Thai LGBTQ+ activists and pro-democracy protesters march together for equality

They also state demands for reforms of the Thai monarchy

This article was originally published on Prachatai, an independent news site in Thailand.

Thai women, members of the LGBTQ community, and pro-democracy protesters joined a Pride parade last November 7 in Bangkok to call for equality for all marginalized groups, as well as for Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation, a new constitution, and monarchy reform.

The march, organized by the gender equality activist groups Seri Toey Plus and Women for Freedom and Democracy, started at the Samyan intersection in central Bangkok. Carrying several large rainbow flags as well as placards calling for gender equality, marriage equality, abortion rights, and legalization of sex work, protesters marched along Rama IV Road, before stopping on Silom Road, a landmark in the center of the city.

During the march, the Women for Freedom and Democracy group, joined by a group of drummers from the theatre group B-Floor, organised a performance of a Thai version of the Chilean feminist anthem “A Rapist in Your Path” to protest against sexual violence, victim blaming, and rape culture.

Originally conceived by the Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis and sung in Spanish, the song has been translated and sung at women’s rights protests across the world as a way of speaking out about sexual violence and the patriarchal power structure that represses women.

The Thai version was translated by the Women for Freedom and Democracy Group. The lyrics state that “the state that ignores our voice is the state that rapes us”, and name “the police, the military, the courts of justice, the entire country, the monarchy” as complicit in gender-based violence.

The Thai version also uses imagery from the Sanskrit epic Ramayana, which is also popular in Thai culture. The story refers to Rama’s wife Sita, who was forced by her husband to walk through fire to prove her purity after her long captivity by Rama’s rival Ravana.

Arriving at the Saladaeng Intersection, the protesters sat down and hold up their hands in the three-finger ‘Hunger Games’ salute while the national anthem is played from speakers on the truck leading them. Photo and caption from Prachatai

The march stopped under Bangkok skytrain Saladaeng BTS Station, where protesters used the truck that led the march as a stage for dances and speeches on various social issues, such as legalization of sex work, abortion rights, gender-based discrimination in STEM fields, sexual harassment against women activists, being LGBTQ in a Muslim community, ethnic group and immigrant rights, and the patriarchal power structure in the Thai monarchy. The event included a performance by a group of drag queens.

The activists also spoke out against sexual harassment and called for women and LGBTQ people to be represented on protest stages, and stated the pro-democracy movement’s three demands, which are Gen Prayut’s resignation, a new constitution, and monarchy reform. #

LGBTQ rights and sex worker rights activist Sirisak Chaited dressed in a towel with the message “sex work is not a crime” during the march to call for the legalization of sex work. Photo and caption from Prachatai

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Myanmar 2020 election: ‘A critical moment in the consolidation of democratic transition’

‘Structural shortcomings continue to undermine the democratic character of the process’

By Mong Palatino / Global Voices

Myanmar’s election on November 8 is described by United States-based group The Carter Center as “a critical moment in the consolidation of Myanmar’s ongoing democratic transition.” The Carter Center is one of two international election observation missions accredited by Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC).

Myanmar was governed by a military dictatorship for several decades, then transitioned into civilian rule in 2010. The 2008 Constitution, however, ensured that the military would continue to exercise political influence, including on the Parliament. The opposition National League for Democracy defeated the military-backed party in the historic 2015 general election.

The Carter Center released its preliminary assessment of Myanmar’s election process on October 13. It noted the challenges in holding an election during a pandemic and recognized the efforts of the UEC in keeping the process on track.

On the other hand, it also identified the electoral system’s “structural shortcomings”:

(…) structural shortcomings continue to undermine the democratic character of the process, including quotas for unelected military appointees in all legislative bodies, restrictive eligibility criteria for the presidency, inequalities in constituency populations resulting in unequal representation.

It also mentioned that the “discriminatory legal regulations for citizenship effectively disenfranchise several ethnic minorities, particularly the Rohingya.” Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as one of its ethnic groups.

The Carter Center’s observation mission, led by Sean Dunne, is composed of a core team of six experts and 24 long-term observers. Global Voices reached out to Dunne via email to learn more about their monitoring process in Myanmar.

Mong Palatino (MP): The Carter Center also monitored the 2015 election. How would you compare the electoral landscape during that year in relation to the present?

Sean Dunne (SD): The 2015 elections were really a watershed moment for Myanmar’s democratic transition with the opening of space for political competition and the peaceful transfer of power to the main opposition party. As is often the case with second round transitional elections, this election is likely to be more intensely contested among parties and candidates. This imposes more pressure on the election authorities to ensure a fair process in line with international principles for democratic elections.

MP: How do you plan to fulfill your mission given the pandemic situation?

SD: The Carter Center has taken a range of steps to maintain its observation efforts despite the pandemic. We were able to recruit and accredit Myanmar citizens to become our long-term election observers and have recruited foreign nationals locally and abroad to take on the short-term observer roles for the mission. We have made use of technology to assist in our virtual interviewing and engagement with stakeholders, conducting over 500 interviews so far with election and security officials, political parties and candidates, and civil society representatives.

MP: A recent news report mentioned the cancellation of elections in some townships because of security concerns. Can you comment on this?

SD: The constitution and election laws permit for the postponement of elections due to local insecurity and natural disasters. It was a recommendation of The Carter Center and other observation missions in 2015 that the criteria for these postponements be more transparent.

MP: What are some of the crucial electoral policies should the UEC undertake in the next few weeks to make the elections more free and fair?

SD: The process of elections must not only be fair but be seen to be fair. Transparency and frequent consultation with political parties, candidates and other stakeholders are crucial to the acceptance of the results. All aspects of the electoral process should be open to international and domestic observers to strengthen transparency.

MP: Do you have a message to members of the international community which are also monitoring Myanmar’s democratic transition?

SD: The second cycle of transitional elections are always vital to entrench democratic practices. These elections are an essential measure of progress. Post-election, ongoing democratic reforms need to be a priority, including adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. #

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Thailand’s democracy protests reflect rising dissatisfaction over the monarchy

By Winston Chiu / Global Voices

Despite the announcement of an emergency decree on October 15 and police crackdown on October 16, tens of thousands of Thai protesters continued protesting in the streets over the weekend demanding democratic reform.

A major grievance was directed at the monarchy as reflected in a global Change.org petition demanding the Thai king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, “permanently return to Thailand” and “discharge his royal duties as the reigning monarch in his country”.

The petition appealed specifically to authorities in Germany:

We request that The Federal Republic of Germany, pursuant to the first paragraph of Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, declare Vajiralongkorn a persona non grata within the territories of The Federal Republic of Germany. Thus, disallowing the King to continue any further residence in Germany.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended to the throne in 2016 has been a controversial figure; he has direct control over two army units and multi-billion-dollar holdings, and he spends most of his time in Germany.

A Thai activist, Junya Yimprasert, who is now residing in Europe told DW News:

The Thai people are getting angrier because he is not in Germany just as a tourist and hasn’t stopped intervening in Thai politics…He is here in Germany and continues to have influence.

The petition was blocked from Thai access by three major Internet operators since October 15 according to a report from Thai Netizen Network on Facebook. In Thailand, any critical comments about the King and the royal family could be charged under criminal code section 112 and result in a sentence of 3 to 15 years in jail.

The King has recently returned to Thailand from Germany in order to attend the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s memorial day on October 13. The declaration of the state of emergency was announced two days later on October 15, after a peaceful confrontation between pro-democracy protesters and royal family supporters near the Grand Palace on October 14.

At the confrontation spot, peaceful pro-democracy protesters were chanting with the three-finger salute as Queen Suthida’s vehicle passed. At least two activists were arrested for allegedly attempting violence against the Queen, a charge that could lead to life imprisonment if found guilty.

The three-finger salute also signifies three key protest demands: the dissolution of parliament, ending intimidation of the people which includes the abolition of royal defamation law, and the drafting of a new constitution that would lead to the reformation of the monarchy.

These demands are reflected in the following parody:

@minimonilogist translated the Thai lyrics in the Twitter thread:

King Vajiralongkorn spends most of his time in Germany with his concubines living in luxuries while the people of Thailand is facing the economic crisis which got worse than before due to COVID-19. He travels back and forth on Thai airway which is currently in bankruptcy – But with the government’s support, it continues to survive using people’s taxes. Many Thai businessmen, who have been exploiting their workers, support the King’s reign, offer their money for the king to spend as he pleases. Thailand’s annual fund goes mostly to support the monarch and the rest of the royal family (approx. $641M). This is why the people protest, we are having a crisis, many live in poverty. Yet the king is spending our taxes and abusing his power through the government and the police. We ARE ANGRY! Both the monarchy and the coup need to end! We want real democracy for the people and only for the people. Not dictatorship in a democracy disguise!

The King’s residence in Germany is a major target of complaints:

As pointed out by Bangkok-based writer Tyler Roney, Thailand is going in a historical moment of political change:

Support from the ‘Milk Tea Alliance’ and Hong Kong-based activists

To support Thai pro-democracy protesters, Milk Tea Alliance, a Southeast Asia pro-democracy netizen network, has helped raise attention from international communities using hashtags #standwiththailand and #milkteaalliance on different social media platforms.

The Thai demonstrations share similarities with last year’s Hong Kong anti-extradition protests and Hong Kong netizens are vocal in expressing their support for Thai protesters. Prominent activist Joshua Wong posted a Thai protest video made by a Thailand-born Taiwanese:

Exiled Hong Kong activist Nathan Law wrote:

Hong Kong-based freelance journalist Frances Hui wrote:

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Press freedom impeded in Hong Kong as police limits definition of recognized media representatives

Freelance and student journalists could be arrested when reporting from protest sites in proposed new law
Screen capture from a video taken by reporter Leung Pak-kin from online media Rice Post.

The following post was written by Kelly Ho and originally published on Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on September  23, 2020. This edited version is published under a content partnership with Hong Kong Free Press. It has also been published by Global Voices that Kodao is now republishing under a content-sharing agreement.

Hong Kong police announced a controversial decision on September 22 to redefine “media representatives” by limiting them to government-registered and “internationally recognised” agencies, newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations. As a result, press cards issued by local journalist groups would no longer be accepted as valid accreditation.

Under the new policy, freelance journalists, journalists from student press outlets, documentary filmmakers, journalists who work for local media organizations which have not registered under the Government News and Media Information System (GNMIS) and journalists who work for foreign media outlets which are not “internationally recognised and reputable” will not be recognized as media representatives. This also implies that the police could arrest them when they are reporting from protest sites.

The police force said the proposed change of the Police General Orders, a set of guidelines for Hong Kong police officers on law enforcement, would help facilitate frontline policing and reporting. It would also help them identify members of the press and bar “self-proclaimed” journalists from protest sites.

The new guidelines drew widespread criticism from journalists, as eight press unions and associations slammed the move as “seriously impeding press freedom” in the city.

They asked the police to scrap what they consider a de facto accreditation system, stressing that:

Police unilaterally made such a major amendment without discussion and consultations, destroying a relationship that was built over many years.

Journalism schools from seven local universities also issued a joint statement expressing their “gravest reservations” over the new policy presented by the police force:

In our view, the police have every right to take action against anyone engaging in illegal activities; however, this proposed policy is in effect restricting the freedom of reporting. We are concerned that the new policy would amount to giving clear instructions to officers to disperse non-mainstream journalists who have done no wrong and are only exercising their right to gather information.

Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club said the new scheme would deliver a “serious blow” to freelance journalists and student reporters, who had provided “compelling reporting” during last year’s large-scale unrest.

Eight key protest moments captured by freelance and student journalists

HKFP has examined key moments from the city’s year-long pro-democracy protests that were captured by freelancers and student media.

Many of the clips gained viral traction and were shared freely with local, as well as international media. Student and freelance reporters often faced great personal risk in capturing iconic protest moments, yet received little reward, lacked protection from large news outlets and bore the brunt of police-protester actions. Here are some of the main key moments of the protests covered by such media.

Warning: some of the videos include graphic scenes of violence.

September 6: riot police tackle a teenage girl

The HKUST Radio News Reporting Team captured footage of riot police pinning a young girl to the ground after she tried to flee during a demonstration in Mong Kok on September 6.

Although the teenager was not arrested, the police reaction sparked outrage from children’s rights groups who demanded the force apologise. Police later defended the response, saying officers had used the “minimum necessary force” to subdue the girl.

August 31: police pepper spray pregnant woman

The online website NineTeen Media filmed a pregnant woman who appeared to have been affected by police pepper spray at a demonstration in Mong Kok on August 31. Independent outlet Studio Incendo, which shares its images under a Creative Commons license, also shot widely-shared photographs of the incident.

July 1: protester stabs police officer

The Hong Kong Baptist University Students’ Union Editorial Board captured the moment when a protester stabbed a police officer in the arm on July 1, the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover to China. Thousands of Hongkongers had defied a police ban to march between Causeway Bay and Wan Chai in protest of the Beijing-enacted national security law.

November 11, 2019: police fire three live rounds in Sai Wan Ho, striking a protester

Cupid Producer documented a police officer firing three live rounds at two protesters at close range in Sai Wan Ho on November 11, 2019, during a general strike action across the city. One of the rounds hit a protester, who had a kidney and half of his liver removed as a result.

October 1, 2019: police shoot an 18-year-old with live round at close range

Last year, on October 1, the campus TV of the University of Hong Kong recorded graphic footage of police shooting an 18-year-old protester with a live round in Tsuen Wan. The teenager – Tsang Chi-kin – who appeared at the time to have a rod in his hand, was shot in his left lung. He was left in a critical condition and underwent surgery to remove the bullet, which was three centimetres from his heart.

October 1, 2019: National Day turmoil in a 360° view

HKFP freelancer Thomas Broader shot a 360-degree video on October 1, 2019, presenting an all-immersive view of the citywide turmoil. Hong Kong saw clouds of tear gas, petrol bombs and vandalism that day as protesters “mourned” the Chinese National Day.

August 31, 2019: police storm Prince Edward Station

Reporter Leung Pak-kin from online media Rice Post shot a video inside Prince Edward MTR station on August 31 last year, which showed police beating people with batons and deploying pepper spray while making arrests. Journalists and medics were expelled from the station, according to local media, leading to unverified rumours of civilian deaths during the incident.

July 27, 2019: police beat protesters inside Yuen Long MTR station

An HKFP freelancer, who does not wish to be named, captured chaotic scenes inside the Yuen Long MTR station on July 27, 2019. In the video, Special Tactical Squad officers were seen beating crowds as protesters set off fire extinguishers. There appears to be blood on the floor.

Manila Pride protester fights back and narrates ordeal inside police detention

by Mong Palatino

On June 26, a Pride protest was organized in Manila in the Philippines to protest the passage of an anti-terror bill and the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. The police arrested 20 individuals, and charged them with resistance and disobedience to authority, illegal assembly and violation of Republic Act No. 11332, the Law on Reporting of Communicable Diseases. They were released on June 30 for further investigation.

Carla Nicoyco, a poet and member of activist LGBTQ+ group Bahaghari, shared with Global Voices via Facebook messenger her experience during the protest, arrest, and detention. First, she explained why they organized a Pride protest in Mendiola, a place located close to the presidential palace:

We believe that at its very core, Pride is, and will always be a protest; Pride means fighting back. And so we marched to Mendiola bringing the demands of the people for the right to health, economic aid, and democracy.

Images of the protest can be seen on this tweet:

The decision to hold the rally in Mendiola was widely applauded since it was the first time that a group dared to protest near the presidential palace since COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were imposed in March.

Bahaghari echoed the call of many groups opposing the Terror Bill for containing overbroad provisions that could criminalize many forms of dissent. It castigated the government of President Rodrigo Duterte for its ‘militarized’ response to the pandemic instead of focusing on delivering aid to displaced citizens.

Carla Nicoyco added:

2020 seems like the end of the world. It is marked with fear and paranoia, hostility and violence. The stakes are higher now since we’re experiencing a pandemic under the most incompetent and inutile government that only knows a militaristic response to every problem. This year’s Pride, 51 years after Stonewall, exemplifies that the LGBTQ+ community is still not free as seen in the violent arrest and detention of Pride 20.

Pride protesters inside a Manila police station. Photo from Facebook page of Bahaghari, used with permission.

She then narrated what she and her friends endured inside the Manila police station:

We can say that we were disappointed but not surprised with the violence Pride 20 experienced under the hands of the police. We remained vigilant and invulnerable when we were detained. For almost 5 days, we experienced different forms of torture, from psywar to sexual harassment. Male and female detainees were kept in different offices, and we were only given a corner.

Officers smoked inside even if there were different ‘No Smoking’ signs; they would step on our sleeping mats when they passed through our space; we did not get any sunshine since we were literally in that corner of their office the whole time; they tried to take one genderqueer member away for questioning; they tried to prevent our trans woman member from staying with the female detainees; one officer was watching porn and masturbating one night in the female quarters.

She expressed gratitude to the overwhelming support given by many groups and individuals during their detention which she believes was an important factor for their release:

All these we endured for almost 5 days, and we would not have survived if it were not for different organizations and individuals here and abroad who gave material and moral support.

Finally, she concluded with a rousing message addressed to the LGBTQ+ community:

Us queers have lived our days in hiding and fear. We’re living in a world that does not want us to exist. Like other oppressed sectors of society, we’ve experienced abuse, injustice, and violence firsthand. We’ve been handed our sorry lot of the world when we know there’s a better one. But we’re here. We persist against all odds. Our existence is resistance. We’re here to dismantle oppressive systems, to change the things we cannot accept. We stand hand in hand with our other oppressed siblings all over the world. We must resist against the Duterte regime, and the other fascists of this world, these slouching beasts. Look them in the eye and be at the vanguard of this revolution together with the toiling masses.

After the release of the 20 Pride protesters, they filed a counter-charge against the police for unlawful arrest, slight physical injuries and maltreatment. #

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Kodao publishes Global Voices articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Philippines media faces ‘eternal threat of punishment’ after cyber libel convictions

The Duterte administration’s war on media has entered a new phase

By Karlo Mongaya

A Manila court convicted one of the Philippines’ leading journalists on charges of cyber libel in a case widely seen as the latest attack on dissenting voices and press freedoms in the country.

Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa sentenced news website Rappler’s chief executive editor Maria Ressa and former reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. to 6 months and 1 day up to 6 years in jail and ordered them each to pay P400,000 (about US$8,000) for moral and exemplary damages on June 15.

Ressa and Santos are the first journalists in the Philippines to be found guilty of cyber libel since the law was passed in 2012. They were allowed to post bail pending appeal under the bond they paid in 2019, which cost 100,000 pesos (2,000 US dollars) each.

Rappler, an independent website of international renown has been targeted by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. The court, however, found Rappler itself to have no liability in the cyber libel case.

Targeting Rappler

Press freedom advocates in the Philippines and across the world swiftly decried Ressa’s conviction as part of the Duterte administration’s campaign to terrorize and intimidate journalists.

The case against Ressa and Rappler was filed in 2017 by businessman Wilfredo Keng over a 2012 Rappler story covering his alleged links to Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was being impeached on corruption charges at the time.

Keng’s case was initially dismissed in 2017 because it was beyond the statute of limitations. Moreover, the article itself was published four months before the cybercrime law was enacted.

But the case was subsequently readmitted by the Philippine justice department, which extended the period of liability for cyber libel claims from one year to 12 years and argued the article was covered by the law because it was ‘republished’ in February 2014, when Rappler updated it.

While Duterte and his spokesmen deny any links to the cyber libel case, Rappler has been on the receiving end of regular ire from the president and his allies for actively investigating and exposing the administration’s bloody war on drugs, social media manipulation and corruption.

Rappler reporters were banned from covering presidential press briefings in 2018, for what Duterte characterized as “twisted reporting” during a presidential address.

Pro-Duterte trolls deride Rappler as a peddler of “fake news” and hurl invective at its reporters.

The cyber libel case is but the first in a total of 8 active legal cases against Ressa and Rappler which include another libel case and tax violation allegations. All were filed after Duterte came to power in 2016.

The Duterte government moved to shut down Rappler in January 2018, claiming that it violated laws on non-foreign ownership of media outlets — a claim that is demonstrably false.

A protester calls for ‘mass testing, not mass silencing’ at a rally held on June 4, 2020, the day the Philippine Congress passed the anti-terror bill. Photo by Kodao Productions, a content partner of Global Voices

Curtailing dissent

The College of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines (UP), the country’s premier state university, condemned the decision as a dangerous precedent that gives authorities the power to prosecute anyone for online content published within the past decade:

The State can prosecute even after ten, twelve or more years after publication or posting. It is a concept of eternal threat of punishment without any limit in time and cyberspace.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the charges that Rappler faces is only the latest in “a chain of media repression that has seen the forced shutdown of broadcast network ABS-CBN and a spike in threats and harassment of journalists, all because the most powerful man in the land abhors criticism and dissent.’’

The government forced the country’s largest television network, privately-owned ABS-CBN, off air last May after the pro-Duterte congress refused to renew the station’s broadcasting license.

Growing persecution of media comes against the backdrop of an anti-terror bill passed by the legislature that allows the president to create an anti-terrorism council vested with powers to designate individuals and groups as “terrorists.”

That designation in turn allows warrantless arrests and 24 days of detention without court charges, among other draconian provisions.

Authorities have brazenly denied the bill threatens freedom in the country.

AERIAL SHOT: 5,000 human rights advocates and activists observe physical distancing as they commemorate Philippine Independence Day and hold a ‘Grand Mañanita’ against the Duterte government’s Anti-Terrorism Bill today, June 12, on University Avenue, University of the Philippines- Diliman, Quezon City. Photo and caption by Kodao Productions, a content partner of Global Voices

Holding the line

At a press conference after her court hearing, Ressa vowed to hold the line:

Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything.

A few days before Ressa’s conviction, thousands defied the lockdown to join anti-terror bill protests in Manilla despite threats of violence from the police.

Protesters ironically described their demonstration as a “mañanita” — the word that Police General Debold Sinas, a Duterte ally, used to justify his birthday party celebration, which took place amidst severe restrictions on gatherings.

Double standards for Duterte allies and the weaponization of laws against critics were a constant theme in tweets that used the #DefendPressFreedom hashtag in response to the Ressa case.

(Kodao is a content partner of Global Voices)

Explore beauty and heritage in the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand while staying at home

Virtual packages give would-be tourists a taste of better times ahead.

By Mong Palatino

Movement restrictions in place across the world as a result of the COVID-19 have canceled travel plans and left entire industries devoted to tourism in tatters.

In Southeast Asia, where tourism plays an important role in generating jobs and revenues, the pandemic has already weakened the economies of many countries. Tourism numbers are minuscule at a time when they should be booming.

The Philippines’ Department of Tourism reported that foreign arrivals went down by over 54 percent to 1.32 million from January to April this year. The tourism sector accounted for 12.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2018.

According to the General Statistics Office, Vietnam welcomed 3.7 million international tourists from January to March, which was 18.1 percent lower compared to the same period in 2019.

Thai authorities said that from January to March, foreign tourist arrivals decreased by 38 percent to 6.69 million. Spending by foreign tourists accounted for 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2019.

In response, governments in these countries have established virtual tours for those who want to explore famous travel locations in Southeast Asia without leaving their homes, and to encourage tourists to visit these places in the future.

Below are some of the free online travel packages on offer.

Philippines

The Intramuros Administration (IA), a Philippine government agency, has partnered with Google Arts and Culture to create a platform that allows users to virtually visit the ‘walled city’ of Intramuros in Manila.

Intramuros was the site of the old capital during Spain’s 300-year rule over the Philippines. Visitors can explore famous landmarks like Fort Santiago and Plaza Roma.

The website also showcases the IA’s art collection. The online exhibit ‘Christ in Filipino Consciousness’ features religious images of Child Jesus that reflect how Christianity was deployed to colonize the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism is also offering virtual backgrounds featuring famous tourism destinations in the Philippines which users can display in video conferences.

Screenshot of the Ha Long Bay 360 degree tour. Source: Website of ‘Stay at Home with Vietnam’

The Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board and the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism have launched the ‘Stay at Home with Vietnam’ kit that allows visitors to explore the country from a distance.

The website offers 360-degree tours of its eight UNESCO World Heritage sites which include Halong Bay and the Phong Nha caves.

Visitors can also download homemade recipes of popular Vietnamese dishes such as banh mi sandwich and bun cha (rice noodle served with grilled pork meatballs).

Several short videos feature local citizens providing tips and unique perspectives on some Vietnamese destinations.

coloring-in pamphlet that features Vietnamese icons is available for download.

Lastly, visitors can download photos of famous tourism sites that can be used as virtual background during video calls.

Thailand

Thailand has recently eased lockdown restrictions but it will take some time before international tourists are welcomed back again.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) tried to sustain interest through its #BooknowTravelsoon campaign and Amazing Thainess social media promotion.

It has launched 3D virtual tours for 13 attractions in nine provinces.

One of the virtual museums offering a glimpse of the country’s riches is the Arts of the Kingdom Museum, which features art collections created by the craftspeople of the Queen Sirikit Institute.

Jewels of the collection uploaded on social media include the ‘Model of the Mongkol Suban Royal Barge’ and ‘Egg-shaped Urn with Khankorbua Print Golden top etched’

The model of the royal barge, including the hull and the keel, are made of gilded silver. The bow is made of carved gold and colour enamel in the shape of a Garuda clutching a Naga in each claw.

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Kodao publishes Global Voices articles as part of the content-sharing agreement.

These officials flouted lockdown rules in Myanmar, Malaysia, and the Philippines

Arrest a community volunteer, then throw yourself a party

By Mong Palatino/Global Voices

Lockdown restrictions were enforced by many countries across the world to contain the spread of COVID-19, and Southeast Asia has hosted some of the harshest.

Most quarantine protocols require residents to stay at home, while mass gatherings are typically prohibited.

In Malaysia and the Philippines a particularly strict enforcement of these measures saw thousands of arrests and heavy penalties for violations from March onwards.

But a number of government officials were caught violating the very quarantine protocols they were supposed to oversee.

Global Voices looked into some of these cases, and their outcomes, which highlight how rules apply to ordinary citizens more than to powerful politicians.

We also considered a case in Myanmar that showed how religious discrimination can have a bearing on the application of the law.

Malaysia: ‘Disparity in sentencing’

Malaysia has arrested almost 30,000 people for violating its Movement Control Order (MCO). Harsh implementation was cited by authorities as necessary to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases.

But the public noticed that several politicians flouted the guidelines. The Centre For Independent Journalism compiled documented many of these instances. In one case, Deputy Health Minister Noor Azmi Ghazali posted a now-deleted Facebook photograph of him and another elected representative sharing a meal with about 30 students. Deputy Rural Development Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Mohamad meanwhile enjoyed an impromptu birthday party. Datuk Abdul Rahman Mohamad claimed that the party was a surprise sprung on him by friends and said he was unable to send them away for reasons of courtesy.

In many cases politicians and their families who got charged for failing to practice social distancing measures were slapped with light fines. Ordinary citizens, in contrast got maximum penalty fines and even jail time.

This prompted the Malaysian Bar to issue a statement about the ‘disparity in sentencing’:

The Malaysian Bar is disturbed by accounts of excessive sentences and cases of disparity in sentencing between ordinary people and those with influence, in relation to persons who have violated the MCO.

We acknowledge that the range of sentences handed down may well be within the ambit of the law, but the power of the Court to hand down sentences must be exercised judiciously in order to avoid any travesty of justice.

Philippines: ‘Mañanita’, not a birthday party’

The Philippines is cited by the U.N. Human Rights Office as another country that relied on a “highly militarized response” to deal with the pandemic. More than 120,000 people have been arrested for curfew and quarantine transgressions. Checkpoint security measures have led to numerous human rights violations.

But the government’s credibility in enforcing the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) guidelines suffered a tremendous blow after it was reported that Major General Debold Sinas, the director of the National Capital Region Police Office, benefited from a birthday bash organized by subordinates.

Sinas insisted that there was no birthday party but only a ‘Mañanita’ — a police tradition that features an early morning serenade for the chief. But the public backlash forced him to issue an apology.

Critics pointed out that Sinas and his team have enthusiastically arrested activists and community workers organizing relief activities during the lockdown. They blasted the general for holding festivities at a time when millions have lost jobs and income due to anti-pandemic measures.

Sinas was later charged for violating ECQ rules but has so far managed to retain his position. His case is still pending in the court.

A retired military officer, Ramon Farolan, advised Sinas to step down:

Your apology would take on greater meaning if you step down from your position. Accept that you made a poor judgment call, showing insensitivity to the plight of our less fortunate. Don’t wait for higher authorities to decide your case.

Myanmar: Religious event or pagoda renovation?

In Myanmar, Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein and Naing Ngan Lin, chairman of the COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee, are both accused of breaking the law by attending a Botataung Pagoda festival while the country is observing a ban on religious gatherings.

Photos uploaded on the chief minister’s Facebook page showed dozens of individuals congregating at a riverside site to observe a Buddhist rite.

Social media reactions focused on the clear breach of government guidelines, which include a prohibition on gatherings of four or more people.

Phyo Min Thein denied that the activity was a ceremony, insisting instead that it was a pagoda renovation and that the other people in the photographs were mere onlookers.

Many commented that while the government has been consistent in jailing Muslims and Christians for holding religious activities during lockdown restrictions, it has been less decisive in probing activities connected to Buddhism — the country’s most widely observed religion.

Kyaw Phyo Tha, news editor of the English edition of The Irrawaddy, criticized the chief minister’s actions:

Whatever the case, the chief minister’s actions were unacceptable. They have put the Union government in an awkward position, as its orders have been undermined by a senior official. Due to U Phyo Min Thein’s shortsightedness, Myanmar will have to pay the price internationally by being accused of religious discrimination.

Phyo Min Thein may yet pay for his lockdown scandal — a growing number of Yangon regional legislators are seeking to file an impeachment case against him for breaking the rules. #

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Kodao publishes Global Voices reports as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Where’s the Pacific voice in the viral ‘real Lord of the Flies’ story?

‘It lacked the very Tongans the story was about’

By Mong Palatino

A book excerpt published by The Guardian narrates the survival of six shipwrecked Tongan boys on an island for 15 months in 1965. The story received more than seven million hits in just four days, but some Tongans have pointed out that the story, which foregrounds the point of view of the Australian sailor who rescued the teenagers, lacks a Pacific voice.

The Guardian story, ‘The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months,’ was published on May 9 and immediately went viral, attracting the attention of filmmakers and global leaders. The book from which it is excerpted is “Humankind: A Hopeful History,” by Dutch historian Rutger Bregman.

Bregman recounted how Tongan teenagers Sione, Stephen, Kolo, David, Luke and Mano survived on the depopulated Ata island for 15 months by relying on each other after their boat was destroyed by a storm. They were rescued by Australian sailor Peter Warner.

Bregman contrasted the story of the six Tongans with the tragic fate of the characters in the popular 1954 novel “Lord of the Flies” by British author William Golding. In the novel, the children survive a plane crash and end up on a remote Pacific island. Some of them become violent, with fatal consequences.

For Bregman, the story of the six Tongans offers a more positive view of humanity:

It’s time we told a different kind of story. The real Lord of the Flies is a tale of friendship and loyalty; one that illustrates how much stronger we are if we can lean on each other.

The Guardian story was picked up by the local press in Tonga. Through the Matangi Tonga Online, we learned that the full names of the six teenagers are Kolo Fekitoa, Sione Fataua, “David” Tevita Siola’a, “Stephen” Fatai Latu, Mano Totau, and Luke Veikoso.

Not all are happy with the story published by The Guardian. In an ABC Australia audio interview Meleika Gesa-Fatafehi, a Tongan author and storyteller, took issue with the story’s “colonial lens”. She felt there was too much focus on the Australian rescuer while omitting reference to the island’s history of colonialism (which is why it was depopulated), and the local belief systems that could explain why the boys behaved the way they did. She expressed frustration that a foreigner owns the rights to the story about what happened to the six teenagers, which is well-known in the Tongan community.

Gesa-Fatafehi added that understanding Tongan history and the values promoted in the community would have made readers see that the western novel Lord of the Flies provided an inaccurate counterpoint to the story of the six teenagers.

In a widely-shared Twitter thread, Gesa-Fatafehi elaborated her other concerns:

Samoan journalist Tahlea Aualiitia also commented:

On Twitter, Janet. U revealed that her grandfather is one of the six castaways and posted the following appeal to the public:

Bregman responded to the Twitter thread of Meleika Gesa-Fatafehi by pointing out that the Guardian excerpt did not include his interview with Mano and Sione.

He said he also tackled the history of slavery on the island.

On May 13, The Guardian published an interview with Mano. The article quoted Mano and Bregman, who clarified that Warner did not benefit financially from the story of the rescue.

Gesa-Fatafehi posted a rejoinder to Bregman’s point that the story is not about racism or colonialism but resilience and interracial friendship:

She wrote a longer piece summarizing the points she raised on her Twitter thread:

The original article could’ve done more for the six men. The story should have been told by a Tongan. The story should have been told by the men themselves and their families. This is their story, will always be their story. The article doesn’t mention how the boys felt or why they made the choices they made. It lacked their perspective. It lacked the very Tongans the story was about, with the exception of Mano. But even then, Mano was sidelined. He deserves to share his story how he would want to.

Gesa-Fatafehi said in the ABC Australia interview that if ever a film were to be made about the six teenagers, her advice is to hire a local crew and incorporate local perspectives in sharing the story to the world. #

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This article first appeared on Global Voices which Kodao republishes as part of a content-sharing agreement.

From Brazil to Kosovo to the Philippines, confined citizens protest from their windows

A COVID-safe way to capture the attention of politicians

By Jose Carpintero Molina, Fernanda Canofre and Raymond Palatino

There is a very good chance that you’re in lockdown as you read this. One in every three people on earth is under some sort of social distancing order as governments scramble to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives since the novel coronavirus was first detected in China in December 2019.

Lockdowns have been watched vigilantly by rights groups, who are urging governments to tread carefully when restricting civil liberties in these exceptional circumstances. But lockdowns do present a paradox for accountability on that very matter: How can citizens ensure officials don’t misuse their new emergency powers when public protests present an immediate danger to one other?

Fortunately, people have found alternatives. From Kosovo to Spain, from Brazil to the Philippines, pot-banging from balconies and windows emerges as a COVID-safe way to capture the attention of politicians.

Of course, such demonstrations are nothing new. As documented by historian Emmanuel Fureix, this type of protest was first seen in France in 1830. Back then, when the Republicans opposing the Louise-Philippe monarchy used kitchenware to make noise as a sign of protest, it was called charivari.

This method of resistance later reached other parts of the world. In 1961, during the Algerian war of independence one protest became known as “the night of the pots.” Other popular protests of this kind took place in Chile in 1971, during the Allende administration, in Quebec during the 2012 student protests, and in Turkey, during the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Today it is particularly popular in Latin America, where it’s known as cacelorazo, and panelaço in Brazil.

From their windows in Kosovo, citizens begged authorities to put lives before politics

In Kosovo, citizens banged pots and pans from the balconies and windows every night for a week to show discontent with the current political situation — a power struggle in the ruling coalition over the emergency measures.

The protests did not prevent the prime minister from losing a no-confidence motion on March 25, making Kosovo’s government the first in the world to fall in relation to the coronavirus crisis.

With the Kosovo government ousted, the decision to either form a new government or dissolve the country’s parliament and call for early elections falls to President Hashim Thaçi, the main beneficiary of the prime minister’s sacking. However, holding elections in the midst of a pandemic seems impossible, leaving various important issues up in the air:

In Spain, a cazerolada against the king

On March 19, 2020, as the King of Spain, Felipe I, gave a nationally broadcasted speech asking for unity in confronting COVID-19, people went to their windows and balconies to demand that his father, Juan Carlos I, donate to the public health system the 100 million euros he allegedly has in a Swiss bank account, courtesy the King of Saudi Arabia.

Just a few days later, a similar protest was held against Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his government, as a criticism of their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic:

“Banging pots and pans for a while. Pedro Sanchez RESIGNATION, in Capitán Haya, Madrid.”

On April 1, right-wing and far-right again called on social media under the hashtag #cacerolada21h for a protest from the balconies against the government’s handling of the COVID crisis. However, this call ended up having little or no success in some parts of Spain.

One month of nightly protests against Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro

Since March 17, pots and pans have been echoing from Brazilian households at around 8:30 p.m. every night, in protest over how President Jair Bolsonaro is handling policies to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in a country with 200 million people:

The first night of protests actually took place a day before the original date that had been planned via social media channels. In cities spanning from the north to the south of the expansive country — even in neighborhoods that used to bang those same kitchen utensils asking for the impeachment of left-leaning president Dilma Rousseff four years prior — people shouted, “Get out, Bolsonaro!”

The following evening, March 18, only half an hour after the protests began, Bolsonaro tried to turn this act of resistance on its head by calling for people to bang pots and pans in support of his government:

“The Today News (TV Globo) and Veja [magazine] ostensively publicize POTS AND PANS PROTEST tonight at 20h30 against President Jair Bolsonaro.
– But the same press, who claim to be impartial, DOT NOT PUBLICIZE another POTS AND PANS PROTEST, at 21h IN SUPPORT OF JAIR BOLSONARO’S GOVERNMENT.”

The Brazilian president has been downplaying the effects of the pandemic, calling COVID-19 “a little flu” and labeling media coverage and social isolation measures adopted by state governors as “hysteric”. In several states, roads have been blocked, interstate buses have been suspended, events canceled and schools closed.

Bolsonaro has given three televised addresses to the nation since World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11. His messages have been described as confusing and erratic, at times directly criticizing state governors and at others calling for “union.”

Over the past two weeks, the Brazilian president has shifted from calling for schools and commerce to be reopened, to defending “vertical isolation” — the kind imposed only to people in high-risk groups — and, like US President Donald Trump, advocating for ample use of chloroquine against COVID-19, despite the lack of enough scientific evidence of its efficacy.

Surrounded by aides and cameras, Bolsonaro has also gone several times on walkabouts around the capital Brasília, speaking to and shaking hands with supporters. On his latest excursion on April 10, he declared: “No one will curb my right to come and go.”

Allies and leaders of the National Congress have criticized him for going against the recommendations of the WHO.

#ProtestFromHome in the Philippines

Kadamay, an urban poor group in the Philippines, organized noise barrage protest actions to highlight the slow delivery of food assistance from the government. The lockdown order it was under, though aimed at containing the COVID-19 outbreak, also disrupted the livelihood of street vendors and other workers from the informal sector:

The lack of a clear plan on how to extend assistance to poor households prompted Kadamay to organize the protest, which involved the banging of empty kaldero (pots) in houses. The Twitter hashtag #ProtestFromHome trended on March 22, after the campaign gained online support in the country. The police responded by accusing Kadamay of being anti-Filipino.

The protest also asked that the government conduct mass testing for COVID-19 and prioritize the sending of relief to affected communities.

Argentine women pot-bang against domestic violence

In Argentina, the sound of kitchenware was also heard in protests over the increase in violence against women during quarantine. Thousands of women were involved in these protests, which also called for the lowering of politicians’ wages:

“This Monday night, a cacerolazo was heard in different neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Under the hashtag #Ruidazo, calls were made to reduce wages in the political sector amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

Protect the vulnerable in Uruguay

Beating pots and pans was also the method that many Uruguayans used to call for social protection measures for the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis, though others did attempt to counteract it by playing the national anthem and applauding:

“With hymn and tutti #SuenaUruguay #uruguay #montevideo #cacerolazo

Just as global citizens are bound together in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that at present, when street protests are impossible, they are also united by banging pots and pans. #

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Kodao reposts Global Voices articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.