MANILA — A deal aimed at protecting Southeast Asia’s estimated 7 million migrant workers is flawed, as countries can opt out of key provisions, according to a group of parliamentarians from across the region. Teddy Baguilat, a Philippine lawmaker and member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said Friday that the agreement affords “wide latitude to states to limit protections in accordance with domestic laws and policies.” The ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers was meant as the pinnacle of the Philippines 2017 chairing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which culminated in a lavish signing ceremony on Nov. 14. President Rodrigo Duterte took plaudits for the deal before handing over leadership of ASEAN to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. “I would like to thank the Philippines for its chairmanship achievements,” Lee said, prompting wild cheers from an audience that included the Philippine cabinet and prominent lawmakers such as Senator Manny Pacquaio, the iconic multiple world boxing champion.
JAKARTA — Official crackdowns on emigrants in Malaysia and Thailand have cast further doubt on over prospects that member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations can finalize a long discussed deal on migrant workers’ rights. In June and July around 100,000 mostly Myanmar migrant workers fled Thailand after the military government in Bangkok announced hefty new fines for undocumented workers and their employers. Then, starting July 1, Malaysia made a series of arrests of alleged undocumented migrant workers, affecting more than 3,000 workers and around 60 employers accused of giving work to illegals. These tough actions — though a reprise of previous years’ crackdowns — come as the region’s governments mull proposed enhancements to the 2007 ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed in Cebu in the central Philippines during one of Manila’s past tenures as the group’s chair. Two years after the Cebu declaration, ASEAN countries started moves toward a set of region-wide legal norms, but progress has been slow. With Manila again chairing ASEAN this year, there has been a renewed push to address migrant rights — an important social and political issue in the Philippines.
JAKARTA – Many of Nepal’s ancient temples — which, along with its Himalayan scenery and trekking routes, have long been major tourist attractions — were damaged or destroyed in the earthquake. The famous white-domed Boudhanath temple in Kathmandu reopened in November, but the $2.1 million repair job was funded privately. Disputes over the introduction of a new constitution, intended to stabilize Nepal’s divisive politics, resulted in a damaging delay to the start of the National Reconstruction Authority, the government’s main post-earthquake rebuilding agency, which was not formed until early 2016. “Twenty-five years, 22 governments,” Chaudhary said, his usual steady baritone betraying a hint of exasperation at Nepal’s notoriously fractious politics and frequent changes of government. “Even to put in place the authority for reconstruction took a year — the parties were still fighting over who to put in charge,” said Chaudhary, who pledged $2.5 million of his own money toward the reconstruction of schools and homes.
JAKARTA – Aid workers, soldiers and others tore through the rubble of collapsed buildings in the northwestern Indonesian province of Aceh on Wednesday in a frantic search for people trapped by an earthquake that killed at least 97 people. early Wednesday morning, officials said. Maj. Gen. Tatang Sulaiman, chief of the army in Aceh province, said four people had been pulled from the rubble alive by late Wednesday.. Another four or five still believed to be buried, but he didn’t say if they were dead or alive. By sundown, local disaster relief officials said the number of injured had reached 600. The number of victims was predicted to increase “because some people are still stuck under the damaged buildings,” National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said. The magnitude 6.5 quake was centered about six miles north of Reuleut, a town in northern Aceh, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The worst damage occurred in Aceh’s Pidie Jaya district, where hundreds of people were rushed to hospitals and dozens of buildings were flattened. Local officials appealed for emergency relief supplies and heavy equipment to move debris and aid in the search for survivors.
JAKARTA — China and Cambodia reaffirmed their solid relationship during a two-day visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Phnom Penh, which ended on Oct. 14. Xi’s meetings with Cambodian government leaders yielded 31 agreements, including one that doubles Cambodia’s quota for rice exports to China to 200,000 tons a year. Cambodia’s rice sector has been hit by falling prices, affecting farmers and millers, and the government has been scrambling to offset the damage, which could undermine ruling party support among the country’s rural majority ahead of local elections in 2017. Cambodia’s long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen recently visited China, where he pushed for an increase in the rice quota. “About 80% of our people are farmers,” Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers told the Nikkei Asian Review. “This agreement is very important to the rural economy.”
JAKARTA — Concern is growing in Asia about the spread of the Zika virus, with a recent outbreak in Singapore followed by cases in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus, which usually causes only mild fever, rashes and red eyes in infected adults but can lead to a birth defect called microcephaly if a pregnant woman is infected. The spread of Zika in Latin America has led to about 1,800 cases of microcephaly and resulted in several prominent athletes refusing to participate in the recent Olympic Games held in Brazil. In February, the World Health Organization declared Zika, which can be spread sexually but is mostly mosquito-borne, a global public health emergency. In Asia, the threat of the virus spreading around the region is causing concern for hundreds of millions of people already on guard against dengue, malaria and other conditions spread by the same mosquitoes that carry Zika. With almost 300 Zika cases reported in recent weeks in Singapore, a trade hub and city-state that is home to significant migrant worker populations from across Asia, the fear is that Zika will spread rapidly throughout the densely populated region.
SYDNEY — The U.S. government’s latest annual Trafficking in Persons report, published on June 30, generated the usual mix of dismay and relief among countries named. In Asia, countries including Myanmar responded angrily to their downgrading in the influential rankings, which can affect their standing as U.S. trade partners among other aspects of their ties with Washington. The Philippines — despite, as the report noted, having a “significant problem” of sex trafficking — was upgraded to the top tier of countries for its efforts to counteract trafficking. The list, which this year rated 190 countries — two more than last year — includes countries which the state department says “fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards,” a level attained by only two other Asian countries, South Korea and Taiwan. The Obama administration’s “Asia pivot,” an attempt to enhance diplomatic and commercial ties with the world’s most economically dynamic region and to counter the growing sway of China, saw a thawing of ties with Myanmar. As well as relaxing most of its economic sanctions on the country, the U.S. quickly lifted Myanmar out of the bottom tier of its trafficking rankings under the quasi civilian government of former President Thein Sein. But the 2016 report saw Myanmar demoted to Tier 3, the bottom rank, alongside countries such as North Korea and Sudan.
YANGON – Prospects for an improvement in the Rohingya’s situation appear bleak after the Myanmar foreign ministry, which is headed by Suu Kyi, recently asked the U.S. to refrain from using the term “Rohingya.” Aung Win, a Rohingya community leader in the Rakhine capital of Sittwe, said that he was not surprised at the foreign ministry’s petition to the U.S. “The foreign minister and Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi understands very well about the Rohingya and what is happening in Rakhine state, but she is silent and not saying anything.” Rather than dealing with the Rohingya issue, some observers believe that Suu Kyi is now focused on changing the country’s constitution to allow her to become president. The new government has also said it wants to prioritize peacemaking with Myanmar’s many ethnic militias as well as promote economic growth. “I think the new government is more concerned right now about maintaining domestic political stability. The NLD probably doesn’t want to have to deal with the voices of the Myanmar’s extreme nationalists as it feels that it already has a lot on its plate,” said Miguel Chanco, Southeast Asia analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit.
KUALA LUMPUR — Gulajan Binti Nur Hamad was only 9 years old when she saw her house set ablaze by rampaging Buddhist mobs. “There was fire and fighting,” she said, running her right hand across her throat in a hint that she had seen worse than the flames that left her family’s home in ashes. Gulajan was one of more than 140,000 Muslim Rohingya driven from their homes in 2012 during violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, in her case left homeless when ethnic Rakhine mobs in October that year attacked the Rohingya Muslims living in the area of Kyaukphyu, an oil and gas port where a major pipeline comes ashore before traversing Myanmar to China’s Yunnan Province.
BANGKOK – In Aceh on the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, the refugees were in bad shape when they landed in early and mid-May after a long ordeal at sea. “They only had the clothes on their backs. Many had wounds from the fighting that had broken out at sea over food,” Nasruddin, a coordinator for the Geutanyoe Foundation, an Acehnese nongovernmental organization that has been working with the survivors, told the Nikkei Asian Review.