TIME Asia

Learning From Past Viral Epidemics, Asia Readies for Possible Ebola Outbreak

Philippines Ebola
Government health workers practice wearing Ebola protective suits on the first day of training on hospital management for Ebola virus at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in the Philippine city of Muntinlupa on Oct. 28, 2014 Bullit Marquez—AP

Recent experiences with SARS and bird flu make Asian nations especially skittish when faced with the possibility of an Ebola outbreak

As Ebola continues to play global hopscotch, Asian countries are seeking to make good on the advanced notice that the deadly virus could turn up anywhere, anytime.

At issue in Asia — and everywhere — is not just that medical scaffolding varies across and within nations, with some lacking robust medical facilities, but that even sophisticated cities boasting top-notch hospitals are foundering. The infections of two health care workers in Dallas, as well as a nurse in Madrid, have illustrated that even highly developed nations are not immune.

“Perceived preparedness and actual preparedness are not the same thing,” says Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center.

“We thought the U.S. would be well prepared, but certainly our first case [in Dallas] was not a good model for replication, and I don’t think Spain did too well either,” explains Morse. “But that’s what happens when you haven’t seen this before. You don’t know what to do.”

Still, Asia has some advantages as it readies itself for Ebola. Flight patterns suggest that the influx of travelers from Ebola-stricken West African countries to the Asian continent is far less than it is to Africa, Europe or North America.

Asian nations also have an edge in that they have been through epidemics before: SARS tore through the West Pacific in 2003, killing almost 800 people worldwide, mostly in Hong Kong and mainland China. Avian flu also pummeled this area around the same time, and outbreaks of virulent influenza strains perennially menace the region.

“The most likely scenario, if we have an imported case of Ebola, is that there will be some risk of having secondary cases, but I don’t think we will have a big outbreak at this point in time,” says Hitoshi Oshitani, professor of virology at Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine in Sendai, Japan.

In part, that’s because Ebola is much more straightforward to contain than the airborne SARS — spread through coughing and sneezing — if procedures are followed rigorously, says Oshitani, who from 1999 to 2005 was the regional adviser for communicable-disease surveillance and response at the WHO’s Western Pacific Regional Office during the SARS and avian-flu outbreaks. When SARS first appeared “we didn’t know what to do at first,” he says.

But having weathered these outbreaks now makes Asian nations stronger. “After SARS and Avian flu, Asian countries have invested quite a lot in infectious disease control,” says Oshitani. “Before 2003, many countries in Asia had very limited capacity, and today they have much more capacity.”

That said, much depends on where across Asia’s socioeconomic smorgasbord a hypothetical Ebola case makes landfall.

For example, Hong Kong, blistered by the memory of SARS, has made significant preparations, says Malik Peiris, director of the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong. “Infectious diseases, especially diseases coming from the outside, have been a constant threat to Hong Kong and have kept people on their toes,” he says.

Hong Kong, which had just “a handful” of isolation beds in 2003, now has about 1,400, plus a designated infectious disease hospital, says Peiris. At that hospital, he adds, the facilities are “more than adequate to deal with SARS and certainly more than adequate to deal with Ebola.”

Preparing for Ebola is also foremost on health officials’ agendas in mainland China, Peiris says, while noting that health care is uneven across the world’s most populous nation, with world-class hospitals in major cities but spotty health care in rural areas. Dense populations and an incubation period of up to 21 days make Ebola potentially extremely problematic.

Chinese officials told state media in August that security at the airport in China’s southern Guangdong province, which does roaring business with African traders, had been bolstered.

India also presents a problem. Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who co-discovered Ebola, told the Guardian earlier this month that Ebola outbreaks in Europe or North America could quickly be brought under control. However, “I am more worried about the many people from India who work in trade or industry in West Africa,” he said.

Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told Parliament in August that some 4,700 Indians are working in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. India is using thermal scanners at its airports similar to those used at Nigeria, which was declared Ebola-free earlier this month. The country has also designated hospitals for handling the virus, and has also held preparedness drills, though a paltry ratio of 0.07 hospital beds per person does not bode well for any significant outbreak.

“The big problem is in high-density populations with low health coverage,” says Peiris. “In Mumbai, you have areas of quite significant poverty, and if Ebola enters such a situation, you could have a problem on your hands. Major cities really need to be prepared.”

The Philippines, boasting an estimated 1,700 nationals working in West Africa, is also bolstering readiness. Lyndon Lee Suy, spokesman at the Philippines Department of Health, says that three hospitals are designated to handle any Ebola cases, plus a training workshop is being run at 19 government hospitals, about 50 private hospitals and numerous local government clinics. All hospitals in the Philippines, which battled SARS in 2003 and H1N1 in 2009, have isolation rooms, he says.

“No country can ever rate how prepared it is for something like this,” says Lee Suy. “But the health system here is not the same as the one in West Africa. We are in a better position.”

Even Asian countries that have no direct flights to West Africa, and have limited ties to the region, are wary of being caught off guard.

Krishna Kumar, president of the Malaysian Medical Association, says his country was jolted by the Nipah virus in 1999, which killed more than 100 people nationwide, and has learned “hard but important lessons.”

“We weren’t expecting it,” he says. “It woke us up.”

Krishna says public alarm is low in Malaysia, but health officials are yet mindful “anything could happen.” All airports have thermal checks, and 28 government hospitals have isolation rooms and are fully equipped with protective gear.

“We have the systems in place,” he says, “but to know how ready you are — well, it’s only when something happens, then you know if you were ready.”

TIME Military

Marine Suspected of Transgender Murder Moved to Philippine Custody

Supporters of murdered Filipino transgender Jeffrey Laude, also known as "Jennifer", hold a protest near the Hall of Justice where the preliminary hearing for the murder case is being held at the northern Philippine city of Olongapo on Oct. 10, 2014.
Supporters of murdered Filipino transgender Jeffrey Laude, also known as "Jennifer", hold a protest near the Hall of Justice where the preliminary hearing for the murder case is being held at the northern Philippine city of Olongapo on Oct. 10, 2014. Noel Celis—AFP/Getty Images

Police allege that Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton killed 26-year-old Jennifer Laude on Oct. 11

A U.S. Marine suspected in the Oct. 11 murder of a Filipino transgender woman has been transferred from a U.S. warship to the custody of Philippines military, police said Wednesday.

The Philippine police said the suspect, whom they have identified as Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, went to a local motel in Olongapo City, close to the Subic Bay port, which often hosts U.S. ships, with 26-year-old Jennifer Laude, and was seen leaving the hotel room 30 minutes later. Laude’s strangled body was found by a hotel employee, her head in the toilet bowl of one of the rooms. An autopsy report cited the cause of death as “asphyxia by drowning.” Two used condoms were also found in the room.

Pemberton, who awaits formal charges, was held for several days on the U.S.S. Peleliu warship in Subic Bay. The Marine was in the Philippines for a long-standing joint military exercise between U.S. Marines and their Philippine counterparts, which involved 3,500 American troops and ended Oct. 10.

The homicide case has ignited tensions over a defense agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines that allows the U.S. to keep custody of military personnel during criminal proceedings for crimes committed in-country. Vocal opponents of the agreement have called for its abrogation, saying that the deal is lopsided in favor of the U.S.

In what could be seen as a compromise by the U.S., the Marines have transferred Pemberton to an air-conditioned vehicle inside Camp Aguinaldo, military headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Quezon City. The vehicle will still be guarded by U.S. troops, but will be located inside a fenced-off portion of the camp guarded by Philippine personnel, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. Marine Corps issued a statement to clarify that the “Marine will remain in the custody of the United States pursuant to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Republic of the Philippines.”

The U.S.S. Peleliu has been authorized to leave the Philippines.

TIME Crime

U.S. Marine Charged in Murder of Transgender Woman in Philippines

Philippine government now wants to take custody of the Marine, who has been identified as Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton

A U.S. Marine has been charged with murder in the killing of a Filipino transgender woman found strangled in a local hotel room last weekend.

A senior Philippine official said Wednesday that the Philippine government wants to take custody of the Marine, who has been identified as Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, and warned that the case could damage the military relationship between the two allies, according to MSN news.

Under a defense agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines, the Philippines can demand custody of a service member who has been involved in a crime. The joint defense pact has stoked tension between the two countries in the past, and the question of the U.S. Marine’s custody in this case may renew those tensions.

Pemberton is currently being held on the USS Peleliu warship in Subic Bay. The marines had been in the Philippines for an annual joint military exercise. All military personnel “still actively involved with the investigation” remain on board the ship, according to a press statement from the U.S. Marine Corps.

Three other marines who are considered possible witnesses are also being held, according to previous news reports. The other four ships previously held at port in Subic Bay during the investigation have been cleared to depart, the Marine Corps announced on Wednesday.

The killing has also ignited emotions in the transgender community in the Philippines, who are calling the death of Jennifer Laude, who was found dead with her head in a toilet bowl, a hate crime. An autopsy report in the case has shown the cause of death as “asphyxia by drowning.”

“We will not accept anything less than justice,” the victim’s sister Marilou Laude said to CNN.

[MSN]

TIME TV

The Ellen DeGeneres Show Will Now Be Broadcast in Asia

Carla Bruni Visits "The Ellen DeGeneres Show"
In this handout photo provided by Warner Bros., Carla Bruni chats with talk show host Ellen DeGeneres during a taping of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" at the Warner Bros. lot on April 28, 2014 in Burbank, California. Handout—WireImage/Getty Images

The popular comedienne's talk show will air on the same day as its U.S. premiere in Thailand, Malaysia and several other countries

Ellen DeGeneres fans in East Asia will no longer have to trawl the Internet for clips of her show the day after it airs, after Lifetime Asia secured same-day telecast rights in several countries.

Beginning Oct. 20, The Ellen DeGeneres Show will air in Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, PNG, Hong Kong, Macau, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“We are hugely excited to bring Ellen to Lifetime in Asia and we strongly believe we add value by broadcasting the show in less than 24 hours from the U.S. premiere,” said Michele Schofield, a senior vice president of programming at A+E Networks Asia.

The show will air at 8 p.m. Hong Kong time on weekdays.

[THR]

TIME LGBT

U.S. Marine Suspected in Killing of Transgender Woman in Philippines

Friends and relatives of Filipino transgender resident Jeffrey Laude look on alongside his coffin and photograph in the northern Philippine city of Olongapo on Oct. 14, 2014.
Friends and relatives of Jeffrey Laude, a Filipino transgender woman who went by Jennifer, look at her coffin in the northern Philippine city of Olongapo on Oct. 14, 2014. Jay Directo—AFP/Getty Images

He's being held on a warship pending the investigation

A United States Marine suspected of killing a Filipina transgender woman he met in a local bar will remain in U.S. custody, officials said Tuesday.

The suspect, whom the military has not named because formal charges have not been filed, is assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He is being held on the USS Peleliu warship while the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Philippine National Police conduct a joint investigation. Three other marines considered possible witnesses are also being held on the ship.

The strangled body of Jennifer Laude, 26, a Filipino national whose birth name is Jeffrey, was found shortly before midnight on Saturday, Oct. 11 at a hotel in Olongapo City, according to the Marine Corps Times. Her head had reportedly been pushed into the toilet and two used condoms were found in a trash can in the room. ABS CBN News, a Philippine news outlet, reported that Laude’s body was found less than an hour after she checked into the hotel with a male “foreigner” with “close-cropped” hair.

The suspect was in the Philippines for a longstanding joint military exercise between U.S. Marines and their Filipino counterparts that ended Oct. 10. Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, has ordered that the five ships and the marines to remain in port in the Philippines while the investigation is ongoing, according to spokesman Chuck Little. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on Tuesday said the U.S. “will continue to cooperate with Philippine law enforcement authorities in every aspesect of the investigation.”

The case has provoked outrage among transgender activists in the Philippines and the U.S. and renewed criticism over a 1998 pact between the two nations that requires American service members to be held in U.S. custody during criminal proceedings. In 2006, an American soldier convicted of raping a Filipino woman by a local court stoked similar anger.

“The U.S. Navy says they are going to cooperate with national law, but they haven’t turned him over to the Philippine authorities,” says Geena Rocero, a Philippines native who founded the trans advocacy organization Gender Proud. “He is still inside the ship.”

TIME Philippines

Imelda Marcos Has Had Part of Her Art Collection Seized

TO GO WITH AFP STORY "Lifestyle-Philippi
Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos is seen in her apartment in Manila on June 27, 2007. Romeo Gacad—AFP/Getty Images

Authorities claim artworks were bought with embezzled state funds

A number of art works belonging to Imelda Marcos, wife of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, have been seized by authorities, who claim they were bought with embezzled state funds.

Works by Picasso and Gauguin are believed to be among the pieces still in the former First Lady’s possession, reports the BBC, as is Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. Authorities are keen to trace the other artworks.

The 85-year-old Marcos, who was elected to the Philippine congress in 2010, has repeatedly denied her estimated $10 billion fortune was acquired illicitly.

Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines from 1965 until his ouster in 1986. He died three years later.

[BBC]

TIME Terrorism

1,000 Asian Extremists Are Waging Jihad in the Middle East, Says the Pentagon

PHILIPPINES-US-MILITARY-ECONOMY-WEF
Admiral Samuel Locklear, U.S. Pacific Fleet Command commander, speaks during a session of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Manila on May 23, 2014 Ted Aljibe —AFP/Getty Images

Experts say ISIS is galvanizing existing terrorism networks and lone individuals to join the sectarian slaughter ravaging the Middle East

The U.S. military believes at least 1,000 jihadist fighters have been inspired to leave their homes in Asia to fight with militant groups across the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.

“Our estimations today is there’s probably been about 1,000 potential aspiring fighters that have moved from this region, based on kind of our overall assessment,” Admiral Samuel Locklear, the U.S. Pacific Command commander, told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.

“That number could get larger as we go forward, but certainly that’s about the size or the magnitude that we perceive at this point in time.”

The Asia-Pacific is currently home to myriad homegrown jihadist networks, from restive enclaves in the Philippines and Indonesia to the rough tribal highlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Authorities in the region have long grappled with combating Muslim extremists, who travel abroad to participate in Islamist terrorist networks, only to return and wreak havoc on the home front later.

During the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, an estimated 800 fighters from across Southeast Asia and Australia joined the mujahedin’s ranks battling the Red Army.

The militants who survived and returned to their respective countries went on to form the core of several Islamist extremist terrorists groups that orchestrated attacks across the region, including the bombing of nightclubs in Bali in 2002 and the Australian Embassy in Jakarta two years later.

“All these attacks, the masterminds were Afghan veterans,” Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, tells TIME.

Experts fear that the new battlegrounds in the Middle East will provide the latest and larger crop of jihadists from the Asia-Pacific with the operational knowledge and connections to conduct larger attacks at home in the future.

“They will come back with motivation, ideology and skills and operational knowledge,” says Gunaratna. “They will know who should they contact in order to plan and execute an operation.”

And according to Gunaratna, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) appears to be winning the hearts and minds of aspiring jihadists across the continent, thanks to their slick propaganda films and robust social-media campaigns, as “opposed to the boring lectures delivered by al-Qaeda and Taliban ideologues.”

“It’s a new level of strategic communication that is being started by ISIS,” says Gunaratna.

However, experts admit the difficulty in tracking whom fighters align themselves with once they’ve made it to the Middle East.

“Once they cross the border it’s hard to tell who is with who,” says Rodger Shanahan, a nonresident fellow at Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy, by email.

But outside of just convincing fighters to move abroad, ISIS’s message appears to be motivating extremists to take action locally as well.

Earlier this week in the Philippines, terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, which pledged allegiance to ISIS this summer, threatened to kill two German hostages unless Berlin backs out of a U.S.-led coalition that began striking militant positions in Syria this week.

“The participation with support from Germany to America must stop, in the killing of our Muslims brothers in Iraq and Sham [Greater Syria] in general, and the mujahedeen of the Islamic State in particular,” read a translation provided by SITE Intelligence Group published by the Long War Journal.

TIME Philippines

Philippine Mall Operator Pulls T-Shirt That Calls Rape a ‘Snuggle With a Struggle’

SM Supermalls called the shirt "malicious" and said it was investigating

The Philippines’ largest mall operator said on Tuesday that a T-shirt promoting rape as a “snuggle with a struggle” had been removed from its racks, after a photo of the offensive garment went viral.

“We have immediately pulled out all the T-shirts of the consignor that distributes them, and we are investigating why it was included in our delivery of assorted t-shirts,” said SM Supermalls, which owns 49 malls in the Philippines, in a statement posted to Twitter and Facebook.

The retail juggernaut did not say who the distributor was.

On Monday, Facebook user Karen Kunawicz posted to her page a photo of the brown shirt, seen in an SM Supermall.

The garment read: “It’s not rape. It’s a snuggle with a struggle” and showed two hands forming a heart. The shirt was in the teen boys’ section of a department store, Kunawicz said.

“Really SM Department Store?” she wrote. “Boys listen to Tita [Aunty] Karen — if a girl says NO and pushes you away, just err on the side of caution, she likely means NO.”

On Tuesday night, the photo had been shared more than 4,000 times on Facebook. The South China Morning Post also tweeted an image of the shirt.

SM said in its statement that the shirt has “a message that we too find unacceptable.”

“SM does not support such irresponsible and malicious acts that mock important and sensitive social issues,” it said.

On Facebook, commenters on the original photo sharply criticized the department store for seeking to “hide behind [its] consignment agreements,” as one commenter put it, and called on the store to make donations to women’s crisis centers.

In 2013, the Philippine National Police Women and Children Protection Center recorded 5,493 reported rapes of women and children — a record high for the nation, according to GMA News Online. Another police division, the Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management, tallied 7,409 reported rape incidents, GMA says.

TIME Philippines

A Philippine Volcano May Be About to Blow and 12,000 Have Been Evacuated

PHILIPPINES-VOLCANO
Volcano Mount Mayon spews a thick column of ash 500 metres (1,600 feet) into the air, as seen from the city of Legazpi, albay province, southeast of Manila on May 7, 2013. Charism Sayat — AFP/Getty Images

Quakes and rockfalls at Mount Mayon have sparked serious concern

An ominous glow from the Philippines’ most active volcano has prompted the evacuation of more than 12,000 people from its surrounding areas.

There have been a series of quakes and rockfalls at Mount Mayon in the country’s Bicol region, sparking fears of a possible eruption, Reuters reports.

“We are now raising the alert status of Mayon Volcano from alert level 2 to 3,” said Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, on Tuesday.

Joey Salceda, governor of the Albay province where the mountain is located, said the evacuees would be housed in temporary shelters for up to three months. Salceda said that as of now the 6 to 8 km “danger zone” around the volcano had been cleared, and if it erupts, then villagers facing the southeastern crater rim would also be moved to safer areas.

Mayon has erupted nearly 50 times in the past 600 years. Its worst eruption, in 1841, killed 1,200 people.

[Reuters]

TIME foreign affairs

Soldiers From Poor Countries Have Become the World’s Peacekeepers

Undated photograph released by Hanin Network, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by The Nusra Front on Aug. 28, 2014, in the Golan Heights.
Undated photograph released by Hanin Network, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by The Nusra Front on Aug. 28, 2014, in the Golan Heights. AP

It is an unfair burden for troops who are less well trained, under-supplied and ill equipped

On Aug. 28, rebels from the al-Qaeda-allied al-Nusra Front stormed the Golan Heights border crossing between Syria and Israel, home to one of the oldest U.N. peacekeeping operations. While two contingents of Philippine peacekeepers managed to flee the rebel attack, 45 Fijian troops were captured and taken away by the rebels to parts unknown.

The Fijians were finally released on Sept. 11, but the two-week crisis crystallized a persistent yet under-reported fact: while the U.N. calls upon the international community to act in times of crises, it is often soldiers from developing nations who shoulder the stiffest burden.

In 1994, on the heels of the Rwandan genocide, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (China, Russia, France, the U.K. and the U.S.) provided 20% of all U.N. peacekeeping personnel.

But by 2004, Security Council nations contributed only 5% of U.N. personnel. This July, amid a tumultuous summer of violent conflicts, that figure had dropped to a miserly 4%, while the governments of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Fiji, Ethiopia, Rwanda and the Philippines provided a staggering 39% of all U.N. forces.

Critics can counter this charge with stats of their own. After all, they say, the permanent members contribute 53% of the U.N.’s annual budget, far outstripping financial contributions made by countries of the global south. But recent years have also seen sluggish rates of payment from wealthier nations — delays that further strain an overburdened system supporting 16 peacekeeping missions around the world.

On balance, the troops contributed by developing countries are more likely to be less well trained, under-supplied and ill equipped for the missions. Delays in financial contributions only complicate the challenges of modern peacekeeping.

So does the fractured nature of modern conflicts. Military experts, like General Sir Rupert Smith, have noted the shift from “industrial wars” of the past to today’s “war amongst the people.” Modern conflicts involve combatants whose ends are not merely the control of territory or the monopoly of politics. They wage war with their own rules, without concern for the U.N.’s mission to referee.

In response, peacekeeping has been hurriedly ramped up: more comprehensive mandates are issued and troops are cleared to use force in defense of civilians. But in the end, peacekeepers are redundant where there is no peace to keep.

The Golan Heights are no exception. The U.N. Disengagement Observer Force was set up 40 years ago precisely to observe the contentious border between Israel and Syria. Today, the threats aren’t even nation states. The peacekeepers in Golan must contend with spillover from Syria’s three-year-long civil war, and the aggression of al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front. They are forced to become soldiers on the front lines of a perpetually asymmetrical conflict, treated as mere machine-gun fodder whenever the international community seeks to stem the spread of terror by piling blue helmets in its way.

In a New York Times op-ed of Aug. 29, Secretary of State John Kerry discussed U.S. intentions to use its position as president of the Security Council to coordinate a response to terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East.

“The United States … will use that opportunity to continue to build a broad coalition and highlight the danger posed by foreign terrorist fighters,” Kerry wrote, adding that “President Obama, addressing the Security Council, would construct a plan to deal with this collective threat.”

For observers, however, events in Golan should serve as a warning. If the U.N. and its leading members intend to tackle collective threats, it is time to address how best to equitably divide the collective risk. In service of international stability, leaders of the developed world have become far too comfortable asking developing countries to put their troops in the line of fire.

Adam McCauley is a Canadian writer and photographer currently based in Hong Kong. His work has appeared in TIME, the New York Times, Al Jazeera and online in the New Yorker.

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