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Archive for May, 2008

Since the previous Information Minister made blogging out to be bad news, I am finding much cheer in the recent spate of pro-blogging overtures made by mainstream media. I am not talking about those controversial political blogs either but just bloggers having fun sharing their own experiences as Nicole Tan will be doing in her new column “Blogged Out”  in Star Metro. A travel blogger herself, Nicole’s maiden outing “Bring out the bloggers” is refreshing and great reading for new bloggers:

BLOGGING may not sound like a typical job, but it’s what I do. I am a full-time blogger and traveller but I also have an eye out for my education and am also a soon-to-graduate part-time online Masters student. While my friends and family may know me as Nicole Tan, to the blogging world, I am Nicolekiss and my travel blog – nicolekiss.blogspot.com – has a stable traffic of about 3,000 unique visitors a day.

New Straits Times, typically and following the lead of RTM with its weekly half-hour “Blog” programme, focuses mostly on politically-related blogs with their “What Bloggers Say” but this article on Citizen Journalists caught my attention. It quotes the CEO of a Fiji Broadcasting Company as saying:

If citizen journalism is to be encouraged, journalists must be trained in how to use it as a tool to help crystallise events and information, he said. “While journalists are encouraged to operate within the boundaries of professionalism, it can be safely assumed that members of the public will be tempted to exaggerate or perform while before the public gaze. “Therefore, if standards of objectivity, accuracy and truth are to be maintained in the practice of journalism, then citizen journalism and every other development brought our way through advancements in communication, must be weighed against such standards,” he said.

In the same article, the perspective of Saed Jamal Abu-Hijleh, director of the Centre for Global Consciousness, Nablus, Palestine, really opened my eyes to the importance of blogging for marginalised communities::

“Accordingly, new forms of participatory journalism have emerged, expressed in an explosion in the number of blogs and citizen journalism websites that started to challenge the monopoly and hegemony of mainstream media on ’news production assembly lines’, and to challenge the ability of the big media conglomerates to set global news agendas deterministically as has been the case for many years in the past. “These changes are creating more opportunities for broader participation from the marginalised and colonised communities around the world. Thus, more space is available for these communities to report on unreported, misreported or unreported news in their localities,” he said.

Personally, I feel more young adults, those future leaders rather than aging politicians, should be encouraged to blog because blogging is a sure way to sharpen thinking, improve writing skills and stimulate creatve juices. They already have their Friendster, MySpace and Facebook and other popular social networking tools, now what they need is to do some serious writing on their thoughts and aspirations. Don’t just mimic their elders on political leanings but really say their piece on what they would like for this nation. Also, I’d like to see more science and technology blogs and expert blogs on a variety of subjects like “how to” type of information, much like what Nicole does on budget travelling. But for journalists who blog, there is an article on “Murky Boundaries” in American Journalism Review that discusses guidelines for the personal blogs of journalists who work for mainstream news organizations that really makes for thought provoking reading these blog-friendly days:

That argument didn’t last long, though. The market made the decision pretty rapidly. Today, journalists are blogging for their employers in ever-increasing numbers. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s 2008 State of the News Media report, “Fully 95% of the top 100 newspapers included blogs from reporters in March 2007, up from 80% in 2006.” What’s more, the study found that “the number [of] unique visitors to blog pages on the 10 most popular newspaper sites grew 210% from December 2005 to December 2006,” making up 13 percent of total traffic and drawing in a rapidly ballooning amount of advertising revenue. With editors across the country trying to take advantage of these realities, blogging for the boss has become almost ubiquitous in today’s newsrooms.

But when it comes to journalists maintaining personal blogs, the marketplace isn’t likely to help. Editors and executives are going to have to solve this split on their own. It’s not going to be easy, as it pits two pillars of the journalism world against each other: freedom of speech and the duty to remain objective.

First, if the Newseum’s 74-foot marble façade in homage to the First Amendment is any clue, the idea that journalists aren’t free to speak their minds creates concerns.

Second, there is a legitimate fear among editors of a public perception of bias. It’s an area where the media don’t have much margin for error: According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s 2008 State of the News Media report, 55 percent of Americans already think journalists are biased and 66 percent think they are one-sided.

As news organizations move forward in addressing personal blogs and other aspects of their journalists’ digital footprints, they should keep Pazienza’s story in the back of their minds. The fact that he got a lot of sympathy from people – even though, as he puts it, he “essentially napalmed the crap out of” his journalism bridges with what he did – says a lot. 

  ** Source of illustration is SFGate.com with their Tech Chronicles column: Blogging

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The other day my brother asked me why I was so stuck on the Pedra Branca issue? Well, that’s easy enough to answer because I couldn’t help wondering what happened during the time when the maps were published in 1962, 1965, and 1975 that did not show the island in Malaysian territory and the 1979 map that did. The maps interest me as it brings back memories of my late father who was trained as a cartographer when maps were still meticulously hand drawn. I recall that a few years prior to his death he had expressed concern about the use of computers in mapping as he was perplexed with the quality of output and the awkwardness of using these new contraptions. Also, I’m sure, it was because he feared becoming obsolete. When I was abroad pursuing my studies, my dad would often write to me newsy letters filled with cheery encouragement. But in his last postcard to me, sent from Australia where he was attending a cartography conference, he wrote of early retirement and of slowing down due to exhaustion and ill health. Indeed, he died soon after due to complications from a stroke, a man who still had much to contribute to his nation at age 47.  

Pedra Branca, the disputed maps and the recent International Court of Justice decision in favour of Singapore seems to have caused some waves in Malaysia and neighbouring nations fearful of losing territories due to missing documents and inaction. Some interesting debate has ensued and in the recent programme with the Foreign Minister on RTM, furious callers openly blamed him for our loss of the island. To his credit, the Minister kept his cool as best he could with his gentlemanly manners. He also managed to explain the reason for his “win-win” remarks after the ICJ verdit. Call it spin doctoring or whatever but, to me, he was behaving as a diplomat should, being diplomatic! Having been put in the thick of things, he ventured that he was the person who had to do the mopping up after everything had spilled. His reply here and here in Dewan Rakyat yesterday was also dignified, a welcome relief in the circus we once called Parliament. Even if we lost Pedra Branca, kudos to Datuk Seri Rais that we did not lose our dignity with angry outbursts. That would have been beneath us.

Since then, several opinion pieces have emerged in the mainstream newspapers that make for thoughtful reading including New Straits Times “Opinion: Taking heed of the lesson bitterly learnt” in which former ambassador Datuk Deva Mohd Ridzam writes most eloquently:

For some 150 years, Singapore, and before that Britain, had been in effective though illegitimate control of Pedra Branca. Malaysia, however, chose not to object when Singapore prevented our fishermen working these waters or seeking shelter on the three features. Here again, this was not because we doubted our sovereignty over them. Rather it was an act of self-restraint and wisdom – something done in the letter and spirit of Asean. Foreign affairs is normally a place for extreme caution. It is also, uniquely, an arena where countries speak and act for themselves and, in that process, reveal their true nature by their actions. While Malaysia stood on the moral high ground by abiding by the principles of the Asean Treaty of Amity and Co-operation (TAC), Singapore lost credibility. It ignored TAC by taking a hostile stance with its naval blockade of an entire area. Under the United Nations Conference on the Law of Sea , Malaysia should negotiate with Singapore starting from the “base point” that Pedra Branca is nothing more than a rock. It creates only territorial waters. It has no effect on exclusive economic zones or continental shelf considerations. 

Datuk Seri Mohamed Jawhar Hassan’s in his NST column “A rock-solid judgement for Malaysia” also shed some light on the issue with a rational discourse that aims to pacify emotional Malayians still reeling from the shocking verdict:

Indeed, the ICJ’s decision has advanced Malaysia’s interests in no small measure. In 1986, in an area it knew full well was contested, Singapore began what amounted to a naval blockade around Batu Puteh, creating bilateral tensions. Johor fishermen were denied the right to fish in their traditional fishing waters and use sheltering spots in the vicinity. With the ICJ judgment, our fishermen will soon be able to access the waters in the area without intimidation, once the joint technical committee established by Malaysia and Singapore sorts out related matters. This might not seem to matter a great deal to most Malaysians, but it is a matter of livelihood for the estimated 1,500 fishermen in the area.

Please note that both writers are not politicians and their viewpoints are most enlightening and puts a whole new perspective on the issues. While Singaporeans need to understand why Malaysians are so upset with the ICJ verdict, I wonder if they are thumping their chest because they have struck fear in us? Politicians have a really strange way of twisting perspectives  that reminds me of Don Quixote who fought windmills in the belief that they were ferocious giants. Let’s hope our politicians are fighting real enemies and not imagined ones. Let’s not let our leaders end up a tragic tale as the Man from La Mancha, (summarised in Wiki here):

Although the first half of the novel is almost completely farcical, the second half is serious and philosophical about the theme of deception. Don Quixote’s imaginings are made the butt of outrageously cruel practical jokes. Even Sancho is unintentionally forced to deceive him at one point; trapped into finding Dulcinea, Sancho brings back three peasant girls and tells Quixote that they are Dulcinea and her ladies-in-waiting. When Don Quixote only sees three peasant girls, Sancho pretends that Quixote suffers from a cruel spell which does not permit him to see the truth. Sancho eventually gets his imaginary island governorship and unexpectedly proves to be wise and practical; though this too, ends in disaster. The novel ends with Don Quixote’s complete disillusionment, with his melancholic return to sanity and renunciation of chivalry, and finally, his death.         

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Blogs have become a hot topic these post-general election days and, because of my allergy to politics,  I find it discomforting that this really great channel for sharing information with like-minded individuals has now become highly politicised. I just read these reports about “22 websites, blogs probed” and “Govt to engage bloggers in cyberspace” and marvel at this new awareness of the Government as reported in the second article:

He acknowledged that the Government had overlooked the impact of engaging the new media during the recent general election which was a new dimension in winning over public opinion. Admitting that the government-of-the-day had not been savvy in engaging new media so much so that it lost out in cyberspace.

I am not a political blogger and neither  am I active in any blogger movement because before there was such activism, bloggers were just happily blogging to feed their personal addiction for the written word and for sharing their inspired jottings with anyone who happened to  appreciate it. But since the stance taken by the Government towards political blogs, blogging suddenly became threatening. Having been a journalist in the past helped when I ventured into blogging myself, considering that I insist on wearing rose-tinted glasses, I seek my own delusions anyway and avoid hate blogs filled with unsubstantiated information. Too much negativity around already!   

Nevertheless, I can personally vouch for my own fury with the previous Information Minister for his lack of understanding about the power of this new media. He did not seem to understand that people had a right to think for themselves and should not be subjected to endless propoganda via RTM in the guise of “information”. Brain dead people do not make good citizens! Indeed, the over-the-top misuse of mainstream media in the recent general elections contributed greatly to the aversion for propaganda-tainted news and the massive loss of support for those in power   

Now that I am sort of cut-off from people as I work from home, I find blogging very therapeutic as it sharpens my thinking and helps improve my writing skills. The best part about blogs is the amazing alternatives this new media offers compared to the often stale and biased reporting of mainstream media, you just pick and choose your favourites. Much of the attraction of blogs is the interesting viewpoints and gems of information not touched in regular media that makes for mighty interesting reading.

Blogosphere is a whole new world and everyone is trying to navigate their way safely while learning from the experience of other bloggers. Hey, this new media is perplexing authorities in other countries too but it is not blogging that is the problem but what goes into it. Personal thoughts and opinions may be fine in a diary, but when you put what is in your head online, it adds a whole new dimension to thinking out loud. There is no way the Government can regulate it and no way to prevent people from doing it. The best thing they can do is use it as a means to gauge public opinion and gather feedback on how best to serve the rakyat. Much as the writers can vent in their own blogs, readers too can make up their own mind about what they read. We all need to mature as a society.

Watch the YouTube videoclip “Blogs in Plain English” to understand more about blogs. It really is good!

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Update: Well, it seems the Malaysian Medical Association is demanding full clarification over deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad’s statement that doctors were “licensed to kill” as reported here 

As a lecturer in a local medical school many years ago, I used to impress upon my first year students struggling with human anatomy that, as a matter of principle, I could not pass those who were weak in the subject as that would be tantamount to giving them a “licence to kill”. Indeed, the students will hear this same phrase repeatedly throughout the course of their medical education until they finally graduate to be unleashed unto the unsuspecting world.  While their professional training gives them “A licence to heal”, ill prepared and poorly trained doctors will most certainly be  given “a licence to kill” when they begin treating patients who literally put their lives into the doctor’s hands.

So when the Deputy Health Minister, who is a doctor himself, makes this oft repeated statement in Parliament as reported in The Star here, Bernama here and New Straits Times here. (Please also see the videoclip above), I am sure he was truly surprised at the reaction of Opposition MPs, several of them fellow doctors. It was clearly obvious that the MPs had jumped at the phrase due to its more popular use in a James Bond movie of the same name. A storm in a teacup really! When there are so many more important issues to debate, our MPs need to pick on semantics?? Deep sigh!!  For me, the response by Dr Wan Azizah was most puzzling of all when, speaking as a doctor in this YouTube videoclip here, she raised her right hand to say that doctors have taken the Hippocratic Oath when in fact the Oath runs as follows:

I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepios and Hygeia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant:

To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art – if they desire to learn it – without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but no one else.

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.

I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.

Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.

What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.

If I fulfill this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honored with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot. 

Opposed to the referrence to Greek Gods in the original context of the Hippocratic Oath,  and at the height of Islamic Revivalism, the Islamic Medical Association of North America came together to come up with this medical oath which is a composite from the historical and contemporary writings of physicians of the Islamic World and was officially adopted by I.M.A. in 1977.

The Oath of a Muslim Physician

Praise be to Allah (God), the Teacher, the Unique, Majesty of the heavens, the Exalted, the Glorious, Glory be to Him, the Eternal Being Who created the Universe and all the creatures within, and the only Being Who contained the infinity and the eternity. We serve no other god besides Thee and regard idolatry as an abominable injustice.

Give us the strength to be truthful, honest, modest, merciful and objective.
Give us the fortitude to admit our mistakes, to amend our ways and to forgive the wrongs of others.

Give us the wisdom to comfort and counsel all towards peace and harmony.
Give us the understanding that ours is a profession sacred that deals with your most precious gifts of life and intellect.

Therefore, make us worthy of this favoured station with honor, dignity and piety so that we may devote our lives in serving mankind, poor or rich, literate or illiterate, Muslim or non-Muslim, black or white with patience and tolerance with virtue and reverence, with knowledge and vigilance, with Thy love in our hearts and compassion for Thy servants, Thy most precious creation.

Hereby we take this oath in Thy name, the Creator of all the Heavens and the earth and follow Thy counsel as Thou has revealed to Prophet Mohammad (pbuh).

“Whoever killeth a human being, not in liew of another human being nor because of mischief on earth, it is as if he hath killed all mankind. And if he saveth a human life, he hath saved the life of all mankind.” (Qur’an V/35)

But then I suppose politicians answer to a different kind of calling and take a different kind of oath. I wonder if there is anything in the MPs oath that says they should stop wasting precious Parliament and TV airtime with meaningless debate. Oh well, let’s have some fun while we are at it then. Please watch this hilarious spoof of James Bond and “A License to Heal” made by the medical students of Washington University and chill!

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LATEST: Okay, you can quit all the political machismo posturing already because the MB of Johor has said it –“Pulau Pisang’s sovereignty is clear!” 

According to him, the lighthouse on the 152-hectare island was there by way of an agreement between the Sultan of Johor then, Sultan Ibrahim, and the British government. “Pulau Pisang is in the government’s register and belongs to the Johor state government. The need for the lighthouse is based on shipping needs. That condition has to be met,” Abdul Ghani told reporters after officiating at the state Quran recitation function here Monday. He said the lighthouse occupied one acre and Singapore was allowed to build a jetty and a path to the lighthouse. Abdul Ghani was responding to concerns over the possibility of a dispute arising on the sovereignty and ownership of Pulau Pisang as the lighthouse was managed by Singapore. According to him, the Malaysian government in 2001 set a condition that Singaporeans on duty at the lighthouse had to register themselves at the Marine Department and Immigration office in Kukup, near Pontian. The registration needed to be done once every two weeks as the Singaporeans came and went, he said, adding that the lighthouse was fenced up and was a restricted area. On plans to develop the island, Abdul Ghani said Pulau Pisang had the potential to be developed due to its beauty but until now there was no official decision on the matter.

**Update (edited): Misreporting in the media can have dire consequences, especially when it involves territorial, political and sovereignty disputes. A quick search on Google will yield much evidence to show that Singapore has made clear its stand on Pulau Pisang. Even this Oral Pleading on the Straits Lights System made in Paris, France on 8 November 2007 states that:

10. The same procedure was followed when the lighthouse on the island of Pulau Pisang was later constructed. As the Court will see from the map, Pulau Pisang is an island located off the coast of Malaysia in the Straits of Malacca: and the island, as I said earlier today, has always been regarded as belonging to Johor and, subsequently, to Malaysia.

11. In 1885, an agreement was reached between the Ruler of Johor and the Governor of the Straits Settlements in Singapore pursuant to which the former ⎯ the Ruler of Johor ⎯ granted to the Government of the Straits Settlements a plot of land on which to build and maintain a lighthouse and a roadway access to the lighthouse. The lighthouse itself was erected on Pulau Pisang in 1886 and, in accordance with the 1885 Agreement, was managed and maintained by the Government of the Straits Settlements and later by Singapore, which continues to do so up to the present. The 1885 grant by the Ruler of Johor was not reduced to writing at the time, but it was subsequently recorded in an express written indenture signed on 6 October 1900 between the Sultan of Johor and the Governor of the Colony of the Straits Settlements after the Sultan of Johor had sent a reminder to this effect to the Governor of the Straits Settlements (CMS, Ann. 24). What is striking about this event is that the Sultan never referred at the time to the need to execute a similar indenture for the lighthouse on Pedra Branca: only for the light on Pulau Pisang. And that is further striking evidence that Pedra Branca was not regarded by the Sultan as falling under Johor’s sovereignty.

The Oral Pleading continued the next day, 9 November 2007 with more arguments to support Singapore’s claim to Pedra Branca:

18. And it is the complete absence of an agreement for the British activities on Pedra Branca from 1847 to 1851, activities which culminated in the construction of the lighthouse on Pedra Branca, that is a fundamental defect in Malaysia’s case. The plain and simple truth is that Malaysia has been unable to produce any written agreement dealing with the lighthouse on Pedra Branca as it did with respect to the lighthouses at Cape Rachado and Pulau Pisang, and as was proposed for the lighthouse on Pulau Aur. The obvious explanation for this glaring gap in Malaysia’s case is that neither Malaysia, nor its predecessor Johor, ever considered Pedra Branca to be under its sovereignty.

19. It is this lack of any written agreement concerning the lighthouse on Pedra Branca which also distinguishes the present case from the examples of lighthouse practice elsewhere in the world that Malaysia has sought to rely on in its written pleadings. Malaysia’s thesis is that lighthouses are frequently built and maintained by an entity which does not possess sovereignty over the territory on which the light is situated, and that Pedra Branca is simply an example of this practice. But let me examine the authorities that Malaysia has cited and on which it relies to support this proposition…….

 Singapore concludes:

47. Eleventh, and last, Malaysia expressly disclaimed “ownership” over Pedra Branca. Singapore, in contrast, obviously never disclaimed “ownership” over Pedra Branca, and it never claimed sovereignty over Pulau Pisang. 

Utusan Malaysia frontpaged a story about Pulau Pisang today “Bangunkan P. Pisang – Bagi menjamin status kedaulatan pulau milik Malaysia” calling for the Malaysian Government to develop the island and retake management of the lighthouse from Singapore. But I would have to say there is no reason for worry as Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Prof S Jayakumar had already given assurance of this in his reply to supplementary questions in the Singapore Parliament in 2003. According to excerpts from the Hansard here and a Channel News Asia report here, he was quoted as saying:

Mr Abdul Khalis: Firstly, I understand that while we operate a lighthouse at Pedra Branca, we also operate a lighthouse at Pulau Pisang. While we say that Pedra Branca belongs to us, we do not have a similar position as regards to Pulau Pisang. The first question is, what are the differences in Singapore’s position with regards to Pedra Branca as opposed to Pulau Pisang? Second question: has Malaysia decided, realised or in any other way taken any steps to claim against any other island that belong to us besides Pedra Branca?

Answer: Let me first say upfront that Pulau Pisang belongs to Malaysia. We have never disputed Malaysia’s sovereignty over Pulau Pisang. But our MPA, Maritime Port Authority, however has a right to operate the lighthouse there on Pulau Pisang and the plot of land on which the lighthouse stands as well as the roadway leading to the Lighthouse was granted in perpetuity to Singapore so long as Singapore operates the lighthouse and this was in an indenture between Johor Sultan and the Straits Settlement’s Government in 1900 and we became successor to that. So Pulau Pisang, we never contested the sovereignty. Pedra Branca, we have sovereignty over it. It is ridiculous to say, as the Malaysians said, that Singapore can only operate a Lighthouse for Malaysia. I might add that, in 1968, the Malaysian objected to the flying of our flag over the lighthouse, Singapore flag, in Pulau Pisang. They objected to the flag and we took it out. But they never objected then or later to the flying of the Singapore flag in Pedra Branca.

There are photos of the Pulau Pisang lighthouse at the Lighthouse Depot here and here. You can also see a satellite photo here. I am not sure if the Utusan report is aware that Vancouver based design company Civitas has even drawn up a design for a golf resort on Pulau Pisang for ther client Akitek Antara Sdn Bhd here (you have to scroll down a bit to see the design). Don’t confuse this with Pulau Pisang, Indonesia which is a well-known surfers haunt. Have a listen to this Ghazal number entitled “Pulau Pisang“, as Siti Nurhaliza waxes lyrical about the island.

Pulau Pisang

Pulaulah Pisang…
Pulau Pisang Rumahlah Api Sayang
Pedoman Kapal Belayar Malam

Sebelum Ajal Berpantang Mati
Walaupun Tercampak Dalam Lautan Dalam

Pedomanlah Kapal
Pedomanlah Kapal Belayar Malam Sayang
Sarat Bermuat Buah Keranji

Walau Tercampak Lautan Yang Dalam
Tidakku Lupa Segala Janji 

 

In the meantime, read the text of the Opening Speech by Malaysia at the International Court of Justice submitted on 13 Nov 2007 with regard to Pedra Branca here. An excerpt of the speech that shows Malaysia’s real concerns:

36.       Singapore’s claim not only upsets the existing arrangements in this way, but raises the question of what it wants to do with the island. In its pleadings Singapore has relied on a reclamation proposal around Pulau Batu Puteh.  An internal document, a 1978 Tender Evaluation Report, shows a prospective artificial island of 5,000 sq meters towards Middle Rock.[1]  This is not fanciful conjecture.  Singapore has an extremely active reclamation policy, which was the subject of the Reclamation Case instituted by Malaysia against Singapore in ITLOS in September 2003.  The Provisional Measures Order given by that Tribunal in October 2003 will be known to the Court, as well as the subsequent amicable settlement of that case.

37.       But Singapore does not need a bigger island for a better lighthouse.  What does it need a bigger island for?  Quite apart from the possible effects on environment and navigation in the Straits, this could lead to potentially serious changes to the security arrangements in the eastern entrance to the Straits. In fact, the aggressive methods Singapore has used to assert its claim to Pulau Batu Puteh have already led to regrettable – although not irreversible – changes to the stable conditions in the area. 

38.       In 1986, well after the critical date, Singapore sent its naval vessels to Pulau Batu Puteh, and has since then maintained a permanent, 24-hour guard around Pulau Batu Puteh.  This has created tension and danger.  Johor fishermen have been chased away by Singapore forces from their traditional fishing waters and sheltering spots around Pulau Batu Puteh.  Malaysian officials and naval vessels cannot go anywhere near Pulau Batu Puteh without being physically challenged by Singapore naval vessels. In response to Singapore’s actions, Malaysia has chosen to adopt a policy of non-confrontation and to act in a peaceful manner while this dispute is in the process of being settled. We have now learned through its pleadings that Singapore placed military communications equipment on Pulau Batu Puteh in May 1977, which we were not previously aware of and which causes us grave concern.  This conduct does not fall within the consent given for the construction and operation of the lighthouse.

39.       Great Britain and Singapore’s conduct in respect of Pulau Batu Puteh before the critical date, at least that which was known to Malaysia, was entirely consistent with being the operator of the lighthouses on Pulau Batu Puteh and Pulau Pisang with the consent of the sovereign, Johor. 

40.       Malaysia, by contrast, has always respected the long-standing arrangements for Singapore’s operation of the lighthouses on Pulau Batu Puteh and Pulau Pisang.  We have not interfered with Singapore’s operation of the lighthouses. 

41.       But Malaysia does not wish the stability of its relationship with Indonesia altered.  Yet this would inevitably follow if Singapore were to be treated as sovereign over Pulau Batu Puteh with attendant implications for established maritime delimitation in the area.

42.       Malaysia respectfully requests the Court to bear in mind these important considerations and, accordingly, to reaffirm Malaysia’s title to Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.

43.       Mr President and distinguished members of the Court, before ending my submission, I would like to clarify one point. Our problem is with Singapore as a military presence on one of Johor’s islands in the eastern entrance of the Singapore Straits.  We have no problem with Singapore as the operator of Horsburgh Lighthouse.  Malaysia wishes to maintain the peaceful and stable conditions at the entrance to the South China Sea.  It is Singapore which is seeking to change the situation.  The Sultan and Temenggong of Johor, in 1844, gladly consented to the establishment of the lighthouse on Pulau Batu Puteh, and Malaysia has never suggested that its continued operation by Singapore presented any problem.  I repeat, Malaysia has always respected the position of Singapore as the operator of Horsburgh Lighthouse and I would like to place formally on record that Malaysia will continue to do so.  Malaysia’s concern is quite different, as I have indicated.

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Like missing someone only after they’re gone, I can’t seem to get Pedra Branca out of my mind. Been wondering what on earth swayed the ICJ to rule in favour of Singapore on an issue of sovereign rights over an island that never belonged to it in the first place. It would seem that the judgement relied heavily on one letter signed by the Acting Secretary of the State of Johore dated 25 September 1953, as reported in the New Straits Times “1953 Johor letter “hands” island to Singapore“. On further surfing, I found the entire 190 page Memorial document submitted by Singapore to the International Court of Justice and on pages 87 and 90 these statements stand out: 

5.113 The evidence and relevant legal considerations establish that the British Crown acquired sovereignty in the period 1847 to 1851, an entitlement subsequently inherited by the Republic of Singapore. The maintenance of this title, on the basis of the effective and peaceful exercise of State authority since 1851, is described in Chapter VI.

6.5 The exercise of State activities over Pedra Branca was authorized by, and carried out under the jurisdiction of, first the Government of India, and subsequently, after the Straits Settlements ceased to be part of the Government of India, the British Crown Colony of the Straits Settlements of which Singapore formed a part, and then the Singapore Government.

Phew, my goodness, now I understand why the republic that was torn into existence in 1965 can lay claim to an island that, to all intents and purpose, was decided as theirs by the Government of India way back in 1800s with no reference to any letter seeking permission from the Johore Sultanate. There’s a report in The Sunday Star that may have escaped notice “After 18 years, Kadir’s search for letter still goes on” that tells of:another letter that would have swung the judgement our way::

The letter is said to be from the British governor in Butterworth to the Johor Temenggong seeking permission to build the Horsburgh Lighthouse on Pulau Batu Puteh. Kadir said they had in possession the reply from the Johor Sultan (in 1884) granting the approval. During the ICJ proceedings, Malaysia had submitted that there was an important letter from the British requesting permission from the Johor Sultanate to build the lighthouse on the island.

How do you find a letter that old? It seems almost impossible and, since the decision made by the ICJ, no longer a matter for consideration as the loss of Pulau Batu Putih has been decided. So sad our Sultans of old had to work within the administrative style of governance of colonial masters so alien to their own refined and dignified customs of the Istana. Just take a look at the top photo of the first Conference of Rulers held in 1870 and compare that with the photo of Tuans at a Club that I found in Binder’s Classic Malaya. (Read also Sabri Zain’s  history of The Johore Empire posted on his website www.sabrizain.org) What I do  understand is that Malaysia has lost much more than an island because it had already lost it’s honour (maruah) so many years ago under so many colonial masters. The colonisation of Malaya remains deeply ingrained in the feelings of inferiority among Malaysians and maybe that is what prompts us to ridicule and bash our own countrymen in blogs, forums, media and international arenas every chance we get! Will Malaysia continue in its blissful ignorance of history while external forces are eagerly waiting to determine our destiny to their advantage? I am depressed after learning where the course of history has taken us with regard to Pulau Batu Putih and I wonder what ominious fate awaits future generations with the errors made today? Alahai Pulai Batu Putih…..  

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Okay, as is typical of people when some purse snatcher just grabbed their handbag that, though not containing anything valuable, holds personal documents that legally identifies who they are, I am feeling mean about the Pulau Batu Putih/Pedra Branca saga today. A quick surf on Wikipedia and I find out there is a reason why that hot piece of white rock has got this foreign sounding name of Pedra Branca that its’ new owners in Singapore are so gleefully proud of. I got quite a chuckle out of it myself and found this photo of seagulls crapping on a rock in Rathlin Island, Dublin, Ireland to illustrate that years of accumulated poop can sure make you white…hehehe. This is what Wiki says about Pedra Branca:

The island first appeared in navigational records as early as 1583. Dutch voyager Johann van Linschoten then recorded that Pedra Branca is “where ships that come and go to and from China pass in great danger and some are left upon it”. The rocks get their name from years of accumulated bird droppings which hardened upon the rock. 

To be fair to our neighbours, read this history of Singapore – Road to Independence (sorry wrong link given earlier)  and Lee Kwan Yew’s reaction to Tunku Abdul Rahman’s decision to separate Singapore from Malaysia that gives me ideas of how we can get Pulau Batu Putih back:

That afternoon, in a televised press conference, Lee declared Singapore a sovereign, democratic, and independent state. In tears he told his audience, “For me, it is a moment of anguish. All my life, my whole adult life, I have believed in merger and unity of the two territories.” (***Please Watch the YouTube videoclip of this historic moment!) 

     

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