“Million People March” in Manila to Protest Government Corruption

Also, reports of voter fraud in Cambodia and a “laughing gas” crackdown in Thailand. Tuesday ASEAN links.

By J.T. Quigley for

Though actually numbering in the tens of thousands, protesters staged a “Million People March” in central Manila Monday to speak out against corruption in the Philippine political system. The protests followed a rallying call posted across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

“Officials' misuse of funds has been long embedded and practically accepted in the Philippine political system, but a series of newspaper articles about how government funds were allegedly diverted into private hands have stirred new anger outside of the usual protest groups,” reported the AFP.

Protestor anger centered on the country’s “Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF),” which contains money that lawmakers can spend on their own non-governmental development projects. The PDAF has been tied to rampant “pork barrel” spending.

The Philippines is not alone. Corruption has also been reported at the polls in Cambodia. The Phnom Penh Post reported that voter lists have been “intentionally manipulated” to allow large groups of people to cast fraudulent ballots in areas where they aren’t registered to vote.

“One of the incidents cited describes hundreds of university students being transported from Phnom Penh to Kandal’s Lvea Em district to vote, allegedly under the instruction of their professors, as one example of systematic voter fraud,” said The Post.

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Domestic rights group Licadho claimed that more than 30 percent of names contained in one voter roll in Sa’ang were duplicates. Although presented with the Licadho report, Cambodia’s National Election Committee said that it will not investigate.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Thailand, police are cracking down on vendors for peddling illegal “laughing gas” balloons. The balloons, which are filled with nitrous oxide, are being openly sold to tourists on Bangkok’s Khao San Road – Thailand’s backpacker mecca. Previously, police initiated a similar crackdown on laughing gas in Pattaya.

Nitrous oxide is commonly used as an anesthetic for dental procedures. The colorless, non-flammable gas can cause a dangerous overdose in non-medical applications. Street vendors are said to be hiding the gas tanks underneath push carts. They wait for a paying customer before inflating the nitrous oxide-filled balloons. The price for one balloon ranges from as little as 20 baht ($0.63) to as much as 150 baht ($4.69).

“Vendors who illegally sell these balloons would face one-year jail and a fine of 10,000 baht ($312.84) as punishment,” said Police lieutenant Pitiphan Krissadakorn, according to The Nation.

On another note, manufacturing output in Singapore managed to exceed market expectations – posting a 2.7 percent increase year-on-year for July. The increased output was led by transport engineering and electronics growth.

Economists had expected only 1.5 percent growth since July 2012.

J.T. Quigley is the assistant editor of The Diplomat.