INTERVIEW: ‘You have to keep doing what you think is right’

Taiwanese wildlife cinematographer and film director Chieh-te Liang, whose work has appeared on TV networks around the world and garnered Golden Horse nominations at home, has spent the last three decades following and filming the black-faced spoonbill, an endangered migratory wading bird that winters on his doorstep.

The result, a feature-length documentary titled “Caring for the Black-faced Spoonbill Together,” is an impassioned call for governments and communities to do everything they can to preserve the wetland habitats that are so crucial to the birds’ survival.

Much of the footage is filmed in Taiwan, which welcomes the world’s largest population of spoonbills every winter, where they grow out their golden plumage and breed, before they head back to Korea and northeastern China for the summer.

“The most important thing for them is habitat,” Liang told Radio Free Asia in a recent interview. “If there is no habitat, they are like human beings without a home.” 

He cites South Korean ornithologist Kisup Lee’s recent habitat restoration project, in which local conservationists piled up leaves and branches on an artificial island to encourage the birds to nest there.

In recent years, the site has become home to more than 100 breeding pairs, he said.

“The black-faced spoonbill population will grow steadily now, and that’s partly due to Dr. Lee, who helped a lot of birds that had nowhere else to breed,” Liang said.

Conservation success story

To a certain extent, the black-faced spoonbills have been a conservation success story. Back in the 1990s, there were fewer than 300 of the species in the world, while more than 6,000 were recorded in 2022. However, the bird is still on the red list of most endangered species.

Lee has been a loyal camp-follower of the birds for 30 years, pitching up to observe and film them in South Korea, Japan, China, Macau, Hong Kong and Vietnam, among other places.

“Basically, when you’re shooting birds, everything depends on the weather,” he said. “[Also] there must be no man-made disasters.”

Taiwanese eco-documentary director Chieh-te Liang (left) follows the migration of black-faced spoonbills, reflecting on issues such as habitat protection and the peaceful coexistence of humans and birds through the lens. Credit: Caichang International Multimedia

That can mean crowds of tourists, or even other birdwatchers, who increased in number once the news of the black-faced spoonbill’s plight became more widely known, he said.

“There were about four or five pairs of black-face spoonbills [on Xingrentuo Island],” Liang said in a reference to a small island off the coast of Xulingzhen, some 140 kilometers (87 miles) southwest of Dandong city near the border with North Korea.

“But then lots of people started going to the island and disturbing the birds, and we later found that there were basically no birds breeding there any more,” he said. “But the population of black-faced spoonbills gradually recovered, and there were more than 140 on that island last year.”

Protecting breeding habitats

Liang first started observing the black-faced spoonbill in 1992, when he had a job as assistant to Liu Hsiao-ru, a zoologist at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, who convened experts from around the world to come up with a plan to protect the birds in their winter breeding habitats.

“It made sense to protect the black-faced spoonbill, a migratory bird, at the place where it winters, its breeding grounds,” Liang said. 

“China’s coastline is very densely populated and was under large-scale development [at that time], and had lost a huge amount of wetlands and other habitat,” he said. The species is also dependent on very few habitats in the winter months, he added.

“More than half of the world’s black-faced spoonbills [winter] along the southwestern coast of Taiwan,” he said. “If that habitat had gone, there would have been nowhere for them to go.”

In the past, crowds of tourists have disturbed the breeding grounds of black-faced spoonbills, causing the endangered species to vacate the area until it is calm once more. Credit: Wang Zhengji

Taiwan’s conservationists have stood up to oppose development after development that threatened the spoonbill’s breeding grounds since then, Liang said, helping to set up the Taijiang National Park in 2009 to protect them further.

The plan appears to be working, with Taiwan recording a record-breaking 3,824 black-faced spoonbills on its territory in 2022.

Filming the spoonbill

Liang’s film offers an intimate look at the breeding patterns of the birds, showing male and females taking turns to sit on the eggs, as well as the eggs being laid in the first place, filmed at the Xingrentuo site off the coast of northeastern China.

Each winter, the black-faced spoonbill migrates to Taiwan from Xingrentuo Island, traveling thousands of miles back and forth between the two places. Credit: Wang Zhengji

Filming may have been on his doorstep, but it was never easy, requiring more than 10 trips just to get the footage for that section of the film.

“There is often a lot of thick mist in April around that area, and we had thick fog several times, so we were unable to even set off,” Liang said. “Getting there was a lot of trouble.”

“First I took a car from Dalian to Zhuanghekou, then a boat to Shicheng Island, then another boat from there to Xingrentuo,” he said.

While numbers are recovering, new threats to the birds’ habitats are also emerging, including “green” energy facilities, the reclamation of tidal flats and climate change, he said.

In his native Taiwan, a shift from fishing to fish-farming has affected the spoonbills’ access to some of their favorite foods, such as milkfish. Conservationists have persuaded some fish-farmers to use shallower ponds to give the wading birds a chance at some of the fish, and to leave out fish waste to supplement their diet, Liang said.

Solar panel projects

Solar panel farms have also been intruding into the birds’ habitat at Yentian Wetland in Chiayi, he said.

“We’re not against green energy, but if solar panels are installed in inappropriate places, it can endanger the habitats of birds,” Liang said. “The birds completely disappeared from [the area] after they put the solar panels there, because the habitat was completely changed.”

In the Yentian Wetland of Chiayi, solar panels devour the habitat of the migratory black-faced spoonbills. Credit: Caichang International Multimedia

Since then, the Taiwan Ornithological Society has negotiated with the government to suspend further solar power projects in the wetland areas, and has now taken over management of the habitat, Liang said.

“I learned persistence from everyone who cares about black-faced spoonbills,” Liang said. “You have to keep doing what you think is right.”

“We birdwatchers have a saying that what affects birds today will affect people tomorrow,” he said. “We should all pay more attention to the creatures around us … because changes there are closely bound up with the future of humanity.”

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Pessimistic about future, young Burmese rush to get passports to go abroad

Ohnmar Myint is in her 20s and doesn’t think she can pursue her dreams – or make much of a living – in Myanmar anymore.

So she’s applying for a passport in hopes of moving to Japan, where she hears there are many jobs – away from the political and economic turmoil at home.

“They are all preparing to go abroad to improve their lives,” Ohnmar Myint says of all the applicants. “But they face a lot of difficulties in the application process.”

She’s one of thousands of people, many of them young, flocking to a new online passport application site that’s received so many applications that it’s hard to even access it.

Nearly 53,000 people in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, applied for a passport in just a five-day period at the end of February after the portal was opened, the Myanmar Passport Issuing Board said.

The new online system allows applicants to fill in their personal information online and then make an in-person appointment where they can submit their documents and have a photo taken.

A Myanmar passport. (Photo/citizen journalist)

Those who were able to access the system could only secure an in-person appointment that was months away, Yangon city resident Myat Maw said. 

“I thought that it’d be easy to apply for passports since an online booking system opens. But quite contrary to my expectation, I didn’t get an appointment although I tried continuously for three days and three nights without sleep,” he said. 

Also, several friends in rural areas haven’t been able to fill out an online application because of internet network problems in their areas, he said.

Prices and demand surge

Application fees have also skyrocketed.

It used to cost only 40,000 kyats (U.S.$19) to get a passport before the February 2021 coup. But now the price has risen 300,000 to 600,000 kyats (U.S.$143-$286).

But the demand to move abroad remains. 

The International Organization for Migration reported in December that nearly 40,000 Myanmar people have been leaving the country each month because of political and economic instability.

Another factor is the large number of job opportunities in the region, said Ko Ko Oo, the general manager of the Silver Crane overseas employment agency. And with the COVID-19 pandemic easing up, plans to move abroad that had been put on hold are now being pursued, he said.

“There are originally plenty of people who are trying to go abroad to work and now more people are newly trying to go, too,” he said. “I must say that the numbers add up massively.”

Young people want to go abroad to earn more money because wages in Myanmar are low and inflation has caused prices to rise, Myat Maw said. 

Most young people in Myanmar want to go to Japan and South Korea where they can work with the skills and education they have already acquired. Others would like to go to Singapore, Thailand or Malaysia, where they can easily find jobs.

But lately, those attempting to find work outside of Myanmar have found they can’t sit for a job interview if they don’t have the passport, according to Thae Pwint Shwe Sin, who works at an overseas job search agency. 

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

Bishkek hosts charity diplomatic fair on occasion of Nooruz

A charity diplomatic fair was held in the center of Bishkek, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Mayor’s Office of Bishkek. The fair was dedicated to the celebration of Nooruz, in which 15 diplomatic missions and 1 representative office of an international organization accredited in the Kyrgyz Republic took part. The fair visitors were able to purchase various goods, as well as taste the national dishes and drinks of the represented foreign countries. All proceeds from the fair participants will be directed to charitable purposes. Also, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic, together with the Seitek Republican Center for Children and Youth, organized a festive concert for the heads and representatives of the diplomatic corps, veterans of the diplomatic service of the Kyrgyz Republic and invited guests. During the concert, children’s creative teams presented dances and songs of the peoples of the world.


Source: Kyrgyz National News Agency

‘Amihan,’ easterlies bring cloudy skies, rain showers Saturday

The easterlies and the northeast monsoon or “amihan” will bring cloudy skies and some rains in most parts of the country, the weather bureau said Saturday.
In its 4 a.m. weather bulletin, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) forecast cloudy skies with scattered rain showers and thunderstorms in Eastern Visayas, Dinagat Islands, Surigao del Norte, and Surigao del Sur due to the easterlies.
The ‘amihan,’ on the other hand, will bring partly cloudy to at times cloudy skies with isolated light rains in Batanes and the Babuyan Islands.
Meanwhile, Metro Manila and the rest of the country will experience partly cloudy to cloudy skies with isolated rain showers or thunderstorms due to the easterlies and localized thunderstorms.
PAGASA said moderate to strong winds headed east to northeast will blow over extreme Northern Luzon, with moderate to rough seas.
The rest of the country will have light to moderate winds headed in the same direction, with slight to moderate seas.
The temperature in Metro Manila will range from 21°C to 33°C; Baguio City, 15°C to 25°C; Laoag City, 22°C to 32°C; Lipa City, 23°C to 31°C; Metro Cebu, 25°C to 30°C; Tacloban City, 24°C to 29°C; and Metro Davao, 25°C to 33°C.


Source: Philippines News Agency

ICC issues arrest warrant vs. Putin

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova in relation to the ongoing war in Ukraine, the court said in a statement Friday.
The ICC said the warrant was issued allegedly ‘for the war crime of unlawful deportation of the population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”
While arrest warrants are usually issued in secrecy to protect victims and witnesses and also to safeguard the investigation, the ICC said it authorized the public disclosure of the existence of the warrants against the top Russian official to prevent the further commission of crimes.
‘The public disclosure of the names of the suspects and the crimes for which the warrants are issued was made because the conduct addressed in the present situation is allegedly ongoing and that the public awareness of the warrants may contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes,’ it said.
But Russia was unperturbed by the ICC cases against its chief executive.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
“We consider the very formulation of the issue outrageous and unacceptable. Russia, as well as several other states, do not recognize the jurisdiction of this court and, accordingly, any decisions of this kind are null and void for Russia in terms of law,” Peskov told reporters.
“That is, in fact, the only thing I would and could tell you about this decision.”
Peskov did not comment on a question about whether the court’s decision would affect Putin’s visits to countries that recognized the jurisdiction of the ICC.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, in comments on the information from the Hague, likewise said decisions of the court have no consequence in Russia and any potential arrest warrants are null and void.
The International Criminal Court was established by the Rome Statute in 1998. It is not part of the UN and is accountable to the countries that have ratified the statute.
The countries that aren’t parties to the statute include Russia, US, and China.
Russia signed the law but did not ratify it.
The US also signed the statute but later on revoked its signature.
Putin signed an executive order in 2016 that stated Russia would not be a member of the ICC.


Source: Philippines News Agency

Solon to colleagues: End ’embarrassing word war’ on Cha-cha

Congressional leaders must sit down and privately settle their feud over the House of Representatives’ push for constitutional amendments, instead of quarreling in public.
Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., in a radio interview Friday, appealed to the House of Representatives and Senate leaders to observe parliamentary courtesy, noting that the differences in their opinions on the charter change initiative could have been avoided had the Senate first voted on the measure before announcing that it does not have the numbers to push it.
“Nagkakaroon tuloy ng (Due to this, there is now a) word war between the Senate President and the Speaker (Martin Romualdez) and (House Committee on Constitutional Amendments) chairman Rufus (Rodriguez). Minsan nakakahiya (It is embarrassing),” Barzaga told Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers on his radio program “Kape Kape Muna” aired over DWRB.
“Dapat veteran legislators kami. Kung ano man ang pinagkaka-iba ng opinion (We should act as veteran legislators. Whatever differences we have in opinion), settle privately,” he said.
Barzaga said the word war started when Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri insinuated that the delay in the enforcement of the implementing guidelines of the three laws (Public Service Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and Foreign Investment Act) appeared to be caused by the House’s push for rewriting the Constitution’s economic provisions.
Rodriguez countered that Zubiri’s allegation was “unfair” to House members, especially the Speaker, who has taken exception to the allegations that the House railroaded the passage of the measures calling for a Constitutional Convention (ConCon).
Barzaga pointed out that the delay in the enforcement of the implementing guidelines of the three laws was not the House’s fault.
He said it was unfortunate that Zubiri made the insinuations in public, triggering Romualdez and Rodriguez to respond.
‘Kaya sinasabi namin kung minsan nakakahiya rin sa publiko (That’s why we sometimes say that it is embarrassing to the public). The heads of the chambers of the lawmaking body are quarreling before the public. The issuance of the implementing guidelines of the aforementioned three laws is the act of the executive, independent of the action of the House and also of the Senate,’ he said.
If the Senate does not have the numbers, Barzaga said, Zubiri could have just ordered Senator Robinhood Padilla not to proceed with the public hearings anymore because it would only be a waste of time; or just wait for the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments to vote on the Cha-cha measure in the committee level and if approved, debate the issues in the plenary.
“Sa tingin ko naman, lulusot sa committee level ‘yung proposal, eh ‘di napag-usapan na lang sa (I think the proposal will pass at the committee level, then it should have been discussed at the) plenary. Mangampanya sila secretly saka bumoto at kung sakaling wala ‘yung two-thirds vote, saka sabihin sa publiko (They could just campaign secretly then vote, and if the two-thirds vote needed is not attained, then that’s the time they air it in public). But not at this time, that will be premature,” he said.
Barbers, who has long been a Cha-cha supporter, agreed, saying that the House and the Senate should appoint representatives to settle the row.
“I absolutely agree. Dapat mag set up ng team ng (A team should be set-up by the) Upper and Lower House… para mailatag talaga ang (to thoroughly discuss the) position of both Houses,” he said.


Source: Philippines News Agency