Akan Datang: Thoughts With Sulawesi

Sulawesi - New Naratif

There are no two ways to say it. This is a sad week in Southeast Asia. On 28 September, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Central Sulawesi, triggering a tsunami. At the time of writing this column, the death toll stands at over 800. With such a high number of casualties so early on, we can probably expect that figure to rise significantly in the coming days and weeks—most likely it will be in the thousands.

On behalf of all of us at New Naratif, we send our heartfelt condolences to those affected and their loved ones.

If you would like to help with the relief effort in Sulawesi, Jakarta Post has this list of organisations who are accepting donations in the form of funds, goods and volunteer work.

Over at New Naratif, we started the week with an article on rising evangelicalism in secular Singapore, and then followed it with a piece on promoting peace through art in Indonesia.  

New for you on Monday, we’ll have the latest episode of our fortnightly podcast series Southeast Asia Dispatches. This week Adam Bemma speaks to the wife of a community worker disappeared in Laos six years ago, Mark Tilly talks to architects about the development and urbanisation of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, Calum Stuart interviews human rights lawyer and AICHR representative Edmund Bon on the likelihood of Malaysia legalising medical marijuana and I look at why it’s so difficult to sort out Indonesia’s violent football culture.

Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…


Sadly, the main story from Indonesia this week is the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi.

The Guardian has information on exactly what happened on the ground and the impact this disaster has had on the region, as well as a live feed with the latest updates on the situation.

It will take some time to find out whether mistakes were made in dealing with the immediate tsunami threat, but AP has this piece that looks at issues with the early warning systems. On top of what looks like a devastating death toll, which stands at 832 at the time of writing, there have been reports of looting in Sulawesi as well as a prison riot as desperate inmates broke out to search for their loved ones in Donggala.

There are also stories of incredible bravery, such as that of Indonesian air traffic controller, Anthonius Gunawan Agung, who sacrificed his life to come to the aid of a plane that was readying for take off. “His colleagues had run for their lives when the tower started to sway and the walls started to crack, but Mr Agung stayed to make sure Batik Air Flight 6321, which was on the runway at the time, took off safely”. He was 21 years old.

It will likely be a long road ahead to rebuild the parts of Sulawesi that were worst hit, and Lowy Institute has this piece on how other countries can help with relief efforts.  

And finally… a moment to remember the local residents, aid workers, disaster mitigation officials, search and rescue teams, NGO workers, charities, and all those involved in helping with the recovery efforts.

This includes the journalists on the ground who are working in difficult conditions to bring us the news from Sulawesi, without which we would be ignorant of the unfolding devastation. Covering grief and human tragedy is never easy, as I discussed in this episode of Southeast Asia Dispatches .

We appreciate you.


In Vietnam, our contributor Mike Tatarski, has this dispatch:

Last week Roman Zmajkovic, a Slovak national, was sentenced to three years in jail by the Hanoi People’s Court for “having sexual intercourse with children.” He is the first man to be jailed following the closing of a legal loophole which did not recognise non-heterosexual sex with children as a sex crime.

Previously, the law only considered heterosexual incidents to be a sex crime—for example, if a man abused a girl. Zmajkovic would pay boys to have sex with him, and earlier this year he was caught having sex with a 13-year-old boy in a Hanoi hotel. The jail sentence thus augers in a new era in protecting children from sex predators in the country.

The Philippines

Over in the Philippines, it seems like every week President Duterte’s mouth gets him in trouble—and this week is no exception.

This story seems rather convoluted, but it seems that Jakarta released a statement saying that Duterte had given his permission to the Indonesian government to go ahead with the execution of Mary Jane Veloso. The former migrant worker has been on death row in Indonesia for the past eight years having been found guilty of drug trafficking, and was due to be executed by firing squad in 2015, but this was called off at the last minute.

The strange thing about this story is that no one can seem to agree on what was said.

Indonesian President, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo claims Duterte said, “Please go ahead if you want to execute her,” which does sound rather callous. Duterte’s spokesperson, Ernesto Abella, says it was something along the lines of, “Follow your own laws, I will not interfere.” According to Duterte, he said, “I might just accept the system and plead for mercy. But if President Widodo will deny it, still I would be grateful that she has been treated very well”.

Who to believe?


From Singapore, we have this from Chief Editor Kirsten Han:

A Committee of Inquiry is looking into the cyberattack on SingHealth, the largest group of healthcare institutions in the country, that resulted in a massive data breach with 1.5 million patient records accessed and the outpatient dispensed medicine records of 160,000 people stolen. The Straits Times has this timeline of how everything unfolded. There have also been reports on the hearing, and tl;dr, it’s a mess. Key members of the security team were on holiday, there was a delay in reporting the incident, and a server exploited during the attack turned out to not have had a security update in over a year. The Committee will continue to look into the incident and we can expect to hear more moving forward.

And that’s a wrap on this week in Southeast Asia! If you have a tip on a news story you would like to see featured in Akan Datang, then send it to us via aisyah.llewellyn@newnaratif.com !

See you next week!

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