IT IS Southeast Asia’s largest country in terms of land area, yet there is reason why Burma is unfamiliar to many people, even within the region.
For one, it has been isolated for the last few decades as a result of both Burmese and international actions. For another, press freedom is unknown in Burma, which means accurate and up-to-date information is hard to find — and report — even within the country itself.
BANGKOK — “Political conditions.” That was what the Thai Airways lady at the Chiang Mai airport scribbled as the reason for the cancellation of our Nov. 27 flight from Bangkok, crossing out the word “weather” stamped on our e-ticket. Minutes earlier, an AirAsia staffer had done a similar thing for our other cancelled flight, writing “political disturbance at Bangkok airport” on our tickets.
BANGKOK — Anti-government protesters make up a sea of yellow and the other side, red. Look familiar? To Filipinos, yes: Yellow, after all, is the Pinoy color of protest, bringing back the angry-turned-euphoric days of the civilian-led revolt against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986. Red, meanwhile, was favored by the Marcos loyalists.
The political divisions in the Thai political drama are quite different from 1986 Philippines, not least because the anti-government groups actually want to go back to a time of fewer elective positions in government and argue that democracy has not worked in this country. But several other scenes unfolding here trigger memory buttons for Filipinos, who consider themselves veterans in the culture of protest.
YANGON, MYANMAR — How long should the Burmese people suffer?
Cyclone Nagris that hit this former capital of Myanmar and its neighboring areas last weekend has made the already impoverished people in far worse situation in the months, and maybe years, ahead.
The death toll, initially reported by cable news networks at four on Saturday evening, quickly multiplied to at least 10,000 by Monday night. The military government gave an exact number of 243 deaths late Saturday, and then 351 deaths, hours later.
SINGAPORE — Twelve years ago, Francisco ‘Kiko’ Escora was already happy when a painting of his fetched P3,000 at an exhibit in Manila. But today Escora must be ecstatic; his works are being snapped up not only in his home country, where they now average P70,000 a piece, but also in places like Singapore, where Escora paintings are bought for S$4,000 each, or a cool hundred grand based on a P30:S$1 conversion.
TIMOR LESTE’S political and subsequent security crisis in 2006 began when a group of soldiers from the country’s west, reportedly numbering up to 591 at that time, signed a petition alleging discrimination inside the Timor Leste military (known by its Portuguese acronym FDTL). The group claimed that soldiers from the eastern part of the country were being favored over those from the western section with regard to promotions. These protesting western soldiers refused to comply with the military directorate’s order to return to their post. They were then dismissed.
DILI, EAST TIMOR — What has been described as East Timor’s leading independent daily operates out of four small rooms and has a budget that threatens to disappear altogether every day.
SANTIAGO DE CHILE — There was no other visitor in sight on a quiet, searing-hot December afternoon at the Parque Por La Paz, by the Andes foothills, site of a torture center under the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
It was days after the death of the 91-year-old Pinochet, but Andres Trujillo, who works at the park, said there had been no increase in the number of visitors since. “This is a bit too far for many people,” explained Trujillo.
BEIRUT — Miramar Flores stood on the ledge of her master’s second-floor balcony. As she tried to make up her mind — whether to stay on under the Israeli bombardment or to flee — it may well have occurred to her that it was a choice between death and death.
“If you don’t die from jumping, you die from nervousness,” recalls Flores, a 25-year-old domestic helper from Bacolod City. She chose to jump. She says that when she hit the ground, she thought it was the end. The pain in her legs assured her it wasn’t.
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Rahmi is about 14, but has already lost the world she knew. One can see it in her sad, soulful eyes, and in her inability to smile. And the reason is evident just by surveying what surrounds her here in this northwestern Sumatran city. Nearly a year after the powerful Dec. 26 earthquake struck and triggered tsunamis in several parts of Asia, this once bustling coastal city remains desolate. In many areas, piles of rubble are the only proof that there were once houses and buildings there while in others, muddy boats scattered willy-nilly far from the shore show just how strong the waves that swept into Banda Aceh were. There are also places where the stench of death still hangs in the air, even as a few men sort through the debris.
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