Farmers vs. Private Company – competing for Cambodia’s natural resources

Bombing in Ansarchambok Commune, Pursat province, injures 6 villagers, three seriously hurt.

Bounthoeun, one of the radio program staff (a project of which I am advising), sent the above text to me early morning of Saturday. I jumped out of bed in shock because I know he’s there, with The NGO Forum (an umbrella network), doing some research over the weekend. To my utter relief, he was several kilometers away from where the bombing incident happened. I said a quick prayer of thanks that he is safe. He told me he was there at the farmers’camp earlier, talking with the farmers and toying with the idea of spending the night there with the farmers. But since he has an early morning interview with a local official, he decided otherwise. The villagers, mostly farmers from Kompong Chhnang and Pursat provinces, were gathered in Ansarchambok commune to protest against the logging operations of a controversial land and timber company. In 2001, the farmers also rallied against of the same company which temporarily halted its operations.

The bomb exploded (about 12:40am, Saturday) among a group of (mostly sleeping) villagers protesting against a private land and timber company, which is about to clear hundreds and thousands of hectares of land to make way for a eucalyptus plantation. It wasn’t clear who was responsible, but later today The Cambodia Daily (TCD) reported that villagers suspect the company is involved in this as part of the scare tactics. This is a very controversial issue since, according to TCD, the company is considered the largest private landholder in the country, and is said to have ties with the PM.

This news, The Cambodia Daily said, would test the government’s promises for land reform in the country. Incidentally, the bombing happened just days before the meeting of donors where land issues is one of the most prominent issues to be tackled. The bombing incident will definitely have an impact in the discussions. We will see what will happen in the coming days.

Cambodia has rich and diverse natural resources. Despite over two decades of internal conflicts, the country still possesses vast natural resources worthy of conservation. The growing economic pressures brought about by the return of political stability have opened the country’s doors to major changes in terms of both economic and development resource use. While most resources has been used sustainably for centuries by local people, economic pressures are forcing many people to lose control of the resources. Land distribution is increasingly inequitable, and disputes for land and access to forests, sometimes violent like the recent incident in Pursat province, are increasing. The State laws are weak and considered by NGOs as inadequate for protecting the rights and ensuring access to land and natural resources for most Cambodians.

Happy Halloween!

Gracie, thanks for the e-card. Everyone, have a good time doing rounds of pangalag-kalag!!

November 1. Todos los Santos, Araw ng mga Patay, undas. We Pinoys remember our dead loved ones, offer a prayer and light candles in the cemetery.

In Cambodia, it’s called the Pchum Ben, or the commemoration of the spirits festival and this year it started on the first day of October.This annual commemoration of the dead is one of the most important events in the Khmer Buddhist calendar.It lasts 15 days and is divided into 2 parts. In the days leading up to the full moon of Bon PChum Ben or the first 14 days of this Buddhist festival are called Bon Dak Ben, or the offering of the food to the monks. Buddhists troop to their temples and make offerings in memory of their dead relatives. On the 15th day of the ceremony- the day of the full moon- is called Bon Pchum Ben, or the collection of the bens (offering),the temples come alive with music and celebrations in honor of the dead. In the countryside, an evening of dance is held inside the pagoda. If relatives of the departed do not make offerings, it is said that the dead will not be able to rest and haunt them in the forthcoming year.

Tevika, my officemate, told me that in Buddhist beliefs, when a person dies he or she is not immediately reincarnated, but instead they go to a place somewhat similar to a purgatory. There is nothing to eat in that place, and so the souls of the dead are released during Pchum Ben for 15 days to go to earth in order to eat. And so, many people gather at the pagodas bringing loads of food for the dead. For the fanatics, they travel far and wide and offer food to seven different pagodas in seven days to appease the spirits and to earn merits for their next life.

I went to a pagoda before and saw how it was done. It has something like a fiesta-atmosphere to it, very similar to undas in Philippines. In the Philippines, the tombs are cleaned and adorned with flowers, here pagodas are decorated with banderitas. While masses are held in the cemeteries in the Philippines, Buddhist monks chant prayers over loudspeakers. Men, women and children dress to the nines and strut their wares in the cemetery, here locals, particularly the women, are dressed in their traditional costume. Instead of lighting candles, Cambodians light incense or joss sticks. Same-same, but there’s something a little different. It’s something new for me back in 2000. I feel sad now that a lot of religious groups have penetrated the country and have started converting the locals. I believe in diversity. Diversity of culture, religion, way of life… Otherwise, the world will just be one boring place.

P.S. Yes, the Cambodians believe in ghosts, monsters, etc., very much like us Filipinos. I wanted to watch the Halloween episode of MGB over TFC, but changed my mind. I live alone and I have a very active imagination. Mahirap na.

Long live King Norodom Sihamoni!

Photo by BBC News/AP.

So there he was… wearing a crisp white uniform of sorts with gold embroidery and the traditional Khmer pants called phanoung (?), smiling tensely. Wearing not the royal slippers but black leather shoes… wearing not a crown but a golden phnov leaf tucked behind his ear for good luck…

Preah Karuna Preah Bat Samdech Preah Baromneath Norodom Sihamoni, the official title of the new reigning monarch, officially ascended to the Throne of the Kingdom of Cambodia, after a series of religious ceremonies which combined Brahmin and Buddhist rituals, spread across three days.

There were lots of people in Phnom Penh gathered in numbers in front of the Royal Palace and hoping to get a glimpse of the new king. I had the same idea too, but laziness overpowered me and the lure of the bed was so strong I could not resist. Well, after weeks of sleepless nights, who wouldn’t?

Anyway, so I was sat glued to my favorite seat in the house, munching a bag of chippy (thanks to my donor, Tita Cute, who brought lots of them from Pinas!), watching the live telecast. The crowning ceremony I believe started with a procession with the royal “carriage” carrying King Sihamoni through walkway lined with blooming flowers. There were There were also the royal alalays carrying umbrellas to protect the king from the sun’s harmful UVrays. Hah, and why not, the king has a schoolboy complexion complimenting his mestizo good looks.

The Buddhist monks and the King’s parents, former King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Monineath, took turns in the traditional ritual of pouring water over King Sihamoni’s head. The water, I later learned, came all the way from Phnom Kulen mountains in Siem Reap province, which was believed to be a sacred mountain.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim and National Assembly President and the King’s half-brother Prince Norodom Ranariddh, plus other high-ranking government officials and more than 200 people representing the foreign embassies, NGOs llistened to his first speech as the country’s king. Outside thousands of Cambodians listened with bated breath through a massive loudspeaker that was installed days earlier.

People are excited, and hopeful that the new king would lead them to a better and brighter future. The king is highly-revered in Cambodia. According to ancient Khmer beliefs, the king is the descendant from the heavens. To a poor country who has gone through a lot, the Cambodians still hold on to that belief and look up to their king, as he symbolizes hope, peace and stability in the country. And the new king promised:

“I will never live apart from the beloved people,” he said. “Every week, I will devote several days visiting our towns, our countryside and our provinces, and to serving you.” (The Cambodia Daily)

Hmmmm. Very little has been known about King Sihamoni before he was chosen as King. A a man known for his privacy, simplicity and love for the culture and the arts, King Sihamoni appears to be a reluctant royal leader but is hailed as the natural successor to his father.

And to quote The Cambodia Daily, after all these pompous rituals and celebration, King Norodom Sihamoni is now one of the small but elite group of monarchs in the world, who as retired King Norodom Sihanouk (the father) likes to point out, reign but do not govern.

Oh well.

King Sihanouk Abdicates!

Totoo, official na nga ang pag-abdicate ng hari. After so many attempts ay natuloy na rin. Kaya eto ngayon, nagsusunog ng kilay ang mga lawmakers para i-draft ang pinakahihintay na law (Throne Council Law) na nag-a-outline ng selection procedure ng papalit sa hari. Ipinag-uutos din ng batas na ito na sa loob ng 7 araw ay may bago o may napili nang papalit sa namatay o nag-abdicate na reigning na hari. It was hastily passed last Friday lang. Minamadali nga ito kasi kapag walang successor ang king, ay magiging ganap na republika ang Cambodiaa , na siya namang pabor sa kasalukuyang Prime Minister. Pag nagkataon ay magkakagulo na naman (katatapos lang na-solve yung gulo sa election, eto na naman. Kung sakaling maging republika ang Cambodia, ito ay lalabag sa unang chapter ng kanilang Constitution, na nagsasabing (sa wikang Ingles) “… Cambodia is a Kingdom with a King…” Maraming makakating dila ang nagpahayag ng kung ano-ano tungkol dito pero hintaying na lang daw muna ang mga susunod na kaganapan.

At ang 2 sa mga pinagpipilian ay … si Prince Ranariddh at si Prince Sihamoni. Meron pang ibang kandidato na myembro din ng Royal Family, pero silang 2 ang pinakamatunog. Pareho silang anak ng hari magkaiba lang ang nanay. Early on Prince Ranariddh has been telling the media that he’s not interested in becoming the king. Kasi mas type niyang maging pulitiko (siya’y kasalukuyang head ng royalist na FUNCINPEC Party at National Assembly President). Oo nga naman. Wala namang power ang hari e. Sa kabilang banda, walang gaanong impormasyon naman about Prince Sihamoni, except that he’s the former ambassador to UNESCO in Paris. Kumbaga hindi siya masyadong kilala ng tao, pero nakow, mas gwapo si Prince Sihamoni kesa kay Prince Ranariddh.

Dagdag pa ng hari, hindi daw siya uuwi sa Cambodia hangga’t wala pang bagong hari. Sa kasalukuyan ay nagpapagamot sa Beijing, China ang hari kasama ng reyna. Matagal na rin sila duon. Sino kaya sa dalawang prinsipe ang magiging bagong hari ng Cambodia– Ranariddh o Sihamoni? Bakit ganitong pagpapahalaga ang binibigay ng pamahalaan ng Cambodia sa mga royalty? Abangan ang susunod na kabanata…

Ang sagwa pag tagalog ano? Been attempting to write a decent blog in Tagalog pero mukhang baluktot talaga ang wordings ko. Pasensha na po. Sa mga gustong bumasa tungkol sa Royal Family ng Cambodia, click lang kayo dito . At sa karagdagang impormasyon tungkol sa balitang ito, click naman kayo dito . Kung gusto niyo namang makilala ang hari ng Cambodia, punta ka dito .