Japan must explain security bills; Thai Navy should drop charges against journalists

Editorial Notes is a selection of editorials from newspapers in the Asia News Network (ANN).

Protesters rallying against security bills in Tokyo on July 16.
Protesters rallying against security bills in Tokyo on July 16. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

1. Abe must continue careful explanations of security-related bills to the public

In its editorial on July 16, 2015, The Yomiuri Shimbun calls on officials to explain the legislation to people

Security-related bills passed a House of Representatives special committee on Wednesday with a majority vote from the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.

The bills are expected to pass the plenary session of the lower house on Thursday and be sent to the House of Councillors. (Editors' note: The bills were passed on Thursday, July 16).

Aimed at reinforcing the Japan-US alliance and Japan's cooperation with the international community, the bills are intended to allow the nation to exercise its right of collective self-defence in a limited manner and to expand the international cooperation activities of the Self-Defence Forces.

Three major opposition parties did not take part in the voting at the committee.

Apart from the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party, which both intend to prevent the bills from passing into law, members of the Japan Innovation Party left their seats when the vote on the government-sponsored bills was held.

This is regrettable.

We are disappointed because it is desirable for the national security bills to be passed into law on the basis of a consensus built as broadly as possible and with the approval of many political parties.

The international situation surrounding Japan is more tense than ever.

The ruling parties and the JIP had shared the basic understanding that it is urgent to enable the SDF to protect US military vessels in contingency situations on the Korean Peninsula and enhance deterrence.

The JIP had submitted three bills, including one regarding territorial security, to the lower house as its counterproposals to the government-sponsored security legislation, and attended negotiations with the ruling parties on modifying the bills submitted by both sides.

They discussed prerequisites for allowing the nation to exercise its right of collective self-defence in a limited manner and how territorial security should be maintained, but fell short of reaching a consensus.

Yet the ruling parties and the JIP did agree to continue their negotiations to modify the bills.

It is important to resume these negotiations and find common ground, in tandem with the deliberations on the government-sponsored bills at the upper house.

We question the "drama" staged by a large number of DPJ members over what they called the "steamrolling to a vote" by the ruling parties, surrounding the committee chairman's seat while shouting in protest at the time of the vote.

They acted with the awareness that they would be shown on TV, since they held up sheets of paper with brightly colored words.

The lower house special committee has spent about 116 hours on the deliberations over the government-sponsored legislation, the sixth-longest amount of time spent on one subject since 1960.

Almost all the major points were debated at the committee, and opposition members repeated many questions.

There were also a conspicuous number of questions not directly related to the security-related legislation, such as criticism of remarks calling for control of the media at a study meeting attended by members of the LDP.

The conditions for putting the bills to a vote had almost been established.

Ensuring opportunities for the minority to have its say, listening to such views properly and ultimately making decisions by majority vote are the fundamental rules of democracy.

During a session of the committee, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, "Regrettably, we have not yet made much progress in gaining public understanding."

The contents of the legislation are highly technical and complex, but they are nonetheless extremely important in protecting the peace and safety of Japan and the international community.

How should the government and the SDF act when faced with varying kinds of crises?

What sort of relations can Japan build with the United States and other countries through that action, and what sort of deterrence can it expect as a result?

The government and the ruling parties must take every opportunity and continue explaining to the people plainly and scrupulously.

Meanwhile, opposition parties must respond constructively by, for instance, presenting concrete measures to secure peace, rather than only criticising the government and the ruling parties over the bills.

2. Shooting the messengers won't restore the Navy's 'face'

Security forces and rescue workers watch as human remains are retrieved from a mass grave at an abandoned camp in Thailand's southern Songkhla province in May 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on July 17, 2015, The Nation examines the government's actions in a report on refugees.

There is no logical explanation why the Royal Thai Navy is stubbornly pursuing a legal case against two journalists from the online newspaper Phuketwan over a report on human trafficking in which they merely quoted an international news agency.

Equally unjustifiable is the failure of the Defence Ministry to intervene.

Is every institution so desperate to protect its own skin that they have relinquished the courage to see how embarrassing this case is for Thailand and its armed forces?

The journalists, Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison, went on trial this week despite pleas from the United Nations for the government to drop the case.

If they are found guilty, the pair could face up to seven years in jail for defamation and for violating the Computer Crimes Act.

The charges concern a 2014 Phuketwan article that simply quoted a Reuters story alleging that Thai Navy officials were involved in trafficking in Rohingya migrants fleeing Myanmar.

Reuters has faced no legal action over its report, which earned a Pulitzer Prize last year.

Following the discovery in May of more than 30 bodies buried in "trafficking camps" in Songkhla, a massive investigation launched by Thai authorities resulted in local officials being detained on suspicion of aiding the traffickers.

It is hardly out of the question that official complicity might have stretched to Thai naval officials, who can have no special claim to probity over other men in uniform.

If the Navy, in its embarrassment, wanted to make a show of its claimed innocence, why go after this small Web-based news outlet?

Almost every major news publication in Thailand carried the Reuters reports in question. Some have dispatched their own reporters to investigate the grim trade in human beings.

For an institution tasked with the crucial duty of defending the nation, it seems undignified to say the least that the Navy is persecuting journalists in order to save face.

Criticism of the action has poured in from all corners, including the United Nations Human Rights Office, which has urged the authorities to drop the charges.

"Freedom of the press, including freedom for journalists to operate without fear of reprisals, is essential in promoting transparency and accountability on issues of public interest," the UN said in a statement.

The plea is nothing new.

Similar calls for reason in the face of military "pride" were made during the tenure of the Yingluck Shinawatra government, but the imperative of political survival meant it couldn't afford to defy the Navy's legal push against Chutima and Morison.

That duty now falls to the junta leaders who ousted the elected government last year.

Will they have the courage and common sense to do the right thing?

When the Reuters story was first published, Yingluck said Thailand would work with the UN and the United States on any investigation into the possible involvement of Thai officials in the trafficking.

The UN, the US and the rest of the international community welcomed her announcement. But hindsight suggests that Yingluck was just buying time.

Her reluctance was almost certainly borne of an unwillingness to offend the same military that had ousted her brother Thaksin from power in 2006.

But the junta doesn't have such a luxury.

The only question is whether it has the courage to do what's right.

It is not too late to drop the charges.

The longer this case drags on, the more embarrassment Thailand must endure.

A more sensible approach would be to launch an inquiry into Reuters' allegation.

But instead of taking that route, the Navy has decided to harass the messengers.

In doing so it threatens to set a precedent that would open the way to further persecution of civil society by the military.

And choosing that path could damage the confidence of prospective investors both domestic and foreign, further undermining our already shaky economy.

Shooting the messengers will do nothing to restore the Navy's loss of face, but by doing the right thing and dropping the charges, it can at least retrieve its dignity.

3. The chief's many battles

In its editorial on July 17, 2015, the Philippine Daily Inquirer commends the efforts of the nation's police chief in battling Moro rebels .

It is not often that a man in uniform achieves lasting national prominence, or cements a sympathetic public reputation, through what can be described as an act of weakness.

In a culture still dominated by concepts of machismo, a general shedding tears in public can be perceived as self-indulgent, emotionally vulnerable, lacking manly control.

But Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, until yesterday the officer in charge of the Philippine National Police, showed nothing but strength when he wept during a hearing at the House of Representatives last February.

In that particular inquiry into the circumstances of the Mamasapano incident, where 44 PNP Special Action Force troopers perished in a clash with Moro rebels (and where 17 rebels and five civilians also died), Espina must have reached the emotional point of no return, and exploded: "Ano ba itong overkill na ginawa niyo sa mga tao ko (What is this overkill you did to my men)?" he began, with tears in his eyes.

He was addressing the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, at a time when it was not yet clear who did what, and when, in the gun battle in the cornfields of Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

But while he did not sugarcoat his outrage against the rebel group, it was clear to anyone who watched that riveting moment, captured on TV and then shared online and on social media, that he was in pain for the officers and men of his organisation who had died in scandalous circumstances.

"I seek answers for my people. So that when my time comes, I can face my people and at least I can say something. It is always sweet to die for this country. Itong mga taong ito (These people) will always be there in your front and say 'Mission accomplished.'"

It has since become clear that that was the authentic Espina.

In his seven months as OIC of the PNP's 160,000 men and women in uniform, Espina made an indelible impression that was-and it pains us to state the obvious-the exact opposite of the reputation of Alan Purisima, the man he replaced.

Regardless of their specific law enforcement competencies, or skill in crime fighting, the two generals, both members of the Philippine Military Academy's Class of 1981, became defined by their contrasting personas: While Purisima was seen as loyal to his friend President Aquino to a fault and protective of his own prerogatives, Espina in his seven months at the helm was seen as loyal to his organisation above all.

He placed the welfare of PNP personnel above that of personal or political interest.

In his farewell remarks, Espina gratefully acknowledged the confidence that the President had placed on him, "for the past rather challenging seven months," but he was too much of an officer and a gentleman to point out that the source of some of those very challenges was none other than Mr. Aquino himself.

He was already OIC when the operation that led to the tragedy in Mamasapano was green-lighted, with Purisima's specific instruction to the SAF commander to bypass both Espina and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.

It is a measure of Espina's leadership that the PNP as a whole and the SAF in particular seem to have weathered the worst of the post-Mamasapano crisis.

We must not forget the conduct of many other PNP officials who helped keep the organisation on an even keel, including the new SAF commander, Chief Supt. Moro Virgilio Lazo, and especially Director Benjamin Magalong and other members of the PNP's Board of Inquiry.

The BOI report was not without controversy, but the process by which it was conducted, and the reasoning behind its conclusions, did much to restore public confidence in the police.

Espina set the tone, and his organisation responded.

If we understand him correctly, he will be the first to say he was only doing his duty, and to downplay his role, but the simple truth is the nation owes him a debt of gratitude.

Even the small details were telling:

Early on, he took himself out of consideration for a full-time appointment as PNP chief because of his imminent retirement.

He called on the PNP to support whoever the next chief would be. And when Director Ricardo Marquez was appointed, he offered enthusiastic, and specific, praise.

On the day he retired, Espina turned wistful: "I now sign off, I will miss you dearly. Goodbye, all."

Many at the change-of-command ceremony in Camp Crame must have thought: Mission accomplished.