Mong Palatino

Blogging about the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific since 2004


@mongster is a Manila-based activist, former Philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of Asia-Pacific affairs.

Malaysia is currently confronting its worst crisis caused by its inability to explain the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. The government in particular is accused of being less transparent in presenting updates about the search for the missing MH370. But before Malaysian gained global notoriety for mishandling the situation, it was already facing numerous political scandals and socio-economic difficulties related to several government policies.

It has been a terrible new year for Malaysia. Just a few weeks before the MH370 plane went missing, Malaysia was hit by a water crisis. Drought and water shortages were felt in the areas of Selangor, Johor, Negri Sembilan, and Kedah. Water rationing has been ordered already by the government to serve waterless communities. The dry spell is still felt in many parts of the country.

Another environment challenge is the sudden return of the deadly haze triggered by forest burning in nearby Indonesia. The annual haze often arrives mid-year but it is unusually early today. It is clearly a proof that the haze-affected countries of Southeast Asia – Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore – have failed again to implement effective measures to curb air pollution. On the part of Malaysia, residents should ask their government whether Malaysia-based palm oil companies which have agricultural investments in Indonesia were made accountable for contributing to the haze problem in the region.

In relation to disease prevention, Malaysia scored low on restricting the spread of dengue. A dengue scare hit the country last month after 22 people died from dengue fever. This figure was worse compared to previous years.

A few days before the MH370 saga began, young Malaysians were shocked to learn that the government has banned the Bahasa publication of Ultraman, a Japanese comic book, for being a threat to public order. What was Ultraman’s fault? Apparently, the comic book featured a character described as ‘God’ or ‘Elder of all Ultra heroes’. Unfortunately, the word God was translated as Allah in the publication. Officials who banned the comic book said children might be confused when they read Allah. Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, has a controversial law banning non-Muslims from using the word Allah to refer to God.

But many people believe the government’s response was exaggerated since it could have simply instructed the publisher to fix the translation.

On March 7, a day before the MH370 flight, Malaysian stunned the world after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was convicted guilty of sodomy. It was clearly a case of political harassment aimed at preventing Anwar from filing his candidacy for the coming by-elections. Under Malaysian laws, no person can run for public office if he has a criminal conviction. Malaysia’s sodomy law, a British colonial legacy, is practically already obsolete. Since 1938, there have been only seven sodomy cases, four of which have been filed by the ruling party against Anwar.

The ruling coalition has been in power since the 1950s although it lost the popular vote last year. It still retains majority of seats in the parliament, but the opposition led by Anwar is expected to win in a state assembly by-election.

Malaysians were bitterly debating the merits of Anwar’s conviction and its political impact when the vanished MH370 was first reported on March 8. Since then, the Malaysian government got a severe beating from almost everybody, especially relatives of the missing passengers and those exasperated with Malaysia’s crisis management team.

Perhaps it is unfair to Prime Minister Najib Razak but whether he likes it or not, his term will be remembered and judged by the world with how his government addressed the MH370 crisis. And as long his subordinates continue their disappointing performance during press briefings and other public events, many people around the world are expected to dig deeper into the other scandals hounding the government.

The MH370 crisis is already exposing the fatal flaws of the administration. Perhaps it will not be long before the world will start talking not just about MH370 but also about Anwar, election fraud, corruption, and even Ultraman.

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