Thursday, August 29, 2013

Farewell March for Huaguang Community

The last round of demolition of the Huaguang Community will be between August 27th and August 29th, though demolition has been temporary suspended due to Tropical Storm Kong-Rey. 

On August 27th, residents of Huaguang Community and their supporters marched on the streets of Taipei to protest the eviction and forced demolition of Taipei last mainlander community. 

I've written quite a few entries on the case of Huaguang Community and the plight of its residents.  If the reader is interested in learning more about the controversy surrounding Huaguang Community's demolition, here are the links to my previous entries on the subject:

Chiang Bei Bei - An Unexpected Acquaintance 

One day in Huaguang 

Destruction delayed, Anxiety Continues

Unholy Matrimony - Huaguang Community Protest Turns Ugly

Blood and Tears from Huaguang - Protest at Ministry of Justice

On August 27th, at around 8:30am, participants of the march started to arrive at the corner to Aiguo East Road (愛國東路) and Hangzhou South Road (杭州南路).  Most of the organizers have been holding an all-night vigil the night before.  Students were busy setting up the registration table and handing out placards, stickers and ghost money for the event. They also set up a shrine of "Residence Justice (居住正義) for participants to mourn the loss of the right to residency.

There were two groups of marchers for the Huaguang Community.  One is the usual group of participants holding placards and banners.  The other group is made up of fifty volunteers, mostly students.  They would carry the rubbles, doors, window frames and other furnitures from the demolition site through the streets of Taipei to demonstrate the suffering of the community residents.  

As I was observing the students getting ready, a man's loud voice made me turned my head.  I saw Mr. Chen standing there, carrying a photograph of his deceased mother.  His voice trembling with anger and sadness, Mr. Chen told the journalists on scene the tragic story of his mother, Mrs. Cheng, who fled to Taiwan with the KMT troops, after the Nationalist Chinese Party lost the Civil War in China.  Mrs. Cheng became a maid and also earned money from washing dishes.  She was able to purchase a small house in the community and had been residing in her house for the past five decades.  

Mr. Chen with photo
of his deceased mother
When Mrs. Cheng was 85 years old, the Ministry of Justice filed a suit against her for illegally residing and profiting from government land.  Mrs. Cheng lived under tremendous anxiety and stress after that.  During this year's lunar new year, a mysterious fire broke out near Mrs. Cheng's home.  Mrs. Cheng became even more stressed when she had to observe the charred remain of her neighbor's property on a daily basis.  Eventually, Mrs. Cheng passed away at the age of 91.  Before she died, she asked her son, "Why is the government doing this to me?  If they want me to leave, why can't they at least help me a little?  Why do they have to sue me?"

The sun was scorching.  The fifty volunteers, carrying heavy articles on their backs, marched slowly on the streets of Taipei, capturing attention from everyone passing by, including Chinese tourists.  When the marchers arrived in front of the Executive Yuan, there were three silent performers on scene already.  One wore a suit of ghost money, one had a snail shell on her back, and the other was covered in fake blood.

The marchers made their way around the silent performers to stick ghost money on President Ma Ying-jeou, Vice President Wu Den-yih and Premier Jiang Yi-huah's photographs, then moved on to Ketagalan Boulevard.  

I broke with the marchers and went back to the Huaguang Community to witness the demolition, and there were plenty.  The first thing I saw when I approached the community was what's left of Chen Bei Bei (Uncle Chen)'s home.  Chen Bei Bei's home was a land mark of the community, because of the beautiful plum three in front of his home.  He used to make plum jello from the juice he gets from the plum.  Chen Bei Bei is also known as "Uncle Plum". 

I found Chen Bei Bei sitting across the small street from the rubble of his home, accompanied by a police officer, holding his door number.  
Uncle Plum

"What are you going to do now?" the young police officer asked curiously and insensitively.  

"They are sending me to a community for old mainlanders soldiers outside of Taipei," Chen Bei Bei replied, "But I don't tell the people I know that I am paying rent. I tell them I am paying the mortgage to my new home, because I don't want people to know I don't have a house anymore".  

"You know, life is like a journey". Chen Bei Bei continued to say, "You get to stay in one place for a while, but when the time is up, you have to leave, and I am leaving". 

It was very difficult to not shed any tear when witnessing such scene.  

I then moved to the Jinhua Street side of the community and heard some people arguing.  It was the owner of Sun's Buns (孫記包子店) and the executioners from the court.  Mr. Sun insisted that because he is still in the process of appealing his case with the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Justice could not demolish his store.  They did anyway.  

As I was taking photos of the demolition, words come that the students rushed in and took over the court yard of the Ministry of Justice.  After protesting for a while and demanding someone from the MOJ to come out to speak to them and accept their plead letter, 500 police officers, including the riot police, grabbed all the students, stuffed them in the police bus and dropped them off at the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial on the other side of town.  

I came home with a sense of loss, and I am still recovering from the images of demolition, crying residents and students carrying heavy furniture under the brutal sun.  I don't think I'll ever be able to forget what I saw and learned in the past few months.  

The students vowed to continue fighting for the community members, as most of them still have to pay the tremendous fine the government imposed on them.  

The students are now having public discussions at places like the Taipei Main Station and Ximending to inform the public about the Huaguang Community and the very basic right of an individual's ability to choose where he wants to live.
Uncle Plum's house before and after


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Keeping Them at Bay - The Wind Turbine Experimental Hearing Disaster

"Set Safety Distance for Wind Turbines"
My Tuesday lunch meeting on campus just a few minutes minutes prior to the scheduled press conference of fourteen NGO and civil organizations before the "Experimental Hearing on Safety Distance on Wind Machines".  The event was sponsored by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (經濟部) and hosted by the Bureau of Energy (能源局).  Since I investigated and wrote about the issue of wind turbine distance and the Yuanli Township resident's struggle with government agencies and the German wind power company, InfraVest, over the company's endeavor to erect wind turbines the residents claim to be too close to their homes, I rushed across campus to check things out.

Upon arrival, I observed the Yuanli Township residents and representatives from environmental and human rights NGOs were already there.  I walked into the lobby of the lecture hall and saw one can sign up to attend on site, so I did.  There were also quite a few individuals standing and sitting in the lobby already.  Strangely, most of them were either playing with the cell phones or just standing around, not speaking to anyone, looking bored.  I then discovered these individuals were all there to sign up as speakers at the hearing.  The organizer would not let me take a photograph of the roster, but there were quite a few "Vest (威)", as in "InfraVest", as part of those individual's affiliated companies. (Note: InfraVest has different affiliated local companies for all its local projects.  For example, the local company responsible for the project in Taoyuan County would be called "TaoVest (桃威)".  In the case of Yuanli, the local InfraVest company is called "TongVest (通威)" in reference to the Tongxiao Township).  After the experimental hearing started, I examined the seats for the speakers, quite a few individuals I saw in the lobby were nowhere to be found.

As the press conference went on, I saw a dozen police officers arrive on scene and move into the lecture hall where the "hearing" was.  The atmosphere immediately tensed up when the police officers arrived.  Participants looking at each other, probably wondering the same thing I was questioning in my head, is there a need for this much police presence at an experimental hearing about wind machines?  Are they here because the residents of Yuanli are here?

As the press conference ended, I walked into the lecture hall to find a seat.  I entered the lecture hall and discovered there were police officers, CID officers, campus security as well as individuals with "work badges" standing all around the room.  One would assume some high level government official was going to be present at the experimental hearing for the organizers to have such large presence of security.  

This is grounds for grave concern, as the large police presence would ultimately intimidate ordinary citizens who would otherwise express their opinion on the issues to be discussed. I'm not sure keeping citizens at bay was what the host of the event intended, but the large presence of police officers was entirely unnecessary and inappropriate.  It also demonstrated the Bureau of Energy's insensitivity to citizens and lack of awareness on the importance and guarantee of participation in democracy. 

And, it gets worse, as the experimental hearing proceeded, the CID officers station at both sides of the lecture hall filmed those who raised their hands to question the legitimacy and procedural flaw of the experimental meeting.  I naturally assumed the CID officers would turn their camera on everyone who spoke; however, I observed them placing the majority of their concentration filming the participants who were raising question about the experimental hearing, the Yuanli Township residents and their supporters.  Even though the CID officers left after the first session, they have already effectively planted the seeds of intimidation in the minds of hearing attendees, as the attendees understood their faces were already documented camera. 

Procedural Flaws

As many of the participants pointed out, the Bureau of Energy only sent out notice for the  experimental hearing less than five days prior to the hearing, so many organizations and individuals who have employed felt they did not have ample time to prepare for the hearing.    Moreover, the presiding chair of the experimental hearing was the Deputy Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Energy, and the rest of the panelists were also from the same Bureau.  There were no independent expert on the panel.  Then, how does one have a productive discussion on safety distance of wind turbines?  The organizer did not have an answer. 

As the hearing went out, I realized the government bureaucrats had little or no idea which articles of the Administrative Procedure Act (行政程序法) to follow, as all government sponsored hearing should.  The chair of the hearing kept referring to his subordinate associate to answer the audience's questions.  I felt like, since this is ghost month, I was experiencing the "ghost maze (鬼打牆)", which is the traditional belief that a ghost was trying to manipulate one's senses, so one feels like she is in trapped in a maze, encountering similar and repetitive paths but can't get out.  

Attempting to answer question
regarding the Administrative Procedure Act
The chair and his associates kept mentioning the President's Human Rights Advisory Committee as basis and reason for the experimental hearing.  Then, when the audience question the legitimacy of the hearing and whether the conclusion of such hearing is binding in any way, the chair said, since Taiwan has no regulation for safety distance of wind machines, the was no need for such hearing but the experimental hearing would follow the Administrative Procedure Act.  Then, the MC intervened and answered the participant's question that the hearing didn't have to follow the Administrative Procedure Act, because the government didn't legally have to have the hearing in the first place.

Confused yet?  And this was all prior to the registered speakers spoke.  

When questioned again on why the Bureau of Energy decided to hold the experimental hearing, the panel again referred to the President's Human Rights Advisory Committee's recommendation to have the hearing and admitted the discussions of the experimental hearing would be documented as reference if the government ultimately decides to consider implementing any policy regarding safety distance for wind machines in Taiwan.  Ironically, the information document the Bureau distributed to hearing participants was titled, "Experimental Hearing on Policy of Safety Distance for Wind Machines" yet the hearing will have no effect on policy.

Echo Lin from EJA
The audience had a point.  Safety distance of wind machines is an important issue that affects all - the residents living near the wind machine, the environment, Taiwan's source of energy and those who are in the green energy business. 

It became quite clear, after all the discussion, that the experimental hearing was not binding at all, and what was said during the hearing, while being recording, might be forever tucked in the back of the government's public document archive.

At this point, a lawyer proposed the motion to end the hearing on the spot and have everyone come back when the government officials were more aware of which procedure to follow and for what purpose the hearing is held. Some audience members seconded the motion, but the presiding chair overruled it and insisted to proceed with the experimental hearing.  

"This is a waste of everyone's time!", Wang Yun-yi, the Vice President of InfraVest exclaimed.  

"No, it's not" said Echo Lin from the Environmental Jurists Association, "Hearing procedure is an important issue and a problem for this event, and we need to sort things out first before anything can proceed".

Much about nothing 

The experimental hearing proceeded as the presiding chair wanted.  As expected, it became a vent-fest for all parties involved, from township residents, NGO group members and wind power company representatives.  

My experience as the experimental hearing raised serious doubt in my mind on the sincerity of the administration to address the issue of green energy.  If the administration endorses green energy, as President Ma said when he visited the wind farm in Penghu a few weeks ago, then the Ministry of Economic Affairs should take the safety issue of wind turbine seriously, as there have been conflicts between wind power companies, the way those companies conduct themselves in townships and the residents living in close proximity of those wind machines.  MOEA, EPA and the Bureau of Energy are all aware of this on-going issue, yet only non-binding experimental hearings here held without discussion the extent to which the government agencies would push for any policy regarding safety distance or address the dwindling land mass to erect any more wind turbines.  

I see the struggle for the township residents continue, as the environmental and anti-nuclear energy groups agonize over the the advocacy of and push for green energy, and the government, once again, remain stagnant.  It is my sincerely hope that, after all the questions raised and discussion on transparency and procedure, the officials who were present at the meeting would learn something and make the necessary improvement for the next formal public hearing on this issue. 


1) The Yuanli Township residents sued InfraVest Wind Power Co. for infringing on the quality of their lives in April, and they asked for the court to order InfraVest to stop building additional wind turbines in their town.  The first day of court for the Yuanli residents was yesterday.  

2) The fourteen NGOs that issued a joint statement for the lack of transparency and procedural flaws of the experimental hearing were:「台灣人權促進會」、「兩公約施行監督聯盟」、「台灣蠻野心足生態協會」、「綠色公民行動聯盟」、「台灣環境資訊協會」、「環境法律人協會」、「淡海青年陣線」、「北海岸環境自救會」、「新屋鄉反瘋車自救會」、「桃園在地聯盟」、「苗栗縣海岸環境發展協會」、「苑裡反瘋車自救會」、「彰化縣環境保護聯盟」、「西海岸保育聯盟」

First day in Court for Yuanli Residents
Outside of Taipei District Court yesterday (August 23, 2013)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Return the Country to the People" Rally and Occupy the Ministry of Interior

August 18th was the deadline issued by the Taiwan Rural Front (台灣農村陣線/TRF) for an official government response to the Dapu Borough forced demolition last month. Predictably, the only responses from the current administration were statements critical of the methods of protest in the past month (Egg and paint throwing, placing the "Yesterday Dapu, Today the government (今天拆大埔, 明天拆政府)" stickers on public gates and walls, and spray painting the sidewalks and public facilities) and the extent to which government buildings need better security.  

Aside from the series of small protests through the month of July and August, the Taiwan Rural Front also planned two large-scale protests, one in Miaoli County (right in front of the Miaoli County government's building) and one in Ketagalan Boulevard.  I wasn't able to attend the music event/funeral for County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung last Friday.  From the videos from reporters who were at the scene, the event looked like a success.  It was one of the biggest anti-establishment rallies in Miaoli's history, drawing more than one thousand participants.  

Peng Hsiu-tsun of the Chang Pharmacy
addresses the crowd
I arrived the "Return the Country the People - the 818 Tearing down the Government Movement (把國家還給人民, 818拆政府行動)" on Ketagalan Boulevard about an hour before the event.  There were already a lot of volunteers there, setting up chairs, the stage and booths.  I observed a death shrine for Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) and a huge bag of cow manure.  It's not difficult to imagine what some of the participants did to the shrine with the cow manure.

Law enforcement already put up double barricades in front of the President's Office.  Buses full of police officers were resting and getting ready behind the barricades.  It felt as if the government was preparing for some kind of violent riot to break out at any second.  

The rally was peaceful with an estimated 20,000 participants, larger than the organizer expected.  Although the number of participants were much smaller than the "Justice for Corporal Hung" rally a few weeks ago, the energy, compassion and excitement of the crowd was much more evident.  

Peter Huang (黃文雄), the failed assassin of Chiang Ching-Kuo (蔣經國) in New York (1970) and Yang Ru-men (楊儒門), the Rice Bomber were both there.  Huang incredibly gave a moving speech on non-violent methods of protest and shared his story as a fugitive and an exile. 

Members of the arts, music and film industry were present as well.  Hip hop band, Kou Chou Ching (拷秋勤) rocked the boulevard with their famous rap song, "Civil Revolt (官逼民反)".

Director Ko I-chen (柯一正) and Wang Shau-di (王小隸) went on stage to sing "Do you hear the People Sing?" with a group of Anti-Nuclear Power advocates.  Director Wang's presence was especially significant, as she was the daughter of National Chinese Party (KMT) military strongman and mainlander, Wang Sheng (王昇).

What was surprising to me were the number of self-help groups there were.  One after another, members of the self-help groups went on stage to testify in front of rally participants their stories of land grabbing.  The speeches were emotionally, especially coming from elderly farmers, who has been farming on their land for decades and then were driven out by the government in the name of "progress", "development" and "modernity".  It was also surprising to find the majority of self-help groups came from Miaoli County.

As the rally came to an end, host and mistress of ceremony, Professor Frida Tsai, asked the  participants to march down Zhongshan South Road and relocate to the Executive Yuan for an overnight sit-in.  I moved ahead of the marchers to get a better view of the crowd and to take some photographs.  At that time, I couldn't help but wonder, how the TRF could symbolically "tear down the government", when there were already hundred of police officers waiting for them in front of the Executive Yuan? 

The marchers approached Xuzhou Road (徐州路), and a political science student from the National Taiwan University (NTU) and member of the Taiwan Rural Front asked the crowd to stop moving forward to wait for the rest of the group.  From the changing mood and energy in the air, I realized something was about to go down.  I looked toward my right at the Ministry of Interior, there were only a hand full of police officers guarding the gate.  

Then, it happened.  The students started running toward the Ministry of Interior and began climbing over the fence.  Some students put the large blanket they brought with them over the blade wires and pulled them away from the gate so others could climb in.  Soon, the court yard of the Ministry was filled with young people.  In all, approximately 2,000 rally participants stormed the Ministry of Interior and took the government building over.  Law enforcement attempted to stop the crowd on couple of occasions but decided to retreat as the officers were outnumbered.  Both gates to the Ministry were now wide-open with protesters continued to move in.

The organizer was also able to drive their "battle truck" in to the courtyard of the Ministry as well. 

Incredibly, the students sat in front of the building as the organizers requested.  A few eggs were thrown but the behavior was immediately stopped by the organizer.  No windows were broken, the gates were intact and no one entered the building to cause any damage to the offices.  

The protesters put stickers on the windows and doors to the Ministry and tied the doors together.  Then, quite a few very talented students began painting and spraying the ground in front of the Ministry.  Soon, a ground painting was completed.  It tells the story of a monster swallowing the people's land, taking their lands and making them cry.  

Professor Hsu Shih-jung (徐世榮), President of the Taiwan Rural Front, Ms. Peng Shiu-tsun (彭秀春) one of the victims of the forced demolition and Professor Liao Pen-chuan of the National Taipei University sat on the front line.  The protesters continued to occupy the Ministry of Interior until six o'clock in the evening on the next day.  Deputy Minister of Interior Hsiao Chia-chi (蕭家淇) tried to convince the protesters to leave at one point; however, the protesters didn't appreciate his bureaucratic answers and inability to make any policy decision. Hsiao left under heavy police protection without accomplishing anything.  The protesters successfully inconvenienced operation of the government for 20+ hours.  

At the press conference before the TRF called off the occupation, Professor Frida Tsai said the movement was only the beginning and promised more protests in the near future.

The demands of the Taiwan Rural Front and their supporters are: 1) The government should apologize and compensate the victims of forced demolition in Dapu Borough and return their land to them; 2) Investigate the possible corruption of Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (The group sued Liu and filed a complaint with the Special Prosecutor's office yesterday) and 3) Amend the Land Expropriation Act (土地徵收條例).  

The TRF protests are the most unpredictable and creative protests I have witnessed here in Taiwan - from the students pretending to be Chinese tourists, so they could approach the Executive Yuan, which is significant and says a lot to the current administration's attitude toward Chinese tourists verses students from its own country, to allowing law enforcement to think the protest would be one location instead of another.  

The administration still chooses to not address the issues at hand.  Commissioner Liu went into hiding and refused to answer any question from the media.  President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday that the Miaoli County Government is the appropriate party to handle the current situation in Dapu, and the Miaoli County Government is indicting students and suing them for damage of public property and obstruction of justice.  Minister of Interior, Lee Hung-yuan (李鴻源) complained about the occupation while asking the protesters if they would do the same thing to McDonald's.  Lee also said there is nothing wrong with the Land Expropriation Act, and it shouldn't be amended.  According to Lee, the executive of such Act is the problem.  

Lastly, lets not forget that the Dapu residents whose homes were destroyed and their land taken have yet to receive any compensation from the government and the justice their rightfully deserve.  While there are many other cases in Taiwan deserving of attention and advocacy, the Dapu case will be an lingering issue until the government deals with it.  The residents are living in rented apartments for the time being.  While keeping pressure on the government on Dapu, the TRF is proposing a comprehensive plan to lobby for amendment to legislation, to change government taxing policies and to advocate for those who are ultimately affected by the government's land grabbing policies countrywide, for example, aborigines from Taitung's Red Leaf (紅葉) were invited and traveled six hours on train to attend the rally last Sunday to testify and protest the acquisition of their land to make a hot spring resort.

I expect more discussions from the public, among politicians and lawmakers with additional moves from the TRF in the future.

Protesters throwing cow manure at Liu Cheng-hung's death shrine
Crowd moving toward the Executive Yuan
Rapper - Kou Chou Ching 

TRF Volunteers inside the MOI 

Occupying the MOI

Protesters and volunteers asking the crowd to remain calm