Filipino community radio stations struggle to survive amid attacks and difficulties

By Mong Palatino

A book published in 2018 documented the challenges faced by community radio networks in the Philippines. This author interviewed one of the groups behind the book project about the significance of community radio in a country where most of the murdered journalists are broadcasters from the rural provinces.

Titled ‘Amplifying the People’s Voices: The Philippine Community Radio Experience and Challenges’, the book was published by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television and Kodao Productions. [Note: Kodao is a content partner of Global Voices.]

Jola Diones-Mamangun, executive director of Kodao, shared via email some of the highlights of the book and the current challenges of community radio broadcasting under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. First, she explained what community radio means:

Community radio is broadcasting or ‘narrowcasting’ by a community on a topic that is of importance to them through a (usually) low-power radio transmitter (broadcasting) or a public-address system (narrowcasting). It is a form of a town-hall meeting that uses the radio program format. Both the broadcaster/s and the interviewee/s are usually members of the community themselves. If the community succeeds in putting a community radio station, they broadcast a series of programs that is similar to how other radio stations operate (eg, Radyo Sagada). If not, they can set up a public address system and place speakers around the community and the program/s usually last for just hours (eg. Radyo San Roque).

Sagada is part of the Cordillera Region, the home of the Igorot indigenous peoples, in the northern part of the Philippines. San Roque is an urban poor community in Metro Manila, the country’s capital region.

She mentioned how community radio stations formed a network in the early 1990s

There have been earlier stand-alone community radio stations in the Philippines but it was only in the early 1990s that the late Louie Tabing started the Tambuli network of community radio stations. He is acknowledged in the global community radio broadcasting movement as an Asian pioneer.

‘Amplifying the People’s Voices: The Philippine Community Radio Experience and Challenges’. (Published by IAWRT)

She said Kodao’s work was inspired by the legacy of the Tambuli Network. Tambuli spearheaded the establishment of more than 20 community radio stations in remote villages across the Philippines, with assistance from various sectors such as the academe, church, international NGOs, and the communities themselves.

She then summarized the main challenges faced by community radio in the past two decades:

Sustainability is the main challenge. When funding for Tambuli dried up, most of the stations became moribund, shriveling the network and stopping the project on its tracks.

Second problem are the laws that appear to discourage the establishment of independent community radio stations. For example, while there are more than a hundred Radyo Natin stations all over the archipelago—low-power Manila Broadcasting Company (MBC)-owned stations—there are very few genuine community radio stations such as Radyo Sagada. It is unjust that large networks such as MBC are given hundreds of frequencies on both AM and FM bands that it is no longer possible, for example to put a radio station in the Metro Manila area, or Cebu, Iloilo, Davao and others. What if the Dumagats of Antipolo want to have a radio station of their own? [Dumagats are indigenous peoples from Rizal province. Antipolo is part of Rizal, located east of Metro Manila].

Third, because they are non-profit, community-owned and operated, and assisted by non-government organizations, genuine community radio stations are often victims of attacks and harassments, leading to their closure or abortion of their establishment. Radyo Cagayano was burned down and its staff attacked in Baggao, Cagayan in 2006; Radyo Sugbuanon’s full operation was aborted because of threats by the police and politicians; Radyo Lumad was closed last January 2019 because of threats and harassments. NGOs that help put them up are red-tagged and some have even been killed or imprisoned.

Radyo Cagayano, Radyo Lumad, and Radyo Sugbuanon are located in communities where the residents have been either resisting the entry and expansion of mining interests or opposing the approval of large-scale projects that could destroy their homes and livelihoods. These radio stations have consistently worked with communities threatened with displacement by broadcasting the issue and providing a platform for local residents to articulate their demands. It is this mission of ‘amplifying the people’s voices’ that led to vicious attacks targeting those who are speaking truth to power.

She emphasized that the ‘people’s right to communication’ should be part of the broader struggle for real development and inclusive democracy in the Philippines:

These are no small challenges that could be addressed by simple problem-solving. There must a systemic social change if community radio is to finally succeed in the Philippines. It must be pursued as part of the people’s right to communication. If the marginalized are underserved by the mass media establishment, they must be allowed to be their own voice (as opposed to claims that they are voiceless and that the networkers are giving them one.

She accused the Duterte government, which came to power in 2016, of enabling more attacks against the independent press including community radio:

It is under the Duterte regime that Radyo Sugbuanon and Radyo Lumad have been threatened, leading to the abortion of the former’s full establishment and the closure of the latter.

She said Kodao plans to give copies of the book to mass communication schools throughout the country to serve as a resource. She added that the book can be part of a campaign to push for an enabling law promoting community radio broadcasting in the Philippines.

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

A snapshot of climate strikes across Southeast Asia

‘THERE IS NO PLANET B”

By Mong Palatino

Filipino protesters in a human-Earth formation. Source: Facebook page of Scientia

Several actions were organized across Southeast Asia from 20 to 22 September 2019 in support of the Global Climate Strike. One of the aims of the global strike was to mobilize young people and put pressure on world leaders who were scheduled to meet at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.

The protest actions in Southeast Asia highlighted various issues such as the impact of large-scale mining, haze pollution, and continuing dependence on fossil fuels. Like in other parts of the world, the climate strikes in Southeast Asia featured the active participation and leadership of young people.

Below is an overview of protest activities across Southeast Asia:

Myanmar protesters demand the declaration of a climate emergency

More than 200 people marched from the new Bogyoke Market to Sule Pagoda, and then gathered outside Mahabandoola Park in Yangon on 21 September. They urged the Myanmar government to declare a climate emergency, impose a moratorium on projects that harm the environment, and promote environmental justice.

Young environmentalists joined the protest in Yangon. Source: Facebook page of Climate Strike Myanmar

Filipino activists call for climate justice

More than 600 young environmentalists in Manila participated in a human-Earth formation while carrying placards that call for climate justice on 20 September. They denounced the rising number of extrajudicial killings targeting environmental defenders and land rights activists under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte who came to power in 2016.

Thailand asked to stop building coal plants

More than 150 young environmentalists held a die-in protest in front of Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on 20 September. They submitted a petition asking the government to phase out coal and transition to renewable energy. A government official received the letter and lauded the concern of young people for the environment.

Young environmentalists rally in front of Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. Source: Facebook page of Climate Strike Thailand

Malaysia pressed to act against haze pollution

More than 300 people joined the protest organized by Klima Action Malaysia on 21 September. They linked the worsening haze pollution to the climate crisis and asked the government to probe companies responsible for financing the deforestation of lands in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Stop forest fires in Indonesia

Reports indicated that more than a thousand young people marched in Jakarta on 20 September. They criticized the failure of the government to stop the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan which caused massive haze pollution not just in Indonesia but also in Malaysia and Singapore. The expansion of plantations and illegal land conversions are blamed for the raging forest fires in the country.

Singapore told to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Singapore had a large turnout during its climate strike on 21 September at Hong Lim Park. An estimated two thousand people joined the action calling the government to decarbonize the economy and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Participants wore red to symbolize the climate emergency we are facing today.

Vietnamese activists defy risks and hold protest in Ho Chi Minh City

And finally, in Vietnam, environmental activists organized a climate protest in Ho Chi Minh City despite the political risk of such an action.

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

Hong Kong protests through the eyes of a Filipino migrant worker

By Mong Palatino

There are more than 130,000 Filipinos in Hong Kong, a majority of whom are domestic workers. Every Sunday, many congregate in Central, the business and retail heart of Hong Kong, to spend their day off. This is also where the massive protests in the city have been taking place since June 2019. How have the rallies affected the lives of migrant workers? What are their thoughts about the protests?

Since June 2019, weekly protests in Hong Kong have brought together at least two million people demanding the scrapping of a bill that would allow the extradition of fugitives and other accused individuals to mainland China. Protesters say the bill could undermine democracy by allowing Beijing authorities to order the arrest of Hong Kong-based activists, dissenters, and even critical journalists. The bill has been withdrawn by the government but protests have continued to escalate as more people demand a probe into police violence, the release of arrested activists, and the granting of universal suffrage.

Through email, Global Voices interviewed Elena (not her real name), a migrant worker who has been living in Hong Kong for more than a decade. She is also a volunteer in several networks advocating for the rights of migrant workers.

Elena explains why most Filipino migrant workers are sympathetic to the protesters:

As most of the protesters are young people, many of them grew up in households where Filipino domestic workers took care of them when they were still very young.

The Filipino community also disagrees with the proposed bill. We have not seen anyone or any group publicly expressing support for it. Some Filipinos also joined peaceful marches from Victoria Park to Central.

While we are not prohibited to join the rallies, many are reluctant because of its possible implication to their work and visa status in Hong Kong.

The rallies have affected how Filipino migrant workers gather and interact every Sunday in several public areas. Elene shares how migrant workers have adjusted to the situation:

Some community groups have cancelled their scheduled events in Chater Road because of the protests.

Some workers reported that their rest days are no longer fixed on a Sunday and have become dependent on the schedule of protest actions. This also affects their ability to be with their friends and relatives during rest days. Other migrants just congregate from morning until 2:00 p.m. and will leave Central before 3:00 p.m. to avoid the protests and possible disruptions in the public transportation as well as potential police confrontations.

Some expressed concern about losing their jobs:

While the migrant workers are trying to understand the Hong Kong people’s protest, there are of course fears among the Filipino community about their safety and job security as well.

There are also reports that some employers are taking advantage of the situation to deny their domestic workers their rest days.

Elena notes that migrant groups have rejected the proposal of the Philippine government to impose a temporary ban on the sending of workers to Hong Kong:

Filipino migrants are angered by the exaggeration of the Philippine government through the Department of Labor and Employment with their proposed “ban on deployment” of Filipinos to Hong Kong. We view this as overreacting and simply a PR stunt since the current situation does not merit such a drastic policy. This proposal, if implemented, does not make us safe and will only result in financial loss and deprive many of their livelihood and employment opportunity. In fact, many feel that the situation in the Philippines is more dangerous with the Martial Law in place in some regions and with ‘death squads’ roaming the country and targeting mainly poor communities and people’s rights defenders.

Elena observes that the protest movement this year got favorable media coverage compared to the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ in 2014. But she also notes some inconsistencies in reporting:

The coverage is highly focused on the confrontations between the protesters and the police. There is also too much projection given to the US and UK flag bearers in the protest making it appear that the people in general are supportive of the US and UK intervention when it is not really the case. The people are more angered by the HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] government’s handling of the situation especially the police’s brutality and excessive use of force in dealing with the protesters.

Finally, Elena has advice for the protesters:

Take the initiative to mobilize ordinary workers by linking the struggle to address other pressing basic issues affecting the working peoples of Hong Kong such as low wages, extremely high housing rents, deteriorating social services especially in the health, education and elderly care sector. #

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

‘No VAT on Pad’ protests prompt Bangladesh government to remove proposed tax

Hefty tax on sanitary pads called “disgraceful” and “anti-women”

By Pantha Rahmanrez / Translated by Rezwan

BANGLADESH–In June 2019, activists in Nigeria demonstrated over their government’s intention to reinstate a tax on sanitary pads in the 2019/2020 budget. Last year, amidst protests, India removed a controversial tax on sanitary pads, which was introduced in 2017. Now, Bangladesh joins the global debate on period poverty.

Recent protests called for a halt to the proposed 40 percent value-added tax (VAT) and supplementary duties on imported raw materials of sanitary napkins in the country’s new budget. Locally made pads are already subject to a 15 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on the shelf price, so additional taxes on the imported ingredients would make these products out of reach for many — even those already using hygienic disposable pads.

Amidst calls to break the silence and widespread use of the slogan “No VAT on Pad”, the Bangladesh government, in an unprecedented move, scrapped the proposed tax hike on feminine products — but that doesn’t mean they are now affordable for women in Bangladesh.

The period taboo

In rural Bangladesh, women’s periods are still a taboo subject. Because menstruation is deemed impure, this imposes many restrictions on what women can do and where they can go. Even women who can afford these products rarely buy them at regular shops, mostly out of embarrassment.

According to 2014 Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey, during their menstruation cycle, 40 percent of girls miss school, for a median of three days a month.

Many girls miss school during their period. Photo by Firoze Ahmed, via Demotix.

Prohibitive costs

According to a report by the non-profit SNV Bangladesh, over 89 per cent of Bangladesh’s 78.4 million women still use old clothes or rags, as many cannot afford disposable sanitary napkins.

The annual market worth of the sanitary napkin industry (including adult diapers) in Bangladesh is around 3 billion Taka (US $35.5 million), 90 percent of which is supplied by local manufacturers. The per-packet price of sanitary napkins is 100-160 Taka (US $1.25-$2), so many in rural areas cannot afford them.

The cost of pads has remained high because of the need to pay existing customs and regulatory duties on the foreign-sourced raw materials needed for local assembly.

According to some manufacturers, the scrapping of the proposed increase in tax, however, won’t impact the current price. If the 15 percent value-added tax at the shelves is scrapped, manufacturers say, then the price will come down.

Old clothes or rags as alternatives

Many women are not aware of the health risks of reusing old clothes instead of sanitary napkins. The 2014 National Hygiene Survey discovered that embarrassment and lack of affordability contribute to women resorting to reusing rags and other available alternatives.

Noting that the use of rags instead of pads increases women’s health risk, Facebook user Shamima Islam explained that 73 percent of Bangladeshi women suffer from urinary tract and vaginal infections — which can lead to cancer — all because of a lack of menstrual hygiene.

Students of Rajshani University form a human chain June 29 demanding the scrapping of value added tax on sanitary pads. (The Daily Star through Global Voices)

On Facebook, Shahriar Shuvo recommended not only getting rid of the tax, but also introducing subsidies for sanitary napkins:

We have duty-free car facilities for our ministers and members of parliament. However, we impose 40 percent tax/VAT on essential menstrual hygiene products for women.

“Not only should the taxes be scrapped, I demand subsidies for these products to make them affordable to most women.”

Different sections of people also went offline and took to the streets to protest. Here in this video, a small section of university students are seen protesting the increase, forming a human chain in Dhaka’s Shahbag area:

Bangladeshi doctor, Sakia Haque, who traveled to all 64 districts of the country raising awareness about reproductive health and hygiene among schoolgirls, commented on the issue:

“[During my travels] I requested that every girl should use disposable sanitary pads instead of unhygienic cloths during menstruation. What can I say to them now?

“For those who were earning a mere 2,000-3,000 Bangladeshi Takas (US $25-$38) per month, disposable pads were a luxury. And now?”

On a feminist website called Nari (Women), Puspita Mondol shared a story about visiting a childhood friend in the Ashulia township near the capital, Dhaka:

“She (my friend) worked in a ready-made garment factory along with her husband. I realized it was the time for my period and I did not have sanitary pads with me. I asked her and she said that she doesn’t use (disposable) sanitary pads. So we went out to buy these. Usually, these are available in local pharmacies. I went to several pharmacies, and they didn’t have sanitary napkins on their shelves. The shopkeepers told me that they don’t keep the product on the shelves as (almost) no one buys them. I was immensely surprised as this is an industrial area where many women work. Nobody uses (disposable) pads! Maybe because of the high price, these workers cannot afford them and want to save money.”

Part of the challenge in making feminine products accessible is changing cultural norms. For women to realize their right to affordable supplies in order to stay healthy, menstruation must be seen as natural and normal. In an op-ed in the Daily Prothom Alo, Mohammad Syed Bin Abdullah, a law student at Dhaka University, said that a civil awareness movement is what’s needed to make the government keep the cost of supplies down, so that feminine hygiene product will finally be affordable for all Bangladeshi women. #

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

What will it take to combat digital authoritarianism in Southeast Asia?

By Mong Palatino

This post is based on a keynote presentation delivered by the author at the first Global Voices Asia-Pacific Citizen Media Summit June 2, 2019 in Taipei, Taiwan.

The rise to power of someone like Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who gained global notoriety for launching a bloody campaign against illegal drugs, is linked to the manipulation of online information tools by populists who end up dominating elections.

Indeed, Duterte admitted to hiring a cyber army in 2016 and ran a campaign which prominently featured the use of social media to promote his candidacy. Later, his government was accused of deploying online trolls to distort public debates by spreading disinformation. He has also been also criticized for bullying the media while dangling before the public proposals to police the internet.

It is therefore no surprise to hear many people associating Duterte’s ascendancy with the alarming trend of ‘digital authoritarianism’.

But the internet cannot simply be blamed for enabling the victory of politicians like Duterte, who is in fact a newcomer in a region dominated by authoritarian regimes which came to power years before social media use became ubiquitous. For example, Cambodia’s Hun Sen was first elected prime minister in the 1980s. Thailand’s military has staged 12 coups in the past century. Singapore’s ruling party has been in power since the 1960s, and Malaysia’s ruling coalition held power from the 1950s until its defeat in 2018. Brunei has an absolute monarchy, while Vietnam and Laos are communist states.

Applied to the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia, digital authoritarianism refers to how the internet has been weaponized in aid of existing authoritarian regimes. It signifies the use of the online tools that many hoped would empower citizens for mass surveillance and the promotion of divisive hate speech. It reflects the actions of paranoid, repressive states seeking to prevent the rise of opposition forces by destroying connections and solidarities between communities, and online spaces of resistance.

Cybercrime legislation

Taming the ‘disruptive’ internet has been the focus of many states in the region. Internet legislation is often framed in aid of boosting national security objectives, protecting the public interest, and preserving law and order. In shaping public opinion, crusading governments have rationalized their actions by invoking the need to protect the public from online evils. They often invoke the need for social harmony, public tranquility, and defending the country’s morals and history. Indonesia, for example, seeks to censor pornography and other ‘obscene acts’, while Malaysia cites racial harmony when removing offensive internet content.

The first set of anti-cybercrime laws sought to update draconian media regulations and make them applicable in the era of social media and smartphones. Across the region, governments passed laws and orders on cyber libel and cyber defamation. What Vietnam’s decree no. 72, Myanmar’s article 66(d), Cambodia’s social media prakas (regulation), and Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act combined with the harsh lèse-majesté law have in common, is the intent to criminalize any online activity deemed a public threat or subversive in the eyes of authorities.

The current priority is the building of consensus to justify the passage of laws against so-called ‘fake news’. Last May, Singapore passed a law which defined false news this way: “A statement may be found to be false if it is false or misleading, whether wholly or in part, and whether on its own or in the context in which it appears.” Media groups were right to call the measure Orwellian. Laws like this are too broad and too vague—yet brutally precise in targeting free speech.

The author delivering his presentation at the Global Voices Asia-Pacific Summit in Taipei.

China model

The systematic approach to clamping down on free speech is often characterized in news reports as the adoption of the so-called ‘China model’. It points to the use of sophisticated technologies by security forces to control the local population—in particular, the weaponization of bureaucracy to silence dissent.

This is only partly correct, because China is not to blame for what’s happening in several Southeast Asian countries. Applied to the region, the ‘China model’ is even more sinister because of the way it is fused with built-in or local models of oppression to create a deadly mix of tools and processes that buttress the authoritarian features of governments.

What are these local instruments of oppression? Antiquated media laws, new cybercrime measures, security offices designed to gag the population, agencies toeing the line of the ruling party, and social institutions coerced to self-censor and kill critical thinking.

To speak of ‘digital authoritarianism with Chinese characteristics’ without explaining the region’s machineries of censorship would likely exaggerate China’s role in the overall equation of oppression—and make it more difficult to recognize the impunity perpetrated by evil regimes.

For it is not that governments in Southeast Asia suddenly became authoritarian because they were inspired by what China is doing. They already have repressive laws on defamation, sedition, and whistleblowing. What they got from China, primarily, was that nation’s precious political support, and the license to import surveillance hardware and totalitarian techniques to reinforce indigenous methods of controlling the local population. This has resulted in a frightening pattern of mixing digital and archaic tools of oppression to preserve the rule of despots and destroy hope of an alternative future, whose  political impact is not limited to suppressing free speech, since it has the potential to hack elections, undermine political processes, and destroy accountability.

From Asia to Silicon Valley

Is there a way out of this situation we are in? How can we break the rule of autocrats? How can we reclaim the promise and potential of the internet to strengthen our democratic vision? How can we assert our demands when voting results are digitally manipulated, public discourse is polluted by disinformation, and institutions are held hostage to archaic rulings?

I will dare to say we must go back to the basics of political organizing. At the grassroots level, we must fight not only fake news but cynicism, while planting the seeds of hope for a new political future. If we want new laws, the starting point is not lobbying, but political education in our communities. We want social movements backed by real political strength that can engage both corporate and bureaucratic powers. Our hope lies in a strong civil society that can make an impact from Asia to Silicon Valley.

Through political organizing, we can form new partnerships with various sectors who can contribute to the campaign. Students, writers, workers, farmers, software developers—each of these groupts have a role to play in this fight against what we call digital authoritarianism.

We must address the roots of conflict in society, attacking the deeper problems engendered by economic policies that are biased against the poor, and building power in the local sphere to challenge the nefarious impact of elite rule. In other words, we must work directly to combat the forces and change the social conditions that allowed authoritarians to claim power in the first place. Technology will be our friend in this long fight, but it is the people—and mainly the people—who will lead the struggle.

So it is neither a social media revolution nor a digital revolution that will save us from the clutches of digital authoritarianism, but no less than a people power revolution. #

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is hereby republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

Despite the release of detained Reuters reporters, free speech remains under threat in Myanmar

By Mong Palatino/Global Voices

Media groups and human rights advocates are celebrating the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who spent more than 500 days in detention for their role in investigating the massacre of some Rohingya residents in northern Myanmar. But despite their release, the state of free speech in the country is still undermined by the continued detention and persecution of some artists, journalists, and activists. Consider the following cases:

Defamation case against The Irrawaddy

A defamation complaint was filed by the military’s Yangon Region Command against The Irrawaddy’s Burmese-language editor U Ye Ni over the news website’s alleged unfair coverage of the armed clashes between government forces and the insurgent Arakan Army in Rakhine State. The Irrawaddy said it did nothing but report the escalating armed clashes in the region since the start of 2019. Here is U Ye Ni’s response to the case filed by the military:

I feel sorry about the military’s misunderstanding of us. Journalism dictates that we reveal the suffering of people in a conflict area. Our intention behind the coverage is to push those concerned to solve the problems by understanding the sufferings of the people.

The Irrawaddy is a content partner of Global Voices.

Jailed for satire

Meanwhile, five members of the Peacock Generation Thangyat troupe were sent to Insein prison to await trial for their satirical performance mocking the army. Thangyat is performance art similar to slam poetry featuring folk verses with traditional musical notes and is combined with song, dance, and chants. The group was charged with violating article 505(a) of the penal code which criminalizes the circulation of statements, rumors, or reports with the intent to cause any military officer to disregard or fail in his duties.

Zeyar Lwin, one of the accused, said:

All of our cases are political issues so that they need to resolve them as political issues. And also, I’d like to say all of us need to join the work for amending the 2008 constitution being done in parliament. In my opinion all of these issues can be resolved if we can do the primary work of amending the constitution.

Zeyar Lwin is referring to the 2008 constitution which many analysts believe was designed to reinforce military rule even after the restoration of civilian leadership.

Sickly filmmaker in detention

The case of filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi also reflects the restrictions imposed on critical artists. A complaint filed by a military officer against the filmmaker’s ‘defamatory’ Facebook posts led to his arrest. Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is the founder of the Myanmar Human Rights Human Dignity Film Festival and a known critic of the military’s involvement in politics. His supporters are calling for his release on humanitarian grounds, since he has had half of his liver removed due to cancer and suffers from heart and kidney problems. The Human Rights Film Network, a partnership of 40 human rights film festivals around the world, sent this letter to the government:

As a concerned international human rights community, we seek reassurance from the Myanmar government to ensure that Section66(d), which was meant to enhance progress of telecommunications, will not be used to silence the voice of Myanmarese civilians seeking to voice their opinions and take part in the democratic process in Myanmar.

The letter refers to the controversial Section 66(d) defamation law which has been used by authorities to charge critics, activists, and journalists.

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s petition for bail was rejected by a local court. His next hearing is scheduled for May 9, 2019.

‘They should never have been jailed in the first place.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in prison for violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The Supreme Court upheld their conviction last April with finality but they were released from prison after they were granted a presidential pardon during the country’s traditional New Year.

Groups like the Southeast Asian Press Alliance welcomed the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo but they also highlighted the injustice suffered by the two reporters:

They should never have been jailed in the first place, because they committed no crime.

While we welcome this positive development, the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is proof that journalists are in constant risk of political reprisal for keeping power in check.

This article by Mong Palatino is from Global Voices, an international and multilingual news site, and is republished on Kodao Productions as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Removal of Filipino language and literature as required college subjects sparks opposition

By Karlo Mongaya/Global Voices

A group of Filipino professors, scholars, and students in the Philippines is leading a campaign against government steps to remove the mandatory teaching of Filipino language and Panitikan (literature) at the college level.

Along with English, Filipino is one of the two official languages in the Philippines, where over 185 are spoken. It is the country’s national language and main lingua franca.

On October 9, 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Memorandum Order 13 of 2013 which officially removes Filipino and Philippine literature from the General Education curriculum in colleges and universities. The SC decision overturns a temporary restraining order secured in 2015 by opponents of the CHED measure.

Basic education in the Philippines is composed of kindergarten (5-6 years old), elementary (7-12 years old), high school (13-16 years old), and senior high school (17-18 years old). This is followed by college level (19-22 years old) at higher education institutions.

CHED justifies the curricular changes by reasoning that the said subjects are already taught in the basic education curriculum. This comes amidst the implementation of the K-12 program, which since 2011 have added two more years of senior high school.

But critics say the anti-Filipino curricular changes reinforce an educational system inherited from the American colonial era that privileges English and trains students for the foreign labor market. The erasure of Filipino is seen as part of wider educational packages that marginalize the humanities and other academic fields considered non-essential for the formation of young Filipinos for the cheap labor needs of big business.

Various groups are leading protests and legal actions against the erasure of Filipino and Panitikan in college. Tanggol Wika (Defend our language), an alliance of professors, students, writers, and cultural workers has filed a motion for reconsideration at the high court last November 26, 2018. They warn that 10,000 teachers could end up losing their jobs due to the curricular changes.

Filipino advocates are encouraging netizens to post statements in support of the preservation of Filipino in college using the hashtag #TanggolWikaAtBayan (Defend our language and nation).

Tanggol Wika members marched to the Supreme Court to file motions for reconsideration on the removal of Filipino in the college curriculum. Photo by the Manila Collegian used with permission.

statement by the University of the Philippines Diliman University Council calls for the preservation and development of Filipino and Panitikan in college:


“We believe that Filipino language and literature is vital in deepening the critical, creative, free, and liberating capacities of students and people, whatever their courses, disciplines, and fields of expertise. The study of language and literature in college is no duplication but an expansion of theory, practice, and its usage in the university, the nation, and life.

An online petition has also been recently initiated by the national university’s Department of Filipino and Philippine Literatures. Here are some of the comments written by the online petitioners at change.org:

Carol Marcelo:No one would love her own language if not us Filipinos hence it is only right that we enrich this through active usage and recognition of its being our soul even from before.”

Rommel Rodriguez: “The continued teaching of the Filipino language and Philippine literature up to college is important because it is part of the molding of a nationalist consciousness and Filipino aspirations of our students.”

Memes have also sprung online poking fun at CHED and the Duterte government and calling for the preservation of Filipino and Panitikan in college:


Other nations’ own languages did not become a hindrance for them to become progressive, hence we Filipinos should not think that the Filipino language will become an obstruction to development.


I am an Ilokano and I like to write and read of the discourses of national unity and liberation. Because it is understood by the majority, Filipino is the most effective language to attain this.

Left: Patronage of foreign language and culture. Center: State forces. Right: Developing one’s own national language and identity.

Top: Filipino Subject. Bottom: “Students today don’t have any nationalist spirit anymore”

This article by Karlo Mongaya is from Global Voices, an international and multilingual news site, and is republished on Kodao Productions as part of a content-sharing agreement.

#BabaeAko campaign unites women in challenging the sexist behavior of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

This article by Karlo Mongaya is from Global Voices, an international and multilingual news site, and is republished on Kodao Productions as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Women’s rights advocates in the Philippines have launched the #BabaeAko (I am a woman) campaign aimed at calling out the “anti-women” remarks and behavior of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The campaign recently mobilized social media support after Duterte was criticized for kissing a married woman on the lips amidst the cheers of his supporters in a public function in Seoul, South Korea on June 3, 2018.

One aspect of the campaign encouraged women to post a video message addressed to Duterte followed by a pledge of “lalaban ako” (I will fight back).

Government spokesmen have justified the “kissing scene” as a “light moment” that is “accepted in Filipino culture” while Duterte himself boasted that “we enjoyed it” and that critics “are just envious”. To his critics, however, the event exhibited in full view Duterte’s notion of women as mere objects of desire and entertainment.

The #BabaeAko social media campaign was launched on May 20, 2018, shortly after Duterte made a statement that the next ombudsman should not be a woman. He has cursed UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, put opposition Senator Leila de Lima in jail, and ousted Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno from office, among others.

Callamard, De Lima, and Sereno are all vocal critics of Duterte’s bloody war on drugs that has, according to some estimates, already killed over 20,000 people.

Duterte is notorious for giving rape jokes in his official speeches, having catcalled a female reporter in a press conference, and even having ordered troops to shoot female communist rebels in the genitals.

Below are some #BabaeAko posts on Facebook. This is by the Gabriela Women’s Party representative in Congress, Arlene Brosas:

I am a woman, Arlene Brosas, Gabriela Women’s Party representative in Congress. I am opposed to the macho, fascist, patriarchal, and feudal culture of the Duterte regime. I will fight back.

This is from a video by Judy Taguiwalo, a university professor and former cabinet member turned staunch critic of the Duterte administration:

I am a woman, Judy Taguiwalo, a patriotic teacher. I thought Duterte serves the Filipino people. It turns out he is subservient to [late dictator of the Philippines Ferdinand] Marcos, [former president of the Philippines] Gloria [Arroyo], [US President] Trump and China. For this just and free nation, I will fight back.

The next transcript is from a video by theater artist and activist Mae Paner, better known as Juana Change:

I am a woman, I am Juana Change, a patriotic artist. Through my art, I will continue to fight for truth and reason, justice and freedom, to the best of my ability. We will reckon with each other. I will fight back.

This is from a video by veteran journalist and press freedom advocate Inday Varona:

Babae ako, si Inday Espina Varona, isang lola. [I am a woman, Inday Varona, a grandmother.] I will not allow my grandchildren to grow up in a world without due process, where a President thinks of death and murder as the solution to social problems. Kaya lalaban ako. [Thus I will fight back.]

Here are some #BabaeAko posts on Twitter:

In response, officials at Malacañan Palace (the official residence of the president) threw shade at the #BabaeAko campaign, saying this was merely “politically-motivated” against the president. Duterte then vowed to resign if “enough women” protest his controversial kiss. A #BabaeAko protest was held on Philippine Independence Day, June 12, in major cities in the country. #

 

 

 

 

Malaysia’s new government urged to implement media reforms

By Mong Palatino/Global Voices

Civil society groups are urging Malaysia’s new government to uphold its election campaign pledge of enacting reforms in governance which include the abolition of laws that undermine free speech.

On May 9, 2018, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) party defeated Barisan Nasional (BN) which has dominated Malaysian politics over the past 60 years. BN’s defeat was attributed to the people’s clamor for a change in leadership after former Prime Minister Najib Razak was implicated in several corruption scandals. The Najib government was also accused of using repressive laws to detain opposition leaders, intimidate critics, and censor the media.

During the campaign period, PH released a manifesto which listed some of the immediate reforms it will implement if it succeeds in the polls such as the establishment of a media council made up of media leaders and the revision of all draconian laws.

Now that PH is the head of the new government, various civil society groups are reminding it to fulfill its commitment to reverse the oppressive laws, policies, and programs existing under the previous ruling party.

Amnesty International reiterated its proposed human rights agenda, which includes:

…rights to freedom of expression and association, better protections for refugees and people seeking asylum, respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples, protecting LGBTI individuals, abolishing the death penalty and ending the persecution of human rights defenders.

The Lawyers for Liberty asked the new government to unblock the websites and blogs blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). These websites were blocked by MCMC for reporting about the corruption cases of Najib.

It also joined other groups in calling for the immediate repeal of laws that were often used by authorities to attack human rights advocates and critics of the government such as the Sedition Act 1948, Prevention of Crime Act 1959, Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and the recently passed Anti-Fake News Act 2018.

So far, the initial response of the new government has been welcomed by many people.

First, it worked for the release of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who had been under hospital arrest on politically motivated charges of corruption and sodomy.

The PH-led government also formed a Committee on Institutional Reforms to accept proposals on reforming the bureaucracy.

Some news websites were also unblocked on May 17 such as the Sarawak Report and Medium.

The travel ban on political cartoonist and activist Zunar, a fierce critic of Najib, was also lifted on May 14.

The new home minister also affirmed that the government will quickly review controversial laws like the Sedition Act.

But a statement by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad that the government will amend the anti-Fake News law by providing a clear definition of what constitutes fake news has alarmed civil society organizations because PH has earlier vowed to abolish the law.

The Sarawak Report explained why the entire law must be scrapped:

Journalists and citizens must be allowed speak freely and even be allowed to get it wrong, if they can show their intentions were to inform about something they genuinely had good reason to believe and are willing to correct and amend if found mistaken (as opposed to intended and malicious lies). These are the principles that have now evolved after much pain and argument in most modern democracies and Malaysia would do well to join them.

Around 20 civil society organizations signed a statement expressing disappointment over the “mixed messages from the ruling coalition on the repeal of the Anti-Fake News Act.” They proposed an alternative:

We believe that the more effective solution to any disinformation and misinformation is the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act at the federal level.

They also reminded PH that legislative reforms are not enough to undo what BN has done to Malaysian bureaucracy:

…legislative reform must go hand-in-hand with the restructuring of national institutions to ensure accountability, independence, and respect for human rights. Moreover, the new government must meaningfully engage civil society in a program of reform that is inclusive and participatory.

Human rights groups also criticized the police for arresting a man who “insulted”Prime Minister Mahathir on Facebook. The police said they merely responded to a complaint lodged against the suspect:

Veteran politician Lim Kit Siang asserted that this behavior of the police should change in the “new” Malaysia:

In the New Malaysia, police response must not depend of “who” lodges police reports, but “what” was in the police report, and actions where civil remedy is available should not be criminalised just because the subject-matter involves the Prime Minister or any Minister for that matter.

Mahathir said he also disagreed with the action taken by the police and said the parliament will prioritize the review of vague laws that criminalize the mere criticism of public officials.

The Centre for Independent Journalism welcomed the statement of Mahathir with regard to this incident and appealed for a moratorium on the use of repressive laws that continue to have a chilling effect in society. The group also summarized the challenge posed by free speech advocates to the new government:

It is critical at this juncture for the Pakatan Harapan coalition government to commit to defending a vibrant space for public discussion as the nation is headed towards transformation, to enable greater public participation in this process. This include clearly and unequivocally defending the right to freedom of expression, whether offline or online.

Homeless, jobless, and penniless, residents resist closure of the Philippines’ Boracay island

Residents and workers of the Philippines’ Boracay island are speaking out against the government’s order to shut down the world-famous resort destination for six months in order to carry out renovation work that includes the upgrade of the island’s obsolete sewerage system.

With the signing of Presidential Proclamation 475 on April 26, 2018, the country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, placed Boracay under a state of calamity — a move which formalized the tourist island’s temporary closure, and which several groups are petitioning the court to invalidate.

Appellants at the Supreme Court questioned the constitutionality of what they deemed to be an arbitrary decision by the president. They also sought a temporary restraining order on the closure and eviction of businesses on the island.

Authorities have justified the shutdown as part of its efforts to purportedly “rehabilitate” the island amidst environmental woes. But after it was reported that the government had initially approved the construction of two mega casinos on Boracay, many people questioned this rationale.

Still, the closure has been pushed without any prior master plan for rehabilitation, or any strategy to minimize its effects on the livelihood of those who live and work on Boracay, many of whom will be forced to relocate. The massive lay-offs have already affected thousands of workers.

The Friends of Boracay Facebook page highlighted the negative effects of the shutdown on people’s lives — and livelihoods. These online testimonies have been included in the statements gathered by civil society organizations during a fact-finding and solidarity mission they conducted in and around Boracay and Aklan province between April 16-19, 2018.

Some of these organizations include Bayan-Aklan, Friends of Boracay, Tabang Aklan Action Center, Gabriela Panay-GuimarasThe Center for Environmental Concerns, the Iloilo Pride Team, and the National Union of People’s Lawyers.

One tour guide shared how the closure of Boracay will affect his family:

Photo by Friends of Boracay, used with permission by Global Voices.

“I am a Boracay tour guide. I have been in Boracay for 11 years. What’s happening to us is very painful; there are 2,000 of us tour guides. We have no regular wages because we work only on a commission basis. I went to the Labor Department because of the closure. I have social security, which I have been contributing to for six years. I asked if I can apply for a calamity loan, just so I have a budget for food. I live in a cardboard house in the Wetland. Our question is, will there be alternative employment? We are idle, yet we need to eat every day. I have three children and I send them money in Bacolod. We need financial assistance.”

A resident recounted the aggressive behavior of authorities who were sent to issue eviction notices to small businesses and resort owners on the island:

Photo by Friends of Boracay, used with permission by Global Voices

Sir, we would like to tell the story of what they did to us here. We were served [by the government’s environment ministry] a Show Cause Order and Notice to Vacate. When they came, they were accompanied by five policemen in fatigue uniforms carrying long firearms. We were panicking because there were children. They went back and forth among the houses. They gave us 15 days to vacate our homes.

A single motor operator had a similar experience with the police:

Photo by Friends of Boaracay, used with permission by Global Voices.

“People already don’t have work, yet they still do things through intimidation. Which leads us to ask, are we included in the demolition? There are no more passengers; we go round and round but get no income. Will we be bulldozed like dogs and left to sleep on the ground? Of course, we will not resist if we are demolished, they are heavily armed. We have nowhere to go. We have feelings and we are very afraid because they are armed.”

Sand artists insisted that it is the government’s own actions that created the problem in the first place:

 

“We cousins have been making sand art for four years. We are from Boracay. We are not destroying the island. Those building the big buildings who were given permits by the [government’s environment ministry] are the ones destroying Boracay.”

One Facebook post echoed the views of many who are concerned about the plight of the displaced:

“As an advocate for the environment I want it rehabilitated too… BUT I BLEED MORE for the people who are affected by the closure because of lack of planning and foresight on the part of the government in ensuring that safety nets are in place prior to closedown.”

According to the initial fact-finding and solidarity mission report, 40% of the island’s population have received notices to self-demolish and vacate their residences. These notices came from state employees who were accompanied by heavily-armed policemen, over 600 of which have been deployed to the island days ahead of its scheduled closure.

In response to the outcry, President Duterte has threatened the permanent closure of Boracay — but workers, residents and their supporters are not backing down. They continue to defend their livelihoods, and oppose the entry of big casinos into the island. # (Karlo Mongaya/Global Voices)

(This article was originally published by Global Voices. Kodao is a Global Voices’ Philippines partner.)