The other day, a friend in KL could not help grabbing the newspaper when the headlines showed Dr. Tun Mahathir criticizing his successor for being so ungrateful as to reveal that the government has been losing money for the mega projects built during his reign. This friend is the kind who (like me) never give a damn about politics but was forced to participate in his country's elections in the previous year because, he said, he was getting sick and tired of the Barisa National, the ruling party which has dominated the politics and economics of Malaysia and there's no other way to see it go but to vote for the opposition. Seeing Dr. Tun Mahathir fumed like hell on the headlines really made his day, he was overjoyed! On the story, more and more people---most of them, from the government, of course---are defending the Pak Lah (the endearing term they use to refer to the Prime Minister, who is Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi)!
Except for this rare treat, though, reading the newspapers of Malaysia makes me feel something is missing.
Dr. James Chin of the University of Malaysia (UNIMAS) in the state of Sarawak compares the current state of the press in Malaysia to the press in the Philippines during the reign of Marcos. "All you read there are press statements from the government," he whispered, over a cup of the Malaysian version of halo-halo. Now, if there's anything that glossing over the copies of the Sarawak-based "Borneo Post" or the Peninsula-centered "The Star" and "New Strait Times," it makes me crave for news from home. I love the way that journalists--and editors---in the Philippines painstakingly choose the details to make the story sharp and crisp. I also love the kind of stories that we write. It is so amusing that--when a few kababayans I happen to meet here project a rather "sanitized" image of home, I find the history of struggle in the Philippines against oppressive regimes something to be talked about. This history of struggle has become so advanced and successful that even Malaysian activists are looking up to it with awe and inspiration. That's why, news still trickle to my email, mostly about the counts of how many activists and journalists have died under the hands of the present regime. They came in handy when people start asking about the country under President Arroyo who continued to cling to power despite her being so unpopular and all the unanswered questions about the previous election. What's happening back home forms part of the experience of Southeast Asia, a region that is supposed to share an experience and a culture, but after having been torn apart and subdivided by different colonizers about half a millennium ago, now find themselves strangers to each other.