Jake J Maderazo, editor and columnist, in his Sharp Edges column in Philippine Daily Inquirer (December 7, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: US Department of State)
The country is better prepared today against this variant, following its experiences on the Alpha, Beta and Delta waves. The government has administered 96 million vaccine doses or 86.4 percent of our total population of 111,050,000. Those fully vaccinated (two doses) stands at 38,700,000 persons, or 34.76 percent of the total population. The number of booster inoculations is also increasing. And unlike last year, people can even choose their preferred brands because of the government’s huge supplies.
The highly infectious Omicron variant will have a direct effect on the coming political campaign and its results. Even if found “milder” or deadlier than Delta, disruptions in our daily life will happen. Probably, we will see a repeat of lockdowns, return of face shields/masks and closed businesses due to higher alert levels next year. And this means limited campaigns, political rallies and stricter health protocols for candidates and supporters.
If Omicron is a milder, controllable variant, the administration candidates especially the incumbent mayors will have the advantage, being at the forefront of relief and successful vaccination of their citizens. But if Omicron becomes deadlier than Delta, then the government’s pandemic response becomes an election issue. This administration’s moves will be under microscopic scrutiny by voters. If cases zoom up again because of Omicron and hospitals are overwhelmed, then the opposition candidates in both national and local elections will have a better chance of winning.
When Omicron arrives, it is inevitable that we will again return to strict or very strict precautionary measures. Yes, it will be hard, but unlike last year, we now have available anti-Covid-10 drugs to avoid hospitalization and death. Also, our healthcare system is much now better following its Alpha, Beta and Delta experiences. We all must hope for the best.
Eleanor Pinugu, social entrepreneur and columnist, in her Undercurrent column in Philippine Daily Inquirer (March 6, 2023)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes
There was a time when “woke” was a badge of honor among young people for social awareness. “Stay woke” was an urgent appeal: to re-examine how institutions of power benefit some while oppressing others; to speak out and act against systemic injustice – whether racism, sexism or economic inequality. In recent years, however, woke has been co-opted as an insult, particularly in US political discourse. Some groups who subscribe to conservative ideologies now use it as a catch-all label for irrational political correctness.
In the Philippines, the expression was not spared from dilution. Woke has been used as a synonym for histrionic, self-righteous and intellectual elitist. The negative connotation is a reflection of how polarized society has become when discussing social inequalities. Critics of “wokeness” tend to emphasize how a culture with heightened sensibilities has led to more divisiveness, rather than progress.
I mourn the diminishing of woke as a huge step backward. The world embraced the term because we caught a glimpse of what it is like to walk in the shoes of people who face injustice on a daily basis, and compelled us to ask how this mirrors our own realities. Whenever we use it in a condescending manner, we belittle its historical significance and undermine all the efforts that have been accomplished since.
To stay woke was never about touting the label and has always been about action. Crucial to this is the willingness to have genuine conversations about what is it that truly divides us. Upholding the integrity of the expression reminds us to be active in uplifting marginalized communities and in challenging beliefs or structures that perpetuate inequality. And in a country where the sins of the past are too easily forgotten, we need all the encouragement for social justice that we can get.
Giridhara R Babu, professor and head of life-course epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India, in The India Express (July 27, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: NIAID)
A rare contagious rash illness known as monkeypox has recently been found in more than 50 countries. The good news is that most infected people will have minor illnesses and recover on their own. It is a self-limiting disease with symptoms lasting two to four weeks and a case fatality rate of 3-6 per cent. When symptoms appear, it is critical to isolate the infected from other people and pets, cover their lesions, and contact the nearest healthcare provider. It is also critical to avoid close physical contact with others. Most people will recover completely.
Despite mild illness and a low transmission rate, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared monkeypox, a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) to contain the disease. It is unclear whether the Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating the current monkeypox outbreaks.
Never before in history have three infectious diseases (poliomyelitis, Covid-19 and monkeypox) been declared a PHEIC at the same time. Regrettably, this will not be the last time. There will almost certainly be more of these occurrences in the future. The world is yet to recognize emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases as a genuine threat. The immediate priority is to strengthen the surveillance infrastructure, including hiring public health professionals and field workers who can participate in outbreak detection and response during many future PHEICs. Mechanisms for initiating contact tracing, quarantining exposed people, and isolating infected people should be institutionalized. Without prioritizing the strengthening of public health, the threat of new and re-emerging infectious diseases, as well as the enormous social and economic challenges that accompany them, is real and grave.
Richard Heydarian, columnist, in his Horizons column in Philippine Daily Inquirer (July 26, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: PNA)
The main agenda of the new administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr is economic recovery. Ahead of the president’s first state of the nation address, the finance secretary said that “the government’s medium-term fiscal framework is aimed at reducing the budget deficit, promoting fiscal sustainability, and enabling robust economic growth.”
These policy goals seem perfectly reasonable. The economic picture for the country, however, is more complex, requiring extraordinary leadership, technocratic competence and political finesse from the Marcos administration.
In April, just weeks before Marcos’s election victory, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) forecasted 6.0 percent GDP growth for the Philippines this year and an even higher rate of 6.3 percent next year. Soon, however, it became clear that the new administration would have to deal with a combination of inherited and new economic challenges.
Marcos inherited a ballooning debt, due to his predecessor’s massive borrowing, which brought the debt-to-GDP ratio to a 16-year-high. Then came the triple shocks from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that disrupted global commodity markets, China’s economic slowdown that further disrupted regional production networks and growth outlook, and the interest rate hikes in the US, which dramatically drove down Asian currencies including the Philippine peso. The result is a toxic cocktail of rising prices and declining growth across the world, with the threat of global “stagflation” on the horizon.
It is hard to see how the government can simultaneously avoid tax increases, expand targeted subsidies to vulnerable sectors, maintain infrastructure spending at 5-6 percent of GDP, achieve above-average annual growth rates of close to 8 percent, reduce the budget deficit by more than 60 percent in coming years, and slash the debt-to-GDP ratio from more than 60 percent to just above 50 percent in 2028.
Welcome to real-world governance.
Lalita Hanwong, columnist, in Matichon Online (July 8, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: James Antrobus)
Of all the ASEAN member states, none is as close to Myanmar as Thailand. The two countries share a 2,000-km border. With all its longstanding internal conflicts, Myanmar’s problems will continue. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have fled to the Thai side, not to mention the millions of Myanmar laborers who make a living in Thailand, what with the unfavorable economic conditions at home.
Thailand is the only ASEAN country that maintains a friendly stance on Myanmar. The Thai government has never condemned the February 2021 coup in Myanmar (How could it, given its own origins?). While ASEAN is putting more pressure on Myanmar, the government in Naypyidaw is clearly treating Thailand better than the rest of the ASEAN members.
The Thai and Myanmar armies are particularly close. Thai authorities are ready to compromise with the Myanmar military, which has regarded Thailand as a great friend, different from other neighboring countries. Myanmar has never seen other ASEAN members as friends and consider them unfaithful and unreliable. But the friendly attitude of Thailand towards Myanmar does raise questions and makes people around the world wonder about Thailand, its intentions and its own image and values.
Mimin Dwi Hartono, Acting Head, Support Bureau for the Advancement of Human Rights, Komnas HAM (National Commission on Human Rights), in Republika.id (March 19, 2022)
Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: Antara)
The Indonesian government’s revocation of the maximum retail price for cooking oil on the market caused prices to soar amid a shortage in the market. The government has been submissive to the power of the cooking oil cartel and has ignored human rights.
There are three principles related to the state, business and human rights. First, businesses must respect human rights. Second, the government must protect human rights from all forms of business actions that have the potential to or have violated human rights. Third, the government and corporations are required to provide a mechanism for handling complaints and implementing regulation when human rights violations are caused by businesses.
In his meeting with the House of Representatives on 17 March 2022, the Minister of Trade acknowledged the scarcity of cooking oil caused by cartels. He did not, however, reveal any names of companies and admitted that he was unable to deal with them.
Soon after, the ministry revoked the provision to set a maximum retail price for cooking oil. The price is now left to the market mechanism so that more cooking oil will gradually become available but at a very high price. Instead of taking control of the situation, now the government has been captured by businesses and the market.
Cooking oil is one of the basic needs of Indonesians for various purposes, from household to food businesses of all scales. As a result, it has an impact on the economic rights of residents, the level of welfare, and unemployment due to the loss of job opportunities for food vendors.
The state, which should be protecting and fighting for human rights, has failed in overcoming the cartels from the top, by regulating oil palm plantations and cooking oil production, to the bottom, through law enforcement.
Tanaka Shunsuke, political science student, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo, in Ronza (July 16, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: @kumasionlinegh on Twitter)
Abe Shinzo was killed. Of course, no life should be extinguished – whether it is to change politics or to relieve some personal resentment. I do not want a society where murder is used as a means of doing so.
Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has announced that there would be a state funeral for Mr Abe. He stressed that this would show that “Japan will not give in to violence and that it is determined firmly to defend democracy.” But how exactly does a state funeral for Abe contribute to democracy. This is a serious question. It may be that a funeral could block criticism of what Mr Abe had done and undermine democracy based on free speech. I therefore oppose the state funeral for Abe.
There is no clear legal basis for a state funeral of a previous prime minister. Before the World War II, there were 20 state funerals based on a law. But that decree expired at the end of 1947. Since the war, the only instance of a state funeral for prime minister who had left office was that of Yoshida Shigeru when Sato Eisaku was prime minister. This was held in 1967, with about 5,700 people attending, including the crown prince and his wife, as well as foreign representatives. Yet, at the time, there were a number of questions about Yoshida’s funeral, which was held without any provision for it in the law.
For Abe, there are those who would want to express their condolences of course but forcibly making all people mourn the loss may be regarded as too much. I would say that there should not be such a funeral until there is an opportunity to have sufficient discussion and debate of the merits and demerits of holding one.
Lee Jung-eun, journalist, in Dong-a Ilbo (April 28, 2022)
Summary by Paul Forien (Photo credit: Yonhap)
The Fulbright Program is one of the best foreign policy initiatives of the United States, according to Ahn Byung-man, a leading academic who served as minister of education, science and technology from 2008 to 2010. Among the Fulbright scholars are 61 Nobel Prize laureates, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, 40 heads of state or government, and over 100 key Korean public figures.
The fairness of the selection process, however, has been under scrutiny since revelations emerged about Kim In-chul, a candidate for the position of education minister and deputy prime minister for social affairs, and how he and then four of his family members had received scholarships in the past. A government review board is looking into the selection process of the Fulbright and another scholarship scheme. The public wants Kim’s nomination withdrawn. (The administration of President Yoon Suk-yeol did eventually do so in early May, making Kim the first nominee of the new government to step down before confirmation.)
The Fulbright Program has a strong diplomatic dimension and promotes better understanding between the United States and other countries. Students who have never been to the United States or have not been exposed to American culture are given priority in selection over students who have experience living in the US. All attributes being equal, the scholarship will be given to the person who has not experienced life there. Yet, Kim's son and daughter, who had lived in the US before, both won the scholarship.
Did a student's dreams did not come true because the Kim family and their associates shared the scholarships among them? This situation is not only embarrassing for Korea but also for the 160 other countries around the world that participate in this program.
Arya Fernandes, Head of the Department of Politics and Social Change, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in Koran Tempo (March 1, 2022)
Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: Muchlis Jr/Cabinet Secretariat of the Republic of Indonesia)
The proposal to postpone the general election and extend the term of President Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) shows a weak commitment to democracy and could potentially lead to political instability. This idea is undemocratic because it closes the opportunity for a succession of national leadership in a regular and orderly manner and for political competition in the presidential and legislative elections.
Political parties are pushing two arguments to support the idea of postponement. First, there is economic stagnation. In 2021, however, Indonesia's GDP grew 3.39 per cent (year-on-year) after previously experiencing a correction of -2.07 percent. Even the Bank of Indonesia predicts GDP growth of 4.7-5.5 percent in 2022. Second, the public is said to support a third term for Jokowi. This reasoning, however, is invalid because a survey conducted by Indikator Politik in 2021 shows that most respondents believe that the maximum 10-years or two presidential terms must be maintained.
There are three arguments why the idea of extending the presidential term and postponing the general election should be rejected. First, the idea denies democratic commitments and democratic values. Article 7 of the 1945 Constitution states that the president and vice president have a five-year term and can be re-elected only once. The clause allows no political space for extending the presidential term to over ten years. Second, this denies the spirit and agenda of the 1998 reformation, which emphasized the limitation of the president's power. Third, the extension of the term of office will also disrupt the political order, especially in holding elections every five years.
The idea of extending the presidential term threatens the development of democracy in Indonesia and can potentially lead to political instability.
Uditha Devapriya, international relations analyst and researcher, in The Island (June 11, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Nazly Ahmed)
For the first time since independence, the island nation defaulted on its foreign debt. The governor of the Central Bank then announced that it would take six months for it to start repaying its creditors. An agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is in the pipeline. Very few commentators have noted that these problems have been decades in the making, that the government’s ineptitude is more a symptom than a cause, and that external factors have had a say in such issues. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s bungling has contributed to these problems, to be sure, but that only shows how complex they are.
While Western media and think-tanks propagate Chinese debt trap narratives, it has been Sri Lanka’s reliance on bond markets, which constitute a greater proportion of its external debt than does China, that finally brought its economy to its knees. Neoliberal commentators argue that the private sector should take the lead. But Sri Lanka’s private sector is dominated by rentiers. Moreover, the country’s exports are limited to commodities and tourism, along with sectors such as IT.
A combination of corruption and ineptitude has put industrialization on the backburner. It goes without saying that what protesters consider as the government’s failures have been symptoms, rather than causes, of the structural faults underpinning the economy. The government must share the blame for this: in particular, its tendency to surround itself with yes-men and henchmen. Yet beyond this narrative, there is a far more compelling problem: a failure to resolve pressing issues like the island’s dependence on imports and sovereign debt. While not all protesters are oblivious to these priorities, many of them are yet to address them fully. So long as debates remain dominated by narratives of corruption and personalities, such problems will go unnoticed and unresolved.
Maleeha Lodhi, former ambassador of Pakistan to the US, UK and UN, in Dawn (June 20, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Office, Islamic Republic of Pakistan)
Governance problems have mounted due to political discontinuities that have punctuated Pakistan’s turbulent history. But today, the challenge of governability is more imposing because of a number of other factors. Political polarization is the obvious one. Never before have people, society and families been so divided by their partisan preferences as they are today and resistant to accepting any view other than their own.
This situation is casting a shadow on state institutions which are increasingly the target of partisan attacks. Discussion of public policy is substituted by fact-free efforts to demonize political rivals. This distracts the government from governing and the opposition from focusing on issues.
What has made governance more problematic is erosion in the state’s institutional capacity over the years and the resultant deterioration in delivery of public services, which increasingly fails to meet people’s expectations. The most important and recurring factor driving the country towards becoming ungovernable are dysfunctional economic policies that have long been pursued. Almost every government since the mid-1980s acted in a fiscally irresponsible way and left the economy in worse shape for its successor to deal with.
The chickens have now come home to roost. The country is in the throes of another financial crisis, foreign exchange reserves have depleted, inflation is at an all-time high, power shortages are placing an unbearable burden on people, and an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout is being sought. A weak economy with little resilience to cushion such shocks is the result of poor economic management by reform-averse ruling elites concerned more with preserving their own power than promoting the public interest. The confluence of polarized politics and economic turmoil is pushing Pakistan into the danger zone of becoming ungovernable.
Pravit Rojanaphruk, Senior Staff Writer, in Khaosod (June 12, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: WeedPornDaily.com)
The decriminalization of marijuana, the first in Asia, poses both opportunities and challenges to Thai society. The positive impact is plain for everyone to see: income generated by growing, selling and exporting marijuana and its related-products for medical and gastronomic purposes. Without doubt, large companies are well-prepared to exploit the new reality, and it is a challenge to make sure that it would not just benefit the billionaires and that ordinary farmers and household growers get a fair dividend. It is also good that some 3,000 prison inmates are being released for possessing or selling cannabis. Also, many sick people who are in pain will have access to alternative herbal painkillers and sleep pills.
The other major challenge is how to ensure that the decriminalization of the growing and selling of marijuana for medical purposes does not lead to widespread substance abuse and addiction, particularly among the youth. There should be little doubt of the trickle-down effect that would lead to the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Nothing is wrong with people enjoying a stick or two once in a while – even if that is the grey area of the law. The concern is how to prevent it from not becoming so widespread and excessive to the point where a significant percentage of the Thai population, particularly young Thais, become dependent on cannabis and addicted. If not handled properly, many Thais will simply vacate to the alternative high universe.
It is all about responsible use and management and we will see in the weeks ahead how Thai society is fairing. I do not want to be pessimistic and generally support decriminalization but I am neither high nor see things in pink. We need contingency plans to deal with the possible adverse effects of this brave new world.
Myung Hee-jin, journalist, in Seoul Shinmun (April 22, 2022)
Summary by Paul Forien (Photo credit: Yonhap News Agency)
The Ministry of Environment announced the implementation of a deposit scheme for disposable cups for 38,000 stores, including cafes, bakeries and fast food chains with more than 100 affiliated stores. An additional 300 won (US$0.25) will be charged for every drink ordered in a disposable plastic cup. Customers will be able to get their money back if they bring the cup back to the coffee shop or other outlet. Workload will increase, notably from having to explain the system to customers at the beginning of the implementation. In particular, there is great concern that conflicts between staff and consumers will arise. Meanwhile, the debate continues for equal treatment as take-out and delivery packaging containers are not subject to the same regulation.
Environmental protection is an urgent task. It is difficult, however, to agree whether this method, which is implemented and mandated by the government, is really the best. Furthermore, is a scheme that inconveniences people to protect the environment not making environmental protection even more difficult ?
According to opinions from industry experts and consumers, a policy such as reducing the price of coffee when a person brings their own cup or tumbler would be more effective rather than paying a deposit that can be considered as a fine. It is difficult to implement an environmental protection policy accepted by everyone without causing overwork for employees and inconvenience to customers.
Company performance depends on whether or not they can make money in the marketplace. Would it not be more effective to make consumers aware of the value of their consumption rather than forcing an inconvenient deposit on everyone?
Chetan Bhagat, author and columnist, in The Times of India (May 6, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: ILO)
Step outside to a public area in any Indian city – it is almost like Covid never happened. Sure, a few people still wear face masks. For the most part, Indians are out at work or at play. Covid of course is not fully gone. Cases are rising, even though deaths are not. But for now, we are back in business.
Our neighbor China, on the other hand, faces a very different situation. Covid cases there are rising dramatically, and severe lockdowns are back. China effectively kept Covid in check for the last two years but the zero-Covid policy eventually did not work. This has led to a worsening of a problem the world was already suffering – supply-chain issues. Chinese lockdowns have meant workers cannot reach factories, which means the world does not get goods.
The problem is real. And with every problem comes an opportunity. India can be the hero and savior. The solution to global supply-chain issues is India. The current Chinese supply-chain issues are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for India to shine and present itself as an alternative, diversified manufacturing hub. The opportunity is now, for a limited time only.
India must act now to attract investments, when procurement managers worldwide are frustrated, wondering where to get the shipload of sneakers or engine parts they needed last week. What are we doing to ensure that every company in the world feels it must have a manufacturing setup in India? China has its manufacturing strengths and will remain a powerhouse. However, the global manufacturing pie is so big that India deserves and can get a bigger slice of it. It is time to tell the world that India is open and ready for business. It is time for Indian manufacturing to be a hero and save the world.
Mohd Fudzail Mohd Nor, writer, in Malaysiakini (January 13, 2022)
Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: David McKelvey)
In 2021, more than 1.7 million Malaysians sought employment abroad. They choose to work overseas because of the relatively attractive rewards, unlimited career opportunities, and satisfying livelihoods.
As many as 54 percent of the Malaysian diaspora make a living in Singapore because it is close and there are more jobs with higher wages. The rest went to Australia (15 percent), the United States (10 percent), the United Kingdom (5 percent), and the United Arab Emirates (2 percent), as well as other countries. This loss of talent is estimated to reduce the country’s GDP growth by 2 percent.
The Malaysian diaspora abroad feel that their achievements are underappreciated in their own country. Apart from that, they believe they have more freedom to live as expatriates abroad because at home every aspect of life revolves around race and religion. Racial and cultural policies, multiple national scandals and corruption have been disadvantaging Malaysians for years, and there is seemingly no end in sight.
Outside of Malaysia, there are no racial quotas in educational institutions; all recruitment is merit-based. Lower-income residents receive help regardless of race or religion. Non-Malays abroad say they would rather be a recognized minority abroad than be second-class citizens in their own country. Although life abroad is not perfect, they do not have to worry about politicians making ridiculous statements filled with hatred and bigotry towards them.
As long as the government does not reform the system, more Malaysians will remain living abroad. The diaspora still place some of their hopes of returning one day on a future government. But they are also scared that things will continue without significant change.
Roy Martin Simamora, Lecturer in Educational Philosophy, Indonesian Institute of the Arts Yogyakarta (ISI JOGJA), in Kompas (January 29, 2022)
Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: Roman Woronowycz/USAID/Pixnio)
No matter how good the education system, curriculum or school is, if it does not produce and encourage creativity among students, the education is in vain. Often parents and teachers' ambitions kill the creative dreams of students and throw off their identity. Our education then produces people with the mentality of followers.
Every child grows and develops with different potential. Some children are good at painting, counting, reading, speaking, remembering, playing sports, singing and many more talents that need to be explored. But all these talents grow because of the creativity of each individual.
Teachers must give freedom to students to find solutions instead of forcing them to guess what the teacher wants as an answer. Parents and teachers forbid students to make mistakes, but children learn best from their errors. Being wrong does not mean that children are going to stay that way forever. Instead, they will learn more about pain, joy, happiness and sorrow from their mistakes. If parents and teachers do not let them derive lessons from those mistakes, they will never produce original work. Eventually, their creativity gets dulled.
Schools always strive for the "right" answer rather than exploring alternative explanations. Moreover, schools are too focused on the results rather than the process, understanding, discussion, varying perspectives, and motivation to do things differently. Instead of learning in a structured and linear way by the textbook, classes could be more engaging if students have the freedom to learn, discover, build, experiment, investigate, solve problems and find the information they need, as well as to debate strengths and weaknesses of different points of view.