Akan Datang: our contributors’ take on the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week, curated by Regional Editor Aisyah Llewellyn.
Hello New Naratif readers and welcome to another week in Southeast Asia. While January is meant to ease us into the year slowly, the gloves have certainly come off this week around the region. Among other things, this week we take a look at some bad weather in Indonesia and Malaysia, carnage on the roads in Vietnam, and a church bombing on Jolo island in the Philippines.
Over at New Naratif we published this piece on the survival of Malay fiction in Singapore, which you can also read in Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia or Bahasa Indonesia. We followed this with a mouthwatering piece on Terengganu’s satar, a spicy and fragrant fish parcel which is so much more than just a snack! The article is also available in Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia. We also published a research piece that looks at Singapore’s close ties with the United States, and whether this historic partnership is set to endure.
We have a new episode of Political Agenda which features former student activist Tan Tee Seng and civil rights activist Jolovan Wham talking about activism, social change, and the rule of law in Singapore. You can follow the show on Spotify or subscribe on iTunes.
Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…
We start this week with the sad news of a bomb blast at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the island of Jolo, which has killed at least 20 people and injured over 80. Jolo is unfortunately known for being a haven for Abu Sayyaf militants, and the attack comes at a time when tensions are high following a plebiscite on the creation of a new autonomous zone in the country. If you don’t know much about it then Rappler has a good explainer here.
From Singapore, our Chief Editor, Kirsten Han, has this news:
It’s been week of tragic news following the passing of the 28-year-old actor Aloysius Pang, who died after being crushed between a howitzer gun barrel and its cabin while he was on reservist as an armed technician during a Singapore Armed Forces field exercise in New Zealand. He was given a military funeral on Sunday after family, friends and members of the public paid their respects at his wake.
Given his status as a local celebrity, his death has drawn greater public attention and mourning, but this is the fifth military training death since September 2017. Between January 2008 to now, 27 armed forces personnel have died during training. This hits close to home as Singapore’s system of conscription means that National Servicemen come from Singaporean households all across the island. So every time we hear sad news like this and see families grieving, people think, “That could be us.”
A Committee of Inquiry will look into the circumstances that led to Aloysius’ death, but we should expect to see more said (and hopefully also demanded) about accountability and meaningful changes to the military’s safety culture.
Over in Malaysia our Consulting Editor for Sabah, Jared Abdul Rahman, has this update:
The average travel guide will say that Sabah’s “wet season” occurs during the North East Monsoon from October to February. As such, tourists will probably be advised against planning a visit during this period.
For the locals, though, we don’t have such luxury of choice. The rains are a fact of life. And with it comes the flood. In one district alone, Kota Marudu, the last downpour has forced thousands of villagers to evacuate their homes. It rained elsewhere too. And so, too, did it flood.
Perhaps this year the federal government will approve the requested funding for our Flood Mitigation Plan.
It’s pretty much the same story in Indonesia where we too are in grip of the rainy season which means that the country is experiencing widespread flooding and landslides, and no more so than in Sulawesi. Over 60 people have died in floods and landslides that have devastated the south of the island, and almost 7,000 have been displaced. Really this should a much bigger story than it is, although it hasn’t got much international attention at all. Hopefully this week we will see some positive coverage of how aid is reaching those in need.
One of the other big stories to look out for this week is the tale of two prison releases, firstly the likely cancelled release of the spiritual mastermind of the Bali bombing, Abu Bakar Bashir, and the successful release of the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. Both releases tell us much about the political landscape in Indonesia at the present time: Ahok was jailed for two years for blasphemy, and ABB looks set to stay inside following the growing outcry around his potential release. We are likely to be much more interested in what Ahok (who now wants to be known only by his initials BTP) is up to in the coming week, especially following this bizarre interview he gave which was uploaded to YouTube and begs the question whether he’s quite well following his time in prison.
Less well covered, but in many ways far more important is this story about the murderer of former Radar Bali journalist AA Gde Bagus Narendra Prabangsa, who has been released either as part of a remission programme or clemency agreement—it’s unclear exactly what has happened here, but either way it’s a disgrace. Protests have taken place across Indonesia and hopefully the backlash will continue to grow.
On the topic of journalists, Indonesia also lost one of its greats last week with the sad news of the death of BBC Indonesia journalist Ging Ginanjar. RIP.
Over in Vietnam, our contributor Mike Tatarski has this dispatch:
Vietnam is in the midst of a nationwide crackdown on truck and bus drivers using drugs. In the last month, two horrific accidents—one of which was caught on a traffic camera—involving truck drivers who subsequently tested positive for heroin or meth have sparked public outcry. Police have set up checkpoints on routes frequently used by long-distance truck and bus drivers, and late last week the driver of a 40-passenger sleeper bus tested positive for meth during a spot test. Vietnam’s roads, especially national highways, remain very dangerous, and traffic accidents are one of the nation’s leading causes of death. I’m curious to see how long this initiative lasts, and whether officials go after the companies who employ drivers who test positive, as they demand schedules that are impossible to humanely maintain. Poor infrastructure is getting looked at as well, as on some major roads pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, cars and heavy vehicles mix, a recipe for disaster.
In a move worth keeping an eye on, late this weekend it was announced that Hon Hai, a major iPhone assembler, has acquired land at an industrial park in Bac Giang Province, northeast of Hanoi. While Hon Hai, more commonly known as Foxconn, has not announced whether it will begin manufacturing Apple phones or components in Vietnam, this appears to follow the trend of companies with major manufacturing capacity in China looking to its southern neighbour as the US trade war rumbles on.
And that’s a wrap on this week in Southeast Asia! If you have a tip on a news story you would like to see featured in Akan Datang, then send it to us via firstname.lastname@example.org !
See you next week!