JAKARTA – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a senior United Nations official based in the Philippines, is refusing to leave her homeland despite a legal petition by the government to designate her and about 600 others as terrorists. Tauli-Corpuz, appointed the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in 2014, said in a telephone interview that “of course I am concerned” about the government’s list, which was filed by the justice ministry in court in Manila on February 21, but was adamant that she would not flee overseas.
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.
JAKARTA — After Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s succession of tirades against the country’s Catholic Church leaders, bishops hardly expected a presidential climb down, even after their entreaty asking the government to ease up on a violent anti-drugs campaign. In less than eight months, more than 7,600 people, mostly drug traffickers and drug users, have been executed extrajudicially, often by a gunshot to the head, their bodies left on the blood-strewn street as a warning. Some have been killed in police operations and some have been murdered by unidentified paramilitary squads. The bloodshed prompted a February pastoral letter signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, which said, “This traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped and overcome. But the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers.”
PHNOM PENH — The skyline of Phnom Penh is changing as fast as that of any Asian city. Yellow cranes gleam in the sun after late-afternoon squalls, towering alongside green-netted scaffolding wrapped around dozens of new high-rise apartment blocks going up across the city. These are, literally, the green shoots of a building boom that made up a sixth of Cambodia’s economic growth last year. They are a sign of a transformation underway in the capital as Cambodia tries to catch up with its more prosperous neighbors. But the rapid changes also highlight a challenge that has faced many cities across Asia in recent decades: with 200 million people having moved from countryside to city in East and Southeast Asia since 2010, how can cities manage large-scale urban growth in a way that facilitates economic growth without increasing pollution and traffic jams. In BKK1, an upmarket part of the city, “the roads are too narrow, the area is not ready for so much construction, many small builders don’t talk to the municipality, there is no coordination,” said Sebastian Uy, co-owner of real estate agency Le Grand Mekong Property.
MANILA — If crowds are anything to go by, the May 9 presidential election is a foregone conclusion. Two days before the vote, leading candidate Rodrigo Duterte drew between 300,000 to 500,000 people at his final election rally at a landmark grandstand near Manila’s Rizal Park. The turnout was at least double that of any other candidate. “This is the next president of the Philippines,” yelled supporter Angel Valeron, one of thousands of fist-pumping “Dutertards,” clad in red t-shirts bearing the slogan “Iron fist,” a reference to the 71- year-old Duterte’s no-nonsense style of running Davao on the southern island of Mindanao. “Dutertard” is a slur leveled at Duterte supporters by rivals, but since appropriated by backers of the Davao City mayor in self-styled defiance. As mayor for 22 years, Duterte oversaw a clean-up of the once dangerous and chaotic city, allegedly even participating in the extrajudicial shooting of alleged criminals. Duterte said he will do the same nationally if elected, telling the crowd in Manila that he will “butcher” criminals. “If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out,” Duterte said, drawing a thunderous roar from the crowd.
MANILA — In his final State of the Nation speech as president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III declared that his government had curbed corruption, long deemed a barrier to foreign investment, and overseen growth in a country once derided as “the sick man of Asia.” “More than five years have passed since we put a stop to the culture of ‘wang-wang,’ not only [on] our streets, but in society at large,” Aquino said in July 2015. “Wang wang,” note James Robinson and Daron Acemoglu, co-authors of “Why Nations Fail,” a much-lauded book published in 2012, is a term “derived from the blaring sirens of politicians’ and elites’ cars urging common people to get out of the way,” and is used in the Philippines to refer to corruption. Aquino’s July 2015 speech echoed his first national address as president, five years earlier, in which he asserted: “Do you want the corrupt held accountable? So do I. Do you want to see the end of wang-wang, both on the streets and in the sense of entitlement that has led to the abuse that we have lived with for so long? ” Fighting corruption and building confidence in the country’s once-laggard economy have been key themes throughout Aquino’s term in office, which is now coming to a close with voters scheduled to elect a successor on May 9.
MANILA — In sweltering Southeast Asia’s buzzing and vibrant cities, when the temperature hits the mid-30s and the traffic is so clogged that streets sometimes seem more like car parks than freeways, there is always the mall. Such is the refuge of choice in Manila, where over 150 malls host coffee shops, cinemas, restaurants, shopping and sometimes gyms and even churches. They offer all the amenities and conveniences that are hard to find elsewhere — though churches are ubiquitous — in the vast, chaotic city. “Especially in Manila, we don’t have parks, we don’t have recreational areas, and it’s very hot outside, the malls are well-ventilated,” said Maria Isabel Cristina, who was meeting an old schoolfriend in Greenbelt, one Manila’s biggest mall complexes, located in Makati, the high-rise, high-end business and finance hub.
“Malls are where people often arrange to meet,” said Geraldine Monfort, a flight attendant who was having a coffee in the same location. Prompted by the convenience and popularity of such vast malls, the country’s election commission has announced that 86 malls across the 7,500 island archipelago will double up as voting centers for the May 9 presidential election, when 55 million Filipinos are eligible to vote.
BACOOR, Philippines — In a packed basketball arena in the province of Cavite, a half-hour’s drive south of the congested capital, Manila, Senator Grace Poe made her pitch to lead the Philippines as the country’s next president. “There is a long history of Cavitenos watching movies of my father and they remember that,” she said, referring to her famous adoptive father, the late film actor Ferdinand Poe, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2004. Rather than featuring established, ideologically-driven political parties with slick campaign machines, Philippine elections are dominated by political dynasties, with a list of household names decorated with a smattering of celebrities, be they TV stars or sports icons such as world champion boxer Manny Pacquaio, who is running for a senate seat. Poe, with her cinema star father, has the background to match, and is not afraid to play it up in the quest for an edge in this close-run race.
SAN ISIDRO, LEYTE PROVINCE, PHILIPPINES – Early morning, about 5 am on November 8 last, Vilma Carson and her family braced under the kitchen table, praying rosaries as the wind outside whipped up to 200 miles an hour. It was to be a six hour ordeal that ripped the roof off their country home, which sits about a ten minute drive from the town of Palo in Leyte province. Despite the fearsome noise from the wind outside – and inside, once the roof was torn off – the schoolteacher listened for the beep of her phone, alerting her when husband George texted from Dubai, where he is one of the ten million plus Filipino emigrants working overseas. “He said to pray, so we hid under the table, but we were so frightened,” the mother recalls, now smiling, recalling the tribulation she shared with her two teenage daughters and 11 year old son.