Wild Thai tiger cub footage sparks hope for endangered species


BANGKOK: Conservationists on Tuesday (Mar 29) hailed the discovery of a new breeding population of tigers in Thailand as a “miraculous” victory for a sub-species nearly wiped out by poaching.

Images of some tigers including six cubs, captured by camera traps in an eastern Thai jungle throughout 2016, confirm the presence of what is only the world’s second known breeding population of the endangered Indochinese tiger.

The only other growing population – the largest in the world with about three dozen tigers – is based in a western forest corridor in Thailand near the border with Myanmar.

“The extraordinary rebound of eastern Thailand’s tigers is nothing short of miraculous,” said John Goodrich, the tiger programme director at Panthera, a wild cat preservation group that backed the survey.

Two Indochinese tigers roam the forest in Eastern Thailand. (Photo: AFP / DNP-FREELAND / PANTHERA)

The camera trap footage, which shows female tigers and their cubs traipsing through the leafy jungle, was captured with help from the anti-trafficking group Freeland and Thai park authorities.

Indochinese tigers, which are generally smaller than their Bengal and Siberian counterparts, once roamed across much of Asia.

But today only an estimated 221 remain, with the vast majority in Thailand and a handful in neighbouring Myanmar.

Aggressive poaching, weak law enforcement and habitat loss has rendered the animals all but extinct in southern China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, according to scientists.

Tiger farms around the region have also boosted the trafficking trade by propping up demand for tiger parts, which are treasured as talismans and used in traditional medicines popular in China.

Indochinese tigers are generally smaller than their Bengal and Siberian counterparts. (Photo: AFP / DNP-FREELAND / PANTHERA)

Conservationists and park officials attributed Thailand’s success story to a rise in counter-poaching efforts over the past few decades.

But they warned that the breeding populations remained vulnerable and would not thrive without a sustained commitment to busting poachers and taking down the lucrative trafficking trade.

Today only an estimated 221 Indochinese tigers remain. (Photo: AFP / DNP-FREELAND / PANTHERA)

The Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai forest complex, where the latest young cubs were caught on some of the 156 cameras, still hosts a only modest tiger density of 0.63 tigers per 100 square kilometres.

It is a ratio on par with some of the world’s most threatened tiger habitats, according to Freeland, but still means there is a population of at least 23 of the big beasts roaming wild.

“It’s crucial to continue the great progress made by the Thai government to bolster protection for tigers at the frontlines,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, the group’s board chairman.

“As long as the illegal trade in tigers continues, they will need protection.”



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Singapore's first Zika cluster of 2017 reported at Simon Place


SINGAPORE: Two cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infections have been confirmed at Simon Place in Hougang, the National Environment Agency said on Wednesday (Mar 29).

This is the first Zika cluster reported in Singapore this year.

Both cases are residents from the same household, NEA added in a media release.

The Zika cluster was confirmed on Tuesday and vector control operations are being carried out in the area.

“As of Mar 29, NEA has inspected about 120 premises out of about 400 premises in the Simon Place cluster to check for mosquito breeding and also conducted ground checks in the vicinity,” said the agency.

“10 breeding habitats – comprising seven in homes and three in common areas/other premises – have been detected and destroyed.”

The location of the active Zika cluster at Simon Place. (Image: NEA)

NEA added that it has carried out indoor spraying of insecticides, as well as thermal fogging and misting in the outdoor areas. In addition, outreach efforts are being conducted by NEA officers and grassroot volunteers in the area to distribute Zika information leaflets and insect repellent to households.

NEA also urged residents to allow officers to carry out inspections and indoor spraying of residents’ homes if required. 

Most people infected with the Zika virus do not develop symptoms, which heightens the risk of a Zika resurgence as it may take some time before a reintroduced Zika virus is detected. With the presence of the Aedes mosquito vector here, everyone must therefore continue to maintain vigilance and play his part to prevent future localised transmission through eradicating mosquito breeding habitats in our neighbourhoods,” said NEA.



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Scores of dead sea creatures mysteriously wash up on N.S. beaches



Thousands of dead herring, starfish, lobster, crabs washed up dead on some Nova Scotia beaches, baffling investigators
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The best things in life begin with the letter B



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Curate your 21st Century life with expert guide Aenghus Chisholme as he brings the best things in life into sharp focus. From the everyday, to the unexpected to the ultra-exclusive. A carefully chosen selection of the very best material and immaterial possessions that may be enjoyed for nothing or obtained with millions of dollars are laid before you to peruse. Choose from the superlative belongings that life offers and realize that the best things in life really do begin with the letter ‘B’.

Sewol 'remains' are animal bones: South Korea ministry


SEOUL: Bone fragments recovered from the wreck of South Korea’s Sewol ferry are from an animal and not human remains, the maritime ministry said Tuesday (Mar 28). 

Authorities had earlier announced the pieces were human – raising the prospect of closure for families of at least some of the nine passengers whose bodies were never found after the 2014 maritime disaster.

But the ministry corrected its initial statement, declaring: “According to test results by the National Forensic Service, they have been confirmed to be seven animal bone fragments.”

They were suspected to be pig bones, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said, citing forensic officials.

The wreck was brought to the surface last week in a complex salvage operation, nearly three years after it went down with the death of more than 300 people, and placed onto a semi-submersible ship that will finally bring it to shore.

Almost all the victims were schoolchildren and nine bodies were still unaccounted for, raising the prospect that they could still be inside the vessel and leaving their families emotionally trapped in the grieving process.

Lee Cheol Jo, a senior official in charge of the salvage operation, had told reporters the fragments recovered on the deck of the semi-submersible Dockwise White Marlin, ranged in length from four to 18 centrimetres.

“They are suspected to have been found among sand that leaked out from an opening at the entrance of the vessel or through a window,” Lee had said, adding that officials from the National Forensic Service, as well as the coast guard and the health ministry had been dispatched to identify the remains.

The process was expected to take around two to three weeks.

The operation to raise the 145-metre ferry, which has cost more than US$82 million, is believed to be among the largest-ever recoveries of a wreck in one piece.

The salvage operation had been a key demand of the families of the nine missing victims – four schoolchildren, two teachers and a married couple and their child – who were moving to Jeju, the ship’s destination, to start a new life.

Divers wrapped up their search in November 2014, and since then a handful of relatives set up home at Paengmok, a port an hour away from the accident site.

The semi-submersible is expected to set off for Mokpo, a large port on the southern coast some 87 kilometres (54 miles) away, on Thursday.

As part of the salvage operation, underwater barriers were set up around the wreck and searches were to be carried out in the area as well as on board the Sewol.

The sinking, one of the country’s worst-ever maritime disasters, dealt a crushing blow to now-ousted president Park Geun Hye.

Investigations concluded the tragedy was largely man-made – the cumulative result of an illegal redesign of the ship which made it top-heavy, an overloaded cargo bay, inexperienced crew and a questionable relationship between the ship operators and state regulators.



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Indonesia's president says open to death penalty review


JAKARTA: Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said he would restore a moratorium on the death penalty if he won the backing of the people, after a spate of executions that drew international condemnation.

Widodo declared an anti-drugs campaign soon after coming to power in 2014 and refused all requests for pardons from death-row drug convicts, ending a four-year moratorium.

But in recent months he has softened his position.

Asked in an interview with AFP on Monday whether he would consider a moratorium, Widodo said: “Why not? But I must ask my people. If my people say OK, they say yes, I will start to prepare.”

A moratorium could be the first step towards abolishing the death penalty, a move which needs approval in parliament which has been discussing the issue for the past year.

However, Widodo said it would be difficult to secure parliamentary backing without clear public support in a conservative, Muslim-majority country where voters are deeply concerned about high levels of addiction.

He cited a 2015 survey by a private pollster that found 85 per cent of Indonesians support the death penalty for drug traffickers.

JUNGLE KILLINGS

Since Widodo came to power, Indonesia has hauled 18 people – 15 of them foreigners – before the firing squad for drug trafficking.

They include a group of eight – two Australians, a Brazilian, an Indonesian and four Nigerians – who were put to death in a single night in April 2015 on the prison island of Nusakambangan.

The convicts were taken to a jungle clearing on the island, which houses several high-security prisons, and tied to stakes before being shot, in an move that triggered global revulsion.

The executions of Australian drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in particular caused tensions, with Indonesia’s neighbour Australia temporarily recalling its ambassador from Jakarta.

Among the foreigners currently on death row are Frenchman Serge Atlaoui and Filipina Mary Jane Veloso, who were both pulled from the April 2015 round of executions.

Women’s rights activists hold a candlelight vigil in Manila on Sep 13, 2016, calling to save Filipina drug convict Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso who is facing execution in Indonesia. (Photo: AFP/Noel Celis)

A British grandmother, Lindsay Sandiford, is also on death row in Bali after she was caught smuggling a huge stash of cocaine into the resort island which attracts millions of visitors to its palm-fringed beaches every year.

Widodo has insisted that the death penalty is part of Indonesia’s law and serves as deterrent against drug trafficking.

However, last November he said he was “open for options” to abolish it. In another concession, only drug convicts from countries that implement the death penalty were executed last year.

‘GOOD SIGN’

International and domestic rights groups have appealed to Indonesia to put a stop to capital punishment, arguing that miscarriages of justice are inevitable in a judicial system deeply compromised by corruption.

Ricky Gunawan from Community Legal Aid Foundation, a group calling for the abolition of the death penalty, said Widodo’s latest comments were “a good sign that he is shifting from his stubbornness”.

“But the downside is he leaves it to the people to decide, and a good leader should make a stance instead of leaving to the people to decide,” he told AFP.

Gunawan urged President Francois Hollande, who will visit Indonesia this week, to press the issue during their talks. France scrapped the death penalty at a time when public support for it was high.

Some analysts have said that since Widodo is the first Indonesian president from outside the establishment – he was not in the military nor part of the elites – he needed to show a strong hand on law enforcement.

Halfway into his term, Widodo is faced with rising religious intolerance in a country that has always prided itself as a moderate Muslim nation.

In a case seen as a major test for pluralism, the governor of Jakarta – an ethnic Chinese Christian – is currently on trial on allegations of blasphemy against Islam.

Widodo said that extensive freedoms have opened the way for hate speech, but played down the extent of intolerance, saying that a “small” number of incidents was “normal” in a nation that embraces many religions and ethnicities.

“People must know the balance of rights and duty … if they are too free, it is not good for our country,” he said. “Indonesia is one of the most tolerant countries in the world.”



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10 Most Deadliest And Scary Sea Creatures



10 Most Deadliest And Scary Sea Creatures most
From world’s most poisonous snails to sea snakes we count down our dangerous sea animals list enjoy!!!
Thanks for watching SUBSCRIBE for more top 10s!!

list:
1.Sea snakes
2.white tiger shark(The tiger shark is a large solitary, mostly nocturnal hunter, and is notable for having the largest food spectrum of all sharks, consuming a variety of prey ranging from crustaceans, fish, seals, birds, squid, turtles, and sea snakes to dolphins and even other smaller sharks.
3.box jelly fish,(“Box jellyfish” and “sea wasp” are common names for the highly venomous Chironex fleckeri. Stings from these sea animal and a few other species in the class are extremely painful and can be fatal to humans.
4.blue ring octopus (poisonous no antidote still exist)
5.stone fish(Synanceia is a genus of fish of the family Synanceiidae, the stonefishes, whose members are venomous, dangerous, and even fatal to humans. It is one of the most venomous fish currently known in the world.They are found in the coastal regions of the Indo-Pacific.
6.Salt water crocodiles(dangerous and is the largest of all living reptiles in the world)
7.puffer fish(Puffer fish are generally believed to be the second-most poisonous vertebrates in the world, after the golden poison frog)
8.Sting rays
9.lion fish( venomous,a very poisonous fish that can provide a painful sting)
10.textile cone snail(planet’s most poisonous/venomous sea animal)

music:music:Galactic voice teknoaxe https://www.youtube.com/user/teknoaxe

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Luxury: Fashion, Lifestyle and Excess



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Luxury has been both celebrated and condemned throughout history right up to the present day. This groundbreaking text examines luxury and its relationship with desire, status, consumption and economic value, exploring why luxury remains prominent even in the context of a global recession.

Using approaches from cultural studies, semiotic research and aesthetics, Luxury presents a wide range of case studies including urban space and new technologies, travel, interior design, cars, fashion ads and jewellery to explore what luxury represents, and why, in the contemporary world.

The book will be essential reading for students and scholars across a range of fashion studies, cultural studies and sociology, and anyone interested in the power and allure of luxury today.

Former yoga missionary could bring Philippine mining industry to its knees


MANILA: The Philippines’ environment secretary, Gina Lopez, comes from one of the country’s wealthiest families, with business stakes in media empires, energy and manufacturing. But she had mostly stayed away from the limelight, choosing a life of travelling, spirituality and yoga.

When she returned to the Philippines, she became a passionate advocate for the environment using the charity arms of her family’s media company, ABS-CBN, to fund her projects.

That all changed when she was appointed environment secretary under the new Duterte administration and took on some of the country’s biggest businesses, despite little technical education.

Lopez has now threatened to shut down two-thirds of the country’s mining sites and cancel a further 75 mining contracts that were approved by her predecessor – a pipeline of mining investments worth about 1.1 trillion Philippine pesos (US$22 million).

THE PUSH-BACK

Her announcements shocked the mining community of the fifth-most mineral-rich country in the world for gold, nickel, copper and chromite – the Philippines has US$840 billion worth of untapped mineral wealth, according to an estimate by the country’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

Many of the companies are now fighting back, appealing both to the president and to the courts.

Members from the pro-mining community watch Philippines’ environment secretary Gina Lopez on TV, booing her. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

A nine-page complaint was filed on Mar 19 by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), charging Lopez with causing “undue injuries” to the mining industry.

The group lamented that as early as September last year, Lopez had already announced the suspension of about 20 mining firms even before the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) mining audit was completed.

COMP said that most, if not all its members, have acquired International Standards Organization (ISO) 140001 certification, indicating that they have passed the highest environmental standards for mining.

There is also a lobby for a congressional committee to reject her nomination as environment secretary. Lopez was recently bypassed by the Commission on Appointments during her first round, only to be re-appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte. She will face the committee again in May when congress resumes.

But despite the enemies she has made, she said she will continue her mission with confidence, knowing she has the backing of the president, who has referred to her as a “crusader”.

In a press briefing in March, Duterte declared: “You think you can live with it (environmental degradation) because of the 70 billion (pesos) or because they contributed to campaign funds? Not me.”

He was referring to the estimated 70 billion pesos mining contributes a year in revenue.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE

For Delta Dumay, who comes from a family of farmers, the mining industry has impacted her source of living.

Her family had always benefited from two good yearly harvests – until now. A river runs along the side of her house and it used to provide water for irrigation for her rice fields, but now it is killing her crops. 

According to Dumay, her troubles started when a mining company set up in the mountains above the river. They began to notice heavier siltation in the river, increased flooding during the rainy season and more dust during the dry season.

“Of course it really began to affect our farmlands. And there were no fish in our river and we couldn’t catch anything,” she said.

Dumay said she used to be able to harvest 300 sacks of rice each season, but now this has been reduced to around 100 sacks.

Her town is located in Cantilan, Surigao del Sur in Mindanao, one of the country’s poorest regions, but also its most mineral-rich. There are 23 large-scale mines operating in the area.

One of the agricultural areas affected by siltation in Cantilan, Surigao del Sur, Philippines. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

According to Lopez, the massive destruction of ecosystems in mining tenements – the massive cutting of trees, blasting of mountains, the digging and hauling to extract mineral ores – are to blame for the siltation of rivers, as well as degradation of coastal environments that affect agricultural and fishery production.

She said: “It causes suffering if you are a fisherman or a farmer; it aggravates your quality of life. Only 20 per cent of the labour force are people that come from the island. The ones that benefit are the local governments.

‘It’s not a viable economy where some people benefit and everyone suffers. But the most grievous thing there is the fact that the place is beautiful and the continuous mining there is killing the economic potential of the place. It’s crazy.”

Dumay said that while she knows of other communities nearby who receive money from mining companies, there are many who do not.

“They (the people from the mining company) came and did a test on the water and said there was no evidence we were affected so they didn’t offer compensation,” she said.

THE WARNING

Around 95 per cent of large-scale mining companies practise open-pit mining and Lopez has mostly focused on these large-scale open-pit mines. Mining experts said it is the fastest, safest and most efficient way of extracting mineral ore, but according to Lopez, it causes massive destruction of forest ecosystems.

“The 15 that we closed are in watersheds and I feel that to even consider allowing them to continue mining in the watershed goes against the spirit of the mining law, which says you should not put at risk the lives of the present and future generations in a watershed,” said Lopez.

Miners dig for mineral ore inside a tunnel in Mt Diwata. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

In her presentations, Lopez repeatedly cites the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project in Mindanao. She said forests, watersheds and highly productive agricultural areas the size of 700 football fields will be devastated once proponents of potentially the biggest gold-mining project begin commercial operation.

“That area is the food basket of Mindanao,” Lopez said. “There are rivers and farms in those areas.”

She said miners use dynamite to tear down mountains or dig holes to fast-track the extraction of mineral ore.

Said Jaybee Garbganera of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement: “By the nature of the industry itself, mining is going to introduce permanent changes in the physical landscape and the topography of the Philippines.

“When you start doing mining, your operations are going to cut trees, use water from the river, use the forests which are the same resources of indigenous people.

“An introduction of a mining site in any area in the Philippines will likely impact the local environmental and cultural life of the population. This is different from any continental country like Canada or Australia where they can do mining and the next community would be 100km away.”

Gold separated from the rock, mined in the Philippines. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

According to Garbganera, the introduction of mining operations in a locality increases the already existing risks of vulnerabilities of that community.

“The Philippines’ climate change and disaster risk reduction laws were passed in 2009, while the laws governing the mining industry were passed in 1995, so all the mining contracts we have right now do not factor in climate change and disaster risk,” he said.

EMOTIONS RATHER THAN FACTS

Lopez has stoked the anger of mining companies and scientists who believe she is addressing the issue with emotions rather than facts and due process.

They include Isidro Alcantara, CEO of publicly listed Marcventure Holdings, whose mine is currently being threatened with closure despite holding an ISO certification which confirms that the mine’s environment management systems are compliant with international standards.

“Perfection cannot be made the enemy of good,” he said. “When you disturb the earth, it will never be perfect; you will restore it 70 to 80 per cent but a lot of good would have come out of disturbing the earth; a lot of jobs, a lot of livelihoods including livelihoods that would be sustainable and that can be a catalyst for development, economic and social.”

Dr Carlo Arcila of the National Institute of Geological Sciences said differentiation needs to be made between the different types of mining in the country and that responsible mining can and does exist where minimal damage is done to the environment.

THE BENEFITS

It is not just the mining companies who are up in arms over her decision. Communities located near mining sites are worried about job and income losses if the mines are shut, and they have also been protesting in front of the DENR office.

Junarlo Hunahunan owns an iPhone, motorbike and flat screen TV. This may seem normal for a 22-year-old, but he is from a small indigenous community in the remote mountains of Surigao del Sur, which until recently was only accessible via a six-hour hike from the nearest town of Pantukan.

Junarlo Hunahunan’s renovated house in the indigenous community of Pantukan. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

In 2007, two mining companies set up nearby. He, along with his three siblings, have been working with one of the companies for two years.

They used to live in a basic nipa or straw hut, surviving off the meagre incomes of their crops, but from the money they earned they have been able to build a two-storey house, send their siblings to school and buy all the things they enjoy.

“Before, it was really hard. We didn’t have money. We couldn’t send our siblings to school or have pocket money for them,” says Junarlo.

It is not only his household that has seen a big change. The community of around 1,000 has gone from having no roads, electricity or health centres to having a gym, school and ambulance.

Mining companies are expected to give 1 per cent of their total income to the indigenous communities whose land they are operating on. Last year, Pantukan and six other communities received almost US$60,000 from just one company alone.

According to the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, Lopez’s order puts at risk around 67,000 jobs and at least 1.2 million people who depend on mining for their livelihood.

Lopez has said mining has failed to improve the lives of the people, and that people from Surigao del Sur remain poor despite mining. But Alfred Araneta, vice mayor of Carrascal, a town in Surigao del Sur, disagrees.

He said taxes and royalties from mining companies have boosted the town’s income more than 55 times over a 10-year period.

Mining companies have to pay business and royalty taxes as well as a percentage of every tonne of ore taken out of the country to the local government. With that money, they have improved government buildings such as hospitals and schools and infrastructure.

“We are really dependent on the taxes we collect from the mining industry,” Araneta said. “If they do close down, Carrascal will go back again to what we were in 2006. That is what we are afraid of.”

A hospital in Carrascal that has been built from funds giving by mining companies. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

In 2006, Carrascal was a poor provincial town made up mostly of farmers and fishermen. Now, most of the people in town work either directly or indirectly for the mining companies and the number of registered businesses has shot up from 74 to nearly 400.

Lopez insists that she can replace these jobs by creating centres of eco-tourism in place of mining sites. She asked for the communities to give her two years to get the people out of poverty from various ecotourism activities.

“I just feel that in a country that is beautiful, the better approach is to keep the country beautiful for the benefit of anyone living there. My complaint with the mining law and mining operations is that you ravage what is there and you take out the wealth and leave them poor and give them tidbit scholarships, and they’re totally dependent on you instead of developing the potential of the area to generate quality of life,” said Lopez.

But communities remain sceptical of this proposition, worried about the viability of bringing in enough tourists into these remote areas where infrastructure remains a big problem.

“If an eco-tourism project was to be implemented, it will take how many months, even a year, before it can start operations. How can we sustain those families that are eating right now and having their children studying?” said Araneta.

Dindo Manhit, managing director of Stratbase, argued that eco-tourism can’t exist in many mining areas. He cited mining in Palawan, a tourist hotspot located in the west of the Philippines as an example.

“There is mining in Palawan; there is also eco-tourism in Palawan. Why don’t we send tourists to those mining areas? Because it’s too rural and there’re lots of mosquitoes, lots of malaria,” he said.

SMALL-SCALE MINING

Many also question why Lopez in her crusade has ignored the small-scale miners. They make up 60 per cent of the total gold production, yet for the most part continue to flourish with little regulation from the main government.

There are around 400,000 small-scale miners operating in 40 mineral-rich provinces nationwide, building tunnels deep into mountainsides in search of their “jackpot” day.

It has provided wealth for the miners -signs of prosperity dot the gold-rush town of Diawata, where children who finish top of their class even get rewarded with a 15g pure gold medal worth around 19,500 pesos.

But the gold rush does not necessarily translate into prosperity for the government or environment.

Miners inside a small-scale mine in Diwalwal dig for gold. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

According to Dr Carlo Arcilla of the National Institute of Geological Science, most of the small-scale mining is illegal and unregulated and certain practices are detrimental to the environment. According to him, practices such as using mercury when mining for gold is not only bad for the environment but for the miners as well.

“When you mine the gold content, it’s in the parts per million, so you have to grind very fine to get the gold out,” he said. “Many miners use mercury because mercury dissolves the gold. The problem is that the river will flow to the ocean and the mercury, once it gets into the ocean, is poisonous by itself and it becomes integrated in the food chain and becomes metal mercury – one of the most poisonous substances known to humankind.”

In an attempt to stop this, in 2015, the department of environment issued new policies and guidelines for these mines to adhere to. Cooperatives were formed to allow for more regulation of mines.

Jose Anayo, the head of a mining cooperative in Compostela Valley, said small-scale mining permits were issued by the provincial government. He added that there are regular check-ups on the mines for labour and environmental safety practices, but there are still a lot of mines that remain unregulated.

“Our cooperative consists of around 70 tunnels but that’s only from the registered tunnels, which make up only a small percentage of the total network of small-scale mines,” he said.

MINING CONTRIBUTION INSUFFICIENT: LOPEZ

Lopez has also argued that mining contribution to the Philippines is not enough to cover for the economic loss to the environment. Last year, mining’s contribution in terms of GDP was a mere 0.9 per cent. Mining export receipts were pegged at US$2.8 billion, or only 4.8 per cent of total exports, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

According to Credit Suisse, the mining ban could shave 0.2 per cent off the Philippines’ economic growth and hurt foreign investors’ sentiments. It could also reduce exports by around 2 per cent.

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, Lopez acknowledged that she was stepping on “very big business interests and political interests”.

“But at the end of the day, I’m doing what the government has mandated for me to do – which is to take care of the people and make sure the land and resources of the area can benefit the people living here.”



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Commentary: Narendra Modi, India’s social media star, struggles to get government online


When Narendra Modi was elected in early 2014, the media declared him “India’s first social media prime minister” and compared his approach to technology to that of then US president Barack Obama. In 2016, Time magazine named Modi one of the 30 most influential people on the Internet.

Today, he is the most followed world leader on social media, with more than 40 million Facebook followers. Needless to say, with a social media superstar at the helm, the Indian government was expected to bloom online.

But this idea should be advanced cautiously, as certain facts belie the assumption. According to the Pew Research Center, 87 per cent of American adults use the Internet, while only 27 per cent of Indians do. And only two in ten Indians regularly use social media platforms, whereas seven in ten Americans do.

“DIGITAL INDIA” TO CONNECT ALL CITIZENS

One of the government’s main priorities is to get more Indians connected to the web. New Delhi’s new programme, “Digital India”, unifies information and communication technology (ICT) initiatives under one umbrella.

The process of building ICTs into governance involves the automation of routine administration jobs such as online passport registration or school application, providing requisite information to citizens, and citizen engagement in policy-making.

The Digital India initiative has seen some significant successes. It has connected all 250,000 Gram Panchayats (local administrative clusters of villages) with fibre optic cables, established Wifi villages and smart cities and created an ecosystem for Aadhaar, India’s national biometric identification system. It has also encouraged electronic banking through mobile payments.

The government also launched an exclusive citizen engagement platform, mygov.in, which currently boasts 4 million registrations, 1.8 million submissions across 599 tasks and 35 million comments.

Given India’s infrastructure inadequacies and weak private-public partnerships, these are laudable efforts.

An customer in India gives a thumb impression to withdraw money from his bank account. (Photo: AFP/ Noah Seelam)

MINISTRIES ARE LETTING MODI DOWN

Modi has pushed his ministers to adopt social media platforms as a part of their job. Many agencies have invited the experts and representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google to attend consultation meetings (some of which I have attended) and also made data requests.

Today, the Election Commission of India uses Facebook to engage potential and present voters with the democratic process, and most ministry and agency websites are integrated with various digital platforms. It is also common to see government agencies advertising to hire social media firms in national newspapers.

Social media platforms are part of the larger e-governance effort. At a minimum, the government uses them to get information to citizens and, more gradually, to include user-generated content in governance.

But at present, despite these various actions, social media acts primarily as a mere extension of agency homepages. Evidently, many ministries and departments are hesitant to use the pages and accounts they’ve started.

Real-time updates are few. Those that occur are thanks to a few savvy ministers, including Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External affairs, Piyush Goyal, Minster of Power, and Suresh Prabhu, Minister of Railways.

Some Twitter interactions have been impressive. Take, for example, the time Sushma Swaraj directly helped an Indian citizen who was mugged in Tanzania.

However, government social media usage starts to fail when ministers are questioned or criticised by users. It took Modi – who usually uses Twitter daily – ten days to tweet about the communal violence in Dadri, where a Muslim man was lynched by a Hindu mob on suspicion of slaughtering a cow.

LACK OF CREDIBILITY

Quickly voicing concerns to other users and trading in genuine uncensored content are major features of social media. If these activities are shaken, either by blocking criticisms or through non-responsiveness, trust and credibility are lost.

If a minister responds to, say, a tweet about the lack of baby diapers on railway platforms but does not immediately respond to queries about a recent accident, or if a minister keeps mum on violence when she is expected to speak out, the real value that social media could bring to governance is lost.

Citizens may stop following the ministers, or troll them. Both hurt efficiency in e-governance.

Despite its social media presence, Modi’s government has largely failed to move beyond simply disseminating information. In 2015, the Chennai floods left thousands homeless and killed almost 500. Well before the government responded, civil society organisations and citizens used social media to create live-updated maps of affected areas and tell residents about safe houses and transportation.

Displaced residents wade through a flooded street in Chennai, India. (Photo: REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee)

OF CENSORSHIP, TROLLS AND “BHAKTS”

The government is also concerned about its own employees criticising policy initiatives or “liking” anti-government views. Recently, civil servants were advised to follow a social media code of conduct (though this framework appears outdated and incomplete).

Government social media use is also co-opted by political party supporters. Called “bhakts”, or henchmen, these ardent supporters of Modi or of other right-wing political movements have sidetracked any possibilities of healthy discussion. And they are equally matched by their more liberal opponents.

Bhakts are not public officials. But their online activities have blurred the lines between the roles played by political party head and prime minister, reducing the potential positive outcomes of the government’s fledgling social media efforts.

TO REGULATE AND TO SERVE

There are two main ways that a democratic government approaches the social media sphere – regulation and service provision. Modi’s government is in the nascent stages of both.

As a regulator, governments should monitor online activity, policing content and its creators (if needed) without damaging freedom of expression. The Modi administration’s regulatory role is being hijacked by partisan trolls who lack training and legitimacy.

As a digital public service provider, governments should treat online citizens like customers, seeking feedback on services or extending post-service support. If Twitter may be explored as an e-banking platform, for example, why not use it to book a ticket on India’s state-run railroad or apply for a passport?

Without better guidelines on playing this role, however, Modi’s government agencies will continue to struggle to provide citizen services. As an individual, Prime Minister Modi may be an exceptional social media influencer. But, for now, the same cannot be said about his government.

This article first appeared in The Conversation. The author P. Vigneswara Ilavarasan is an Associate Professor at The Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. Read the original report here.



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