JAKARTA/SINGAPORE — A year ago two young female migrant workers in Indonesia, including 26 year old Indonesian Siti Nurbaya, were cast at the center of an international murder mystery when they were arrested by police for their alleged role in the audacious, Le Carré-esque assassination by poisoning of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which was carried out despite the usual bustling morning crowd at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Preying on the women’s perceived vulnerability as relatively-poor migrant workers at the margins of society, defense lawyers contend that North Korean agents duped their clients into unwittingly carrying out the murder by bluffing they were being recruited for a series of made for TV pranks. As the trial of Nurbaya and her alleged accomplice from Vietnam rolled on last month in Shah Alam near Kuala Lumpur, another case was emerging that highlighted the perils facing migrants in Malaysia. Adelina Sao died in a Penang hospital on February 11 after she was found with head injuries and infected wounds on her limbs, succumbing after two years in Malaysia as one of around 400,000 foreign maids working in the country.
MANILA — A banner draped over the facade of Manila’s De La Salle University reads “Stop the killings. Start the healing.” But Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is adamant that the killings will go on precisely because the country needs healing — from drugs. Officially around 4,000 people have been killed in police counter-narcotics operations since Duterte took office in mid-2016. High as that is, over 2.000 more have died in drug-related killings, some attributed to gang turf wars, and several thousand more again have been shot in unsolved murders. The exact number of dead is unknown due to what the United Nations believes to be differences in terminology in official reports as well as the slow progress of investigations.
MANILA — Four years after a colossal Pacific Ocean storm battered the city of Tacloban in central Philippines, Jerby Santo remembered how as one of around 10 million Philippine expatriates, he was waiting anxiously for news of Typhoon Haiyan making landfall at his home town. Even though the Philippines often bears the brunt of storms veering off the southern Pacific, Haiyan had prompted an unusual level of uneasiness. “I was in Phnom Penh on the eve of the storm, the internet was abuzz, what was going to happen?” he recalled, speaking at a commemorative event organized by the Newton Tech4Dev Network and De La Salle University in Manila on Nov. 9. The biggest damage of the hurricane was caused by a storm surge, a wall of seawater like a tsunami that swept inland, quickly flooding ground levels before people could escape.
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.
MANILA — A din of giggles, whispers and squeals greeted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he strode into the hall where most journalists were confined during the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits. With media garrisoned about 2km from the Philippine International Convention Center where the main summit action was taking place, the photogenic 45-year-old Trudeau’s entrance around noon on Tuesday was a rare chance for the reporters to hear from one of the summit leaders in the flesh. Around an hour later, after fielding questions mostly from Canadian news people, and delivering answers in English and French, Canada’s official languages, Trudeau made his way from the podium to the exit. Mobbed by a mix of officials and journalists, some yelling, “Justin, Justin,” as they jostled to intercept the prime minister as he left the hall, anyone listening outside might have thought the Justin in question was Bieber, and that the audience a crowd of star-struck teenagers rather than hard-bitten reporters.
MANILA — President Donald Trump said on Monday he had a “great relationship” with his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, amid contradictory messages from the administration of each country over whether human rights were discussed. The two presidents bonded during their much anticipated first formal meeting on Monday, held on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Manila. The two presidents shared a joke at the media’s expense, with Mr Trump laughing as Mr Duterte joked that the press are “spies.” According to Harry Roque, a Philippines government spokesman, the two presidents bonded over another shared dislike, former US President Barack Obama, who Mr Duterte dismissed as “a son of a whore” due to Mr Obama’s criticism of the violent anti-drugs campaign launched by Mr Duterte in 2016.
MANILA — Around two hours before meeting U.S. President Donald Trump at a dinner held for Asia Pacific leaders on the eve of regional summit, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte cast further doubt on American economic leadership by describing China, which has the the world’s second biggest GDP, as the global economic leader. “Today China is the number one economic power, and we have to be friends,” Duterte said, speaking at a business forum held at a huge Manila casino. President Trump arrived in Manila on Sunday, the last leg of a five country Asia tour that has seen him feted by the leaders of Japan and China but at odds with much of the region over the direction of trade policy. China and Japan are promoting multilateral deals, including the Trans Pacific Partnership, which does not involve China but is being led by Japan. The TPP was one of Obama administration’s main foreign policy efforts but was ditched by Trump soon after he took office.
KUALA LUMPUR — Businesses in Southeast Asia are increasingly counting the cost of land grabs, more than half of which result in delayed projects and nearly three-quarters of which lead to lawsuits, according to a wide-ranging research report. Out of a sample of 51 major land disputes surveyed across the region, all but 6 remain unresolved, meaning that Southeast Asia is the region most prone to land conflict in the world. That is according to research published Tuesday by UK-based consultancy TMP Systems and the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global coalition of land rights activists funded in part by the British and Norwegian governments. That 88% of land disputes in Southeast Asia are not resolved puts the region above the 61% global average, according to the research, which covers land disputes dating from 2001.
JAKARTA — The world’s seaborne trade exceeded 10 billion tons in a single year for the first time in 2015, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, with about 60% passing through Asia. Sitting between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Southeast Asia’s big archipelagos should be well placed to capitalize as trade expands. Indonesia and the Philippines comprise about 17,000 and 7,500 islands respectively, while Indonesia, home to the world’s fourth-biggest population — about 260 million people — has the second-longest coastline after Canada. However, the bulk of this seaborne trade is moving between Europe and Asia’s powerhouse economies in China and Japan, mainly through the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, which lies between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. “The largest archipelagic countries in the world are not being optimized,” said Fauziah Zen, an economist with the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia, at the recent launch of a report on Southeast Asia’s maritime infrastructure published by The Habibie Center, a Jakarta-based research organization.
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.