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.

Written for The Diplomat

It seems Thailand’s opposition politicians are getting desperate.

Last month, 57 members of parliament belonging to the opposition Democrat Party were evicted from the session hall after they repeatedly protested the ruling of the presiding officer. When parliamentary police officers were called in to escort the MPs out, they forcibly resisted, with one seen grabbing the throat of a police officer.

When the incident occurred, the parliament was debating the proposed amendments to the constitution and the opposition wanted more time to ask questions.

Early this month, Democrat MP Chen Thaugsuban threw chairs inside the session to show his disgust over the ruling made by the deputy speaker. Chen was asking for an update about the clashes between the police and protesting rubber farmers in south Thailand but other MPs wanted to adjourn the session. Fortunately, no one was injured when Chen threw several chairs in the direction of the deputy speaker.

But what really surprised many people was the outburst of the usually cool and polite former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who delivered a speech in which he called Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra a “stupid bitch”. Some newspapers translated the speech as “stupid woman” and “stupid lady.” But in any case, the “stupid” remark is offensive on its own.

Speaking at an event organized by the Democrat Party, Abhisit questioned Yingluck’s support for a new reality television show called Smart Lady Thailand.

Based on a translation made by Thai writer Saksith Saiyasombut, Abhisit reportedly said: “But I ask why do they do this project, why do they have to find a smart lady, why do they make a competition out of this? Because if they are looking for a stupid bitch, there would be no competition!”

Abhisit has since denied that he insulted Yingluck and Thai women in general, claiming his speech was taken out of context by many reporters.

Nevertheless, these controversial actions by the opposition have shocked supporters and disappointed many Thais. The parliament squabble could actually discourage voters from supporting campaigns initiated by the opposition. For veteran journalist Veera Prateepchaikul, the opposition and other public figures should learn from Abhisit’s mistake.

“(He) shot himself in the foot when he uttered an ill-considered remark a man of his stature is not supposed to make in public. Mr. Abhisit and other public figures should be careful when speaking in public, as their very own words could bounce back to bite them,” Veera wrote.

But what the opposition should also realize is that the aggressive behavior of some of its members has diverted the attention of the public away from the issues it is promoting.

The opposition’s concerns about the constitutional reforms proposed by the ruling Pheu Thai Party are legitimate. Their claim about the railroading of some legislative measures also seems accurate. Indeed, they have the right to demand more time for debates. It is only apt that the opposition should question the deployment of riot police near the parliament complex. The issues involved in the rubber protests also deserve to be adequately addressed.

But unfortunately, these concerns were overshadowed by screaming and violent MPs inside parliament.

Before delivering his infamous punchline, Abhisit was criticizing Yingluck’s numerous foreign trips. It was an appropriate criticism since Yingluck was in Europe at the time. But Abhisit lost his composure and went on to deliver his “stupid woman” (or “stupid bitch”) speech. So instead of responding to the accusations made by Abhisit that Yingluck is spending too much time in other countries, the ruling party hit back by demanding an apology from the opposition leader.

These are among the many social issues that could have effectively mobilized the Thai masses against the Yingluck government. Instead, the opposition continues to bungle its chances to seize the political initiative.

Deadly Accidents in Malaysia and Philippines Expose Weak Transport Systems

Written for The Diplomat

A bus accident in Malaysia that killed 37 people and a collision between a cargo ship and a passenger ship in the Philippines that left more than a hundred dead have raised troubling issues about road and maritime safety standards and enforcement in these two countries.

On August 21 an express bus crashed 60 meters down a ravine in Malaysia’s Genting Highlands, killing 37 people and injured 16 more. It was Malaysia’s deadliest road accident on record. Initial reports revealed that the bus company had already been placed on a blacklist with the Road Transport Department before the crash took place. Further, while the bus had a capacity of only 44 seats, it was transporting 53 passengers at the time of the crash.

The tragic accident prompted the Land Public Transport Commission to announce that it would soon implement a “Driver Information System” that will provide background information on public transport drivers.

Perhaps authorities should also review bus permits, which allowed up to 18 standing passengers. There’s also no harm in building wider and better roads at popular tourist spots like the Genting Highlands. Malaysia should also prepare its public transport system for greater ridership after it recently slashed fuel subsidies.

Meanwhile, more than one hundred passengers died in the Philippines on August 16 after MV Saint Thomas Aquinas of 2Go and Sulpicio Express Siete of Sulpicio Lines collided off the coast of Cebu province. More than 30 people are still missing. The passenger ship sank ten minutes after the impact near Cebu harbor.

If the name Sulpicio sounds familiar, it is because it is the same notorious company that owned and operated the ill-fated MV Dona Paz, the passenger ship that sank in 1987, killing more than 4,000 people. It was the worst peacetime maritime disaster in world history.

After five mishaps at sea, resulting in the deaths of more than 5,000 people, and after changing its name from Sulpicio Lines Inc to Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp in 2009, the company surprisingly still has a license to operate today. But the recent disaster in Cebu could finally seal the firm’s fate after a petition was launched urging authorities to cancel its registration.

But before that, maritime authorities should explain why they allowed Sulpicio to continue operating despite its numerous pending cases.

To prevent similar accidents in the future, the Philippine Coast Guard in Cebu has suggested the installation of a modern traffic management system to control vessels traversing Cebu’s narrow waterways. The same equipment or traffic system should also be installed in the country’s busy ports.

Another problem caused by the disaster is the oil spill from the sunken ship which has now reached the shorelines of several coastal towns of Cebu, including popular beach resorts.

The bus crash in Genting and the ship collision in Cebu should force leaders in Malaysia and the Philippines to review and improve their respective public transport systems, especially the travel infrastructure outside Kuala Lumpur and Manila. These improvements are needed not only to boost their modernizing economies but also to prevent unnecessary deaths and injuries.

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