In the early hours of December 4, Typhoon Bopha, known locally as Pablo, began its rampage across the Philippines on the island of Mindanao. The Category 5 Super Typhoon was the worst seen in some parts of the country for 100 years. Entire communities were flattened, along with acres and acres of crops. The death toll currently stands at more than 1,000 — and it's rising every day. With winds of up to 260kmh, the devastation dwarfed that caused by Tropical Storm Washi, named locally as Pablo, one year earlier.
In the wake of Bopha, I travelled to Mindanao on December 6 to give communications support to my colleagues at Plan Philippines. My job was to get materials — photos, videos, stories, quotes — to show the world what had happened there and to support Plan's drive to raise funds for the emergency response. With the emergency response team, I spent about a week primarily in Baoston, Cateel and Baganga on the east coast of Davao Oriental province — one of the hardest-hit regions.
All along the coast, nearly every house was in ruins. Schools were destroyed. People were becoming desperate for food, water, clothing, shelter and medicine. Families who had lost everything were sheltering anywhere they could. Severe gashes and bruises were going untreated as the hospitals had been ripped apart. Children were holding their hands out on the side of the road, begging for food and supplies. Trucks carrying relief items were mobbed by hungry families. There was no power and no phone service.
The situation in eastern Mindanao is hard to put into words. It's extremely bad and is going to take a huge aid response and years of work for the affected communities to return to some semblance of normalcy. Plan was one of the first aid orgnisations to get into the communities in Boston, Cateel and Baganga and the first phase of the emergency response is now in full swing. While I was in the area, I took a lot of photos. Here are a select few. Click the images to go to bigger versions.
Saturday's rally by anti-government, anti-democratic protesters proved beyond all doubt that Pitak Siam has neither the support nor the brain power to be considered a legitimate threat to the Yingluck administration. Only 30,000 people (at most) showed up – well below the million group leader General Boonlert Kaewprasit had been touting. General Boonlert was so disheartened by what went down that he vowed to have no involvement in any future anti-government protests. The whole thing was ill-conceived and poorly organised.
The group has no real ideas on how it is going to see this government toppled, short of a military coup. Their protest was called off when it rained and it was evident no more people were coming, which led to some of those in attendance turning their frustrations on their own leadership, highlighting the lack of group cohesion.
I spent a couple of hours at the Makawan Bridge site outside the United Nations HQ, where several hundred protesters spent the day hurling insults and water bottles at lines of police blocking their way to the main protest area. Multiple attempts to breach the police lines – they even tried to drive a truck through – failed.
Trigger-happy police twice threw teargas canisters into the crowd – a questionable move at best – and suffered the consequences when the canisters were lobbed back at them. For some reason, the police appeared to have no gas masks of their own, or at least, not not all of them did initially. For more, see pics here.
The foul, stinging odour of the gas hung in the air for some time and many people donned face masks and swimming goggles to protect themselves. The mood was tense as the protesters pulled away large concrete blocks that formed part of the police line. It was a futile gesture, perhaps part of a game plan to trigger serious violence.
The protesters could easily have reached the main rally site if they'd just taken a slight detour along the designated route. But instead, they chose to spend hours calling the police “Buffalo!” and demanding Yingluck step down, or else they just sat around aimlessly.
The people I saw were mostly in their 40s and older, evidently very passionate about making their voices heard, but with little in the way of ideas or even common sense. Their absolute disdain for the police reminded me of student protests and English Defence League gatherings I saw in England a couple of years ago.
At the Makawan Bridge site, the people I saw didn't look like they were part of an organised group. It was more like an ensemble of fanatics. The fact that these people have the support of Thailand's Democrat Party (as well as the extremist People's Alliance for Democracy) really underlines how poor an opposition the far-right makes in Thailand. The Democrat response to yesterday's rally is telling:
Democrat Party spokesman Chawanon Intharakomalsut condemned the government for having police fire teargases at demonstrators.
Chawanon said the government tried to prevent the people from joining a demonstration although the Pitak Siam announced the rally would be peaceful.
The Democrat spokesman said the government must be held responsible for the use of violence and teargas firing against the protesters.
The police should be held accountable firing tear gas, but Pitak Siam also need to be held accountable for what they did and what they tried to do. There is some debate over whether or not Pitak Siam had teargas cannisters of their own. I can't really say either way. (Addendum: Two types of teargas canisters were found yesterday. Police initially said they only used one, but then today they've admitted they in fact used two.) Where I think the government has failed is in the releasing without charge of all 137 Pitak Siam protesters, with the sole exception of the truck driver who tried to mow down the police.
What we can take from yesterday is that the government was able to, albeit rather messily, contain and control a situation that could have easily escalated into something terrible, especially if there had been more protesters. Supposedly, efforts were made by the authorities to prevent people from attending the rally, although how many more would have been there is open for debate.
Here are some photos I took from the south side of today's Pitak Siam rally in Bangkok, next to the United Nations building. A bit of background from VOA:
Opponents of Thailand's government held a one day rally Saturday, accusing the government of corruption and mal-administration. The government fears the protests are a prelude for violence. Minor clashes occurred when police used tear gas before making arrests with seveal police officers and protestors were reported injured.
Thousands of demonstrators faced tight security Saturday as they took to the streets in protest of the government of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Hundreds of police and provincial security authorities cordoned off streets near the protest. Authorities said more than 100 people were arrested.
I'll have a post about what I saw tomorrow, but for now, I'm a bit tired.
Tempo Semanal broke a story today about almost 8 kilograms of methamphetamine being seized in Dili, capital of Timor-Leste, arriving via Silk Air from Singapore to be sent on to Indonesia. Why this wasn't delat with in Singapore, I don't know. Warren Wright has a translation of the first part of the story:
East Timor security officials have arrested several Indonesians and some Mozambiquans because of their alleged involvement in importing drugs through East Timor. Tomorrow, at 12.00om, the government will hold a press conference about the matter in Dili.
According to information that has been obtained by Tempo Semanal, the suspects who imported almost 8 kilograms of methamphetamine (shabu-shabu) from Africa via Singapore will be handed over to the Indonesian National Narcotics Agency (Badan Nasional Narkotika) tomorrow.
On Saturday, Tempo Semanal was able to take photographs of one of the Indonesians arrested in Dili while picking up the drugs that were transported in baggage from Singapore. More information will be published in the Sunday edition of Tempo Semanal which will issue tomorrow morning.
East Timorese law does not provide for the death penatly or life imprisonment so those who traffic drugs from other countries choose this country as the gate for drug trafficking.
On 20 August last, 4 Indonesians imported 5 kilograms of methamphetamine to East Timor and then went to Kupang (in Indonesia) where they were arrested on 22 August 2012.
Tempo Semanal has some great pics. Here's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao pointing at the alleged perps:
Here's the contraband:
This dude, Budi Santoso, is allegedly behind it all:
Ed Ress has a little more:
All of this comes about the same time as a kilo of heroin apparently on its way to Timor-Leste was seized in Jakarta. From the Jak Post:
The customs office said on Monday that it had thwarted the smuggling of 1.06 kilograms of heroin worth more than Rp 2.4 billion (US$249,360) from India through Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in East Jakarta.
The package was to be sent to Timor Leste via Indonesia, Agus Sudarmaji, an official at the Jakarta customs agency, said on Monday.
“The package was hidden among golf equipment packed in a wooden box,” Agus said on Monday as quoted by kompas.com.
From Timor Post (via CJITL):
Ruak: PNTL seized drugs; Police officers need to work hard
President of the Republic Taur Matan Ruak and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão called on PNTL to work hard.
“I received information from the Prime Minister who said that PNTL had seized six kg [note: incorrect figure, I think] of drugs. That is what we have seized now but this quantity will be added to every day, therefore, PNTL’s dedication is needed to combat it,” said Ruak.
There was also another, unrelated, drug story in Timor Post earlier this month:
A Chinese has been suspected of being engaged in distributing drugs in Terra Santa in Comoro of Dili Comoro chief of village, Eurico Da Costa de Jesus said.
Mr. da Costa said he had reported the case to Timorese National Police (PNTL), Comoro Police Station.
"Some PNTL officers and I went to the scene of selling drugs, but PNTL has not yet been captured the suspect, he is a Chinese who is married to a Timorese woman," he explained.
The PNTL have certainly been busy!