Southeast Asia Theater

Worldwide despots: Orwell still dangerous

George Orwell, and especially his dystopian novel 1984, has long been appropriated by neocons and (before that) Cold War hawks in the West. It's almost heartwarming to know that international despots still consider it dangerous. Seemingly oblivious to their own irony, police in Egypt last week arrested a 21-year-old student near the entrance of Cairo University for carrying a copy of 1984. It is unclear if the student, identified only as "Mohamed T," will face charges. The Egyptian Interior Ministry actually issued a statement explaining the arrest, innocently and not quite accurately saying that the novel "talks about military regimes which rule in corrupt countries." (The Week, UK, Nov. 10)

Philippines: justice deferred in 2011 massacre

Protesters in the Philippines this weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the country's worst political massacre—and the world's worst mass killing of journalists. Nobody has been convicted of the massacre of 32 journalists and 26 others in the town of Ampatuan on the southern island of Mindanao. The victims were shot dead and buried in three pits after being ambushed by some 100 gunmen near the town of Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao province. Mary-Grace Morales lost both her husband and her sister on Nove. 23, 2009, when they were part of a convoy to cover the filing of candidacy papers for a local politician. "I want the world to know my husband and my sister died in the massacre and there were many people killed," she told the Radio Australia form the vigil held at the massacre site. "It's been five years and there is no justice. I don't know if there is any justice." Philippine journalist Nonoy Espina said half of the local media workers were "wiped out" in one day.

Philippines: justice deferred in 2004 massacre

Some 500 people gathered Nov. 16 at a Central Luzon property of the family of Philippines President Benigno Aquino to commemorate a confrontation 10 years ago between government forces and striking workers, and to demand justice for the seven men killed. Protesters, all local rural workers, burned an effigy of Aquino riding a bulldozer. In what survivors group Ambala calls the "Hacienda Luisita massacre," police and military troops retook a section of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar complex that had been occupied by members of United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU). Although security forces were acting on a court order, the strikers resisted, saying talks were ongoing with the management of both CAT and Hacienda Luisita Inc (HLI), the landowner. Aquino at the time of the massacre was a lawmaker representing the local Tarlac province in Manila, while also serving as manager of the Hacienda Luisita estate. The estate is owned by the Cojuangco family—that of the president's mother, ex-president Corazon Aquino.

Cambodia: reporter slain documenting illegal logging

Journalist Taing Tri of the local Vealntri newspaper in Cambodia's Kratie province was shot dead Oct. 12 as he attempted to photograph trucks transporting illegal luxury wood near Pum Ksem Kang Krow village. Tri is the 13th journalist to be killed in the line of duty since Cambodia's first democratic elections in 1993, and his death bears a disturbing resemblance to the 2012 murder in Ratanakiri province of Heng Serei Oudom, who was known for his reporting on illegal logging in the region. The Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) condemned Tri's murder and called on local authorities to bring the killers to justice "in order to end the cycle of impunity for those who perpetuate violence against journalists in Cambodia." To date, no one has been convicted for the murder of Oudom or any of the other journalists killed in Cambodia over the last 11 years. (IFEX, Oct. 15)

Mindanao: tribes want autonomy from Moro zone

Leaders of indigenous tribes within the proposed Bangsamoro territory in Mindanao are demanding that their ancestral lands be excluded. "We cannot accept Bangsamoro as our identity. We have our own identity and this is the Erumanen ne Menuvu," datu (traditional elder) Ronaldo Ambangan said as he read the declaration of the Erumanen ne Menuvu tribe at the June 24 congressional consultations on the proposed Bangsamoro in Midsayap, North Cotabato. In Davao City, Timuay Alim Bandara, a Teduray leader, told the June 26 congressional committee hearing in Davao City that the Philippines' Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act had never been resepcted within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the previous autonomous zone instated following the last peace accords with Moro rebels 15 years ago. He said indigenous peoples are expressing "our discomfort on the previous peace agreement," and demanding that their rights be respected under the new one. (Inquirer, Philippines, June 29)

Burma: anti-Muslim pogrom in Mandalay

A Buddhist mob attacked Muslims in Burma's second city of Mandalay July 2, damaging a mosque and Muslim-owned shops and leaving at least five injured. Police fired warning shots to disperse the mob of some 300 Buddhists, including a contingent of about 30 monks on motorbikes. The conflagration apparently began after rumors were aired on Facebook that a Buddhist domestic worker had been raped by her Muslim employers. More than a thousand police officers have been deployed in central Mandalay. (OnIslam, The Irrawady, Democratic Voice of Burma, July 2)

Cambodia: court frees garment worker protesters

A Cambodian court on May 30 convicted 23 workers and activists for inciting violence during a mass garment workers' strike but suspended their jail sentence, which had caused much controversy and international scrutiny. The ruling reverses the February decision of an appeals court, which refused the release of the workers and activists facing criminal charges. It has been reported that international brands such as H&M, Puma and the Gap have threatened to pull out of Cambodia if efforts are not made to prevent further human rights violations, fearing a "public relations problem." Dave Welsh, a representative of the US-based labor group Solidarity Center, stated in regard to the ruling: "The main thing is there's just an enormous amount of relief—first of all with them, with their families, and with the trade union and human rights community in general—that they are going to be freed."

Philippines: indigenous peoples pledge resistance

Speaking to reporters May 14 from an undisclosed location somewhere in the mountains of Talaingod, Davao del Norte province, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, a group of traditional indigenous elders, or datu, said: "We want peace here in Talaingod. But if they take away our land, we will fight. We will fight with our native weapons." The group was led by Datu Guibang Apoga, who has been a fugitive from the law since 1994, when he led a resistance movement of the Manobo indigenous people against timber and mineral interests, fighting company personnel and security forces with bows and arrows and spears. Wearing their traditional outfits, the tribal leaders threatened to return to arms unless the Philippine government demilitarizes their lands and respects Manobo territorial rights.