Channel NewsAsiahttp://www.channelnewsasia.comChannel NewsAsia Singapore was established in March 1999 by MediaCorp, and is an English language Asian TV News channel. Positioned to Understand Asia, it reports on global developments with Asian perspectives. Channel NewsAsia brings viewers not only the latest news but also the stories behind the headlines. NewsAsiahttp://www.channelnewsasia.com129137en-usHamilton takes pole for Mercedes at Australian GP NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 15:30:14 +0800MELBOURNE: Briton Lewis Hamilton took pole position for Mercedes in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday, edging Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel into second on the grid.

Hamilton's new team mate Valtteri Bottas will start third ahead of Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Platform collapse at power plant in China kills nine - Xinhua PacificSat, 25 Mar 2017 14:25:28 +0800BEIJING: An operation platform collapsed at a power plant in China on Saturday, killing nine people and injuring two, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The accident, in the southern province of Guangdong, happened at the No. 7 Thermal Power Plant in the provincial capital, Guangzhou, Xinhua said, citing sources with the local government.

The plant is still under construction.

The government has launched an investigation.

Accidents are relatively common at industrial plants in China.

Anger over lax standards is growing after three decades of swift economic growth marred by incidents from mining disasters to factory fires.

Authorities have vowed to improve safety.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Philippine troops rescue ship captain kidnapped by militants PacificSat, 25 Mar 2017 13:50:13 +0800MANILA: Philippine soldiers on Saturday rescued one of two Filipino cargo ship crewmen taken captive just two days ago by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants, a security official said.

The troops recovered Aurelio Agacac, the ship captain, in the remote village of Basakan in the southern Philippine province of Basilan, said Colonel Juvymax Uy, commander of the military’s 104th Brigade and Joint Task Force Basilan.

Philippine marine troops take part in assault exercises with U.S. soldiers during joint drills aime

The kidnappers took Agacac and his companion Laurencio Tiro captive from a cargo ship off Basilan on Thursday, only hours after soldiers rescued two Malaysians held for about eight months on a southern island.

Uy said the abductors were forced to abandon Agacac to delay the pursuing troops and evade a firefight.

"The victim looked alright," he told reporters.

Uy said the soldiers had also captured a wounded suspect during the pursuit who died while being transported to the hospital in Basilan.

Uy did not confirm that the kidnappers were Abu Sayyaf members.

Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent Islamist group known for kidnappings, beheadings, bombings and extortion, is still holding a number of Filipino and foreign nationals captive, including some Indonesians and Malaysians.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to impose martial law in the south, home to the majority of Filipino Muslims, to address the security problem there.

(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

Myanmar rebuffs UN probe of crimes against Rohingya Asia PacificSat, 25 Mar 2017 13:47:56 +0800YANGON: Myanmar on Saturday rejected the UN rights council's decision to investigate allegations that security officers have murdered, raped and tortured Rohingya Muslims, saying the probe would only "inflame" the conflict.

The Geneva-based body agreed Friday to "urgently" dispatch a fact-finding mission to the Southeast Asian country, focusing on claims that police and soldiers have carried out violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine state.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh(Photo:AFP)

The army crackdown, launched in October after militants killed nine policemen, has sent tens of thousands of Rohingya fleeing across the border to Bangladesh.

Escapees have given UN investigators gruesome accounts of security officers stabbing babies to death, burning people alive and committing widespread gang rape.

The allegations have heaped enormous pressure on Myanmar's one-year-old civilian government, which has vigorously swatted back calls for an international investigation.

Myanmar's foreign affairs ministry on Saturday stopped short of saying it would block the UN-backed probe but said it "has dissociated itself from the resolution as a whole".

"The establishment of an international fact-finding mission would do more to inflame, rather than resolve the issues at this time," it added.

Myanmar is carrying out its own domestic inquiry into possible crimes in Rakhine.

But rights groups and the UN have dismissed the body, which is led by retired general turned Vice President Myint Swe, as toothless.

The recent crackdown is only the latest conflict to beleaguer the stateless Rohingya, who are denied citizenship and face brutal discrimination in the Buddhist-majority country.

More than 120,000 Rohingya have languished in grim displacement camps ever since bouts of religious violence between Muslims and Buddhists ripped through Rakhine state in 2012.

Most are not allowed to leave the squalid encampments, where they live in piecemeal shelters with little access to food, education and healthcare.

Dempsey grabs hat-trick as US hammer Honduras 6-0 NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 13:25:21 +0800REUTERS: Clint Dempsey scored a hat-trick as the United States hammered Honduras 6-0 in California on Friday to get their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.

The United States, who replaced coach Juergen Klinsmann with Bruce Arena in November after losing their last two qualifiers, opened the scoring through Sebastian Lletget after five minutes when he was on hand to tap home after Christian Pulisic's shot squirmed past the goalkeeper.

Soccer: Men's World Cup Soccer Qualifier-Honduras at USA

Honduras came back into the game but the home side doubled their lead after 27 minutes when U.S. captain Michael Bradley was afforded time and space to fire home a low drive from 25 yards out.

Dempsey marked his return to the team after a year out with a heart complaint by making it 3-0 five minutes later when he volleyed home a deft pass from Pulisic, who made it 4-0 seconds after half-time when he shot into the bottom corner.

Pulisic turned provider again three minutes later with a perfectly weighted pass that Dempsey steered round the keeper before firing into the empty net.

Dempsey got his hat-trick and his side's sixth goal in the 54th minute when he curled a spectacular free kick into the far corner of the net from 25 yards out.

The result takes the United States onto three points, equal with Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras, and off the bottom of the group on goal difference.

Mexico lead the table with seven points, one ahead of Costa Rica and three more than Panama.

The top three teams in the group qualify automatically for Russia while the fourth-placed side goes into a playoff with a team from the Asian conference.

(Writing by Andrew Downie; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Revamped Pang Sua Pond in Bukit Panjang reopens Local NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 12:56:10 +0800SINGAPORE: Residents of Bukit Panjang can now get up close to nature thanks to a floating boardwalk over Pang Sua Pond, which was closed in 2014 for a S$6.8 million makeover.

Once a bare stormwater collection pond, Pang Sua Pond has been transformed under national water agency PUB's Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters programme into a place where people can have fun while appreciating nature.

Pang Sua pond 1

The 480m boardwalk, which is suspended up to 7 metres over the water, connects users to nearby facilities like the Senja-Cashew Community Club and a brand new 3G Wellness Centre.

There is also a multi-purpose stage for community events and activities that can seat more than 200 people, as well as viewing decks where users can get a bird's eye view of the waterfront.

Pang Sua pond 2

Floating wetlands (seen above) about the size of an Olympic-sized swimming pool add a splash of green while enhancing the biodiversity in the area.

"This is in fact the second-largest man-made floating wetland in Singapore," said PUB's chief sustainability officer Tan Nguan Sen. "The floating wetland has a few benefits. The plants will absorb the nutrients from the water and helps improve the water quality in the pond. And the floating wetland is a very good outdoor classroom for students and residents to learn about how you can use plants to treat the water."

The pond was built in the 1990s and serves as a stormwater collection pond. It takes in rainwater runoff from the surrounding areas, which is then pumped to the Upper Seletar Reservoir for storage and treatment. 

"We will have educational signboards to tell people what is this pond for, and through this message we hope that the people will treasure the water, and with all these enhancements, people will take care of it," added Mr Tan. 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is scheduled to officiate its opening on Saturday, along with about 3,000 residents.  

Venezuela's Maduro asks UN to help ease medicine shortages, 25 Mar 2017 12:55:19 +0800CARACAS: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Friday he has asked the United Nations to help the South American nation alleviate medicine shortages, which have become increasingly severe as the oil-producing nation's economic crisis accelerates.

Triple digit inflation and a decaying socialist economic model have left medications ranging from simple anti-inflammatory drugs to chemotherapy medication out of reach for most Venezuelans.

An opposition supporter holds a placard that reads "There are no medicines", during a pro

Maduro did not specify the type of aid he requested, although he stressed that the U.N. has knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry.

"I have asked them for support to continue making permanent progress in the regularization of medicines for hospitals," he said.

Maduro earlier on Friday met with Jessica Faieta, Assistant Administrator and Director of the U.N. Development Program, according to state television.

The Venezuelan Pharmaceuticals Federation estimates some 85 percent of drugs are unavailable to the country's citizens.

Maduro often blames the deteriorating economy and widespread shortages of goods on an "economic war" led by opposition politicians with the help of the United States.

Critics say the problems are the result of dysfunctional price and currency controls that have decimated private industry.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago, Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

SEA Games: 5 meet cut to represent Singapore in open water swimming NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 12:35:49 +0800SINGAPORE: Five Singaporeans staked their claims to fly the country's flag at the upcoming SEA Games' open water swimming competition, after they made the cut during Saturday's (Mar 25) Liberty Insurance Open Water South-East Asian (SEA) Qualifiers 2017.

Two men and three women made the SEA Games 'A' cut timings. However, only the top two in each category will be nominated by the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) to compete in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Swimmers at the Liberty Insurance Open Water swimming event

Benedict Boon and Erasmus Ang finished first and second, respectively, in the Men's 10km Open Water Swimming event. They both went under the 'A' cut timing of 2 hours 15 minutes 29.80 seconds.

Benedict's brother, Brandon, was the bronze medallist in the 5km Open Water Swimming event when the race was last competed at the 2011 SEA Games in Palembang, Indonesia.

In the Women's category, Chantal Liew and Chin Khar Yi came in first and second, respectively. They swam under the 'A' cut timing of 2 hours 38 minutes and 47.39 seconds, as did Herlene Natasha Yu. Organisers later clarified that Genevieve Lye, which was earlier reported to have made the cut, was disqualified. 

SSA president Lee Kok Choy said: "Open water swimming is extremely challenging, and requires significant courage, determination and will-power to compete across 10km. We are impressed by the challenge put up by all the long-distance swimmers here today. It was a tough swim and I’d like to congratulate each and every participant for finishing the race.

"Also, I am delighted for Benedict, Erasmus, Chantal and Khar Yi, who have made it for the 29th SEA Games 2017 nomination.”

A total of 16 swimmers - nine men and seven women - participated in the qualifiers.

Hernandez equals Mexico goals record in 2-0 win over Costa Rica NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 12:25:24 +0800MEXICO CITY: Striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez scored a record-equalling 46th international goal to send Mexico on their way to a 2-0 win over Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier on Friday.

Chicharito struck in the seventh minute at the Azteca with a deft chip over goalkeeper Keylor Navas to equal the Mexican record set by former striker Jared Borgetti in 2008.

Football Soccer - Mexico v Costa Rica - World Cup 2018 Qualifiers

Defender Nestor Araujo increased Mexico's lead on the stroke of halftime when he headed in a corner.

The victory lifted Mexico over Costa Rica into top place in the fifth and final phase of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 finals in Russia with seven points from three matches.

Costa Rica are second with six points and Panama third with four - after their 1-0 defeat away to Trinidad and Tobago - in the three automatic qualifying berths.

The team finishing in fourth place when the matches in the six-nation group are completed plays off over two legs against an Asian side for one more place at the finals.

(Reporting by Carlos Calvo; Writing by Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

Vettel beats own lap record in final practice NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 12:20:15 +0800MELBOURNE: Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel beat his own lap record at Albert Park as he topped the timesheet in the final free practice before the Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday.

The four-times champion German's lap of one minute 23.380 seconds eclipsed his pole record of 1:23.529 set at the lakeside circuit in 2011 and was nearly half a second faster than both the Mercedes cars.

Mercedes' new driver Valtteri Bottas, who replaced retired champion Nico Rosberg, was second fastest, just edging three-times champion team mate Lewis Hamilton.

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was fourth, with Nico Hulkenberg fifth in his Renault.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was sixth fastest, with his team mate Max Verstappen 12th.

Williams' rookie driver Lance Stroll skidded into a barrier and blew a tyre, causing the red flag to be raised with 10 minutes left in the session.

The session was then called off, leaving constructors' champions Mercedes unable to improve upon their times and adding spice to the qualifying session later on Saturday (0600 GMT).

Hamilton was fastest in both practice sessions on Friday.

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

Smith, Warner give Australia strong start after Renshaw loss NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 12:05:13 +0800DHARAMSALA, India: Steve Smith continued his prolific run with the bat and David Warner capitalised on an early reprieve to give Australia a strong start on the opening day of the fourth and final test on Saturday.

Smith was batting on 72 at lunch, his third 50-plus score in the series, with Australia on 131-1 and appearing in a good position to post a big first innings total against India.

Cricket - India v Australia - Fourth Test cricket match

Warner was not fully convincing but made 54 not out at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium, which is hosting its first test.

Regular India skipper Virat Kohli missed the decider having failed to recover from the shoulder injury he had sustained in the drawn third test in Ranchi.

Kohli had played 54 consecutive tests for India but will have to watch from the sidelines as Ajinkya Rahane leads the hosts.

Replacing Ishant Sharma in the Indian side, Bhuvneshwar Kumar swung the first ball of the match to induce an edge from Warner but Karun Nair spilled it at third slip.

India did not have to wait long for the breakthrough though.

In the next over, Umesh Yadav pushed one through Matt Renshaw's gate and pegged back his off-stump to dismiss the in-form opener for one.

Smith, the leading scorer of the series, looked characteristically fluent, while Warner, his partner in the flourishing 121-run partnership, was troubled by off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.

Smith needed 67 balls to bring up his 50 and has hit 10 boundaries in his knock. Warner hit Ashwin over the mid-off for a six en route to his first fifty of the series.

While Australia fielded an unchanged squad, India replaced Kohli with debutant left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav in a bold move to go into the match with five bowlers.

The four-test series is level at 1-1.

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

Sauber's Wehrlein withdrawn from Australian Grand Prix NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 11:45:16 +0800MELBOURNE: Sauber have withdrawn driver Pascal Wehrlein from the Australian Grand Prix due to fitness concerns and replaced him with Antonio Giovinazzi, the Formula One team said on Saturday.

The German injured his back in a crash at the Race of Champions in Miami in January and was replaced by Giovinazzi for the first winter test in Barcelona.

Formula One - F1 - Australian Grand Prix - Melbourne, Australia

Wehrlein returned for the second test and was cleared this week to drive in the season-opening race at Albert Park but withdrew before free practice on Saturday.

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit," Wehrlein said in a team statement.

"I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team.”

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

People with disabilities need to be active agents of inclusion: Para-athlete Wong Meng Ee Local NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 11:37:16 +0800SINGAPORE: In the world of para-athletics, Wong Meng Ee may not be a name that competes with the likes of Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh. But the visually-impaired associate professor and swimmer can hold his own when it comes to personal achievements.

He owns a bronze medal won at the ASEAN Para Games in 2015, runs marathons, and currently teaches courses in special education at the National Institute of Education.

Wong Meng Ee in office

At the age of 10, he discovered that he was losing his vision due to a genetic degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa. His sight loss was progressive.

He went “On the Record” with Bharati Jagdish about Government and community efforts at inclusivity, and his experience as a teacher and para-athlete. They spoke first about how he has come to terms with his incurable condition.

Wong Meng Ee: In the initial years, when there were reports about a new procedure, or when there are certain reports in the papers suggesting that there is a potential breakthrough, clearly your hopes rise, and you turn to further investigation. But time and again, you realise a lot of these reports are a little bit sensationalised by the time they reach the media.

I think many patients clearly have a sense of hope, but the reality is that most of these things are really clearly still quite far away in the future before they can become usable by patients. So I think you confront these things with some level of disappointment and despair and frustration because you have been waiting.

It seems like this cure is so elusive despite the medical advancements in this context. So time ticks, and whether there is a cure or not, chronologically, we are getting older and we are advancing through the school years. But the reality is that we have to get on with our lives. I think that is a real issue that we have to confront on a day-to-day basis. Given that the medical advancements are still very elusive, at some points in our lives we have to address that reality bites and we still have to deal with the here and now - school issues, thinking about employment in the future, etc.

Bharati Jagdish: Do you still hold out hope for a cure?

Wong: I have it in the back of my mind that one day there will be a breakthrough. For myself at least, I very quickly came to not chase the cure, and not chase that science or breakthrough. I think it's important not to focus on that completely. Life still goes on and we want to live a fulfilling life. I think waiting for the cure can sometimes be a hindrance; and wanting that cure to come before we live life - I think it doesn't work that way. Perhaps that reality is a concurrent sense of hope that there would be a cure available at some point, but at the same time we have to participate and try to lead a fulfilling life.

Bharati: I’m sure it was challenging for you to come to a complete acceptance of your condition.

Wong: Absolutely. I am not sure if it's an issue of complete acceptance. I am unlike very strong disability advocates out there who say that they wouldn't change their lives if they had a chance to, that they are very happy in their bodies as a disabled person. I am confronted with certain challenges that might be associated with my lack of sight. I know very well that if I have a sense of sight, there wouldn’t be challenges. If tomorrow my ophthalmologist calls me up and tells me that they have found a breakthrough and they have a procedure ready, I would be very happy to explore going through this procedure to have my sight restored.

I think this whole notion of acceptance is probably one that is cyclical. There are days we push this whole notion of impairment at the back of our heads and get on with our lives. There are days we are confronted with small challenges, big challenges, and we are frustrated with these obstacles and we go through this process of feeling frustrated, and wanting to find a solution to overcome this impairment.


Bharati: You say this as an adult. What were your growing-up years like though?

Wong: It was difficult because it's also an issue of trying to find one's identity, and because disability has always been framed as such a negative, hopeless, tragic context, it has tremendous impact on people who are diagnosed with incurable diseases earlier. I think that continues today, because of that history of what disability represents, what it means, and what are the implications ahead. People would respond to it with a lot of despair, fear of the unknown, how their life course might change tremendously because of this diagnosis. So identity would be one of the difficult points where young people with disability might experience.

Bharati: How did you deal with it?

Wong: I don't think I dealt with it very well. Being in school, you want to belong to the "in" crowd. There is a fundamental need not to be different. You want to be normal as it were. I think that was quite a difficult time for me. I was struggling to come to terms with it myself and how do I belong to this larger school, class context, where you have friends talking about things they can do, and I felt somewhat detached from those activities.

Bharati: You went to a mainstream school.

Wong: Yes. My being there reinforced that I was dissimilar from everyone else. After that, I went to the school for the blind in the UK and I could sense that difference quite immediately, quite tangibly. I had a visual impairment, but everyone else also had a visual impairment. That point of difference wasn't that conspicuous anymore. I think that gave me a period of time that I didn't feel different but I felt accepted and very much one of the crowd.

Bharati: You clearly preferred it.

Wong: I preferred it in some sense, but I also knew that was not real as it were, because it is such a sheltered environment. You have a community of people who are visually impaired living together. I think that's fine, but we live in the much wider society in the world, where we have a diversity of people.

Bharati: A lot of special needs advocates believe in integration in the wider society rather than isolation.

Wong: That's right. I think that's important. Otherwise there are pockets of people in the world living in silos, not being integrated into society. I think the ultimate push would be to have a more inclusive society.


Bharati: We’ll talk more about that in a moment. First, tell me what it was like going to a mainstream Singapore school? What challenges did you face at the time?

Wong: It was about my parents and myself going to the teachers, asking for the enlarged materials, reminding them that I would need additional support. We are going back 30 years ago, 40 years ago. We didn't have the Internet at that time, so what you think would be appropriate needs the school should offer, could be limited because of a lack of generalised materials available.

A lot of the time we were dependent on teachers and teachers with goodwill, teachers who remember to help, to make the enlargements, to teach in a way that is accessible to me. For example reading things on the blackboard, and articulating information on the blackboard. These are some simple steps, and you don't always get teachers who would do that, and teachers say they sometimes genuinely forget. It comes down then, to almost the goodwill of teachers, whether they remember. Many variables come into it and that can make the school experience challenging or difficult to handle for someone who is struggling to make sense of their disability.

Bharati: Today things might have improved. But some special needs advocates say that more needs to be done in terms of training teachers. Since you specialise in special education at NIE, tell us why not more is being done to make special education a larger part of every teacher’s training?

Wong: There is some disability content introduced to some of our mainstream teachers who come through our teaching curriculum and they are prepared to work with students with diverse needs. I agree that more can be done, and more should be put into the curriculum to help teachers in the mainstream to work with students with disability. We also have a course which is an elective for teachers who have already been trained as part of their professional development, and they come back and attend different courses that would work to give them the foundational knowledge to help them better work with students of specifically different needs. You have to make a conscious choice to work at that.

The curriculum already is very packed and the content is really competing with a lot of other content that needs to be rolled out for them. I think the initial support would be the allied educators who support the teachers, and this becomes an available resource for teachers in the mainstream to support these students with special needs. Clearly allied educators are not enough to be the single champion for the school. We want to have teachers to be also knowledgeable about how to work with the students within the classroom. So yes, I do recognise that.

File photo of students in classroom

Bharati: Why isn't it happening though?

Wong: I think efforts are now beginning to be put in place. There is a forthcoming effort to standardise the practices of teachers within Singapore. There is greater content within this effort to include work on special needs. This is in the pipeline as I understand it. Hopefully this would equip more teachers, to have greater knowledge shared with them to be able to support students with special needs.

Bharati: You mentioned earlier the challenges of everyday life – not just school, but employment too. Many people with special needs have problems getting employed even if they are competent enough to do the job. How did you manage to be successful?

Wong: Employment has always been difficult. It's a perennial problem in the world for people with disabilities and it’s no different here. For myself when I finished my studies, I came back to Singapore and I looked at sending out CVs. I was considering going into academia to build on the training that I had.

Meeting people was an important first step when I went for the interview, and I think having met them and talked to them, it helped to correct some misconceptions.  They were willing to meet. I think that was very helpful to me. The initial process wasn't as smooth. They still felt that there were areas that I may not be able to execute if I were to receive the job, and how would I then overcome these challenges which might be primary, core roles and responsibilities I would have to carry out.

So the initial phase was difficult because it's a lot of convincing and putting people at ease with what I can do or how I can overcome certain challenges to do the work I have to execute. Sometimes the mindset is because they have not seen this in action. If your mind is not exposed to that kind of possibility, then most of them would close the door on you. I think that's the issue that many persons with disabilities experience if they actually make it to the interview table. I think most people may not have a chance to make it to the interview table.

Bharati: What did you do to make it happen?

Wong: I would say my first attempt at going to NIE was unsuccessful, and I think the conclusion was that I was not ready, and I did not have a lot of the prerequisite experience, and therefore I should somehow try and gather some of that experience before they would give me a chance.

So I looked elsewhere for employment given that door was closed at that point. I worked in social services for a bit, and worked on disability services, looked at some research in disability as well. That was about four years in my employment life, but always having this nagging sense that I would like to return to academia if there was an opportunity to return to that.

Thankfully another opportunity arose, and by that time, I was given quite a few opportunities in between to somewhat beef up my CV and hopefully make a stronger case for my application. That came about and I think one could say the timing was right. People were more willing to give me a chance. Together with the support within my department at NIE now, I think the collective support was tremendous and, in terms of attitudinal support, they wanted me in that department.

I think that makes a whole lot of difference - that they want you there, that they see value in what you want to contribute, so I think it has also a lot to do with the organisation. Do they want the individual. Are they prepared to welcome the person in?

Bharati: How do you think the employment prospects of people with disabilities can be increased? There are some Government initiatives in this regard, but again it requires mindset change on the ground. It requires employers to keep their minds open, to realise that just because this person has a special need, it doesn't mean he can't execute the job I need to hire him for.

Wong: I think having different pathways to achieving one's aspirations, having different pathways to be understanding what might be deemed as success is important. I think in the past we've had very fixed notions of what individuals need to satisfy, what qualifications they need to have in terms of getting them into an organisation. But I think if we are beginning to relax that a little, and see beyond very fixed notions of competence, it’s important. I am not suggesting that we hire people who are incompetent, but they may have competence in other areas, competence they can leverage to be contributing members of a particular organisation. I think we can begin to introduce, explore, a wider range of talent within an organisation.

Bharati: How to really convince people to give those with special needs a chance though?

Wong: I think continuous efforts to make that change. Maybe through early internship programmes, opportunities to work over summer breaks. It's an opportunity for them to learn about the work, but it's an opportunity for the organisation to get to know them as an individual. I think the previous impression of disabled persons, because it's been founded on very little and maybe stereotyped perspectives of what these persons are, it doesn't help them.

Bharati: Make a case for employers to do more.

Wong: I think if you strip the special needs, if you look at them based on their achievements, I dare say that their job application would be as common as anyone else's. See the application for itself and what this person brings to the table and brings to the organisation. I think they could, through their own range of experiences, bring something unique to the organisation.

Just for example’s sake – if the disabled person has not served National Service and the person without disability has, that shouldn’t become a minus point for the person with disability. Perhaps within that time frame, they had done something else that could have strengthened their application in other ways. Understandably, it's a difficult comparison. At the same time, people with disabilities need to be able to fill in those blanks very strongly in order to make their CVs as appealing as a person without a disability.

Bharati: At this stage, what would you say can be done better, bearing in mind the Government’s Enabling Masterplans?

Wong: I think maybe it's not so much about the Government putting out a masterplan or putting out policies, but on the ground, the people, the community itself. Instead of waiting for blueprints to be put out, how about people stepping forward to be immediate champions within their own communities? I think that is very much more executable within the immediate person's range of control.

Clearly, Government would still remain important in setting down some of the key policies and programmes in place and we need people to drive them, but the key drivers needs to be people within the community, your neighbours, your fellow citizens in making inclusion more executable.


Bharati: Surveys show that while people say they accept people with special needs, they are not comfortable with, for example in the classroom context, their child sitting next to a child with a disability. Or in the work environment, they are not comfortable with hiring or working with someone with special needs. Now, there’s an initiative in the works to be more inclusive at the pre-school level so that able kids get to interact with people with special needs and to grow up with them so that people with disabilities are accepted in a more organic way going forward. But to what extent do you think we need more disability awareness education in schools today at all levels instead of waiting for a whole new generation of Singaporeans to grow up in that way?

Wong: Sounds like we are hearing inclusive attitudes only when it's convenient, right? We have to eradicate that. One of the things that have already taken place is starting from young - this inclusive pre-school. I think that sounds like a perfect place to begin. But yes, I think that's absolutely important at all levels today. I have given talks in some of these modules and we tend to see familiar faces there. The people who probably need to and who could benefit from disability awareness sessions are not attending these things. I think it’s very difficult to get them to attend. We’re looking at it in too much of a "it's not happening to me, it's happening to someone else" mindset. But if all of us pause for a moment, and think about whether you have or might in the future, have a person in your family, whether immediate or extended, with a disability, I think we can slowly take disability awareness more seriously. It's an issue that could be highly likely in one's ageing years.

Bharati: Do you think disability awareness should be compulsory in schools at every level?

Wong: Certainly it can start there. I believe there is some content in the school’s character-building module, but yes, I think furthering that and getting that exposure much wider, and having disabilities seem more visible is important. That only comes with integration. The workplace is one very key thing. I think many people don't have a colleague who has disability, and because they don't think about that, it would never be an issue for them. At the end of the day it's still an issue of consolidated collective support. I always come back to myself and people with disabilities in general.

I think inclusion is not just one part in terms of whether it's a school, office environment, an organisation, but the people with disability need to be an active agent of inclusion in the sense that they should work towards helping themselves be “inclusion-able”. This is so that they are not isolated or they are not left in the margins without helping themselves contribute towards that movement of greater inclusion. I think maybe starting with a sense of humour, being able to laugh at yourself and not to see disability as always a tragedy, or a negative outcome.

I think if we can laugh at ourselves, and help people laugh along and make them feel comfortable being around a person with disability, it helps break down the barriers. Of course, don't laugh at the disability, but other things.

I am not enveloped with bitterness, but if you buy me a coffee or a beer, we can have a good laugh about some other common topic, because I am sure we have a wide range of interests that would overlap with some of the interests that you have. 


Bharati: You’re also a para-athlete. What made you want to swim competitively?

Wong: I started to learn to swim as a young boy. We used to watch the Olympics on TV and got very excited every time our little team Singapore was in the Olympics. We had a small contingent - Ang Peng Siong, David Lim, Oon Jin Gee - these were the key swimmers when I was growing up and you would know about them. I felt absolutely proud when we were able to win medals and fly our flag high. Being already a swimmer myself I thought it would be great if I had the chance to do the same.

Dr Wong Meng Ee

Bharati: One hot button issue has been the lack of parity between monetary rewards that able-bodied athletes get and those that our para-athletes get for winning medals. How do you feel about this issue?

Wong: You are absolutely right. It's a very controversial topic. I think disability sport is still maturing. There are many classifications within disability sports. There are some arguments that the International Paralympic Council’s attempt to introduce some level of parity even within the sport is in itself not a perfect science. The intention is to place a person in a category based on who fits and represents that category most appropriately.  There will be detractors who would say and have a different point of view in that sense.

Bharati: Sure, there are detractors, but what do you think?

Wong: I think it's a maturing sport. The whole disability sport movement is a maturing sport in motion, and as I said earlier on whether there is disagreement even within the classifications.

Let me just give you an example. If we look at Joseph Schooling, I am not sure how tall he is, I think he's about 6’ 1’’. I was just looking at Ian Thorpe's statistics recently. He is 6’ 5’’. Many people have talked often about Ian Thorpe's feet being size 17. I am not sure about Michael Phelp's height and feet. Here we have two able-bodied swimmers who are competing against each other in the same category. Joseph Schooling doesn't swim in a category that is for his particular height group, and likewise, Ian Thorpe doesn't swim in a category for swimmers of his particular height even though physiology could play a role in a swimmer’s performance.

Bharati: While that is true, height and foot size are not taken into account in the able-bodied competition. A gold medal is a gold medal no matter the height differential. So how do you use this as a justification for able-bodied athletes getting a larger monetary reward for their gold medals than our para-athletes? Sure the para-athletes need to be sorted into categories based on the level of their disability but after that has been done, why should their achievements be worth less than their able-bodied counterparts?

Wong: I’ll put it this way. I think in the '92 Games, the basketball team of one particular country was disqualified, because most or some members, or maybe even all of their members were feigning their disability. I have witnessed in certain situations where in terms of testing for visual impairment, there are athletes who exaggerate the level of their disability in order to be placed into a different category class, in a less competitive race compared to what they might otherwise be placed in. 

Bharati: A less competitive race would increase their chances of winning a medal.

Wong: So if I use a very exaggerated example, if I know that I am going to be competing with Michael Phelps vs “Joe Ordinary”, I would take “Joe Ordinary” over Michael Phelps with the idea that this would give me a much better chance at a win. 

Bharati: But the fact that the basketball team was caught and disqualified shows that there are systems in place to weed out such individuals. Do you believe the system isn’t robust enough and that these incidents are still rampant?

Wong: I don’t believe that it's rampant, but there are these challenges within the system that make it very challenging for competitors to be seen to be on par, even within that particular sport or competition as well. I cannot comment if there are many cases that go unnoticed.

Systems are put in place to evaluate if athletes have a bona fide impairment. Medical tests and examinations go some way to verify the conditions. Part of the examinations will depend on individuals to respond or react to stimulus and to offer individuals a chance to express and verify their situations at that point in time. It is not unusual for conditions to fluctuate depending on environment and the condition itself. At the same time, this is where misrepresentation of a condition can also be deliberately distorted to improve one’s chance in competition. This is the grey area and can be subject to abuse especially in situations where the verification of the impairment is complex. 

Bharati: You are not suggesting any of our para-athletes have done this, are you?

Wong: No, no, absolutely not. I think we do a good job locally in trying to remind our athletes to be forthcoming and they are measured in a way that best represents their respective physical attributes.

Bharati: If our athletes have integrity, why should they be penalised for others' possible lack of it?

Wong: I’m not saying that, but I think there is a sense of whether athletes are adequately and appropriately classified in certain cases. That, I think, opens up some questions to the competition and athletes. Are they competing fully within their individual class, or might that be an issue of imperfection within that system?

Bharati: By virtue of that, do you think we shouldn't take any of the medals that our para-athletes won seriously?

Wong: I am not suggesting that, but I come back to the point that the sport is still maturing. Those imperfections need to be modified and improved. Those classifications need to be narrowed or widened, or reduced in the sense that it best represents the athletes within each of their classes or classifications. I guess the devil is in the details. What is fair? The answer to that question is so elusive in the sense that there will be grey areas, and those grey areas are very difficult to iron out.

While I trust athletes do not step forward with the intention to cheat, the system nevertheless, because of its classification and how it is set up, also has the potential of pitching individuals into situations that may question the appropriateness of grouping.

One way to understand this is to consider the margins that exists between athletes and even across class categories. Some races of a more severe category may result in athletes not only winning within their own class categories, but also surpassing those in categories of lesser severity. Further, the margins by which these athletes win then raises question whether these athletes would be better classified in one or two categories higher, or in other words, a more appropriate class category in the first place?

We expect to see close finishes in races, but not by huge margins. Of course this could be argued to be the athlete’s prowess but in a sport such as disability sports, the question of appropriate classification hangs over the race.  This is the challenge of disability sports: To decide on the parity of abilities amongst athletes.

Bharati: Those same questions can be asked about able-bodied athletes. As you pointed out earlier, should height be considered, should weight be considered, should shoe size be considered? Joseph Schooling won a gold medal despite being shorter than Michael Phelps, but even if he were the same height or taller, he would have been rewarded the same. I don’t think the authorities would have said that because his height advantage made it easier for him to win, they would give him less money for his gold medal. So since these things are not considered in a swimming race for able-bodied athletes, how does that relate to your argument?

Wong: The competition is far greater in the able-bodied competition there. I think the number of competitors there is much, much more intense. In terms of disability sports, the uptake is still maturing. We still don't have as many competitors compared to the able-bodied sports.

Bharati: So now you are saying that we shouldn't expect para-athletes to be rewarded in the same way as the able-bodied athletes because the competition is less intense.

Wong: I think it's a combination of factors - difficult classification issues and the competition may not be in its full potential. I think it's something which needs to grow. I think disability sport is something that is still growing and we need to iron out those issues first. There is no question that our para-athletes work hard. It takes tremendous effort to be able to go for the training, etc.

I think perhaps the reward should be in the front-end, and not at the back-end when they have competed and completed. Maybe the issue here is that instead of seeing it as a reward, why don’t we see it as an enabling push in the front, to help make that training easier, and at the same time I think that widens the range of participation going into competition. That might help to mature the sport a lot more.

Wong Meng Ee during 2013 Standard Chartered Marathon

Assistant Professor Wong Meng Ee (left) and his guide, Mr Lawrence Ang (right), setting the pace at the 2013 Standard Chartered Marathon. 

Bharati: In terms of that type of support at least, would you like to see parity between able-bodied athletes and para-athletes?

Wong: Yes, I think that is important.

Bharati: How did you finance your sporting dreams?

Wong: That came from my own pocket. We did have some token allowances to help defray some of the costs, but by and large, again, it comes back to the individual’s desire to want to swim, or be able to compete in the sport and to take that up as something more seriously than a leisure experience. 

Bharati: Convincing people to put money behind it. How to do so? There is already difficulty in convincing people to put money behind able-bodied athletes. What more para-athletes

Wong: We have a good number of paralympians, successful paralympians. I think these are clearly role models that can send out very strong signals that with commitment, we really have a chance here in Singapore to groom para-athletes and take them right up to the world stage. That is a tremendous commitment on their part, tremendous commitment on the part of their families. I think it's a wonderful testimony. I think if we can leverage on more of these opportunities to reach out to potential sponsors to demonstrate that maybe the infrastructure here is unique or the infrastructure here is able to groom and produce world-class athletes, it has potential to interest donors here.

But I think maybe beyond the sport, what else can we think about beyond just reaching that climax. What lies beyond the climax? Maybe we need to look into that and study that and understand what comes beyond that climax and how do these champions bring that back to the community. What value can they bring to the community? I don't know what Michael Phelps is bringing to the community beyond reaching that pinnacle, but I’m sure he is of great value. How are such athletes contributing in terms of inspiring others in any field? Maybe that can be the focus too and that would convince donors too.  

Injured Kohli misses final test against Australia NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 11:30:17 +0800DHARAMSALA, India: India captain Virat Kohli was ruled out of the fourth and final test against Australia shortly before the start of the match on Saturday with a shoulder injury he had suffered in the previous match in Ranchi.

"He had said in the press that he will only play if he's 100 percent fit, that has not been the case. So unfortunately he missed out," India's batting coach Sanjay Bangar told the official broadcasters at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium.

Cricket - India v Australia - Third Test cricket match

Kohli hurt his shoulder while diving to stop a boundary in the drawn third test in Ranchi and was seen fielding at close-in and throwing with his left hand.

Ajinkya Rahane will lead India in Kohli's absence in the crucial final match of the four-test series which is level at 1-1.

Kohli came into the series having registered a double century in each of the preceding four series but has since struggled with the bat, managing 46 runs in five innings.

In his pre-match media interaction, Kohli said the team was good enough to do well in his absence.

Counterpart Steve Smith also backed Rahane's leadership, saying he was impressed how the Mumbai player led in Kohli's absence in Ranchi.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in Dharamsala; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

France's Macron seen winning first round of presidentials, Fillon slips - BVA poll, 25 Mar 2017 11:20:15 +0800PARIS: Emmanuel Macron is set to win the first round of the French general election in four weeks time, BVA pollsters said, becoming the latest survey team to put the independent centrist ahead of far-right leader Marine Le Pen for the first time.

For graphic on French presidential election, click:

Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche ! (Onwards !) and a candidate for the 201

The BVA poll did not give a second round prediction, but most that have done so in recent months show Macron easily beating the National Front leader in the second-round run-off due to take place between the top two scorers on May 7.

Macron will get 26 percent of the first round vote, up one percentage point from his showing a week ago, BVA said. It put Le Pen on 25 percent, down one point.

Scandal-hit third-placed candidate Francois Fillon slipped 2.5 percentage points on the week to 17 percent.

That showing follows a TV interview on Thursday night in which the conservative and erstwhile favourite accused President Francois Hollande of leading a smear campaign against him.

The poll was conducted between Wednesday and Friday.

It also showed far left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon gaining ground, up 2 points from a week earlier to 14 percent.

Melenchon was considered by voters to have done well in the first TV debate between the main candidates that took place on Monday evening. Macron was also seen to have performed well in the debate.

Anime fan Chin Han on fleshing out his role in Ghost in the Shell, 25 Mar 2017 10:00:00 +0800SINGAPORE: The Dark Knight, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Independence Day: Resurgence and now, the much-talked-about live-action adaptation of seminal Japanese manga Ghost in the Shell.

With a constant stream of supporting roles in massive blockbusters alongside A-list stars and major television credits, it’s easy to proclaim Chin Han as Singapore’s only bona fide Hollywood star.

Chin Han with Rupert Sanders

But the 47-year-old actor, whose full name is Ng Chin Han, is hesitant about such labels and the pressure it brings.

“I feel as much pressure as anyone does about their work really,” he told Channel NewsAsia. “You just want to be productive, only difference is that the work is seen and judged by a few more people.”

It is those “few more people” - or perhaps more accurately a collective worldwide blockbuster cinema audience of millions of eyeballs- that has set our local boy on the upward trajectory to cement his place in the competitive world of Hollywood.

Chin Han as Togusa in Ghost In The Shell (Photo: UIP)

Chin Han sports a mullet as Togusa in the live-action adaptation of Ghost In The Shell (Photo:UIP)

It has also landed him solid roles such as Togusa, a Section 9 intelligence agent who works alongside Scarlet Johansson’s Major in the upcoming live-action Ghost in the Shell based on Masamune Shirow’s groundbreaking manga.

The film’s director Rupert Sanders told Channel NewsAsia that he remembered seeing Chin Han in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and thinking “that guy is really good”.

“When we came to talking about the character (of Togusa), his name came out and I remembered that (The Dark Knight) scene. It was a very small scene he was in but he’s a very good actor,” said Sanders. “He’s very good in our film - he’s the information wizard. When we’re writing a scene on the sly and we have to give this information succinctly, I was like ‘Where’s Chin Han?’ and he’ll come in and deliver it. Great, all done!”

Ghost in The Shell’s leading lady Johansson also had nothing but praises for the Singaporean, reiterating how important he was as their go-to actor to deliver heavy informational dialogue.

“Chin Han is great. He’s very dry … super dry! In a way, he feels more like New Yorker to me actually,” Johansson told Channel NewsAsia with a laugh. “He’s awesome. He could deliver some pretty crazy dialogue just seamlessly! If we had to explain any technical thing, I was like, ‘Give it to Chin Han! Chin Han will do it!' Yeah he was great …”

It is perhaps this very healthy work ethic that keeps his co-stars happy and the actor constantly employed. A self-professed big fan of all sorts of anime and graphic novels - ranging from Alan Moore and Frank Miller to Aikra - growing up in Singapore, Chin Han prepared diligently for his role in the film.

“I went back to re-read and watch all of Ghost in the Shell from manga to anime to the TV series and had many discussions with Rupert (Sanders), Kurt and Bart our costume designers, and hair and make-up to flesh out the character,” he said. “And then there is the physical conditioning and paramilitary training with customised weapons for months on end.”

He told Channel NewsAsia that aside from his obvious love for the Ghost in the Shell canon (he revealed his entry point was Mamoru Oshii's landmark anime film), there was another reason why he specifically wanted to be part of this live-action adaptation.

“I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with technology and how it insinuates itself into our lives, for example I always prefer talking face-to-face with friends than texting or calling, and if I want to get updates on their lives, I don’t go to Facebook but meet them in person,” he said. “So I feel this movie addresses my concerns about how we relate to artificial intelligence and scientific advancements and its dangers as well.”

On a lighter note, Chin Han really enjoyed working with co-star Johansson.

“I don’t know if anyone else knows this, but I love that she can speak some Mandarin!” he revealed. “She learnt it from her time on Lucy which was partly filmed in Taipei.”

“Scarlett is a very committed actress, her physicality and strength is equal to folks on the stunt team,” he continued. “And for an action movie with complicated set pieces it’s always good to know that your fellow actor has got your back.”

He also gushed about legendary Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano, calling him "a joy”. “He has such gravitas onscreen but a great sense of humor and graciousness off-screen as well,” he said.

What he wasn’t too excited about by the end of the shoot? The mullet he faithfully grew in keeping with all the authentic look of all Togusas in the Ghost in the Shell oeuvre.

“It was 90 per cent me. My natural hair was down to my chin and the rest was augmented,” he shared with a laugh. “I enjoyed it for the first few months in New Zealand and by the end of the shoot in Hong Kong, I was ready to cut it off.”

China vice premier says major nations should bolster mutual trust, respect, 25 Mar 2017 09:55:16 +0800BOAO, China: Major countries should bolster mutual trust and respect, and stick to dialogue to settle disputes, China's Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said at the opening of the Boao Forum for Asia on Saturday.

Major nations should take responsibility for maintaining peace, Zhang said, adding that China would remain a force for peace and stability in the world.

Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli makes a speech during the Philippines - China Trade and Investment

(Reporting by Elias Glenn; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by robert Birsel)

US Jewish groups beef up security after threats despite arrest, 25 Mar 2017 09:20:20 +0800NEW YORK: The arrest in Israel on Thursday of a U.S.-Israeli teenager suspected of a rash of hoax bomb threats targeting Jewish community centres across the United States brought some relief to community leaders, who nevertheless say they will stick to plans to beef up security.

Executives at several Jewish organizations said the threats helped identify potential vulnerabilities that must be addressed, regardless of whether the suspect is ultimately found to have been behind the bulk of the incidents.

FILE PHOTO - U.S.-Israeli teen arrested in Israel on suspicion of making bomb threats against Jewis

Planned changes include improvements to physical infrastructure such as cameras and restricted entrances; additional security staff; and increased training.

"Whether or not this suspect turns out to be responsible for the threats specific to this centre is irrelevant," said Brian Greene, executive director of Westside Jewish Community Centre in Los Angeles, which has received two threats since February. "We want to make sure we are a safe space."

Israeli authorities have not identified the 18-year-old arrested on Thursday but said he has dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship.

The threats, which included five separate waves of calls starting in early January, forced evacuations at dozens of JCCs, including some with day care and school facilities. The JCC Association of North America has tracked 133 threats in 36 states and Canada in 2017.

JCCs are open to everyone, and several have memberships that are majority non-Jewish. But Jewish leaders said an apparent rise in anti-Semitism beyond the specific JCC threats, including desecration of Jewish cemeteries and painting of swastikas in schools, has helped bolster the case that enhanced security is needed.

"Building a security culture is not new to this community," said Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, a nonprofit organization set up in 2004 to provide security training to Jewish groups.

JCC leaders also said the sheer volume of the threats made them unlike anything seen in decades, if ever.

"It's really unique," said David Posner, who oversees the JCC Association's security outreach to local centres. "It's unprecedented, the scale of it."

Since the threats began, the Secure Community Network has helped the U.S. Department of Homeland Security deploy about 100 experts to various JCCs to offer advice. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have also visited centres to provide training.


Meanwhile, individual JCCs are beefing up security. The JCC in New York state capital Albany, for instance, closed one of its two entrances, installed a new desk that allows a better view of the front door and added another staff member there.

At the JCC of Syracuse, also in New York state, workers will soon install an inner security door controlled by a guard, rather than letting people walk freely in and out of the building.

"I think the amount of anti-Semitism that we're seeing around the world has made us more aware," said Marci Erlebacher, the centre's director.

The Levite JCC in Birmingham, Alabama, has launched a US$1 million emergency fundraising campaign to pay for security improvements at Jewish institutions throughout the city. The centre is also taking steps to restrict access at its entrances and install more advanced cameras.

The Westside JCC in Los Angeles started its own security fundraising campaign, raising US$50,000 in the first two days.

JCCs are also reviewing safety procedures, such as evacuation protocols that call for changing up exits or gathering spots in case a threat is a pretext.

"The chances of there being an actual bomb are less than 1 percent," said Betzy Lynch, the director of the Birmingham centre. "The chance that someone is trying to get us to evacuate to do something else is greater."

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Bull market not dead as tax reform takes spotlight BusinessSat, 25 Mar 2017 09:15:18 +0800NEW YORK: The death of the Republican healthcare reform may not prove to be the knife to the heart of the bull market some had feared, but to keep the Trump Trade alive investors should temper expectations for the breadth of expected tax cuts.

Anxiety over prospects for the healthcare bill gave stocks their largest weekly drop since the November presidential election. But its failure to pass could also force the Trump administration to come up with a palatable tax reform that could deliver this year some of the stimulus Wall Street has rallied on.

Traders work on the floor of the NYSE

The S&P 500 rose as much as 12 percent since the surprise Nov. 8 election win President Donald Trump, mostly on bets that lower taxes, deregulation and fiscal stimulus would boost economic growth and corporate earnings.

As he acknowledged defeat for the healthcare bill, Trump said Republicans would likely pivot to tax reform. Bets on that shift in focus were seen in stocks late on Friday, as the market cut its day losses when news of the health bill being pulled emerged.

"The market believes it raises the probability of a tax cut later this year since Trump is showing more strategic behavior. (It) puts the market a little more at ease," said Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer of multi-asset strategies and solutions at Voya Investment Management in New York.

On the campaign trail Trump promised to lower the corporate tax to 15 percent. In order to make the tax reform revenue-neutral, and agreeable to the most money-sensitive wing of his party, his administration counted on savings from the health bill that will no longer materialize.

"If we want to get something passed by the August break, it’s going to look a lot like tax reform light,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.

"If we settle somewhere between the 25-30 percent corporate tax rate, that is far from the 15 percent offered in the campaign trail and the 20 percent currently in the House plan, (and) I think that’s where we end up."

Softer cuts in corporate taxes leave stocks vulnerable after a rally on hopes for more, he said.

"It’s not a negative, it’s just not the positive the market had priced in."

Aside from Trump's pro-growth agenda some investors have pointed to an improving global economy and expectations for double-digit growth in corporate earnings as support for the lofty valuations in stocks.

"The evidence suggests to me that there is some Trump fairy dust sprinkled on this rally. That said, the underlying fundamentals do look better," said Alan Gayle, director of asset allocation at RidgeWorth Investments in Atlanta, Georgia.

A survey on Friday showed Germany's private sector grew at the fastest pace in nearly six years in March, suggesting an acceleration in growth for Europe's largest economy in the first quarter.

Stocks could also turn to earnings to justify their price. First quarter earnings are expected to grow by more than 10 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data. In another sign of investor bullishness, February's reading on consumer confidence touched its highest level since July 2001.

If earnings fail to deliver double-digit growth, stocks could again be seen as too expensive. At US$18 per dollar of expected earnings over the next 12 months, investors are paying near the most since 2004 for the S&P 500.

"The advance we’ve had and the large spike in confidence, the expectations on the economy and earnings expectations - we continue to believe it is too high," said Julian Emanuel, executive director of U.S. equity and derivatives strategy at UBS Securities in New York.

(Additional reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Swimming: Schooling settles for silver, Quah 5th in butterfly showdown NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 09:00:07 +0800SINGAPORE: Singapore's Olympic champion Joseph Schooling was pipped to the wall in the 100-yard butterfly race by US freestyler Caeleb Dressel during Saturday's (Mar 25) final at the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis.

The reigning 100-metre butterfly Olympic gold medallist swam 43.75s, but that was not enough to stave off Dressel, who touched home first in 43.58s and, in doing so, rewrote the NCAA (44.01s), American and US Open (both 43.84s) records. 

schooling and quah

In what was billed locally as the race between Singapore's top male swimmers, Quah Zheng Wen finished the event fifth in 45.06s.

Schooling did help the University of Texas to gold in the 200-yard medley relay though, swimming a 19.45s in the butterfly leg to boost the Longhorns to first place ahead of defending champions Alabama. The team finished 1:21.54s to break the NCAA, American and US Open records. 

Jakarta governor race a clash between moderates, radicals PacificSat, 25 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0800KUALA LUMPUR: As campaigning for the second round of Jakarta’s gubernatorial elections goes into full swing, hate speeches against incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and his supporters have returned with renewed ferocity.

Purnama, also known as Ahok, a Christian Chinese, is seeking re-election. He faces former Education Minister Anies Bawesdan, a Muslim, in the run-off scheduled for Apr 19.

Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as "Ahok", arrives(Photo:AFP)

Muslim hardliners are opposing Ahok’s candidacy and have accused him of insulting the Koran during a campaign speech to a fishing community last September. Ahok is currently standing trial for blasphemy and has denied all charges.

The anti-Ahok movement, led by Habib Rizieq Shihab of the radical Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), has called for him to be killed and warned Muslims against voting for him.

The hate speeches and violence triggered by the anti-Ahok movement exposed the growth of extremism in a country long known as the moderate face of Sunni Islam in the world, worrying Muslim leaders and counter-terrorism experts.


“The hardliners are provoking hatred against Muslims who don’t share their views as well as non-Muslims,” said Alissa Wahid, an activist from Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest moderate Muslim organization.

“Any Muslim who disagrees with them (hardliners) will be condemned as a liberal, a traitor to his or her faith,” Alissa told Channel NewsAsia.

She warned that the divisions will likely have a lasting impact. “The hate speeches, spread through social media, has intensified extremism throughout the country, not just Jakarta. It will last long after the elections are over,” said Alissa.

Online, the threats against Ahok and his supporters are more strident. 

“Kill Ahok! Just shoot him on his head with one bullet,” read one tweet. “A Muslim cannot vote for an infidel,” said another.

“Do not perform funeral prayers for a Muslim who votes for an infidel,” declared another Twitter user in a viral tweet.

Former Enviroment Minister, Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, who has served two presidents as a minister, said candidates have never been subjected to so much hate speeches in cyberspace.

“This is the first time for everyone to be exposed to an intensive abuse of social media,” said Sarwono who is currently an adviser to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

And in a worrying development, some of the hate speeches have moved from cyberspace into real life.

Last week, the Jakarta Post reported two mosques in Setiabudi, south Jakarta, refused to perform funeral prayers and Islamic rites for two people who died in separate incidents.

One of them, a woman named Hindun, was known to have voted for Ahok during the first round of the elections. The second person was denied rites because her daughter is an Ahok supporter, according to the Jakarta Post.

Funeral prayers are a sacred part of the Islamic funeral rites which are obligatory for every Muslim.

“Rejecting and forbidding people to conduct (Islamic) funeral prayers for Ahok’s supporters is an extraordinary evil. This is something which is forbidden in Islam. There should be laws to criminalise this,” said NU’s secretary-general Yahya Cholil Staquf.


“The elections have turned into a clash between moderate and radical Muslims, a fight for the soul of Islam,” said NU's Staquf.

The outcome will decide whether moderate Muslims will prevail or weaken in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, with implications for the rest of the region, he said. “This (election) is not about being anti-Chinese or anti-Christian. The struggle here is for the leadership of Islam and what direction Islam will move towards in this country.

“This is a consolidation of fundamentalists and extremists who have been on the sidelines all this while,” said Staquf.

NU was founded in 1926 by Alissa’s great-grandfather, Hasyim Asy’ari. Her father, the late President Abdurrahman Wahid, led NU for 15 years before he was elected as the country’s president.

NU, which claims 50 million followers, is the world’s largest Muslim organisation renowned for its moderate, syncretic teachings rooted in Indonesia’s Javanese culture. It has shaped Indonesia’s moderate brand of Islam for centuries.

With 22,000 religious boarding schools and 800,000 mosques spread across Indonesia, NU has been a bulwark against extremism and conservatism in Indonesia.

But since 1980, Indonesia, like many Muslim-majority countries, has seen the spread of  Wahhabbism, the conservative, puritanical teachings which Saudi Arabia spent billions of petrodollars to export around the world, according to NU’s Staquf.

These same teachings helped give rise to the likes of the radical Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) which was founded in 1998 and has an estimated  200,000 followers. FPI has held four massive demonstrations against Ahok that drew hundreds of thousands of people.


“Ahok’s blasphemy case gave radicals the perfect moment to push their agenda,” said Staquf.

“These radical groups are a threat to global civilisation with their intolerance and violence. In every society where they exist, societies get destroyed, from Pakistan, Bangladesh … to  Syria. They must be stopped,” Staquf stated.

“We (moderates) have to be more strategic. NU needs to do more in Jakarta and greater Jakarta,” added Staquf.

Veteran Indonesian journalist Desi Fitriani of Metro TV can attest to FPI’s violence. She was attacked while covering their protest last February.

“I was hit on the head with a bamboo stick. I had water bottles and water thrown at me while my camera man, Ucha, got hit on the stomach, neck and legs,” Desi told Channel NewsAsia.

“I have covered Gaza, Yemen, Afghanistan and nothing happened to me. I never thought I would be attacked in my own country,” Desi added.

Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese, who make up less than 5 per cent of the country’s population, have been gaining greater acceptance by the majority following the fall of the late autocratic President Suharto in 1998.

They were also feeling far more comfortable living in the reform era - until Ahok’s blasphemy case.

"If you told me a year ago that there would be this much resentment towards the Chinese, I would not have believed it,” said a Chinese Jakarta resident who runs a non-government organization (NGO) for poor indigenous people. He declined to be named.

“I am starting to worry. I was shocked to see some of my well-educated friends attending the anti-Ahok rallies,” said the Jakarta resident.

NU has discouraged its followers from taking part in the anti-Ahok demonstrations and has said it is acceptable for them to vote for a non-Muslim.


The anti-Ahok movement has given FPI a huge platform to spread its hate-filled teachings, say grassroots Muslim activists.

“FPI’s leader Habib Rizieq and other clerics from the group are invited to speak and to preach in many places and mosques following Ahok’s case,” said Syafik Alielha, an NU grassroots activist who runs the organisation’s social media.

“Hatred has been given a platform by this anti-Ahok movement,” added Syafik.

This same hatred raises the risk of radicalizing people to commit acts of terrorism, warns Noor Huda Ismail, counter terrorism expert and founder of the International Peace Building Institute.

“This (anti-Ahok movement) is a very scary development because people are now being agitated to kill others on the basis of their faith in public spaces,” said Huda.

Asked whether FPI has radicalised people who took part in the anti-Ahok rallies, he replied: “There is no doubt! Violent actions begin (first) in the minds of the people.”

According to Huda, FPI members have a history of joining militant groups, including ISIS. “Many former FPI members in Lamongan (East Java) went to join ISIS in 2014,” he said.

Like Alissa, he has concerns that FPI’s influence over the people will continue long after its campaign against Ahok ends.

“Historically, any group that emerges in response to intolerant events will remain in contact long after the event is finished,” Huda said.

Obamacare exploding? Maybe just a slow burn, 25 Mar 2017 08:30:15 +0800NEW YORK/WASHINGTON: U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that Obamacare was "exploding" after Republican lawmakers shelved legislation that would have dismantled the healthcare law.

That's not going to happen this month. Probably not even this year.

Activists protest against the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare during a rally in Freedom Plaza i

The more than 12 million people who bought 2017 health insurance plans on and other websites the law created are not in danger of losing their healthcare or having their premiums go up right now, experts say.

But 2018 is another story.

Republicans could choose to pass a budget that defunds Obamacare's cost-sharing subsidies, which help low-income people cover out-of-pocket and other medical costs. But that would be highly unpopular among consumers who would likely blame the president and Congress for skyrocketing healthcare costs, experts said.

"That is one of the ways that is available to monkey wrench the Affordable Care Act," said Morgan Tilleman, an associate with the law firm Foley & Lardner, who represents insurers.

Obamacare, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature legislation created by the Affordable Care Act of 2010, has had a tough beginning. The mix of sick and healthy customers has been worse than expected, and premium rates on the individual insurance market went up 25 percent this year.

Other parts of the law, like the expansion of Medicaid to enhance coverage for the poor, and changes to allow young people to stay on their parents' health plans, have been popular. And the defeat of the bill is a win for the hospitals that have benefited from those increased Medicaid dollars.

But many counties across the country have only one insurer, after Humana Inc, Aetna Inc and UnitedHealth Group Inc pulled out after reporting hundreds of millions of dollars of losses.

The insurers who are left, Anthem Inc and other BlueCross BlueShield insurers across the country, as well as smaller players like Centene Corp and Molina Healthcare Inc need to decide in the next few months where to sell insurance and how much to charge.

And that is where the market's slow burn takes off, with insurers leaving and premiums rising.

Jeff Jonas, a portfolio manager at Gabelli Funds who focuses on health care, said that for consumers, 2018 looks uncertain, with a "death spiral" of decreasing competition and increasing premium rates ramping up.


After the failed Republican effort to push through the bill, insurers are looking at changes to help 2018, America's Health Insurance Plans spokeswoman Kristine Grow said.

That includes the market's cost-sharing subsidies as well as other government payments for sicker-than-usual customers and finalizing a rule the Trump administration proposed that addresses issues insurers say drives up costs.

The Trump administration could do some of that itself if it wants to, such as using its regulatory authority to adjust the formula for how it compensates insurers for the sickest people, Elizabeth Carpenter at healthcare consultancy and research firm Avalere Health said.

But it is unknown if the administration will try to work within the law's existing framework or take actions to undermine it and blame the Democrats for its failure.

"If they fail to act and they don't act in an appropriate way, that will further destabilize the marketplace," Dr. Mario Molina, CEO of Molina Healthcare, said. Molina's enrollment ballooned to 1 million exchange enrollees this year and the company is weighing if it will submit plans for next year.

The administration could also decide to not enforce the individual mandate, which requires that everyone purchase health insurance or pay a fine. It already took steps to erode that provision last month, when it backed off implementing tougher oversight that was due to go into effect for 2016 taxes.

Experts said the individual mandate still cost less than purchasing insurance, but as it increases each year more young and healthy people would have incentive to join the healthcare market, helping to offset the cost of sicker patients.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that 14 million more people would be uninsured under the Republican bill next year, with most of the increase coming from the repeal of the penalty associated with the individual mandate.

It's unclear what the Republicans will do. Trump said this bill had been shelved but that Republicans would end up with a "great" healthcare bill in the future, but for now that they are moving onto tax reform.

Until they do that, they will have to work within the 2010 Affordable Care Act. It can also undercut the healthcare law through regulatory authority at the Department of Health and Human Services.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer and Yasmeen Abutaleb; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Three tied for lead in weather delayed Puerto Rico Open NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 08:25:12 +0800REUTERS: Bryson DeChambeau, D.A. Points and Bill Lunde were locked in a three-way tie for the lead when darkness suspended second-round play on Friday at the Puerto Rico Open.

The three Americans were knotted at 11 under par on the rain-softened Coco Beach course, with Lunde having three holes to complete as one of 45 players returning early on Saturday to finish the round in Rio Grande.

DeChambeau fired a seven-under-par 65, Points a 69, and Lunde was four-under for the day after an opening 65.

New Zealand left-hander Tim Wilkinson joined a large group one off the lead with a sizzling 63, playing his last eight holes in seven under par.

PGA Tour rookie Trey Mullinax, who grabbed the first round lead at 63 five days after getting married, remained at nine under par after 13 holes when play was halted.

With nearly all of the game's top players competing at the WGC-Dell Match Play in Austin, a weak field at the Puerto Rico could provide a springboard to success for the eventual winner, though the champion will not receive an invitation to the Masters next month.

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Andrew Both)

Teen blogger Amos Yee granted US asylum Local NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 08:17:14 +0800SINGAPORE: The United States has granted asylum to Singaporean blogger Amos Yee, according to the US law firm representing him in his application.

According to a media update on Grossman Law's website, Immigration Judge Samuel Cole granted Yee asylum after he concluded that the Singapore Government "persecuted Yee on account of his political opinion". 

amos yee Sep 29

The judge also found Yee and his two witnesses, one of whom is Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, leader of the opposition Reform Party, "credible" and that the applicant had established he "suffered past persecution on account of his political opinion". The Department of Homeland Security has not rebutted the presumption that he has a well-founded fear of future prosecution, he added. 

"Yee has met his burden of showing that he suffered past persecution on account of his political opinion and has a well-founded fear of future persecution in Singapore," according to the decision of the Immigration Judge, as posted on the law firm's website. 

The Department of Homeland Security has 30 days (until Apr 24) to file an appeal. If the government fails to appeal, the decision will become final, the law firm said, adding it has contacted the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Chicago to secure Yee's release. 

Yee's mother, Madam Mary Toh, confirmed last December that he was detained in the United States. According to US-based Singaporean civil activist Melissa Chen, the 18-year-old was detained after he landed at O'Hare Airport in Chicago.

The Singaporean was sentenced in July 2015 to four weeks' jail for wounding the religious feelings of Christians and Muslims, and was sentenced to another six week's jail for the same offence last September. 

Finnish start-up wants to teach 5-year-olds quantum physics Local NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 08:15:00 +0800SINGAPORE: Imagine your five-year-old being able to tell you about quarks, protons and the periodic table. Not a big deal, until you realise those are fundamental components of particle physics.

But instead of having to learn it by rote memorisation in class when they are older, young children can be exposed to these basics through a mobile game created by Finnish learning game studio Lightneer.

Big Bang Legends 1

The basic gameplay is simple: Collect three quarks to form a proton, which in turn is used to create atom heroes (different elements on the periodic table). Then use these to blast away pesky antimatter monsters that threaten to make everything disappear. 

The game - called Big Bang Legends - officially made its debut in Singapore this week, and it is available for free on Apple’s App Store. Alternatively, you can pay a monthly S$1.49 to go ad-free and receive video learning content customised by professors from Oxford and CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

Lightneer is led by Lauri Jarvilehto, formerly from Angry Birds maker Rovio, and it is co-founded by Laura Konttori and Peter Vesterbacka, both also Rovio alums. It also counts Rovio co-founder Niklas Hed as one of its backers. It includes among its advisors, professors from Oxford and Harvard, as well as CERN’s head of global outreach Rolf Landua. 

“Five years ago we’d joke that one day we’ll teach quantum physics to five-year-olds. Now we’re seeing five-year-olds playing Big Bang Legends and having conversations about quarks, protons and atoms. It’s pretty amazing,” said CEO Jarvilehto.


While it tested the mobile game in Finland during the development stage, Lightneer decided to introduce the game in Singapore first as it considered both countries world leaders in education and technology.

“Finland and Singapore are world leaders in education and technology, both top the global PISA scores, but with wholly different mindsets. It's great to launch our first game in Singapore bringing the two leaders together,” said Vesterbacka.

Jarvilehto also told Channel NewsAsia that while Finland’s focus is on playfulness and intrinsic motivation, Singapore’s emphasis is on hard work. “We believe by working closely with the amazing schools and educators in Singapore we can pave the way for future learning that combines the best of both these worlds.”

He added that he is rolling the game out country by country to be able to interact directly with its fans and to learn more about each nation’s educational thinking. For instance, it started a “playtest” of the game with the Stamford American International School here before its launch.

Big Bang Legends 2

Students from Stamford American International School trying out Big Bang Legends. (Photo: Lightneer/Twitter)

To back up its intention of wanting to teach quantum physics to the young, Jarvilehto said it will offer the subscription version of the game with additional learning content “to any school or library in Singapore that wants it free of charge”. 

Besides Singapore, Lightneer intends to bring the game to Hong Kong and Japan, as well as Europe, the start-up added.

Asked if he has a target number of Singapore students Lightneer hopes to attract to Big Bang Legends, Jarvilehto said: “All of them.”

“The natural engagement in the game is very strong in conveying these concepts. And like our Oxford advisor Professor Marcus du Sautoy said, while us adults think particle physics is difficult to learn, these kids don’t know that and that’s why it’s surprisingly easy for them to grasp these basic concepts.”

Raonic makes winning return, Nadal and Nishikori advance NewsSat, 25 Mar 2017 08:05:20 +0800REUTERS: Big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic made a strong return to competition on Friday by beating Viktor Troicki 6-3 7-5 to reach the third round of the Miami Open.

Joining the Canadian in the third round were Spanish fifth seed Rafa Nadal and Japanese second seed Kei Nishikori.

Tennis: Miami Open

Nadal advanced past Israeli Dudi Sela 6-3 6-4, taking the critical second-set break in the seventh game, while Nishikori cut down South African Kevin Anderson 6-4 6-3.

Third seed Raonic has been sidelined by a right leg injury that forced him to concede a walkover in the Delray Beach Open final last month and to withdraw from the Mexican Open and BNP Paribas Open.

“I have to be very happy with just the outcome, that I was able to get the win today, that I have another chance to play in two days,” said the world number five.

Raonic breezed through the opening set and led 3-1 in the second before Serbia's Troicki battled back.

World number 38 Troicki, who has reached the fourth round in Miami twice, drew level at 5-5 before Raonic’s pressure helped him secure the deciding break.

Raonic advanced to play American Jared Donaldson, a 6-4 6-4 winner against 28th seed Mischa Zverev of Germany.

Raonic said he has been helped by the addition of former world number 69 Jesse Levine to his coaching support.

“He's somebody that I get along with great, is a little bit closer to my age as well, and somebody that I can play with on court and put in hard hours with,” he added.

A string of upsets unfolded later in the day with world number 13 Grigor Dimitrov eliminated in straight sets by Argentinean Guido Pella 6-3 7-6(4).

Dimitrov, who lost to Nadal in the Australian Open semi-final, has now lost three of his last six matches since winning the Sofia Open last month.

American Donald Young knocked out 11th seed Lucas Pouille 6-2 6-4, Federico Delbonis took down 15th seed Pablo Carreno 1-6 7-5 6-2, while Frenchman Gilles Simon fell to German Jan-Lennard Struff 6-1 6-1.

In earlier action, Frenchman Jeremy Chardy defeated seventh-seeded former U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia for the first time since 2009 to move into the third round with a 6-4 2-6 6-3 win.

(Reporting by Larry Fine and Jahmal Corner; Editing by Andrew Both and Peter Rutherford)

ASIA’S FUTURE CITIES: Fight or flight: Innovation to stave off Manila’s ‘carmageddon’ PacificSat, 25 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0800MANILA: Sitting in gridlock for hours is a frustrating experience for Uber driver Rodolfo.

“In the peak hour, this city is like the world's longest parking lot,” he said, clearly exasperated. “It's terrible.”

Helicopter 1

He works a normal job before taking the wheel in the late afternoon for a driving shift that does not end until after midnight

His is one of million of cars on the road, crawling their way through a traffic nightmare. Needless to say, most hours of the day, they are not getting far.

But from the sky – the commute is a whole lot clearer.

Helicopter 3

Traffic backs along EDSA, the main thoroughfare in the metro.

As the roads become ever more congested in metro Manila, an increasing number of wealthy Filipinos are turning their sights upward. Custom helicopter services can provide them with journeys of pure efficiency.

“For example when you cross the major road EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue) it will take you two hours. With a helicopter it will only take you five to ten minutes,” said Peter Angelo Rodriguez Jr, the executive vice president of Asian Aerospace, which owns and operates

“Once you ride it it’s hard to go back to normal life again.”

Prices vary for chopper flights within the metro area, but with a membership program and by-the-minute pricing, the company aims to make city commuting an affordable business expense. A corporate deal starts from US$3,900 per month, with a one-hour helicopter journey subsequently billed at about US$950.

For the one-off user, a ten-minute flight to Makati or Pasig starts from US$450, a steep hike on average economic options on the ground. Still, for the corporate world – time is money.

“It saves you a lot of time. It helps you accomplish your goals for the day. It’s not for everybody because if it was for everybody then there would be too many helicopters and we’d all get stuck in traffic up there,” Rodriguez Jr said.

Helicopters 2

An helicopter prepares for take-off. which also operates a fleet of private jets to hubs throughout the country, is the only dedicated point-to-point service in the city, despite the occasional promotional foray into the sector by popular ridesharing apps, Grab and Uber.

The company welcomes competition, and expects others to move into the space, but insists the industry is limited for now. It requires extensive investment and is built on decades of experience and trust.

“To be able to compete in this market you need good economies of scale. If you’re only going to have five helicopters and put them all in Manila, you’re never going to have that many people flying at one time and most of the time your helicopters are just going to be sitting,” he said, adding that they receive “several enquiries a day” about journeys in the city.

“There’s one popular saying in aviation. The fastest way to become a millionaire is to start an aviation company. Because you started being a billionaire.”

Helicopter 4

Helicopter landing pads can be spotted easily above the city's skyline.

However, is keen to tap on one element of the likes of Uber – the shared ride. It could dramatically help save costs for pragmatic users, in vehicles designed to carry several passengers. But the company won’t need to develop an app just yet.

“We notice the ones who can afford the services don’t use cell phones to book things,” he said. “They have secretaries to call.”


Soaring above the Makati skyline, the city’s fast development is all too clear. As high rises and modern malls are being constructed the long trails of cars seem to stretch endlessly around them.

This congestion is slowly choking the metro. Already it is estimated that more than US$60 million is lost every day due to lost productivity. Air pollution – evident from the sky and ground – is worsening, most of it caused by motor vehicles.

Down below, options are being formed for the average Manilan – alternatives that are more eco-friendly and designed to try and mend some of the worst parts of the daily commute over the long term.

Helicopter 6

The jeepney is a widely used by highly inefficient method of public transport.

Part of the response is coming from the government: a bus rapid transit was approved by the Duterte administration late last year and the train system is being expanded.

But private operators also see an opportunity. Part of a movement towards modern, eco-friendly public transport is Global Electric Transport (GET), which is directly taking the competition to the iconic but inefficient jeepney.

The jeepney is a diesel-fuelled bus-like vehicle, modified from a US army jeep. They are normally colourfully designed and carry the load of about 40 per cent of journeys in the metro. But they are also one of the city’s worst polluters, are crammed and uncomfortable and their pure size adds to congestion.

GET’s solution is an all-electric, zero emission vehicle called the COMET. It resembles a small bus with large open windows, spacious seating and silent operation, like an enlarged golf buggy.

With electronic ticketing, Wi-Fi and ambitions for a booking app, the COMET is looking towards a more commuter-centric future. That also means targeting those who only use cars, or helicopters for that matter.

“We want the rich people to ride the public transport because it’s more convenient and comfortable,” said Nino Ong, the sales manager for GET Philippines.

Helicopter 5

The current COMET still can only operate on limited routes.

The company is currently using a pilot fleet but it is limited by access to routes, which are determined by city authorities, as well as the battery life of their vehicles.

“The heart and soul of an electric vehicle is its battery,” Ong said, explaining that in the coming months, the company will be rolling out its V3 – a model he expects will be able to fully charge in just 20 minutes.

Their expansion plans are just as rapid. While only 26 of the early models were deployed initially, GET aims to have 5,000 COMETs on the road within five years. They are also trying to convince current jeepney operators to make the green switch.

It could be that the easiest stakeholder to win over though is the passenger.

Helicopter 7

Passengers say they feel safer using the COMET compared to tightly packed jeepneys.

“It’s cheaper and has enough space for the passengers, unlike in jeepneys where passengers are forced to seat so close to each we’re like packed sardines. It’s also cleaner,” said Orlando dela Cruz, as he rode a COMET in Quezon City.

“The Comet route goes straight to the area where I work that’s why it’s convenient for me. Plus, it’s environment-friendly,” said Jemimah Faith Bunag.

In the grip of a “carmageddon”, Manila has tackling the problem on its agenda. But with resistance to increasing region-low taxes on private vehicles and a rising middle class, perhaps only innovation can save the city from becoming completely unliveable.

If not, there is always room in the sky – for now.

]]>Fiji's Stress-Free Retreats For Families, 25 Mar 2017 07:59:00 +0800As the buzz fades on another new year and a new school term, you’d be forgiven, if you’re already dreaming of escaping to a place where the pace is gentler, the views are calmer and where laughter is a way of life.

Fiji ticks all the boxes and is undoubtedly one of the world’s most family-friendly destinations.

Fiji is for kids and the family

Fiji is for kids and the family

(Families are important in Fiji. Photo: Tourism Fiji)

The easy-going nature and strong family and communal values of Fijians make them excellent caregivers and companions for the knee-high crew.  

Activities are planned to engage and enrich young minds while their parents get some much-needed time for a holiday of their own.


(There's plenty of me-time for parents looking for a fuss-free family vacation. Photo: Tourism Fiji)

Many resorts offer complimentary customized kids’ clubs for different age groups.

Kids can paddle board with supervision or just enjoy the ride

(Supervised activities are tailored for kids at Fiji's resorts. Photo: Tourism Fiji)

Beach-based fun includes paddle boards that both young and older children can enjoy, as well as snorkeling in coral rich lagoons. 

Children can romp free-and-easy in designated play areas or join in structured activities which focus on Fijian culture and environmental responsibility. 

Here are five stress-free destinations that both parents and kids will love.

Kids Bula Club at Jean Michel Cousteau Resort 

The award-winning Kids Bula Club in the resort at Savusavu, Vanua Levu offers both chill and thrill for children of all ages.

Fijian nannies with babies

(Nannies are always available to mind children at Fiji's resorts. Photo: Chris McLennan)

Tiny tots under 5-years-old are assigned their own nanny who'll even pat them to sleep in the allocated nursery room! 

Those slightly older are paired with their minder ‘buddies’ in small groups to run free in the resort’s playground where they can climb up a treehouse, whiz down the kid’s waterslide, swing down on a zipline and even take part in cooking classes in the kids kitchen.  

Parents are free to join in on the fun when they feel up to it.

Teenagers aren’t left out, with an adventure programme of their own.

At the Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Island resort children have a host of supervised activities

(Water fun that caters to all ages and under the watchful eyes of experts. Photo: Jean Michel Cousteau Resort, Fiji)

Supervised by the resort’s trained staff, they can kayak and snorkel in Fiji’s crystal clear waters or trek up to a nearby waterfall.

Jean-Michel Fiji Island resort has a dedicated marine biologist to teach about the coral reef.

(Eco lessons from the sea for kids of all ages. Photo: jean Michel Cousteau Resort, Fiji)

The resort’s dedicated marine biologist is also on hand to teach curious minds about the magical life on the coral reef.

Tia’s Treehouse at Mamanuca Islands: Malolo Island Resort 

In a throwback to the slower days, children enrolled in the seven-day programme at Tia’s Treehouse are encouraged to keep a daily diary of their time on the island.

Tia's Treehouse on Malolo Island, Fiji (photo :Likuliku Lagoon Resort/Hamilton Lund Photography)

(Bula from Tia's Treehouse. Photo: Malolo Island Resort)

There’s heaps to write about with hands-on activities that bring them up-close with Fijian culture, arts and crafts, and the island’s flora and fauna.  

The journals are intended to spice up any classroom project once the kids get back to school.

Little Treasures on Treasure Island

What kid wouldn’t jump at the chance to visit a place called Treasure Island?

Here, children will find something more precious than gold when they witness baby turtles make their first foray into the ocean during the hatching season of May to November.

During the day, coral planting and feeding endangered turtles and iguanas are also open to children aged 5 to 11 years old.

The Little Treasures Kids Club is located in a bure in the centre of Treasure Island

(Learning about Fiji's culture is part of the activities for kids at Little Treasures. Photo: Treasure Island, Fiji)

After a day of giving back to Mother Earth, children can unwind over weaving, cooking or dance classes.

There's even a massage at the in-house spa tailored just for the kids.

Little Riggers & Beach Riggers at Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, Coral Coast

The resort on the Coral Coast offers a Meimei (Nanny) service that is custom-tailored to every child from 6 months to 12 years of age.

travel-fiji-outrigger kids

(Little Riggers get a full day of supervised activities and tours. Photo: Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort)

Kids who love animals can volunteer as a ranger for the day at the neighbouring Kula Eco Park.  The Park is home to native Fijian wildlife like bats, crested iguanas and one of the fastest creatures in the world, the Peregrine Falcon.

Teens can also embark on expeditions up the Sigatoka Sand Dunes or to the Enchanted Pool. 

Little Chief’s Club at Shangri-La Fijian Resort & Spa

With an entire island to itself, the Shangri-La Fijian Resort and Spa has something for the whole family.


(The Shangri-La resort covers Yanuca Island on the Coral Coast. Photo: Shangri-La Fijian)

At the Little Chief’s Club, kids get a holistic range of activities.

Travel-Fiji_Little Chiefs ShangriLa

Big fun for little ones with a Fijian Chief at the Little Chief's Club (Photo: Shangri-La Fijian Resort)

When the children’s pool, playground and beach have been thoroughly explored, kids can join in scavenger hunts, build fish houses or join pottery workshops.

The Ultimate Family Vacation 

Fiji is as much a romantic getaway as it is family friendly.  

Most resorts even offer dine-free options for children under 12, while those up to 16 years old can usually fuel up as much as they want at a fraction of the price.

Outrigger-on-the-Lagoon spa,Fiji

(Relaxation at the Bebe Spa at Outrigger on the Lagoon spa,Fiji. Photo: Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort)

While the kids burn off their energy, mums and dads can get some much deserved me-time at the spa or relax by the beach.

Travel-Fiji_bebe spa

(The Bebe Spa at Outrigger on the Lagoon spa Fiji, promises ultimate pampering. Photo: Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort)

A break in Fiji will no doubt leave both parents and children pampered and refreshed.

Brought to you by 

Trump's US jobs push may open doors to China in Mexico: ICBC bank BusinessSat, 25 Mar 2017 07:55:14 +0800ACAPULCO, Mexico: U.S. President Donald Trump's push to force U.S. industry to bring jobs home is opening investment avenues for Chinese companies in Mexico, an executive with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the country's largest lender, said on Friday.

Fears of a hit to foreign investment ran high when Ford Motor Co canceled a US$1.6 billion plant in Mexico's central state of San Luis Potosi in January.

Trump attends a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus Executive Committee at the White House

Trump, who had railed against U.S. manufacturers investing in Mexico, hailed the decision as a major victory, but Ford put it down to declining demand for small cars.

Yaogang Chen, head of ICBC's Mexico unit, said U.S. industry's loss could be China's gain.

"If some U.S. investment projects don't (happen), there has to be somebody to invest. ... If Chinese companies think it is profitable, they will invest," he said in an interview on the sidelines of a banking conference in the resort of Acapulco.

In February, China's Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Group Co Ltd (JAC Motor) and Mexico's Giant Motors, along with distributor Chori Co Ltd , said they would invest over US$210 million in an existing plant to build SUVs in the central state of Hidalgo.

Prior to Trump's campaign against U.S. manufacturers shipping jobs overseas, Chinese companies were making tentative inroads into Mexico.

China's BAIC Motor Corp Ltd in June 2016 started selling in Mexico its own cars imported from China and has said that it will look into building an industrial plant in Mexico to produce cars and electric vehicles.

BAIC is already a client of ICBC's in Mexico.

ICBC, one of the world's top banks by market capitalization and assets, received its banking license in Mexico in 2014 and started operations there in mid-2016.

"JAC, we think, will be a client of ours in Mexico too," Chen said.

Still, Chinese foreign direct investment in Mexico is a tiny fraction of what U.S. firms have plowed in over the years.

State-controlled ICBC expects to grow its assets and loan portfolio in Mexico tenfold over the next three years to some 10 billion pesos (US$533 million), Chen said.

The executive said ICBC aims to offer a service to allow clients to convert Mexican pesos to Chinese renminbi and vice versa, and make cross-border transactions cheaper.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito, Dan Freed and Noe Torres; Editing by Richard Chang)

Tesla to take orders for solar roof tiles starting April BusinessSat, 25 Mar 2017 07:45:14 +0800REUTERS: Tesla Motors Inc will start taking orders for its solar roof tiles in April, Chief Executive Elon Musk said in a Tweet on Friday.

The solar-powered roof shingles were unveiled in October last year to show the benefits of combining his electric car maker with solar installer SolarCity Corp .

A Tesla logo is seen at its planned store in Hanam

There was no detail on cost. (

Tesla has said previously the cost of the roof would be less than a conventional roof plus solar.

By incorporating solar modules into rooftops, Tesla is hoping to succeed with a solar technology that to date has had little success.

(Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Sandra Maler)