Under siege at home, Myanmar's pro-democracy movement has supporters in the Philippines

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Under siege at home, Myanmar's pro-democracy movement has supporters in the Philippines
Demonstrators calling for democracy in Myanmar take part in a rally outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) building in Jakarta on April 24, 2021, where the ASEAN summit on the Myanmar crisis is due to take place.

MANILA, Philippines — The pandemic year has been marked by the shrinking of freedoms in many parts of the world but Myanmar still managed to shock when a military coup abruptly ended its decade-long experiment with democracy last February.

But even as deposed civilian leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi marks her third month under house arrest and protesters face an unyielding and brutal military crackdown, the country's civil disobedience movement continues to enjoy support abroad.

Some of those supporters are in the Philippines. 

Initiatives for International Dialogue, an advocacy institution based in the Philippines, traces its connection to Myanmar back to the 1980s, decades before the country's venture into a fragile and conditional democracy. Before the coup broke out earlier this year, IID's programs in Myanmar involved learning exchanges and capacity development, executive director Gus Miclat told Philstar.com.

Now, IID leads Burma Solidarity - Philippines (BSP), which seeks to garner support, both in the Philippines and in the region, for the civil disobedience campaign in Myanmar.

"We are campaigning for the recognition of the [National Unity Government], we are campaigning for the rejection of the junta in the ASEAN and any of the international platforms where they are," Miclat said.

The following is a list of BSP's member groups, according to Miclat: 

  • ASEAN Civil Society Conference Philippines 
  • ASEAN - Sogie Caucus
  • Akbayan
  • Akbayan Youth
  • Asia Europe People's Forum - Philippine Human Rights and Security Circle
  • Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino
  • Centre for Migrant Advocacy
  • Gazton Z. Ortigas Peace Institute
  • Innovation for Change (i4c)
  • Partido ng Manggagawa
  • Philippine National Railways Union
  • Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) 
  • Sanlakas
  • Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa
  • UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies Program on Alternative Development 

The National Unity Government is a shadow government of ousted lawmakers, many of whom are from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party. NLD won a landslide victory in national elections last November 2020.

NUG on March 31 announced the abolishment of the military-drafted 2008 Constitution and published the interim Federal Democracy Charter, according to a report from Myanmar Now. The interim constitution seeks to unite the junta's opponents who have historically been divided along ethnic lines.

BSP also supports and advocates targeted sanctions on the military, the release of political prisoners, and for the United Nations Security Council and ASEAN to send a joint mission to stall ongoing violence and the documentation of human rights violations. 

As of Saturday, 759 civilians have been killed while 4,561 have been arrested by security forces, according to the rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

'The Philippines should lead regional support for Myanmar's pro-democracy movement' 

Concerned civil society groups in the region were dismayed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' decision to invite the junta's leader, General Min Aung Hlaing Min to a summit in Jakarta last week.

Even as the summit reached a consensus which included "an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar," Miclat said the junta "continued to do what it was doing back home."

By AAPP's count, nine protesters were killed between April 24, when ASEAN announced a five-point consensus, and May 1.

As the long-regarded "citadel of democracy" in the region, Miclat said, the Philippines "should help lead the ASEAN response to [the Myanmar crisis] become bolder."

"[The Philippines] doesn't have to lock arms with ASEAN, it can recognize the NUG, it could condemn outright the coup." 

The Philippines has called for the restoration of status quo ante in Myanmar but has stopped short of condemning the junta or recognizing the NUG.

"It is just logical if they say status quo ante, that means it recognizes the civilian government at the time. That civilian government was given a new mandate during the elections in November."

Speaking out against Myanmar's junta and recognizing a shadow government composed of civilian leaders, Miclat acknowledged, might invite further criticism both abroad and at home.

"Maybe what's keeping [the Philippines] from [advocating strongly for Myanmar] is precisely this expectation...because that moral ascendency is gone."

The Duterte administration has also refrained from criticizing other governments and considers criticism from abroad — of the government's 'war on drugs', for example — as meddling in domestic affairs.

But convincing the Philippine government or any government to do more for Myanmar is not BSP's primary goal, Miclat said. 

"[The] biggest goal is to galvanize people's solidarity for Myanmar. It's not like we don't care what the government does [but] first and foremost we want the regional people to support Myanmar and Mayanmar people." 

What can concerned Filipinos do?

"If a neighbor's house is on fire, you don't just wait for the fire to come and engulf your house, you go out and try to douse [it]," Miclat said. "[We have to make our neighbors understand] why it is important to douse the fire and what it means for all the other houses around the region."

"[The] fire is disinclusion, minoritization, human rights violations...[a list of ills] that applies to our own context." 

Miclat encouraged concerned Filipinos to use social media to trend hashtags, post photos of them holding up three-finger salutes, and videos banging pots and pans to show solidarity with protesters in Myanmar.

"Go to the Burma embassy, maybe, go to the DFA, write the foreign secretary [to ask] what is the Philippines doing to help. Write our government officials, even our local officials."

"They can donate a peso or two to...help the people of Myanmar because they are now getting hungrier. The markets are closed, the economy is at a standstill...but then if they have the hard currency, then they will be able to survive."



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