will be in double trouble, causing a lot of stress and inconveniences.
Some banks are not following the government’s directive to relax loan repayments.
The state of emergency (SOE) should not be extended.
Allow some control measures and do not make the situation harder for the ordinary citizens.

Covid-19 Victim,
Port Moresby,
Papua New Guinea



Malaysia calls for national Fourth Industrial Revolution policy
To serve as spingboard into ASEAN
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 2 June 2020
First published in the Star, Saturday 30 May 2020

Between 400 million and 800 million individuals could be displaced by automation and need to find new jobs by 2030 around the world - McKinsey Global Institute
Malaysia 5.0 outlines a problem-solving approach to society's challenges and problems through the deployment and implementation of Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0) technologies, which integrates both physical and digital environments.
The term "Society 5.0" describes the next stage of the evolution of societal communities, following the hunting society (Society 1.0), agricultural society (Society 2.0), industrial society (Society 3.0), and information society (Society 4.0).
The key differentiation of Society 5.0 (the digital age) from Society 4.0 (the information age) is the convergence of the virtual world with the physical world.
Covid-19 has accelerated the migration of society from physical infrastructures onto digital infrastructures, but Society 5.0 holds the promise to bring these back together through the use of IR4.0 technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), blockchain and digital assets (FinTech).
A national IR4.0 policy is needed to create a new narrative for Malaysia as an innovation economy that can compete in a disruptive technology world, serve as a springboard into Asean, bridge Asia, the Middle East and Africa, as well as connect with the 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide.
Such a policy will support emerging technologies such as Blockchain, AI, IoT and Robotics, which are all essential tools in the new Malaysia 5.0 digital economy.
If such a policy is missing from our national strategy, Malaysia will be left behind and excluded from digital ecosystems and workforces.
Because of its ubiquitous reach, IR4.0 technologies raise all kinds of concerns. With proper guidance, these can be used to create a better life for all – including new and more meaningful jobs, reskilling of the workforce, better health and education, as well as smarter and greener cities.
Malaysia 5.0 can contribute to a more sustainable and circular economy, where greater well-being is possible for all citizens regardless of age, ethnicity, and class. In the face of such major changes, countries have an urgent need to develop a comprehensive policy that enables them to create a more inclusive and caring society for all.
A starting point for a national IR4.0 policy is a designated hub that connects IR4.0 companies in Malaysia to the rest of the world, with strong regulatory and strategic oversight, as well as direction.
The policy framework must be aligned with ongoing programs at Finance Ministry, Communication and Multimedia Ministry, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation, Malaysian Investment Development Agency, Bank Negara Malaysia, Securities Commission Malaysia (SC), as well as other government and statutory bodies.
Whilst there is a lot of personal and economic pain being caused by the current pandemic and months of quarantine to both companies and households, there will ultimately be an end to the crisis.
The ensuing recovery relies largely upon a properly managed acceleration of IR4.0 technologies.
Malaysia 5.0 is an opportunity to pro-actively design the blueprint for converging the digital and physical worlds to overcome social challenges, improve productivity and create new markets.
As the dust settles, a new way of doing things will emerge and we will not only become more resilient as a society, but also more robust as a global world economy.

Dr Rais Hussin,
Petaling Jaya,
Malaysia




Eating with your hands
Goes back to the Karma Sutra
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 1 June 2020

When he says " Eating with your hands spread diseases; it's something that should never be done, Covid-19 or not " ( Southeast Asian Times 30 May ),
Ian Cruickshank forgets that people who eat with their hands also wrote Karma Sutra, the book of sexual wisdom, over 2000 years ago and also built the hundreds of awe-inspiring architectural sites around the ancient world that are in the World Heritage list and countless other works of art and culture and literature that remain a part of human heritage.
Just something for him and like minded others to reflect upon.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia

 

Thai officials have budget approved
And their cuts organised in road works
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 1 June 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Saturday 30 May 2020

Re: "Seawall plan needs review", Editorial, Bangkok Post, May 29
At a time when a storm of protest is being raised about an unwanted seawall that some authority seems determined to construct, I have a story in a similar vein.
In my small village we still have several dirt lanes and recently the local authority promised the one leading to my wife's mango orchard and a local nursery school would get repaved in concrete.
It's wanted, a good idea, but what's also needed is good thought and planning.
Instead of that, a tractor and driver turns up one day and scrapes the surface approximately flat.
Then a work team arrives and lays some shuttering and, almost instantly, big concrete mixer trucks arrive and pour their loads.
The job is half done and already it's obvious the new road will be 20 centimetres above the old one and will sit on sand.
Everyone with a lane turn-off will have to do their own work to get trucks in and out of their plots.
Plus there has been no thought about where the water run-off from this sloping road will go.
It seems officials have had the budget approved and organised their cut without a thought to the actual implementation of the project.
There is no engineer on site and the workers just do what they think will fit in the time they have been given.
We will probably get a road that acts as a dam, or a situation where floodwater washes out someone's orchard.
No one is concerned once the budget has been dispersed among the suits; the road is not the object of their energies.

Lungstib,
Bangkok,
Thailand



BRP Jose Rizal to enforce
Philippine maritime claims in West Philippine Sea
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 31 May 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Thursday 28 May 2020

Last Saturday marked the arrival of the Philippine Navy’s first-ever brand-new frigate.
Appropriately named after the country’s national hero, Ship of the Republic of the Philippines, Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas, BRP Jose Rizal, departed the Hyundai Heavy Industries shipyard last Monday, May 19, and arrived in Subic, Zambales, on May 23 “Watch: PH Navy’s 1st brand new frigate on its way home from Korea,” in Philippine Inquirer May 19, 2020.
Ship of the Republic of the Philippines, Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas, BRP Jose Rizal, will be vital in protecting Philippine sovereignty and conducting future navy patrols around the whole West Philippine Sea including Scarborough Shoal, located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
At the moment, Chinese vessels largely dominate the region and unlawfully intimidate, harass, and bully Filipino fishermen from exercising historic fishing rights in the shoal.
Subic Bay is approximately 120 nautical miles from Scarborough Shoal.
With a declared average speed of 25 nautical miles, Ship of the Republic of the Philippines, Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas, BRP Jose Rizal, can easily reach Scarborough Shoal in less than five hours.
As can be gleaned from reading former Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio T. Carpio’s ebook titled “The South China Sea Dispute: Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea”any armed attack on a Philippine public vessel as part of either the Philippine Navy or Coast Guard in the Pacific area, which includes the South China Sea, is a ground to invoke the 1952 Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.
According to Justice Carpio, the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) covers Philippine Navy ships and Coast Guard vessels patrolling the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.
The United States has unequivocally declared that China must comply with international law and the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s Award dated July 12, 2016, in favor of the Philippines.
Accordingly, moving forward, the arrival of Ship of the Republic of the Philippines Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas, BRP Jose Rizal, in the Philippines is certainly a desirable development and a notable victory in the enforcement of Philippine maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea.

Marlon Inigo T. Tronqued,
Court Attorney,
Supreme Court,
Manila,
Philippines



Hygiene in Thai restuarants
Seems a fine way to spread Covid-19
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 30 May 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Wednesday 27 May 2020

Sirinya Wattanasukchai in her May 27 commentary in Bangkok Post thinks restaurant staff should somehow know a group are from the same household.
How?
More concerning is her primitive view of hygiene.
Eating with your hands spreads diseases; it's something that should never be done, Covid-19 or not.
I see restaurant staff blowing their nose into their shirt, picking their nose and not washing their hands.
That seems a fine way to spread a virus.
If that's okay for Sirinya then I hope she keeps her infections to herself.

Ian Cruickshank,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Philippines chief enforcer of Covid-19 lockdown
Violates lockdown rule on social gatherings
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 29 May 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Tuesday 26 May 2020

I write regarding the mananita gathering in celebration of the birthday of Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas last May 8.
As a Philippine Military Academy graduate Class of 1964, I am embarrassed that one of our own in the Philippine Military Academy community, no less than the chief enforcer of the lockdown regime in the National Capital Region, himself violated the lockdown rule on social gatherings, a violation that struck hard at the heart of the law enacted to beat the COVID-19 threat in our country.
I understand that President Duterte has opted to keep General Sinas at his post as National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) head, pending “further instructions,” a decision which I thought could induce discordant voices among us at this perilous time when we should all be united in support of our government in its difficult task of driving the virus away.
With due respect to our Commander in Chief, I must say that General Sinas is not above the law - no one is.
That said, the general should be held accountable for his misdeed.
Not taking action against him will have serious implications and consequences.
It will irreparably undermine the sincerity and seriousness and sense of purpose of our government in pursuing draconian lockdown measures.
What if ordinary, less privileged, citizens caught violating some lockdown rule resist arrest and invoke the principle of equal protection of the law - saying that a general who violated the rule against social gathering has not been subjected to arrest?
General Sinas, please, as an elder Philippine Military Academy graduate, let me say to you:
The honorable thing to do is to offer to resign your position as National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) head, go on terminal leave, and save the President from agonizing over what to do with you.

Col. Leonardo O. Odono (Ret.)
Philippine Military Academy Class of 1964,
Manila,
Philippines



Call to reduce pay for Philiipine government 'boondogglers'
To avert mass riots and starvation
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 28 May 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Tuesday 26 May 2020

President Duterte has warned that we cannot afford a second wave of
COVID-19 infections.
Given the miserable state of our national resources, millions of Filipinos will probably die if that happens.
The cost of treatment for those caught in that wave is just too prohibitive.
Going slow on the lifting of the community quarantine all over the country is the only way to go.
It’s the only thing a Third World country like ours can afford to do - minimize the spread of the highly contagious disease by voluntary or forced isolation.
With millions still out of work and with no other means of livelihood, the government simply cannot feed them for a prolonged period of time.
As the whole world still struggles to find a vaccine, Mr. Duterte is at his wits’ end and needs all the financial help he can get from anyone, from anywhere.
So why, with the almost absolute power he now wields, hasn’t he ordered the suspension of all forms of compensation to public officials, say, with pay grades above P50,000 per month until the crisis is over?
Does it not look so scandalously wasteful already?
The sums of money saved thereby could easily amount to billions which the government could use to avert mass riots and starvation.
For example, Mocha Uson and many other boondogglers in government who get paid from an obscene P150,000 to P200,00 per month for doing “nonessential” chores or errands should be furloughed and frozen for the time being.
The nationwide lockdown has rendered their “services” largely irrelevant, if not totally useless, anyway.
Desperate times necessitate desperate measures. It’s time for highly paid government officials to prove the stuff they are made of - that they are really in it for “public service” and “love of country,” not for plunder or personal aggrandizement.
And should they choose to resign from what they might then consider “thankless jobs,” well, good riddance!
Truth be told, there will always be others among more than 100 million Filipinos willing to make the sacrifice.
This country has never run out of heroes, especially in times of calamity.

Stephen L. Monsanto
Manila,
Philippines




Arrest of former Papua New Guinea PM
Warning for politicians in Pacific
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 27 May 2020

We learn from the illuminating reporting in the May 25 Southeast Asian Times article ' Former Papua New Guinea PM Peter O'Neil arrested for corruption ' that the former PM was arrested on arrival from Brisbane at the Port Jackson International Airport in Port Moresby on Saturday.
The Police Assistant Commissioner Crime said " there is reasonable evidence of misappropriation, abuse of office and official corruption".
The arrest of the former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister contains a cautionary tale for political leaders in other Pacific island countries.
It provides a valuable reminder that if you do the crime whilst in office there is the very real likelihood that you will end up doing the time when you are out of office. This is the situation of the former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neil. A situation not dissimilar to that of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, although his was on a whole lot grander scale.
Peter O'Neil is " charged with directing payments of $14.2 million for the purchase of two generators from Israel without due consideration for procurement processes as required under the Public Finance Management Act".
The purchase moreover " was not approved by the National Parliament".
This clearly is not the way good governance is meant to work in a parliamentary democracy.
That explains why the former Finance Minister and now the current PM James Marape had resigned.
He cited " lack of trust " in Prime Minister Peter O'Neil. And, the former Attorney General and Justice Minister Davis Steven who had also resigned said his resignation had nothing to do with " personal differences " but rather because " Papua New Guinea's political leadership is weakening state institutions".
It is not uncommon for political leaders in Pacific island countries to think that they can arbitrarily make decisions on the use of public funds when they are in power without reference to established procedures and state institutions.
This case is a stark reminder that these state institutions exist for a purpose.
It's precisely to check against the abuse of office the former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister is accused of.

Rajend Naidu
Sydney,
Australia



Covid-19 has helped Papua New Guinea realise
That there is more to devellopment than high rise buildings
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 25 May 2020
First Published in the National, Friday 22 May 2020

Papua New Guinea is one of the struggling developing countries in the world who is trying to cope with the tide of the developed countries.
Papua New Guinea has been struggling with development issues for a very long time and has not in one bit overcome this problem.
The country went into lockdown in March due to the Covid-19 threat which lasted for two weeks and has triggered a dawn of a new health era for Papua New Guinea.
The public went silent, streets empty and the towns and cities became ghost towns – fear swept across the country.
Betel nut, gaming activities and alcohol sale in cities and towns and agents of crime were roped by the neck and hanged.
Mamas and papas at betel nut sale hotspots and markets were dispersed.
Crowded and unnecessary gatherings were reduced.
People have seen something new and good in a very long time.
After the lockdown, mass awareness on hygiene protocols by the government through various mediums led the people to practise health measures which was now called the ‘new normal’.
These health measures are everyday activities that should have already been a daily routine for individuals.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought this country up to a new stage in a very short period of time.
People are now cautious and vigilant when moving around.
Places that were once filthy and scrupulous are now clean.
Institutions have shifted and approached a more advanced operating system.
This Covid-19 threat has completely changed the phase and face of this country.
It will be worthy if the government continues to implement some of the state of emergency sanctions after the national emergency.
The pandemic is helping us realise that we will not develop only by building high rise buildings and underground tunnels but by appreciating the importance of trivial matters we tend to ignore in life.

E. Ulach,
The University Of Papua New Guinea (UPNG)
Port Moresby,
Papua New Guinea




Makes no sence for Thailand
To outsource craft beer brewing
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 25 May 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Thursday 21 May 2020

Re: "Small brewers pour into Vietnam", in Bangkok Post, May 18.
The continued restrictions on craft beer brewing in Thailand are pure folly.
It makes no sense for Thailand to export jobs and income generation by outsourcing craft beer brewing to Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia, Malaysia and elsewhere when the beer could be brewed here in the country.
The huge costs and environmental footprint required for shipping Thai craft beers from overseas breweries back to Thailand make these restrictive regulations additionally dubious.
It is nonsensical for Thailand to miss out on the burgeoning craft beer sector sweeping the globe when the country urgently needs more local investment and quality employment.
The current restrictions on craft beer brewing in Thailand benefit only overseas economies and the two major Thai brewers that are consequently shielded from even modest competition.
It is long past time to eliminate these irrational policies and open up the Thai craft beer sector.

Samanea Saman,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Call for legislation as last resort
For safe disposal of Covid-19 face masks
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 24 May 2020
First published in the Star, Saturday 23 May 2020

As face masks are now an essential part of our personal protective equipment (PPE), it is important to pay serious attention to their disposal after use.
If used masks are not disposed of in the proper manner and place, they could cause the return of the very virus they were meant to prevent, SARS-CoV-2.
This matter is now urgent, given that more and more people are using face masks in public places, as advised by the Health Ministry.
The used masks are likely to be thrown in public rubbish bins or, worse, indiscriminately in back lanes and drains.
Used masks, especially those that are soiled or have respiratory secretions on them, could be potential health hazards should others come into contact with them.
The most vulnerable group will be garbage collectors who could then be a source of infection for whoever they come into contact with.
Indiscriminate disposal of masks will also have negative effects on the environment, especially on marine life if the masks are washed into rivers and the sea.
The relevant authorities and non-government organisations must do more educational campaigns to educate the public on the proper way to dispose of the masks not only in public places but also in their homes.
General advice from experts for people at home is to secure the masks in a plastic bag prior to their disposal as general waste.
If education and awareness campaigns do not work, the authorities should then consider legislation to discourage irresponsible behaviour or punish recalcitrant offenders in the interest of public health.
Legislation must only be the last resort if advice, persuasion and admonition fail.
Manufacturers of face masks could also print and distribute with the masks a set of instructions on how to use and dispose of them, as is done by manufacturers of other goods that require proper handling and care.

Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye,
Chairman,
Alliance For Safe Community
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia




Call for Thai institutions to respect
Fundamental principles of Buddhist teaching
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 23 May 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Friday 15 May 2020

It is hard to see how any Thai institution that respects the wise teachings of the Buddha could oppose a call to "search for the truth", Bangkok Post Editorial,
May 14.
The life of the Buddha as he went from prince, to ascetic to enlightenment exemplifies the need to continually seek out the truth, even when it might be uncomfortable or contradict traditional prejudices.
The Buddha's teachings explicitly stress the importance of right understanding in all things, with none so unspeakable that the truth should be rejected in favour of ignorance.
And as the Buddha's Kalama Sutta tells us, neither tradition nor authority, not even of monks, certainly not state officials, is any guarantee of truth, but that we must earnestly seek informed understanding by critically assessing, and reassessing in the light of new information, the sources available to us.
The efforts of the Progressive Movement would seem to align well with the precepts of Buddhism. Surely Thai institutions can comport themselves to similarly respect fundamental principles of Buddhist teaching?

Felix Qui,
Bangkok,
Thailand



It makes sence to employ skilled expats
In a socio-economic devoloping country
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 22 May 2020
First published in the Star, Monday 18 May 2020

It was welcome news when the government finally decided to let expatriates with Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) visas back into the country in the The Star, May 17.
They are certainly grateful for the Tourism Ministry’s support in making this happen.
What is surprising is that expats with employment passes are still being refused entry.
The government has opened up most businesses and these expats usually occupy management positions in some of them or have valued technical skills, so we cannot understand the logic of continuing to keep them out of Malaysia.
If the aim is to get the economy moving, doesn’t it make sense to let them back in to contribute to the country’s economic growth?
I am also receiving emails from distressed dependents of working expats; these are students studying overseas whose schools have closed but they cannot return to their parents in Malaysia.
There are very few of them probably under 50 and it would be so easy to let them in along with the over 30,000 Malaysians who have been allowed to return.
Is this a signal that the expat workforce is no longer valued?
It is quite a change of direction from past years when selected expats were given resident passes with 10-year visas because the country wanted to retain their skills. Now these same people who thought Malaysia really valued them, and made this country their home, are being banned from entering.

Andy Davison,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia



Thai education system keeps
Thai's subservient to sacred institutions
The Southeast Asian Times Thursday, 21 May 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Sunday 17 May 2020

Re: "Mis-education of Hong Kong", Editorial, May 17.
Education is a two-edged sword.
It can be used to turn a nation into a herd of sheep or it can cultivate a society that thrives on the power of free will and rule of law.
The Chinese formula of education for public officials and teenagers is not something new.
Communist and authoritarian regimes all over the world have used their brand of education to brainwash people by injecting dubious cultural values, patriotism, and false pride.
The history of old Germany, the Soviet Union, Egypt, and more recently, North Korea and a host of dictatorships in the Middle East, Africa, and South America has taught us one thing - indoctrination has lethal consequences.
It limits the potential of human beings and cripples societies.
Sadly, the Thai educational system is also cultivated to keep its people subservient to the sacred institutions.
Aldous Huxley, the English writer and philosopher put it well: "One of the great attractions of patriotism - it fulfils our worst wishes. In the person of our nation, we are able, vicariously, to bully and cheat. Bully and cheat, what's more, with a feeling that we are profoundly virtuous."

Kuldeep Nagi,
Bangkok,
Thailand



A table for four in Pattaya
Not at MK
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 20 May 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post Monday 18 May 2020

My family of four went to MK restaurant in a shopping mall in Pattaya for lunch. As we entered the restaurant, we scanned our QR code, had our temperatures checked, sanitised our hands and were then directed to four separate tables.
"Sorry only one guest per table."
"OK, goodbye".
I fully understand and support the need for physical distancing in these times, but where is the logic that a family of four that lives together, arrives in the same car together and walks around together, cannot eat together?
There has to be some common sense when applying these policies.
Otherwise, businesses such as MK will suffer, people will lose their jobs and the economy will not recover.

Buathong Klomthaisong
Bangkok,
Thailand




That Christians are protected from Covid-19 by Jesus
Ignores the science and expert medical view
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 19 May 2020

The Myanmar State authorities have done the right thing by charging a Baptist pastor and a preacher for holding sermons in banned townships to curb the spread of COVID-19 with these religious nuts "telling worshippers that those who are deeply devoted to Christianity would be protected from COVID-19 by Jesus"
(' Worshippers protected from COVID-19 by Jesus : Myanmar pastor says ' Southeast Asian Times 18 May ).
Acting the ostrich and ignoring the science and expert medical view of the pandemic these religious nuts put the lives of people in grave danger .
And, they religious idiots come from all religious faiths.
I am not one for rounding up and locking up people who hold radically different views but these religious nuts deserve to be locked up because they are a very real threat to the community.
They have no idea what it means to do the right thing in the fight against this global virus pandemic.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia




Call for Papua New Guinea government
To provide clean water for dringking and washing hands
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 18 May 2020
First published in the National, Friday 15 May 2020

Denying the people for basic needs such as water will cause an uprising against the state.
People in Vabukori, Taikone, Kila Barracks, Sevese Morea School and Morata have been denied access to clean running water for drinking and washing for weeks.
Other suburbs in the city may be facing water crisis too.
Water is an essential need and every citizen in a city such as Port Moresby deserves that service from the government.
In a critical time such as this when the country is facing a pandemic, the government is doing everything possible to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
While the government is emphasising the importance of regular hand washing daily, Eda Ranu is doing the opposite thus contradicting government’s lawful instructions in providing service to the people.
Where was Eda Ranu when Prime Minister James Marape and his delegation were talking on behalf of the working population with financial institutions and super funds to ease some of their policies on loan repayments with the banks or advance borrowing from the member’s retirement fund?
During the crisis period Eda Ranu, a state owned entity should read and understand the actions of the Prime Minister and conform to the standards set by him.
While all state owned enterprises and government departments adhered to instructions issued by the state of emergency (SOE) controller and the PM to save lives, Eda Ranu felt money was more important than life.
The Prime Minister and State of Emergency (SOE) controller should reprimand the executive management of Eda Ranu for doing what the Prime Minister cannot do – denying ordinary people the right to access clean drinking water.
What happened in Tripoli a few weeks ago?
An uprising against the government for denying the people the right to essential services.
Over to you Prime Minister.

Ranu Lasi,
Port Moresby.
Papua New Guinea



Malaysia calls for shift from capitalist economy
To economy that Incorporates Islamic principles

The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 17 May 2020
First published in the Star, Tuesday 12 May 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the fore several pertinent issues about governance and the economy of our country.
First and foremost is the question of government resilience in addressing unprecedented challenges.
Previously, the government has handled small-scale disasters such as floods and localised epidemics such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and dengue.
Although the experience gained from these episodes are invaluable, they are insufficient to handle large-scale national or global disasters such as the Covid-19 pandemic or wars.
Disasters of such scale require the mobilisation of all available assets, especially money.
We may be providing huge economic stimulus packages, which we can ill afford as they strain the country's resources and would lead to future financial incapacitation.
We do not know when disasters will strike.
Thus, there is a need to plan for the logistics and algorithm to be put in place.
To do this, there has to be a shift from investing just for corporate and political profits to people's welfare.
This requires the government to undertake a paradigm shift from a merely capitalist economy emphasising profit maximization favouring those with capital and assets to one that is more welfare-oriented and incorporating the Islamic principles of wealth creation and distribution.
The new economic model should continue to reward entrepreneurial efforts towards wealth creation but without the capitalist wealth accumulation that perpetuates inequality between the general populace and the political corporate elites.
This model should not only ensure the sustainability of the economy but must also be able to address the needs of the B40 group and the abject poor in both good and bad times.
The current pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of the average wage earner and poor self-employed traders.
No amount of ad hoc stimulus package can alleviate their plight.
The authorities need to have strategic planning based on economic principles that reflect prudent and imaginative fiscal planning and zero tolerance for corrupt practices that lead to hemorrhaging of public funds.
There is a need to strategize fiscal practice to include a special safety net in times of local or global disasters.
This safety net should not just be in the form of direct financial aid but also injection of capital to sustain the infrastructure of small and medium
enterprises.
By doing so, the government directly provides purchasing power that would create demand for goods, which in turn would generate economic turnover. This must be an ongoing strategy.
As such, there must be a unit to monitor the pulse of these economic activities that would ensure sustainability of employment and also look into having additional saving schemes beyond the standard ones to tide over the difficult times.
This can be achieved if we manage our abundant resources with integrity and accountability and remove the elements that precipitate the hemorrhaging of public funds.

Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin,
Centre for Policy Research and International Studies,
Universiti Sains Malaysia,
Penang,
Malaysia


 

Death of capitalism and birth of something new
Post Covid-19 pandemic
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 16 May 2020
First published in the National, Wednesday 13 May 2020

While the global community is grappling hard on how to fight the Covid-9, a new era of world transformation is dawning right before our eyes behind the corridors of world financial institutions.
This pandemic is a mere illusion of what is hidden and tucked away from the public eye and scrutiny.
It is only a fraction of what is really taking place at the global scale.
As the world is faced with this tragedy, another war is taking place that will shape the world financial system pushing governments, businesses and the world populace into a new era of economic reform and financial shift to dimensions never before seen.
As the pandemic hits world financial institutions, governments and businesses, the global community will adjust to a more rigorous borrowing exercise to combat the pandemic and provide stimulus for economic recovery.
Founder of analysis and advisory firm Quantum Economics Mati Greenspan said the world was witnessing the death of capitalism and the birth of something new.
Closing the gap and limiting space for capitalist models, a shift that will force investors and traders desperately searching for markets that are free of interference.
This is just the tip of the iceberg; the world is yet to shift into a new era of transformation.
The pandemic is a systematic diversion of true events taking place by way of financial and economic reformations.
And perhaps a well-orchestrated game for global dominance and world transformation.

G. Antal Kesa King,
Port Moresby,
Papua New Guinea




Call for Phillipines to continue protest against China
For violation of international law in West Philippines Sea
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 15 May 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Thursday 14 May 2010

China is obviously fulfilling its goals according to plan and making diversionary tactics to make its competitors and rival countries shift their attention to something else.
While the world is busy fighting against an unseen enemy - this deadly coronavirus that originated from Wuhan - China is now trying to position itself to become the most powerful country in the world.
Is this China’s plan all along?
Is this what Beijing has been trying to set up for a long time, to increase its capabilities especially in the West Philippine Sea through its reclamation activities there?
It’s a good thing the Philippines still managed to file two diplomatic protests against China for violating international law and Philippine sovereignty in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it is true that we are facing a health crisis, we should not forget other national issues, especially those that pertain to our security.
May our leaders continue to assert our sovereignty, as well as protect and defend our national territory.

Marion O. Santos,
Casiguran,
Aurora,
Philippines




Call for Philippine government officials to donate
Part of their salaries for Covid-19 fight
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 14 May 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Wednesday 13 May 2020

The article “Entire PH military donating parts of salaries for COVID-19 fight” in Philippine Inquirer April 7, 2020 was welcome news amid the COVID-19 pandemic and dwindling government resources now spread ever so thinly across the archipelago.
Pray tell, why haven’t we heard from the other government officials receiving monthly salaries, allowances, bonuses, incentives, etc., in astronomical amounts? Take, for instance, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) officials who continue aggrandizing themselves with close to or over P1 million per month in salaries, etc. “4 top BSP execs highest paid in gov’t,” in Philippine Inquirer October 6, 2017.
And there are countless numbers of rent-seeking charlatans up there in all three branches of the government who continue to receive such obscene paychecks every month.
The amount to be realized from their own “donations” could be a hundred times more than what the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had generously offered.
Surely, President Duterte has the cachet to influence all of them to refrain from amassing more wealth and to donate the same to all efforts to deal with the untold miseries that COVID-19 has brought upon this country.
Ridiculously super-rich as they are already, they will undoubtedly survive a couple of months without being paid a single centavo for their “public service,” which is virtually nonexistent anyway.
Under the current lockdown, at least the taxpayers will be getting what they are paying for: Nothing for nothing!
Public Servant Number One, whose official monthly compensation amounts to a paltry one-fourth of what those Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) satraps and their ilk are helping themselves to, can start passing the hat around with his own paycheck in it.
While it’s good to hear that “most” of his Cabinet officials have pledged 75 percent of their pay to the fight against the pandemic, that’s really just a drop in the bucket.
It bears stressing that this disease will most likely continue to bedevil this country through the rest of the year, as even the most advanced countries in the world are still groping in the dark in search of an antidote.
So, Mr. President, please do what you do best: Shame the shameless!

Stephen L. Monsanto,
Manila,
Philippines

 

 

Malaysia's Movement Control Order (MCO)
Soft landing approach towards normalcy
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 13 May 2020
First Published in the Star, Saturday 9 May 2020

For us in the academic fraternity, life under the Movement Control Order (MCO) has not been too bad as we have managed to harness Internet connectivity to keep up with our work and daily activities.
Thanks to the Internet and, of course, our various institutions for conducting how-to workshops online, we have been able to take off smoothly in our new journey to deliver our lectures via the Internet.
In fact, I can safely say that in these past few weeks, lecturers have accustomed themselves to using online applications, and most have mastered one or two of these to use for meetings and lectures.
I am using WhatsApp Web to conduct my lectures since some of my students have limited access to the Internet. It works like magic and my students are happy so far.
With the conditional easing of the Movement Control Order (MCO), should we abandon all the practices and “skills” we have adopted or learnt?
To me, the conditional Movement Control Order (MCO), is a measure to avoid heavy economic losses.
Some businesses need to reopen to avoid incurring heavy losses, and employees in the manufacturing and services sectors need to get back to work to make ends meet.
Take the analogy of an airplane.
In order to land safely, it has to gradually descend in a calculated manner.
It doesn’t just hit the ground, right?
Similarly, the conditional Movement Control Order (MCO) is to allow us to slowly come back to normalcy.
It’s a soft landing approach taken by the government with input from various stakeholders.
The fight against Covid-19 is not over yet. Let us all be patient and cooperate with the authorities.
On the health front, continue to maintain good hygiene, social distancing and wearing masks, among others.
It will be sad to lose all the gains we have made over the past weeks.

Associate Prof Dr Ali Salman,
Centre for Language Studies and Generic Development,
Universiti Malaysia Kelantan,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia



Duterte government accused of weaponizing the law
Against independent Philippines media outlets
The Southeast Asian Times Tuesday 12 May 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Monday 11 May 2020

The debacle over the renewal of the ABS-CBN media franchise is not about the network’s sins of commission and omission.
It is about the pleasure of one man.
The President has made no secret of his ire against ABS-CBN because of its failure to air his political advertisements in the 2016 campaign.
He has made no secret of his view that ABS-CBN is an instrument of the opposition, notwithstanding that many of its television and radio personalities support him and have expressed this support over the network’s airwaves.
The order of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for the network to go off the air is trumpeted as a triumph of the rule of law.
That rule of law is a travesty, an example of how the administration has manipulated the law to strengthen the executive’s arbitrary power.
The only reason ABS-CBN has no franchise now is that the President repeatedly declared he would not allow its renewal, while coyly saying the decision was up to Congress. The sycophants pretending to be legislators in Congress understood the veiled message.
They also understood there was no justifiable reason to deny the franchise’s renewal, and that if they denied it, there would be opposition from ABS-CBN fans (forget civil rights activists) whose vote they feared to lose. So they stonewalled, until the franchise expired.
This gave the administration the legal argument to order ABS-CBN off the airways, though that argument is under contestation - even by those sycophantic legislators who delivered ABS-CBN to the untender mercies of the executive, and who now perceive the NTC’s action as an encroachment on the legislature’s power to decide on media franchises.
Moreover, Congress’ failure to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise is part of an entire constellation of occasions in which the government has weaponized the law against independent media outlets.
That constellation harms not just the elite families or the young upstarts who own these media outlets, but the citizenry, because it deprives them of independent sources of information about how the government performs, or does not. That constellation disempowers the people.
In 1992, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, the assembly that forged the current directions for the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, articulated eight Catholic principles that the Church committed herself to promote in Philippine society.
The eighth principle was “people empowerment.”
The Council’s participants still remember a time of national disempowerment six years before, when rule of law, freedom of the press, and other civil and political rights were subordinated to the will of one man.
They saw it as a Christian duty to work so that this should never happen again.
Some church leaders realize that it is happening again.
Among them, Bishop Broderick S. Pabillo, Apostolic Administrator of Manila, has forcefully weighed in on the NTC order.
He has declared it not just a disservice to the nation in the midst of a pandemic crisis when the Filipino people need all the information they can get, but also the harbinger of a return to authoritarianism.
We in Gomburza, a community of faith, support this broader perspective on the ABS-CBN controversy.
We urge all Filipinos to reflect on this issue, and, if they object, vociferously to make known their objections.
Consider what we will be losing as independent media outlets are suppressed: not just “Ang Probinsyano,” but the right to information that empowers us to build a society of justice and human dignity.

Members of Gomburza:
Sister Teresita Alo, SFIC,
Fr. Roberto Reyes,
Fr Flavie L. Villanueza, SVD
Ruby G. Alcantara,
Lot Lumawig Allanigue,
Teresita S. Castillo,
Lucia Lucas Chavez
Percival Chavez,
Eleanor R. Dionisio,
Veronica Ester Mendoza,
Angelo Silva




Call for urgent end to war between
Philippine government and Communist Party of the Philippines
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 11 May 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Monday 4 May 2020

Never before in the history of our country’s armed conflict between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army has the imperative of ending this interminable war been more urgent - particularly at this time, both unprecedented and opportune.
It has now lasted for over half a century certainly now the longest-running internal armed conflict in the world, and we cannot and must not leave such a legacy to our youth.
The momentary ceasefires separately declared by both sides have now lapsed, and we seem to be back on track for the resumption of armed hostilities that simply have lost meaning while our people are besieged by a virus that is both invisible and deadly, our livelihoods uncertain while a great number of our homes in different cities and towns are shuttered in lockdown.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres himself in a message rare for its compelling character put it bluntly: “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”
He urged that all combatants silence their guns and added, “There should be only one fight in our world today, our shared battle against COVID-19.”
Pope Francis in his traditional Easter Message to the City and the World “Urbi et Orbi”, envisioning a world after the pandemic, made a stirring appeal for global solidarity aimed at combating the contagion as well as enacting an immediate ceasefire on all conflict fronts - particularly at this time when all our efforts must be focused on ending the scourge that has ravaged the lives of people in nearly all the continents.
We are veteran peace advocates, each one of whom has spent nearly four decades of our lives accompanying the peace processes in our country.
Although a peace agreement has been forged in the southern part of our country that is now called Bangsamoro, nevertheless a cessation of all armed hostilities throughout our land is imperative if we are “to heal as one” and begin to rebuild our country anew after this viral nightmare.
The “humanitarian pause” is but one step, but a necessary one at this time.
It is our hope that it will provide space for both sides of the conflict to rethink and explore ways to move the interminable peace process forward.
We call on our fellow citizens to demand from both sides to step back from the brink and end this “spiral of insanity.”
How can we in conscience resume armed hostilities at this time?
We daresay: “If you claim to fight in the name of the people, then we ask of you to stop the shooting on our behalf so that we can rebuild our lives that have been severely disrupted by this pandemic.”

Bobby Tañada, former senator,
Ed Garcia, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution,
Sol Santos, judge, Regional Trial Court in Naga City,
Philippines




Mass Covid-19 testing not solution to safe workplace
Attention to personal and environmental hygiene
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 10 May 2020
First published in the Star, Friday 8 May 2020

On Labour Day, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the vast majority of businesses throughout Malaysia could reopenfrom May 4.
Many organisations and business owners have since welcomed the announcement with mixed feelings.
On one hand, the news brought sighs of relief and new hope that all the losses incurred during the long movement control order (MCO) period may slowly and painfully be recovered.
On the other hand, there was fear and uncertainty over, among others, the steps to prepare for reopening the physical workplaces.
Large organisations, particularly multinational companies, should be well prepared for “safe return to work” with their own standard operating procedures (SOP) developed weeks in advance.
They may even have different versions of SOP for different pandemic scenarios.
But this may not be the case with most business owners.
They may be struggling to strike a balance between reopening their businesses and ensuring a safe workplace for their employees and prospective customers.
In the current climate where there is “special” focus on migrant workers, employers with foreign workers face even more pressure.
The International Trade and Industry Ministry has produced guidelines for reopening the economy.
Business owners have been asked to adopt these guidelines and warned that the minimum standards must be adhered to.
It has also been mandated that all foreign workers must undergo a Covid-19 test with their employers bearing the cost.
In response, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) cautioned that testing the foreign workers en masse is not a pragmatic approach, as this exercise may quickly turn into a “logistical nightmare”.
Instead, MMA advised that efforts be focused on educating the foreign workers and improving their working and living conditions that predispose them to higher risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2.
We agree and liken the act of mass testing of foreign workers to “mopping the floor while the tap is still running”.
Apart from being a logistical nightmare and an extremely expensive affair, testing foreign workers en masse will not lead to the establishment of safe workplaces, contrary to popular belief.
Many may then wonder what steps are needed to establish safe workplaces.
To address this, Occupational Health and Safety, Public Health, and Infectious Diseases specialists from the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya have produced a comprehensive set of questions and answers for all Malaysian employers and interested parties.
Please refer to “Return to Work after the Movement Control Order (MCO) for COVID-19 infection – A Guide for Workplace.”
This set of Q&A, among others, emphasises that a single point mass testing for Covid-19 may give a false sense of security to employers and employees alike.
We have also put forth a set of comprehensive guidelines for safe return to work and infection control at the workplace.
Finally, we would like to stress that mass testing is not the solution towards the establishment of a safe workplace.
Employers need to adopt a comprehensive approach that involves risk assessment and surveillance, attention to personal as well as environmental hygiene and infection control, education and training and, most importantly, building solidarity with their employees towards a safer work place.

Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman,
Chair,
University of Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) Covid-19 Task Force
Dean, Faculty of Medicine
Universiti Malaya
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia





Call for Thai government to take sugar cane burning
As seriously as Covid-19
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 9 May 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Friday 8 May 2020

Re: "Sugarcane farming leaves a bitter aftertaste", in Bangkok Post Opinion,
6 May..
As someone in Bangkok who has felt the unhealthy effects of atmospheric Particulate Matter PM2.5 for several years now, I find it very discouraging to discover that the government is subsidising the sugarcane farmers whose field burning is apparently responsible for much of the ultrafine dust that I have been breathing.
I would like to see the government take the atmospheric Particulate Matter PM2.5 problem as seriously as they have Covid-19.
Given that growing sugarcane is so unprofitable that the government has to subsidise these farmers, I would think the agricultural ministry would be working hard to find alternative crops for these farmers, so that they can make a living without costing the taxpayers a bundle, and also stop poisoning our air.
I hope to read about how they are progressing in finding such crops soon.

A Reader,
Bangkok,
Thailand




Malaysia's readiness to lift Movement Control Order
Is wishful thinking
First published in the Star, Friday 1 May 2020
The Southeast Asian Tmes Friday, 8 May 2020

Lifting the Movement Control Order (MCO) on May 12, in my humble opinion, would be premature.
Currently, our rate for testing is less than 0.5 percent of the population.
Despite this, about 3.8 percent of tests turn out to be positive.
Singapore has tested about 1.74 percent of its population, recording an infection rate of 15.6 percent.
The majority of infections in Singapore has been among foreign workers who live in dense dormitory conditions.
I do not believe our Health Ministry has screened foreign workers extensively. They will become the new clusters, as they live in crowded conditions like their counterparts in Singapore.
Our readiness to lift the MCO is wishful thinking when government agencies such as the Housing and Local Government Ministry cannot enforce daily sanitising of markets.
As an example, the Petaling Jaya Old Town market off Jalan Othman was only sanitised after a stall holder was found to be infected.
To make matters worse, not all stall holders were tested for infection.
The National Security Council has to have more spine.
For one, its website should provide up-to-date information without errors.
On April 29, the website showed the “Covid-19 latest situation: Breakdown by country, April 24,2020”.
By the way, it should be state, not country.
There must be stringent cleaning procedures for workplaces.
Door handles and elevator buttons, for example, are prime contact places for spreading infections.
We can adopt the cleaning methods used in Hong Kong and Wuhan to keep workplaces safe.
My firm wishes to return to working full time, as do all other SMEs.
We have had no revenue since March 18, all the while paying for staff salaries, utilities and other expenses.
So get it right the first time.


IR. Patrick C. Augustin,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia



Nurse in Philippines
Shunned by community
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 7 May 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Tuesday 5 May 2020

While nurses fighting the coronavirus around the world have been cheered in public, last month’s incident in Cebu, where a nurse was refused access to public transport, and even evicted from their rented homes.
Around the world, our nurses are demonstrating their compassion and courage as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and never before has their value been more clearly shown.
Nevertheless, in many studies, health care workers have been cited as experiencing a high risk of violence.
Many health workers suffer physical abuse at some point in their careers, and a lot more are threatened or exposed to verbal aggression.
Violence against health workers is unacceptable.
Violence against nurses does not only have a negative impact on their psychological and physical well-being, it also affects their job motivation.
As a long-term consequence, this kind of violence compromises the quality of care nurses can offer, and puts the health care system at risk.
What happened in Cebu or elsewhere in the country does not reflect the best of us Filipinos.
Not many people know that nurses who care for COVID-19 patients are feeling extreme physical fatigue and discomfort caused by the outbreak, due to the intense work, large number of patients, and lack of personal protective materials. Indeed, the physical exhaustion, psychological helplessness, and the health threat itself frequently lead to a large number of negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, and powerlessness.
Our nurses have the right to live in an environment free of discrimination. They deserve our support and encouragement, and should be accorded respect.

Jerome Babate,
president,
Beta Nu Delta Nursing Society,
Manila,
Philippines


The pandemic show of human solidarity
Should be extended to the suffering Rohingya
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 6 May 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has brought many people in many parts of the world face to face with a life and death situation.
And it's terrifying and terrible.
The Rohingya have been faced with that dire situation well before the pandemic. Their plight is on account of state persecution which have rendered them a stateless people.
That is well documented by the United Nations Human Rights body which even went so far as to say the persecution of the Rohingya and the atrocities committed against them was " textbook ethnic cleansing ".
The pandemic has brought about an unprecedented spontaneous show of human solidarity with all sections of society giving a helping hand to people in distress and in dire need of food provisions.
This same sense of human solidarity - of our common humanity - should be extended to the suffering Rohingya.
It is therefore very uplifting to read in the Southeast Asian Times 5 May article ' Rohingya starving at sea: ASEAN Human Rights Calls for Compassion ' that the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights ( AICHR ) in Indonesia, Yuyun Wahyuningrum, called on a humane response from the ASEAN member states to the Rohingya.
The international community's response to the Rohingya is a true test of our humanity.
Let us heed that call for compassion.
It's the right thing to do.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia

 



Call for protection of Selangor River
Against pollution post Covid-19
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 5 May 2020
First published in the Star, Monday 4 May 2020

Many rivers in Malaysia have become cleaner due to the Covid-19 lockdown. However, Selangor River continues to be polluted, as can be seen in the water supply disruptions in many areas since the beginning of the year.
Pollution is expected to worsen with the lifting of the lockdown as factories, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and commercial enterprises clean up their premises after more than a month of inactivity.
Various types of chemicals, oils, powders, paints, food products and other materials that have turned bad or gone to waste could be dumped in the drains or rivers leading to water catchment areas if the authorities are not vigilant.
The Selangor state government needs to put more emphasis and importance on protecting Selangor River, Langat River and smaller rivers which supply potable water to the surrounding urban and rural areas.
The river reserves must be cleared of any obstructions to enable closer and effective monitoring.
Currently, major parts of river reserves are blocked, fenced up or even built upon, thus preventing effective checking and monitoring of activities or usage of the land.
The state government needs to establish a river patrol unit, using staff from the district and municipal authorities, in all the districts.
The river patrol unit must be endowed with sufficient enforcement powers to act against polluters.
Areas with factories, refineries, recycling yards and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) processing chemicals, oil and other products should be closely monitored.
It is already a common practice for some to dump their waste into rivers during heavy storms, expecting the swift flow of water to disperse the pollutants.
It is truly amoral of these business operators to dump waste into rivers.
Don’t they realise that they will be using the very water they are polluting when it is piped to their homes, shops and factories after undergoing a costly cleaning and filtering process?

V. Thomas,
Sungai Buloh,
Selangor,
Malaysia



Call for US not to even think
About punishing China for Covid-19
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 4 May 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Friday 1 May 2020

Re: "Trump says China wants him to lose re-election bid", in Bangkok Post Friday 1 May 2020.
I have grave misgivings about US President Donald Trump's idea of "punishing" China for the coronavirus.
I notice nobody has ever punished the US for inventing and deploying the atomic bomb.
It is easily documented that the US government intentionally caused those events. No such evidence is available in the case of the coronavirus.
Current thinking admits the virus may have originated in a wet market in Wuhan, so may not have been a product of human intent at all.
China is a large and powerful country of over one billion people.
History shows that people can become extremely stroppy when their patriotic instincts are offended.
Common sense suggests it is unwise to arouse those instincts without solid proof.
The US president is appallingly ignorant about many things.
His recent off-the-cuff suggestion that people might ward off the coronavirus by inoculating themselves with disinfectant is ample evidence.
His ignorance is a danger both to the US and to the world at large because there is always the possibility he may act on it.
No country ought to base its actions on proactive ignorance.
So I caution the US not even to think about "punishing" China for the coronavirus, especially since it has never punished China for other, more demonstrable outrages, such as the Tiananmen massacre, the persecution of the Uighurs, and the enslavement of Tibet.
Even the announcement of such an attempt might provoke another bloviating letter to this newspaper from the Chinese embassy, and that would be hard for some readers to stomach.

S. Tsow,
Bangkok,
Thailand



State violence in Papua New Guinea
Is unconstitutional
The Southeast Asian Times. Sunday 3 April 2020
First published in the National, Wednesday 29 April 2020

It is terrifying to see, hear and read daily about the increase in police brutality and abuse of constitutional duty, resulting in the state losing billions of kina and hundreds of lives.
It is not right for the police or any disciplinary officer to use violence against any civilian - whether it’s your family member of any other citizen for that matter.
Using violence to do State’s duty is unconstitutional.
There are many evidences of this happening in our country daily.
Police have a statutory duty to protect the rights of the State through maintaining law and order.
Police and other disciplinary forces should not see themselves as having the right to apply violence to anyone anytime.
The legitimate duty of the police is to protect the interest and rights of the people.
The powers of the police are primarily to maintain law and order through:
Arrest and charge lawbreakers so they can face the law through the courts;
Ensure peace and good order in the community;
Provide security to all citizens so that our rights to freedom and our properties are protected;
Investigate criminal activities;
Escort very important person when the need arises; and,
Enforce an order of the courts.
These are the main duties of Police.
Any activities done contrary and apart from these are deemed as criminal acts.
It doesn’t matter what social status or position or objective the officer has - their duty is to ensure that the law achieves its purpose.
Everyone should allow the law to operate as it is intended and this requires a collective effort.
If the law provides certain processes and procedures that requires them to follow in their line of duty, they have to follow these procedures.
They should also respect the rights of every individual.
Police have the constitutional duty to execute orders and have no legitimate right to apply extreme violence.

Eric Mumson Piuk,
Gerehu 24 Market,
National Capital District,
Papua New Guinea




Land of Smiles has become
The Land of Grimaces
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 2 May 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Friday 1 May 2020

The Tourism and Sport Ministry push to shift the focus of Thai tourism to attract "quality" wealthy visitors and focus on quality over quantity is doomed to failure. This type of misguided thinking is rampant in a government of comprised of a military mindset.
Anyone with business acumen knows that your service and product must meet the needs of the consumer, not the other way around.
For the ministry to make such a pronouncement, where is the research to support such a transition?
Sure, wealthy elites have more money to spend then us peasantry, but there are not enough of them to sustain the tourist industry.
They are only "1percent" of the population and there are plenty of luxury vacation spots in the world.
Thailand's success at tourism was based on affordability and being seen as exotic by travellers with a friendly culture.
In my lifetime, it seems the "Land of Smiles" has become the "Land of Grimaces".
Who would want to come to a place rife with pollution, graft and tourist scams for a vacation?
There is no way to ensure "disease-free" tourism in a country where there is no competent universal healthcare.
Whoever came up with this scheme does not understand science or business.
The first time someone gets "sick", the entire project is destroyed through negative public relations and false advertising.

Darius Hober,
Bangkok,
Thailand




Call for Thailand
To lift ban on alcohol sales
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 1 May 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Wednesday 29 April 2020

The continuing ban on alcohol sales makes no sense.
I support measures to combat the coronavirus, but the ban on alcohol sales simply doesn't help.
It is killing businesses and creating poverty among laid-off workers.
It is at the sharp end that this ban is most damaging.
In the hospitality industry, there is real pain being felt by laid-off workers and business owners alike.
Laid-off workers have no money in their pockets and businesses already struggling before the crisis are now staring into the abyss of bankruptcy.
To business owners in this situation, the alcohol ban feels like a kick in the teeth.
It isn't enough to allow restaurants to open selling only food.
Years of the overly strong baht and increasing costs mean that most proper restaurants are only viable if they can also sell alcohol.
The hospitality industry is the central pillar of tourism in Thailand, as well as serving a vital social role, in that it provides employment for many hundreds of thousands of less well-educated Thais.
Quite apart from anything else, the ban is universally unpopular and undermines the goodwill the authorities need to make the anti-Covid-19 measures effective.
No other country has instigated an alcohol ban, for good reason.
Of course insist on proper precautions to keep Covid-19 under control, but with new infection rates now firmly in single figures, I urge the government to act fast to lift the ban on alcohol sales.

AM,
Bangkok,
Thailand




Papua New Guinea school teacher says
Covid-19 not over yet
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 30 April 2020
First published in the National, Wednesday 29 April 2020

Papua New Guinea as a growing nation doesn’t have medical facilities or proper medical kits to fight this Covid-19 pandemic.
But under the leadership of Prime Minister James Marape, our nation was well guided for the last four weeks - job well done.
However, I raise my points regarding the resumption of schools on May 4 and international flights.
I think it is too early to resume schools and international flights as the Covid-19 is not yet over in most of the countries around the globe.
They are still fighting hard to get it out of the way.
I think we are taking a risk.
The current student population in most of the public schools from elementary to secondary is so huge.
I am a secondary school teacher and I teach 80 to 90 grade 11 and 12 students in a very confined room.
That means we have over 100 students in grade 9 and 10 classrooms.
Overcrowding is an individual schools existing problem.
Therefore social distancing won’t be effective at the school level.
Following are some few personal opinions or suggestions to consider.
Allow only the teachers to resume next week to assess the situation.
The students can start probably after next week.
When teachers go back to work, they can plan and strategise on lessons plan to make up for the lost times, especially with the teaching and learning in the classroom.
This includes how to complete units or topics for the remaining months before the grade 10, 12 and final year students in the tertiary institutions sit for their exams.
Teachers need to consider the existing infrastructure in schools, especially classrooms and toilets and take measures on how to maintain health and hygiene and how to maintain social distancing if it means to have am and pm shift classes, to minimise the number per class.

Roselyne D Knox,
Mount Hagen,
Papua New Guineas




Social distancing reduces revenue for airlines
But cheap fuel increases revenue for airlines
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 29 April 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Friday 24 April 2020

Re: "Airlines face social distancing constraints", in Bangkok Post, Friday 24 April.
It's interesting that airlines are already trying to condition customers to the idea of higher ticket prices once flight operations can resume.
Social-distancing requirements may indeed mean lower load factors for airlines until such time that the Covid-19 threat abates, thus reducing maximum revenues.
But before we all buy into the idea of higher airfares, we should note that fuel prices are at record lows.
Airlines will be able to cut expenditures massively by locking in ultra-cheap fuel prices for years to come.
Rock-bottom fuel prices ought to offset a major part of any lost revenue airlines experience as a result of social distancing on flights.

Samanea Saman,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Call for China's version of events
On detection of Covid-19
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 28 April 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Wednesday 15 April 2020

Re: China responds
I wish to thank the Chinese ambassador for highlighting how WHO and the Chinese government did, indeed, cooperate to fight the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan.
However, I am concerned the ambassador may be misleading us by saying, "after the outbreak ... China immediately reported it to the WHO and other countries".
It is being reported across the world that the virus was detected in November, and known to the hospital in December when a doctor was detained and prevented from exposing the truth.
He was exposed to the virus and subsequently died.
He became a hero across much of China.
I would be delighted to hear the ambassador's version of these events.

Watson,
Bangkok,
Thailand



China reported outbreak of Covid-19 to WHO
Says China's embassy in Thailand
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 28 April 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Tuesday 14 April 2020

Re: "WHO, China must own up", Editorial, Bangkok Post April 10.
The editorial recklessly criticised China and the World Health Organization (WHO) groundlessly and launched a stigmatised attack.
It is obvious to all that this editorial is against the mainstream public opinion of the Thai society to fight against the epidemic together.
It is following the latest "buck-passing" tweet of some Western politicians, with no new ideas.
At the same time, we must be highly vigilant against such remarks, because they will not kill the virus, but may undermine unity and interfere with the efforts of China, Thailand and even the international community to fight against the coronavirus epidemic.
The editorial is full of four thousand words attacking China's action against the coronavirus is not transparent and timely, but the only "evidence" is a report in the South China Morning Post that lacks scientific proof and solid data sources.
The Bangkok Post just take it on faith.
As early as March, our Embassy introduced the timeline of China's external reporting of the epidemic in several Thai media publications, including the Bangkok Post.
As long as the editorial author carefully reads his own newspaper, he will know that after the outbreak of epidemic, China immediately reported it to the WHO and other countries, shared the genetic sequence of the coronavirus with other countries, carried out international cooperation among experts in epidemic prevention and control, and invited professionals from China, the United States, Germany, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Nigeria, Singapore and the WHO visiting Wuhan.
On Jan 23, China announced the "lockdown" of Wuhan.
The WHO declared the epidemic a public health emergency on January 30.
On February 10, the WHO warned that a small number of cases could be "sparks of a greater fire" and called on countries to use existing opportunities to prevent a greater disaster.
It can be seen that China and the WHO have already issued a strong warning continuously and done what we can and should do.
As for whether some countries outside of this region have made full and effective use of the precious time and important information that China has made great sacrifices to obtain, whether effective prevention and control measures have been taken in time, and who is responsible for "bringing the world to a standstill", we believe history has its own discretion.
The "culprit" of the current global epidemic can be clearly found in the delay and refusal to give extensive tests of some countries that have been caught in the serious epidemic situation revealed by many international media.
On March 26, the Lancet's editor Richard Horton said publicly in a TV programme: 'the message from China is very clear…we wasted February when we could have acted, but we didn't'.
Hatred and mutual blame are the worst viruses, while unity and cooperation are the best medicine to deal with the epidemic.
As the G20 special summit has stressed, it is imperative to strengthen international cooperation and work together to fight against the epidemic.
Since the beginning of the epidemic, China and Thailand have worked closely.
Both sides have been on the lookout for each other and have opened up and shared epidemic data and treatment plans.
Slanders and rumors are impossible to succeed in the end.
We advise some forces outside of this region to stop the narrow and wrong way of shifting attention and shirking responsibilities, stop futile propaganda against China, and really focus on coping with the epidemic in their own countries and promoting international cooperation.
We urge the Bangkok Post to abandon the political bias, not to fawn and flatter, and to treat the issue fairly and comprehensively.

The Chinese embassy in Thailand,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Malaysia prepares for life after
Movement Control Order
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 27 April 2020
First published in the Star, Friday 24 April 2020

The Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC) urges that decisions to lift the Movement Control Order (MCO) must be made in stages and in strict coordination with all branches of government and the Health Ministry.
We urge for the following to be considered.
Transition into risk-based conditional MCO: Some restrictions, such as physical distancing in public spaces, must continue.
Guidelines for conduct in public areas should follow a risk-based colour-coded system of green, yellow and red zones.
Specific criteria for what constitutes green, yellow and red zones must be developed by the Health Ministry and communicated to other ministries and the public.
The guidelines must clearly state the permitted and prohibited activities for each risk level, including inter-zone travel.
Criteria for transitions between risk levels must also be set.
Phased restart of the economy: It is crucial that any economic restart is done in phases with strict guidance from the Health Ministry.
The six criteria issued by the World Health Organisation on April 14 must be met before reopening any sectors or businesses.
The criteria are: Covid-19 transmission must be under control; sufficient health systems and public health capacities must be in place; outbreak risks in hot spots and vulnerable communities are minimised; preventive measures for the workplace are established; risk of imported cases must be managed; and communities are fully engaged in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
Reinforcing new norms of behaviour: We understand that many Malaysians who are economically affected by the MCO are eager to return to work.
However, any restart of the economy must be accompanied by vigilance until this pandemic is fully eradicated.
In recent days, we have made progress.
To maintain this progress, we must continue physical distancing, maintain our hygiene practices, avoid mass gatherings and stay at home unless absolutely necessary.
Communities must be engaged and empowered to keep one another accountable to ensure that these measures are adhered to post-MCO.

Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC),
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia



Thai government should focus on Covid-19
Not opening new malls
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 26 April 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Wednesday 22 April 2020

The mall operators are the same moguls who want to help the government.
It is the right time for the government to think and act in new ways as Thai society passes through the turmoil caused by Covid-19.
Starting next month, the focus should be on four key issues, not on opening the malls.
They are:
How to prevent the current stage of the virus from reaching a next-stage outbreak; how to help poor people affected by the Covid crisis;
how to reform immigration laws to attract foreign investment and prevent our image from deteriorating;
and how to reform education and integrate online learning at all levels.
Surprisingly, online businesses are thriving, hence malls can wait.
It is high time to bring structural reforms in commerce, immigration and education.

Kuldeep Nagi,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Call for Philippines emergency Covid-19 subsidy
To include households in formal sector
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 25 April 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Monday 20 April 2020

I have written a letter to Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista disputing the position of his department that the two-month emergency subsidy of P5,000-P8,000.00 provided for in Republic Act No. 11469, otherwise known as the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, is only for low-income families belonging to the informal sector.
I have pointed out in said letter that the target beneficiary of said subsidy as expressly provided in the law are low-income households, with no qualification whether or not the said household belongs to the formal or informal sector.
Thus, by limiting the beneficiary of said subsidy to households belonging to the informal sector only, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in effect is amending an act of Congress, which is not within its power to do so as its authority is only to implement or enforce the law.
Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1-Series of 2020, whose purpose is to implement the mandate of said law, does not, in fact, make said limitation as it provides that its target beneficiaries are families that belong to either the poor or informal sector which are at risk of not earning a living during the enhanced community quarantine, who may have at least one member belonging to vulnerable or disadvantaged sectors (and thus not only to families belonging to the informal sector).
Among the vulnerable or disadvantaged sectors which the said memorandum mentions are families whose combined income falls within the poverty threshold as defined by the National Economic and Development Authority (P10,481) or those who do not own housing facilities or who live in makeshift dwelling units, and do not enjoy security of tenure.
Some families belonging to the formal sector or those who are employed (whether in the private sector or in government) meet said description.
In limiting the beneficiaries of said emergency subsidy to families belonging to the informal sector only, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is denying subsidy to families who are entitled to it under the law, and thus defeating the very intent and purpose of the law.

Severo Brillantes,
Manila,
Philippines



Thai Airways was a business basket case
Long before Covid-19
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 24 April 2020
First published in Bangkok Post, Tuesday 21 April 2020

The battle against anti-competitive practices by state-supported airlines began in earnest 60 years ago.
But Thailand is once again caught in a time warp and shows little sign of having noticed.
Your correspondents are right to call out the government for rescuing the chronically unprofitable Thai Airways under the guise of health crisis measures. Quite simply, the national carrier was a business basket case long before Covid-19.
Last year's losses of 12 billion baht were only the latest in a series of annual calamities, which will surely continue as long as taxpayers' money is hurled at this undeserving cause.
Meanwhile, those in the industry who operate without subsidy are at a disadvantage.
Not being propped up by their governments, they can't afford price dumping and other highly questionable devices that undermine honest competition.
This is not only unfair but does little to benefit customer's long term and makes other service providers suffer.
Wouldn't the money be better spent on support for all the country's employees during the crisis?
This would provide the security that people crave when faced with the unknown, and help keep businesses in shape for a swift return to action as the virus recedes. National unity would benefit too.
Guarantees of this kind would surely be more reassuring than the promised 5,000 baht handouts which, in the months ahead, may or may not materialise for the kingdom's unemployed.
By all means, consult the 20 biggest billionaires.
But let's not forget the dream of a truly competitive business environment, where all is above board and undistorted by government favour.
And let's not forget ideas like "Thailand together as one", either.
They're not mere sentiments.
At a time like this, they're indispensable.

Linus,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Fiji citizens
In fear of police
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 23 April 2020

Police knocking on a citizen's door at midnight; police assaulting and throwing a citizen off a bridge; police arresting a Member of Parlianment who is the leader of an opposition political party; and, citizens saying they feared police officers (The Fiji Times 21 April 2020) makes an outside observer wonder if Fiji has once again become a police state like it was after the 2006 military coup?

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia




No obligation to heap praise on Philippine President
When he does good
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 23 April 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Tuesday 21 April 2020

President Duterte asked his critics in his latest public address: “Ano ang nagawa ninyo para sa bayan? Pag sinabi ninyo ako, wala. Eh kayo?
"What have you done for the country except talk and criticize and talk?”
He has apparently contracted the same malady that has afflicted his apologists, as he is now mouthing the same nonsensical arguments his sycophants espouse.
The fanatical defense of Mr. Duterte’s loyalists over his inept response to and handling of the COVID-19 crisis is more dreadfully contagious than the disease.
It is so sickening and revolting that their resorting to ad hominem and non sequitur arguments leave no room for intelligent and reasonable discourse.
They equate criticism and dissent to lack of love for country, as though patriotism is solely measured by silence, blind submission, and subservience.
Just like the President, one inane and nonsensical script they’re spinning now on social media is this: “Before you say something foolish about him, ask yourself what did you do to help?”
To this I have an answer.
I call out the wrongdoings.
This is my contribution to nation-building.
I am not obliged to heap praises on the President when he does good, because that is what is expected of him as a leader and that is what he promised and swore to do.
How can we become a great nation if he sheepishly acquiesces to a bully nation like China and allows our islands to be grabbed?
Where is greatness when Chinese nationals boldly spit on our dignity in our own land because the President protects them more and sides with them even if Philippine offshore gaming operators do not really bring economic gain to the country?
How do I help?
By refusing to swallow the dirt he throws upon this nation and by not becoming a blind, rabid apologist and defender of a populist.
By refusing to take the hatred and bile he spews upon those who don’t agree with him.
By refusing to take his false bravado about making corrupt officials accountable while he has yet to jail anyone, not even one, of his appointees who have been exposed as corrupt.
By not being taken for a ride when he lashes out at “oligarchs,” when his oligarch friends expand their turfs.
As long as he wantonly disregards lives and looks at those who criticize him as lower beings and not deserving to live, I will rise and speak up.
That is what I am doing to be of help.

Pacifico Veremundo,
Manila,
Philippines



Cancellation of seven day Songkran fesitival in Thailand
Saved 66 Thai's a day from road death
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 22 April 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Sunday 19 April 2020

What would have been the Songkran holiday period is now over and I wonder why I have seen no comparative figures for road accidents this year?
The average daily road toll in recent years is near enough 63 road accident-related deaths every day of the year.
The "seven deadly days" of Songkran last year saw an average of 66 people pronounced dead each day with a total of 462 fatalities.
This year with the lockdown and travel ban thanks to the Covid-19 virus I wonder how many lives have been lost on the roads during those seven deadly days of Songkran?
Considering the total virus death tally since testing began in mid-March is 47, the overall death toll must be far less than normal.
Conclusion: Covid-19 can save lives, but only in Amazing Thailand.

Fireman Sam,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Call for fixed price for basic groceries
In Malaysia under Movement Control Order
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 21 April 2020
First published in the Star, Monday 20 April 2020

In this current crisis, many citizens, especially those in the B40 (lower income) group, are without income and struggling to survive.
Adding to their problems is the soaring price of vegetables and other food.
The Penang Hindu Association (PHA) and Penang Tanjung Muslim Association (Pelita) urge the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry to immediately take action against anyone taking advantage of the movement control order (MCO) period to make huge profits by charging exorbitant prices for basic groceries, food and vegetables.
We hope the authorities will do more random checks, especially where B40 people reside.
The Penang Hindu Association (PHA) and Pelita hope that the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry will immediately monitor, audit and take appropriate action as per the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011 against profiteering traders and merchants to protect consumers, especially the B40 group, during this Movement Control Order (MCO) period.
Logically and economically, the price of goods should be lower due to the drop in the price of petrol.
It is also our fervent hope that the government will introduce and enforce a standard price list to control prices during this In Malaysia under Movement Control Order (MCO) period, in the same manner as is done to control prices during festive seasons.

P. Murugiah,
President,
Penang Hindu Association (PHA) & Mohamed Nasir Mohideen,
President, Penang Tanjung Muslim Association (Pelita),
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia




Call for fallen Philiipines health care workers
To be buried at the Heroes cemetery in Manila
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 20 April 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Friday 17 April 2020

Filipino health care workers have been lauded worldwide for their unstinting efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even as the enhanced community quarantine has been extended for another two weeks in Luzon, many of these frontliners - doctors, nurses, and other professionals have gotten sick in the line of duty.
There are those who have died while in service.
No less than The Washington Post has lauded Philippine health care workers, especially young doctors of the Philippine General Hospital. Philippine Ambassador to the United States Babe Romualdez wrote about how “Filipino health workers are outstanding worldwide,” such as the case of a Filipino nurse working for over 24 hours at an intensive care unit, and a Filipino health care worker from Leyte caring for an elderly woman without pay.
Amid stories of self-sacrifice, there are numerous other health care professionals who have sadly succumbed to the disease. Dr. Renato “Doc” Velasco, 66, former professor of the University of the Philippines, and who had worked with current Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to contain the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, died due to pneumonia, a complication arising from COVID-19. Such professional health care workers are heroes.
When heroes go down, should it not be natural to pay them tribute for their selfless contributions to the nation’s battle against this pandemic?
And what better way to honor our fallen health care workers than to give them burial slots in the Libingan ng mga Bayani?
Let us give credit to whom it is due; let us continuously laud our heroic health care workers.
Those who have died, unfortunately, can neither hear nor appreciate those praises anymore.
They deserve another kind of tribute: a burial among their fellow Filipino heroes.

Godofredo V. Arquiza, c.p.a.,
National president, Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens,
Elderly in the Philippines Inc.,
Manila,
Philippines



Philippines Covid-19 patients blamed
For death of three doctors
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 19 April 2020
First published the the Philippine Inquirer, Thursday 16 April 2020

Immediately after the news broke out that three doctors died due to COVID-19, people took to Twitter to air their frustrations and were quick to blame patients for their failure to divulge accurate health and travel history.
To many, this alleged “lie” caused the life of an unsung hero who was at the frontline battling the pandemic.
A patient withholding facts and misleading health workers is no laughing matter. Physicians cannot appropriately diagnose and treat patients unless the latter share information freely.
Thus the feelings of anger, hatred, and frustration felt by many doctors were all valid.
These feelings make them human, after all.
But, this is more than a simple case of dishonesty.
To directly equate a person’s death to a lie, whether intentional or not, is a bit overstretched.
Alternatively, our frustration directs us to question what could have possibly gone wrong between the patient-physician relationship.
Much like the rest of us in the field of health care, patients also fear for their lives. Some patients are intimidated; it is sometimes difficult to share private information with our friends and families.
What more to people you barely know, like health workers?
Unfortunately, this is not an excuse for patients to deliberately lie about their health status.
Although motivations for withholding the truth vary from patient to patient, options to address this problem are rooted in one concept: a collaborative patient-health worker relationship.
It is important for our patients to feel that we trust them and that they, too, can trust us.
Let us allow our patients to freely verbalize their thoughts and feelings.
Let us take time to listen to them, so that they can put their trust in us.

Reiner Lorenzo J. Tamayo. RN.
Philippine General Hospital
Manila,
Philippines



Philippine workers face starvation
In Luzon-wide lockdown
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 18 April 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Thursday 16 April 2020

The Luzon-wide lockdown as a measure imposed against the spread of COVID-19 is unnecessarily burdening the poor who need to work, day in and day out, to assuage the grumblings of the guts.
While nations around the world - with notable exceptions like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore - have imposed lockdowns in major cities, no country has perhaps pushed the limits so far than the Philippines.
Aping the Chinese operations in Wuhan, the government has imposed a full lockdown over the island of Luzon including the banning of public transportation. While most of the cases are found in the Metropolitan Manila area, the “enhanced community quarantine” has progressed toward the inclusion of regions outside the metropolis.
This has hammered the poor in the worst possible ways.
Mass transportation and the informal economy have ceased to function, leaving families stretching their meager incomes.
Employees in the services, manufacturing and construction sectors have been advised to take forced leaves or are in limbo as everybody is ordered to hunker down in their homes.
With a “no work, no pay” policy in their companies, workers face imminent starvation as government aid is slow to arrive.
The directive on local government units to feed their hungry constituents does not appear to be working as politicians selectively provide undernourishing food relief that can only last for a couple of days.
Trapped in the cities and special economic zones are thousands of labor migrants who were unable to leave for their home provinces during the 48-hour window from the issuance of the lockdown order until its date of effectivity.
Mostly young females except for male construction laborers, they would have preferred living in these tumultuous times with their families, relatives, and friends. Unfortunately for them, however, they are stuck in limbo, trapped in the concrete jungle where their access to the basic necessities like food, water, and accommodation are getting more scarce as the socioeconomic impact of a draconian lockdown sinks deeper.

Armand Camhol,
Manila,
Philippines



China is the factory of the world
For face masks
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 17 April 2020
First published in the Star, Tuesday 7 April 2020

There is now intense debate in many parts of the world on the need to wear masks in public for protection against Covid-19.
In the United States, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention advised all Americans to wear face coverings in public on Friday last week.
Many people the world over are already doing so, but the obvious problem is the availability of face masks. As the whole world is scrambling to get them, there’s now the suggestion of using cloth masks instead.
There are long lines of people lining up outside pharmacies whenever fresh supplies of masks are available.
People are even fighting to get them.
Stocks sold online are snapped up in hours, scam sellers have surfaced and there is apparently a huge black market for masks.
Doctors and clinics are often severely depleted and some have had to close simply because they cannot continue to see patients unprotected.
The business of face masks and personal protection equipment is not just any ordinary business.
It can mean life or death for some of the most vulnerable in the community.
It can mean the pandemic continuing unabated.
In January this year, the Malaysian government had fixed the price of three-ply face masks at 80 sen per piece.
This had resulted in a severe shortage.
In March, the price was raised to RM2 per piece but was subsequently reduced to RM1.50.
This flip-flop policy hasn’t alleviated the situation in the short and long term, however.
China is the factory of the world for face masks, and local producers also rely on it for their raw materials.
When many countries are bidding for face masks or vying for the raw materials, the price will naturally increase and supply will go to the highest bidder.
Hence, we can put whatever ceiling price we want, but if it is below the global price and there are many bidders, we will get none or very few.
Logically, price will come down when supply outstrips demand, which may not happen in the near future with the Covid-19 pandemic taking a foothold in many countries.
No doubt the government’s intention of fixing the ceiling price for masks is noble. Realising that masks are life-saving items, the government is attempting to ensure affordable access to everyone.
Sadly, this may backfire, leaving many frontliners and healthcare workers and the public as well to face a constant shortage.
If the government intends to continue fixing the price of face masks, then either it provides subsidies when the global price outstrips the local ceiling price or takes over the local production and make face masks available at a fixed price.
Alternatively, instead of fixing a ceiling price, the government can have a fixed percentage mark-up from the import or wholesale price, thus allowing the free market to function and ensure continuous supply.
The fixing of a ceiling price in the scenario of a global free market is a classical example of how a well-intended policy may backfire and result in undesirable consequences.

Dr R. John Teo
Kota Kinabalu,
Malaysia



Malaysia warned of Covid-19 reinfection
Call for opening of military hospitals
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 16 April 2020
First published in the Star, Tuesday 14 April 2020

COVID-19 reinfection has now started in some countries.
The same will happen in Malaysia if the movement control order (MCO) is not lifted slowly and in careful steps to avoid overwhelming our healthcare system.
One of the lessons the world has learnt thus far is that healthcare systems have to react quickly, be highly flexible, and be able to deliver high quality care in great capacities.
Our healthcare system must be supported to match this configuration.
As healthcare professionals who have served in the Defence Ministry and the Health Ministry, we offer seven suggestions to prepare our country for a possible surge in Covid-19 infections.
First, the Health Ministry needs to be supported adequately.
Sufficient and reasonable budget allocations should be made available to prioritise the acquisition of modern technologies and the best available medication.
Training should also be sustainably funded for all frontliners to improve preparedness for crises.
Standard operating procedures and clinical practice guidelines need to be on par with the best available evidence.Second, the ministry should bring about realistic and logical partnerships between public and private health sectors.
This is commonly called a public-private partnership (PPP). PPP summates both public and private health centres and is able to greatly increase the nation’s healthcare response capacity.
A contracting model should be initiated for PPP to happen urgently in times of need. It is highly encouraged for PPP to be initiated now and sustained to ensure proper delivery of healthcare.
Third, interagency coordination must be optimised. Expertise and industries essential to sustaining the healthcare system must adopt modern technology to mount a rapid response against a surge of infections.
The government must guarantee a robust and efficient supply chain to support the healthcare system and increased demands despite the crisis.
Fourth, the Malaysian armed forces can be primed to enhance the nation’s healthcare capacity and capability.
These massive reserves of manpower can be deployed to set up field hospitals in infection hotspots if there is ever a need.
Greater national hospital capacity provides more opportunities for treatment of the infected, thus aiding the mitigation of Covid-19.
Fifth, the separate military healthcare system can be utilised to increase capacity if necessary.
Military hospitals can be opened to civilians to share the case load with designated Covid-19 hospitals.
Military healthcare workers can also be deployed to join the frontlines in handling the surge in cases.
Sixth, military medical personnel should be mobilised to facilitate efficient human resource allocation in areas of greater need, particularly the red zones, or infection hot spots.
This can act to relieve any healthcare staff shortages in the event of a spike in cases.
They should be included under the national financial aid plan for full PPE equipment and welfare.
Seventh, a well-organised emergency national logistical plan must be established under the deployment of military services.
Logistical skills of the military are pivotal to transport vital medical supplies to rural areas.
Transportation coverage should spread equally across Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak.
Currently, our infection rates are stable.
Malaysia is in a position to consider this possibility and prepare the appropriate responses.
We must continue to remain one step ahead.
Finally, we quote inspirational speaker Israelmore Ayivor: “Leaders don’t venture without vision. They don’t pray without plan. They don’t climb without clues. They are always prepared.”

Major General prof Datuk Dr Mohd Zin Bidin (Rtd),
Low Wen Yan and Marjorie Ong,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia




Singapore learns from Malaysia
Adopts similar Movement Control Order
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 15 April 2020
First published in the New Straits Times, Thursday 9 April 2020

For the first time in my memory, our closest neighbour, Singapore, is learning from us in enforcing a similar type of Movement Control Order to fight Covid-19.
Singapore closed schools yesterday and most workplaces from Tuesday, to be opened again on May 5, its strictest measure yet to battle the pandemic that has led to more than 1,100 confirmed cases in the city state.
It is a case of better late than never, as Singapore has seen local transmission and community spread of the virus cases on the rise.
It is a decisive move to preempt escalating infections.
Like in Malaysia, the Singapore government advised its people to stay home as much as possible, avoid socialising with people outside of their households, and only go out for essential things.
The fact that Singapore is adopting a similar strategy means its leaders are convinced that what Malaysia has done is the best way to contain the spread of the virus.
It proves the farsightedness of Malaysia’s top leaders.
They have been quick off the mark in reacting to the outbreak.
They need to anticipate and take bold actions based on advice from experts.
Apart from a visionary leader, we also need a civilised society that adheres to the government’s directives.
If all precautionary measures are adhered to by the people, we will stop the virus transmission, much like a circuit breaker.
Singaporeans make up the highest number of foreign visitors to Malaysia at more than 10 million a year.
We are happy that Singapore has taken preemptive measures, working as part of a joint regional effort to battle Covid-19.
Failure is not an option.
We have to make the Malaysian model successful so it can become a role model for Asean and the world over.
Malaysia needs success stories, to be quoted as a country which had executed its MCO implementation well.
Malaysia Boleh. We will, we must and we can do it together. Stay home to stay away from Covid-19.

R.S.,
Pusat Bandar Puchong,
Selangor,
Malaysia




Australians cherish their freedom but deny
Refugees in Nauru and Papua New Guinea theirs
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 14 April 2020

Australians who had returned from abroad and completed their 14 day confinement in their " gilded cage " ( as one person called their hotel room ) they expressed utter joy at being " free" at last and being able to reunite with their families and do some simple things like have tea in their veranda ( source : Australian television news ).
If this is how people can feel about their freedom after only 14 days of confinement I wonder how the refugees and asylum seekers confined in limbo for years in our off shore refugee detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea must feel? We get a rather good idea of that from the ABC tv series Stateless, which was screened recently on Australian television.
It captures very succinctly the trauma of the refugees left languishing in detention camps.
Isn't their freedom - to live as other human beings - important?
It is a sad indictment of us as a people when we can so cherish our freedom and yet ignore the freedom of the refugees and asylum seekers who have come to us for the protection of their freedom to live as free human beings - free of political persecution, war and conflict, free of the threat to their lives and Liberty.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia



Call for Malaysia to treat Non Government Organisations
As partners in distributing aid to the vulnerable
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 13 April 2020
First published in The Star, Tuesday 7 April 2020

There have been reports about Non Government Organisations (NGO)s being advised to stop distributing aid to the poor during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period.
These NGOs have been advised to send the aid to the central distribution centre handled by the Welfare Department instead.
I personally disagree with this advice as, having been an active social worker for the past several years, I know NGOs can indeed provide a helping hand in difficult times.
NGOs understand the needs of their target groups.
They have built their networks and strong relationships with the community they serve, be it in specific locations or with social groups such as refugees, the B40 and Orang Asli communities.
They have good data on the people needing help and understand their needs through constant communication and regular contact.
Most importantly, the relationship is based on trust that took years to build.
The supply of essential goods to the target groups should be on a needs basis and customised to their preferences.
For example, certain groups may prefer a different type of rice for their diet.
Most NGOs are formed on compassionate grounds to help the needy and alleviate their suffering.
The underprivileged groups are the most affected by the current Covid-19 pandemic, hence it would be inhuman for NGOs to be doing nothing when they are most needed.
The fight against Covid-19 has strained the government machinery in both the public healthcare system and other agencies.
This then is the best time for NGOs to share and contribute their resources, both people and financial.
NGOs can assist with more volunteers and supply aid without straining the financial resources of the government.
They will know where to source for and deliver the essential supplies to their target groups.
Most of the people in the underprivileged groups live in squatter areas or unknown addresses, which could be difficult for others to locate.
If safety and health are the concerns, a public health officer can always train the volunteers on the precautionary steps to take and the protective gear to use.
The authorities can draw up a standard operating procedure (SOP) for those involved in such work.
We believe NGO volunteers can be trained like the welfare services officers who are not from the medical background.
The government can specify that only registered NGOs are permitted to carry out the aid distribution work.
We hope the government treats NGOs as partners and leverage on their resources so that we can tide through this difficult period together.
Constant dialogue on how to help our vulnerable groups should be held with good representation from NGOS.
They know the situation on the ground and are ever ready to assist.

Stalwart Malaysian,
Selangor,
Malaysia




Call for waiver of visa renewals
500,000 tourists stranded in Thailand
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 12 April 2020
First published in Bangkok Post, Wednesday 8 April 2020

I've seen pictures of Tuesday's scenes at Koh Samui's immigration office.
They should be a severe embarrassment to the authorities.
So many people gathered outside just trying to enter the building.
An estimated 500,000 tourists are stranded in Thailand and how they are treated will have ramifications for the country's tourism in the future.
Their experiences will be relayed to millions.
It is also unfair that immigration staff and their families have to be subjected to this level of risk and workload.
We desperately need a complete waiver of all visa renewals, including for tourists, people who work here, and those with retirement and permanent residency visas.
These people were vetted when they were originally issued visas and represent no sudden significant security risk.
We face a worldwide catastrophe and normal rules cannot be applied. Please let common sense prevail.

Phil Cox,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Covid-19
Wake-up call for Philippines
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 11 April 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Thursday 9 April 2020

COVID-19 is a deadly wake-up call.
It has exposed how vulnerable we are when we rely on China, Vietnam, and Thailand for our food supply.
The Philippines is an agricultural country.
Why can’t we modernize the sector?
Teach our marginalized farmers to plant crops the modern way.
Install an irrigation system to ensure continuous water supply to farms.
Build honest-to-goodness farm-to-market roads.
Construct postharvest facilities. And infuse adequate capital on the agri-industry.

Bob Gabuna,
Manila,
Philippines



The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP)
Calls for halt to hostilities and release of political prisoners
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 10 April 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer Thursday 9 April 2020

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) welcomes the announcement of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) of a unilateral ceasefire from March 26 to April 15, 2020.
This declaration comes after President Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire that started last March 19 and will also last till April 15.
The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) appreciates the commitment of both parties - the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) - to halt hostilities, even for just a brief period, in order to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
The parties’ separate declarations also address the call of the United Nations for a global ceasefire.
Peace, however fragile, is very much needed in these trying times.
We hope that these unilateral ceasefire declarations will be faithfully observed by each party especially on the ground, and let peace serve the healing.
We also call on the government to exercise its magnanimity and release on humanitarian grounds political prisoners, especially the sick and the elderly, like Rey Claro Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center and other National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultants.
The sick and elderly prisoners are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
In this season of Lent, let us reflect and pray that we will overcome this health crisis.
We hope that after this predicament, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) - National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace negotiations will prosper and peace will be had by all in our country.

Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, DD,
Rev. Fr, Rex R.B. Reyes Jr.,
Bishop Doegracias S. Iniguez Jr., DD
Bishop Noel A. Pantoja,
Sister Mary John D. Mananzan, OSB,
Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform




Malaysia's Movement Control Order (MCO) reminded
To use minimum force and act professionally
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 9 April 2020
First published in the Star, Tuesday 7 April 2020

It is a difficult and thankless job for those tasked with enforcing the Movement Control Order (MCO).
However, they must always remember to use minimum force and act professionally when carrying out their duties and responsibilities.
Anger and improvising physical methods of their own will lead to them breaking the law.
This was the case recently in Kota Kinabalu when a police officer apparently used a stick to hit an offender in the face, an act that amounts to a criminal offence.
In this case, the police must be as firm in taking action against their own as they are with members of the public who flout the law.
The criminal justice system must understand that the Movement Control Order (MCO) offenders are not your run of the mill criminals.
They are members of society trying to adjust to new rules and it can be traumatic for some.
Traumatic stress actually begins when someone is stopped by the police and taken into custody for investigation.
The pressure cooker can explode when these civilians are taken to court to be charged.
Many are in handcuffs and are for the first time exposed to the lengthy court procedures, especially when it comes to monetary bail conditions.
This has resulted in people from all walks of life, from students to the elderly, facing the possibility of prison time because some may not be able to furnish the bail conditions.
This was not the purpose of the law on infections and quarantine!
The prosecution and judiciary arms of the criminal justice system must act as a balance to any aggressive approach of enforcement.
This will ensure that enforcement officers do not unnecessarily infringe the laws themselves.
In fact, the process of investigations right up to court proceedings is creating new clusters of close gatherings, putting officers of the court at risk, apart from the fact that it is not complying with the intentions of the MCO.
This is an untenable irony!
Basically, society needs to be kept secure and safe.
Most understand that enforcement agencies have their work cut out for them and have to be cruel to be kind.
But while doing so, let’s not forget the humanity that needs to go hand in glove with everything we do.

G. Selva,
Ipoh
Malaysia




Malaysia calls for investment in healthcare system
Instead of erecting towers, big buildings and monuments
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 8 April 2020
First published in the Star, Tuesday 7 April 2020

This year's World Health Day April 7 takes on a totally different meaning altogether with humankind facing an existential threat from a pandemic.
In many parts of the world, healthcare systems are stretched to breaking point, if not already collapsed.
Universal healthcare is being laid bare and giving way tragically to catastrophe medicine.
Being healthy means a fighting chance of survival for many, yet it is acutely juxtaposed with very real bread and butter issues for all; and for some, bizarrely, mere toilet paper.
Money, materialism and economic growth mean nothing when health is relegated to the sidelines. Instead of erecting towers, big buildings and monuments, we should have invested in our healthcare system.
Spending on healthcare is paramount.
Of equal importance is a robust public health service and wise farsighted investment in biomedical research and development.
With the world reshaped, we can look again into the many aspects of our life. “New normal" might be a catchphrase for some but an unfathomable reality for many.
Wants and needs are dichotomised. Priorities are being reset.
When this pandemic ends, and yes it will, everything we know, think and feel about this life will never be the same.
How we relate with each other and Mother Nature will be different. Life has changed.
It is a humbling experience writing from the front line where our survival instincts are strongest and kindness knows no boundaries.
But it also reminds us that health, sickness and death are inescapable facts of life.
Sombre, but we are staying on and shall go through this together.
And we know it is going to be okay.

Letter from the front line,
Ipoh,
Malaysia



North Thailand suffering destruction by fire
And the increased fear of Covid-19 contamination
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 7 April 2020
First published in Bangkok Post, Monday 6 April 2020

Today I had the dubious pleasure of a return journey from Chiang Mai to Tha Ton in what felt like a scene from an apocalyptic movie shot in monochrome on a lunar landscape.
The streets were almost deserted, the sky was a dull, grey blanket and a hazy red ball hovered above the horizon adding little light and no warmth.
Welcome to the doomsday scenario of a North Thailand suffering destruction by fire and the increased fear of Covid-19 contamination.
Surely no other species on the planet could instigate such a terrifying situation of a dying environment than humans wanting to add another few zeros to bank accounts that already contain far more money than a family could ever need.
It felt like a 50s black and white movie of the world's end and I can't help but think that this virus is the additional penalty delivered to species that has completely disregarded its commitment to life and nature by setting fire to the very world that could and should be sustaining it.

Lungstib,
Bangkok,
Thailand




More and more Filipinos suffering from hunger
Vietnam suspends rice exports
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 6 April 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Friday 3 April 2020

Twelve days after Luzon was placed under enhanced community quarantine, more and more Filipinos, whether food producers or consumers, are suffering from hunger.
The lockdown has been hurting both the pockets and stomach of the poor and marginalized, especially those who rely on a daily income.
While the Department of Agriculture has issued protocols exempting farmers, fishers, and workers in food processing and manufacturing from quarantine to ensure the unhampered production and distribution of food supplies, farmers from various provinces report otherwise.
Farmers either cannot harvest their palay or cannot sell their harvest.
Moreover, as palay farmgate prices have dropped, some farmers have been forced to sell their lands due to bankruptcy, while others have changed into cash crops. Vietnam has suspended its rice exports to ensure its people’s food security.
And so we are reminded that we are also fighting a losing battle to attain food self-sufficiency and self-reliance as the country has increasingly become dependent on rice imports since our membership in the World Trade Organization 25 years ago. With the implementation of Republic Act No. 11203 or the rice liberalization law, we became the top rice importer in the world.
Last year, the country imported 2.1 million metric tons from Vietnam, or 33 percent of Vietnam’s 6.37 million metric tons of total rice exports, and 65 percent of the 3.2 million metric tons of total rice imports of the country.
The rice liberalization law has likewise limited the function of the National Food Authority (NFA) to buffer stocks, crippling the state’s power to prevent hoarding and smuggling and ensure the supply of sufficient, safe, and affordable rice for poor and marginalized Filipinos.
The country’s dependence on rice importation is never an assurance of food security.
Vietnam’s move should be a wake-up call for the government to take the issue of rice self-sufficiency and self-reliance seriously, to prepare for circumstances such as COVID-19 and other calamities.
We urge the government to repeal RA 11203 and enact House Bill No. 477 or the Rice Industry Development Act, which pushes for the strengthening of the NFA and a rice development program that includes socialized credit, irrigation development, postharvest facilities, and production support; and HB 239 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill, which seeks to distribute lands to the farmers for free, provide them support services and subsidies, and protect agricultural lands from land-use conversion.
The government should take proactive measures to ensure the country’s food security based on self-sufficiency and self-reliance, for a battle cannot be won through half-hearted methods.
We cannot fight a war on an empty stomach.

Zenaida Soriano,
Manila,
Philippines





Hundreds and thousands of returning Malaysians
Share communial showers toilets under Covid-19 quarantine
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 5 April 2020
First published in the Star, Saturday 4 April 2020

The government is currently doing a commendable job in the fight to contain the Covid-19 pandemic in our country.
Our Prime Minister has delivered impactful speeches and laid down economic packages to help Malaysians.
Furthermore, the movement control order was initiated and currently extended based on the scientific rationale that it is imperative to break the chains of transmission to reduce the infection rate.
However, the government isn’t perfect in putting forward all of its strategies to fight Covid-19.
The ludicrous disinfection strategy and forceful quarantining of Malaysians returning from abroad are two strategies that should be revisited.
While the Health Ministry is revisiting the disinfection strategy, the forceful quarantining of returning Malaysians in government facilities should be studied carefully.
The argument is not about the draconian usurpation of civil liberty of Malaysians in the name of public health but rather about its poor implementation.
One can accept that there is an underlying scientific rationale for quarantining Malaysians returning from abroad – to make sure those without the symptoms pass the purported 14-day incubation period of the coronavirus before being allowed to mingle with other Malaysians.
However, the method of quarantining does not follow the same scientific rationale. Some of the government facilities listed as quarantine centres have communal showers and toilets.
Given that the coronavirus could live on surfaces for hours and even days, how would quarantining hundreds and thousands of returning Malaysians in places with communal showers and toilets help to curtail Covid-19?
Didn’t the government and Health Ministry consider whether these quarantine centres by virtue of their poor design could be incubators of Covid-19?
Will the government then be held accountable if returning Malaysians are infected in these quarantine centres?
This is another layer that perhaps has been missing in the execution of a thoughtful strategy given the rush to make decisions.
As recently as two weeks ago, the emetic and poor conditions of government quarantine centres, such as those in Sabah with their filthy bathrooms and inhabitable conditions, had made news in our country.
Would any of our ministers and their children like to be quarantined in those places if demanded by the state?
The government should allow returning Malaysians an option to quarantine themselves in hotels with bathrooms attached.
This is being done in Singapore, Australia and even Pakistan.
If the government refuses to pay for the hotel stay, let the returning Malaysians handle the bill.
This would allow for a better implementation of that strategy.
Don’t rush to make decisions before studying carefully the implementation.
There are many humans involved here.
Let’s hope the quarantine centres in Malaysia would not turn out to be the next epicentres for the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.

A Concerned Malaysia,
Subang Jaya,
Malaysia




Thailand Institute of Justice's calls for release of prisoners
Of victimless crimes
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 4 April 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Wednesday 1 April 2020

Re: "Unburden deathtrap jails", in Bangkok Post Editorial, April 1.
The Bangkok Post is right that a proposal from the Thailand Institute of Justice's (TIJ) executive director Kittipong Kittayarak should be promptly followed, however radical it might appear.
The proposal to free several groups of prisoners crammed into Thailand's famously overcrowded system is measured.
It is sensible and rational.
It is informed. It is compassionate and humane.
It is, in short, just.
When a society locks people up to protect itself from harm by offenders, which is the sole moral justification for any prison sentence, it has an obligation to care for those it has locked up.
If it refuses to provide adequate care, then the incarceration becomes unjust.
At the moment, the required social distancing cannot be maintained in Thai prisons, which means that the Thai prison system is even more of an "injustice system" than it has traditionally been.
But the injustice in the Thai and many other traditional prison systems grievously flouts good morals.
To the groups of prisoners the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) suggests be released, a further group needs to be added.
Those who ought never have been imprisoned in the first place should also be released.
Specifically, release all who are truly guilty of nothing more than a victimless crime, which includes all drug crimes, gambling and similar personal vices that do not, in themselves, directly harm or threaten others.
There has never been any justification for locking people up merely because they drink red wine or shoot up heroin, because they sell Singha beer or deal ya ba, because they gamble or bet on dice with friends, or because they freely consent to buying and selling adult sex.
Victimless crimes are exactly that: victimless.
Yes, if someone has a track record of drinking and driving, or if their drug use combined with driving harms or directly threatens to harm others, imprisonment is justified.
If someone deliberately breaches social distancing guidelines for no good reason, that is a crime that threatens others so they might justly be punished.
If, however, the people involved in that violation were forced to do it by the official justice system, then it is the prison system that is guilty of the crime committed against its victims.

Felix Qui,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Call to replace the PNG health minister
With someone with a medical background
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 3 April 2020
First published in the National, Wednesday 1 April 2020

The tussle continues.
The job of getting out information and update to the public on the coronavirus in the country is now a tussle between the Health Minister Jelta Wong and the Police Minister Bryan Kramer.
With coronavirus being a ticket agenda, fame seeking Kramer cannot wait to allow the opportunity to carve himself a name slip pass.
He started off with a mistake by giving wrong information to the country by declaring the first suspect case as negative which was later confirmed to be a positive case.
Kramer had to blame someone to save face but he blamed the Papua New Guinea PNG Medical Research Institute for inconsistencies in the test results.
But that couldn’t hold water so he diverted attention to a different subject and went on to discuss the legality of the state of emergency.
The Health Minister is even no better.
He started off on a streak of misinformation with his haphazard probable and possible case analysis putting everyone in an unnecessary panic and anxiety mode.
It was his incompetence that paved way for the conniving and manipulative Kramer to snake in.
Now who shall we take it from, Kramer or Wong?
Updating the country on vital statistics on an epidemic that is decimating economies and putting the world to its knees should not be left to the mediocre that is turning all this into a popularity contest.
Replace the health minister with someone from the medical background such as Elias Kapavore, Dr Tom Lino or Sir Puka Temu.

Covid-19,
Port Moresby,
Papua New Guinea


Malaysia's GP's want to contribute
To national agenda for Covid-19 eradication
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 2 April 2020
First published in the Star, Tuesday 28 March 2020

The health fraternity is working very hard to contain the spread of Covid-19 as well as treating those who are infected with the virus.
With the enforcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO), I hope we will be able to break the chain of transmission soon.
Throughout this period, general practitioners about 7,000 nationwide have also been helping the Health Ministry, and most of them have had to pay more to acquire the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) required.
A random survey shows that most General Practitioners (GP) are seeing less than 30 percent of their normal capacity, making it hard to sustain their practice.
Despite this, they are still keeping their clinics open to reduce the burden of the overworked government health clinics and hospitals.
GPs are also vulnerable to infection, but we are loyal citizens who want to contribute to the nation’s efforts in fighting Covid-19.
However, there has been neither an appreciative word for, nor inclusiveness of, GPs in the national agenda for Covid-19 eradication.
In Singapore, many GP clinics are activated as Public Healthcare Preparedness Clinics (PHPC) during pandemic seasons, such as for SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and now Covid-19.
Citizens can walk into those clinics for subsidised treatment and thus allow early detection of the virus.
We could have followed the Singapore experience but, unfortunately, this is not being done.
A few days ago, the Health director-general announced the availability of a new screening kit for Covid-19.
When this new kit is launched, I would suggest that the Health Ministry uses a readily available manpower, namely GPs, to carry out this screening.
We are all aware that the fight against Covid-19 is the toughest battle we and most other nations face today.
GPs are the nearest healthcare point of contact for patients, hence using their services will definitely help to contain the disease and also reduce the burden of the overworked public hospital system.

Dr Sivanaesan L,
Petaling Jaya,
Malaysia



Call for Filipinos to ask
“What can I do for my country?”
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 1 April 2020
First published in the Philippines Inquirer, Tuesday 31 March 2020

Crises bring out the best in people.
The 1986 Edsa Revolution showed how a fired-up group of leaders galvanized and rallied an entire nation behind a national cause.
One of those in the forefront of the movement was Big Business.
Recent events suggest that Big Business is rising to confront and beat another challenge - the looming economic havoc that COVID-19 threatens to bring to our nation.
This time it’s not a struggle for freedom, but a similar concerted effort to use massive financial resources to bring us economic relief.
I can hear distant sounds of hope as Big Business starts to flex its muscles and take the bull by the horns.
Ramon Ang, Manny V. Pangilinan, the Ayalas, the Villars, the Gokongweis, Lucio Tan, and many others are stepping up to the plate.
Saving our economy is not only patriotic, it also makes good business sense.
The Filipino market generates wealth for our business titans, and I suppose they won’t allow adversity to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
When Megaworld donated prime property in Iloilo City for a convention center, they were not only being civic-spirited, they were also smart.
Over and above mundane considerations is the wellspring of goodwill that suddenly springs out of one’s heart when the conscience is pricked and moved by something beyond the ordinary.
You may call it destiny, reality, or even divine intervention, but we have seen that miracles do happen, like the one that occurred in Edsa.
The flame has been lit by Ang and other early birds.
I may be overly optimistic, but I hope to see a bandwagon effect.
I like to visualize the fire building up to a conflagration where politicians will cross party lines, businessmen will start giving back, and Filipinos will ask, “What can I do for my country?”
One may talk to that seamstress in Batangas who made face masks to give away for free.
One may also ask that motel owner in Pasig who once hosted seekers of fleeting pleasures but who has offered his place as a shelter for COVID-19 patients.
The motivations behind these acts of benevolence may be varied, but they all proceed from human goodness at its best.
Hope springs eternal. I may neither be “churchy” in my ways nor scriptural with my language, but I believe in the grace of a Supreme Being delivering relief to those who seek it.
May God bless the Philippines!

Jose B. Maroma Jr.,
Manila,
Philippines



How come Indonesia has such poor health infrastructure
With all the aid it gets from Australia?
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 31 March 2020

The report ' Indonesia's medical workers threaten to stop treating COVID-19 patients ' in The Southeast Asian Times 30 March makes for very depressing reading.
We learn from the grim report that the medical workers threaten to stop treating COVID-19 infected patients if they are not provided with protecting clothing.
Why does Indonesia not have adequate protective clothing for the frontline medical workers?
The Indonesian Medical Association in conjunction with the Medical Professors Council at the University of Indonesia, the Indonesian Dentist Association and the Indonesian Nurses Association have issued the warning to the Indonesian government to safeguard the medical workers.
They are right to point out who will treat the patients if the medical workers are themselves infected?
The shortage of protective clothing does indeed put the medical workers in " grave danger of catching the disease ".
The report tells us Indonesia's " health facilities are not ready ".
Why not?
Only a few hospitals have ventilators.
Only 2 beds in the intensive care unit per 100,000 people , the lowest in Southeast Asia.
How come Indonesia has such poor health infrastructure with all the aid it gets from Australia?
Is it because a disproportionate amount goes into bolstering the Indonesian military capability?
There is no shortage of military and police riot gear in Indonesia, is there?
The coronavirus pandemic exposes the wrong priorities of not only the Indonesian State authorities but others in the region as well.
For example see the 30 March Canberra Times article ' Coronavirus : experts warn of health catastrophe in Papua New Guinea '.
Warnings of ' bodies in the streets ' if COVID-19 takes off in PNG .
PNG is another country that receives heaps in Australian foreign aid.
There is a clear need for governments to rethink priorities to serve the public good.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia



What system is there in place
To contain Covid-19 in Thailand ?
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 30 March 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Friday 27 March 2020

I have symptoms of Covid-19 after coming back from overseas.
I tested positive for the disease and was isolated at a private hospital.
Luckily, I had a mild case and was released when I had shown no symptoms for six days.
As of today, 10 days after I first tested positive, no one from Ministry of Public Health or any other state department has contacted me to inquire about who I was in contact with in Thailand or other countries, no advice or instructions were given on what I should do post-release (besides medical advice from the hospital), and I still haven't received results of the follow up Covid-19 test I took over a week ago.
What system is there in place to contain this disease in Thailand?
What can we learn from neighbouring countries like Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea or Hong Kong?

B Singh,
Bangkok,
Thailand




COVID-19 has created an opportunity
For investment
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 29 March 2020
First published in the Star, Sunday 29 March 2020

COVID-19 is not only killing humans but also the global economy.
On March 12, the Dow Jones dropped 2,353 points, the worst single-day drop in history.
Bursa Malaysia also plunged 75 points on March 15, the steepest drop since the sub-prime mortgage crisis in 2008.
When a major economy sneezes, many countries would catch a cold.
This is a price we have to pay in a globalised environment.
I can still remember the daunting volatility of our stock market caused by the Asian financial crisis that gripped much of South-East Asia in 1997.
As an inexperienced investor then, I was utterly helpless at seeing the value of my investments dwindling by the day.
Fortunately, the stocks invested then were all acquired by my hard-earned money without any borrowing.
Thus, I was able to keep them as long-term investments.
It was an unforgettable experience, but I had learnt an invaluable lesson.
Unfortunately, the stock market is always treated like a gold mine or casino by many retail investors and speculators.
They trade heavily and actively in the market.
When there is a sudden crash, they would not only panic but also act irrationally to pull out from the market.
Their inability to average down the costs of their stocks or invest further in a depressed market would cause them to lose heavily.
It’s a golden opportunity to pick up some undervalued stocks with attractive yields now.
However, as nobody knows how low the market could go, it is wiser to invest cautiously even at the current depressed level.
Adopt a long-term investing strategy in accordance with your financial capability and don’t forget to diversify.
By doing so, you should be able to build a resilient portfolio before the market recovers.
A market wouldn’t remain depressed for too long.
Upon accumulating your desired stocks, just sit back and wait for the attractive dividends to come.
Investments are for long term, thus you don’t need to worry too much of the daily price movements.
Enjoy your cup of coffee every morning and think positively of your investments.
A happy mood allows your brain to think better.
Covid-19 has caused havoc, but it has also created an opportunity for those with financial capability to invest now.
As the saying goes, “When there is a crisis, there is also an opportunity.”
Let’s hope that the pandemic would be contained as soon as possible.

Patrick Teh,
Ipoh,
Malaysia



COVD-19 is not a fight for one or some
It is a fight for everyone
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 28 March 2020

The health issue on CORONA VIRUS or also known as the COVID-19 is not really a joke.
It is a worldwide problem that we are battling now.
It does not discriminate age, sex, race nor the state of life.
The truth in here is that it kills and who ever be the victim will die alone, no family and friend in his/her side until he put into rest.
Today, the death toll jumps to 45 including our medical front liners who are not only battling the Pandemic COVID-19 but also battling for their own lives.
As of today, nine Philippine doctors have died because of the virus.
As health practitioners, they did not escape from the COVID-19 infection.
How many ordinary citizens have died from the COVD-19 infection?
Accordingly, the doctors contracted the virus because there were infected by persons or patients who did not declare that they have symptoms of COVID-19 or that they are infected by the COVID-19 because they were afraid that they will be isolated or discriminated against.
Well, this is truly an irresponsible act.
If these people continue to do such thing, not only doctors will die but all of us.
If we want to go back on our normal lives, go back to work, to schools, to vacations, and community quarantine or total lock down will be lifted, let us cooperate and do our part. Let us be responsible.
Let us help fight COVID-19. Cooperate with the government.
This is not just a fight of one or some, it is a fight of everyone.
So, Stay at home and Save lives.

Sandra Ballaran,
Peace Advocate,
Manila,
Philippines




China Embassy in Thailand accuses the US
Of using coronavirus to smear and attack China
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 27 March 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Saturday 21 March 2020

Re: "Don't believe lies", in Bangkok Post, PostBag, March 21.
Michael George DeSombre, the US Ambassador to Thailand deliberately used the novel coronavirus epidemic to smear and attack China.
It is necessary for the Chinese side to set the record straight.
At first, some American officials arbitrarily labelled the virus and linked it to China, which was strongly opposed by the international community, including many Americans.
The chair of the US Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus said it is dangerous referring to Covid-19 as the "Chinese virus" at a time when misinformation has led to racist and xenophobic attacks against Asian Americans. The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasised to avoid any indication of ethnic, geographic or other associations with the virus.
The pandemic of influenza H1N1 in 2009 originated in North America but we don't call it "the North American flu".
Not to mention even Robert R Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) prevaricated over the actual number of deaths from Covid-19 during 2019-2020 influenza season.
Who on earth is lying?
Who's hiding the truth?
The US administration owes the world an explanation.
Some Americans turned to distort the facts, attacking China for not being open or transparent on information sharing.
As a matter of fact, China has been providing very timely updates to the WHO and related countries starting from last December.
Since Jan 3, China has been notifying the US side of epidemic developments, prevention and control measures on a regular basis.
Principal officials of Chinese and American health authorities and the CDC spoke on the phone frequently.
Two American experts attended the China-WHO Joint Mission and conducted a nine-day field trip to China.
Interestingly, on Jauary 25, President Trump tweeted that "China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. The US greatly appreciates China's efforts and transparency".
And later on March 13, President Trump told reporters that the data China shared are helpful for the US efforts against the epidemic.
The US's performance of a 180-degree turn begs the question: Who on earth is lying?
The outbreak is growing rapidly in the US and lies cannot save American people's lives.
While the US administration is still having trouble updating accurate national data on daily cases, and trying to blame China's "misinformation" for its failure to prevent the epidemic, the US media revealed that several US senators were informed of the real seriousness of US outbreak and secretly sold off their personal stocks as early as February.
Even Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia admitted that "the country which has actually been responsible for a large amount of these (coronavirus cases in Australia) has actually been the United States".
Who is not open, transparent and accountable?
While continuing our fight against the disease at home, China is also reaching out to the international community, providing assistance to about one hundred countries in need, including Thailand.
This virus knows no borders.
The urgent task for the international community is to defeat Covid-19 together.
We urge the US side to stop blame-shifting and lying, put its own house in order and play a constructive role in enhancing international health cooperation against the disease.

Yang Yang,
Counsellor and Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Thailand,
Bankok,
Thailand




Call for ASEAN to coordinate policies
To mitigate spread of Covid-19 in the region
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 25 March 2020
First published in the Star, Tuesday 24 March 2020

The director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
Hidden in his terse statement was an ominous warning: “We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time.”
Given that the world is more integrated today that ever before, pandemics can disrupt international trade and supply chains.
This in turn will affect health, transport, tourism and trade sectors across the globe. In South-East Asia, members of Asean have not taken a coordinated response yet despite the serious threat of the pandemic.
Every country has implemented different strategies.
Thus far, Malaysia has taken the most stringent action by implementing a two-week national movement control order (MCO).
Others have taken different measures.
International visitors have been banned in some countries.
Unfortunately, given the transnational nature of a pandemic, individual national responses cannot be fully effective.
The recent tabligh gatherings in Malaysia and Indonesia demonstrate how lack of coordination can open new opportunities to spread the disease.
What we need is a global response.
Asean should urgently coordinate policies to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 in the region while making sure that trade, medical and food supply chains are not disrupted.
Asean could lead the global response by convening a virtual emergency summit on Covid-19 to:
Implement an Asean Movement Control Order (Amco) until March 30 this year. During this period, the Asean visa-free regime should be suspended.
There should be a total ban on inter-state travel to control events like the tabligh and other religious gatherings.
Under Amco, a common list of travel restrictions for other nationals sho
uld also be instituted.
Amco could be extended by a further two weeks or more depending on the situation;
Give exemptions to experts, diplomats and other emergency travel needs, if necessary;
Identify guidelines for inter-state land, air and sea movement of cargo, including food and medical supplies;
Identify major hospitals in each country as the key crisis response centres;
Secure international support for these hospitals from Asean’s dialogue partners; and Issue common Covid-19 health guidelines in multiple languages through the Internet and media.

Datuk Dr Ilango Karuppannan,
Director
Public Sector Reform Division
Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit




When will the wayward Australians learn that
No man is an island
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 25 March 2020

( see the article ' Coronavirus : Australian woman to be kicked out of China for going jogging ' ( Yahoo News Australia 20/3/20 ) in disregard of China's
self - isolation regulation ).
Australians on the beach : Disregard COVID-19 social distancing warning
( The Southeast Asian Times 24 March ) is a display of the " I'm alright, Jack " mentality that has come to characterise the Australian nation.
It is the same mentality that has been responsible for disregarding climate change notwithstanding its harmful impacts.
It's a shame that a literate people living in an advanced First World democracy - with unhindered access to appropriate scientific evidence and information - should conduct themselves in such a " toad in the well " backward manner.
When will the wayward Australians learn that " no man is an island " and that
we have a duty of care for our fellow human beings and for planet earth?

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney
Australia



Thai's returning to home provinces
From Pattaya and Bangkok taking COVID-19 with them
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 24 March 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Sunday 22 March 2020

For the past two months, I have been closely following news about Covid-19.
Today, Italy reached a new record in deaths.
It seems like an entire generation is being wiped out there and many younger patients are also becoming "history".
In the past three days, Thailand has had 50+ cases, which proves things are escalating.
Soon, if not already, people from Pattaya and Bangkok will be returning to their home provinces and taking the disease with them.
Soon we will see local clusters across the country, and in the near future, the number of cases per day will surge to 500.
France did not go into lockdown mode until they had about 7,000 cases.
It was the same in Germany and Spain.
China, however, issued stringent lockdown measures as soon as it hit 570 cases.
I predict most large countries will fare the same as Italy if not worse.
For Thailand, the situation can become really critical if the virus gets out of control. We have to remember that people testing positive today have incubated the disease for six to 14 days.
It is possible the virus is spreading like wildfire in the country because social distancing is not Thai people's best quality.

Morten Brendefur,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Filipino's call for acceptence
Of COVID-19

The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 23 March 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Sunday 22 March 2020

In this time of COVID-19 pandemic, many people worry about possible loss of income, resources, and lives.
Some people worry about imaginary and trivial things, and others worry without doing anything.
Some people do everything they can and still worry.
However, some people do what they can and don’t worry, because they know that beyond what they can do, things are no longer in their hands.
They find it reasonable and soothing to accept things that are beyond their control, and find it irrational, predictably frustrating, and stressful to resist things that are out of their control.
The frustration and stress not only add to the tragedy, but are even worse than the tragedy itself.
Acceptance relieves, calms, and gives peace of mind.
In the Lord’s prayer, a person asks for God’s will to be done.
Jesus accepted his passion.
In the serenity prayer, a person asks God to grant him or her the serenity to accept the things he or she cannot change.
The Greek stoics were experts in acceptance.
Because they acknowledged the fact that many things are temporary, matter is destructible, and people are mortal, they gladly accepted losing them.
They also believed that everything and everyone they had belonged to nature.
If they lost these things, they said to themselves that the owner had simply taken them back.
They even embraced their own deaths.
While we quarantine ourselves, let us take precautions, rest, pray, bond with our family, develop ourselves, assess our values, declutter our homes, and accept things beyond our control, instead of worrying.
As Leo Aikman says, “Blessed is the person who is too busy to worry in the daytime and too sleepy to worry at night.”
The Bible also asks, “Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it?” So why worry?

Jori Gervasio R. Benson,
Manila,
Philippines




Call for deployment of health care workers
Not deployment of police and military
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 22 March 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Friday 20 March 2020

I am a medical student, and I don’t understand why a lot of people think we want health care workers to literally replace the military manning the checkpoints.
The call for #SolusyongMedikalHindiAksyongMilitar is a call for adequate medical support.
The COVID-19 pandemic is, after all, a health crisis.
What we need is free, accessible health care for all.
We need enough funding for the mass production of the UP-developed COVID-19 test kits; free massive testing; free masks, soaps, alcohol, and medicines; mass sterilization of schools and other public places; more health care workers deployed especially to far-flung communities to detect infections as early as possible and to decongest hospitals; increased budget for our hospitals and emergency response teams; and enough medical supplies for our medical frontliners who risk their lives every day, without them having to beg for donations.
And yet, we are met with thousands of policemen and soldiers armed with rifles - many of whom have no personal protective equipment and thermal scanners, are lenient on the enforcement of social distancing and unaware of what their protocol is if ever they encounter an individual suspected of being infected, and are unaccompanied by barangay health care workers.
The call for #SolusyongMedikalHindiAksyongMilitar is a call for adequate economic aid.
In any crisis, it is always the poor that are most severely affected.
The farmers.
The contractual workers.
The jeepney drivers.
Those who can’t work from home.
Those who don’t even have homes.
Those who only have enough money to get through the day, not for stocking up on food and medical supplies.
Those who can’t afford to self-quarantine or be admitted into a hospital and risk leaving their families to starve.
Those who don’t even have the means to go to the nearest hospital or health center.
What we need are food, clean water, shelter, and other services for those displaced by the “community quarantine.”
We need reliable water supply.
We need the prices of basic commodities to be frozen.
We need subsidy for the workers who have now been deprived of their only source of income.
The call for #SolusyongMedikalHindiAksyongMilitar is a call for informed rule.
We need a clear and comprehensive nationwide information drive to explain how to protect one’s self and others who are more vulnerable at a time like this, and to alleviate mass panic and hoarding of supplies.
We need more scientists and health professionals in charge, instead of an incompetent politician whose knee-jerk reaction to a public health crisis is to call on his troops and threaten with arrest those who don’t comply.
We need a leader who acts like one - who doesn’t act based on his own personal interests; who has concrete plans backed by science and data; and who recognizes and gives credit to the real heroes of this story, instead of feeding the egos of his best friend and his master.
The call for #SolusyongMedikalHindiAksyongMilitar is a call for accountability. After slashing P10 billion off our national budget for health and allocating this to intelligence funds and “confidential” funds instead; after donating $1.4 million worth of masks to China when our own country was in need; after repeatedly refusing to impose a travel ban from mainland China as a precautionary measure in the name of “diplomacy” - we ask: Who does this administration really serve?
We need information, not force.
We need medical and financial support, not guns.
Enforcement of a “lockdown” must go hand in hand with the necessary health and economic measures. Otherwise, it’s just another disaster waiting to happen.

Lorielle Ann Aquino,
Manila,
Philippines




The illegal trade of wild animals is still flourishing
In Bangkok's Chatuchak wet market
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 21 March 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Wednesday 18 March 2020

Re: "Will our food bring new diseases?" in Opinion, Bangkok Post, March Wednesday18, 2020
Jason Baker raises important issues regarding the risks which wet markets present as sources of diseases like Covid-19. Of critical concern is the harbouring of wild, exotic animals at such markets.
A recent episode of 60 Minutes Australia again highlighted Bangkok's Chatuchak market as a major centre for the illegal trade of wild animals. It is disturbing that after years and years of repeated exposés the illegal trade of wild animals is still flourishing in Chatuchak. This dangerous and risky trade should be closed down immediately, both for the benefit of the environment and wildlife, but also in the interest of the health and well-being of the population.

Samanea Saman,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Deaths and abuse in police and immigration detention
Continue in Malaysia unabated
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 20 March 2020
First published in the Star, Friday 13 March 2020

EDICT (Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together) is glad to join the chorus of welcome for the honourable Tan Sri Idrus Harun’s appointment as Attorney General.
We look forward to him filling the lacuna of leadership in the AGC (Attorney General’s Chambers) with respect to addressing the scourge of deaths and abuse in custody in Malaysia.
The government does not publish data regularly about deaths and abuse in custody. Monitoring by civil society organisations indicates that deaths and abuse in custody, whether in police lock-ups, prisons or immigration detention centres, continue unabated.
Edict’s involvement in coroner’s inquests and subsequent civil action against the authorities in high courts and courts of higher jurisdiction have revealed many shortcomings that can be addressed by the Attorney General's Chanmbers (AGC).
The following are five examples.
First, in a civil action taken by the family of a victim against the perpetrators of a death in police custody, the Attorney General's Chanmbers (AGC) chose to represent the perpetrators while prosecuting them in a criminal court.
Edict recommends that the Attorney General (AG) establishes and enforces a rule barring such representation.
Second, deputy public prosecutors (DPP) who serve as conducting officers during inquests often act as if they are defending the authorities instead of assisting the coroner to arrive at findings of fact.
Edict recommends that the Attorney General (AG) establishes training and monitoring of deputy public prosecutors (DPP) to ensure they assist the coroner rather than the authorities.
Third, there is a lack of urgency in conducting inquests.
In one case we are handling, the coroner failed to conduct an inquest.
The inquest date was eventually set by order of a high court and subsequent highlighting of the matter via the media by Edict.
Edict recommends that the Attorney General's Chanmbers (AGC) establishes a monitoring system to track and ensure timely conduct of inquests in all cases of custodial deaths (as laid out in Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Code).
Fourth, currently the Attorney General's Chanmbers (AGC) as a matter of routine appeals the award of damages by civil courts
to “bargain down” substantial awards which judges choose to hand down in order to “send a loud message” to the authorities and the government about reprehensible and egregious malfeasance.
Edict recommends that the Attorney General (AG) accepts, as a matter of course, awards handed down by judges and treat appeals as an exception rather than the rule.
Fifth, also due to appealing as a matter of routine (rather than case by case), awards for damages are subject to appalling delays.
In one case where negligence has been amply established, the wife and six children of a victim haven’t received one sen eight years after he died.
Our fourth recommendation covers this and will loudly signal a humanitarian response to suffering caused by misfeasance and a refusal to even appear to condone belligerent abuse of power.
Edict wishes Idrus much success and joy in his tenure as Attorney General and hopes that his legacy will include actions to end the scourge of deaths and abuse in custody.

Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together (EDICT)
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia



Call for Thai immigration office
To take stepes to avoid spread of Covid-19
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 19 March 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Wednesday 18 March 2020

It looks like the government is asking everyone to take steps to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Everyone except the Immigration department, that is.
Mass gatherings are to be avoided, yet Immigration herds hundreds of people into its offices every single day.
Some government officials blame foreigners for the spread of Covid-19, yet foreigners are amassed five days a week and then sent back out onto the streets.
What is the Immigration department going to do to alleviate this problem?
Probably nothing, because foreigners are cash cows and who cares if one of them gets Covid-19?
After all, they are making a big deal about foreigners having insurance, and foreigners are "rich".
Maybe a foreigner who contracts Covid-19 from going to an Immigration office should sue Immigration for being forced to enter an unsafe area.

Koff-koff Sneeze,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Indigenous lands damaged by mining
A very common trend in the region including Fiji
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 19 March 2020

We learn from the letter by Luwi James of Port Moresby that Indigenous people of Madang, PNG to sue China for environment damage from mining ( The Southeast Asian Times 17/3 ).
There might be a cautionary tale in the experience of the indigenous people of Madang for other indigenous people in the region, including Fiji, who are quick to accept Chinese mining without proper due diligence regarding possible damaging environmental impacts.
The mining deals are often cut by local politicians purporting to advance the interests of the indigenous/local people.
The subsequent reality following the commencement of mining is often the very opposite.
The mining and the accompanying environment damage undermine their sustainable livelihood, health and well-being.
It's a very common trend.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia



Indigenous people of Madang, PNG
To sue China for environmental damage
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 17 March 2020
First published in the National, Thursday 12 March 2020

The status of Ramu Nickel and Cobalt Mine has reached extreme point of concern and requires accurate information to be made known to the resource owners and the Madang people.
All parties have to understand the initial inception of the mine to its current stage.
According to the records, a company known as the Carpenters sold the mining licence to Highlands Pacific and later Chinese state-owned Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC), developer of Ramu Nickel and Cobalt project purchase the licence from Highlands Pacific.
To operate the mining, a meeting was convened in Beijing, China and an agreement was signed based on compulsory land acquisition between the developer Chinese state-owned Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC), respective members of Madang and the Government in which Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare reigned as prime minister and former member of parliament James Yali was the governor of Madang.
Current Madang Governor, Peter Yama was then member of parliament for Usino-Bundi but was not a member of the party that went to Beijing.
Yama is now backing the indigenous people of Madang to sue Chinese state-owned Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) for the damages done to the sea.
Madang Government is fighting against piles of lawsuits and propagandas to deliver services to the rural population of Madang.

Luwi James,
Port Moresby
Papua New Guinea



Generations of Filipino's affected by cancellation
US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 16 March 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Thursday 12 March 2020

Annulling a marriage is often lengthy and messy, while it only takes one bad hair day for the President to trash a long-standing treaty.
Annulment only involves both spouses.
Writing off a treaty, on the other hand, impacts the entire nation and, potentially, generations of its citizens.
When the framers of the 1987 Constitution were stacking the final texts on Article VII, Sec. 21, they probably did not have in mind a future where someone occupying the highest post in the land would brook no qualms trashing international agreements, ex parte.
The constitutional provision reads: “No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.”
The apparent lapse in putting safeguards on what happens next was what the recent hubbub was all about.
The Senate’s hands are tied, perhaps mindful of the statutory proscription “expressio unius est exclusio alterius,” i.e., what the law does not include, it excludes.
And a lacuna has also found its way into Article IX (Duration and Termination) of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), viz: “This Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) agreement shall enter into force on the date on which the parties have notified each other in writing through the diplomatic channel that they have completed their constitutional requirements for entry into force. This agreement shall remain in force until the expiration of 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.”
Inattention to filling the sentence with qualifiers (colatilla), even at the risk of sounding like a broken record, enabled one person to scrap a document that presumably went through a long vetting process during the deliberative phase.
With the noise that followed, the Senate had to run to the Supreme Court for relief. Meanwhile, the omission is now costing so much confusion, not to mention frayed nerves between long-standing allies.
If there’s any lesson this issue has brought to fore, it is that writers and authors of treaties and other international agreements (or even common documents) should have known better.

Ted P. Penaflor II,
Manila,
Philippines



New Philippines Ant-Terrorism Act 2020 allows the military
To detain and arrest without a warrant
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 15 March 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Friday 13 March 2020

The Senate recently passed Senate Bill No. 1083, which aims to repeal Republic Act No. 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007, replacing it with an amended version dubbed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
If enacted, the new antiterrorism bill will become the most potent weapon the government can use to stifle dissent.
In the hands of an administration that has shown its penchant for using the law to silence and punish its critics, and security apparatuses known for human rights abuses, the proposed measure will only serve as a legal framework for a crackdown on progressive organizations, civil society groups, activists, members of the media, and individuals labeled as dissidents or “enemies of the state.”
SB 1083 would broaden the powers already granted to law enforcement agencies under RA 9372, enabling them to conduct lengthier surveillance operations, wiretap and record private communications, access databases, examine bank records, and freeze the assets of persons and organizations suspected of financing terrorism or having connections with alleged terrorists.
Worse, SB 1083 would also authorize the military to carry out surveillance activities previously reserved only for the police.
Under the proposed law, military personnel and other law enforcement agents would also be allowed to carry out warrantless arrests and detain suspected terrorists for an initial period of up to 14 days, extendable for another 10 days - a significant increase from the three-day maximum period for detention permitted under RA 9372.
Notably, under SB 1083, those arrested and detained without warrant would not even have the benefit of being presented before a judge, as the bill removed, with no justification, this safeguard under RA 9372.
Apart from the dangerously broad powers given to the police, the military, and other government agencies under SB 1083, the proposed measure also expands the already vague definition for “terrorism” under the Human Security Act, with no clear parameters that could limit its application.
SB 1083 takes it a step further by criminalizing acts that have traditionally been considered legitimate exercises of free speech, freedom of expression, the right of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.
Arguably, the most dangerous innovation sought to be introduced by SB 1083 is a mechanism allowing for the immediate declaration of an organization as a terrorist or outlawed group, with no prior notice whatsoever to the subject organization, no opportunity for it to respond, and no hearing.
The brazenly oppressive provisions of SB 1083 are alarming, to say the least. Unless vigilance is exercised in the coming weeks, and action taken to prevent it from becoming law, we risk finding ourselves, once again, having to contend with a significantly diminished democratic space and considerable threats to even the most fundamental of freedoms.

Ephraim B. Cortez, secretary general,
Josalee's S. Deinla, spokesperson,
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers,
Manila,
Philippines




Call for Thailand to move beyond
20th century economics
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 14 March 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Sunday 8 March 2020

Edward Kitlertsirivatana’s thought-provoking questions about why there are so many Thais labouring abroad both legally and illegally should give rise to serious contemplation of the country’s economy.
Ironically, while hundreds of thousands of Thais venture to other lands in search of daily wages ranging up to 2,000 baht or more, the Thai economy itself is hugely dependent on labourers from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.
Without the migrant workers from neighbouring countries - eager to work for the 320 baht daily wage or less - the Thai economy, as currently structured, would rapidly collapse.
Thailand needs to urgently develop supporting infrastructure, policies and a high-tech workforce needed for a robust and vibrant future economy.
The chronic poverty of rural farmers trapped in low-income drudgery highlights the futility of maintaining tens of millions of people in the agricultural sector.
Thailand must move beyond 20th century economic approaches if it is to avoid being left in the dust of more progressive and visionary countries.

Samanea Saman,
Bangkok,
Thailand



New Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief
Must be able to act without fear or favour
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 13 March 2020
First published in the Star, Wednesday 11 March 2020

Congratulations to Datuk Seri Azam Baki for being appointed Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner.
Assessing our past and thinking aloud about what has happened in the last 20 months, it seems that Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has done better than expected.
And some decisions made by the previous Pakatan Harapan government - not all - have been wise ones that have put us on the path towards being a better nation with a culture of integrity.
For a start, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), among nine other government agencies, has been operating as an independent entity since July 1, 2018, reporting directly to Parliament.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), previously known as the Anti-Corruption Agency, was established in 2009, modelled after Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption with the hopes that our version would be able to combat corruption effectively here.
One of the most important and unique features of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), is the five independent committees that monitor it to ensure its integrity and to protect citizen’s rights.
These five committees are the Anti-Corruption Advisory Board, the Special Committee on Corruption, the Complaints Committee, the Operations Review Panel, and the Corruption Consultation and Prevention Panel. Even Hong Kong’s agency does not anything like this.
However, I believe these committees have not been operational for a while.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), one of some 150 anti-corruption agencies around the world today, can offer an effective institutional approach to eradicating and fighting corruption – but only if it is provided with the means to carry out its mission.
Our government of the day must ensure that it is a capable, functionally independent and well-resourced anti-corruption agency in line with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) Article 6: Anti-corruption Bodies and Article 36: Specialised Authorities.
The agency should also be in line with the Jakarta Statement on Principles for Anti-Corruption Agencies.
The Jakarta Statement provides more credible guidance and parameters for a strong anti-corruption agency and merits endorsement by the the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) Conference of States Parties.
Among the guidelines is to have a clear mandate to tackle corruption through prevention, education, awareness-raising, investigation and prosecution; and the anti-corruption agency head must be appointed through a process that ensures his or her apolitical stance, impartiality, neutrality, integrity and competence.
Malaysia signed the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) on December 9, 2003, and subsequently ratified it on September 24, 2008.
The Convention entered into force on October 4, 2008, in Malaysia.
Perception about the state of corruption in the nation has improved, as seen in Malaysia’s performance in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2019 where Malaysia scored 53/100 points and was positioned at 51/180. Only one year into our National Anti-Corruption Plan at that point and Malaysia had jumped 10 spots to 51st place out of 180 countries from previous year’s 61st place with a score of 47/100.
Still, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) requires more autonomy and independence from the executive branch of the government if it is to eradicate corruption effectively.
The agency must be given full and complete independence as a Constitutional body.
The appointment of the new chief commissioner is hopefully independent and not influenced by anyone with a higher power and authority.
The new chief must have security of tenure and he must be able to act without fear or favour.

Dr Km Loi,
Subang Jaya,
Selangor,
Malaysia

 

 

China would protect Philippine President Duterte
Against any move to oust him from power
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 12 March 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Tuesday 10 March 2020

This is in connection with the articles Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) probes Sino soldiers in Pogos” in Philippine Inquirer News March 7, 2020 and “Duterte has chosen: Province of China” in Philippine Inquirer Opinion, March 5, 2020, the latter by retired senior associate justice Antonio Carpio.
We are very much concerned with these developments.
The entry of able-bodied Chinese nationals into the country posing as Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) workers, the influx of hundreds of millions of dollars, the permission given to Chinese firms to build communication infrastructure inside Philippine military bases, the shooting range in a subdivision in Parañaque, and the surreptitious “visits” of Chinese warships in Davao are a serious cause for concern.
The stories my late grandfather told us come to mind.
Before Imperial Japan invaded the Philippines in December 1941, there were thousands of Japanese citizens working here as buyers of used bottles, scrap iron, and old newspapers.
When the war broke out, those Japanese turned out to be officers of the Japanese imperial army.
President Duterte’s unilateral abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, simply because he was irked by the visa cancellation of Sen. Ronald de la Rosa, now looks to be a lame excuse.
As we see it, the abrogation may have been nudged by China.
With the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) gone, China’s People’s Liberation Army fills the vacuum.
This is similar to US President Donald Trump’s order to pull out the US forces in Syria to satisfy Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose troops took the place the US Army vacated.
If the allegations of Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon are true - that there are 3,000 China's People's Liberaton Army (PLA) soldiers posing as Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) workers here, then we are in very deep trouble.
Why is Mr. Duterte silent about all this?
The reason for his reticence may be his earlier statement that in case there is a move to oust him from power, “China is going to protect him.”
This then gives credence to Carpio’s March 5 column.
Where are the patriotic officers and men of the Armed Forces of the Philippines?

Ramon Mayuga,
Manila,
Philippines



COVID-19 infections
Rise in the Philippines
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 11 March 2020

It is quiet alarming when news came out that the number of confirmed cases of COVID in the Philippines rose to 10 already.
For some they may say that it is somehow small number compared to other countries but for me it is already disturbing since there is still no cure for this virus.
I understand that different countries are now doing their best on how to cure and contain this virus however, as of this writing there are a number of patient all over the world that undergoing tests and observation.
Philippine President now declared the state of public health emergency therefore all government agencies including uniformed personnel will now assist the Local Government Units (LGU) and patients if needed to prevent the spread of this virus.
It is in the midst of a crisis that we need to strengthen the medical experts, local leaders, the police, and the military working hand in hand to help those affected of this disease.

Ezekiel Manaois,
Manila,
Philippines



No one in the Philippine Cabinet objects to ending
The US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) do they ?
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 10 March 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Friday 6 March 2020

I can support the reported position of Senate President Tito Sotto to seek a judicial pronouncement on terminating international agreements, in Philippine Inquirer March 1, 2020.
One-man rule is anathema, or at least, not preferred, if we are a true democracy. Any great silence in the Constitution must be seen in the context that it is a document of distrust in absolute rule.
No one in the Cabinet objects to ending the US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) do they ?
Was it really ever put in the agenda for a thorough full-blown deliberation?
We may have a “chuwari-wari” Cabinet of echoes, who are just told, not voices who may say, “wait a minute…” and ask “foolish” questions.
And is loyalty to fervent supporter Sen. Bato de la Rosa paramount?
The surprise sudden termination didn’t result, though, in the United States capitulating by resurrecting his canceled visa.
US President Donald Trump instead trumpeted the savings arising from the termination, and our President, said to have had his own US visa problems long ago, oddly claims he has just ensured the former’s reelection.
Involving others is simply more democratic in deciding an issue with polycentric dimensions.
It is to recognize the citizen as a particle of popular sovereignty.
If direct democracy in a country of 105 million is not workable, there is the Senate, through which the people can be heard in a representative democracy.
In one-man rule, the ruler does not feel bound to convene a body like the National Security Council (NSC).
But the Senate may hold hearings, which makes the process not only legally tenable and intellectually respectable, but also leads to a decision that is also sychologically satisfying to the people heard and given some importance.
Pamahalaan ng nakararami, ‘di po ng isang tao lang.
The President should have made a credible show of consulting the Cabinet, the National Security Council (NSC), previous presidents, and the Senate or its leaders, indeed, even the House of Representatives and its leaders.More democratic to avoid unilateral rash decisions.
As Talleyrand would advise, “above all, no zeal.”
The US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) stands for Visiting Forces Agreement, not Virus from America.
If ending it was the right thing, and it may arguably well be, I am not certain it was done in the right way at the right time for the right reason.

R.A.V. Saguisag,
Palanan,
Makati City.
Philippines



A time of crises proves to be an opportune time
For Thai entrepreneurship
The SoutheastAsian Times, Monday 9 March 2020

We gather from the news that three women in Thailand have been arrested and are likely to face prison time for selling hundreds of thousands of used face mask amid the coronavirus crisis ( after washing, ironing and repackaging them to con the buyers into believing them to be new).
A time of crisis is a time of opportunity ( Chinese proverb ).
Indeed it is.
The opportunity more often than not is of the crooked, predatory kind as this case illustrates.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia



Call for Malaysia to explore
New electoral system
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 8 March 2020
First published in the Star Thursday 5 March 2020

On November 3,1774, upon being elected as Member of Parliament for Bristol, England, Edmund Burke told his voters about his role as MP: “But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion...
“Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole – where not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member, indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest or should form a hasty opinion evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far as any other from any endeavour to give it effect.”

In 2020, after 246 years, his audacious speech remains relevant even though no people’s representative is frank or brave enough to speak like Burke.
The Malaysian electoral system based on the mother of parliaments, Westminster, perpetuates the practice.
The moment you elect your MP, it is up to him or her to exercise the power bestowed on him/her subject to the limited disciplinary rules imposed by their party whips.
You can do nothing when your MPs shift their allegiance or decide matters at their own will.
Your only option is to wait for the general election when you would be the boss for one day.
Is our electoral system flawed? You can have your opinions.
However, I do feel that the system has served Malaysia well as it provides stability and certainty especially after each general election.
Proportional representation can cause lots of uncertainty and instability.
A mature democracy can survive such uncertainty, but it can cause havoc in a nurturing democracy.
Proportional representation does have the positive effect of preventing one or two dominant parties from monopolising power. But are we mature enough to adopt proportional representation?
I think it is time for the country to explore a new electoral system to suit the needs of Malaysians in view of the unpleasant events in the past few years.
However, are the parties benefiting from the existing system prepared to forgo their advantages?
In the meantime, fellow voters, you have to live with the representatives you elected in 2018.

Chang Ko Youn,
Ipoh,
Malaysia



Call to reject attempt to call into question
Malaysia's democratic system
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 7 March 2020
First published in the Star, Friday 6 March 2020

Judging from the vitriolic backlash that many political opinions, including mine, face when expressing any hope in the wake of the recent chaos in government, it’s obvious that the public’s recollection of corruption and autocracy is still an open, festering wound.
That the twists and turns of the last few days were no more beneficial to me than to many who abuse me appears to be lost on the haters, who seem to need to vent their rage on anyone trying to establish a factual narrative around the events that have passed.
But, leaving trolls in chatrooms aside, there is also a sinister bias in some mainstream news and foreign opinion writers that take liberties to stretch the facts to suit their perspectives.
The Op-Ed in a recent issue of The Guardian newspaper in Britain struck me as one such glaring example.
A few days back I was accused of click-baiting readers with an opinion piece entitled “Never Forget the 99%” in which I argued that the new government – indeed all governments – should be laser focused on the wellbeing of many, not the select few, if they want to remain in office.
I would submit that the case I was making was relatively benign compared to the yelping headline in The Guardian: “A royal coup: King overturns a historic election”.
This kind of revisionist sensationalism undermines the integrity of Malaysia’s democracy, which worked well enough in 2018 when Pakatan Harapan unseated Barisan Nasional, and, whether we like the result or not, worked again in recent days.
Before you start throwing stones, let me be clear about one thing.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was my party’s (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia) chairman.
In his capacity as its leader, he undertook a political gamble which he lost, hugely. In his determination to retain the PM’s office, he triggered a crisis that spun out of control and could have unleashed great destruction.
Thanks to our Constitutional process it did not, and we should be grateful for that, and debunk any attempt by foreign observers to challenge our rule of law.
Clearly many are dismayed at the outcome.
Their blood is boiling over, in fact.
I certainly don’t blame them, having fought tooth and nail to assist the Pakatan coalition to win the government.
I am no apologist for the corrupt regime that preceded them and I certainly don’t hope for their return.
But we cannot allow accusations of coup d’etats to go unchecked.
The King did not overturn any election.
Instead, he painstakingly interviewed all Members of Parliament until he was satisfied that a government could be formed, and decided swiftly to restore stability to the country.
All this was within his Constitutional authority to do.
Can his decision be challenged, either in court or in Parliamentary session? Absolutely it can.
And it likely will be.
Again that is part of the Constitutional process that we must follow, preserve, and uphold.
Meanwhile, we should reject any attempt to call into question our democratic system itself, for to do so would be to return to jungle law, not the rule of law.
Hopefully, we can at least all agree that if the system keeps working, the rest will follow as the people desire - either at the voting booth or in the courts or through their elected representatives.
That’s as it should be.

Datuk Dr Rais Hussin,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia




Call for accountability for Papua New Guinea's
State owned Enterprises
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 6 March 2020
First published in the National, Monday 2 March 2020

The partial privatisation urging superfunds to invest in State Owned Enterprises sounds like a rescue strategy proposal.
What makes me think that way is that, I have not read too much about State Owned Enterprises (SOE) such as Air Niugini, National Development Bank, Motor Vehicle Insurance Ltd and Papua New Guinea Ports in the media.
Water Papua New Guinea, Eda Ranu, Papua New Guinea Power and Telikom Papua New Guinea are always making headlines and these were the same State Owned Enterprises (SOE) the Nasfund Chief has mentioned as reported last Tuesday in The National.
Why squander our contributions and invest with State Owned Enterprises (SOE) with bad management reputation?
Kumul Consolidation Holdings Ltd (KCHL) needs to look into issues affecting these State Owned Enterprises (SOE) and help strengthen their accountability and depth recovery systems.
State Owned Enterprises (SOE) such as Water Papua New Guinea (PNG), Eda Ranu and Papua New Guinea (PNG) Power suffered because government departments cannot pay their utility bills.
Ongoing in-house issues is one of them.
We cannot solely blame the impact of our economy.
People are behind these organisations.
By looking at this line of issues, my retirement savings can be jeopardised if these State Owned Enterprises (SOE) continue to operate that way.

Annoyed Contributor,
Lae,
Papua New Guinea



Philippines fear that Chinese workers in the Philippines
Are conducting espionage activities
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 5 March 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Wednesday 4 March 2020

That the suspects in the recent killing of a Chinese in Philippine offshore gaming operations (Pogo) worker were found to have Chinese military identification cards with them indicates that the fears expressed by some that these Chinese workers are part of China’s People’s Liberation Army conducting espionage activities in the country have factual basis, and thus not just products of wild imagination as claimed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
This likewise gives credence to the suspicion that the Chinese nationals who secretly entered a naval facility of the Philippines that was not part of any tour package and who took pictures in the dead of night were there for that precise purpose.
Those Chinese nationals should have been immediately arrested (as what became the fate of a Chinese national caught taking photos at a US naval base) and charged for espionage under Article 117 of the Revised Penal Code, for without authority, they entered a naval establishment of the Philippines, took photographs, and thus obtained information of a confidential nature relative to the defense of the Philippine archipelago.
In the absence of evidence to the contrary, their criminal intent is conclusively presumed from the commission of their patently unlawful act.
It is most strange why our military establishment did not charge them, considering their most serious threat to our national security, in light of rumors that Chinese soldiers are, in fact, entering the country in disguise, and who may be called to action at the opportune time to accomplish some sinister plan most clearly against the interests of our people.
More strange is the decision of this administration, through former AFP chief Benjamin Madrigal Jr., to sign a deal Mislatel renamed Dito Telecommunity, which will allow this China-backed telco to set up equipment and infrastructure in military camps and installations, and consequently allow, too, its Chinese personnel to enter our military establishments, surely giving them the opportunity to obtain information of a confidential nature relative to the defense of the Philippine archipelago, which clearly may be used to the injury of the Philippines.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is the approving authority to the said deal and who should know better, has been reported to have expressed the view that there is nothing wrong with the deal, and that he will probably sign the agreement.

Severo Brillantes,
Manila,
Philippines



Human Rights Malaysia calls on Royal Malaysian Police
To cease intimidation of peaceful activists
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 4 March 2020
First published in the Star, Monday 2 March 2020

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) Human Rights Malaysia condemns the actions of the Royal Malaysian Police against peaceful assemblies in the past week and the investigation into activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri under the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
The government of Malaysia does not belong to any ruling elite, nor does it belong to politicians.
The government of Malaysia belongs to the people, and the people must be allowed to voice their support, concerns and criticisms in times of crisis.
The people are the root of any legitimate government and any attempt to stifle their voice is a betrayal of our democracy.
The police should be providing a safe platform for all voices to be heard and not clamping down on civic space and free speech.
They ought to be protecting the rights provided for under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution and ensure that the public can express their views freely, without intimidation.
To this end, Suaram calls on the Royal Malaysian Police to cease its intimidation and protect our democratic space.

Sevan Doraisamy,
Executive Director,
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM),
Human Rights Malaysia,
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia



Call for new Cabinet to represent
All groups and races in Malaysia
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 3 March 2020
First published in the Star, Monday 2 March 2020

Congratulations to Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on being appointed as Malaysia's new Prime Minister.
His appointment as the country’s eighth Prime Minister reduces a little bit the political uncertainty that engulfed the country when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad tendered his resignation as Prime Minister last week and the Pakatan Harapan government collapsed less than two years after it was voted in.
Focus now will be on the appointment of new Cabinet ministers.
It is very important that the new Cabinet is representative of all groups of people and races in Malaysia.
The Cabinet cannot only comprise individuals from any one single group or race if the new government is to govern the country effectively.
The country’s new leader must accept the reality that Malaysia is a complex country made up many different groups of people and races.
Disregarding this fact could lead the new government and the entire country to chaos once again, and eventually even destruction.
In a multiracial country, mutual respect and tolerance is crucial.
Without such an attitude, it will be hard for anyone to govern.
As such, it is important for everybody to set aside any differences they might have had previously and work together to ensure the progress of our country.
We should actually be grateful that ours is a multiracial society, as this mix enriches the country.
We can learn about each other and help each other to better the nation as a whole.
This matter is written in the Quran, as God made human beings into many races so that our lives would be made more meaningful and enjoyable through the spirit of friendship and cooperation we can generate between different races.
Just imagine what would happen if only a single race occupied this planet - life would indeed be dull.
Every individual, as well as every race, has strengths and weaknesses.
There is no such thing as a perfect individual or a perfect race.
We all need each other if we want to succeed, and if we want to make our country great. Instead of arguing with each other, we must learn from and cooperate with each other so that we can live in peace and enjoy prosperity.
Malaysia has been and will always be a multiracial country.
Even before we gained our independence in 1957, Malayan society comprised different races.
This fact is undeniable and must be accepted by everyone in the country.
As a multiracial country, conflict and misunderstanding can easily arise if we are not respectful towards each other.
As such, it is very important that the new government takes this point seriously and ensures that the new Cabinet represents all groups of people and races that Malaysia contains.

Dr Muzaffar Syah Mallow,
Senior Lecturer,
Faculty of Syariah & Law,
Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia




Political manoeuvring to change government mid-stream
Is not in Malaysia's national interest
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 1 March 2020
First published in the Star, Friday 28 February 2020

Emeritus Professor Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi’s article “An overturning of popular view” in The Star, February 27, 2020 best summarises the legitimacy of the political events currently unfolding in our country.
On top of the complex constitutional issues raised by the good professor, there is the simple yet valid argument that reasonable and right-thinking Malaysians would support the fundamental principle that the Pakatan Harapan government elected by the majority of Malaysian voters is entitled to run its full term unless it is involved in financial or criminal maladministration.
It is important to remember that a strong democracy and government helps to provide a stable environment for economic progress and social growth.
Right now, it is a triple whammy for Malaysia as it has to deal with the economic slowdown due to tensions and uncertainties stemming from the US-China trade row, checking the spread of Covid-19 and now the current disruptive political shake-up.
No doubt politicking is part and parcel of our democratic system, but intense political manoeuvring to change a government mid-stream is simply not in our national interest.
Our democratic convention is based on a five-year election cycle to ensure political and social stability. A full term allows the incumbent government and leaders to focus their energies and efforts on the country’s needs, which currently includes dealing with Covid-10.
It is not surprising to see the high level of dismay and disagreement at replacing the present government and the formation of a new coalition. Pakatan should be allowed a full five-year term of government.

Sze Loong Steve Ngeow,
Kajang,
Malaysia



Separation of powers looks more like
The fusion of powers in Thailand
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 1 March 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Friday 28 February 2020

It has been said that the most important foundation of a healthy democratic system, i.e. the separation of powers or the division into the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary branches - the trias politica model.
Although the powers that be, claim that we have such a checks-and-balances system, in practice and in reality it looks more and more like the fusion of powers, starting from the drafting of a constitution that blatantly favours one group of power while shunning the voices of other groups.
The excuse is that this is a Thaksin-proof constitution in response to the claim at the time of a parliamentary dictatorship.
But look where it got us.
The executive branch also has the privileges of having a Senate at its beck and call, undermining one of the key principles of participatory democracy which ideally should be inclusive.
The Constitutional Court verdict, though does not deviate from the letter of the law, confirms what many critics of the regime have feared all along, that it may be just a disguised authoritarian tool.
Let's hope this is just a conspiracy theory that has no basis in reality.
Otherwise, it would be very hard to see how real democracy can take root in this country.

Anan Pakvasa,
Banglok,
Thailand




Call for Malaysia to follow China
Ban sale and consumption of exotic meats
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 29 February 2020
First published in the Star, Friday 28 February 2020

I refer to the special report headlined “Illegal trade might pose health risk” in The Star, February 25, 2020.
The pangolin, which is traded in the black market in China, has been identified as a possible intermediate host of the virus that causes Covid-19.
There are other animals, including lizards, monkeys, apes, snakes and rhino, that are traded in China, Indonesia and Africa and are considered as delicacies.
The global wildlife trade is rising in Asia due to e-commerce and social media openly advertising exotic animals for food as well as pets, and there are plenty of customers from all over the world.
The scales of pangolins are ground into powder and consumed for their healing powers while the flesh is sold as exotic meat in Hong Kong, Singapore, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, the consumption of exotic meat and illegal trade in wildlife is now under the eyes of the authorities, and seems to be a silver lining for endangered wildlife like the pangolin.
The Chinese government has issued a comprehensive ban on the sale and consumption of exotic meats, and is also looking at banning the illegal trade of all wildlife and other animals that could be possible hosts of viruses.
Malaysia should be looking at doing the same thing.
In Malaysia, the enforcement authorities must conduct random checks on food outlets that sell all kinds of exotic animal meat which could contain the deadly virus.
Some of these outlets in Negri Sembilan (Titi-Jelebu, Nilai and Lenggeng Broga, for example) also serve booze that are detrimental to humans.
When people stop consuming all forms of exotic meat, the illegal trade in wildlife would be ended. When that happens, we would see an end to the killing of wildlife for human consumption.

C. Sathasivam Sitheravellu,
Seremban,
Malaysia



Malaysia's constitution allows
Interim PM to hold office indefinitely
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 28 February 2020
First published in the Star, Thursday 27 February 2020

At this stage, Malaysia may well be described as a dysfunctional state rather than a failed state as is commonly understood.
A failed state is usually associated with the collapse of a central authority, lack of the rule of law, widespread disorder and matters of such genus.
As things stand today, none of these elements of a failed state exist in our country.
However, we have a rather unique facade of a “Westminster style” democratically elected government now consisting of one man.
As I am writing this, we have an interim prime minister without a cabinet, not even a similarly constituted “interim cabinet” which ordinarily would allow its sitting members to continue to co-govern our country until permanent appointments are made.
This situation may be a first in a common law jurisdiction where the principle is that the prime minister is entrusted with the duty to govern in consultation with the cabinet.
Even in countries where presidents are directly elected, the principal officers of government are, at the very least, promptly appointed to ensure continuance of governance.
It has been argued that our Constitution allows an interim PM to hold office indefinitely and that there is no time limit imposed on the interim PM to appoint cabinet members even in key ministries.
Given that collective decision-making is the cornerstone of a legitimate democratic authority, this argument goes against every principle of good governance.
It is painful to see the breakdown of the very heart of our system of governance.
It is just as bad to realise that the expectations, or rather the sacred trust, that a majority of Malaysians placed in the hands of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s government and its supporting components lie crushed.
The hopes and expectations of ordinary Malaysians do not seem to matter to some of our politicians of all stripes.
All politicians are therefore urged to take a step backwards and take a good hard look at the people you are required to serve.
You should be concerned with providing proper and accessible healthcare, quality education for our young ones, proper job creation, etc.
Stop being unduly focused on who should hold the levers of power or who should be absolved from their alleged crimes or how wealthy one could get through political positions or alignments.
Truth be told, the only reason why Malaysia has not yet descended from a dysfunctional country to a failed state is the principled and mature role played by His Majesty our Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Reports available in the public domain have revealed a King with a strong mind and hand.
His Majesty is the glue that holds our country together at this very moment.
He is the central authority in our country without whom we might have descended into chaos.
With no disrespect to the other Malay Rulers, it would seem that the Almighty has placed the right man at the right place and at the right time.
That said, the general request to Dr Mahathir is to honour his promises or representations (if preferred) in respect of the succession plans.
If indeed Dr Mahathir now has reservations in this regard, please tell the nation of such reservations.
The people need to hear it from him.
It should be noted that his utterances have great influence over the Malaysian mind, including those who do not always agree with him.
Further, while it is generally agreed that there are indeed pressing economic issues that require urgent attention, it is also a generally held view that announcing clear succession plans would go a long way in assisting to overcome our economic challenges.
Dear Dr Mahathir, what is at stake here is the stable growth and survival of our country.
Our government cannot disintegrate any further. Paraphrasing Robert Frost, you have “promises to keep and miles to go before you sleep”.
While most Malaysians hope and pray that you would have many more miles to go, the fragility of humans is also not lost on us.

Watson Peters,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia



War on drug in Philippines
A war against the poor
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 27 February 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Monday 24 February 2020

Following Vice President Leni Robredo’s 18-day stint as cochair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs, the Vice President finally released her findings on the so-called drug war of President Duterte.
In a nutshell, Robredo’s study brought to light just how little the drug war has quelled the country’s drug problem.
The report was not intended to criticize Mr. Duterte politically, but merely to support and enlighten him on the status of his war on drugs based on actual reports from the government agencies themselves.
Remember when they had drug raids in exclusive gated villages?
I don’t.
Oh wait, that’s because those never happened.
Because this war is actually just a war against the poor.
We must agree with the Vice President that Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs is a massive failure.

Princess Mae Tapia,
Manila,
Philippines


Call for Filipino's to tour the Philippines
Instead of touring abroad
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 26 February 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Friday 21 February 2020

I agree with the news, Patronize local tourist spots, Duterte tells Pinoys” in Philippine Inquirer February 15, 2020, given the declining number of foreign tourists amid the global threat of COVID-19.
This country has many beautiful places to boast of, and we should be able to entice our fellow Filipinos to go around the country in a bid to boost domestic tourism. With our huge population, it would be a big help to our local economy if we pick local destinations instead of touring abroad.
But first, we must ensure a hassle-free journey.
As a frequent traveler myself, I am disgusted when our domestic airports have different policies - for example, on what objects are allowed as carry-on.
More often than not, airport personnel act on a whim.
In one of our travels from Cebu to Manila, my daughter’s Victoria’s Secret cologne, though less than 100 ml, was confiscated at the airport; same thing happened to her facial cleanser.
I argued that both were allowed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport
Terminal 2.
To my dismay, the airport official insisted that the container, not the content, was the reason the cologne and the facial cleanser had to be surrendered.
In my recent trip from Dipolog to Manila, I was ordered to take off my wristwatch at the final check-in even though I was allowed to wear it through the check at Naia Terminal 3.
The airport employee insisted that they were just implementing the rule.
In other local airports, passengers cannot use the trolley unless they engage the service of porters, who charge a lot because there is no fixed rate.
These are just some of the unpleasant experiences at our own airports.
There are other travel-related inconveniences like jacked-up transportation fares. Just recently, I took a tricycle from the Montaño sardines factory in Dipolog to the airport.
I asked the driver how much the fare was, and he replied, “Kayo na ang bahala.” Transportation fares must be regulated, just like in other countries where passengers pay a standard amount wherever they go.
More often than not, tourists in the Philippines are taken advantage of whenever they take public transport, specifically via tricycle, taxi, or banca.
Could we not implement a standard rate?
The tag line “It’s more fun in the Philippines” should not only apply to foreigners.
Much is yet to be discovered by every Filipino right in our own backyard. However, a concerted effort must be done if we want domestic tourism to flourish.

Belel Docena-Asuelo
Manila,
Philippines




Thailand
Not taking COVID-19 seriously
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 25 February 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Saturday 22 February 2020

Wow, Thailand, I am really disappointed to see that you don't seem to take the coronavirus outbreak seriously at all.
My son arrived from Taiwan yesterday afternoon and he was surprised to see there were no medical control stations, no fever checks with guns, no medical staff anywhere at the airport and, above all, more then 50 percent of the airport staff were not wearing any masks at all.
Where are you now, Minister of Public Health?
Complaining about the foreigners that do not want to wear masks while most Thais are in danger in many places around Bangkok - shopping malls, restaurants, the Bangkok Mass Transit System and so on.
Most of the locals do not care at all. But please note, this virus is not over yet and can become more ugly then you think. Take action before it is too late.

Huubie Lowlands,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Call for Thai Election Commission to prosecute
All political parties that have taken out loans
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 24 February 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Friday 21 February 2020

In response to the Election Commission's action over the Future Forward Party (FFP) because it borrowed money from its founder, the Constitutional Court has disbanded the Future Forward Party (FFP) because it borrowed money from its founder, the Constitutional Court has disbanded the Future Forward Party (FFP) and banned its directors from political activity for many years.
But the Bangkok Post, February 21 reported: "There are no such rules barring political parties from taking out loans ... former election commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said that at least four parties had taken out loans in 2013. Poll officials had advised the commission that taking out loans was not illegal because it had been done by other parties and had been allowed in the past."
I respect the court's verdict, but in light of the above, the Election Commission either has consistently practised double standards or has been seriously and continually derelict in its duties.
For that, the commissioners should be impeached.
Also, to maintain a single standard, provided it's within the statute of limitations of a given case, all parties making loans in the past must be similarly punished.

Burin Kantabutra,
Bangkok,
Thailand




Call for course in comparative religions
In Thai high schools
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 22 February 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Saturday 15 February 2020

Re: "Religion not the answer", in Bangkok Post, Editorial, February 15.
Your editorial concludes with the suggestion that, instead of teaching Buddhism in schools, the Ministry of Education should introduce "extra ethics, philosophy, and human rights courses … in fields that can develop students' logical and critical thinking abilities."
It could do both.
I realise that this is a fantasy, but why couldn't we have a course in comparative religions including atheism, to be taught during the final two years of high school, when students' thinking abilities are at their peak?
Call the course "Worldviews".
Bring in accredited representatives of various religious and non-religious groups to present their cases.
Have units on Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha'i, and atheism.
Hold free-wheeling discussions dealing with questions like: "If there is a God who is both omnipotent and beneficent, why is the world in such a mess?"
"If there is no creating God, how and why did the universe come into being?" "What evidence do we have for the existence of any kind of afterlife?"
"If there is an operative law of karma, why does it take so long for some individuals' karma to bear fruit?"

Questions like these may not yield any conclusive answers, but they will certainly make students think.
And exposure to a variety of views will broaden their outlook.
I am under no illusion that the existing power structure would ever give such a suggestion anything more than a dismissive laugh.

Ye Olde Fantasist,
Bangkok,
Thailand



The Philippines should resist being drawn into a battle
Between two Goliaths
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 21 February 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Wednesday 19 February 2020

With all due respect to Justice Antonio Carpio, he has unfortunately fallen into the trap of seeing our strategic choice as either pro-United States or pro-China in “Weakening our defenses in the WPS,” in Philippine Inquirer, Crosscurrents, February 13, 2020.
Washington has consistently told the Philippines that the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) does not obligate it to defend Philippine territorial and resource rights in the West Philippine Sea.
It has consistently asserted it “will not intervene in sovereignty issues” in the West Philippine Sea whenever our government, from Marcos to Aquino, asked for its intervention.
At the same time, Washington enmeshed us in a military alliance against China through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Entering into Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which was a key part of Barack Obama’s strategy of militarily containing China, seriously undermined the moral and legal assertion of our rights via our case in The Hague. This is why, as a member then of the House of Representatives, I authored a resolution renaming the South China Sea the West Philippine Sea (a peaceful moral and legal move), at the same time that I opposed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) (a provocative aggressive military move), along with Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, and we both incurred the displeasure of the strategically deaf chief executive at the time.
Justice Carpio’s litany of President Duterte’s foreign policy statements even before he was president, in fact, provides evidence that Mr. Duterte was apparently slowly coming around to recognizing the truth that, when it came to the West Philippine Sea, the treaties with the United States were useless by Washington’s own admission, even as the United States was opportunistically pinning us down into a de facto military alliance that was part of the Pentagon’s offensively-oriented Asia Pacific-wide military strategy of AirSea Battle designed, by its own admission, to penetrate the A2/AD defenses of China.
In the most authoritative exposition of AirSea Battle (recently given the new name of Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC), the strategy is designed to carry out “kinetic and nonkinetic” (in other words, both explosive and electronic) strikes against inland command centers, radar systems and intelligence-gathering facilities, raids against missile production and storage facilities and “‘blinding’ operations against Chinese satellites.
It also says that China’s “seaborne trade flows would be cut off, with an eye toward exerting major stress on the Chinese economy and, eventually, internal stress.”
We were caught in a terrible fix that was definitely not in our national interest.
I don’t support Mr. Duterte’s tilting toward China instead of maintaining an independent course; like the proverbial David, the Philippines should resist being drawn into a battle between two Goliaths.
I condemn Mr. Duterte’s violations of human rights and strangling of democratic rights, but let’s give the devil his due: He’s right to withdraw from the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and hopefully he will withdraw as well from the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) agreements that totally subordinate our interests to the political and military interests of Washington. Justice Carpio should stick to points of law, where he has no peer, and not allow himself to be drawn to the military strategic designs of the United States.

Walden Bello,
Former Member of Congress,
Manila,
Philippines




Halt ordered to all logging activities on land claimed
By the Orang Asli in Gerik
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 20 February 2020
First published in the Star, Saturday 16 February 2020

I refer to the report “Colour of greed marring Perak’s natural heritage” in The Star, February 8, about over-logging and forest-clearing work being done in an area belonging to the state development authority at the Kledang Saiong Hill.
The real fault here lies not with the current Pakatan Harapan state government because it was the previous administration that approved the project.
The former government contributed significantly to the problem, hence the rakyat’s anger should rightfully be directed at it.
Furthermore, the Perak State Development Corporation (PKNP) chief executive officer reiterated that no development project is being planned at Kledang Saiong Hill and the land would be left to revert to its original state.
Honestly, I am struggling to make sense of what the critics of the Perak state government really want to achieve.
Moreover, Perak Mentri Besar, Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu, has proven that he is not afraid to make tough decisions, as he has ordered an immediate halt to all logging activities on land claimed by the Orang Asli in Gerik.
For the record, this is not the first time he has done this, as he also halted all logging activities along Sungai Rui in Gerik.
As he said early last year, “we are prepared to work with them. It’s not only the NGOs who are concerned about the environment; myself, the state and the assemblymen also care.”
He also emphasised that while the state aims to improve the economy, it would also ensure that activities such as development and logging would be sustainable.
Please remember that the state of Perak has the largest Orang Asli gazetted land in the country, at close to 13,000 hectares.
On my part, I strongly believe the people of Perak are behind this present government.

Ipoh Mali,
Subang Jaya,
Malaysia



When China sneezes
The whole world catches cold
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 19 February 2020
First published in the Star, Tuesday 18 February 2020

The Covid-19 outbreak is now at the centre of world attention.
Apart from being a major threat to public health, the virus also has the potential to disrupt the world’s economy.
Already we hear from economic experts around the world that global growth will be revised downwards.
Major world financial institutions, including the Inter-national Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have announced similar conclusions.
Many economic sectors will be impacted.
This is because China accounts for a major share of the world’s economy.
It accounts for a major share of manufactured goods sold around the world.
It is true what they say nowadays: When China sneezes, the whole world will catch a cold.
The cold is more serious now, and there is no known cure yet.
However, as a result of the virus, we also see more unity around the world.
Many countries have come forward to help stop the spread.
Malaysia has also done her part by sending rubber examination gloves to help medical personnel in Wuhan in China where the virus was first found deal with containing the spread of the virus.
The measures taken to halt the virus epidemic are commendable.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for actions to mitigate the climate crisis.
The urgency in dealing with this issue is much less, as has been evident from the haggling at the many United Nations climate summits.
Again, China has shown better leadership in beginning to rein in its contribution to global warming.
The fact that the repercussions of climate can be devastating for the world’s economy do not seem to bother some of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions.
Perhaps this is because climate change is not something that is felt immediately, as in the case of the Covid-19 outbreak.
If the same urgency can be given to climate actions as the world is giving to containing the virus, we could possibly look forward to a more sustainable future.

Prof Datuk Dr Ahmad Ibrahim,
Fellow, Academy of Sciences, Malaysia,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia



Call for global monitoring centre
For communicable diseases
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 18 February 2020
First published in the Star, Monday 17 February 2020

The number of people infected with the Covid-19 will undoubtedly reach 70,000, having passed 69,000 on Sunday.
We have seen the developments surrounding the outbreak and in general it is not entirely erroneous to say that we were not well prepared.
Not that we are undermining the tireless and commendable efforts that have been undertaken, but just like with any crisis, we try to mitigate the effects and contain the impact post-event.
Is a coronavirus epidemic something that has never been anticipated, predicted or warned about before?
For the longest time, scientists around the globe have been warning humanity about the emergence of new infectious diseases, particularly those involving viruses.
Our lackadaisical attitude towards the environment is regarded as the single most important contributory factor to the emergence of new strains of pathogens. Genetic mutations are occurring at an unprecedentedly rapid rate thanks to climate change caused by us polluting Mother Earth.
And almost immediately after the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) epidemics, again scientists voiced concerns about future outbreaks caused by possible new strains of coronavirus.
The question is, did governments take heed of the warnings?
What did they do?
We have seen tremendous progress in the advancement of information technology and telecommunications but the same cannot be said about the treatment of transmissible diseases.
This is largely due to these notable, fundamental factors: 1)
The amount of Research and Revelopment (R&D) in this area is far less compared with the effort put into telecom technology; and 2) R&D is largely driven by projected financial gain.
While telcos invest in developing new technology for future returns, drug companies only “invest” in searching for a cure for a known pathogen so they can see tangible returns once the drug enters the market.
In simpler terms, it is not feasible to develop a cure for something that does not exist yet.
The economic impact of the last two outbreaks, SARS and MERS, was more than US$100bil (RM414bil) globally.
This excludes any stimulus packages injected into the economies of affected countries.
For the Covid-19 epidemic, the figures will be no less if not greater.
If a fraction of this amount had been used a few years ago on researching drugs that could work against coronaviruses, we probably would be seeing more effective treatment today.
It is high time for all governments to work together and not in silos.
A “pre-emptive strike” in the form of a global centre of communicable diseases, manned by the world’s finest and equipped with the latest technology can be set up to monitor any unusual incidences; perform experiments to project future traits/mutations of pathogens; develop broad spectrum antiviral agents and other new forms of treatments including preventative measures/ prophylaxis; improve the management system of future outbreaks, especially containment; and maintain a seamless flow of accurate information to all stakeholders, including the general public.
Only then will the people of this planet have a fighting chance against future “attacks” from an invisible menace.

Dr Faizal Tajuddin,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia




Thai military involvment in business
Is no surprise to Thai's
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 17 February 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Friday 14 February 2020

Bangkok Post columnist, Thitinan Pongsudhirak has the bravery to say in his February 14 article "Underpinnings of a Thai mass shooting " what millions have known for many years.
The military's involvement in business is no surprise to all but a few totally uninformed Thais.
The vast majority of people are fully aware of their involvement in everything from broadcasting, protection rackets and massage parlours to tourist amenities, land deals and loans.
Many other civil authorities - from the police in all its guises, metropolitan and local authorities to even the schools and colleges - are also involved in general day-to-day bribery and corruption. This list of course neglects the biggest pig's trough, politics, which represents the main obstacle to reform.
It seems the perpetrator of last weekend's heinous crime was not some brainwashed religious fanatic, just someone driven to psychosis by the depression and desperation of the injustice dealt by his most trusted superior.
I have no sympathy for him, but more importantly he should have been stopped long before he started murdering people.
It is evident the authorities were negligent and likely far too busy making money or spending it to do their real jobs.
Maybe some good could eventually come from this terrible tragedy, but it will take brave people indeed to reform so many rotten institutions.

Fireman Sam,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Singapore has raised its virus alert level to orange from yellow
An indication of the seriousness of coronavirus outbreak
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 15 February 2020
First published in the Star, Saturday 14 February 2020

I refer to the report “Are packages from China safe from coronavirus?” in the The Star, January 31.
I am rather concerned about this issue as there is currently no point of reference on how to determine if packages from China are safe.
Such directions should only come from a health authority, namely the Health Ministry.
Are the assurances made by online shopping companies that the packages from China are disinfected prior to delivery reliable?
Are the precautionary measures taken by online shopping companies sufficient to safeguard shoppers from infection or does more need to be done?
I believe nobody will have the definitive answer to these questions until comprehensive research is conducted on the impact of the novel coronavirus which the World Health Organisation has named COVID-19.
Only the Health Ministry through consultations with national and international authorities on disease control, such as the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC), should be authorised to issue statements as well as concur or deny claims made by online shopping companies.
Previously, it was thought that the quarantine period for COVID-19 was 14 days, but a recent report highlighted that symptoms won’t show until after a 24-day incubation period!
There is a lot we don’t know about this deadly virus.
It is therefore advisable for people in general to take precautionary measures to safeguard themselves.
As for online parcels and packages from China, we will not know the impact it would have on the purchaser or online shopper until it is proven that the virus is unable to survive without a living host, i.e. it cannot be transmitted via packages.
In the midst of this outbreak, there are companies that seem to be cashing in on the situation. Instead of showing social responsibility, they are making huge profits from the thriving sale of face masks!
Companies should actually be offering face masks to employees and the public as a way of showing that they care.
Singapore, which has raised its virus alert level to orange from yellow, provides an indication of the seriousness of the outbreak.
The orange alert in Singapore was last raised during an outbreak of H1N1 influenza in 2009 and 2010.
Deaths from the COVID-19 outbreak have now topped the 1,000 mark, hence it’s time not only for the government but also the private sector to play a more concerted role in curbing the spread of the virus.

Health conscious citizen,
Bangsar,
Malaysia



Call to professionalise Thai military and police
"Lets learn from this massacre"
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 15 February 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Wednesday 12 February 2020

I fully agree with Thai Prime Minister Prayut, who said, "If we had fully followed standard security procedures, we would have been able to mitigate the degree of violence where one soldier went on a shooting rampage that left 30 dead."
A single rogue shoots dead two people, arrives at an army camp an hour later, shoots dead a guard, steals war weapons and a Humvee, then goes to a shopping mall an hour away, where he kills and takes hostages - without being killed en route.
Was there nobody near the first killing, who could have warned the police?
Was there only one armed guard in the entire armoury?
Why were the gun bolts and ammunition so readily available, evidently unsecured? Why didn't the police and soldiers block him as he fled the armoury for the mall? This sounds like an operation from a James Bond movie, with a superman and inept authorities.
We have more army and police generals than all 28 Nato nations combined.
Is this the best that they can do?
The relevant House of Representatives committee should thoroughly, transparently, and quickly investigate their actions/inactions, and hold them accountable.
Also, our army's noble mission is to be Thailand's fence, defending us from foreign enemies - yet Nakorn Ratchasima's far from our borders; our "fence" shouldn't run through our living room, so to speak. Does the army have any military reason for being in that city - other than to participate in a coup d'etat, which by definition is highly illegal?
Let's learn from this massacre, and professionalise our military and police.

Burin Kantabutra,
Bangkok,
Thailand

 

 

Call for accountability in investigation
Of massacre in Nakhon Ratchasima
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 14 February 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Wednesday 12 February 2020

I'm sending my utmost condolences, through the Bangkok Post, to the families of those innocent victims who were killed, injured and hospitalised by the senseless military gunman in Nakhon Ratchasima.
This shooting massacre must be remembered and its causes scrutinised without impunity.
I would like to humbly recommend to the government authorities to seriously consider and apply the concepts of "accountability" and "conflict of interests" in their investigation.
The Prayut government ought to genuinely pursue and turn the aftermath of this unprecedented crisis into an opportunity to "clean up" those government agencies and officials involved.

CK,
Bangkock,
Thailand



Australia urged to raise West Papua human rights violations
Did that happen?
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 13 February 2020

I refer to the Southeast Asian Times headline article ' Australia urged to raise West Papua human rights violations on Indonesian President state visit' ( 11 February).
Did that happen?
If it didn't, why not?
Doesn't the human rights and the right of the West Papuans to be free of Indonesian colonial occupation and oppression matter?
Is Australia's relationship with Indonesia dictated solely by what's politically expedient rather then what's right under international norms?
It's shameful if that is the case.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia

 

 

Royal Thai Military yet to explain availability of weapons
To Thai soldier who ran amok in shopping center
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 12 February 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Tuesday 11 February 2020

We are all too familiar with the events that occurred at Terminal 21 Central Plaza shopping center in Korat.
It seems that every article concentrates on what happened after the shooter arrived at the mall.
But what is not being mentioned is what occurred prior to his arrival. What we know is that he shot his superior officer and, according to the news article, he then stole a collection of arms and ammunition.
This would lead one to believe that he was armed prior to obtaining the weapons used in the attack.
He then took his haul and went to another location and stole a vehicle which he then drove off the base to the mall. So why was the soldier armed in the first place? As I recall weapons in barracks were kept in a secure location, locked and issued individually as needed. All transactions were recorded, and an inventory taken daily.
He then commandeered a military vehicle which should have been under 24-hour guard in the base motor pool.
Again, vehicles are issued per orders, signed out and in and the motor pool is usually under 24 guard.
He then left the base.
Now, from the time he shot the officer, stole the weapons, commandeered the vehicle and arrived at the base exit you are telling me that no one heard or saw anything that would cause alarm?
Hard to believe, huh?
If the weapons and vehicle were readily available, then the Thai military has a serious issue with security. I would hope that we will hear more about these issues but that's doubtful.
My prayers go out to the families of the victims.

Fred Prager,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Self-serving instinct to suppress bad news in China
Has an unsettling echo in Thailand
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 11 February 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Monday 10 February 2020

It is sad to learn that the doctor at a hospital in Wuhan who first brought the coronavirus outbreak there to the attention of authorities has now died of the disease.
Immediately after reporting the outbreak, he was forced by the police to accept a reprimand for "making untrue comments that had severely disturbed the social order".
This is a typical reaction from dictatorial regimes, and occasionally democratic ones too, prompted by a self-serving instinct to suppress bad news, irrespective of any risk to the general public.
Unfortunately, this tendency has an unsettling echo here in Thailand, where the prime minister recently warned that anyone criticising his government's handling of the coronavirus threat would face legal action for "politicising" the issue.
This "mind your own business" attitude is hardly likely to give people confidence the government is in control of the situation and is doing all it can to minimise the risk of the virus spreading.

Robin Grant,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Philippines dependent on neighbourhood bully
With one for you and two for me principle
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 9 February 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Friday 7 February 2020

Now, why would Sen. Bato “Shit happens” dela Rosa’s wailing, whining and “hugot” lines about the cancellation of his US visa jerk President Duterte to shoot from the hip and find a target: the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)?
What is the connection between Dela Rosa’s canceled US visa, which is a personal issue, and the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a bilateral military agreement?
Such an irrational act by Mr. Duterte can eventually isolate us from the community of nations that is working to promote peace, unity, and cooperation.
For a Third World country prone to natural disasters, we need every ounce of help from the international community.
Unfortunately, puro atras si Mr. Duterte: atras sa Rome Statute, atras sa arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea, atras sa Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
We might end up totally dependent on the neighborhood bully that deals with nations on the principle of “one for you, two for me.”
On the one hand, Dela Rosa should stop harping about his canceled US visa.
He should take a cue from honorable and patriotic senior officials such as former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales who, when barred from entering Hong Kong, left with their dignity intact, because they knew that nations have the sovereign right to choose the persons who can partake of their hospitality.
But, then, they are learned Filipinos who know and follow the rule of law.

Evelyn Silay,
Manila,
Philippines




Call for China and Australia
To rethink modus operandi against progressive citizens
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 9 February 2020

The Chinese doctor Li Wenliang ( 34 ) who first alerted other doctors about the coronavirus and was reprimanded by the Chinese State authorities for spreading rumours has died of the illness ( USA Today 7 Feb ).
When will the Chinese State begin to do the right thing by its best and brightest citizens rather than hounding them like criminals?
The wrongful treatment of doctor Li Wenliang should be regarded as a national disgrace.
It's time the Chinese citizens stop cult worshipping the Chinese Communist State as if it's infallible .
Hope the Chinese State authorities have learned a lesson from it and rethink their modus operandi against progressive citizens who think outside the ideological box for the greater good of the country.
The political leaders do not have a monopoly on what's right and good for the people of China.
( This has been well illustrated in the recent Australian mega bushfires where the political leadership had failed the Australian people by not heeding the prior warnings of climate change experts).
That must be Doctor Li Wenliang's enduring legacy.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia




Malaysia protects sovereignty against China
A dear neighbour whose friendship is cherished
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 8 February
First published in the Star, Friday 7 February 2020

We are now being inundated with an avalanche of information on the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Within this avalanche, there is a lot of “news” that is clearly false.
Those responsible for such news can be classified into at least two categories.
The first comprises mischief-makers who derive some cheap thrill from generating and disseminating fake news that creates fear and causes panic among the people. The law should deal severely with such individuals.
The second category may have a political agenda of sorts.
The purpose may be to cast China in a bad light, tarnish its image and project the Chinese government as incompetent and even dishonest.
The false information manipulated by this group may be very similar to the one used by the first category.
Both categories allege that the government lied about the number of fatalities, which they contend runs into thousands.
They suggest that the authorities were slow in responding to the crisis caused by the virus.
Attempts to reveal the “truth” about what was really happening in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, by some doctors and journalists have been suppressed and the “whistleblowers” punished.
It is not just the Chinese authorities that have refuted these and other allegations. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has publicly commended the Chinese government for its “swift action” and “extraordinary measures” in containing the infection.
The government has attempted to be as transparent as possible from the outset and has provided accurate information to the people.
It was the director-general of WHO, Tedros Adhanam Ghebreyesus, who stated emphatically that there was no need for other countries to restrict travel and trade unnecessarily.
The coronavirus, he argued, should be combated with “facts not fear”.
And indeed, some of the facts are simply amazing.
Chinese scientists were incredibly fast in identifying the genome sequence.
Together with their Russian counterparts, a Russia-China vaccine is in the making.
Chinese architects and engineers have also built a state-of-the-art hospital in Wuhan in just 10 days.
Designed to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, the Huoshenshan Hospital has a thousand beds and medical staff drawn from the armed forces.
The Chinese government is building another hospital with 1,500 beds which was scheduled to begin functioning on February 6.
But facts like these mean nothing to those with a political agenda.
The motives that shape their agenda take precedence over all else.
There is a primary motive out of which has developed a secondary motive. Discrediting China is part of a larger geo-political drive that seeks to thwart China’s ascendancy.
The aim is to ensure that the present hegemon, the United States, remains on top at all costs.
A host of measures and moves – some economic, some technological, some related to security and politics, others linked to culture and human rights – have been adopted by those who are hell-bent on perpetuating their hegemonic power.
This is why some of the distortions about the current coronavirus threat should be seen in the light of disinformation about the alleged persecution of the Uighurs in China and the so-called suppression of the people of Hong Kong.
The name of the game is the same: It is the targeting of China.
This primary motive has now given rise to a secondary motive.
In the course of fighting the coronavirus, groups in certain countries are displaying negative sentiments towards Chinese people as such.
This impacts adversely upon inter-community relations both at the global and national level.
At a time when China and the Chinese are leaving large footprints all over the planet, a deeper understanding of the civilisation and its citizens is what the world needs.
It is not in the interest of inter-civilisational harmony to view a community in its entirety as an adversary and try to isolate it.
Similarly, in multi-ethnic societies with Chinese minorities, the checking of the spread of a virus should not be used as justification to stereotype and stigmatise a community.
Seen against this backdrop, Malaysia, China’s neighbour with a significant Chinese minority, has done well in managing the coronavirus situation.
It has accorded priority to the health and well-being of its people and at the same time handled this cross-boundary crisis in a calm manner without any hysteria.
It has been sensitive to the feelings of China and its people.
Once again, Malaysia has demonstrated that it is possible to protect our sovereignty while respecting the dignity and integrity of a dear neighbour whose friendship we cherish.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar,
President,
International Movement for a Just World (JUST)
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia





Anything that affects China
Affects Malaysia
The Southeast Asian Times Friday 7 February 2020
First published in the Star, Wednesday 5 February 2020

The recent coronavirus outbreak in China has triggered a series of drastic measures by the Chinese government either to halt or slow down the spread of the virus.
As the factories grind to a halt, we, in Malaysia, should be very worried about how this crisis will impact out wallets.
China is both our main import and export partner as 16 percent of all our exports and 19 percent of all our imports are to and from China.
It is our largest trading partner.
Our economy is intrinsically tied to China’s.
In 2005, we depegged the ringgit from the old fixed exchange rate within 24 hours of China doing the same.
Anything that affects China, affects us
Many of our national assets are now in China’s hands, such as Proton; while some others remain in our hands but run on Chinese money, such as the rail projects.
Back in 2003, when the SARS outbreak ravaged China, the country was only Malaysia’s fourth largest trading partner, with Malaysian exports to China worth a mere RM25.8bil or 6.5 percent of total exports.
However, the SARS outbreak even with its relatively short lifespan of 30 months, managed to trim about 0.15 percent of Malaysia’s GDP in 2003.
By 2019, China had become our largest trading partner, and Malaysian exports to China are valued at RM138.9bil or 13.9 percent of total exports.
Alliance Bank Malaysia chief economist Manokaran Mottain expects a dramatic 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent cut in our GDP as a result of the outbreak.
Finally, Malaysia is a vital member of the five Asian nations that make up the global supply chain, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, which are highly dependent on China.
Over the past two decades, change in trade composition between Malaysia and China has resulted in a premature deindustrialisation on Malaysia’s part, with China providing cheap imports for goods we used to make ourselves.
With that link gone, we may be facing a serious problem of shortages.
The fact that China is also Malaysia’s largest investor makes the threat ever more real.
It is not well-advised and even short-sighted for the Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali to say that the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak would not have any implications on Malaysia’s economy yet; nor for Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok to claim the impact of the virus would only be temporary.
It remains unknown as to how long it would take before the virus is contained or eradicated to safe levels, allowing unrestricted travel to resume.
As it is, the effects are being felt already, with the most conspicuous hit being the tourism industry.
With the government taking on such a lax attitude, many important decision-makers may be lulled into a false sense of security.
While blind public panic is not desired, we must also begin formulating a contingency plan for a partial or complete collapse of the Chinese economy.

Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon,
Deputy President,
Malaysian Chinese Association
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia






Chinese nationals have easy access
To tourists destinations in Thailand
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 6 February 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Wednesday 5 February 2020

Re: "Virus response highlights govt incompetence", in Bangkok Post Opinion, February 4, 2020.
Atiya Achakulwisut's column about the government's measures to deal with the virus being trashed on social media addressed the issue well.
From my point of view, the fact that thermal scanning does not exclude patients in the incubation period should also be mentioned by the government, so more people are aware.
I am also concerned about how much information people have about face masks. Only N95 masks can help prevent communicable diseases and despite many social-media posts about it, people still think that a normal non-sterile surgical mask will do.
Little has been shared about the use of these masks, the type, durability, etc.
Bangkok is home to a wonderful culture and traditions, where people mingle with each other at every possible occasion.
The city is known for its markets, for colleagues socialising, sharing food and friendly gestures.
However, with all this sharing, communicable diseases can spread easily.
Even though the new coronavirus is not as alarming as Sars, the fact that we don't have effective treatment, testing kits at all hospitals and there is easy access to destinations for Chinese tourists should be noted.
It will be appreciated if you can publish a column providing information on prevention measures, including details on masks and their usage so people can at least be cautious.
Prevention is always better than cure, and I'm writing this not to create paranoia but to help our society learn more.
I also want to say I appreciate the Bangkok Post's efforts to keep us updated with accurate information covering every little detail.

Dr Sithi,
Bangkok,
Thailand

 


Malaysians face greater risk of death on roads
Than contact with coronavirus (nCoV) virus
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 5 February 2020
First published in the Star Tuesday, 4 February 2020

On average, the number of fatalities on Malaysian roads was 16 a day in 2018. Many thousands more were seriously injured, some with life-long effects, which means they will never be able to lead a normal life.
Malaysia has been ranked as one of the top three countries in the world with the deadliest roads “We have the third highest death rate from road accidents”, in The Star, May 14. Yet, since the novel coronavirus outbreak, Malaysians have been in a state of panic even though not even one death has occurred so far.
Have we got our priorities right?
While the spread of the coronavirus is out of our control beyond taking individual precautionary measures as advised by the authorities, the incidence of road accidents and deaths lie in our very hands!
They can be reduced if all road users obey traffic laws and respect and show courtesy to other road users.
Just because the number of road deaths is not reported daily, Malaysians don’t seem bothered by them and ignore the fact that they face greater risks while on the road than coming in contact with the coronavirus.
There is so much of information circulating on the Internet and in Malaysian WhatsApp chat groups about the coronavirus but there is barely a word about the 16 deaths a day happening on our roads and highways.
Why is this so?
Perhaps we need a new wave of awareness especially in chat groups to warn Malaysians that they face greater risk of death each time they take to the road.
If we value lives which I’m sure we all do, shouldn’t we give serious attention and due regard to road safety rules and be law-abiding?
Over to you, Road Safety Department.

Pola Singh,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia



Call for Thai stores to limit sales of face masks
To two packs per person
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 4 February 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post Saturday 1 February 2020

Re: "Human transmission of coronavirus confirmed in Thailand", in Bangkok Post, Saturday 1 February 2020.
With the World Health Organisation declaring the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency, it's time we reflect hard with cool heads rather than a knee-jerk response.
To the media: Please do not update coronavirus news every minute.
It will only increase people's stress level and scare them.
What is more viral than a virus is fake news and rumours.
Be reasonable.
More people are killed in car accidents than coronavirus infections to date.
To opposition parties and their affiliated media: Don't just criticise the government for political points.
Help them; work with them to contain the virus.
Take actions by, for instance, handing out free face masks, send e-newsletters on coronavirus (prevention, symptoms, containment), set up call centres to assist with queries, use personal resources to aid.
It is of no use pointing out the previous government was more proactive than the incumbent.
To facial mask sellers and Chinese buyers: In addition to being distasteful, price gouging is immoral, preying on people's fear.
Likewise, Chinese people in Thailand need to be considerate in leaving enough face mask supplies for Thais, instead of emptying every pharmacy and convenience store.
Stores should limit sales of face mask to two packs per person.
To the government: In this situation, honesty is the best policy.
Most likely there'll be more infected cases and more deaths.
Accordingly, set up emergency centres across regions, provide free testing of the virus to patients showing early symptoms, and have quarantine sections in hospitals across regions.
Hand out free hand gels and facial masks.
The cost of face masks pales into comparison to the cost of infections.
The best the coalition government can do now is contain the virus until a cure or a vaccine is available.
The management skills used here will be needed for PM2.5 and drought challenges in a similar fashion.
To the rest: Panic isn't going to help anyone.
Keep yourself healthy; avoid crowded areas and spend less time on "low-nutrition junk news".
Indeed, from coronavirus and PM2.5 to droughts and bushfires, we must realise that these days our actions affect other countries and vice versa in a much more connected way, with predictable and often times unforseen consequences.

Edward Kitlertsirvatana,
Bangkok,
Thailand




Philippines call for South China Sea
To be named Asian Sea
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 3 January 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Friday 31 January 2020

We are happy that the brilliant Justice Antonio Carpio is back with his column “Crosscurrents.”
Ordinary lawyers, including those in government, should read his January 23 column, “Why great powers comply with arbitral rulings,” and understand that asserting our national rights will not necessarily lead to war.
I suggest that we initiate moves to change “South China Sea” to “Asian Sea” so that the world will know that it does not belong to China but to all the countries in the region.
If our national leaders will not help us, let us communicate with the leaders of proud assertive nations, like Vietnam and Indonesia, to ask them to file the necessary petition with the proper international body.
The world will surely help us against the big Asian bully.

Rene Torres,
Manila,
Philippines




Call for Philippine government to take action
Against Chinese aggression in Philippine waters
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 2 February 2020

I am at the state of questioning how the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) made the grandest welcome party for the Chinese Coast Guard which sometimes or more often shoo away the Filipino fishermen in the areas of West Philippine Sea.
They even use water cannon to stop them from fishing in our own territory.
I just don’t get the idea of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) when they made this warm welcome.
I understand that things will be solved in a diplomatic way however, in the case of Chinese aggression in Philippine waters it’s a different scenario.
There are laws violated.
Rights of Pinoy fishermen were put in to test.
Lives at stake.
Why can’t we make a solid stand on this issue?
Why is the government blind on this matter?
Why can’t we give the treatment that they deserve?
We are not here to start a world war III but I believe it’s high time to finally take the necessary action.
The action that the Filipino is expecting from our government.

Shermaine Anacleto,
Manila,
Philippines



American Christian conservatives
Embrace "go forth and multiply" ideology
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 1 February 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Tuesday 21 January 2020

Re: "China is facing a self-inflicted population crisis", In Bangkok Post Opinion January 20, 2020
China's population isn't growing fast enough to satisfy New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.
Like many other American Christian conservatives, he couches his "go forth and multiply" ideology in pseudo-scientific jargon and apocalyptic predictions of an "empty planet".
He makes no mention of the human population's continued growth, now 7.8 billion, and China's role as the most populous nation, currently about 1.4 billion.
Nor does Mr Douthat mention the strain this growing population has put on the earth's atmosphere, oceans and wildlife.
Instead, he focuses on the likelihood of a slowdown in the growth of China's economy due to an ageing population.
This obsession with perpetual GDP growth is what threatens to make the current Anthropocene one of the briefest of our planet's geological ages.

John Hail,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Call for taxi drivers and tour guides in Thailand
To wear surgical masks for protection from virus
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 31 January 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Thursday 30 January 2020

Thailand's very fortunate that we've had only a few cases of coronavirus to date but for-hire drivers, such as those of taxis, Grab, tour drivers and guides should wear surgical masks whenever they're in contact with others.
This is to protect them from possibly becoming infected from their passengers or tour members and to lessen the chances of them infecting others.
"The biggest concern that doctors have around recommending masks is the false sense of security that might come along with wearing one. There are a lot of reasons why face masks are not ideal: It's really hard to find one that fits perfectly around your nose and mouth or to keep it on for a long period of time," webmd.com advises.
However, these drivers and guides come into contact with possibly hundreds of people daily, some of whom may be infected.
Thus, they must take all possible precautions, and the cost of surgical masks is affordable.

Burin Kantabutra,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Call for Philippine Department of Health
To consider travel ban ASAP
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 30 January, 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Wednesday 29 January 2020

The Department of Health must seriously consider issuing a travel advisory/ban for airlines and travelers alike amid the rising death toll from the coronavirus that originated in China - and just do it ASAP.
Our people have suffered long enough from natural disasters such as floods, typhoons, earthquakes, drought and, most recently, a volcanic eruption.
We do not want this killer virus to spread in our country, for Pete’s sake! People in airports, planes, trains, cars, taxis and even ships must be wary of touching surfaces that may be contaminated by it.
If we really need to travel, it would be wise to take precautionary measures and preparations like wearing face masks, using alcohol or sanitizer, boosting our immune system by taking appropriate vitamins and minerals, getting enough rest/sleep, and paying a visit to our doctors.

Ron Enrile Narca,
Advocacy group,
Philippine College of Intergrative Medicine & Homotoxicology,
Manila,
Philippines



Great offence to spread
Unfounded information
about Angkor Wat
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 29 January 2020
First published in the Phnom Penh Post, Monday 20 January 2020

I wish to express my strong disagreement on the article published by Traveller for their website with the title Best places to go in 2020: 12 destinations you should avoid.
Below is my opinion of the article.
It is obviously free for the Traveller to express its point of view and we can say that we prefer Paris to Barcelona or Borobudur to Bali, without any problem.
But to directly suggest visitors not to go to Angkor is highly unacceptable and a great offence rather than objective advice.
Furthermore, the suggestion seems to forget that Angkor, inscribed on the World Heritage List (Unesco) since 1992, has been subjected to permanent monitoring and consistent international expert evaluation for a quarter of a century.
And that an institution set up in 1995 for the protection and the management of the Angkor Site, the Apsara National Authority, takes care of the site management and maintenance in general as well as the maintenance of monuments, in addition to consolidation and restoration works.
One should not forget that the most important aspect is the international guarantee given to the conservation and enhancement programme of Angkor by the International Coordinating Committee for Angkor (ICC-Angkor) created in 1993, which meets every six months, under the co-presidency of France and Japan with the follow-up of Unesco ensured by the standing secretariat of the committee. Moreover, independent international experts regularly monitor and evaluate the entire site, report on the situation to the committee and make recommendations to improve the situation.
Nothing escapes their vigilance.
Once again, tourists are free to choose where to go and it depends on their preference and culture but the assessment of site to be visited should be conducted on an objective way and does not admit false information or approximation.
For sure much remain to be done in this immense and inhabited site (40,000ha, with 113 villages).
Any advice, any positive suggestion is more than welcome.
But it is not permissible to spread unfounded information and to call for a boycott. It is openly damaging the interests of the Cambodian people and the World Heritage.

Long Kosal,
Spokesperson, Apsara National Authority,
Phnom Penh,
Cambodia




Stakeholder capitalism finds market
In Philippine slums
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 28 January 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Monday 27 January 2020

Two remarks overheard on the same sidewalk, a real one, not metaphorical, have stuck with me for decades.
One was from a girl of about 8 or 9 to another girl of the same age, about some people she had encountered who were “mayaman pero mabait”—as though rich people were rarely kind.
The other was from an acquaintance; dirt poor, he was asking a relative for money to buy a shoeshine kit so he could work.
His relative asked why he should give him money at all, and my acquaintance replied, “Kasi meron ka, ako wala, because you have it and I don’t.”
He said it as if existential reality made it necessary to give something unearned.
These thoughts came to me as I read the part of Michael L. Tan’s “Davos ‘astig’” in Philippine Inquirer January 22, 2020) that said “I do wish our economic and political leaders in the Philippines would adopt more of that spirit of World Economic Forum] (WEF) and ‘stakeholder capitalism’ with its philosophy that we’re in this together, so let’s all see what we can do even if the capitalists do end up giving too little."
What struck me was that parenthetical aside, as it implied that capitalists were obligated to “give” and give “enough”—and that anyone would readily find that thinking valid.
Is it some kind of universal tenet that one side of humanity should give and the other receive?
Why not make it so that both sides give and receive?
I read somewhere about a company that made a change, and made it so it both gave and received.
It’s a water distributor - one of those being pummeled with the presidential verbal sledgehammer.
It had a problem in slum communities in its concession zone.
Residents there bought water not from it but from vendors, who charged more than the company did, for water that was generally less than safe. Some also stole water from the company’s pipes.
The “capitalist” innovation now seems simple.
The company installed pipes and faucets in the slum areas and now bills the barangay councils, which then bill the residents.
The residents get clean water 24/7 at a cheaper price than they had previously paid, and the company has turned big parts of its concession zone into paying customers. Both sides give and both receive.
I’d call that company “mayaman at mabuti.”

Atis Altamirano,
Manila,
Philippines




Call for Thailand to stay alert
For coronavirus (nCoV) virus
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 27 January 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Sunday 26 January 2020

I applaud the work that the Thai Public Health Ministry has done in finding five coronavirus sufferers in Bangkok Post, January 25, but given that the disease is asymptomatic or nearly so for some people and it takes some time to develop, and the fact that Thailand is a popular destination for the people of Wuhan, it seems premature for the ministry to be boasting that their screening has been effective.
We need to stay alert and take the usual precautions wash hands, wear face masks and see what develops rather than assume we are safe because five cases have been found.

Observer,
Bangkok,
Thailand




Laser guns purchased by Philippines National Police
Cannot detect jeepneys without headlights on at night
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 26 January 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Saturday 25 January 2020

President Duterte has stripped the Philippine National Police (PNP) of any more purchasing power over the possible “bukol” (kickback) in the procurement of “laser speed guns,” said to cost P950,000 each when they cost only P10,000 per unit in Davao City,
Explaining the issue away as a mere matter of “semantics,” the Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson said the gadgets requested were not just “laser guns” but actually the more sophisticated “micro digital photo/video laser tech speed system” currently being used in more advanced countries that cost “about a million” each in Philippine Inquirer “PNP insists: No wrongdoing, only ‘wrong’ term,” January 16, 2020.
Thus, the Philippine National Police (PNP) was even going to “save” the country about P50,000. Ha!
The Philippine National Police (PNP) “wanted to acquire the latest equipment to stop speeding, drunk driving and overloading, which typically cause road accidents.”
It could not even detect jeepneys plying the streets of Metro Manila without their headlights being switched on at night!
More accidents have happened because of such wanton recklessness.
No high-tech, very expensive gadgets are needed there, but only their naked eyes!

Romano Morano,
Montenegro,
Manila,
Philippines



Call for Papua New Guinea government to support
The Immigration Special Taskforce Rausim Alien
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 25 January 2020
First published in the National Friday 24 January 2020

It is not surprising to read in The National on January 20 that 20 foreigners were arrested.
It is the evidence of what we are seeing every day in urban centres and in some rural areas.
It is the result of foreign companies helping to aid unskilled workers abroad to enter our soil.
And on the other hand, it is the consequence of foolish frail government coordination of this nation.
It is interesting to see reserved business for the locals such as trade stores are run by foreigners leaving the citizens out of the business.
That is legally wrong.
It is apparent that foreigners are wandering around in rural areas involving in small sector businesses such as fishing, logging and running restaurants.
These nature of the business by law should be reserved for Papua New Guineans.
These are few of the million aliens hiding like rats in boxes, containers and drums to steal the wealth of our people.
I would like to ask these simple questions;
How are they entering Papua New Guinea and for what reason?
How can we get rid of these aliens to recoup our small business rightfully ours?
What is governments plans on addressing this issue?
Can the Government, through its relevant authorities, look into this before we become foreigners on our own land?
On that token, the Government should take tough legal actions on foreigners entering the country illegally.
Before allowing foreigners in, the immigrants should sit for the English language test.
If they fail the test, refuse their entry.
Allow qualified professionals to come and build this nation.
Those who have empathy to help without the intention to take.
The laws concerning foreigners and employments should be given more teeth to bite.
These laws should make foreigners think twice before entering the country.
If we cannot control the influx of foreigners, we will end up working for them.
I appeal to the Government to prop up a Taskforce Rausim Alien with logistics and finance support to do a good job.

Eric Mumson Piuk,
Gerehu Stage 5,
National Capital District,
Papua New Guinea




Call for Malaysia's Ministry of Health
To ensure that nCoV will not enter Malaysian
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 24 January 2020
First published in the Star Wednesday 22 January 2020

As the spread of the H1N1 virus remains a risk, it is vital for the Health Ministry (MoH) to improve on the efficiency of giving updates as well as the provision of vaccine supply.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) had claimed that they needed more time to confirm the cases and to collect relevant statistics before giving updates on the current situation.
This is largely worrying, because updates being untimely may lead to anxiety and uneasiness among the masses.
The Influenza A disease has been around for over one month, yet the MoH appears to not be in step with the current developments.
As new infections are being reported daily, the MoH cannot afford to just continue standing around collecting data, while there is no mechanism to generate a daily update on the latest statistics.
As MCA had previously suggested – form a H1N1 taskforce. Form a team specifically for H1N1-related issues and provide updates, so that there is an official portal for the dissemination of information and news.
If the MoH had been giving daily updates on the H1N1 and the vaccine supply, it would not have devolved into today's state of public uneasiness.
Besides that, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad has been reassuring the public that vaccine supplies in government hospitals would be sufficient; yet on the other hand, his deputy Dr Lee Boon Chye admitted to the shortage of vaccine in the market and spoke of how drug manufacturers are working to meet the demands. Subsequently, Dr Dzulkefly on 22 Jan 2020 said that vaccines are now being imported from overseas. This shows that there was not enough vaccines to start with.
Despite people speaking of vaccine and medicine shortage in both government hospitals and private clinics since December 2020, MoH failed to heed the warnings, leading to this last-minute effort to import vaccines.
Regardless, the MoH performed satisfactorily in the wake of the new Wuhan Coronavirus (nCoV) by swiftly implementing a 24-hour surveillance mechanism at primary airports nationwide.
I hope that the MoH will improve itself further, and ensure that the nCoV will not enter Malaysian borders.

Datuk Dr Lee Hong Tee,
MCA central committee member,
MCA social development committee chairman,
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia





Philippines Commission on Elections (Comelec)
Thinking ahead of comming 2022 polls
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 23 January 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Wednesday 22 January 2020

It is laudable that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is considering holding early presidential debates, “Comelec mulls holding of presidential debates early,” News, January 14, 2020.
The earlier the better, because why wait until the 11th hour?
A different but related news item stated that the Comelec is gearing up for the 2022 polls.
That is good news, too, because even a party list group needs three years of preparation to seriously campaign for a seat in the House of Representatives.
The Comelec is a constitutional body that needs to make sure the 2022 polls are held as scheduled, and without worrying the populace.
We still remember reports from last year stating that the Comelec was in “a race against time on the printing of ballots.
It’s good to know that for the coming 2022 polls, the Comelec is thinking ahead of time.

Godofredo V. Arquiza,
Former congressman,
14th and 15 Congresses
Manila,
Philippines

 

 

Call for "The Kingmaker" to be shown
At the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 22 January 2020
First Published in the Philippine Inquirer, Tuesday 21 January 2020

There are many bad things going on in this country, but nothing more nauseating than the recent award given to Imelda Marcos by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
The media photos at the grand dinner for the Marcos family, beaming along with Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) chief Margie Moran, were totally disgusting, particularly at this time when Taal Volcano victims need assistance.
One could dream that the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) had instead shown at that event the recent foreign documentary “The Kingmaker.”
But that, of course, would not have happened, given the servility displayed by Filipino officials with short memories.
But thankfully, the film is now scheduled to be shown in Manila on January 29.
I saw it some months ago in the United States and wished it could be shown throughout our country to remind people of the dark era when the Marcoses were in power.
There is a superb account of the building and collapse of the Manila Film Center by Tats Manahan in the November 2015 issue of Rogue magazine.
It chronicles how Imelda dreamed of putting up, next to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), a Parthenon-like structure to be a “filmmakers’ wonderland.”
With the grand opening scheduled for January 1982, 4,000 workers in seven shifts were tasked with finishing the construction on time.
In November 1981, the scaffolding on one floor collapsed, burying hundreds of men in the rubble.
Rescue efforts were slow.
There is only one extant photo taken by a TV network, showing a man being pulled out of the rubble - an engineer ironically named Benigno Aquino, who died in the hospital.
Since martial law was in place, Imelda ordered a news blackout to keep the public from learning about the incident.
Rescue efforts were stopped so the rebuilding could continue, but it was known that 169 men were unaccounted for and left buried in the rubble.
The grand opening was held on time, with foreign film celebrities like George Hamilton, Brooke Shields and Jeremy Irons being flown in for free by Philippine Airlines.
In 1990, an earthquake and a fire made the Film Center unstable, but after some restoration work, Imelda allowed soft porn to be shown to the public to raise revenue.
Manahan recounts exorcism rites being held in the film center, with Imee Marcos supervising. To this day it’s believed the ghosts of the buried men hover over the doomed building, a testament to Imelda’s entombed dreams.
There were a few muted cries at the time over the millions being spent on what the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr. had called Imelda’s “edifice complex.”
Today, Imelda is being feted for her supposed contribution to the arts.
One really has to wonder if and when Filipinos will ever gain some self-respect.

Celeste T. Cruz,
Manila,
Philippines




Philippine nationalism
Only good during crises
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 21 January 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Thursday 15 January 2020

This refers to the editorial “Unfolding crisis” in Philippine Inquirer January 15, 2020.
It is now a common narrative that national unity comes to the fore when we are faced with natural disasters.
But this, in my view, is an artificial response - a pretentious, even scandalous, display of nationalism because it is only good during crises.
I consider this a case of unrealistic optimism, for after the crisis, we regress to our most habituated ways of responding - to sit complacently.
Our sense of national unity should be a daily habit and should find its deep roots in our culture.
Akin to optimism is opportunism during disasters.
We have the propensity to make sick jokes, which pop up in the immediate aftermath of catastrophe.
During disasters, news sensationalism, rumor-mongering, unverified tales and offensive gags quickly thrive in the country and on social media.
It may be a coping mechanism, but I consider it an unhealthy routine to find the suffering of others funny.
Disasters such as the Taal volcanic eruption in Batangas should provide us both optimism and opportunism - that is, for us to be optimistic that we can rebuild the lives of the evacuees and victims, and the opportunity for us to show our “bayanihan” spirit without much fanfare and political undertones.

Reginald B. Tamayo,
Assistant City Council Secretary,
Marikina City,
Philippines

 

 

Mekong-Loei-Chee-Moon water diversion project
Not in line with 1995 Mekong agreement
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 20 January 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Sunday 19 January 2020

Reference is made to the recent media report in which it is announced that by 2022, as a key project, the first phase of the water diversion project of the Mekong-Loei-Chee-Moon project will be implemented at a cost of 158 million baht.
This controversial project pops up at regular intervals.
The last time was in 2016 after which it was dumped following protests from farmers in the North and environmentalists questioning whether the benefits of such a costly commercial investment would ever be recovered by cash-poor farmers to pay for the pumped Mekong water in their paddy-fields.
But since this project is challenged by Section 5 (Reasonable and Equitable Utilisation) of the 1995 Mekong Agreement and apparently not in line with the water utilisation project (Section 26 of the 1995 Mekong Agreement) signed by all four member countries, it is questioned whether this ambitious water-diversion project would be harmful to downstream countries like Cambodia and Vietnam, which are equally in dire need of water.
The government of Thailand is searching all means to stop the silt progressing in the Chao Phraya River but gives little or no concern for the downstream Mekong countries which are struggling as well to keep their Mekong Delta free of intruding seawater.
The Mekong Delta with its two to three crops a year is the rice barn of Vietnam and is at stake.
Water-diversion projects (during wet as well as dry seasons) are always subject to notification to the joint committee and, as good neighbours, such projects should show genuine concern for the harm and damage that could be caused to its neighbours in accordance by Section 7 of the 1995 Mekong Agreement (Prevention and Cessation of Harmful Effects).
This controversial Mekong-Loei-Chee-Moon project seems to be an uphill battle that will make nervous neighbours with many eyebrows raise. It may be the end of the Mekong River Commission!

Jacques Dezeure,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Philippines remind the United States that the Philippines
Is a sovereign state coequal to the United States
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 19 January 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Friday 17 January 2020

This is in reaction to US Senate Resolution No. 142 calling on US President Donald Trump to impose sanctions against Philippine officials in accordance with the Global Magnitsky Act.
The Philippines is a sovereign and independent state.
Even freshmen political science students know that the Philippines possesses the basic four elements and attributes of a state: 1) people; 2) territory; 3) sovereignty; and 4) government.
It is the third element that is now being challenged by this US Senate resolution.
ln general terms, sovereignty is understood as the inherent power of a state to control its internal or domestic affairs without external interference.
As a sovereign state, the Philippines possesses coequal status with the other independent states in terms of rights, privileges, obligations and duties imposed by international law, including international covenants.
One of the obligations of every state is to respect coequal states by not meddling in the other’s internal affairs.
This includes the manner and method by which that coequal state administers its government.
The authors of the said resolution seem to have forgotten that the Filipino people had already declared independence from the United States seven decades ago; perhaps they still imagine the Philippines as a colony of the United States.lf indeed the US senators have reasonable grounds to believe that the human rights of Sen. Leila de Lima were violated, there are diplomatic channels and international bodies that can properly investigate the matter.
But resorting to a resolution without even conducting an investigation is an act of intrusion into Philippine affairs and a mockery of our sovereignty.
Such unwarranted action by the US senators is tantamount to dictating on our Supreme Court about what to do with pending cases.
Trump, as the head of the US executive branch of government, should be circumspect and prudent in considering US Senate Resolution 142.
He should not forget that the Philippines is a sovereign state coequal with the United States.

Samrollah M. Dekire,
Pagadian City,
Philippines



Praise for US President Trump
For turning America around despite CNN
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 18 January 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Friday 10 January 2020

Criticism such as satire is a luxury enjoyed by those countries blessed with democracy.
However, like politicians, satirists mostly draw and write according to their own personal political bias.
They don't offer solutions to what or whom they criticise, they just simply criticise. Why?
Most likely because they don't want to be the target of what they themselves enjoy doing.
No risk!
President Trump, but for a few flaws, is doing a fantastic job in turning America around.
Yes, he stumbles once in a while, like all politicians, but look what he is up against. All the major newspapers and TV networks in the US, including CNN, are simply an extension of the Democratic Party's propaganda wing.
The only exception is one moderate cable TV station (Fox).
The majority, however, simply provide an onslaught of Democratic (aka socialist) Party satire and criticism.

Amon,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Marcos son wants to revise history
Of his fathers dictatorship
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 17 January 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer,Tuesday 14 January 2020

The Marcoses were able to bury Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani - heroes cemetery - in collusion with President Duterte - to perpetrate the lie, in a clear distortion of history, that Marcos the plunderer and human rights violator is a hero.
Now the son of the dictator wants to make the lie complete with his push to revise our history books.
We should oppose this sinister move of the Marcoses, pursuant to our collective responsibility to pass to the next generations what really happened during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship.
Failure to do so may again allow tyranny to rule this sad land of ours.
We are now, in fact, experiencing a gradual descent into another tyranny, sadly because many of us are oblivious of our past and have really not learned the sad lessons of our history.
That Marcos was indeed a dictator who robbed our people of their basic rights and freedoms, who violated their human rights wholesale and who plundered the nation’s wealth is already beyond dispute as acknowledged by the Supreme Court itself in a number of decisions.
Speaking of Marcos, for instance, who on his deathbed had signified his wish to return to the Philippines, the Court declared:
“This case is unique.
It should not create a precedent, for the case of a dictator forced out of office and into exile after causing 20 years of political, economic and social havoc in the country and who within the short space of three years seeks to return, is in a class by itself.
We cannot also lose sight of the fact that the country is only now beginning to recover from the hardships brought about by the plunder of the economy attributed to the Marcoses and their close associates and relatives, many of whom are still here in the Philippines in a position to destabilize the country, while the Government has barely scratched the surface, so to speak, in its efforts to recover the enormous wealth stashed away by the Marcoses in foreign jurisdictions.
“Then, we cannot ignore the continually increasing burden imposed on the economy by the excessive foreign borrowing during the Marcos regime, which stifles and stagnates development and is one of the root causes of widespread poverty and all its attendant ills.
The resulting precarious state of our economy is of common knowledge and is easily within the ambit of judicial notice.” (Marcos v. Manglapus, GR No. 88211 Sept. 15, 1989).

Severo Brillantes,
Manila,
Phiippines



Phillipines envious of ASEAN neighbours
Who show defiance against the common enemy
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 16 January 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Monday 13 January 2020

The editorial, “Sangley surprise” in Philippine Inquirer January 10, 2020, gave me mixed feelings of anger and sadness.
Anger because the present occupant of the palace by the Pasig with his much-vaunted bravery looks like a lame lamb who stoops so low and bows condescendingly before the giant dragon, while our neighbors
Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam are showing unmistakable mettle and defiance against the common “enemy.”
Malaysia is “unfazed by threats of Chinese reprisal.” We can only feel envy at the statement of Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah: “If we are to fear that, we will not submit our claim.”
The words of Indonesian Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan was more enviable. “I would not sell our sovereignty for investment,” he said.
I am saddened, because all these are in stark contrast to what the Duterte administration has been doing with regard to Chinese intrusion into and occupation of areas we have won in the international court of arbitration.
Mr. Duterte’s braggadocio that he would “jet ski” to our territory now appears like a whiff of hot air that has frozen in the atmosphere.

Ramon Mayuga,
Manila,
Philippines



Call for community consultation in Papua New Guinea
For mining mineral sands in Orokolo Bay
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 15 January 2020
First published in the National, Friday 10 January 2020

I wish to make a comment in response to the article in your business column on December 24 in which reported Paul Mulder of Mayur Resources Ltd saying that the intensity magnetic sepertions was purchased for the project to exploit (magnet) mineral sands out of Orokolo Bay in Gulf.
This project should not go ahead as indicated.
This is because there is no proper community consultation, including a proper land investigation report, and proper landownership identification and proper resource ownership investigation.
Environmental effect studies were not made clear to the community.
Was the environment licence (permit) obtained?
We fear the destruction that would happen once machines/equipment set exploiting, damaging grounds, leaving foot holes that would collect water for mosquitoes to breed.
Obviously, the ground holes will become swamps forever.
For the economic benefit, equity shareholding participation was not discussed.
According to Mining Laws of this country, any minerals discovered below 6 feet belongs to the State.
However, these mineral sands you are about to extract is found well and truly above a foot.
You know it.
Therefore, the community owns the resources in this case.
As I read your (Mulder) article, in this paper on Jan 9, you said, “Orokolo community will have job opportunities and spin-off businesses.”
You never mention anything about equity shareholding and partnership in this operation.
We would very much appreciate it if you would kindly respond to this letter of opinion for the best interest of this project.

Ohako Hoko,
Chairman,
Orokolo Bay Gas Pipeline Corridor Holdings Limited,
Port Moresby,
Papua New Guinea



Air pollution from taxis, tuk tuks and trucks in Bangkok
Cannot be good for tourism
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 14 January 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Friday 10 January 2020

I don't know about now, but in the past buses have been responsible for a lot of the dirty air in Bangkok.
I would like to suggest that the government send out teams of people to the garages where buses are kept at night to check all the buses in the garages even if it means going there after regular hours, so as to check all the buses that are either privately owned or owned by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA).
They could do this for taxis, tuk tuks and trucks too.
In my opinion, air pollution is life threatening to us and countering it should be given the highest priority.
It cannot be good for tourism either if potential tourists come across an article that says Bangkok, as one did last week, has the third worst air in the world.

A Reader,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Papua New Guinea wants soldiers and firefighters
At home not in Australia
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 13 January 2020
First published in the National, Thursday 9 January 2020

Rather than sending the 1,000 soldiers and firefighters to Australia, funds that will be spared for that exercise should be sent directly to Canberra to help Australia with the ongoing fire disaster.
Airfares would be paid return and of cause allowance also.
While we all sympathise with those affected, how much impact would our men bring with their physical presence?
The thought counts and sending money would make a difference to someone.
If a small country such as Vanuatu can be the first Pacific island country to support Australia, what are we waiting for?
Let’s be realistic, we need our soldiers to help police bring the law and order situation under control in the country.

Concerned tax payer
Port Moresby,
Papua New Guinea



Pension system in the Philippines
Is lopsided in favor of certain sectors
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 12 January 2020
First published in the Philippine Inquiry, Thursday 9 January 2020

It is traditional that as a new year starts, people are hopeful that it will be better than previous years.
We seniors are no different, especially since 2019 ended with portents of good things to come, like the enactment of the law creating the National Commission of Senior Citizens.
The commission is tasked to create programs that will provide more care for the concerns of seniors, including welfare, benefits and pension.
It will also reportedly look into the pension system in the country.
In previous committee hearings on the proposed law, it was pointed out that the pension system in the Philippines is lopsided in favor of certain sectors.
For example, while pensioners from the private sector and from civil government service receive their pensions from the Social Security System (SSS) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), retirees from the military and the national police service get theirs from budgetary allocations in the General Appropriations Act.
It has also been pointed out that retirees from constitutional offices get their pensions at a much higher ratio to their base pay compared to those receiving pensions from Social Security System (SSS) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
Such discriminatory practices should have been scrapped by now, since the Senior Citizens Act of 2010, signed by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, mandated that ALL pensioners (and this includes pensioners under the Portability Law) be given the same rights, privileges and benefits given to pensioners under different laws.
With Congress about to resume session in a few days, we seniors are hoping that bitter pills like the Portability Law and lopsided pension rates be made better-tasting by amending these laws, or enacting new ones to make our sunset years brighter.

Mafeo R. Vibal,
Vice President,
External Affairs Philippine Association of Retired Persons,
Manila,
Philippines



International corporations must comply
With the Malaysian Employment Act
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 11 January 2020
First published in the Star Thursday 9 January 2020

The Malaysian Employment Act 1955 defines a work week as 48 hours, with a maximum of eight hours per day and six working days a week. It also provides for 10 days of paid holidays.
A worker’s rest day should be respected, so if he or she is requested to work on that day, the law stipulates that the individual needs to be compensated with a wage payment at the rate of 2.5 times the normal sum.
Ten days of holiday a year 10 Gazetted Public Holidays is provided for all employees. A break of 30 minutes should be provided by employers for each five hours in excess of eight hours of work.
The exception to the eight-hour day is when the specific project or work needs to progress continuously over two shifts.
These rules are expected to apply to all government, commercial and industrial and other professions. The employer who violates or contravenes any provisions of this law has committed an offence and would be held accountable by the director-general of Labour.
All employees need to review their conditions of employment to ascertain that indeed these guidelines are outlined in their contracts. It is imperative under the terms of international labour laws set by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations labour laws and Malaysian labour laws that these provisions be upheld by employers irrespective of their status.
These labour laws and working conditions and hours need to be upheld by all employers, including international companies or corporations operating in Peninsular Malaysia.
Conventions set by ILO are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by member states. Recommendations are non-binding guidelines.
In many cases, a convention lays down the basic principles to be implemented by ratifying countries while a related recommendation supplements the convention by providing more details.
International labour standards refer to conventions agreed upon by international actors, resulting from a series of value judgments “set forth to protect basic worker rights, enhance workers’ job security, and improve their terms of employment on a global scale”.
The intent of such standards is to establish a worldwide minimum level of protection from inhumane labour practices through the adoption and implementation of the said measures.
From a theoretical standpoint, it has been maintained, on ethical grounds, that there are certain basic human rights that are universal to humankind.
Thus, it is the aim of international labour standards to ensure the provision of such rights in the workplace, such as against workplace aggression, bullying, discrimination and gender inequality.
Talking to various Malaysian employees, their families and friends, I have come to realise that some local employers disregard and blatantly ignore the above guidelines and terms of their employment.
They pay no attention to the Employment Act 1955 and its approved amendments made by Parliament.
The long hours and adverse conditions enforced on Malaysian employees, if allowed to continue, could result in a terrible health toll on them and their families.
The adverse conditions under which employees work should not be ignored by the director-general of Labour and the Human Resources Ministry.
Long working hours enforced by employers and the related stress can lead to increased incidence of depression and hypertension, which can subsequently lead to cardiovascular damage and stroke. This state of affairs would lead to loss of morale and less efficiency in the workplace.
The negative impacts on family life and health of Malaysian employees cannot continue. They should and must be corrected by stricter enforcement of the law by the director-general of Labour.
International corporations must also comply with the Malaysian Employment Act, including the provision on working hours.
Any international corporation that fails to follow the provisions of the Malaysian Employment Act must be cited and reported to the relevant authorities in their home country, for example the State Department in the case of the United States, for further action.
The long hours and working conditions of Malaysian workers need to be examined critically to determine a solution.

Dr. J.V. Ananan,
Associate professor (retired)
Pharmacy, Pharmacology and Pharmacokinetics
Wayne State University
Detroit,
United States



Victims of Australia's destructive bushfires
Angry with Prime Minister Morrision
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 9 January 2020

It is very heartwarming and uplifting to learn that Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has written a letter to the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrision expressing solidarity in Australia's hour of need in the current mega bushfires ravaging the country ( Fiji Times 8 January ).
But the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is a huge part of the problem as many Australians point out in their letters in all the Australian newspapers.
I share their view.
In my letter published in The Age 5 January I wrote Prime Minister Scott Morrison " should hold himself personally responsible for his administration's lacklustre commitment to the climate change emergency in the face of scientific evidence. He failed to provide the leadership the climate emergency called for. That's why the victims are angry with him. They are right in directing their indignation at him".
The anger over his failure to do what's right is still manifesting and we are likely to hear more on that front.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia



Thai's warned against taking Australia's response
To climate change
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 9 January 2020
First published in the Bangkok Post, Wednesday 8 January 2020

Extensive daily coverage of the bushfires emergency in eastern Australia has been well covered in the Thai media including the Bangkok Post.
However, apart from the main focus on the death, destruction and trauma suffered by thousands of Australians, there has not been enough attention on gross failures of leadership by the federal government led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
He has betrayed our people and the vulnerable environment which sustains our lives.
His role has been abysmal in terms of disaster response and, most critically, lack of action on climate change which is the biggest contributing factor in unprecedented bushfires affecting huge areas of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.
Thai's need to take this as a warning for their wonderful nation, as Thailand will inevitably face its own increasingly severe weather events including more intense and prolonged floods, heatwaves, droughts, forest fires and air pollution.
It will require the government led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to set and implement a strategic pathway for climate change mitigation and adaptation, building the resilience of communities and ensuring better preparedness for, as well as response to, natural disasters.

Pablo Bateson,
Bangkok,
Thailand



Call for paradigm change in the modus operandi
Of the Australian defence force
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 8 January 2020

I agree with everything Jennifer Horsburgh says about the need for a paradigm change in the modus operandi of the Australian defence force in her letter to the Southeast Asian Times 7 January.
That would be the best way for the Australian defence force to serve the best interest and welfare of the Australian people on home soil.
That is the enduring lesson to draw from the bushfires currently ravaging the country and the deployment of the defence force to combat the calamity.

Rajend Naidu,
Sydney,
Australia



Call for Australian Defence Force
To be at the ready to fight fires at home
The Southeast Asian Times, Tuesday 7 January, 2020

The Australian Defence Force should have been put on standby way back in September when these fires started, ready for deployment at a moment's notice.
It has taken far too long to get them involved.
Also we need a complete rethink of the way we spend our defence budget.
It needs to be redirected to buying thousands of trucks, and ships to transport people, goods, fuel, generators and animals, including farm animals, pets and wildlife.
And the army needs thousands of bulldozers to clear roads and firebreaks.
We need many hundreds of water and retardant bombers and helicopters equipped with smoke penetrating cameras and built to fly in all conditions.
All troops and equipment must be brought home from overseas because they are needed here.
And we need to keep out of foreign wars, because we are 'at war' within our own country!

Jennifer Horsburgh,
Elanora,
Queensland
Australia



Forbidden for Muslims to wish their Christian friends
And neighbours a Merry Christmas
The Southeast Asian Times, Monday 6 January 2020
First published in the Star, Friday 3 January 2020

I wish to commend my friend, Emeritus Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi, for his excellent article in The Star yesterday titled “Build bridges and dismantle walls” in the column Reflecting on the Law.
His article is most timely at the beginning of a new decade and should be taken seriously by all Malaysians if we are to move forward with peace and progress.
Shad has the intellectual depth, academic integrity and the necessary background to categorically reject religious bigotry and racism.
Sadly, these issues are not often openly addressed, as Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai wrote in his On the Beat column “Silence isn’t always golden”, December 29
As a patriotic Malaysian Christian with moderate views – and like most Malaysians, I’m sure – I am greatly encouraged by Shad’s positive comments in criticising narrow-minded guardians of religion who claim that it is haram (forbidden) for Muslims to wish “Merry Christmas” to their Christian friends and neighbours.
I have to ask: What have some of our so-called religious guardians come to?
What peace and national unity are they preaching, when Islam, as I understand it, is a religion of peace, harmony and good- will to all peoples?
Why should anyone from any religion who preaches hate be tolerated?
He should be hauled up and punished if we want a happy Malaysia.
We should all be true to our different – but often similar – religious teachings while isolating and rejecting the growing bigotry and rising racism to protect the well-being and success of our children’s future.
Indeed, the world is watching us!
Tourists will be reluctant to visit countries that tolerate hate and practise selectivity in the administration of the rule of law.
Visit Malaysia 2020 will lose its attraction if we have more hate speech, especially from religious leaders.
And foreign investors, already wary thanks to Islamophobia and its implications, will hesitate to invest in Malaysia, as other more tolerant societies will be more welcoming to them.
One of Shad’s quotes from the Holy Quran is, “So, compete with each other in doing good”.
But what goodness are religious leaders doing when they promote hate and strife?
As Shad also points out, our highly respected Council of Rulers, as the heads of Islam, can pull up those who preach and practise hatred that is based on religion and race.
Similarly, the Federal Government and all its relevant agencies should adopt a national harmony policy, as Shad suggests.
In fact, I was a member of the last National Unity Council that strongly proposed a National Harmony Act but nothing came of it.
Our firm recommendations to the previous government were ignored.
We thus concluded that national unity was only being paid lip service by the government of the day then.
Can this new government, in this new decade, give top priority to establishing this Harmony Act, to stamp out hate and to promote love and national unity?
It need not take long to introduce this popular legislation unless extremist elements with narrow and vested interests are allowed to have their way over the bigger national interest.
If that is the case, we the rakyat should resist all unMalaysian policies and practices, and do so consistently and always.
Happy new year, and may the new decade be filled with love and peace, not hate!

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam,
Chairman Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia



Duterte's circumvention of 2022 elections
Is at war with the spirit of the Constitution
The Southeast Asian Times, Sunday 5 January 2019
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Friday 3 January 2019

Manuel L. Quezon III wrote in Philippine Inquirer on January 1 “The problem of the split ticket” about Boo Chanco first mentioning a possible Go-Duterte tandem in 2022.
A president may not run for re election.
So the answer I prefer to hear from my students is that what he cannot do directly, he may not, indirectly.
Such circumvention is at war with the spirit of the Constitution, the obvious intent or rationale in running for vice president.
President Duterte, with his health issues, will be 77 in 2022.
Those who care for him should advise him to avoid further stress and the strain of leading what may be 110 million rabbits in 2022.
He may be even more cantankerous by then.

R.A.V. Saguisag,
Palanan,
Makati City
Philippines



Call for Philippine Military to account for funding
For Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program
The Southeast Asian Times, Saturday 4 January 2019
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Friday 3 January 2019

The Makabayan bloc wants the House of Representatives to investigate the government’s program that encourages the rebels to return to the fold of the law.
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said the manipulated photos released by the Philippine Army are proof that reports about the declared rebel returnees are not credible.
Brosas also said that the government allots millions every year for funding the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program or Eclip, which provides assistance to rebel returnees, yet there is no auditing to ensure their proper distribution.
A hearing in Congress will allow the Philippine Army to explain its side. Editing photos and using them for press releases can lead to misinterpretation.
Our lawmakers should investigate this incident, and make sure the probe is transparent and open to the public.

Kareen Asistio,
Manila,
Philippines




Call for Malaysia's Human Resources Ministry
To monitor exploitation of migrant workers
The Southeast Asian Times, Friday 3 January 2019
First published in the Star, Thursday 2 January 2019

While Malaysia has signed a memorandum of understanding with Nepal to adopt fair practices in recruiting workers from Nepal “Malaysia adopts fair practices in hiring Nepalese”, The Star, December 12, I wonder whether the Human Resources Ministry will monitor the situation to ensure that these foreigners are not exploited when they are actually working in Malaysia and that their terms and conditions of employment are in accordance with Malaysia’s Employment Act.
I have been in contact with a Nepalese man who is engaged in the security services here.
He has been working in Malaysia for about two years.
While he is not so conversant in English and Bahasa Malaysia, this is what I gathered from him about the terms and conditions of his employment:
He is paid a gross salary of RM1,700 a month.
He works 12 hours a day, seven days a week - that is, he does not get a weekly rest day or public holidays off or any annual leave.
RM100 is deducted from his salary for each day he does not turn up for work.
I presume he has “volunteered” to work on his rest days and on public holidays and to forgo his annual leave.
His employer provides accommodation and transport to his location of assignment and back to his accommodation.
Based on the current minimum wage of RM1,100 a month, and assuming that he is entitled to the minimum of 11 public holidays and eight days of annual leave under the Employment Act, he should be getting a gross salary of RM2,715.97 a month for working seven days a week, including on public holidays and during annual leave.
From the RM1,700 a month that he is paid, I assume the balance of RM1,015.97 is most probably used to pay for the accommodation and transportation that his employer is charging him for.
It looks to me like these terms and conditions of employment do not follow the Employment Act, so I suggested that he seek clarification from the Labour Department.
However, he is not willing to do so and said that he will complete his contract and go back to Nepal.
I know that it is a norm for employees (both local and foreign) engaged in the security services to work 12-hour days and I would not be surprised if the terms and conditions of their employment do not comply with the Employment Act.
But not many employees are keen to complain to the Labour Depart-ment.
Worse still, some foreign workers are at the mercy of the employers.
With so many foreign workers employed in the country, if the Labour Department were to take the initiative to interview some of them, I would not be surprised to find that many are being exploited, like my acquaintance in the security services.

CP Lee,
Penang,
Malaysia



Wishing everyone, friend or foe, a happy new year
And a successful new decade from the Philippines
The Southeast Asian Times, Thursday 2 January 2019
First published in the Philippine Inquirer, Wednesday 1 January 2019

That Digong and Joma reach an agreement and peace talks come to a successful conclusion in a neutral country with no one “losing face.”
That natural disasters, which are largely caused by people themselves, do not affect the Philippines.
That we live and trade in peace with all of our neighbors without exception.
That science and logic go their own successful way and defeat stupidity and superstition. That new creative ideas abound. And that AIDS, TB, malaria and cancer will be defeated by medicine and in the future be treated like a cold.
I wish everyone, friend or foe, a happy new year and a successful new decade.

Jürgen Schöfer, Ph.D.,
Manila,
Philippines



People who play the racial and religious card
Are few and far between in Malaysia
The Southeast Asian Times, Wednesday 1 January 2019
First published in the Star, Tuesday 31 December 2019

I thank former de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim for his common sense and sound advice to the Pakatan Harapan government “Make introduction of Jawi optional”, The Star, December 30.
Most Malaysians are not racist.
Most simply go about their own business without imposing their values on others from different racial backgrounds.
I must say, every Malaysian I have come across can communicate in at least bahasa pasar (colloquial Malay), including my grandmothers who died almost 50 years ago.
There is no language barrier among most Malaysians.
I was having a buffet lunch in a hotel the other day.
There were quite a few large company groups at their year end get-togethers.
What I saw were Malays, Indians, Chinese, Sabahans, Sarawakians
I heard the accents and foreign workers.
Happy groups of people interacting with one another.
Truly the Malaysia that I know and experience.
People who play the racial and religious cards are few and far between.
These are the people who want to find a niche in the political landscape, to garner support by always blaming other races for their community’s problems.
Are these people capable of solving real problems with real policies instead of finding excuses with their rhetoric?
They are holding the country hostage by creating mutual suspicion and distrust among the people.
Zaid is absolutely accurate in addressing the real problems and policies of Malaysia.
His insights should be heeded by all Malaysians, including politicians from both sides and the man in the street.

Ch' Ng Chin Yeow,
Penang,
Malaysia