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Volume II No.4

WORLD, REGION & NATION

Published 25 February 2021

Dear Reader,

The Coronavirus-19 and its variants continue their deadly march all over the world. At this writing the virus has infected more than 113 million people and has killed more 2.5 million.

Again, this is your WRN Briefer Jamil Maidan Flores writing and observing the world from Jakarta, and inviting your attention to developments of vital significance.

A Ray of Hope

Interestingly the developing countries of Africa and Asia seem to be faring better in the pandemic than the most developed countries. In fact, the United States has taken the brunt of the virus’s fury, with 28.9 million having been infected and more than half a million dying from it.

Here in Southeast Asia, the hardest hit is Indonesia with 1.3 million cases and 35,000 deaths, followed by the Philippines with more than 566,000 cases and more than 12,000 deaths. The other countries of the ASEAN region have much lower rates of infections and fatalities. (Sources: worldometer.info and www.csis.org)

In recent days, however, the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel has shone a bit brighter as several countries are massively rolling out vaccines and supplies of vaccines are beginning to arrive in the developing world.

The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility arrives at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana. The West African country has become the first nation to receive vaccines acquired through the UN-backed COVAX initiative. (Photo: UNICEF)

Importantly, various vaccines have proven effective in preventing severity of symptoms and transmission of the disease. That is why in countries where vaccines are being rolled out, the rates of hospitalization and fatalities are going down.

To learn more about a watershed global development in the distribution of vaccines to poor countries being carried out by the UN-supported COVAX program, click here.

Meanwhile, we have some sad news.

Death Comes for the Ambassador

Sinyo Harry Sarundajang, Indonesia’s Ambassador to the Philippines, Marshall Islands and Palau, passed away in the early morning of 13 February 2021. His demise has been a great loss not only to his family and to his many friends but also to the realm of Indonesian public service and diplomacy.

The late Sinyo Harry Sarundajang who served as the Ambassador of Indonesia to the Philippines. (Photo MINA)

Among the many who conveyed their deepest sympathies to the bereaved family of the late ambassador was President Rodrigo Roa Duterte of the Philippines. In expressing his condolences, the Philippine Chief Executive said, “Mr. Sinyo is a friend and brother to many people including myself. His life is very inspiring. With the strength of his character and principles he overcame many challenges to become a leader and an individual who has great influence in Indonesia.”

For more of what the Philippine president said on the passing of his close friend, click here.

Ambassador Sinyo’s Philippine counterpart, Ambassador Leehiong Wee, remembers Ambassador Sinyo as “diligent and thoughtful, a man of great ideas, specially in promoting trade and travel between Manado and Davao. He has also been instrumental in several infrastructure projects being carried out in the Philippines by Indonesian companies.”

Retired Ambassador Yuli Mumpuni Sudarso remembers the late ambassador as “a mentor.” She says she has  been “very impressed by his patriotic nationalist attitude and his being a motivator for the younger generation.” When she interacted with the late ambassador in 2013, she was Secretary-General of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Indonesia, after serving as Indonesian ambassador to Algeria.

Since then she has served as ambassador to Spain. Today she can still recall how Ambassador Sinyo instilled in young Indonesians patriotism and nationalism. His frequent admonition to the youth: “Your hearts must be red and white and must be Pancasila.”

Director Purnomo Chandra of the Directorate of Law and Political and Security Treaties of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and who had visited the late ambassador in Manila, and from whom I first learned about the sad news, regards him as “a first class statesman who always put his country above everything else, a rarity these days. He was a bureaucrat who had a grand vision of Indonesia becoming a great nation, and he worked for (that idea) at the local and international level.”

Director Purnomo cites as among the accomplishments of the late ambassador the peaceful settlement of communal conflicts in Eastern Indonesia.

Another who has fond memories of the ambassador is Jakarta-based business consultant Mark Castro. He says that the ambassador was exceedingly helpful when he was carrying out a project to bring Indonesian businessmen to the Philippines.

Ambassador Sinyo, you have lived a full life and you have done so much for your country. Requiescat in pace.

A Popular Populism

Now let’s focus on the state of democracy in the Philippines. The question is: what happened to democracy in a country that used to be ASEAN’s exemplar in its commitment to democratic values and human rights? It did not suffer a sudden stroke as happened in Myanmar. It may be perceived as a gradual health decline that has been taking place for almost three decades.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (Photo: Reuters)

In his latest article for WRN-PinterPolitik, Dr. Rizal G. Buendia, traces the roots, rise and reign of Philippine populism. He acknowledges the social and economic gains under the current Philippine president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, whose popularity is immense and growing. He also points out the limits to and perils of even this kind of populism.

To get to know in some detail the current plight of Philippine democracy under a charismatic but illiberal leader, click here.

A Change of Heart

And now let us look at ASEAN—or at least the member countries that are trying to respond to the crisis of democracy as a result of the power-grab by the military in Myanmar.

Until very recently the response of ASEAN’s largest member, Indonesia, has been muted and hewing to principle of non-intervention. But suddenly Indonesia changed its approach, perhaps because it has been stung by questions on the relevance of ASEAN if nothing was done about the crisis. Now diplomacy must be more intensively carried out to prove that ASEAN still matters.

From left to right: Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai and Myanmar Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin meet at Don Muang Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo: Reuters)

Go here to find out what the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia has so far accomplished in her shuttle diplomacy that took her to Brunei, Singapore and Bangkok and would have taken her also to Myanmar if she had not met the Military Junta’s foreign minister in Bangkok.

An Interfaith Approach to Covid-19

Remember the G20? For almost a decade since its founding in 1999, it was an obscure aggrupation of large and middle-level economies until it became a household word when it confronted the financial and economic crisis of 2008.

And remember the UN Alliance of Civilization? The Alliance was established in 2005 as an initiative of then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue as a way of achieving peace and solidarity among nations. I recall that former Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas worked hard with author Karen Armstrong and other world luminaries to shape, launch and promote the Alliance, which has since become a force for interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

From left to right: Former Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, author Karen Armstrong and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Well, recently the G20 and the UNAOC joined forces with the National Committee for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue (NCIID) of Saudi Arabia to sponsor a series of discussions on how religious actors can play a role in the efforts to overcome the pandemic.

The outcome was a set of recommendations on precisely how faith-based communities can work together with governments to help people endure the ravages of the pandemic.

Desytia Nawriz, an Indonesian student of international relations attended the discussions as regional representative of a faith-based community. To get her drift on the outcome of the consultations, click here.

That’s all for now, dear Reader.

In future issues we will continue to monitor the crisis in Myanmar and the path of populism in this part of the world and elsewhere. And, of course, we will keep a keen eye on the pandemic and other developments that may impact on our lives.

Meanwhile, stay safe and healthy.

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