Staying on the Job Eases the Pain, Cancer-Stricken Indonesian Official Says

The information chief of Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency was upbeat on Monday as he described the details of a personal disaster – his battle with an advanced lung cancer.

In a country where volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and forest fires are frequent, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho’s job is considered stressful enough even for a healthy person.

But Sutopo has insisted on carrying on with his day-to-day duties, fielding phone calls and text messages from reporters, as well as hammering out lengthy press releases – often from a hospital while undergoing chemotherapy.

“When I work I forget all the pain, even more so when my press conferences are attended by many journalists,” Sutopo told BenarNews during a visit to his spacious office in Central Jakarta.

His desk is stacked with paperwork and books with themes ranging from disaster management to religion.

“But when I don’t do anything, just sitting, I feel excruciating pain. I can hardly sleep at night,” said Sutopo, who has lost 20 kilos (44 pounds) in less than a year.

Diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in January, doctors said Sutopo, 49, could survive up to three years with treatment. The diagnosis shocked the man who has led a healthy lifestyle, including abstaining from smoking.

“The first thing in my mind was my two children,” he said.

“But I have come to terms with it. What I’m experiencing now has been ordained by God. I just have to live with it,” said Sutopo, a devout Muslim. “I hope that any good deed that I’m doing will be rewarded in the hereafter.”

Sutopo said the cancer had spread to the bones in his back. He has to undergo a regular procedure to remove fluid and blood from his lungs.

“It’s extremely painful,” he said.

On the job

The year 2018 has been an especially busy one for Sutopo, as earthquakes devastated parts of Lombok and Sulawesi islands between July and September, killing more than 3,500 people.

He has had to write press releases and update his social media feeds from his hospital bed.

“I have written about 500 press releases this year, so it’s more than one press release a day,” he said.

A network of local disaster agency officials and volunteers across the country have helped Sutopo by sending information on casualties, aid needs and photos and videos from disaster zones.

“Many of the 3,000 reporters on my list told me that the information I gave them was more than they expected. I try to give them as much information as possible, including videos and photos, so they don’t have to ask more questions,” he said.

Sutopo has an undergraduate degree in geography from Gadjah Mada University and a doctorate in environmental management from the Bogor Agricultural University, but had no background in communications or the media when he took the job.

He started off as a civil servant at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, where he did research on hydrology and artificial rain. In 2010, Sutopo was assigned to the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) as director of disaster risk mitigation, before taking the job as its head of information and public relations.

Warding off fake news

Apart from battling cancer, Sutopo said he often had to contend with sifting out fake content disseminated via social media.

Sutopo’s Twitter feed regularly debunks hoaxes and fake news circulating online about disasters, including videos of old volcanic eruptions being passed off as new, and chain messages that warn of impending earthquakes.

“As more and more Indonesians have access to the internet, fake news and hoaxes have become more prevalent in recent years,” he said. “They used to spread only via text messages, but now they become viral via WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook.”

Following a series of eruptions of the Mount Agung volcano on Bali island last year, alerts were raised to the highest level, leading many to put off traveling to Bali, where the economy depends on tourism.

“What I did was post photos showing people doing yoga or pre-wedding photos with erupting Mount Agung in the background, to show that Bali was safe, and only a small area was off-limits,” he said.

“People were scared because media reports made it as if that the whole of Bali was affected by the eruptions,” he said.

However, the internet and social media have also made it easier for him to spread awareness about disaster management, he said.

“Social media has been very effective in amplifying my messages,” said Sutopo, who has written several books about disaster management.

‘Undying spirit’

Sutopo recently benefitted from social media when he met one of his favorite singers.

Twitter users began using the hashtag #SutopoMeetRaisa to draw attention to his wish to meet the Indonesian pop star. The Jakarta Post reported that the pair met recently in a building where Sutopo had gone to do an interview and Raisa was promoting her new song.

Raisa told him to stay healthy and keep inspiring people, Sutopo told the newspaper.

Weeks earlier, Raisa responded to the hashtag with a tweet of her own, the Post reported.

“My Twitter today has #RaisaMeetSutopo all over it. I’ve read all the stories in your tweets, friends, and it made me feel like I’ve known Pak Sutopo for a long time. He’s loved by many. Keep your spirit and keep on inspiring, Pak Sutopo :)”

Sutopo also has the support of Indonesia’s leader.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo called him an inspiration to the nation.

“I appreciate Mr Sutopo’s dedication. And I was made aware about his condition today. His dedication to his work is extraordinary,” Jokowi told reporters after a meeting with Sutopo in October.

“It’s really inspiring to us all that while he is in ill health, he has an undying spirit to do the work that he has been doing for years,” Jokowi said.

The story was first published on BenarNews 

Families of ill-fated Lion Air victims still hope for miracle as DNA tests underway

Toni Priyono Adhi still keeps alive his hopes that his daughter Puspita Eka Putri will pick up her phone and answer his calls, although deep down he knows that it is very unlikely.

Putri, who celebrated her 24th birthday in Oct 26, was one of the 189 people on board the Lion Air JT610 flight from Jakarta bound for Pangkal Pinang in Bangka Island which crashed Monday morning into the sea off Karawang in West Java, about 75 kilometers from Jakarta.

“I just keep praying for a miracle. We keep trying to call her and call out her name in case she replies,” Adhi told journalists at the police hospital in East Jakarta where body parts plucked from the crash site were taken and families of the victims are submitting ante mortem data for identification.

Adhi said it was Putri’s first business trip with a beauty products company, that she joined for a month. Her mother, who identified herself as Nuke, said it was Putri’s first flight by herself.

“We always took flights together. I always picked her up in her campus when she was in college. My daughter, she was really beautiful. God had entrusted her to me,” said a visibily shaken Nuke as she held up her daugther’s picture and kissed it.

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Nuke showed the photo of her daughter, Puspita Eka Putri at the police hospital in East Jakarta where she and her husband submitted ante mortem data for Putri’s identification on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. (Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata)

Imbalo Sakti remembers her brother-in-law, Capt. Musa Effendi as a kind-hearted man whom the family members looked up to.

Sakti said that Effendi, who worked as a portmaster in Muntok port on the western part of Bangka Island, was on his way for a meeting in Pangkal Pinang.

“He had traveled from Medan, North Sumatra, where he had attended a Quran recital in his hometown to give thanks for he and his wife’s safe return from the Hajj two months ago,” Sakti said.

Since there is no direct flight from Medan to Pangkal Pinang, which are about 1,000 kilometers apart, he had to fly to Jakarta and take a connecting flight to Pangkal Pinang.

“My daddy has been posted in Bangka Island for two years. He spent the night at a transit hotel in Jakarta’s airport and took the morning flight to Pangkal Pinang,” Effendi’s daughter Dwi Ratna said.

Anugrah Satria, a frequent Lion Air flyer, said he met Alfiani Hidayatul Solikah during his flights and became friends with the 19-year-old flight attendant.

“It was her first job and it was her wish to become a flight attendant. I met her on one of her first flights as a stewardess on a flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta,” Satria said.

“She was always nice to passengers, and smiled a lot. She never complained about her job,” Satria said.

The captain pilot of the brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane, which had only 800 flying hours since its initial operation on Aug 15, was an Indian from New Delhi, Bhavye Suneja.

Media reports said he was a trainee pilot with Emirates before joining Lion Air in March 2011.

The Indian Embassy in Jakarta confirmed the pilot’s nationality in a tweet, saying that “most unfortunate that Indian Pilot Bhavye Suneja who was flying JT610 also lost his life…Embassy is in touch with Crisis Center and coordinating for all assistance.”

A number of Indonesian officials were also on board the flight, with the Finance Ministry having lost 21 officials, out of whom 12 were from the tax directorate general, who were on commuting back to their post in Pangkal Pinang.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani visited police hospital and met with the grief-stricken families of her staff on Monday night to console them.

The ministry’s head of communications, Nufransa Wira Sakti, said in a statement that they were officials at the ministry’s Pangkal Pinang office.

“They were heading back to their work after spending the weekend to attend a ministry event on Oct 27 and to attend a coordination meeting, while also spending the weekend with their families in Jakarta,” Sakti said.

Also among the victims were three police personnel from Bangka Belitung police, three staff from the oil and gas directorate general of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, 10 staff from the State Audit Agency, six regional lawmakers of Bangka Belitung province, and four employees of the state-mining company, PT Timah.

Following the crash, Australia issued a warning to ban all Australian government officials and contractors from flying Lion Air or their subsidiary airlines and the decision will be reviewed when the findings of the crash investigation are clear.

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Police forensic team lay out debris recovered from Lion Air JT 610 crash site at the Tanjung Priok port on Tuesday, Oct 30, 2018 (Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata)

As of Tuesday afternoon, search efforts to collect debris from the plane are still under way with vessels sailing back and forth to Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok port to drop bags containing plane debris and body parts the search and rescue teams collected from the crash site, while police forensic teams continued sorting out the debris and personal belongings of the passengers on the dock.

The search and rescue agency’s deputy director for operations, Nugroho Budi said they have sent 13 body bags to the police hospital from Tuesday’s operation and found 52 national identity cards.

“The search and rescue team will expand the search area to a radius of 15 nautical miles from the crash site,” Budi said in a press conference.

Head of medical and health of the national police, Arthur Tampi, said the forensic team had examined 24 body bags and identified 87 body parts.

Tampi added that they had not been able to identify any of the victims as they received only body parts and none of the bodies were intact.

“The bodies have deteriorated in pieces and some of the bones were loose. I even saw parts of an infant body in one of the body bags,” Ari Dono, deputy of the national police chief said after an inspection to the police hospital morgue.

The story was first published in Arab News

 

Sporting chance for change

As the Asian Games winds down on Sunday, residents of Jakarta and Palembang – the two co-hosting cities – are wondering what will become of their cities after all the hype and massive revamping and construction of sports venues and infrastructure leading up to event is over.

In notoriously gridlocked Jakarta, commuters have been enjoying reduced traffic and faster travel time as the odd-even licence plate policy has been expanded to more roads for the duration of the games, which end on Sept 2. Private cars with odd-numbered plates can only use those roads on odd-numbered dates, with even-numbered plates allowed on even-numbered dates only.

The policy was expanded to ensure that it would take no more than 30 minutes for Asian Games athletes to travel from the athletes’ village to the main sports venues in the city.

Some residents are happy with the significantly reduced traffic congestions, especially those who use public transport and are often stuck in buses and taxis with fast-running meters.

“It would be good to continue the odd-even plates restrictions and make them permanent. The traffic is much smoother now and we have much less congested roads and intersections, especially when traveling with Transjakarta buses,” Bernadetta Febriana, a resident of South Jakarta said, referring to the city’s main network of public buses.

The Indonesian capital has undergone a dramatic revamp with less than the usual amount of time to prepare to stage the 18th Asian Games, the second-biggest multi sports event after the Olympics.

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Indonesian contingent at the opening of the 18th Asian Games at the Gelora Bung Karno (GBK) sports complex, Jakarta, Saturday, (18/8). Photo: INASGOC/Ridhwan Siregar

Hanoi was awarded the games in 2012 but withdrew in 2014 citing lack of preparation and financial capability. The Olympics Council of Asia appointed Jakarta and Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra province to co-host the games, although some venues are located on the outskirts of Jakarta in neighboring Banten and West Java provinces. This is the second time that Jakarta has played host to the games. The last time was in 1962.

Urban planning expert Nirwono Joga said the city needed the momentum that an event such as the Asiad can create as a spur to undertake a major revamp and speed up infrastructure development.

“Apparently it is doable, financially and time-wise but it needs a boost to speed it up such as hosting a major event like the Asian Games. We can do it in just a few years and even in months,” he said.

In preparation for the 1962 games, the Indonesian government started construction in 1960 of the Bung Karno sports complex, where the main venues are located. It also built the Selamat Datang (welcome) statue at the roundabout, in front of the Hotel Indonesia – the first international standard hotel in the capital, which was also built to accommodate the Asiad athletes, officials and guests.

For this year’s games, the number of Transjakarta buses has been increased to anticipate those traveling without private cars due to the odd-even policy. The city’s main thoroughfares now have wider sidewalks for pedestrians to encourage more people to get around by walking.

Joga said this would be the right moment to get more people walking from one point to another, reduce the use of private vehicles and increase the use of public transport.

“But we will need more expanded and walkable sidewalks for that. We can’t tell people to take public transport if there are no safe and comfortable sidewalks for people to walk on after they get off the buses,” he added.

“The city administration should continue revamping sidewalks in other parts of the city, and not just in the main thoroughfares for foreign visitors’ eyes,” he said.

Also noteworthy have been efforts to reduce the foul smell emanating from the Sentiong River – nicknamed Kali Item or Black River for its black, heavily polluted water – which is close to the athletes’ villages in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta.

The river was sprayed with an odour neutralizer in order to improve the atmosphere for the international athletes staying in the village.

“So apparently there is a technology to reduce the river’s pungent smell but we are only moved to use it just because we are hosting the games. Why didn’t we try to use it earlier?” Joga asked rhetorically.

“We should not stop here and instead use this event as a momentum to continue cleaning the river and make the city more livable even when the games are over,” Joga added.

Changes in the capital, in his view, could motivate other cities across the country to do the same to create a more livable environment for their residents.

What happens in the capital city reverberates all over Indonesia, he said, citing the news about the dismantling of a pedestrian bridge in downtown Jakarta and its replacement with a zebra crossing for pedestrians. President Joko Widodo tried out the crossing with Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan as news camera clicked away.

“It is only a few meters long but it generated nationwide publicity, even though the original aim of dismantling the bridge was more for aesthetic purposes instead of promoting walking as a means to get from one point to another,” he said.

The governor said the bridge was dismantled because it blocked people coming from the city’s north side to view the Selamat Datang statue, one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

“Let’s not stop making the city more civilised and amenable to modern living just after the games. It is time to view fixing the city’s problems with the perspective of a modern metropolis, instead of the perspective of a big village as we have been doing all this time,” Joga said,

The city has also built more sports venues to stage the games and rebuilt the outdated velodrome and equestrian park to meet modern, international standards.

Danny Buldansyah, the spokesman for the Indonesia Asian Games 2018 Organizing Committee (Inasgoc) said that despite the limited time available to prepare for an event as big and complex as the Asiad, Indonesia has managed to pull it off. The various sports competitions, which began on Aug 18, have been running smoothly so far with generally positive reviews from athletes, officials and spectators.

“We had to build more venues, such as hockey and volleyball stadiums, just three months prior to the games, because we had later confirmation of more participants in certain sports,” he said.

He acknowledged concerns about what will happen next to the venues for less popular sports such as the equestrian park and how to maintain them and keep them useful.

“They will be managed in a partnership with private entities for other commercial uses,” he said.

“We are also confident now that the equestrian park has met international standards, it could be hosting more international equestrian competitions in the future,” Buldansyah said.

According to him, Indonesia has experienced an influx of roughly 25 million people consisting of athletes, sports officials, VIPs and foreign journalists for the games in Jakarta and Palembang.

“We have more people visiting for the games compared to the number of people in the 2014 Asiad in Incheon. It is a sign of their trust in us to host the games,” he added.

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Newly-renovated Jakarta International Equestrian Park in East Jakarta set to stage three competitions for the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Muslim residents living within a one-kilometer radius from the equestrian park in East Jakarta had to adjust their Eid Al Adha festivities, which fell on Aug 22. The Eid Al Adha celebration is a time when Muslims donate cattle or goats for slaughter as sacrifice and the meat is donated to the poor.

An order passed by the governor in 2017 put a restriction on the seasonal trade of cattle within the area, and 35 mosques within the restricted zone are forbidden to slaughter the sacrificial animals, in compliance with the international regulation that the area within a kilometer from the equestrian park should be an equine disease free zone.

A caretaker at the Al Hurriyah mosque in Pulo Asem neighborhood near the park said congregation members were aware of the restriction and have complied to it by donating their animals to be sacrificed elsewhere.

”For many of us here, the Asian Games is a once in a lifetime event, so we don’t mind with this restriction because we want to take part in supporting the games,” Purnomo said.

The story was first published in Bangkok Post

Supporters of Indonesian cleric set up think-tank in his honour

Supporters of controversial Indonesian cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab have set up a think-tank named after him in a sign of his growing stature at home as he fights legal troubles from a self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia.

The Habib Rizieq Shihab Center, which was inaugurated in Jakarta over the weekend, aims to be a scientific and strategic research hub based on Islamic values for the benefit of Muslims and the country in general, said its chairman, Abdul Choir Ramadhan. “Habib” is an honorific used to address a Muslim scholar believed to a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad.

“The center is named after him because of his stature and as a show of our admiration for his struggle to uphold Islamic values,” Ramadhan said. He said the center was self-funded but did not rule out public donations.

Rizieq, founder of the vigilante group Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), shot to political prominence after he led a campaign in 2016 and 2017 to oust then-Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, over allegations that he had insulted the Koran in off-the-cuff remarks.

The center’s launch coincided with the 20th anniversary of the FPI’s founding. The group is notorious for past anti-vice raids targeting places accused of harboring sex workers and drug users, as well as nightspots that remained open during Ramadan.

Rizieq has been in a self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia following attempts by Indonesian police to question him last year over allegations he had engaged in a lewd online chat with a female supporter and a separate charge of insulting the Indonesian state ideology of Pancasila.

Investigations into the cases were stopped this year with police citing a lack of evidence.

The cleric’s supporters said the cases against him were fabricated by the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo because of Rizieq’s role in inflaming Muslim sentiment against Ahok, an ally of the president.

Ramadhan said Rizieq had doubts about returning home any time soon, saying the political climate is unfavorable.

“The investigations may have been dropped, but they can always reinstate them any time,” Ramadhan said.

On Saturday, Rizieq delivered a speech through a telephone link during the ceremonial launch of the center.

“I hope that the HRS Center will become a place for the advancement of knowledge for the benefit of the Muslim ummah (society) and the country,” he said in the message posted on YouTube.

“This is in line with the principles of my struggle that I have always adhered to: That the Scripture must be above the Constitution, and that the Constitution should not deviate from the Scripture,” he said.

“The institutionalization of Sharia is inevitable for Islamic values are an inseparable part of our nation building,” he added.

Emrus Sihombing, a political analyst at Pelita Harapan University, described the center as a positive move.

“If the center is indeed engaged in scientific and strategic studies for the benefit of the ummah, it’s very good for public discourse because there will be debates on the merits of their ideas,” he said.

“It will be a lot more productive,” he said.  “He is a leader who commands the strong loyalty of people who subscribe to his views.”

Rizieq played a key role in last year’s conviction and imprisonment of Ahok on blasphemy charges.

Conservative Muslim groups held protests against Ahok in 2016 and 2017 in the run-up to a gubernatorial election in which he was a front-runner after an edited video made it appear that he had said the Quran deceived people.

Ahok lost the Jakarta gubernatorial election to former Education Minister Anies Baswedan, who courted support of FPI and other conservative Muslim groups despite his liberal credentials. Ahok later was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy.

Ramadhan said the HRS Center would conduct studies, hold seminars, provide training as well as publish books to influence public discourse on Islam, including in the aspects of law, governance and public policy.

“We want to promote ideas of a system of governance based on Islamic values,” he said.

“There’s no contradiction between Pancasila (the state ideology) and Islamic teachings.”

Copyright ©2018, BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews.

Paws up: Indonesian government to ban dog and cat meat trade

Fien Harini, who hails from Solo in Central Java, still remembers when Ireng, her mongrel pet dog, disappeared and never returned home.

“I cried for days. In Solo, when a pet dog doesn’t return home, you can be sure the dog is stolen to be slaughtered for meat and will end up in one of those dog meat satay stalls,” she said.

“Dog meat dishes purported to boost virility and have healing qualities are popular delicacies in Solo. But there is not enough supply so pet dogs, especially mongrels, are highly targeted by poachers,” she added.

In Jakarta, meat derived from dogs is served in dishes offered by specialty eateries called lapo. Customers can identify such establishment if they see the number B1 – a code for dog meat – on the signage.

The trade of dog and cat meat remains rampant in some parts of Indonesia, where dog meat dishes are traditional delicacies for some ethnic and cultural groups. However, dog and cat meat are not included among consumable meat products regulated by the country’s food law.

Roughly 7% of Indonesia’s 260 million population consume dog meat, according to an estimate drawn by the Dog Meat Free Indonesia (DMFI) coalition, which has investigated the illegal trade. It is campaigning to abolish dog meat trade, end animal cruelty, promote animal welfare and halt the spread of zoonotic diseases.

Its effort appears to be gaining ground, as the government has said it plans to issue a regulation that will ban dog meat and other meat derived from cats and exotic animals.

A national forum on animal welfare held in Jakarta earlier this month agreed that dog meat is not for human consumption and its commercial distribution should be banned.

Syamsul Ma’arif, director of veterinary public health at the agriculture ministry, said a ministerial regulation to that effect was in the pipeline

“The regulation will emphasise on banning practices that are violations of animal welfare. It will not regulate consumption so much for those whose culture that recognize it,” Ma’arif said.

He added that it would take some time to finalize the regulation since it will have to accommodate many interests, but he expects the ministry to issue it within this year.

DMFI representatives who attended the forum played a video made during their country-wide investigation into the cruelty behind the dog meat trade, which shows just how bad the dogs are treated.

Ma’arif acknowledged the way dogs are handled in the trade amounts to “torture.” He also said the government clearly forbids consumption of dog meat.

He told officials of veterinary and livestock agencies attending the forum that animal cruelty and the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks from the illegal meat trade could drive animal rights-conscious foreign tourists away from their regions if they continue to allow this practice.

This could be detrimental to the government’s efforts to lure more foreign tourists to improve state revenue.

The prospect of a government crackdown was hailed by DMFI, which comprises local and international animal rights groups including Animal Friends Jogja (AFJ), Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), Four Paws, Change for Animals Foundation and Humane Society International.

“This is a huge leap for animal welfare in Indonesia. We really appreciate that government has finally acknowledged our concerns,” AFJ director Bobby Fernando said.

JAAN co-founder Karin Franken said it was high time that the trade was abolished since its existence undermines the government’s pledge to eliminate fatal zoonotic diseases such as rabies by 2020.

While Jakarta has been declared rabies-free, the disease is endemic in 25 out of Indonesia’s 34 provinces.

She said however, there is a steady supply of dog meat to lapos in the capital city. They source the meat from a supplier who goes twice a week to catch stray dogs and kidnap pets in neighboring towns in West Java.

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Photo: Dog Meat Free Indonesia (DMFI)

As the meat trade is illegal, the whole process of preparing dog meat dishes in those restaurants goes unchecked without proper health screening, slaughter process and carcass disposal.

“The supplier can bring 30 to 40 dogs per trip into Jakarta. This could put the city on the risk of rabies outbreak,” she said.

A dog meat supplier in East Jakarta who goes only by one name, Yuri, said he priced dog meat by the kilogramme. He declined to say what he charged but said that it was competitive prices quoted by another supplier in Central Jakarta.

Wiwiek Bagja, a senior veterinarian and former chairwoman of the Indonesian Veterinary Association, said the government should stress to regional governments that they have an obligation to enforce national legislation on animal welfare.

Despite the absence of specific regulation banning inter-regional dog meat distribution, she said local administrations should strictly supervise such movement to curb the spread of zoonotic diseases.

“Unstipulated and unspecified movement of dogs is proven to have contaminated rabies-free regions,” she said.

“There is a much bigger risk of zoonosis epidemic compared to the mythical benefits of eating dog meat. We can’t let the interest of a small fraction of people to spoil the country,” she added.

Dog meat consumer Kristian Purnomo opposes the pending regulation, saying dog meat dishes are a long-standing tradition and part of Indonesia’s diverse cultures that should not be abolished.

He eats dog meat dishes, which he says warms his body and have softer texture. He also consumes other exotic foods such as snake meat from time to time, especially when he travels to regions where they are part of the local diet.

“We just have to be discreet about it. I understand that people object to it because dogs are cute and cuddly pets and are not livestock. I love dogs and have a pet dog, too,” he said. 

“But what about chicken, cows, and other livestock? Will people campaign against eating them when someday they are not categorised as livestock and considered as cute pets?” Purnomo said, adding that to him a dog meat dish when served is just like any other dish from chicken or cattle.

The campaign against dog meat consumption, he said, could undermine deeply rooted local traditions, citing efforts by one NGO to abolish centuries-old traditional whaling in Lamalera, a coastal village in Lembata Island in East Nusa Tenggara province.

The island’s land is mainly vast savanna and not suitable for farming, so villagers have turned to the sea for subsistence. Whaling there is steeped in a set of customary rules, such as a restriction on hunting pregnant whales.

“Let’s just appreciate it with discretion accordingly as a local tradition,” he added.

This story was first published in Bangkok Post

Indonesia to allow tariff-free import of Palestinian dates, olive oil

Indonesia and Palestine have signed an agreement that will allow for zero tariffs on some Palestinian goods imported into Indonesia from next month.

The agreement serves as the implementing guidelines that follows the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita and his Palestinian counterpart on the sidelines of the 11th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last December. The MoU allows zero import tariffs for certain goods between the two countries.

“It will be one-way trade from Palestine to Indonesia at the start, but we expect in the future it will be a two-way trade,” the Trade Ministry’s Director General for International Trade Negotiations Iman Pambagyo said.

The initial Palestinian products that will be exempted from import tariffs are fresh and dried dates and virgin olive oil. Pambagyo said that, during the first year of the agreement, dates imported from Palestine are estimated to increase by 11.62 percent, while olive oil is estimated to jump by 172 percent, as a lot of Indonesian cosmetic manufacturers use olive oil as an ingredient in their products.

“We will encourage our importers to benefit from this policy by sourcing their olive oil and dates from Palestine,” Pambagyo added.

Fachry Thaib, head of the Middle East Committee at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, said the business community welcomed the agreement and its upcoming implementation.

“We have always encouraged the government to expedite the MoU implementation. This policy would be beneficial for importers since it would make the products more competitive in the domestic market,” he said.

He added the policy will not hit other imported goods, given the big market opportunities for dates, which are widely consumed by Indonesians.

Lukita and Palestinian Ambassador to Indonesia Zuhair Al-Shun signed the agreement on Monday following the ratification of the MoU into a presidential regulation in April.

The finance minister will allow the MoU to fully take effect by issuing two ministerial regulations — on import tariff waivers for Palestinian products and on the technical direction for customs offices to execute the policy.

Pambagyo said these regulations will be circulated to all ports of entry so that customs officers can identify products from Palestine and exempt them from any import duties.

Lukita said this policy was part of Indonesia’s unwavering support for the Palestinian issue, which has always been the focus of its foreign policy.

Indonesia has been a staunch supporter of Palestinian independence and has pledged to focus on voicing support for Palestine during its tenure as a non-permanent member at the UN Security Council in 2019-2020.

Read the full story in Arab News

Indonesia’s Smart Hajj app makes pilgrimage easier

Tech-conscious Indonesian pilgrims this year can count on their smartphones to make the pilgrimage easier by using the updated Smart Hajj application launched by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Available only to Android smartphone users since 2016, the app is available on Google Play Store and has been updated from its earlier version with more features on its menu.

“We have added more detailed information about the pilgrimage,” ministry spokesman Mastuki said.

Pilgrims can get information about their hotels, modes of transport, and a menu of the food they will eat throughout the journey by logging in the app, he added.

img_1087.jpgBy entering the code of their flight group, pilgrims can find out which hotel they will stay at in Makkah and Madinah, along with the map and online directions to get to the hotel and information on the facilities the hotel provides.

The pilgrims can also get information on the kind of food on the menu prepared for them on a specific day during their stay. Mastuki said this is an updated feature which previously only showed an example of a menu for the pilgrims.

The app has been downloaded more than 10,000 times and has received mixed reviews from 395 users, of which 240 gave the app five stars. Some complaints in the reviews said the screen sometimes goes black and white and that it was still “too buggy.”

“Pilgrims can also submit complaints on problems they found during this year’s pilgrimage by logging in to the feature using their passport numbers,” said Sri Ilham Lubis, the ministry’s director for Hajj services, during the app launch on July 15.

According to data from the ministry, 81,618 Indonesian pilgrims had already arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

Up to 221,000 pilgrims are expected to depart from Indonesia this year and the last Hajj departure will be on Aug. 14.

Read the full story in Arab News