Mong Palatino

activist, two-term member of philippine congress, southeast asian blogger


@mongster is an activist and former legislator who represented Kabataan (Youth) Partylist in the 14th and 15th Congress of the Philippines

Written for The Diplomat

For several Southeast Asian countries, 2014 ended disastrously: the Air Asia QZ8501 crash, intense flooding in eastern Malaysia and south Thailand, and the destruction caused by Typhoon Jangmi (known locally as Seniang) in the Philippines. The devastating consequences of these tragedies are still being felt today in the region as governments scramble to recover and provide relief to their affected constituents.

The tragic crash of Air Asia QZ8501 was just one of a series of disasters that struck the region in the past month. The flight was carrying 162 passengers, mostly from Indonesia. An international search party has located the crash site near the waters of the south side of Sumatra Island. As of this writing, 48 bodies had been retrieved from the waters, of which 27 have been identified.

While global attention was understandably focused on Air Asia QZ8501, there were other disasters that hit the region but received less attention. For instance, heavy rainfall in Malaysia caused flood waters to rise in the northeastern coastal towns, forcing the evacuation of more than 120,000 residents. It was reported to be the worst flooding in the eastern states in the past two decades.

The floods caught everybody by surprise, including the government which was accused of being slow to distribute relief to stranded refugees. The prime minister was forced to cut short his vacation in the United States after he was criticized for playing golf with U.S. President Barack Obama while many of his people were drowning in flood.

The opposition wanted an audit of how the disaster fund was spent following reports that many victims were unable to receive proper assistance from the government. There are also calls for an investigation to determine if the unusual flooding has been caused by the logging operations approved by local states.

The rains that unleashed the floods in Malaysia also affected the southern provinces of Thailand while the country was commemorating the tenth anniversary of the deadly 2004 tsunami. Eight provinces have been declared disaster zones due to floods. Nearly 8,000 residents have been displaced. In Narathiwat’s Tak Bai district, more than 4,000 households in 52 villages suffered from the floods.

During the same week, typhoon Jangmi battered several islands in the Visayas and Mindanao regions of the Philippines. According to authorities, Jangmi caused 66 deaths and 43 injuries. It also damaged almost 4,000 houses. As of this writing, 27 roads and 20 bridges are still not passable after they were destroyed by strong rains. The high number of casualties was attributed to complacency. Some officials claimed that many residents refused to spend the holidays in evacuation centers. But the government was also blamed for allegedly failing to give accurate information about the threat posed by Jangmi. It didn’t help that the country’s president was seen attending the wedding of two local celebrities instead of monitoring the typhoon situation in the south part of the country. Palace officials responded by assuring the public that the president was briefed about the destruction left behind by Jangmi and he has ordered the release of aid intended for storm survivors.

Some critics cited the lackluster disaster response as evidence that the government has not yet learned its lesson after the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan tragedy.

So 2014 ended badly for Southeast Asia and the situation appears even more depressing at the start of 2015. Will poor governance hamper the ability of the region to recover? At this point, one can only hope for the best.

Uber Faces More Regulation in Southeast Asia

Written for The Diplomat

Since last year, Uber has been quietly expanding its transport business across Southeast Asia; and while this has been welcomed by many commuters, the company has failed to get the approval of various regulatory agencies.

The common complaint against Uber is that it lacks a franchise to operate as a transport service. Unlike taxi owners, which have to apply and pay for government permits, Uber initially operated without being subjected to these regulations.

Bong Suntay of the Philippine National Taxi Operators Association explained the position of the group with regard to the issue of whether or not to accredit Uber: “What we are asking government is to level the playing field. Taxi and rent-a-car operators own our vehicles and employ so many people like mechanics, cashier and dispatchers, apart from drivers. Our operation is also limited to the number of authorized units and the routes stipulated in our franchise. Our fare is also regulated.”

Authorities have also raised several concerns about Uber. The Jakarta Transportation Agency doubts if Uber is paying the right taxes because it did not apply for a permit. Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Road Transport Department has warned the public that they are not covered by insurance if they become involved in an accident while riding an Uber car. Both Indonesia and Malaysia have threatened to detain Uber drivers if their company didn’t secure the correct license.

Even Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA), which didn’t restrict the operations of Uber, has recently announced that it will be implementing new rules for third-party taxi booking apps next year. The regulations stipulate that operators like Uber should register with the LTA, company drivers must have a valid Taxi Driver’s Vocational License, booking apps should specify all information on fare rates and other fees, passengers have the choice not to provide destination information before they make bookings, and customer support services should be provided.

For Tomas Forgac, an entrepreneur, the new regulations would affect the way Uber conducts its business, and may also discourage innovation in the transport sector. He particularly noted that the requirement for drivers to hold a taxi license is counterproductive because the license is given only to Singapore citizens above 30 years old.

“Even if regulations are made with the best of intentions, they tend to introduce unintended consequences while trying to solve issues which free market competition takes care of much more efficiently,” he stressed.

For its part, Uber has expressed willingness to cooperate with authorities and it insists that it has been complying with existing rules. But it reacted strongly to the crackdown ordered by Malaysia’s Road Transport Department. “This is clearly an attempt to protect the taxi industry that has failed its customers in Kuala Lumpur. Preventing our driver partners from earning a living and getting people safely and reliably around town doesn’t just hurt the residents and visitors, it hurts the city,” Uber’s regional general manager Mike Brown told Malay Mail Online in an e-mail interview.

But if Uber thinks it is being unjustly treated, it can find consolation in its growing customer base across the region. Even some high-ranking officials have declared support for Uber.

Philippine Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya challenged taxi operators to upgrade its services instead of opposing Uber. “People prefer to use these tech-based transport services because they are more convenient. It’s that simple. So my advice to taxi operators: Modernize, innovate and improve your systems and services.”

Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Francis Tolentino added that to ban Uber is similar to curtailing the mobility rights of the people.

Uber is likely to survive the legal and bureaucratic woes it is facing today. But its expansion should be welcomed as an effort to improve the public transport systems. While authorities are correct to regulate services that affect public safety, they should not unduly penalize innovators and tech-based operators. The important stakeholders here are not taxi operators or Uber but a public that is becoming increasingly disenchanted and even desperate over a worsening traffic situation

Written for The Diplomat

As we welcome the new year, we look back and review the top news stories in the Southeast Asian region in the past 12 months. These news events were also widely reported and discussed in the international media:

1. Thailand coup. After months of intense street protests, the army of Thailand intervened on May 22 and declared martial law. An interim constitution was drafted which led to the establishment of a military-backed civilian government. General Prayuth Chan-ocha was declared the country’s 29th prime minister.

2. MH370, MH17, Air Asia QZ8501. There were 239 passengers and crew members onboard Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared in March and remains missing to this day. Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was hit by a missile in eastern Ukraine in July, killing all 298 passengers and crew members. Meanwhile, the crash site of Air Asia Flight QZ8501, which went missing on December 27 carrying 162 people, was located yesterday by a multi-country search party on the south Sumatra side of Indonesia.

3. Jokowi’s election victory. Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, was elected president of Indonesia. As a politician, he became famous for his non-traditional approach to leadership, such as making unannounced visits to government offices to check if civil servants were working efficiently. Jokowi’s victory was instantly hailed as a major boost to Indonesia’s democracy, since it is the first time that the country’s president will have no ties to either the military or Suharto, who ruled as dictator for more than three decades.

4. Brunei implements Sharia Law. Sharia law took effect in Brunei last May, making it the first country in East Asia to implement the law at the national level. The first phase in implementing the law covered general offenses such as eating in public during the fasting month of Ramadan, failing to perform Friday prayers, or becoming pregnant out of wedlock. The second phase includes amputation for theft, and flogging for violations such as abortion, alcohol consumption, and homosexuality. The death penalty will be applied during the third phase, which would involve stoning to death for adultery, and also capital punishment for rape and sodomy

5. Opposition to the Laos dam project. Laos has approved the construction of a mega dam along the Mekong River, despite the objections of Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Laos’ neighbors and various environmental groups wanted more impact studies before the project is allowed to continue.

6. Maritime disputes in the South China Sea. China continues to wrangle with Vietnam and the Philippines over the ownership of several territories in the South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea). It has been accused of violating the sovereignty of several ASEAN nations by building or placing several structures within the disputed waters. A decision by an international arbiter about the competing maritime claims next year will certainly make it a focal issue in the Asia-Pacific.

7. Cambodia’s garment strike. Thousands of garment workers joined a strike in Cambodia, demanding an increase in their monthly minimum wages. But the strike was violently dispersed by the police last January and public rallies were banned in the capital Phnom Penh. The campaign also urged global clothing brands to ensure that their suppliers in Cambodia are respecting labor rights.

8. Cambodia’s opposition party joins Parliament. After 10 months of boycotting the parliament in protest at the alleged widespread election fraud, Cambodia’s 55 opposition members agreed to take their oath as members of the Parliament last August. This allowed the opposition to articulate its agenda in the parliament, although observers noted that it also boosted the leadership of Hun Sen, the country’s prime minister for the past three decades.

9. Malaysia to strengthen Sedition Act. Prime Minister Najib Razak reneged on his election promise to scrap the Sedition Act and instead announced that his government would reform and strengthen the law, which was enacted by the British colonial government in 1948. Several lawyers, journalists, activists and even academics were charged with sedition this year, which pushed various groups to broaden the coalition opposing the law.

10. Myanmar assumes chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Domestic troubles have colored Myanmar’s role as rotating chairman of the ASEAN. However, its leadership in the ASEAN in 2014 is not only historic but crucial as the region takes key steps to prepare for the ASEAN 2015 integration.

11. Post-Haiyan recovery effort in the Philippines. Haiyan was the strongest typhoon in recorded history, striking several Visayas islands in the Philippines in November 2013. It rallied the international community to assist in the rehabilitation efforts while climate activists cited it as an example of the harsh impact of global warming. Meanwhile, in Malaysia, last week’s heavy rainfall caused the worst flooding in the eastern states in the past three decades.

Will 2015 bring change to the region? What is certain is that the coming year will be a historic one, with Southeast Asia already transitioning to an integrated ASEAN community in the next few months.

Written for The Diplomat

Singapore’s anti-gay sex law, Malaysia’s Sedition Act, Thailand’s anti-royal insult law (lèse majesté), Philippine libel law, Vietnam’s media regulation laws, Brunei’s Sharia law – all these notorious laws made news this year and they ought to be reviewed, if not outright repealed, in 2015.

Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code is an archaic regulation imposed by the British colonial government in 1938. It criminalizes male homosexual acts and those found guilty can be detained for up to two years. The constitutionality of Section 377A was challenged by several petitioners but the Court of Appeal upheld the law last October. However, all hope is not lost since the court reminded the petitioners that they can still ask the parliament to repeal the law: “Whilst we understand the deeply-held personal feelings of the appellants, there is nothing that this court can do to assist them. Their remedy lies, if at all, in the legislative sphere.”

Malaysia’s Sedition Act, another legacy of the British colonial era imposed in 1948, has been used by authorities to suppress the political opposition. It contains broad provisions that could easily criminalize legitimate dissent. For example, it is a crime to cause “discontent or disaffection” and “feelings of ill will” among the inhabitants of Malaysia. In 2012, Prime Minister Najib Razak made an election pledge that his government would repeal the measure. Last month, however, Najib retracted and even vowed to strengthen the law: “This act will not only be maintained, but strengthened. There will be a special provision to protect the sanctity of Islam, while other religions also cannot be insulted. Secondly, we will insert a provision so that action is taken against anyone who calls for the secession of Sabah and Sarawak.”

As an alternative to the Sedition Act, some government scholars are proposing the enactment of a National Harmony Bill, National Unity Bill, or National Unity and Integration Commission Bill.

In Thailand, article 112 of the criminal code provides a minimum mandatory sentence of three years in prison and a maximum sentence of 15 years for those found guilty of defaming or insulting the King and members of the royal family. The king of Thailand is the country’s most revered public figure and is the world’s longest reigning monarch. The law, enacted in 1908, is often invoked to censor web content and shut down websites. Even ordinary citizens have been jailed for allegedly sending mobile phone text messages that insult the royal family or even monarchs of the past. Since the army took power last May, the new government has filed more than a dozen lèse majesté cases.

It may be difficult to repeal the law but it can be reformed, as advocated by some Thai academics and media freedom activists.

In the Philippines, libel is a criminal offense as stipulated in the 83-year old Revised Penal Code, which mandates a prison term of six months to six years and/or a fine of 200 to 6,000 pesos. But the fine could be much higher for arrested persons. For years, journalists have been petitioning for the decriminalization of libel, which they argue is contrary to the commitment of the Philippines to uphold media freedom. The campaign suffered a setback this year when the Supreme Court ruled that Internet libel is constitutional.

Vietnam’s dissident bloggers and other independent journalists are often detained for violating article 88 of the criminal code which bans anti-state propaganda. In addition, article 258 of the criminal code punishes misuse of “democratic freedoms to attack state interests and the legitimate rights and interests of collectives and individuals” and carries a sentence of seven years in prison. Several Internet-related regulations were also drafted that restrict free speech. Decree 72 has confusing provisions that seem to ban the sharing of news stories on various social networks. Last October, Circular 09 imposed new and stricter requirements for licensing or registration of websites and social networks. Broadly speaking, vague provisions in the law allow authorities to make arbitrary arrests with little structure for accountability.

Sharia law took effect in Brunei last May, making it the first country in East Asia to implement the law at the national level. The first phase in implementing the law covered general offenses such as eating in public during the fasting month of Ramadan, failing to perform Friday prayers, and pregnancy out of wedlock. The second phase included amputation for theft, and flogging for violations such as abortion, alcohol consumption, and homosexuality. The death penalty will be applied during the third phase, which would involve stoning to death for adultery, and also capital punishment for rape and sodomy. The teaching of other religions is prohibited under the law, which already worries some Christian schools. Brunei has ignored the global outcry against some aspects of the law that would violate human rights.

All of these laws undermine human rights, which is the reason why so many citizens and cause oriented groups have actively lobbied for their reform or repeal. So far, the petitioners failed to sway their governments. Let’s hope they have better luck in 2015.

Written for Manila Today

In 2008, the world was mesmerized by the victory of Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States. Everybody wanted to follow the example of the USA, a nation that overwhelmingly voted for change. In 2014 the world is horrified by what is happening in the USA: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, the CIA torture report, the regime of mass surveillance. Everybody is desperate to avoid what the USA is experiencing today.

Too bad that the really monstrous things inflicted by the repressive state on its citizens are obscured by bureaucratic legalese and media manipulation. Worse, the resistance of ordinary Americans is depicted as violent, unruly, and irrational. When people complain against police brutality, they are accused of promoting mayhem in society.

In the past few weeks, the riots in Ferguson and other American cities came to symbolize the burgeoning protest movement in the country. The international community responded by expressing solidarity on one hand and concern over the protests on the other. There were those who shared the rage against racism but some chose to castigate the alleged hysteric behavior of the mob.

So what is really the situation in the streets of America? Two things need to be highlighted: Activists are not occupying the streets in order to spread senseless violence. They are doing it because they were provoked by the ruthless attacks unleashed by the police in their communities. Second, the protests are indeed intense but they are generally peaceful.

New York recently grabbed global headlines because of the large rallies that took place there. On December 4, a gathering was organized in response to the decision of a grand jury to exonerate a white police officer accused in the chokehold death of Garner, a black man from Staten Island suspected of peddling loose cigarettes. The chokehold was documented on video.

A large crowd assembled near city hall around 6pm. After half an hour, the main body marched between the city hall and the police department building. Some groups proceeded towards Broadway, some in the direction of Brooklyn bridge, and some lingered in the sidewalks near the city hall park path.

What TV reports failed to highlight that night was that in between marches, the crowd often divided into smaller groups to check on the security of their contingent and to reiterate the themes of the protest. The speeches were fiery and agitating. The chanting slogans were creative and easy to remember:

“Freedom, freedom; all those racist cops, we don’t need them, need them; back up, back up….” “Hands up, don’t shoot. Fist up, fight back.” “The people united will never be defeated.” “NYPD KKK, how many kids did you kill today?”

Filipino groups joined a sidewalk march that passed the Chinatown. As the rally progressed, the crowd became bigger as bystanders and residents eagerly joined the mass assembly. The march already occupied the main street when it neared Union Square. After conducting a short program there, the group merged with other protesters who arrived from other parts of the city. The march resumed in the direction of Grand Central while some activists tried to shut down several New York bridges. The police dispersed a band of protesters by using a military grade sonic weapon, a sound blast that can make people dizzy.

Those who joined the December 4 protest represented diverse backgrounds. Young and old residents, students, workers, professionals, immigrant activists, LGBT – all are united in opposing racial discrimination and police brutality. The coming together of strangers to fight a common enemy already ensured the success of the event. The warmth produced by instant camaraderie among activists from all walks of life countered the cold air of December.

It was a particular protest against the resurgent white supremacy in the US but it also became an occasion to speak out against the various manifestations of injustice and oppression in the country. It attracted the support of all those who were victimized by the system that favors the super rich and old conglomerates of reactionary power and privilege. The night began in solidarity to family and friends of Garner and Brown but as the march grew and crisscrossed the streets of New York, it became something else more beautiful, special and powerful. It became a night to indict the beast known as US imperialism.

US imperialism was named for what it really is: A killing machine that terrorizes neighborhoods, stifles dissent, and promotes militarism to protect the vested economic interest of the filthy few. It is a behemoth that draws sustenance from the blood of the toiling masses. It becomes more ferocious as global poverty and inequality continue to worsen. The fascist superpower resorts to brutal violence to maintain its hegemony inside and outside America.

December 4 was an evening of protest and numerous sub-protests that saw minimum wage workers, debt-ridden students, discriminated LGBT individuals, immigrants separated from their loved ones, and victims of state repression; linking arms and converging in the streets of New York to fight for real democracy, peace, and justice. They were there for Ferguson, Staten Island, and all other towns besieged by racism and police brutality. They were there too in solidarity to all victims of US imperialism whether it’s in Missouri or Olongapo.

Later that night, we learned that protests were held across America. In New York alone, thousands participated in protests all over the city. The following day, other cities in the world also organized solidarity actions. Public outrage has forced the government to announce that it will review the case of Garner. But the momentum of the protests continues to intensify. The protests seem non-stop. A few days ago, Berkeley activists paralyzed a freeway in north California. Staff members of Congress staged a walkout protest. Some local officials organized their own “I can’t breathe” events. Even basketball stars wore practice shirts displaying the protest theme.

Later that night, we learned that protests were held across America. In New York alone, thousands participated in protests all over the city. The following day, other cities in the world also organized solidarity actions.

Public outrage has forced the government to announce that it will review the case of Garner. But the momentum of the protests continue to intensify. The protests seem non-stop. A few days ago, Berkeley activists paralyzed a freeway in north California. Staff members of Congress staged a walkout protest. Some local officials organized their own “I can’t breathe” events. Even basketball stars wore practice shirts displaying the protest theme.

Judging from what I saw in New York where ordinary community members enthusiastically joined the indignation march, the protest movement has the potential to be broader than the ‘Occupy’. This winter dissent could be the spark of a bigger social upheaval.

America is burning. America is rising. Should the world weep for America? On the contrary, we should celebrate the uprising. And more importantly, we should continue and win the struggle for a better world; a world without racism, injustice, and repression.

Written for Bulatlat

Tatay Francis Morales. Arnold Borja ‘AJ’ Jaramillo. Recca Noelle Monte. Rendell Ryan ‘Perper’ Cagula.

AJ, Recca, and Perper were martyred NPA revolutionaries while Tatay Francis was an environmental activist who succumbed to leukemia. Their untimely deaths meant so many things to many people especially to loved ones who already shared moving tributes and testimonies about their heroism. They lived a full life, fought hard, and died with honor defending the alternative. They saw the promise of tomorrow and after this they gave their all to usher the arrival of the future. If there’s something to add, we should emphasize that their life stories gave further proof that the revolution is noble and it is a cause still worth fighting and dying for.

Through AJ, Recca, and Perper, we can surmise that the people’s army has strategic presence across the country. The NPA is supposed to be weak or nonexistent in the Cordilleras and Sarangani but what were AJ, Recca, and Perper doing there? Earlier this year, communist leaders Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria were captured in Cebu. Based on these reports, it seems the NPA has fighting units in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Undeniably, it is now an army capable of launching a nationwide offensive.

How can NPA lose if it continues to attract the support of the young and intelligent? Perper was 23, Recca was 33, and AJ was in his early 30s when he decided to join the rebel force. Perper, Recca, and AJ were all students of the University of the Philippines, the country’s premier university. To non-Filipino readers, it’s akin to Harvard or Oxford graduates joining an armed militia to seek the overthrow of the federal government in America or the constitutional monarchy in England.

What probably inspired them was the idea of changing the old world of oppression and injustice and replacing it with a new world of liberty and equality. It is the same radical vision which led Tatay Francis to embark on a four-decade journey of fighting dictators, warlords, polluters, corporate land grabbers, and corrupt officials.

Like AJ, Recca, and Perper, Tatay Francis became an activist at a young age. A former seminarian, he chose to fight Martial Law by being a community organizer in Zamboanga. He was detained in the 1980s. But he never wavered and despite his illness, he continued to perform an active role in the people’s resistance against foreign aggression, feudal exploitation, and climate injustice.

How can the national democratic struggle become obsolete if it’s nourished by the idealism of the young and wisdom of the old? Tatay Francis belonged to the First Quarter Storm generation, AJ the student activist fought the Marcos dictatorship, Recca the young artist was an Edsa Dos baby, and Perper became a full time guerrilla warrior after college last year.

Except for those living at the top of the social pyramid, everybody resents the system but not everybody is willing to fight the system. AJ, Recca, and Perper were among those who chose to move forward the struggle for national liberation by joining the NPA. For Tatay Francis, it meant a lifetime of activism. Their lives refute the malicious claim of some conservatives in power that the NPA exists to spread senseless violence and that activists are only creating troubles in society.

Did AJ, Recca, and Perper abandon the comforts of middle-class living so that they can simply pistol shoot anyone who disagrees with them in the provinces? Recca, a Bisaya, chose to live among the Ilocano peasants even if it meant being away from her child. AJ also endured the difficulty of living separately from his wife and two children. Perper could have been the next nominee and even congressman of Kabataan Partylist in 2016.

What made them sacrifice everything to embrace the NPA way of life? The question is also the answer. For them, the idea of joining the revolution is not a choice, but a duty. It is to NPA’s credit that many of our young continue to view its political program as the most comprehensive blueprint in overhauling Philippine society.

As for Tatay Francis, he is part of a unique batch of senior citizens who defied the norms of society by choosing to grow old without shunning or compromising their radical beliefs. Thanks to activist “troublemakers” like Tatay Francis, we have won some meaningful rights in the past decades that benefited the masses.

Through Tatay Francis, AJ, Recca, and Perper, we learned that the revolution is really a collective undertaking. They made a lot of sacrifices in their lives but they were more concerned about creating a new future. AJ and Recca fought landlordism in Abra, Perper was not a boxer like Pacquiao but he chose to remain in Sarangani to knockout the roots of poverty in the province, Tatay Francis was a veteran warrior who simply dreamed of making the world a safer and cleaner place to live in. All of them found fulfillment in life not by hoarding material possessions but through empowering the poor and marginalized. They fought for tangible reforms so that these will be fairly distributed to all.

After Tatay Francis, AJ, Recca, and Perper, laptop activism became more shameful than ever. After Tatay Francis, AJ, Recca, and Perper, we finally realized the futility of simply waiting for the arrival of the armed revolution in the cities. What then is to be done? City mouse, the rural beckons!

Written for Bulatlat

A specter is badly needed today, the specter of communism. It is not enough to expose the evils of capitalism; we must offer and revive a leftwing alternative. To borrow a few words from a philosopher, we have already interpreted capitalism in various ways – the point however is to change it.

True, Marxism is still the sharpest theoretical tool to understand the internal logic of capitalism. It is through Marxist political economy that we are able to analyze the dynamics between the recurring financial crisis, the boom and bust cycle of the modern economy, the expanding free trade regimes, and the ever worsening preventable miseries across the world. But alas, “walking dead” capitalism is still the dominant mode of production of our time.

The Soviet model has collapsed and the remaining so-called socialist states are either closet capitalists or burdened by the economic sanctions imposed by the West. They have little political and economic clout to disrupt the capitalist-dominated global relations. In the 1990s, free market doctrinaires even triumphantly proclaimed the “end of history” following the demise of Soviet Russia.

But is there really no alternative? Capitalist globalization imploded during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, 2008 Global Financial Crisis, the European Debt Crisis, and the current “bubble with no name.” Unless we consider precarious living as our fate, we must discard the defeatist and narrow thinking that our only choice is to embrace the dogma of capitalism.

Then there are those who peddle some fancy but dangerous illusions that modern capitalism is benign and that it is capable of reforming. They seek to mask the absolute horrors created by the system through sophisticated but disempowering academic discourse. Aside from refusing to name the system for what it really is, they mislead the public by misrepresenting the enactment of some petty reforms as the equivalent of overhauling the exploitative economic system.

Indeed, there were great variations between classical capitalism and “really existing capitalism” in the 20th century. After the Thirty-Years War (1914-1945), the Great Depression (1930), and the rise of Soviet Russia (1917), capitalism needed to become relevant by junking some of its core doctrines like absence of state intervention in the economic affairs. It has to embrace some neo-mercantilist (economic nationalism) policies in response to the Marxist-inspired command economy.

For today’s millennials, it is difficult for them to think of communism as a viable alternative. For them, it is a theoretical failure and tragic political experiment that caused massive casualties. This is where the value of studying history becomes very crucial to teach the young that communism was actually an attractive ideology that gave hope to millions and changed the way we live in the past century. Communism inspired and supported anti-colonial movements, social uprisings, and radical scholarship especially after World War II. Was Ho Chi Minh nationalist or communist? Whatever his ideological mooring, he viewed communism as the path that would lead to the liberation of his people.

The age of free trade (1870-1914) created an interdependent global economy which concentrated wealth in the hands of few corporations and powerful states led by Great Britain. Poverty, inequality, injustice, and wars became the new normal of the capitalist world order. When the United States entered the Great Depression era, there was already a massive disenchantment with free trade policies. Many sought alternatives and they found socialist planning as appealing and necessary.

To prevent communism from overpowering the world, capitalism had to prove that it offers a superior way of life. And it succeeded not by clinging to the main tenets of economic liberalism but by adopting Marxist-inspired policies such as providing the welfare needs of the poor, distribution of free social services, and pursuing state-led economic planning. The visible hand of the state was used to create the right conditions for the realization of the theory of invisible hand. It is capitalism with socialist characteristics. Even East Asian dragon economies studied and implemented Marxist economic models (industry protection, promotion of infant industries) although they chose to remain under the US-led global alliance.

There was incentive to reform or to innovate because there was competition, a very formidable competition represented by the communist bloc. But after 1991, capitalism’s main rival has already disbanded. From this point on, capitalism could now resume its free trade evangelization which was reflected through the neoliberal prescriptions of liberalization, privatization, and deregulation.

After two decades, the world has become more globalized than ever but power and wealth are still retained by a tiny elite or more notoriously known as the 1 percent of the global population. Meanwhile, poverty and deprivation has increased everywhere. The so-called Washington Consensus facilitated a methodical cash transfer from poor to rich nations. The drafting of the UN Millennium Development Goals was an indirect admission that neoliberal globalization has failed to deliver its promise of remaking the world for the better.

Despite the bank bailouts, the financial oligarchy continues to behave irresponsibly and “casino capitalism” is still creating economic bubbles in various parts of the world. Despite the irrationality of commodifying everything that we hold precious in our lives, governments continue to treat neoliberalism as a natural economic law. Why? Capitalism survives even if it is ruthless and oppressive because there is no existing alternative system that could challenge its supremacy. Marxism remains a respectable intellectual discipline but we lack concrete and functioning examples of applied Marxism. Are we then doomed to suffer the consequences of the boom and bust cycle of the economy for the rest of our lives?

Not necessarily. Marxist revolutions often take place in the unlikeliest of places. Russia and China were not industrial powers but a proletarian revolution succeeded in these countries. Vietnamese guerrillas defeated the military hardware of the U.S. Leftwing parties across the world have survived and remained relevant despite two decades of intense capitalist indoctrination.

Capitalism is wounded, weakened, but it remains on war footing. It is naïve to assume that it will self-correct its errors. On the contrary, it will be more ferocious against those who dare to subvert its world domination. The problem today is not the threat of revolution reversing the gains of globalization but the lack of revolutions challenging globalization. Our task therefore is to fight and to fight relentlessly for the communist idea. After all, to paraphrase a philosopher again, we have nothing to lose but a bleak future.

Written for The Diplomat

A documentary produced by Al Jazeera has portrayed the Malaysian government as neglectful of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in the country’s detention centers.

The claims were supported by Richard Towle, the representative for Malaysia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“Refugees are treated as illegal migrants, and illegal migrants are at risk of all forms of vulnerability in society. They are liable to be arrested and detained and live in a grey or dark zone of society where there is a high degree of exploitation or abuse,” Towle said in an interview, also with Al Jazeera.

Towle urged Malaysia to improve its detention policies concerning refugees: “They may have transgressed some regulations and laws about migration status, but at the end of the day they’re ordinary people and they’re entitled to be treated in a humane and fair way.”

According to the UNHCR, there are 148,940 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the agency as of September 2014. About 137,770 are from Myanmar, comprising some 50,840 Chins, 40,660 Rohingyas, 12,040 Myanmar Muslims, 7,520 Rakhines and Arakaneses. There are 32,010 children below the age of 18. The number of asylum seekers from neighboring Myanmar soared after 2011 when clashes broke between some Muslims and Buddhists which forced the persecuted Muslim minority known as Rohingya to seek shelter in several Southeast Asian countries.

Towle noted that Malaysia has refused to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol to recognize the status of refugees. Since refugees are considered illegal immigrants, they are subjected to harsh penalties when caught. They cannot access basic services provided by the state and their children cannot attend public schools.

Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi has denied the allegations made in the documentary. He insisted that refugees are not being maltreated.

“Even though we are not a signatory to the convention of refugees, they are being treated with dignity, they are given access to medical treatment and they are allowed visits,” he said.

The minister stressed that children’s rights are being respected and that Malaysia has been compassionate in dealing with the growing number of refugees crossing its borders.

But it is not just the local government that is accused of violating the rights of refugees. Even local UNHCR staff were implicated by Al-Jazeera in a corruption scheme, after some refugees claimed that some officers were demanding money in exchange for an early interview with UNHCR. The interview is essential to ascertain the status of the refugee and the possible resettlement of the individual or family in another country. The UNHCR office in Malaysia has vowed to probe the issue.

Malaysia is seen as a safe haven by many people, especially those escaping local wars, ethnic clashes, and other conflicts that continue to displace thousands of people each year in Southeast Asia. For persecuted Muslims, Malaysia is the top choice for asylum-seekers since it has a predominantly Muslim population. But perception is often different from reality, with the Al Jazeera documentary showing refugees suffering from discrimination and maltreatment.

The Malaysian government, the UNHCR, and civil society groups monitoring the human rights situation in the country will need to come together to address this issue and ensure better protection for refugees and asylum seekers.

Why Cambodian Garment Workers Are on Strike Again

Written for The Diplomat

After launching a strike last December, Cambodia’s garment workers have once again taken to the streets demanding a monthly minimum wage of $177. More than 500 garment workers gathered last week at an industrial park in Phnom Penh, the country’s capital, to press for higher wages. According to garment unions, about 300 factories across the country have joined the protest.

The current monthly minimum wage received by Cambodian garment workers is pegged at $100. Export earnings of the garment sector represented about a third of the country’s $15.25 billion GDP last year. There are more than 600,000 garment workers in Cambodia, the majority of them female. But aside from receiving low wages, workers also suffer from poor working conditions that often result in mass fainting incidents in various factories. Cambodia has one of the lowest minimum wages in the Asia-Pacific.

Last December, the strike mobilized tens of thousands of workers across the country to pressure the government to double the wages of garment workers, which at that time stood at $80. But labor officials rejected the full demand, and instead granted smaller increases of $15 to $20. The strike, which lasted until January, was at one stage violently dispersed by government forces, resulting in the deaths of five workers.

Learning from this debacle, the garment workers have decided to revive the campaign for a wage increase, but this time have directed their appeal to global clothing brands that buy and sub-contract supply from Cambodia. The campaign, dubbed “The buyer must provide basic wages $177,” is aimed at pressuring global brands such as H&M, Walmart, Levi’s, Gap Puma, C&A, Adidas and Zara to directly negotiate a higher wage for workers with their suppliers.

Union leaders have explained that the $177 minimum wage demand is based on the average monthly spending of garment workers. They also assert that global clothing brands have amassed more than enough profit which they could use to uplift the welfare of workers in Cambodia.

The government has reiterated its position that a substantial wage increase would scare away investors and disrupt the local economy. Fortunately, it didn’t break up the protest of workers, although police and army units were deployed near factories. Meanwhile, opposition leaders refrained from directly participating in the strike last week although they assured workers that they will bring the wage campaign into parliament.

The $177 wage increase campaign is supported by labor unions in a number of other countries. Solidarity actions were conducted outside Cambodia urging consumers not to buy clothes “tainted with exploitation and repression.”

In response, some clothing brands like H&M and Zara gave assurances that they are “ready to factor higher wages” into their pricing. They wrote Cambodian authorities and labor unions that their “purchasing practices will enable the payment of a fair living wage and increased wages will be reflected in our prices.”

Union leaders welcomed the statement but urged these companies to negotiate higher wages directly with their suppliers.

If garment workers succeed in their campaign, workers in other industries will be emboldened to petition for higher wages as well. Government workers might also ask for higher pay. But if these demands are ignored, it might spark further labor unrest. This would certainly have serious repercussions for Cambodia’s business competitiveness and political stability.

A far better outcome would be for this planned series of protests to remain peaceful and for the government to respect the right of workers to demand better living and working conditions.

The real lessons from Hagupit

December 21st, 2014

Written for the CNN

“Seeing the first set of images from the typhoon zone in the Philippines is like experiencing a dreadful sense of déjà vu: Flooded roads, fallen huts, small buildings with the rooftops ripped off, and dead animals littering the streets. If this devastation appears eerily familiar, it is because we also saw the same horrific spectacle last year when Typhoon Haiyan struck. Sadly, both the Philippines and the rest of the world are proving slow in learning the most important lessons of these disasters.”

Read more

Philippines Struggles to Recover a Year After Typhoon Haiyan Tragedy

Written for The Diplomat

A year has passed since super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) wreaked destruction in the central part of the Philippine islands. While the government is claiming that its rehabilitation effort has been more than satisfactory, many communities are still in the relief phase.

Haiyan was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in history. It affected 1.47 million families, displaced 918,261 from their homes, and damaged 1.17 million houses in 171 cities, 14 provinces, and six regions. About 6,300 people were killed, 28,000 injured, and 1,000 are still missing. The number of casualties and fatalities may be higher still, since many bodies were never recovered in numerous unmarked mass graves.

The government highlighted the positive performance of various agencies in providing assistance to typhoon survivors. Aside from distributing family food packs, livelihood grants, and cash transfers, the government insisted that it prioritized the resettlement of typhoon victims. Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman is confident that tent or makeshift houses will be replaced by “safer transitional shelters” before 2015. “By year-end, none of the remaining survivors in all ‘Yolanda’-hit areas would be staying in tents and makeshifts,” she said in a press statement.

Transportation agencies also reported that they have completed three airport and 14 seaport rehabilitation projects in the past year.

Meanwhile, President Benigno Aquino III has emphasized that rehabilitation programs are on the right track. He mentioned that the Labor Department has provided jobs to 33,338 persons out of a target of 44,778. Aquino added that 12,843 individuals were given technical and vocational education out of a target of 24,535. Earlier this year, the government vowed to replace or repair 33,432 small fishing boats; so far, the government has already repaired 30,186 boats. The education department planned to rebuild 2,313 classrooms; of this target, 101 classrooms are finished and 1,095 are currently being constructed.

Indeed, Haiyan-damaged communities are already moving forward, but even the president’s accomplishment report also revealed that the recovery is painfully slow in some areas.

Ibon, an independent think-tank, used data available on the website of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) to show the disparity between the government’s commitment and actual performance. It pointed out that only 364 housing units were completed in Tacloban and Tanauan in Leyte province, compared to more than 500,000 houses were completely destroyed in the province.

In the two devastated regions in the Visayas, only 13 health facilities have been rehabilitated and the government has deployed only 18 doctors, 668 nurses and 233 midwives. Ibon added: “Only 5.8 kilometers of national roads have been fixed out of a target 116 kilometers, three bridges out of a target 34 bridges, 33 out of 99 flood control facilities, 25 municipal halls out of a target 153 municipal, city and provincial halls, and 21 out of 161 civic centers.”

The Aquino administration is reeling from criticism that it has bungled the recovery work in the Haiyan-affected towns. Even the Commission on Audit has released a scathing report which questioned the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s “inefficient” utilization and distribution of funds and donations intended for typhoon survivors. Critics also pointed out that the government’s comprehensive rehabilitation plan was only signed by Aquino on October 29, or a few days before the first anniversary of the Haiyan disaster. This means that relief and recovery efforts in the past months have been undertaken by various agencies without a master plan to guide the activities.

Politics aside, what is clear is that rebuilding the typhoon-ravaged towns in the Visayas remains a daunting task. Recovery must be followed by a program to revive the agricultural sector and other domestic industries. With or without the assistance of politicians, survivors are already rebuilding their lives. Many are grateful to local and international aid groups for their steadfast presence and even leadership in some relief centers.

Nevertheless, the delay in the distribution of relief and the inaction of leaders in some instances are unacceptable. Survivors have every right to demand accountability from both the local and national governments.

Published by Manila Today

Cartoons do not merely entertain, they also instruct and influence the emotion and thinking of children and adults alike. Even governments sometimes ban cartoons for transmitting messages they deem harmful, subversive, and inappropriate for public viewing. For Filipino kids who grew up in the 1970s, they learned the meaning of Martial Law when President Ferdinand Marcos ordered the removal of Voltes V from primetime TV for containing references to the dictatorship. But what Marcos did was wrong because it was censorship and censorship has no place in a democracy. What we would like to emphasize is that cartoons always convey a particular political point of view. They may be imaginative representations of our world or an alternate universe but they are hardly innocent and value-free. That the good often triumphs over evil in cartoon narratives is not enough reason to bombard our children with cartoon themes. We should be aware of conservative, feudal, and disempowering values that children may absorb from repeated viewing of some cartoons. We should name and repel these meanings, we should challenge the discourse that sustains the unjust status quo, and we should replace them with a more progressive vision of society. Below are some popular cartoons and my attempt to decipher their underreported meanings:

Ratatouille and the Slumrat Millionaire

Either it is a film about a rat that really cooks (anyone can cook, right?) or it is a depiction of migrant life in Europe. The plot mirrors the life story of many migrants: A large happy family living in a distant region is forced by dire circumstances to flee and seek refuge in a rich metropole. But the “undocumented” migrants are unwanted and chased like vermin in the rich city. Fortunately, one of them possessed excellent skills as a cook aside from seriously aiming to assimilate in modern society by suppressing his heritage. After demonstrating that he can cook better than the great chefs of the city, the migrant is rewarded by a sympathetic benefactor. Lesson: Migrants are seen as a burden and they must struggle hard to contribute and give something back to their host community. The complex issues linked to migration are easily resolved in the film not by addressing the great divide in society but by emphasizing that individual talent or merit trumps other concerns. In the end, the family of the great little chef partly succeeds while other rat colonies continue to live in the sewers.

Toy Story 3 and Disposable Workers

Think of toys as workers and the film becomes a bit creepy. Like Buzz Lightyear, the toy workers initially had high hopes and dreams but they lose their idealism when they learn about the dull reality of their life: Their use value is measured by counting the time they spend with their owners. After this, they could not conceptualize any other goal other than to satisfy their kid master. Thus, they become depressed when they are dumped after years of faithfully performing their duties. The film series is all about satisfying the desperate desire of the toys to be exploited again. They feel nostalgic for the good old days when happy slavery was their everyday routine. The contradiction in the film was solved by finding a new playmate for the relic toys.

The character of the bear rebel and the cause he fought deserve special mention: His righteous rage drew support from other discarded toys and they found a new meaning in life by establishing a mini-commune. However, it’s a utopian playland which degenerated into a toy garrison. How could they think that liberation is possible when the exploitative toy relations remain unchanged? Think again of the rebel toys as utopian socialist workers. How could socialism thrive in a single liberated production unit when the rest of society is still in the throes of capitalist oppression?

Wall-E and the 21st Century Man

Neo-luddites will appreciate the themes explored in this film. Technology is evil, robots seek domination, and man is threatened by the machines he has created. It is a futuristic film that parodies the present. People have become obese, dependent and addicted to their gadgets, and divorced from productive aspects of life. The spectacle society hypnotizes everyone and prevents us from interacting with each other. We think we have free will but our choices are machine-generated. We have become too enamored with our virtual world that we failed to notice the pollution and rapid environmental degradation in the real world. The mass production of so-called wireless technologies has generated an unsustainable amount of e-waste. They have become digital weapons of mass destruction that led to the extinction of many species in the planet. The film ends by offering hope: Man has decided to take back power from the machine and more importantly for the cause of humanity, the post-apocalyptic world is starting to become livable again.

Spongebob and Happy Alienation in Capitalist Society

Mr Krabs is the typical greedy capitalist, Plankton is an innovator but unsuccessful entrepreneur, Squidward is an aspiring artist who became a cynical cashier, and Spongebob is the naive and loyal wage earner. Both Plankton and Mr Krabs employ dirty business tricks against each other. Mr Krabs regularly exploits his workers which is resented by Squidward who cannot effectively resist because his co-worker, Spongebob, supports the management. Squidward turns to art to compensate for the alienation he feels at the workplace. Spongebob appears to be satisfied with his life but he is a pitiful and sad character in the story; he is not even a real sea creature. He thinks he got his dream job as a fry cook, he genuinely believes that making krabby patty everyday is the high point of his life, and he is willing to work like a slave with very little pay. Perhaps he gives more value to friends and the time he spends chasing and playing with jellyfishes. Spongebob goes to work hoping that a new day will bring him more happiness even though he will merely repeat what he did the previous day; while Squidward’s detached attitude is perhaps his defensive posture to hide his failures. Their behavior does not change anything: Krabs will continue to amass more wealth while they on the other hand will remain minimum wage workers. It seems there is no alternative to the present other than to endure or enjoy a la Spongebob the fleeting and eternal burden of life.

Bees and the Paradox of Modern Economy

The film is a modern retelling of a poem written by Doctor Bernard Mandeville in 1714 entitled “Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Public Benefits.” Mandeville argued that vices and selfish motives propel the economy forward. Society benefits if individual vices are tolerated. Isn’t Mandeville’s “private vices” similar to Adam Smith’s concept of self-interest? That if each individual is allowed to pursue his self-interest, it will create more wealth in society. But if the vices, corruption, vanity and evil actions in the community are removed, it will lead to economic disaster. Mandeville seemed to have unlocked the philosophical basis of capitalism.

In the film, humans were found guilty of stealing the honey collected by bees. All honey products were then returned to their rightful owners, the bees. The result was chaos. Bees stopped working, honey collectors lost their jobs, and flowers died because bees have stopped pollinating. It seems the only way the system can function is to continue the stealing and exploitation committed by humans. Russian economist A.V. Anikin comments on the irrational logic of modern economy: “What a society in which parasites, warmongers, spendthrifts and rogues bring prosperity, and such unqualified virtues as love of peace, honesty, thrift, and moderation lead to economic disaster!”

Happy viewing! And remember that watching cartoons is always an “adventure time”. Hopefully, it can provide more enlightenment and not just shallow entertainment to our children.

Written for The Diplomat

The Korean embassy has issued a statement expressing alarm over the reported spike in crimes victimizing Korean tourists and businessmen residing in the Philippines.

It cited the killing of a Korean businessman last July and the abduction and killing of a Korean college student in Manila last March as examples of “brutal and senseless crimes that rattled” the Korean community in the Philippines.

The embassy said there are already nine cases of crime-related deaths of Korean citizens in the country this year. Last year, 12 Koreans were reportedly shot or stabbed to death in the country, but a local Korean newspaper reported that no suspects have been taken into custody.

This is not the first time the Korean government has raised the issue of rising crime in the Philippines. Last May, First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong asked for the Philippine government’s cooperation in protecting the security of Koreans during a policy consultation held in Manila. This message was reiterated by Korean Ambassador Hyuk Lee last July. “The escalation in the number of killings is very disturbing… I just hope that the peace and order situation will improve, especially for the benefit of Koreans who visit the Philippines.”

There were 1.17 million Koreans who visited the Philippines last year. Korean tourists accounted for about 25 percent of all foreign visitors to the country. About 88,000 are already residing in various parts of the Philippines.

The embassy said it has already reached out to various national agencies such as the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Philippine National Police, as well as the Office of the President “in the hopes that an intensified effort on the part of the Philippine government to curb criminality will lead to a safer environment for Korean nationals.”

It proposed various improvements in security measures, like preventing motor vehicles, particularly taxi cabs, from being used as a means to commit crimes, or protection from being targeted for kidnapping or “car-napping” by organized criminal syndicates.

In response, the police downplayed the concern that Koreans are being targeted by criminal syndicates and insisted that the country is still a safe destination for Koreans. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Herminio B. Coloma Jr. assured the Korean community that the problem is already being addressed.

“We’re taking the matter seriously and this is given priority attention by the police and law enforcement agencies. Part of the government’s duty is to ensure the safety of all nationals residing in the country, and we want to assure the Korean embassy that this is being given highest priority by the Philippine government,” he said in a statement sent to a local newspaper.

But there are also suggestions that some of the cases involved crimes instigated by Korean gang members. This was raised by Professor Kim Dong-yeob from the Busan University of Foreign Studies: “It is highly possible that there are Koreans behind these crimes. Many Koreans flying to the Philippines have a reason to flee Korea. Many are gang members escaping law enforcement. What they end up doing is paying people to swindle money from Korean businessmen, students and tourists.”

Whatever the cause of these crimes, the embassy was right to point out that Korean investors might “avoid the Philippines and seek safer places for doing business.”

And it looks like the fallout is already happening. Central Bank data showed decreasing foreign direct investment from South Korea since last year. Korean investments reached only $440,000 as of May this year, compared to $1.78 million in the same five months last year, representing a 75 percent drop.

This should hopefully compel the police and other concerned agencies to act faster and decisively to reduce crime in the country. A safer Philippines would benefit both tourists and especially local citizens, who need to feel secure in their own country.

Grisly Murders Stoke Political Controversies in Thailand and Philippines

Written for The Diplomat

The murder of two young British tourists in southern Thailand and the killing of a Filipina transgender person in the Philippines, allegedly by a American soldier, have created a political mess for both countries. The governments of Thailand and the Philippines are under pressure to quickly solve the cases, which could both affect their bilateral relations with the United Kingdom and United States.

The prime suspect in the killing of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, whose lifeless body was found in a motel near a former American military base in the Philippines, is U.S. Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton. Laude’s death, allegedly at the hands of an American soldier, has revived the clamor to review existing military agreements that allow U.S. troops to visit and build temporary facilities in the Philippines. Pemberton’s unit is briefly stationed in the country to participate in military war games.

The Philippines used to host two American bases in Clark and Olongapo, but these were removed after the Senate rejected the bases treaty in 1991. U.S. troops were able return to the Philippines through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which was ratified in 1999. In April this year the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was signed during Obama’s visit to the Philippines. It legalizes the building of semi-permanent U.S. military facilities in various parts of the country.

Negotiations for the EDCA implementation were about to start when the Laude murder hit the news. Activist groups immediately called for the rejection of the EDCA, VFA, and other purportedly one-sided agreements that trump Philippine sovereignty. They argued that the inability of the Philippine government to gain full custody over Pemberton is a concrete example of the unfair provisions in the signed military agreements. Senator Miriam Santiago also renewed her demand for the scrapping of the VFA.

Another debate ignited by the Laude case is the discrimination or marginalization suffered by the LGBT community in the country. Laude has become a symbol for LGBT groups demanding gender equality, protection, and fair treatment.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, the deaths of British backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller in Koh Tao island beach resort has greatly embarrassed the military-backed government. The police is accused of bungling the investigation after failing to apprehend suspects and file appropriate charges in the court.

They eventually presented some Burmese migrant workers who “confessed” to committing the crime. But the suspects have now recanted and claimed that they were tortured into producing a false confession.

It didn’t help that the prime minister advised foreign tourists not to wear bikinis in order to be safe, implying that victims of crimes are to be blamed for their ordeal. He has since apologized for making this remark on national TV and insisted that he was only thinking of the safety of visitors.

The murder case in a popular destination has badly affected the tourism sector, which has yet to bounce back from the setback it received when the Thai military grabbed power in a coup. The political instability created by the coup and the unsolved murder case involving British tourists will make it all the harder for Thailand to entice tourists to return.

In the Philippines, a foreigner is accused of committing murder; while in Thailand, two foreigners were allegedly murdered by migrant workers. In both cases, the crime of murder has produced political problems with national and international repercussions. The local population are shocked, enraged, and closely monitoring the two cases. The international community, meanwhile, is observing how the respective justice systems handle the cases. Ultimately, it is the governments of Thailand and the Philippines that are under trial.