- Philippines typhoon survivors determined to hope
- Japanese parliament passes controversial secrets law
- Banks told to boost cyber security
TACLOBAN, Philippines, Dec 07, 2013 (AFP) - A raggedy cloth banner in a Philippine town torn apart by one of the most powerful typhoons on record declares that its residents are "roofless, homeless, but not hopeless".
Super Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,500 people dead or missing and ruined the homes of about four million others when it tore across some of the Philippines' poorest fishing and farming communities.
A month after the typhoon struck, the battle for survival remains undeniably desperate in squalid towns, where masses of survivors huddle on roads still choked with debris while waiting for noodles, rice, water or other essentials being handed out by relief workers.
But the hand-painted message on the banner, hanging above a shop front being repaired on the outskirts of the hard-hit port city of Ormoc, represents a spirit of hope and resilience that resonates throughout the disaster zone.
International relief workers, who spend their lives visiting disaster zones around the world, have expressed surprise and admiration at the outwardly jovial determination of the survivors to "bangon", or rise, again.
"People are really struggling and yet the vast majority have got this incredible spirit where they just refuse to be defeated by this disaster," International Federation of the Red Cross spokesman Patrick Fuller told AFP on Friday after visiting some of the worst-hit areas in and around the coastal city of Tacloban.
And while much of the international focus in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon has been on the enormous relief effort that was initially dominated by a giant US military contingent, many survivors have quietly started rebuilding their lives using their own initiative.
In the tiny farming community of Kananga on Leyte island, about 70 kilometres (45 miles) west of Tacloban, virtually all of the coconut trees that have sustained families for generations lie worthless on the ground after being ripped apart by Haiyan's monster winds.
Farmer Pepito Baring and a group of young men were on Friday using a chainsaw in the badly damaged local cemetery to cut coconut trees, which were resting on shattered concrete graves, into planks of timber.
"It takes two trees to get enough wood to rebuild a temporary shelter," Baring, 56, said as he stood bare-chested in the fierce early afternoon sun wearing only a pair of dirty shorts and flimsy rubber sandals.
Along the 100-kilometre road between the devastated towns of Ormoc and Tacloban, there are many similar, improvised saw mills that have spurred an astonishingly fast construction boom, albeit of flimsy homes that would be equally unable to withstand another typhoon.
Countless homes of farming and urban communities have been resurrected using the "coco lumber", as well as the recycled materials of their destroyed houses and sometimes tarpaulin roofing donated by relief organisations.
The number of people listed by the government as homeless has dropped from more than four million shortly after Haiyan struck to just 94,000, with one important factor, the determination of survivors to rebuild their homes themselves using whatever means they can.
Healing Haiyan's wounds to take years
Nevertheless, the poorly rebuilt homes are just band-aids over a gruesome wound that authorities say will take many years and billions of dollars to heal.Most areas of the central Leyte and Samar islands that were the worst hit by Haiyan remain without electricity and supplies of drinking water.
And nearly three million people remain reliant on life-saving food aid or farming support, such as crop seeds, according to the United Nations.
People living in ruined communities along the sides of major roads on Leyte write messages on boards, such as: "Help us, we need food", in the hope of getting a relief truck to stop.
Yet, desperation should not always be confused for despair.
In one devastated coastal community on the outskirts of Tacloban, hundreds of people queued on Friday for what they said were their first supplies of bottled water for a week.
Among them was Rosalinda Tabao, 55, a mother-of-six who lost her shanty home, her vegetable-stall business and three cousins when Haiyan's tsunami-like storm surges swept across their town.
Tabao said her family lost everything, including all their money and the vegetable crops on a small plot of land they rented and which supplied her vegetable stall.
But Tabao refused to be defeated.
Four days after Haiyan struck, Tabao made a seven-hour bus trip to Ormoc and bought 500 pesos ($12) worth of Chinese cabbage seeds using money donated by her mother-in-law, and sent her husband to plant them on their tiny farm.
"They should be ready in a month," Tabao said as she stood in the queue waiting for water. "Once they are ready, I'll sell them and use the money to buy more seeds, maybe eggplant."
Like her neighbours, Tabao and her husband had also quickly rebuilt a temporary shelter where their old home stood using salvaged materials.
Asked about her strongest emotions over the past month, Tabao said: "I hope. As long as I live, I'll continue to hope."
TOKYO, Dec 06, 2013 (AFP) - Japan's parliament on Friday adopted a law on protecting state secrets despite a public outcry, with strong opposition from the media and academics who fear it will infringe on the right to information and free expression.
The controversial bill, proposed by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was approved by the Senate on Friday, a few days after it was passed in the lower house.
The Senate vote in favour was expected as the coalition government led by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) holds a majority of seats there.
The opposition raised motions to stop the law but each move was rejected by the LDP members and their allies.
The law allows government ministers to designate as a state secret information related to defence, diplomacy, counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism.
Abe has argued that the measure is necessary to plug a notoriously leaky government machine, which prevents its chief ally the United States from sharing intelligence.
But critics say the categories are so vague that almost anything could fit the definition. They worry that information that is embarrassing to governing politicians or to their patrons could easily be hidden from public view.
They point to the way that Tokyo withheld news of the severity of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011, and say a state that already operates largely behind closed doors will become even more secretive.
That problem is exacerbated by a relatively weak institutional press.
The bill allows for jail terms of up to 10 years for those convicted of leaking state secrets, as well as for those who acquire secrets through illegal means - for example through trespass.
Anyone found guilty of encouraging someone to leak a state secret could face up to five years in jail, a provision that has drawn howls of protest from journalists, lawyers and academics.
More than 250 film celebrities, including animation directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, along with journalists, researchers, lawyers and other influential figures had appealed for making every effort to block the law which they criticised for being "anti-liberty, anti-democratic and dangerous".
The legislation does not provide for any independent oversight of the process.
Abe has said the government intends to set up panels to provide checks and balances in the process of defining a secret. But opponents say nothing is written into the legislation and government-appointed panels are in any case unlikely to rule against their paymaster.
Singapore's central bank has called on financial institutions to tighten up cyber security after a database on elite customers of Standard Chartered Bank was compromised.
Police confirmed yesterday that information on private-banking clients of the British lender had been found in the laptop of a Singaporean man charged with hacking the parliamentary district website of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said in a statement it has "reminded all FIs (financial institutions) to heighten their vigilance to safeguard their IT systems and customer information, including controls at third party service providers".
"MAS is paying special supervisory attention to FIs' compliance with MAS' requirements for IT outsourcing."
In a statement sent to AFP yesterday, the Singapore Police Force said it discovered files containing data on Standard Chartered's clients in a laptop seized from James Raj when he was arrested on Nov 4 in Malaysia.
The 35-year-old was extradited to Singapore and charged on Nov 12 with hacking the Ang Mo Kio district website, whose MPs include Lee, and posting the image of a Guy Fawkes mask used by international hacker group Anonymous.
The alleged hacking was among a string of cyber attacks that have also targeted the official websites of Lee and President Tony Tan as well as pro-government media.
Some of the attackers denounced new rules requiring news websites in Singapore to obtain annual publication licences, but other hacking incidents appear to be unrelated.
Standard Chartered, whose biggest shareholder is Singapore's state investment firm Temasek Holdings, said in a statement the monthly statements of 647 private banking clients for February 2013 were stolen from the servers of Fuji Xerox, which it had engaged for printing services.
"The confidentiality and privacy of our clients are of paramount importance to us, and we take this incident very seriously," Ray Ferguson, the bank's chief executive, said in the statement.
"Customer data protection is our responsibility and we sincerely apologise to all our customers and specifically to our private bank clients who have been affected."
The bank said no unauthorised transactions resulted from the incident, and that its retail and other banking units were not affected.
The MAS said it was investigating the matter and while it was an "isolated case" it underscored the need for greater vigilance.
"Globally, financial institutions have been facing an increasing number and variety of cyber threats," it said.
"MAS takes a serious view of such threats and has stringent requirements in place for FIs to protect the security of their IT systems and confidentiality of their client data."
Singaporean lawyer M. Ravi, who is representing Raj, did not immediately comment on the matter.
Raj was denied bail on Wednesday after a court ruled that he posed a flight risk.
He has yet to comment on his links to Anonymous, an amorphous group of global hackers. — AFP
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