The Kanjuruhan football tragedy and the government’s miscommunication

Things happen and they do so not in black and white. There are reasons and counter reasons as to why things happen that will be unveiled only by time and careful investigations.

Some things can be disputed. Were police and military provoked into using force by rowdy football fans? There was certainly some provocation, if the video clips of the night’s event are accurate. Was there fear among the security personnel that the crowd in the rafters would join the mob on the playing field? There were some spectators that were seen climbing the 2 meter high fence to get in on video clips.

These, however, did not explain why the security personnel had to fire tear gas at the crowd, or resort to beating them up with their truncheons and fists. There was also a memorable scene in which a military officer executed a flying kick at a spectator.

Acts like these would inflame the emotions of anyone, what more the soccer fans who are usually on the receiving end of administrative and enforcement injustice and foul play in their everyday lives. In addition they are wrong, using teargas on soccer matches are against FIFA rules and the stadium was overpacked.

But that was one incident that the authorities could easily blame on the commanding officer at the stadium. Indeed the head of the Malang police has been received of his duties over the incident.

The buck does not, and should not, stop there though. The head of the national police should take responsibility as this incident happened under his watch. Instead, he washes his hands like Pontius Pilot, and orders an investigation. As if he has no responsibility for the behaviour of his men. As if Ferdy Sambo and his gang’s activities in the police had nothing to do with him; as if the shooting of some FPI members under suspicious circumstances were the acts of some unrelated officials.

Instead he offers the children of the dead victims of Kanjuruhan a job in the Police if they wanted it. That ‘s surreal. We stuffed up and inadvertently killed your father at a football match, so you can grow up to be like us, guaranteed of a salary and acting with impunity.

Then there is the PSSI chief, Iwan Bule who welcomed officials who were “happy” (bahagia) at the emergency centre in Malang just after the tragedy. He too promised to launch an investigation.

What’s likely to happen is that some officials down the line will be the fall guys. They will cop the blame but the top officials will continue being sanctimonious about how everyone should play their part in ensuring safety, how reforms were needed (but are never implemented), and engage in a harmless bout of finger pointing.

So at the end of the day nothing gets solved. In time the anger will abate and it will be business as usual. But it is just a matter of time before another tragedy involving angry crowds and poor police crowd control happens. Sad and depressing. My heart goes out to the victims of Kanjuruhan and the victims of the countless incidents of bad and unfair security enforcement.

The Mt. Kinabalu tragedy: what are schoolchildren doing there?

Last year a group of us decided to climb Mt. Kinabalu. We weren’t the fittest 40-50 somethings but we weren’t slouches either.We had in tow a 12-year old.

a member of the group, Unspun, for instance,  is in his mid-50s but hits the gym at an average of three times a week chalking up 40 minutes each session on the treadmill at a clip of about 9km/hr.

In spite of this we found the going up Mt. Kinabalu pretty tough. It was one of the mist difficult climbs Unspun has undertaken as the climb up the mountain was an relentless series of fairly high uneven stone steps. And it gets worse the higher you go because the air thins.

Our group managed to trudge the 6.5km or so the first day up to the base station at Laban Rata. It was perched 3,270 meters above sea level. We were exhausted and thought we could sleep well after dinner. But we all spent a restless night tossing about in our bunk beds as the altitude got to us. Kinabalu

At 3am the next morning we all woke up, had our breakfast and began our ascend to the summit, hopefully, in time to catch the summit. It was cold, dark and very difficult because the thin air made the climb tougher. Our 12-year old had a headache, probably a sympton of altitude sickness so we left him to recover at the laban Rata base station.

The remaining four of us trudged on. The trail was manageable until we hit the section where the trail became a wall of granite rocks that we could only scale with the aid of ropes. It was challenging for someone like me who has no fear of heights but it was terrible for some of us in the group who had to scale those walls in the dark and with the cold wind blowing.

We started thinking that it was a good idea that we had left the 12-year old behind as the steep climbs was actually too dangerous for children. We also started getting a bit angry over two things – why the park authorities had not posted a warning to climbers of the extent of the difficulty in the climb and the potential dangers; and why it allowed children below at least 16 or 18 years to scale the mountain when it was already difficult and dangerous to reasonably fit adults? We also spoke among ourselves what park authorities in Western countries – who generally have a higher level of care to such details – would have done. We concluded that they would at least have adequate warnings on their website of the challenges that climbers would face.

We managed to clear the section and got up to about 3,400 meters above sea level where there is a reporting station. Our guide (and yes its true what they say about the stamina, courage and level of care of the Kinabalu guides) told us that we would not be able to make sunrise at the pace we were going.

As we were all exhausted, we decided to abort the climb and started trekking down, through the wall of granite and back to Laban Rata. The rest of the climb down was jarring and difficult but manageable.

I thought of posting something about the danger to children climbing Mount Kinabalu but got busy and forgot about it.

The recent earthquake and the tragedy unfolding at Mount Kinabalu has prompted me to write this in hopes that the Park authorities will at least in the future provide adequate warning to would-be climbers and considering upping the age-limit of the climbers.

Right now the official Mt. Kinabalu website cheerily gives the impression that anyone between 10 and 80 years old who’s reasonably fit can make the climb. That is inaccurate and dangerous information.

But a disturbing question is this: did the teachers are the Singapore primary school not do their research before deciding to take the schoolchildren on the hike up Mt. Kinabalu? Our did they, like us, take the information on the Kinabalu official website on surface value as well?