The View From Asia

When those in power neglect their duties, the masses pay

Commentators from Asia News Network papers trained their sights on leaders who, in their view, had neglected their duty to protect the vulnerable. They singled out Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for waging war on drugs but not poverty, US President-elect Donald Trump for mocking a disabled reporter, and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen over the name change to a Taiwan-Japan contact foundation. Here are excerpts:

Forgotten war on poverty

Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippines

The numbers remain grim: According to official data, 26 million Filipinos, or about one in four, are mired in poverty. That's 26.3 per cent of the population, out of which 2.6 million are also unemployed.

A survey by Pulse Asia last July, conducted just the week after President Rodrigo Duterte took office, showed that issues and concerns relating to jobs, poverty and high prices were what Filipinos wanted the new administration to immediately address. The top three concerns were inflation (68 per cent), employment (56 per cent) and pro-poor programmes (55 per cent), according to the nationwide survey. Criminality (48 per cent) stood at fourth.

How remarkable is it, then, that in the first 100 days of President Rodrigo Duterte's presidency, hardly anything was said by the administration about a war on poverty that would at least match in zeal and urgency its flagship war on drugs and crime?

Nearly every single speech by Mr Duterte since he assumed the nation's highest office has been about his forceful campaign against the drug menace, and also his invariably bellicose reaction at those who raise concerns about how the campaign is being conducted.

No doubt it's an effective platform; he won resoundingly with it. There should be no question, too, that drug trafficking deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent, and its syndicates exposed and neutralised. More than once, Mr Duterte has cited the effects of drug addiction on Filipino families as the reason for his hatred of it - that homes are splintered, lives are wrecked and crimes proliferate whenever drugs come into the picture.

Even though one in four Filipinos lives in poverty, President Duterte has not come up with anything concrete to tackle the pressing issue. PHOTO: REUTERS

This is true, but hardly a complete picture. Criminality is due to a much bigger cause than the spread of drugs. As Professor Cielito Habito, director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority during the Ramos administration, has pointed out, "poverty and inequality are other important reasons for criminality".

Many are reduced to committing petty crimes simply to survive; the lack of jobs that would put food on the table drives people to desperate measures - including, for some, becoming street pushers and drug mules, the lowest and therefore most expendable segment in the totem pole of drug syndicates.

But, three months on, the President himself has yet to make an official speech detailing his administration's battle plan to combat poverty, bring prices down, open up more job opportunities, and ensure that the average 6 per cent economic growth he inherited from the Aquino administration is finally felt in tangible ways by the majority of the population. Even his State of the Nation Address was short on detail, much less focus, on the economic tasks required to bring immediate relief to the masses trapped in grinding misery.

Streep on Trump

The Statesman, India

One could argue that the singular highlight of the Golden Globes grandstanding 2017 was Meryl Streep's robust debunking of the incoming president of the United States of America. It was a stirring message to the audience, more accurately the media, when she lampooned Mr Donald Trump who had the gall to publicly mock Mr Serge Kovaleski, the disabled reporter of the New York Times.

"There was nothing good about it, but it did its job," she said. "It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can't get it out of my head because it wasn't in a movie, it was in real life. That instinct to humiliate when it's modelled by someone in a public platform, it filters down into everyone's life because it gives permission for others to do the same. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose."

Her presentation was typically brilliant and no less critical than the lifetime achievement award. Strikingly, Streep spoke the language of an astute diplomat when she called Mr Trump to account without mentioning his name. She was riveted to what is generally referred to as the "lowest point in his campaign", indeed the derogatory reference to a handicapped journalist during a campaign rally. In point of fact, the president-to-be indulged in outright bullying that was beneath contempt. Meryl Streep has unmasked the US President-elect.

High cost of worthless change

The China Post, Taiwan

Shakespeare once wrote: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet."

Talking of names, do we think the public interest incorporated foundation Japan-Taiwan Exchange Foundation sounds any better than the public interest incorporated foundation Exchange Foundation?

Some people do - President Tsai Ing-wen and her Japanophile supporters, in particular.

The change of name took place on New Year's Day, though the doorplates of the office of the Taiwan-Japan contact organisation in Taipei were altered last Wednesday. Quite a few political pundits blindly lauded it as a diplomatic breakthrough.

But it was nothing of the sort. The only change is an addition of "Japan-Taiwan" to the title of the organisation.

What's in a name? Taiwan has had to pay dearly for this worthless nominal change. Let's look at what President Tsai has paid:

She agreed not to challenge Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) claim over the Okinotori Islands in the Western Pacific, where Taiwan's fishermen wish to operate without Japanese hindrance to make their living.

And her Democratic Progressive Party government is more than eagerly ready to lift the import ban on produce from five Japanese radiologically contaminated prefectures. At stake here is Taiwan's food safety. Public hearings have been held but no decisions have been made on the conditional imports to alleviate the public fear of getting poisoned.

Nevertheless, the government is immovably determined to import produce from four of the prefectures, excluding Fukushima, where a nuclear power plant suffered three meltdowns in the tsunami touched off by the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.

What does Taiwan gain with the addition of the two Chinese characters to the new title of the Japanese public interest incorporated foundation? Absolutely nothing, save a moment of gratification for President Tsai's inflated ego. This name change has not modified, nor will it in any way modify, the unofficial relationship between Taiwan and Japan.

  • The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 21 newspapers. For more, see
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2017, with the headline 'When those in power neglect their duties, the masses pay'. Print Edition | Subscribe