Manila's Electric Passenger Bikes Kick Up Controversy

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Jason Strother

MANILA — Sometimes to get around Manila, you need to take a trike, otherwise known as a motorcycle with a sidecar. The drivers weave around the traffic and up onto sidewalks. Trikes are noisy and emit a lot of exhaust too.

But not the one Alfredo Forelo drives. A few months ago, the 38-year-old traded in his old one for a new, battery-powered e-trike. It holds up to eight passengers and is so quiet that it can hardly be heard.

On the old tricycles, he used to get sick a lot, he says — colds, flu, asthma. But not anymore. And the e-trikes are easier to drive and more comfortable than the old ones.

At the moment, there are only about 15 of them on the streets of Manila. But the Asia Development Bank (ADB) is anticipating a fleet of 100,000 within the next five years.

Sohail Hasnie, head of the bank's e-trike program, says the benefits of the new bikes will be felt across the board.

"The Philippine government spends close to $8 billion to $10 billion on importing oil as a net energy importer," Hasnie says. "And of course there are a lot of inefficient ways these get consumed by tricycle drivers who do not really have much of a choice in terms of new technology. If you are a pedestrian, of course you like riding around in something that is safe, comfortable and clean. E-trikes provide all those solutions in a single goal."

Hasnie estimates that e-trikes will offset much of the nearly four tons of carbon dioxide produced by gas-powered trikes in Manila each year.

Not universally hailed

But Beau Baconguis, Philippines program manager for Greenpeace, says e-trikes only substitute tail pipes for smoke stacks.

"When you plug in these hundreds of thousands of e-trikes, you will be using up a lot of electricity that is very dependent right now on coal," he says. "The environmental impact is not direct, in terms of emissions. The emission there is coming from the coal plant when you charge your trikes."

Other environmentalists say the e-trike's lithium ion batteries are not as beneficial as they might seem.

Red Constantino, director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities in Manila, says there is no way to repair batteries once they falter. "If one single cell breaks down, the whole battery goes kaput, and there is no repair shop anywhere for such batteries," he says.

Even though lead batteries aren't as environmentally friendly as lithium ion, he says, there are at least recycling centers for them in the Philippines.

They're the kind of batteries his organization uses for its fleet of electric passenger trucks, known as jeepneys. Outside a shopping mall in Manila's Makati City, passengers climb into the back of these e-jeepneys and pass change up to the driver.

Constantino says these are a better alternative to the e-trikes, in terms of both the environment and safety. "The bigger the vehicle, the more efficient it is in reducing emissions and using less energy to ferry passengers from one place to another," he says. "Tricycles are small, they encourage door-to-door transport of people instead of allowing them to walk. The problem with the ADB e-trike program is that it will locate the tricycles haphazardly, wherever there is a demand rather than reducing the presence of tricycles, which are also a safety concern. They are notorious for not following traffic rules."

The Asia Development Bank's Sohail Hasnie concedes that his e-trikes still have problems to resolve, such as battery repair service. But he says jeepneys are just too expensive right now. "You need a larger motor, you need a larger battery.Tthe costs keep going up and up."

And that’s a big problem, he says, because most drivers own their own vehicles. Hasnie adds that e-trikes give poor drivers, like Alfredo Forelo, a more affordable means to make a living.

Back on the road with Forelo, he says that he brings home more money these days with his e-trike because he saves on gas. And he pays a much smaller fee to charge his battery.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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