Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bigger Storms

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was storming last Sunday. After learning that MV Princess of the Stars had sunk while sailing through storm-tossed waters, she called from San Francisco, demanding to know from the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) and the Philippine Coast Guard, “Why did you allow it to sail and why was there no ample warning?” She specifically berated Vice Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo, Coast Guard chief: “When did you issue the warning to all vessels (not to sail)?” She said “when” at least six times, as Tamayo tried to explain. The tongue-lashing was broadcast live on national radio.
There is no truth to the rumor that the NDCC replied when asked why it allowed the ship to sail, “We thought you were aboard, Ma’am.”
To be sure the NDCC and the Coast Guard deserved the public chastising. The only thing that left a bad taste in the mouth was the person doing it with the nation as captive audience. You may not demand responsibility when you yourself display staggering levels of irresponsibility. I don’t know if this country still remembers, but the last time I heard Arroyo repeating a word on the phone was when she called up a fellow named “Garci.” The word was not “when,” it was “hello.”
Juan de la Cruz may very well berate her in public in exactly the same terms. The ship of state is floundering, if it has not slammed into a rock and bellied up yet. It has been set a-sail despite the more ferocious storm of public opinion that says the captain steering the ship never got her diploma from the School of Elections and amid the howling winds of public fury expressed in rallies, marches and protests against a ruler who has broken records in lack of acceptance by the ruled. “Why did you sail the ship of state into a churning sea, and why did you refuse to turn back despite ample, angry and strident warnings from the Citizens’ Catastrophe Prevention Center?” “When will you stop plunging the ship of state to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean?” “When will you resign?
Epic as the tragedy of the sinking of Princess of the Stars is, there are in fact other, more alarming concerns that Typhoon “Frank” has brought to light. Concerns that have escaped public attention from the focus drawn on the sea mishap. The first of that concern is the storm itself.
Lest we forget, Frank didn’t just sink Princess of the Stars, it also sank the provinces of Iloilo and Aklan and Metro Manila, and left more than 200 people dead in its wake. I’ve been saying all this time that we are not just facing two crises today of mind-boggling severity and indefiniteness, which are the food and oil crises, we are facing a third, which is natural disasters of even more mind-boggling severity and indefiniteness. Which comes from the environmental crisis, also called global warming, environmental degradation, climate change. It’s happening everywhere as we speak: in the hurricanes that have struck the United States, in the earthquakes that have razed parts of Burma and China, in the superstorms that have devastated Infanta town and Albay province. I do not know which is more frightening, the death toll from those disasters or our factoring of it to a point where we now find a hundred people dead “normal.”
Cold comfort as it is, and at the risk of insulting the kin of the dead from Typhoon Frank, we can at least thank heaven its toll was not as bad as China’s or Burma’s from the earthquakes. I’ve been warning about this for some time: the terrifying prospect not just of the combined effects of the rice crisis and the fuel crisis unraveling over the next few months or years, but of these happening alongside the effects of environmental degradation. Almost overnight after Typhoon Frank struck, the prices of rice, meat and fish soared in all wet markets. As I write this, rice in some parts of the country was expected to reach P50 a kilo.
This is just the beginning. The weather is messed up and has gotten fickle, and life has become fragile in all parts of the world. You don’t know where the next major disaster will strike. Typhoon Frank has just hinted at the shape of things to come, a warning for those who imagine it is just part of normal cycle of storms to visit this country, like those who imagine the food and oil scarcities are just part of the normal boom-bust cycle of the economy. Things are going to get worse, unless we move strenuously to avert it. Unless we produce more food ourselves, change our lifestyle to save fuel or shift to alternatives, and do our share of saving the planet.
Which brings me to the other concern that Typhoon Frank has brought to light. That is the fourth, more immediate and worrisome, crisis we’re facing today, which is the crisis of government. We’re facing a worse situation today than the world did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Then, the limits were economic; today, the limits are physical. The planet is dying from carbon emissions, and fossil fuel is near to depletion. Only food is a renewable resource. These are the very times when, as I wrote about earlier this week, we need a government that is honest and truthful. These are the very times when we need a leader we can trust and rally behind. These are the very times when we need a Winston Churchill who can inspire people to shed blood, sweat and tears to face a war, or a Franklin Delano Roosevelt who can convince people they can expect a good deal from government as they face want.
That is what we have not got. All we have is someone we distrust and want to distance ourselves from. That conclusion is as inescapable as the fate bearing down on the people trapped in the womb, or tomb, of a sinking ship. Except that I don’t know why we should resign ourselves to this fate.
Arroyo was storming last weekend. Some storms are worse than others.

Source: By Conrado de Quiros, PDI

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The world’s 10 worst maritime disasters—in the last 20 years

The world’s 10 worst maritime disasters—in the last 20 years

The Philippines tops the charts with the MV Doña Paz/MT Vector collision in terms of number of casualties in a single maritime disaster. But three of the top maritime disasters in the past two decades happened in Indonesia.

1. MV Doña Paz (Philippines, December 20, 1987)

Passenger vessel MV Doña Paz collided with MT Vector, an oil tanker, along the Tablas Strait, between Mindoro and Marinduque. The collision ignited some 8,800 barrels of petroleum products that Vector was carrying at the time, causing a fire that rapidly engulfed the tanker and the Doña Paz. Subsequent investigations into the incident found that Dona Paz exceeded its passenger and cargo limits and that the Vector’s boat license had expired. Casualties reached 4,375.

2. MV Joola (Senegal, September 26, 2002)

The disaster happened within five minutes after MV Joola sailed to a sea of storm in the coast of Gambia. Various reasons for the disaster were cited, among them overcrowding, and negligence by management as the ship was not originally designed for sea faring. Death toll totaled 1,863.

3. MV al-Salam Boccaccio 98 (Red Sea, February 3, 2006)

Faulty drainage pumps and unpredictable weather were some of the reasons cited for the sinking of MV al-Salam Boccacio 98, a Roll-on/Roll-off ferry, into the depths of the Red Sea. Survivors and eye witnesses said a fire started at the storage area and, as the ship turned, it capsized and eventually sank. 1,018 passengers died in the disaster.

4. MV Bukoba (Lake Victoria, Tanzania, May 21, 1996)

The passenger steamer MV Bukoba sank in Lake Victoria causing 894 casualties while en route to Mwanza, a city in Tanzania. The steamer was already in bad shape before the voyage. It was also found out that the steamer was overcrowded.

5. MS Estonia (Baltic Sea, September 28, 1994)

The locks on the bow visor and bad weather caused this cruise-ferry’s demise. A total of 852 were killed during the tragedy.

6. KM Cahaya Bahari (Indonesia, June 29, 2000)

A total of 550 deaths were recorded after a storm hit and eventually capsized Cahaya Bahari, an Indonesian wooden-hulled ship, off the island of Sulawesi. The ship was overcrowded with refugees fleeing from the Maluku islands.

7. MV Nazreen 1 (Bangladesh, July 8, 2003)

The overcrowded MV Nazreen I sank at the confluence of the Padma, Meghna, and Dakana rivers, considered one of the most dangerous parts of the river from July to October. Casualties were counted at 528 although there’s no recorded number of passengers aboard.

8. Salem Express (Egypt, December 15, 1991)

The Salem Express, a roll-on/roll-off ferry sank off Safaga in the Red Sea as it was crossing the treacherous Hyndman Reefs. Because of the storm, the ship hit a reef, causing the bow visor to open, creating a hole on the starboard side. Water penetrated the ship which eventually sank in 20 minutes. Deaths were counted at 464.

9. MV Senopati Nusantara (Indonesia, December 30, 2006)

The Indonesian ferry sank due to a violent storm off Mandalika Island in the Java Sea. One survivor said that the ship rolled over before it submerged to the depths. Deaths were counted at 461.

10. KM Bismas Raya 2 (Indonesia, October 1999)

KM BIsmas Raya 2 caught fire while off Merauke, Irian Jaya. It eventually capsized and caused the death of 361 people.

Research by: Leilani Chavez /


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Burma's democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi's 63rd birthday

Today, June 19, Burma's democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, celebrates her 63rd birthday alone, under house arrest. She is now in her 13th year of detention yet she has committed no crime.

She is imprisoned for peacefully calling for freedom and democracy in Burma. She isn't allowed to see family or friends as all visitors are banned. Her phone line is cut and her post is intercepted. Today we are asking you to send a message direct to the regime, asking them to free Aung San Suu Kyi and the other 1,919 political prisoners in Burma. Take action here:

For taking a stand against Burma’s brutal regime, Aung San Suu Kyi is kept under house arrest. But international pressure keeps her safe. Aung San Suu Kyi asks for our support; “ Please use your liberty to promote ours”. Today please do that – send the regime an email

Thursday, June 12, 2008

UN report: Poor suffer as Asia beset by petty corruption

UN report says poor suffer as Asia beset by petty corruption
Source: Agence France-Presse

First Posted 16:07:00 06/12/2008

JAKARTA -- A few hundred baht here, a few thousand rupees there -- a major UN report released Thursday said "petty corruption" is a massive drain on Asian economic growth and hits the poor hardest.
The sort of bribes many Asians pay as a matter of course are worsening child mortality rates and perpetuating poverty across the region, the report said.
"Petty corruption is a misnomer," said Anuradha Rajivan, who led the team that compiled the UN Development Program's report, titled "Tackling Corruption, Transforming Lives."
"Dollar amounts may be relatively small but the demands are incessant, the number of people affected is enormous and the share of poor people's income diverted to corruption is high."
She said too much attention focused on the "big fish" in anti-corruption drives and not on the low-level vice that affects countless Asians daily.
"Hauling the rich and powerful before the courts may grab headlines but the poor will benefit more from efforts to eliminate the corruption that plagues their everyday lives," she said in a statement accompanying the report.
UNDP Assistant Secretary General Olav Kjorven, launching the report in Jakarta alongside Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said it was the poor who paid the price for corruption.
"Development is ultimately about expanding the choices that people have to lead the lives that they value," he said in a speech.
"Corruption strangles these choices especially and disproportionately for the poor and vulnerable, meaning that fighting it needs to be a priority."
Yudhoyono said that despite a string of corruption arrests and convictions since his election in 2004, much more needed to be done.
He called for greater multilateral cooperation and an end to "corruption havens" around the region, a veiled jab at countries such as Singapore and China where high-profile Indonesian corruption suspects are living in exile.
"I have time and time again said there needs to be bilateral and multilateral cooperation. There should be no safe haven for corruptors that take away state assets and live peacefully in another country," he said.
Indonesia is one of the world's most corrupt countries and ranks 143rd on Transparency International's global corruption perceptions index, level with Russia, Togo and Gambia.
Kjorven said the need to free poor Asians from corruption was even more pressing in the face of the global food crisis, with the price of rice rising as much as 70 percent in the past year.
"The reason for this global food crisis is many fold but one thing is clear, corrupt practices in how agricultural lands, the environment and natural resources are managed are making the situation worse," he said.
A summary of the report said small-scale corruption limited poor Asians' access to education and basic health services, contributing to high infant mortality rates and locking people into cycles of poverty.
Across the Asia-Pacific region, it said politicians were seen as the most venal element in society, followed by the police and judiciary.
Nearly 20 percent of people claimed to have paid a bribe to police in the past year in the Asia-Pacific region, it said.
In South Asia, many people had to pay bribes to gain admission into hospital and even for mothers to see their newborn babies. Up to a third of drugs sold in certain countries were expired or counterfeit.
"Ghost teachers" and even "ghost schools" -- where government funds are lost on non-existent services -- were examples of corruption in the education sector which meant fewer children in school and higher illiteracy rates.
Meanwhile, natural resources that should provide a foundation for economic and social development were being destroyed by illegal activity.
In Indonesia, less than a quarter of logging operations worth an estimated $6.6 billion were legal.