Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Last month, Indonesian Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring announced on Twitter his disappointment over the failure of Research In Motion (RIM), the company that owns BlackBerry, to filter pornographic content in Indonesia. He warned that Indonesia would block BlackBerry’s browser if RIM wouldn’t censor access to porn within two weeks.

It’s unfortunate that Tifatul’s unique Twitter ‘press conference’, which itself was a newsworthy event, was overshadowed by his threat to BlackBerry.

It’s hardly surprising that Indonesia is conducting a war against porn—the country has strict anti-porn laws and the government from time to time reportedly empowers the police to conduct surprise raids in schools to check if students are storing pornographic materials on their mobile phones. Tifatul’s crusade is also understandable on a personal level when you consider that he also blamed immorality for a major earthquake that killed more than 1000 people in Indonesia two years ago.

Still, netizens couldn’t understand why RIM, which is a handset maker and not a service provider, had to be dragged into the anti-porn campaign. More puzzling was the government demand for RIM to shape up in less than a month or else face being closed down in Indonesia altogether. This kind of provocative policy statement doesn’t help efforts to encourage investors to put their money in Indonesia.

Perhaps sensing lack of public support for his latest morality crusade, Tifatul clarified that porn filtering isn’t the only issue with RIM, and he went on to issue additional demands if RIM wants to continue operating in Indonesia: It should open a representative office in Indonesia; it should open a service centre in the country; it should hire more local workers; and it should use local content and software.

On the surface there’s nothing particularly unusual about these kinds of demands—any government is duty bound to protect its country’s own interests. But IT experts have pointed out that these ‘patriotic’ demands by the Indonesian government have already been met by RIM. For example, RIM inaugurated its Indonesian representative office in October 2010. It already has more than a dozen service centres in the country, and is hoping to have 30 centres later this year. In addition, RIM reportedly only has two expat managers, with the rest of its workers being Indonesian citizens.

Yet despite apparently trying to do things right since it started operating in Indonesia, RIM has decided not to challenge the demands put forward by the government. Indeed, it has agreed to filter pornographic content by adopting the Nawala Project, a local software filtering system (although blogger Rob Baiton has warned that this filtering system is very broad, which means that even harmless sites could be blocked from BlackBerry devices).

In the end, it seems, RIM chose to prioritize its profit margins over the consumer rights of its two million subscribers in Indonesia.

written for The Diplomat

Singapore Needs More Babies

Singapore’s total fertility rate has decreased to an all-time low of 1.16 percent. It’s true the country’s population may have increased by 25 percent over the past decade, but this was due largely to the increased hiring of foreign workers in the prosperous city state. In reality, the low fertility rate points to a worrying fact: Singaporeans just aren’t having enough babies.

To encourage married couples to produce more children, the government has implemented the Baby Bonus Scheme, which entitles families to receive a cash gift of up to $6000 for each child they have. Another incentive is the Children Development Account in which the savings of couples is matched by the government to a cap of $6000 each for the first and second child, $12,000 each for the third and fourth child and $18,000 each for the fifth and any subsequent children.

But despite this generous financial package, Singaporeans still seem reluctant to have more children. Why?

The high cost of living in Singapore is the number one reason why couples are discouraged to procreate. The baby bonuses are removed when the child turns six years-old. Singaporeans are also complaining that raising kids is difficult because of prohibitive housing rates and soaring school costs. The pressure to be more productive in the office is also cited as a reason why couples are postponing or canceling their plans of having kids of their own.

To increase the population, the government’s other approach is to invite more foreign workers and immigrants. Singapore’s economy relies heavily on its highly skilled and creative workforce, which explains the aggressiveness of the government in trying to attract foreign talent. But the influx of foreigners is frowned upon by many Singaporeans who blame the ‘mismanaged’ immigration policies of the government for the continued drop in the country’s birth rate. Gerald Giam of the Workers’ Party explains that local workers are spending less time with their families because they have to put in ‘extra hours (at work) so they can be “cheaper, better, faster” and avoid being edged out of a job by foreigners willing to work for a third less salary.’

Singapore’s immigration policy will continue to generate intense public debate and will be a major issue on the election agenda. Meanwhile, the demand of Singaporeans to bring down the cost of living needs to be immediately addressed. Maybe overhauling the Baby Bonus Scheme should be considered.

If Singapore’s fertility rate continues to drop, Singaporeans might come to be known as a dying nationality.

written for The Diplomat

Related articles:

Sex and web censorship
Population debate in PH

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