Saturday, June 08, 2013

Racist Hongkongers who abused Philippine players and fans must be punished

Racial abuse is nothing to be proud of, not amusing, nor clever; it is shameful. That is the only way a section of supporters of the Hong Kong soccer team who gestured and hurled slurs and objects at fans of the Philippines during an international friendly at Mong Kok stadium on Tuesday night can view their actions. Such behaviour is shocking, a disgrace and an infringement of race discrimination laws and international football codes of conduct. The incident is not one to be noted and then forgotten - those involved have to be made an example of so that there can be no repeat.

The Philippines has not been in favour with Hong Kong people since a hostage taker shot dead seven tourists and their guide and injured several others in Manila in 2010. A black travel alert unreasonably still in effect gives a flawed impression of the country and its people. The ill-will is heightened by maritime disputes between Manila and Beijing and Taipei. But those are political matters, not sporting ones - nor, given our laws on discrimination, should they be in any way racial.

Filipinos have every right to be outraged. They had gone to the stadium to cheer on their team, not endure taunts and ridicule. Their national anthem was disrespected when it was played, they were insulted by being called derogatory names and plastic bottles were among items thrown at them. The barrage of discrimination worsened after the Philippines won the game 1-0.

Such behaviour is uncharacteristic of Hong Kong soccer fans. They are renowned for being good-natured, even when rivalries are fierce. Typical was the atmosphere when Hong Kong hosted the East Asian Games in 2009; each goal and significant play was cheered, no matter which team was behind it. This is as sporting events should be - non-partisan, welcoming to outsiders and convivial.

Yet what was on show on Tuesday night was more typical of racially charged matches in Europe. Racial discrimination by players, officials and supporters has long been a blot on the game and the organising bodies Fifa and Uefa are toughening penalties after a series of high-profile scandals. Suspensions will be lengthened, fines increased and stadiums partially closed to spectators. Those behind the abuse in Hong Kong have to be traced and dealt with under rules our national team has to abide by as a member of Fifa. If local race discrimination laws have been broken, punishment has to be meted out.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Find and punish these racist fans

-South China Morning Post

Cambodia outlaws denial of Khmer Rouge atrocities

NO DENIAL. A Cambodian guard walks past the main gate of the National Assembly building in Phnom Penh. Cambodia banned the denial of atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime with a new law. AFP/ Tang Chhin Sothy

Cambodia on Friday, June 7, banned the denial of atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime with a new law, a move the opposition claims is a political attack weeks ahead of national polls.

The law bans statements denying crimes by the communist regime that ruled from 1975-1979 killing an estimated two million people, and carries a sentence of up to two years in jail.

The law, similar to legislation covering Holocaust denial in Germany and France, was proposed by strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen after a recording emerged of an opposition leader apparently excusing the Khmer Rouge from responsibility for running a notorious torture prison during their rule.

The recording, posted on a government website last month, is of Kem Sokha, deputy head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), saying the Tuol Sleng prison was run by Vietnamese soldiers who ousted the Khmer Rouge rather than the regime.

Around 15,000 men, women and children were tortured and executed at the prison, also known as S-21, in central Phnom Penh.

Kem Sokha has admitted it is his voice on the recording but alleges it was edited to say the contentious comments, a claim backed by the CNRP which alleges the tape was aired "to cause political trouble" ahead of a general election in July.

Lawmakers, mostly from the ruling party, unanimously approved the law -- which has only 5 articles -- after around an hour of debate on Friday.

The law will prosecute anyone who "does not acknowledge, denies or diminishes... crimes committed under the Democratic Kampuchea", the draft said, referring to the brutal regime's official name.

‘A serious insult’

Lawmaker Cheam Yeap told parliament that denial of the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge was "a serious insult to the souls" of those who died under its rule.

The CNRP said it was "very disappointed" that the ruling party and parliament had rushed through the legislation, adding the law should also ban former Khmer Rouge leaders from senior office.

Hun Sen and several other top officials were Khmer Rouge cadres.

Critics also say the law may jeopardize painstaking efforts to heal the country.

"You don't need the law to protect the truth of what happened during the Khmer Rouge," Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities, told AFP.

Hun Sen has repeatedly warned that the country risks civil war and even a return to the ruthless regime if the opposition wins polls.

"Chaos will surely happen if they really win.... I would like to send a message out that Pol Pot's regime will return," he said last month.

The CNRP has only a slim chance of gaining enough votes to oust Hun Sen, who has ruled the country since 1985.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979 wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia. – Rappler

Licensing Regime Chills News Climate in Singapore

The Singaporean government should withdraw an onerous new licensing requirement for online news sites, Human Rights Watch said.

It said the new rules will further discourage independent commentary and reporting on the Internet in Singapore.

On May 28, the Media Development Authority, which is controlled by the Ministry of Communications and Information and is responsible for regulation of Singapore’s media and publishing industry, announced that all “online news sites” that reach 50,000 unique viewers per month over a two-month period must secure a license to operate. 

The licensing regime took effect on June 1, and the Media Development Authority released a list of 10 websites that will initially be impacted, including, Business Times Singapore, and Yahoo! News Singapore.

“Singapore’s new licensing requirement casts a chill over the city-state’s robust and free-wheeling online communities, and will clearly limit Singaporeans’ access to independent media,” Cynthia Wong, senior Internet researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner. “Websites will be forced into the role of private censors on behalf of the government.”

The new licensing rules seem intended to impose another check on popular websites more than to reduce any genuine harms, Human Rights Watch said. As a condition of the license, websites must comply within 24 hours with any requests from the Media Development Authority to remove content that the government deems objectionable. 

Websites are also required to post a S$50,000 (US$40,000) performance bond to ensure compliance. “News site” is defined broadly to include any site containing news or any matter or public interest related to Singapore, in any language – even if content is provided by a third party, as with readers’ comments on a website.

On May 30, several major independent websites in Singapore released a joint media statement in protest, contending that the new rules would “reduce the channels available to Singaporeans to receive news and analysis of the socio-political situation in Singapore.” 

The statement also said that the new rules would disproportionately harm citizen journalists and non-commercial, volunteer-run blogging platforms, who will not be able to afford the performance bond.

A group of bloggers have launched a campaign using the Twitter hashtag #FreeMyInternet, and on June 6, participants blacked out their websites to oppose the new rules. Bloggers have also organized a public event in Singapore’s Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park. 

Online commentators have expressed concern over the breadth of the definition of “online news sites,” warning that it could sweep in blogs that discuss a wide range of issues, and websites that enable users to discuss online content.

In response to criticism, the Media Development Authority clarified on its Facebook page on May 31 that, “An individual publishing views on current affairs and trends on his/her personal website or blog does not amount to news reporting.” However, in a separate statement, the Authority undermined this claim by asserting that, “If they [blogs] take on the nature of news sites, we will take a closer look and evaluate them accordingly.”

The Media Development Authority also asserted that the framework is “not an attempt to influence the editorial slant of news sites” and that it will only step in “when complaints are raised to [their] attention, and [they] assess that the content is in breach of the content guidelines and merits action by the website owner.”

Singapore’s constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression, with exceptions for broadly worded restrictions in the name of security, public order, morality, and racial and religious harmony. Print and broadcast media are also subject to annual licensing requirements. 

In November 1997, the Media Development Authority introduced an Internet Code of Practice, which requires Internet service providers to restrict access to prohibited material and would apply to websites subject to the new license.

The Code of Practice restricts any content that is “against public interest” or offends “good taste or decency,” including “material that advocates homosexuality or lesbianism.”

The definition of what might be deemed “against public interest” is vague and can be used arbitrarily by the government, leaving the licensing regime and content regulations open to selective enforcement and abuse, Human Rights Watch said.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights activists in Singapore have also criticized media censorship laws because they create a skewed portrayal of LGBT individuals in local, mainstream media. 

Given that Singapore still criminalizes male same-sex relations, instituting a 24-hour takedown requirement for “material that advocates homosexuality or lesbianism” on popular websites will only exacerbate the problem, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch said that the licensing regime is inconsistent with international human rights standards on freedom of expression. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, widely recognized as customary international law, provides that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

In his May 2011 report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, wrote that registration and licensing requirements “cannot be justified in the case of the Internet.”

“Singapore is placing its status as a world-class financial center at clear risk by extending its record of draconian media censorship to the digital world,” Wong said.-Mindanao Examiner

4 ASEAN countries agree to adopt common visa scheme

The Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia have agreed to develop a common smart visa system to boost tourism across Southeast Asia.

During the 22nd World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia, ministers and tourism authorities of the four Asean member-states said they will facilitate travel in the region by developing a common smart visa system.

Tourism ministers of the four Asean member-states have signed the “Statement of Intent on SMART Visa” during the ongoing WEF meeting taking place in Nay Pyi Taw from June 5-7.

“By recognizing the importance of the connectivity in tourism activities, the statement of intent expresses our desire to give a boost to the tourism sector by facilitating the movement of tourists across borders; by going towards a smart visa through adopting best practices; and maximizing the use of technology to reduce the inefficiencies of the traditional visa application process,” Department of Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. said in a statement.

“By signing this letter of intent, ministers and tourism authorities agree to work hand-in-hand for the implementation of this system, whose objective will be that of eliminating those barriers to the movement of tourists which are currently creating disincentives to travel. Such objectives will be achieved in close coordination with the governmental entities in each of their respective countries,” said U Htay Aung, Union Minister of Hotels and Tourism of Myanmar.

The statement of intent forms a part of joint efforts to improve growth of the national and regional travel and tourism sectors along with social integration.

More specifically, ministers of tourism have agreed to collaborate on working towards the Asean Common Visa initiative as called upon by leaders at the Asean Summit in Jakarta in November 2011.

It also builds on the single visa scheme for tourism travel between Cambodia and Thailand that began this year. Progressive relaxation and an Asean common visa would also benefit non-Asean nationals who intend to visit the region.

According to Indonesian Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Mari Elka Pangestu, “Considering that tourism is a priority sector under the Asean Economic Community and that it constitutes a significant contribution to the integration of Asean countries, it is important to be ‘smart’ about visa facilitation for travel.”

In the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino III had issued Executive Order 29, outlining his government' open-skies policy, which involves allowing foreign airlines to fly to airports other than the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).-Interaksyon

Philippines still studying possible pullout from Golan

The government said Friday it was still studying whether to pull its UN peacekeeping force out of the Golan Heights, after the wounding of a Filipino soldier and the withdrawal of Austrian troops there.

The Department of Foreign Affairs recommended last month to President Benigno Aquino III that the country withdraw because of security concerns, but Malacanang deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said no decision had yet been made.

"The recommendation (regarding) the deployment of forces is being studied as of the present time," she said in a statement to AFP when asked on Friday about a decision.

Foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the department's position remained that the 341 Filipino troops should be pulled out.

The department made its recommendation last month after Syrian rebels briefly held hostage four Filipino soldiers. The same group abducted 21 Filipino peacekeepers in March. All were released unharmed.

Security concerns in the area rose further this week as Syrian government and rebel fighters battled for a Golan Heights border crossing.

A Filipino peacekeeper was wounded in the leg by shrapnel on Thursday and Austria, whose 377 troops make up the largest group in the UN contingent, announced it was withdrawing its men, throwing the force into disarray.

Armed Forces chief General Emmanuel Bautista said Friday the decision to pull out was up to the government, but his soldiers were prepared for the dangers.

"We can manage any risk, we have gone to areas where we exposed our people to combat," he said, citing the Filipino troops who fought with the UN force in Korea in the 1950s.

"You can't remove the risk. That is why we are there: to prevent conflict," he told reporters.

India also has troops serving in the UN Disengagement Observer Force, which has monitored a ceasefire between Israel and Syria since 1974.-Interaksyon

Friday, June 07, 2013

Bikinis banned at Miss World pageant in Indonesia

Miss World contestants will not wear bikinis when they vie for the pageant's crown in Indonesia this September to avoid causing offence in the world's most populous Muslim country.

Miss World organisers said the 137 women in the competition will instead wear one-piece swimwear, some of which will also have sarongs over the top.

"This is perfectly reasonable in a country that prefers one-piece swimwear," London-based Miss World Organization Chairwoman Julia Morley told Reuters on Thursday.

Morley denied suggestions the decision to ditch bikinis was made after local complaints about the contest.

However, reports in Indonesian newspapers said a number of conservative groups had taken issue with the staging of the contest, highlighting bikinis as a key objection.

The Jakarta Post reported on Monday that deputy tourism minister, Sapta Nirwandar, said the government had also asked Miss World to follow Indonesian tradition.

"Some people in Indonesia still consider it taboo for women to wear bikinis and outfits that expose body parts," the paper quoted Nirwandar as saying on its website.

Over the past year other entertainment events have been disrupted in Indonesia due to threats by Muslim organisations.

Pop star Lady Gaga was forced last year to pull out of a concert after a hardline Muslim group threatened to disrupt her show, saying her performances were immoral.

Last month veteran U.S. rock band Aerosmith cancelled a concert in Jakarta citing security concerns.

The 63rd Miss World pageant will be held on Sept. 28 in Jakarta, the capital of a country where nearly 90 percent of its 240 million people consider themselves to be Muslims.

The Miss World contest dates back to 1951 and during its first decade the outfits of contestants raised eyebrows and grabbed headlines while building a growing audience for its televised show.-GMA News

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Prestigious forum draws decision-makers to Myanmar

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to journalists as she leaves Myanmar International Convention Center after attending the first day of the three-day World Economic Forum for East Asia in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Wednesday, June 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

Myanmar prepared Wednesday to show off what two years of reform-minded elected government has accomplished as it welcomed business titans and decision-makers from around the world to the Asian edition of the prestigious World Economic Forum.

President Thein Sein will inaugurate the meeting Thursday and is scheduled to share the stage with the prime ministers of Laos and Vietnam to discuss opportunities for development in Asia. Organizers boast that it is the first international conference of its size and importance to be held here, saying more than 900 participants from 50 countries are attending.

While the conference has the inclusive theme of "Courageous Transformation for Inclusion and Integration," the focus of most participants will be on host Myanmar, emerging from almost five decades of military rule into the challenges of transitional democracy and the potentially lucrative status of a frontier economy.

"It shows that the outside world recognizes Myanmar as a country that has potential. It's also an indicator that there will be more investments in the country," said Nay Zin Latt, an adviser to Thein Sein. "The country earns lots of attention and interest in investing. Then, we will have more job opportunities and our economy can be improved."
Outsiders make much the same point.

"For much of the 20th century, Myanmar largely missed out on the spectacular growth seen across most of the global economy and most recently in its Asian peers," Richard Dobbs, a director of the consulting group McKinsey & Company, said last month. "It now has the potential to be one of the fastest-growing economies in emerging Asia."

McKinsey predicted in a report last month that "Myanmar could potentially quadruple the size of its economy from $45 billion in 2010 to more than $200 billion in 2030, creating 10 million non-agricultural jobs and potentially lifting 18 million out of poverty in the process."

There's quite a long way to go, pointed out Sushant Palakurthi Rao, head of Asia for the World Economic Forum, with much improvement needed in sectors such as education, health care and job training.

"The main goal is to show that the doors are open," he said. "But challenges remain. It's a country where still 26 percent of the population live in poverty, 37 percent are unemployed, and it's important to use those investments now to really have rapid change and impact for a wide range of people in the country."

Another note of caution was sounded by the British development charity Oxfam, which warned recently that "without targeted policy efforts and regulation to even the playing field, the benefits of new investment will filter down to only a few, leaving small-scale farmers — the backbone of the Myanmar economy — unable to benefit from this growth."
It urged Myanmar's leaders to "address power inequalities in the markets, put small-scale farmers at the center of new agricultural investments, and close loopholes in law and practice that leave the poorest open to land-rights abuses."

Human rights concerns are another potentially destabilizing holdover from the old military regime. The government has so far failed to reach a comprehensive peace with its fractious ethnic minorities who have sought more autonomy for decades, and has been fighting a bloody war against the Kachin minority in the north for the past two years.

It has also seen the rise of vicious sectarian violence directed at the country's Muslim Rohingya minority in western Rakhine state, with hundreds of people killed and about 140,000 made homeless in civil strife last year. Deadly anti-Muslim violence spread to other parts of the country this year, damaging the government's credibility.

Salil Shetty, secretary general of the human rights group Amnesty International, who is attending the forum, said the government should make it a priority "to put an end to all forms of discrimination. People need to feel as equal citizens of this country whether they are from one ethnic group, one religion or the other."-Yahoo News

Indonesia promotes Muslim fashion

In this Saturday, May 31, 2013 photo, a model showcases a creation by Indonesian designer Irna Mutiara during the Islamic Fashion Fair in Jakarta, Indonesia. The event is part of the Indonesian government's effort to turn the most populous Muslim country into the world's Islamic fashion capital by 2020. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Lanky models in high heels saunter down the catwalk, one wearing a huge pink rose headpiece while another's face is draped in a taupe silk headscarf adorned with dangling gold accessories.

But this is not a typical fashion show. There's no-see-through sheaths, naked midriffs or long exposed legs that scream sexy. Instead, everyone on the runway at the Islamic Fashion Fair show is covered from head to toe in loose-flowing fabrics with a variety of textures and colors.

Indonesia hopes to become the Paris of Muslim fashion by 2020 with its bold designs and creative modern head wraps. The style is a far cry from the conservative black abayas worn in the Middle East. The colors range from fresh and light pastels to demure earth tones and lime green turbans along with wild print jackets. There's also a bit of shape revealed while keeping everything covered.

"Muslim fashion is always considered to be conservative," said designer Abel Haraba, who showcased his clothes at the fashion fair that ended Sunday. "I'm trying to change that image by creating attractive designs and also to make those who wear my creations look more beautiful."

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, and most people follow a moderate form of the religion. Many women wear bright and creative headscarves along with brand-name jeans and long-sleeved fitted shirts.
Here's a package of photos from the fashion show.-Yahoo News

Three Rohingya women killed in Myanmar shooting


At least three women from the Rohingya minority were killed when police fired on protesters in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

The women - one of whom was pregnant - were protesting because the authorities were planning to move them to another temporary camp, local people said.

Last year Rakhine saw clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities that left almost 200 people dead.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims remain displaced in the wake of the violence, many living in camps.

A community near the town of Mrauk U protested against the arrival of police in their village, local sources told the BBC.

The police had brought in workers and construction materials, with plans to move the community to a new camp, the sources added.

The reason for the police shooting remains unclear.

Aid agencies have been trying to get Burmese authorities to find better locations for the tens of thousands of displaced people, as the start of the monsoon rains is making their temporary camps uninhabitable, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

This is proving difficult given the intense hostility from the local Buddhist population, our correspondent adds.

Myanmar does not recognise Rohingya Muslims as its citizens and human rights groups have accused Burmese authorities of being complicit in their persecution.

Sporadic outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence have continued in the wake of the Rakhine unrest last year.

The most recent was late last month in the northern town of Lashio, where at least one person was killed.

In March, at least 43 people - mostly Muslims - died in violence that erupted after an argument at a Muslim-owned shop in the central town of Meiktila.-British Broadcasting Corporation

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Myanmar to free prisoners of conscience soon EmailPrint

Myanmar's president said Tuesday his government would soon release all prisoners of conscience, as part of sweeping political reforms following the end of military rule.

Myanmar has formed a committee to review the cases of political detainees and "all the prisoners of conscience will be free soon", President Thein Sein said in a radio address.

"We are taking time to investigate cases that confuse criminal offences and political offences," he said, adding that people convicted of violent crimes linked to political acts "deserve their sentences".

The military government which ruled for decades had denied the existence of political prisoners.

But hundreds of political detainees have been freed since reformist President Thein Sein took power in March 2011, and last November announced a review of all "politically concerned" cases.

However, activists say some 200 political prisoners remain in jail. They have accused Myanmar of using a series of headline-grabbing amnesties for political gain, aware that the international community is watching.

In the last prisoner amnesty in May, more than 20 political detainees were released before a landmark visit by Thein Sein to the White House. A previous pardon came a day after the European Union agreed to end almost all sanctions against Myanmar.

The arbitrary imprisonment of political opponents was a hallmark of the previous military government and sparked a web of western sanctions which stifled the economy.

Since Thein Sein took power, the nation has undergone dramatic change including the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

Reforms have been warmly welcomed, with most sanctions rolled back and billions of dollars in loans and investments pledged for the impoverished but resource-rich country.

But global leaders and rights groups have backed a call by Suu Kyi -- herself held under house arrest for many years -- for all political prisoners to be freed as a sign that the changes are binding.

In his speech, Thein Sein insisted the aim of the amnesties was "national reconciliation... there is no other political advantage that we want".

But rights groups remained to be convinced.

"We welcome the fact the government admits it has political prisoners," Mark Farmaner of Burma Campaign UK told AFP.

"But with Burma (Myanmar) it's always best to judge by action, not by words... Thein Sein has promised to release prisoners before, but why are there hundreds still in jail?"

In his address, Thein Sein also praised a tentative peace agreement reached with ethnic minority Kachin rebels last week, aimed at ending the nation's last festering civil war which has displaced tens of thousands of people.

"The agreement is a big step to end the domestic armed conflict that has existed for more than 60 years," he said, thanking Myanmar's powerful army, the Kachin independence Organisation and civil society groups for helping the peace push. - Channel News Asia

Azkals players, Filipino fans abused in Hong Kong

Supporters of Hong Kong's football team threw trash and verbally abused Filipinos during the Philippine Azkals' friendly match in the former Crown colony on Tuesday night, witnesses said.

Aside from members of the Philippine Azkals, others who suffered abuse were Filipino women and children who went to Hong Kong just to watch the match.

Here are a few tweets of those describing the harrowing incidents at Hong Kong's Mong Kok Stadium: 

The Philippine and Hong Kong football associations have yet to issue statements on the issue.-ABS-CBN News

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Smugglers drive Thailand's grim trade in dog meat

Packed tight into wire baskets -- sometimes 20 or more to a cage -- animal rights activists say as many as 200,000 live dogs every year are smuggled from northeast Thailand across the Mekong River destined for restaurants in Vietnam.

Dehydrated, stressed, some even dying of suffocation on the trip, the dogs are often stacked 1,000 to a truck on a journey that lasts for days.

"Obviously when you've got dogs stacked on top of each other they start biting each other because they are so uncomfortable, any kind of movement then the dog next to the one that's being crushed is going to bite back," said Tuan Bendixsen, director of Animals Asia Foundation Vietnam, a Hanoi-based animal welfare group.

When they arrive in Vietnam, the suffering doesn't end there. A common belief is that stress and fear releases hormones that improve the taste of the meat, so the dogs are placed in stress cages that restrict their movement.
Eventually, the dogs are either bludgeoned to death or have their throats cut in front of other dogs who are awaiting the same fate. In some cases, they've been known to be skinned alive.

"Dogs are highly intelligent animals so if you kill a dog and you have a whole cage of dogs next to the one that's being killed, those dogs that are going to be killed next know what's going on," Bendixsen said.

According to animal rights groups, dog smugglers round up everything from family pets to Thailand's ubiquitous strays -- known as soi dogs -- to sell the animals in Vietnam, or even as far away as China where a pedigree dog can fetch a premium price.

John Dalley of the Phuket-based Soi Dog Foundation estimates 98% of the dogs are domesticated and that some are even still wearing collars and have been trained and respond to commands.

"You can see all types of pedigree animals in these captured Thai shipments -- golden retrievers, long-haired terriers, you name it," says Dalley. "Some are bought. Others are snatched from streets, temples, and even people's gardens."

In the past, batches of stray dogs were traded for plastic buckets, but these days with demand soaring -- especially in the winter months when dog meat is regarded as a "warming" food -- a dog in Thailand can fetch up to $10. This figure jumps to around $60 once they are served up in restaurants in Vietnam.

Dalley says pet dogs, in particular, are targeted because they are friendlier and easier to catch.

Animal rights activists estimate that more than one million dogs are eaten each year in Vietnam; for the dog smugglers of the Mekong, business is booming.

While the trade is illegal in Thailand, and authorities have made a number of raids involving thousands of dogs, dog traders claim the laws are unclear and have even mounted counter protests against a series of crackdowns.

Smugglers are normally prosecuted under laws that prohibit the illegal trade and transportation of animals and, with no direct animal cruelty laws in Thailand, prosecutors attempt to charge smugglers with cruelty under Criminal Code laws.

The Soi Dog Foundation and the Thai Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are fighting to change that and are currently working through the Department of Livestock Development to get an Animal Welfare Draft Law through the Thai Parliament.

The reality, however, is that smugglers often receive light sentences of just a few months in jail. Animal activists also say thousands of impounded dogs -- rescued from smugglers -- that end up in quarantine centers sometimes find their way back onto the streets and in the dog meat circle again.

"This is not about whether it is right or wrong to eat dog meat," Dalley says. "It is about an illegal trade worth millions of dollars per year organized by criminals. The way in which these dogs are transported and, if they survive, killed, is horrific.

"Some of the footage we receive is so horrific it's too strong even for the media to run. It's so inhumane ... it's quite literally hell on earth."-Cable News Network

Asean-China Ro-Ro project faces delay amid Manila-Beijing territorial row

The rift involving the Philippines and China over territories on the West Philippine Sea may stall plans for a roll-on roll-off (Ro-Ro) shipping project aimed at connecting Asean to the mainland.

In an interview, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) vice chairman Donald G. Dee said China earlier agreed to launch a Ro-Ro project that will connect Batangas port in the Philippines to the Chinese city of Shenzhen and to the port city of Da Nang in Vietnam, from where people and goods could be transported by land to neighboring Laos and Thailand.

However, the ongoing territorial row between Manila and Beijing may delay the implementation of the Batangas-Shenzhen-Da Nang Ro-Ro network, Dee said.

The Philippines had elevated to the United Nations (UN) its dispute with China over a number of isles and rocks—said to have huge gas deposits—lying on the West Philippine Sea, while Vietnam is also laying claim to several territories.

While the Ro-Ro project has hit a snag, a similar initiative down south is moving forward, Dee said.

He said the private Super Shuttle Ro-Ro vessel connecting Davao and Bitung in the Indonesian province of North Sulawesi made its maiden voyage last month, while an official launch to be graced by top Philippine officials is scheduled by midyear.

The route between General Santos City and North Sulawesi is expected to be served by Ro-Ro before this year ends, Dee said. Ro-Ro routes connecting Palawan and Zamboanga with Brunei and Malaysia are also being eyed.

He said the Philippine, Indonesian and Malaysian governments as well as the Asean Business Advisory Council (ABAC) have been pushing for the immediate rollout of these Ro-Ro projects to enhance trade.

A study conducted by the Research Education and Institutional Development (REID) Foundation Inc showed that a “thriving trade” between Mindanao and North Sulawesi would “significantly benefit” from the Davao-Bitung Ro-Ro project, as transport costs would be up to 10 percent cheaper than shipping commercial goods through wooden vessels. Transportation time would also be slashed from 2-3 days to 36 hours.

The public-private Export Development Council (EDC) last month said Trade Secretary Gregory L. Domingo already endorsed the Davao-General Santos-Bitung Ro-Ro project to President Benigno Aquino III.

“The initiative is part of the master plan on Asean connectivity which is spearheaded by the governments of the Philippines and Indonesia. The master plan contains the Philippine plan to establish an Asean roll-on/roll-off shipping network as one of the key strategies to enhance physical connectivity in the region,” the council said.

“This maritime connectivity will serve as a bridge between Mindanao and North Sulawesi for economic development of these two regions. It will also promote trade, tourism and investments between the Philippines and Indonesia. Most importantly, it will forge a deeper relationship between the two countries and contribute to the economic integration of Asean,” the council added.-Interaksyon

Cambodian police break up Nike factory protest

Cambodian riot police on Monday broke up a protest by several thousand workers at a factory making clothes for US sportswear giant Nike and arrested eight people, labor activists said.

Unionists accused the security forces of using excessive force and intimidation to quell the demo -- the latest in a series of outbreaks of worker unrest at factories producing goods for western brands.

"The arrests are a threat to thousands of workers at the factory not to continue their protest... the situation is getting worse," said Say Sokny, secretary general of the Free Trade Union (FTU).

The FTU said at least 10 people were injured in the incident at Sabrina Cambodia Garment Manufacturing in the southern province of Kampong Speu. The arrested demonstrators included seven of its members.

Police said they were forced to intervene after protesters threw rocks at the factory and fighting broke out between two rival groups of workers.

"We had to break them up in order to protect the factory," said Kheng Tito, spokesman for the national military police, adding that 20 officers were injured by sticks and rocks thrown by demonstrators.

The incident followed violent scenes at the same factory last week when riot police allegedly used stun batons to disperse protesters.

Protesters say this resulted in a pregnant woman suffering a miscarriage.

Days later, three people were knocked unconscious after police fired water jets at a protest in Phnom Penh over disputed land, heightening rights campaigners' concerns over the kingdom's intolerance of dissent.

Cambodia holds elections on July 28, with strongman premier Hun Sen -- who has led the country since 1985 -- looking to extend his hold on power.

The textile industry, which employs about 650,000 people and produces clothes for top western brands, is a key source of foreign income for Cambodia.

The country earned $4.6 billion from its garment exports last year but a series of strikes has pointed to festering discontent at low wages and tough conditions in the industry.-GMA News

Sunday, June 02, 2013

As Philippines booms, overseas workers eye return home

The executive sous-chef of a seven-star luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi packed his bags to take up a similar job back home in the Philippines.

He is one of a small group of like-minded Filipinos returning to jobs back home, a sign of confidence in an economy that for decades has seen millions leave in search of better prospects overseas.

Ragonjan now helps run a 300-man kitchen that caters to guests and high-rollers flocking to Manila's newest and most luxurious casino resort, one of 400 overseas Filipinos who came home to work at the hotel.

"The Philippines is booming at the moment, so I thought it was the right time to go back," Ragonjan, 41, said on a break from his 10-hour shift at the Solaire Resort & Casino in Manila Bay, developed at a cost of $1.2 billion.

The Philippines economy is leaving behind its reputation as a regional laggard. Last week, it reported annual GDP growth of 7.8 percent in the first three months of the year, outstripping China to make it Asia's fastest-growing economy.

Earlier this year, the government secured an investment grade credit rating, reducing its borrowing costs, while the stock market has reached a series of record highs this year.

Returnees like Ragonjan are just a trickle compared to those still leaving the country, but the hope is that the more the country can draw the diaspora back to the Philippines the more that the entrepreneurial spirit that prompted them to leave in the first place can add fuel to the economy.

Nearly two million Filipinos left last year to take on jobs such as seafarers, maids, laborers, hotel staff, and medical workers, forming one of the world's largest diasporas of nearly 10 million migrants, about a tenth of the population.

The returnees are limited for now to a few sectors, including entertainment, tourism and information technology, but some hope that it marks the start of a stronger flow.

"I am seeing the trend happening," said venture capitalist Francisco Sandejas, who as head of the Brain Gain Network, an online platform connecting professional Filipinos overseas to develop business ideas in the Philippines, has been campaigning for more job creation at home for two decades.

"I am just seeing that now it is much easier to convince people to come home, it was never easy and it is still not easy... people are very optimistic about the next three years," he added, referring to the remainder of President Benigno Aquino's six-year term.

Still, Aquino faces an uphill task to overturn criticism he is presiding over a jobless economic boom.

The economy is unable to create enough jobs for around a million new job seekers each year. A quarter of the labor force is unemployed or underemployed and the government is struggling to reduce poverty.


Solaire is the first of four new casino-resorts to open in Entertainment City, a 10-hectare development near Manila Bay that is at the forefront of the government's push to boost tourism and investment.

Ragonjan said part of his decision to return to the Philippines was because there seemed to be more opportunity than in the past. He says his base salary in Manila is higher than it was in Abu Dhabi, but in returning home he has also given up some financial grants that went with his job in the Gulf.

"If the Philippines continues to grow like this, it can help a lot of Filipinos here. It is good to be back," he said.

The Philippines' call centre industry, the world's biggest, continues to grow strongly and the country is also home to small but expanding software and information-technology firms. The country's business process outsourcing industry is expected to employ 1.3 million people by 2016, up from 640,000 in 2011.

Earl Valencia, a former business incubation manager at Cisco Systems in California, came home with his family two years ago to help co-found a business incubator and accelerator company in Manila to support start-ups and tech entrepreneurs.

"There were a lot of things to anchor me in the United States, but there were also a lot of economic attractions in this part of the world," said the 30-year old.

To turn the trickle of returnees into a flood, officials acknowledge the economic boom needs to be more broad-based.

Some skeptics say the boom is mostly benefitting the country's entrenched elite, with little trickling down to alleviate a poverty rate that has remained stubbornly high near 30 percent, far from the 17 percent Aquino hopes to achieve by the time is he due to leave office in 2016.

Per capita GDP was 6.1 percent greater in the first quarter than a year earlier, the highest in at least two years. But official unemployment remained stubbornly high at 7.1 percent as of January, the highest in Southeast Asia.

"Growth is not resulting in the creation of more jobs because the growing sectors are not really labor intensive," said former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno.

"We really need to revive manufacturing. We can do more."

In one promising sign, manufacturing grew in the first quarter by 9.7 percent over a year earlier despite sluggish export demand. Capital formation, a measure of investment, jumped 48 percent as the private sector expanded capacity to meet domestic demand, which is partly fuelled by funds sent home by overseas Filipinos.


While Aquino has had success in plugging holes in the national budget and imposing revenue reforms, his government still faces a daunting task to fix infrastructure bottlenecks and investment constraints that hinder broader-based growth.

Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan acknowledged that while real GDP per person has risen 11 percent over the last two years, the gains have not been evenly spread.

"Inclusive growth is not about averages, but about the lower part of the income distribution," Balisacan told reporters after the GDP data.

He said the solution is to link the poor to growth sectors in the economy, such as manufacturing and agriculture.

In the latest World Competitiveness Report by the Swiss-based Institute for Management Development, the Philippines moved up five places to 43 out of 60 economies, overtaking Indonesia and India.

While it showed improvements in economic performance, and government and business efficiency measures, the gains were not accompanied by job generation. It was down seven places in employment, one notch down in overall productivity and two rungs down in labor productivity.

Still, in Manila's bustling new casino, freshly returned workers, or overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) as they are known, believe the time is ripe for the decades-long exodus to reverse.

"I believe it is really time for our country, our economy to get a slice of the cake that companies abroad are enjoying at the expense of our hard working OFWs," said Rosario Chavez, a gaming manager at Solaire, who spent three decades abroad.

"I really hope that our government will open more opportunities here, more reasons for our OFWs to come home."- Reuters

Vietnamese authorities detain more than a dozen as anti-China protest hits capital

Police detained about 15 anti-China protesters Sunday during a march in the Vietnamese capital that showed the domestic pressure the government faces when dealing with Beijing's muscular approach to territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Scuffles broke out as police hauled ringleaders or especially vocal protesters into buses during the rally, a rare show of dissent in the tightly controlled one-party state.

Some members of the ruling Communist Party fear that popular anger over China, its ideological ally and biggest trading partner, could easily bleed into a broader protest movement against its rule. The party already faces growing calls for reform because of economic malaise, corruption and the free spread of information critical toward it over the Internet.

Sunday's protest was advertised via Internet blogs and Facebook pages.

It took place in the heart of Hanoi, around Hoan Kiem Lake, a popular Sunday morning spot for locals and foreign tourists to walk and sip coffee in cafes.

"Down with the henchmen of China, down with the traitors," one detainee shouted through the window of a government bus taking him away.

Authorities warned via loudspeakers that those marching should disperse, but also said the government was determined to defend its sovereignty against China.

Uniformed and plainclothes security officers outnumbered the approximately 150 protesters, who included men, women and children, some holding banners calling China a "bully."

It was unclear whether those detained would be charged. Typically, people detained at protests like this are released after a few hours.

"The government is not doing enough, it must do more (against China)," said Nguyen Quang A, a well-known economist who took part in the march.

Vietnam and China have long sparred over who owns the South China Sea, a dispute that also involves the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Over the last two years, America's diplomatic tilt to Southeast Asia and energy-hungry China's growing assertiveness in the waters has focused international attention on the issue.

This past week, the Vietnamese government alleged a Chinese vessel had rammed into a Vietnamese fishing boat, damaging it. China said it had done nothing wrong. The deputies of the Communist Party-controlled national assembly urged the government to take stronger action to defend the country's sovereignty and protect its fishermen.

In Singapore on Sunday, Vietnamese Deputy Minister of National Defense Col.-Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh told a security conference that the region has not enjoyed stability and called for protection for fishermen and to "avoid the use of force against the fishermen by all means."

In the summer of 2011, there were two months of weekly anti-Chinese protests in Hanoi, an unprecedented show of popular anger in the country.

There also were demonstrations against Beijing in 2012, but police broke them up, gradually using more force as it became clear they were becoming a source of domestic opposition to the party. - FoxNews