The Torch Bearer of Compassion and Hope for The Struggling Malaysian


June 5, 2017

Comment: It is easy to forget what it is like to be on the way down into the dumps, especially when one is heading to, or already, reaching the top. Of course, staying  on and surviving the top of the totem pole is an even tougher one since it  involves political acrobatics in a Malaysian situation.

Arrogance gets in the way,  suddenly one feels that like Jesus Christ one can walk on the water and then gets hit by a point of inflexion when things begin to crumble and everything seems to go wrong. Your friends desert you and cheerleaders stop cheering. These are fair weather friends. Even politicians experience this sense of rejection when their political luck ditches them.

Two Fernandezs (Aegile (and her late sister) Irene are different because they lead simple lives, and are very much in touch with reality. They have witnessed human suffering, discrimination and humiliation and deprivation. Yet their dignity and integrity cannot be measured by money; their commitment to service is legendary and their sense of being compassionate Malaysian admirable. I do not know Aegile personally, but when it comes of Irene, I am privileged to know her by association with Anwar Ibrahim-lead PKR in 2007-2009. Irene was committed to her cause for justice and service to the unfortunate and the downtrodden. So in honoring Aegile, Annabelle Lee is remembering Irene who dared to be different by speaking the inconvenient truths.–Din Merican

The Torch Bearer of Compassion and Hope for The Struggling Malaysian

by Annabelle Lee

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Aegile Fernandez always wears the same thing.

On top of a black “Anti-human trafficking” T-shirt, she wears a blue denim shirt with a button badge with the words “I am not for sale” pinned to her left breast pocket.

People in shopping centres always ask her about that badge, and she uses these opportunities to explain what human trafficking is. The denim reminds her of her youth in the 1970s.

On both her slender wrists are stacks of colourful rubber bracelets with slogans like “Freedom”, “Stop Human Trafficking” and “Do Rescues”. A colourful scarf, “a symbol of Asian women”, completes her uniform.

“What I wear is part of my activism. It is my way of educating the public,” says Aegile, who is 68 this year.

She began doing social work as a 16-year-old, visiting the sick in the hospital in Sungai Petani, Kedah. She went on to work with prisoners, sex workers, drug addicts, HIV/AIDS patients, domestic abuse victims, refugees, human trafficking victims and abused children before becoming director at the migrant and workers’ rights NGO her late sister Irene founded – Tenaganita.

Sitting on the metal swing in the garden in the compound of Tenaganita’s headquarters in Petaling Jaya, Aegile shares about her 52 years in social service. This is her story in her own words:

MY PARENTS ALWAYS SAID put other people before yourself. We grew up in a rubber plantation in Sungai Petani, Kedah. My father was brought over by the British from Kerala, India as a migrant worker.

My mother, Margaret, always believed in equality and justice. She loved people. My mother had this thing where she would open the front gate at 6am, and women would drop by for a cup of Milo and biscuits before walking to work. Sometimes they would tell my mother their problems and she would advise them.

I remember even on weekends when I would sleep in, I would hear voices in the kitchen and wondered, “Why are these people in my house so early in the morning?”

We did not have much to offer, but my mother always made extra food because she said “somebody hungry might come by”.

She always reminded me, “remember you only need half of that plate of food. The other half must be given to someone who does not have food.”

She also taught me that my choice of work must not be to control somebody or to make lots of money. Rather it must be about serving other people’s needs.

I MOVED TO KUALA LUMPUR IN 1970 as a 21-year-old to work as a secretary in a big company, but after eight months I felt that it was not the job I wanted. There was something missing.

I thought about my mother’s words and decided to do the thing I love – working with people. That is when I decided to go into social work and activism. I started with organising workers.

IN ALL, I WORKED IN MORE THAN 22 JOBS. From being a waitress, a petrol pump attendant, a factory worker, to a door-to-door salesperson. You name it, I’ve done it. I deeply felt that if I was not there with the workers, I would not understand their issues and problems, or how to organise them.

I got kicked out so many times for trying to organise my co-workers. I would get kicked out from one hotel and go to work at another hotel, until I think it was at the sixth hotel when I found out I was blacklisted from all hotels in Kuala Lumpur.

When I moved on to the restaurant industry, I realised my co-workers in all these five-star restaurants were having money deducted from their salary every month for accidentally scratching or breaking wine glasses.

At the end of the month you would find them with no money left. I gave them RM5, RM10 so they would have something at least. By the end of the month, I would tell Irene “I have no money”. All my money went to sharing.

These experiences made me question arbitrary salary deductions and the low pay workers were getting. I began fighting for what workers should have been getting.

It also showed me how the Labour Department was just keeping quiet about all the broken rules. They only acted when someone walked into their office and complained. But all these workers are not going to come to you, I told them, because they are afraid of losing their jobs.

MY FRIEND CATHERINE AND I WERE PICKING UP ALL THESE BODIES AND BURYING PEOPLE of all races and religions while the authorities stood far away writing notes, telling us to wrap the bodies up in garbage bags. In the 1980s, no one wanted to help people on the streets who were drug dependent and had HIV/AIDS.

People used to ask me, “Are you not afraid of touching the bodies?” and I replied saying “I think God will bless us because we’re helping another human being, even though he or she is dead”. This was when people did not understand HIV/AIDS.

ON MY WAY TO WORK, I WOULD SEE ALL THESE YOUNG GIRLS WORKING AS SEX WORKERS along Petaling Street and wondered how could I help them.

So I went to sit in a coffee shop and got to know these girls when they came by the shop. I got to know about their life, their experiences and why are they were there. I became a friend and a sister to them.

With all the people I worked with, it was important for me to first sit down with them and be their friend. I wanted to understand all that surrounds them and why there were in those situations.

In the process I learned about the whole issue, like how drugs is not just about the person buying it but also about how they come into the country and how they get sold. I learned about these new worlds that few even knew existed.

THESE PEOPLE BECAME MY FAMILY. These people who were shunned by society were the first to offer to buy me food and take me to the hospital when I fell ill. It was much more than what my friends, who were busy with their lives, were willing to do.

WHEN IRENE ASKED ME to join Tenaganita in 1993, I was reluctant at first. In all my years of social work I never joined any organisations because I did not want to be limited by rules and regulations. But Irene had asked me to set up a migrant and human trafficking desk, and I had already been working with those communities since the 1980s.

“With all your experience, come open the desk and start this,” she told me. It was a continuation of the work I was already doing so I said I would give it a try.

THIS WAS A TIME WHEN NOBODY KNEW WHAT HUMAN TRAFFICKING WAS. I remember the police asking me once, “Why are you coming here and taking our jobs? Are you talking about traffic jams?”

This was a group of people, unseen by Malaysians, who were being brought here into the country and sold. Tenaganita became a platform, an umbrella in which to unite all my advocacy work especially when working with authorities.

In the 1990s was also when many women from rural areas were coming into the city to work in the free trade zones, in the electronic industry. Filipino and Indonesian domestic workers began coming into Malaysia. We had a lot of migrants coming in at this time and Tenaganita became a platform where these communities would seek help.

IRENE’S DEATH IN 2014 WAS SUCH A SHOCK. We always joked that I would be the one to go first. Running an organisation is not my cup of tea, I don’t like doing administrative work! My thing is to do be with communities. Like rescuing abused domestic workers.

We get people calling us saying their neighbour is abusing their domestic worker, asking us to come save her. Sometimes the community themselves helps to arrange for a way for the domestic worker to escape from the house.

Previously, we would never get such help because people did not want to get involved. People  are more aware now. More are talking about the rights of domestic workers have.I AM 68 THIS YEAR AND I WILL NOT STOP UNTIL I AM IN THE COFFIN or in the ground, I must say, because I don’t even know if I will have a coffin!

As long as I have a body that can work, I will continue. There is no such thing as retiring. There is still so much to do. So much to teach the young people to take over.


MALAYSIANS KINI is a series on Malaysians you should know.

Donald J Trump and Hillary R. Clinton at Alfred E. Smith Charity Dinner in NYC


October 21, 2016

Donald J. Trump and Hillary R. Clinton at The ( Governor) Alfred E Smith Memorial Dinner (10/20/2016), New York City

Image result for Hillary and Donald in New York Charity Dinner

Watch and decide  what you think. I am of the view that both Presidential candidates lacked sense of humour. They could not put their bitter rivalry behind them even for this charitable dinner at The Waldorf Astoria, Park Avenue, New York City. It was all politics. However, Hillary’s message of unity resonates with me since this election season has been the most divisive ever in American politics.  I wish American voters all the best as they go to the polls on November 8, 2016 and elect the new POTUS.–Din Merican

Do not challenge our ‘special rights’, Khairy tells non-Malays


November 26, 2013

Do not challenge our ‘special rights’, Khairy tells non-Malays

najib-dan-khairy-Non-Malays should never again dispute the special rights of the Malays and the position of the rulers, Khairy Jamaluddin said today, adding that Malays themselves never questioned vernacular schools and the citizenship of non-Malays.

The UMNO Youth Chief said in his policy speech at the party’s general assembly that the Malays had “accepted and they had never questioned” the social contract they agreed upon during the formation of Malaysia.

“If the Malays can accept it by not raising the matter of citizenship and acknowledging that we cannot shut down vernacular schools, why are there those among non-Malays who refuse to honour what they have previously agreed upon? Why are there those who ask for the Malay special privileges to be stopped, those who dispute the position of the Malay rulers and even those who cannot speak a word of the national language? If the Malay people are steadfast in their principles of upholding the agreement, we want to demand that they uphold their end of the bargain. Never again dispute what has been agreed upon,” said Khairy.

imageKhairy said it was a huge sacrifice for the Malays to allow other races to be a part of the country, so non-Malays must keep their end of the bargain and not question Malay rights.

“The demography of the nation changed drastically when the Malays opened the doors of the land to other races to build the nation together. We cannot imagine how big a sacrifice this is.So great were the sacrifices of the Malay people, and all that we ask in return is for the non-Malays to accept several of those matters which I just brought up as the other end of the bargain”, he added.

Khairy also defended the existence of vernacular schools, saying that they were allowed as part of the “status quo” which had “existed pre-Independence, and which will continue to exist”.

Despite Khairy’s statement, some UMNO grassroots leaders have in the past few months demanded that Chinese and Indian schools be shut down for the sake of national unity.

Last Sunday, a coalition of 58 Malay-rights groups repeated the call, and even urged Putrajaya to silence “radical” education organisations like Dong Zhong with the threat of de-registration.

Khairy conceded today that there were “fringe voices” questioning the existence of vernacular schools, but stressed that the UMNO leadership has long accepted the current education system.

“It is already forged in the laws of the land and not even the Minister of Education can change the fate of the vernacular schools.If we do not want to bring up these matters of the things that have been given, do not question the special rights and privileges of the natives,” he said. – November 26, 2014.

A Message to Khairy and his Cohorts from Tariq Ismail

Read this: http://myrepositori.pnm.gov.my/xmlui/bitstream/handle/123456789/2420/MewujudkanRakyatMalaysiaProgresifBersatuHati.pdf?sequence=1

Tariq Ismail is the grandson of the late former Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman. He is from Aura Merdeka – Ikatan Sejagat (AMIS) group on Facebook.  Tariq was brought up by the grandfather and his late wife, Toh Puan Norashikin, and is related to PM Najib and Home Affairs Minister, Hishamuddin Hussein. He has something to say about UMNO-Baru (below). 

And I wonder why this diversion from Khairy Jamaluddin, the UMNO Youth Leader. The real issue is endemic corruption and UMNO Baru’s politics of patronage, race and religion, which Khairy chose not to mention. The Special Position of the Malays and Sovereignty of our Malay Rulers was never an issue. UMNO  Baru played this card because it is under seige.Unless there is a serious attempt at reform, it will be a rough road ahead for the party.–Din Merican

Here is why from Tariq Ismail.

Malaysia for Malaysians without bigotry or intolerance.

“MY FAMILY is all UMNO and I was raised in the UMNO mould. However, myTariq Ismail family had instilled into me a sense of Bushido, which included passion and fair play. Always uphold your religion as it is a personal matter and treat others with equality.

I had tried to join UMNO in 2002 with my grandmother pulling my ears after she found the application form and her words were – I raised you and over my dead body will you join the very party that will eat you inside. Moreover, in 15 years time you will be part of a machine that your very soul will diminish.

In 2008, I did try to join UMNO because I thought the wind of change that were apparently blowing then would lead the party to progress. However, no cawangan in Johor or KL would accept me. I scouted around from one UMNO division to another with no result. The Special Branch spooks that looked after Southern Johor told me UMNO will never accept a true blue blood like me.

Just before my grandmother passed away in 2010, she made me promise her to never join the party. I never understood why until I received a call from Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim (DSAI) to lead the Johor siege in 2013. I refused DSAI ‘s request for me to join as I knew I would be a scapegoat if PR had lost.

I still have an affinity with UMNO, but the pragmatic and secular UMNO of old, in which they worked together with all races to ensure this nation was prosperous and united in spirit via tolerance, compassion and recognising and accepting each other’s diversity.

Today’s UMNO is a cesspool of bigoted nouveau riche that has split the Malays and encourage the Malay siege mentality. Mahathir gave the Malays a cosmetic makeover but over looked the Malay inner soul. The Malay soul is lost. Will it be recovered? Yes. Will it be from UMNO…No!

Would I support Anwar Ibrahim to be Prime Minister? No, as he was part of that UMNO Baru sheananigans. However, if DSAI were to retire and promise the public that he will not fight for “justice” and the PM seat, and if Azmin were to take the lead, I may consider joining PKR.

My strategy is such that I shall follow the winds, and forecast the tide. The ship will be steered in one direction – a Malaysia for Malaysians without bigotry or intolerance. A first step is AMIS. Show that a united Malaysian movement of social moderates can steer the nation without playing into anyone’s cards.”–Tariq Ismail

Fund for Kassim Ahmad and Other Persecuted Activists


October 16, 2014

Legal Fund for Kassim Ahmad and Other Persecuted Activists

Greetings from George Town, Penang

Kassim Ahmad

Defending oneself against persecutors in Government service is a very expensive undertaking. Those persecutors can rely on the resources of the state and have no worry about where to obtain money to defray legal costs and related fees. They will get the money from the Treasury.

People like Kassim Ahmad who is no longer working and other activistsAdam Adli and Hishamuddin Rais are under enormous pressure when they have to defend themselves against the oppressive power of the state and its agents. There is no legal aid for them.Kassim Ahmad is fortunate since he has the services of   my competent lawyer friend Rosli Dahlan, but he must still bear legal fees defending himself in our court, and in his case the Shariah Court.

Azmi Sharom 3Some friends have suggested to me some time ago that a special fund should be created to help individuals like Kassim Ahmad, Hishamuddin Rais, Azmi Sharom, Adam Adli, and others who are charged under the Sedition Act to fight their cases. I was reluctant to do so because funding involves asking money from members of the public. Of late, I was persuaded  because these brave people do need our help.

So I am making appeal to all Malaysians who are prepared of their own free will to make a minimum donation of RM10 each for a worthy cause. Please send your contribution to a special account  at Maybank Berhad.

The account number is 514011895152.

Please give generously. We must do our bit to fight oppression and persecution and defend freedom and justice.  I am asking you to sacrifice a cup of coffee at Starbucks and that should not be hard to do. Thank you.–Din Merican

After 56 Years: Race and Religion polarised Us


August 31, 2013

After 56 Years: Race and Religion polarised Us

by Tommy Thomas@ http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: The social contract, social compact or bargain reached by the TommyThomas02three communities under the watchful eye of the British imperial power as a condition to Merdeka was that in exchange for full citizenship, a right to use their language and observe their religion, the non-Malays had to concede special privileges to the Malays to assist the latter to ascend the economic ladder.

It was a quid pro quo. It was a consensus arrived after hard bargaining, and has formed the basis of nationhood. In this equilibrium, the non-Malays were not to be relegated to second-class citizens: citizenship was not on a two-tier basis and there was going to be no apartheid, partition or repatriation.

What was required from the non-Malays at the time of Merdeka was undivided loyalty to the new nation. They could no longer owe their allegiance to the mother country, China or India. Racial differences were recognised. Diversity was encouraged. There was no pressure to integrate into one Malayan race.

A new nation was to be integrated over time, but as a plural society. Assimilation was out of the question. Thus, a united Malayan nation did not involve the sacrifice by any community of its religion, culture or customs. Minorities were not to be discriminated in a system of parliamentary democracy based on constitutional supremacy. In many respects, the establishment of Malaysia six years after Merdeka strengthened the social contract.

logo-merdeka-2013-wallpaper

But as Malaya completes 56 years as an independent sovereign nation today, and more significantly, Malaysia turns half a century on September 16, do the 28 million Malaysians have reason to celebrate? Unfortunately, the popular response would be very much in the negative.

Race and Religion

The twin forces of race and religion have substantially polarised the nation. Every issue of public life, however minor or insignificant, is given an ethnic undertone by politicians and the civil service, and glaringly publicised in the government-controlled mass media. Totally absent in the national landscape is a statesman like the Father of Merdeka, Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first prime minister, who is prepared to speak for the nation and the public weal, rather than from a parochial or sectarian perspective.

Even after the closest general election in our history, with the coalition governing the nation not enjoying majority popular vote, and with the next general election only due in five years, politicking of the worst kind continues daily.

mole-Najib-Razak-endless-possibilities-1MalaysiaThe Prime Minister is not giving the leadership that he sought from the electorate, and which he received. With a 44-seat majority in the Dewan Rakyat, the BN government has a majority which is the envy of many governing coalitions across the globe. Yet, a sense of paralysis grips the centre.

Bread-and-butter issues which largely featured in the election campaign of four months ago, have still not been addressed at all. Not a day goes by without murders, rapes and armed robberies occurring in our homes and our streets. Rampant crime has undermined law and order.

The economy has been shaken by mounting debt; not just the national debt, but also consumer and corporate debt. Comparisons have already been made to the run-up to our 1997 financial crisis which was principally caused by a proliferation of debt.

Thousands of Malaysian companies and nationals speak with their wallets; they just take their money overseas in billions. Our currency has received a battering in the last month, resulting in speculation that Bank Negara may have to intervene to prevent further depreciation of the ringgit.

Merdeka Pic

Bread-and-butter issues, as important as they are to the average Malaysian, still pale in comparison with the massive increase in ethnic tensions. What is the point of Talent Corporation spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers monies in an endeavour to attract Malaysians to return home when racial polarisation is on the increase in their nation.

Thousands of non-Malays have done brilliantly in businesses, professions and other private sector areas in Malaysia. They have flourished regionally and internationally in every society that values meritocracy. Hence there is a huge pool of talented non-Malays willing to be engaged in the public service.

Yet in their homeland, the civil service, the GLCs (government-linked companies), the universities, the army, the police – indeed senior positions in the entire public sector – are dominated by one race. How does one justify such massive hiring of personnel from one race to manage national institutions where national policies are made in a nation of multiple communities that claims there are no classes of citizenship or nationality.

Grand coalition

It is accordingly critical in the public interest that politicians of all parties cease polarising the nation any further. All Malaysians must be treated with sensitivity and delicately. Feelings of communities, however weak and influential, must not be hurt. Hate speech must be avoided at all costs. The government must take the lead, after all the whole purpose of electing leaders is for them to lead the nation.

They must cease immediately playing the racial, religious and ethnic card, and take policy decisions that would promote a plural society. If all these actions can only be taken by a government of national unity, that is, a grand coalition of BN and Pakatan Rakyat parties, the national interest compels such an urgent outcome.

There is a genuine widespread concern that we must all play our part in rolling back the loud public discourse on race and religion. This is an awakening call. Unless remedial measures are taken soon, young Malaysians who have the world at their feet, will desert the nation because they feel they have no place under the Malaysian sun.

They are our future, but they see no future at home. That is the tragedy that must be avoided this 56th Merdeka, and this 50th Malaysia Day.

Counterbalance Policy on US-China Relations


July 10, 2013

Counterbalance Policy on US-China Relations

Robert A. Manning, Atlantic Councilby Robert A. Manning, Atlantic Council (07-09-13)

A widely held belief among many in China is that every US policy move affecting China is part of a concerted strategy of containment aimed at preventing China’s re-emergence.

Thus, the US ‘rebalancing’ in Asia; the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); and the US alliances with Japan, the ROK and Australia, are all components of a US effort to maintain US dominance at China’s expense.

This view is wrong. Containment was US policy toward the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. The USSR was a rival ideology, a competing anti-capitalist economic system aimed at expanding the Soviet empire. Indeed, fear of Soviet hegemony was a major factor that led President Nixon and Chairman Mao to open US–China relations in 1971.

Containment was an effort to isolate Moscow economically; undermine its ideology; and contain its military power with a robust US nuclear arsenal, alliances such as NATO to its West and Japan to its East, and an integrated global trade and financial system. Containment meant minimal social or economic interaction with Russians.

The United States also pursued such a policy toward Iraq under Saddam Hussein and toward Iran known as ‘dual containment’. This meant economic sanctions and, in the case of Iraq, a no-fly zone limiting Saddam’s ability to control Iraq outside Baghdad.

This is decidedly not US policy toward China. Eight US Presidents from Nixon to Obama have pursued a policy of facilitating China’s economic modernisation and integration into the international system. The United States has pursued a consistent policy of cooperating with China where interests overlap and seeking to manage differences.

Nixon and MaoZhou EnLai, Chairman Mao, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger

No country has benefited more than China from the security role that the United States has played in East Asia, underpinning stability and economic globalisation over the past four decades. As China launched its reform and opening policies, its economy grew from some US$202 billion in 1980 to roughly US$7 trillion by 2012, as it joined global institutions from the WTO to the IAEA.

The United States became China’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade in 2012 reaching US$536 billion. US investment has helped fuel China’s astonishing economic growth over the past three decades, and China holds more than $1 trillion in US treasury bonds. Cultural ties have also grown: some 200,000 students — including the daughter of President Xi Jinping — attend US universities.

This reflects an economic relationship of deep interdependence. This is also why the TPP is not a device to contain China but rather a means of furthering economic integration in the Asia Pacific. Though the Obama administration has not explained it well, China could decide to join the TPP if and when it is willing to adopt the agreement’s trade rules. As China’s new leadership pursues a new wave of economic reforms, Beijing will likely find that better protections for its intellectual property rights and other standards serve its interests.

As China has developed its increasingly sophisticated military capabilities, Washington has also pursued a geopolitical posture of hedging against strategic uncertainty. So too has China. This duality of economic integration and strategic competition is the prevalent geopolitical reality in the Asia Pacific. It is why nations from India to Vietnam have increased security cooperation with the United States and, increasingly, with each other.

This is counterbalancing, a time-honoured approach to the game ofPresidents of China and US nations, and not to be confused with containment. Long before the US ‘rebalancing’ was proclaimed, the United States has been strengthening alliances and security partnerships in East Asia for over two decades. The current US posture is the accumulation of those efforts.

Counterbalancing means mobilising resources and partners to offset a perceived challenge to the existing strategic balance. The danger is that this can create a dynamic known as a ‘security dilemma’ in international relations theory. One state increasing its military strength because it feels vulnerable may produce an unintended reaction in another state which feels threatened, leading to a spiral of increased tensions and conflict.

This is evident in US–China relations. The US ‘rebalance’ reflects a response to a growing Chinese military power, a concern that a longtime core US interest — maritime access — may be at risk. And as prominent strategic thinker Dr Wu Xinbo of Fudan University has written, ‘China has responded by continuing to develop its “area-denial” and “anti-access” capabilities so as to maintain a reliable deterrent against US forces within the so-called first island chain’. From the US perspective, this may have cause and effect backwards, but it captures the action–reaction dynamic at play.

This Pentagon–PLA mirror-imaging and reflexive competition lies behind the strategic distrust in US–China relations. It is also why Presidents Obama and Xi agreed on the need to create a new type of relationship at the recent US–China Summit in California.

The challenge to the US–China relationship, and more broadly to stability in East Asia, is how to move from strategic distrust to strategic reassurance. The reality is that mutual vulnerabilities, from economic and financial to cyberspace, outer space and climate change, are shared interests. At the end of the day, whether US–China relations become more cooperative or competitive will be a major factor shaping the international order in the 21st century.

Robert A. Manning is a senior fellow of the Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security at the Atlantic Council. He served as a senior counselor from 2001 to 2004 and a member of the US Department of State Policy Planning Staff from 2004 to 2008.