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Bringing “the people” back in: Forest Resources Conservation with Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma



With a lifetime dedicated to forest conservation, Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma reflected back on his career and what forest management means to Thailand. In the year 1978, he received the prestigious United Nations and Ananda Mahidol Foundation Scholarship to attain higher education at the College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, USA. After graduating in the year 1985, he returned to Thailand with a commitment to teach and research at the Department of Forest Management, Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University until his retirement with full professor position. The excerpts below encapsulated a conversation between Dr. Pattaratuma and Dr. Rattana Lao on forest conservation.

Beyond the classroom: An anthropological perspective

I dedicated my life to study the anthropological aspect of forest management to His Majesty King Bhumibol Aduyadej of Thailand. I studied cultural dimensions of forest management in many areas of Thailand. I began with Huay Hin Dam with Karen hill tribe (Pra-ka-ker -yor) Suphanburi Province. I tried to review the international literature on land use and combine it with in-depth interviews with the hill tribes to understand the cultural dimensions of their livelihoods. I observed how they built their houses and how their managed their forest. There are three characteristics of the Karen tribe. Firstly, they lived on small plots of lands and their houses are very small. Secondly, they conserve their forest land with water resources. Thirdly, they refrain from using pesticides. Culturally, there is a clear division of labor amongst men and women. While men will clear the lands, women will cultivate agricultural goods such as papaya, guava and banana. There is limited drugs use.

It’s liberating to do research beyond the classrooms. To observe real live, real changes. I learnt more than I set out to do and they are all interrelated to a bigger picture.

Intersectionality between culture, migration and forest management

Karen hill tribes migrate in a cluster. There are more than 3 families migrating together to the new fertile forest land. They will migrate together when land is exhausted. This is most evident in the borderland between Thailand and Myanmar. Back then they did not have official documentation but slowly they do. There has been an influx of hill tribes from Myanmar to Thailand due to political conflicts from Myanmar. From my observation, they are very conscious about forest conservation and resources management. They said: “no forest, no water”. They are compelled to protect the forest from pesticides in order to keep the water clean and their health well. They are very logical. Although they grow rice, it’s very subsistent and only for household consumption. They don’t grow rice for commercial purpose. This is the land use for Karen hill tribe.

I also studied in Kampeangpetch, Nan, Chiang Rai, Phrae and Lumphun. Each place is diverse and the situation is really different. Some local tribes are preserving of the forests, others are more detrimental. We need an in-depth study to understand the cultural dimension of land use for each tribe.

The heart of forest management

People. It’s the people. People must particulate in the forest management. Otherwise, it is very difficult. When we go into each location, we must approach people and bring them into the conversation. I have tried to do all my life. Civil servants must approach people, not other way around. People are looking up to our action. They look into our sincerity and commitment. If they see that we are committed to study about their livelihood, they will share the right information and they will help.

Indonesia is a good example of successful forest management. The state get people involved. In every kilometer, there are four actors involved in protecting the forest: soldiers, policemen, villager and forester. They help each other protecting the wildlife and forest resources.

Can legal change help the people?

Legal relaxation can help lessen the pressure between man and forest. Before the legal requirement was very strict. Any kind of forest intrusion would be caught including small hunters gatherers. I think that is too strict. That put people against the law. People should be able to go into the forest and pick up some mushroom and bamboo and some wild products to lessen their poverty and hunger.

As long as people are still hungry, it’s very hard to manage the forest. There must be a way to balance the two: people livelihood and forest management.

Capitalists invasion

Much of the legal attention is paid to small farmers use of the forests. However, the real issue is big corporations invade the forest. This is very significant. Deforestation happens mostly from large scale corporation rather than small scale farmers. There are many loopholes in the system that lead to systemic corruption and mismanagement of land use. Many wealthy houses are built on large scale timber to exemplify wealth and status. It saddens me.

Would the next generation get to see large tree in the forest?

Less likely.

What can we do to protect the forest?

There are many organizations that responsible for the forest protection such as Royal Forest Department, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Department of Marine and Coastal Resources. But the manpower are not sufficient to cover the large area of forest in Thailand. There are not enough permanent manpower to go on the ground and protect forest resources, while the intruders to National Parks are equipped with more advanced weaponry.

To protect the forest, the state must be committed and the people must participate in the process.

Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and writes on education and development. She is based in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Southeast Asia

Transforming Social Protection Delivery in the Philippines through PhilSys



Social protection helps the poor and vulnerable in a country, especially in times of crises and shocks that may threaten the well-being of families. When COVID-19 hit and quarantines began, the Philippines needed a massive expansion of social protection coverage to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Countries that already had good and inclusive digital infrastructure (including internet connectivity, digital identification, digital payments and integrated data ecosystems) were better equipped to quickly adapt their social protection programs to meet urgent needs. They also fared better in maintaining continuity of services when in-person interactions could be moved online.

For the Philippines, it presented a challenge, and strain was felt in the delivery of social assistance under the Bayanihan acts.

Fortunately, the country is moving to address digital infrastructure gaps, including through the development of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys). PhilSys is one of the most complex – but also game-changing – projects undertaken in the country.

The Philippines is one of only 23 countries without a national ID system. As a result, Filipinos need to present multiple IDs (and often specific IDs that many do not have) when transacting, including with government, creating barriers to services for the most vulnerable among the population. Information across government databases is often inconsistent. These undermine the Philippines’ transition to a digital economy, society and government. The PhilSys will help address this by providing all Filipinos with a unique and verifiable digital ID (and not just a card), while also adopting innovative and practical data protection and privacy-by-design measures.

The new partnership agreement between the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for DSWD’s adoption of the PhilSys is a milestone for the Philippines’ social protection and digital transformation journeys. DSWD will be the first agency to utilize the secure biometric and SMS-based identity authentication offered by the PhilSys to uniquely identify and verify its beneficiaries. Pilots with the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) program will begin within the next few months, before PhilSys is used by all DSWD programs.

Adopting PhilSys will enable DSWD to further accelerate its digital transformation. By automating verification and business processes for its programs and services, DSWD will be able to improve the impact while reducing the costs of social protection programs. PhilSys will assist with identifying and removing ghost, duplicate and deceased beneficiaries to address leakages, fraud and corruption, and thus boost transparency and public trust. The unified beneficiary database that DSWD is developing with the help of PhilSys will contain up-to-date and consistent beneficiary information across all programs.

The World Bank is supporting these DSWD initiatives through the Beneficiary FIRST (standing for Fast, Innovative and Responsive Service Transformation) social protection project.

Importantly, these changes will translate to benefits for Filipinos.

Those who interact with the DSWD will face less paperwork, queues, hassle, costs and time. With their PhilSys ID, they will also have better access to a bank or e-money account where they can potentially receive payments directly in the future, promoting financial inclusion. Indeed, more than 5 million low-income Filipinos have already opened bank accounts during PhilSys registration. And the resources that DSWD saves can be redirected to addressing the needs of beneficiaries who live in remote areas without easy access to internet and social protection programs.

Beyond the advantages for social protection, the digital transformation PhilSys will catalyze in the public and private sectors can be fundamental to the Philippines’ pivot to reviving the economy and getting poverty eradication back on track. Success in utilizing PhilSys for social protection will have a significant demonstration effect in accelerating digital transformation by other government agencies as well as the private sector.

But digital transformation is not easy. It is not about simply digitizing things. It is about re-imagining how things can be done for the better, with technology as an enabler. Digitizing bad systems or processes just leads to bad systems or processes digitalized. Digital transformation therefore depends on and can only be as fast as process re-engineering and institutional and bureaucratic changes to overcome inertia.

Digital transformation must also be inclusive to avoid exacerbating digital divides or creating new ones.

The effort will be worth it. And the World Bank is firmly committed to scale up our support to the Philippines’ digital transformation agenda. A digital Philippines will not only be more resilient to future shocks – whether they are natural disasters or pandemics – but also be poised to take advantage of the opportunities brought by COVID-19 (shift of activities online) and those that lie ahead in the post COVID-19 world.
 first published in The Philippine Star, via World Bank

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Southeast Asia

Possibilities for a Multilateral Initiative between ASEAN-Bangladesh-India-Japan in the Indo-Pacific



In the Indo-Pacific context, there are multiple partners all aiming for economic fulfillment along with maritime security and safety. Countries ranging from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea seem to be more worried about the freedom of navigation and overflight as Chinese aggressiveness is rampant and expansionist is a scary idea. The region from India to Bangladesh has a huge potential of interconnectedness and if connected to the Southeast Asian countries, it would also help in India’s Act East Policy and India’s neighbourhood first policy and further help out in strengthening relations to the far East as in Japan. All these countries combined can create an interconnected chain of mutual and common interests with balanced ideas of economic, military, social, political and people to people exchanges which would in turn help develop a multilateral.

Who can lead this Multilateral Initiative and Why?

Japan can be the prime crusader for this multilateral as it has excellent relations with all the parties and is the pioneer of the free and open Indo-Pacific. Japan has excellent diplomatic, economic and infrastructural relations with all the possible partners as it provides ODA loans, aid and assistance. Japan being the pioneer of Free and Open Indo-Pacific can be guiding force for this multilateral in the maritime domain which would help create a new regional grouping consisting of South Asia and Southeast Asia primarily based on maritime. Japan is the only developed country among all the other players and with its expertise, it can surely guide, help, support and take along all the countries. Japan most importantly is a non-aggressive nation and believes in mutual respect unlike China. Japan has no dept trap issue unlike China. Japan is known for quality in infrastructural development and with their expertise in science, technology and innovation can well lead these countries. Japan’s reputation of honesty, no corruption and extreme detailed paper work is commendable.

What are the benefits from this Multilateral Initiative?

This multilateral would help connect the Indian Ocean (India) to Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh) to the South China Sea (ASEAN) and the East China Sea (Japan)- would help in the creation of water interconnected network from South Asia to Southeast Asia. This could be the first regional maritime grouping covering South Asia to Southeast Asia. This maritime grouping can create a network of ports which could also become an economic hub and intersecting points of investment and infrastructural development (already Japan is investing in a big way in all these countries). India’s Northeast would get a greater economic, infrastructural and people-to-people exchange as it would connect India to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Mekong Ganga Economic Corridor already exists and could pave the way for Bangladesh and Kolkata greater port exchange which could be developed as nodal points in Bay of Bengal and would help in easy and cheaper freight. These countries can also aim for the strengthening of defence and security relations in the domain of maritime and can also aim for a logistics support agreement and a network from Indian Ocean to Bay of Bengal to South China Sea to East China Sea and would help tackle Chinese aggressiveness and China has been mapping the waters in all these waters and so, to protect one’s territorial sovereignty and integrity, defence relations must be build.

An ecosystem based on Digitalization, Science, technology and Innovation can be formed which would help create a united cyber security law and all this could ultimately lead to the 4th Industrial Revolution. South Asia and Southeast Asia would be lucrative markets and labour distribution and generation of employment can be done through the ports, logistics network, economic and trade exchanges and interactions. This multilateral would form a resilient supply chain in the region of South Asia and Southeast Asia in the domain of Indo-Pacific. Marine economy can be a major factor of this multilateral initiative as it would be a major success in the maritime domain. This multilateral can also work on vaccine diplomacy and work on future health hazards mechanisms.

Why Bangladesh must think of adopting the Indo-Pacific Strategy?

Bangladesh must adopt the Indo-Pacific strategy and create its own objects and call it the SAMODHRO NITI. Bangladesh has the capability of being an excellent maritime power and it is a major leader in the Bay of Bengal and to be an effective part of this multilateral. The Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) would be a key binder. Bangladesh must realise that China by building dams on the Brahmaputra River would actually create issues for Bangladesh’s fishery catchment areas as it would get inundated with salt water and to stop that Bangladesh must work to strengthen its position to tackle China. Also, China could also create water issues for Bangladesh and Bangladesh must look at ways to safe guard its water resources. Thereby, Bangladesh must work towards countries who face similar issues with China. The Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor is an excellent example of cooperation but this Multilateral if formed can be a stronger initiative and Bangladesh benefits from it as being a hub of textile, leather and pharmaceuticals and this Multilateral has all the efficiency of becoming an economic hub which would benefit Bangladesh too. If Bangladesh adopts an Indo-Pacific Policy, then its market in Japan, the US and Europe would become stronger due to shared interests and can also sign a Free Trade Agreement with EU like Vietnam did.

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Southeast Asia

How Biden Should Embrace Indonesia



Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Such a huge challenge must be faced by Washington, Beijing has succeeded in becoming a major player in the Southeast Asian region through economic cooperation. From a report submitted by the Atlantic Council in 2021, in the 1980s Southeast Asia was Washington’s territory, however, in 2021 things turned around, Beijing succeeded in taking over Washington’s influence as in Indonesia.

It should be noted that the relationship between Indonesia and the United States has been established since 1949 through the recognition of Indonesia’s independence. However, relations between the two countries experienced ups and downs, during the Cold War Indonesia was one of the pawns important for the US to prevent the influence of communism in Southeast Asia, until the tension caused by President Soeharto’s policy in East Timor which caused an arms embargo for Indonesia for 10 years. During the Trump administration, relations between the two countries were strained again, Trump had never visited Indonesia during his 4 years of administration, and during the pandemic the assistance provided by America was very limited. Therefore, this role was taken over by China.

Proximity to China

The Indonesian government has a very close relationship with China. In 2020 China will become Indonesia’s main trading partner with a total of 72.8 billion dollars. In fact, this figure is far beyond the US which is only able to contribute 27 billion dollars. China managed to become the second largest investor in Indonesia after Singapore, this investment was carried out in 2,130 projects with a total of 4.8 billion dollars. Indonesia was part of the BRI (Belt And Road Initiative) project in 2013 and the AIIB (Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank) in 2014.

The closeness between Indonesia and China was accompanied by various problems. According to a survey conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit in 2020, Indonesia’s democracy is at its lowest position in 14 years, with only getting a score of 6.3 and located in the flawed democracy category. One of the factors that makes Indonesia’s democracy index low is the government’s policy which is quite repressive towards Islamic groups.

The Jokowi administration itself is quite harsh on several Islamic groups that are not in line with it. From an article published by the East Asia Forum, it is stated that people and groups who tend to support values ​​such as the caliphate will be classified as radical groups. And those involved will get punishment in the form of dismissal from work to being thrown into prison. It was proven by the revocation of the operating license of the HTI organization (Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia) and the arrest of Eggi Sudjana who was one of the initiators of the 212 action. This fear stems from protests against hate speech committed by the former governor of Jakarta in 2016.

Islamic groups such as the FPI (Islamic Defenders Front) ) firmly criticized Jokowi and China’s policies. On March 6, 2020 in front of the ChinaEmbassy in Jakarta, the FPI mass held a demonstration by saying that “Brothers and sisters, try to imagine when China was ravaged by Corona, he (Jokowi) telephoned the China president (saying) we would help. Uighurs are slaughtered in silence, when Indian Muslims are slaughtered in silence, when Rohingya Muslims are slaughtered in silence, it is China’s turn to be attacked by corona, we are ready to help, that’s the president, gentlemen.”

President Jokowi’s closeness to China has made Indonesia very careful about issues involving China. Jokowi, who tends to hold back when Muslims in Uighurs are being tortured by the China government. Even though the majority of Indonesian people are adherents of the Islamic religion, Jokowi’s actions should be in line with the aspirations of the people.

China is increasingly aggressive in the South China Sea.

The close relationship in the economic sector is not followed by the defense sector. Since 2014, China has massively and systematically built a military base containing buildings, missile systems, and seven airfields in the South China Sea. China argues that the South China Sea is China’s sovereign territory, this is based on historical claims in the 15th century when the China navy sailed the area and this area had been abandoned by Japan after the second world war. The South China Sea is a very important region, 30% of world trade passes through this region, there are 10% of the world’s fish reserves, 11 billion barrels of oil, 109 trillion cubic meters of gas.

Indonesia does not have sovereignty in the South China Sea. However, Indonesia has sovereign rights in the form of an EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) in the waters of North Natuna. China openly claims this area as part of its own, therefore since 2016 the China government has provided protection for fishing vessels entering the North Natuna area, as well as conducting patrols using Coast Guard vessels. This caused tensions for both countries, in the first conducted with the Malaysian Prime Minister in February 2021 Jokowi stated “I emphasize that stability will be created including in the South China Sea if all countries respect international law, especially UNCLOS (UN Conference on the Law of the Sea) 1982.” As well as a firm stance by making diplomatic calls and lobbying with the US carried out by Defense Minister Prabowo at the end of 2020.

Steps Biden Must Take

There is still a chance for Washington to be able to reverse the situation, from a survey conducted by ISEAS, in 2021 people in ASEAN prefers Washington over Beijing as its main partner country with a percentage of 60.5%. And 76.3% feel that Beijing is a real threat to the Southeast Asia region. In Indonesia, the sentiment towards China in the Jokowi government is getting bigger, the narrative used by the opposition is that the Jokowi government is too submissive to China. And the bad sentiment that grew in Indonesian society as a result of the rebellion carried out by the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) in 1965 is still holding strong.

The decline in Indonesia’s democracy index could be an opportunity for Biden to strengthen the narrative that democracy is currently facing a real threat from authoritarianism. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated that the current administration seeks to strengthen America at home and abroad. So in order to achieve this goal the government tries to re-promote democracy, however, the methods used will not be the same as in the past which focused on overthrowing authoritarian regimes or the use of military intervention which was very expensive. This will be manifested in the form of democratic behavior through reforms, the cancellation of bad laws and eradicating corruption. Even though it must be realized that the democratic narrative is only used if it is in the interests of America.

In the book Trump vs China by Newt Gingrich, Grinch argues that the world should be aware that all investments made by China companies come from the approval of the China Communist Party (CCP). Therefore it can be interpreted that all investments made by China companies are in accordance with the objectives of the China Communist Party. Biden must be aware that if China’s investment in Indonesia gets bigger it will be followed by the influence of the China Communist Party, increasing economic cooperation is a realistic choice and must be accompanied by a strong commitment.

And finally, Biden must convince Indonesia that the US will become a strong ally in the South China Sea. Increasing the purchase of weapons is an obligation, regular military training must be increased so that there is a sense of security. America and its allies began to move massively in the South China Sea through cooperation between the US, UK and Australia which manifested in the form of AUKUS (cooperation to purchase nuclear submarines). Although on the one hand this is a threat to Indonesia.

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