FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - March 4, 2021 - 12:00am

There is now no avenue for the military junta in Myanmar to win any semblance of legitimacy for their power grab. That adventure can only restore the ill-fated country to pariah status at great historical costs for its people.

The UN has denounced the power grab with Myanmar’s own permanent representative reaffirming his support for the duly elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. None of the junta’s potential geopolitical allies, particularly Russia and China, endorsed the new governing clique. The country now faces a long winter of diplomatic isolation.

Even the ASEAN stretched the limits of its code of non-interference. Member-countries have become more vocal in disagreeing with the blatant power grab. Over the last few days, the Philippines and several other member countries asked the Burmese generals to immediately release Suu Kyi and her cohorts as well as return to the status quo ante.

The status quo ante is intolerable for the generals. It will mean accepting the government led by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). The pro-democracy party won over 80 percent of the vote in last November’s elections.

The US and the EU imposed sanctions on the military ringleaders, careful to spare the Burmese people of any harsh repercussions. We can expect more direct action to come over the next few weeks.

The mounting pressure on the junta at the international stage is matched by rising protests in Myanmar’s streets. Last Sunday, soldiers fired on peacefully assembled protesters, killing 18. The threat of violence does not seem to deter the pro-democracy demonstrations.

Pro-democracy leaders have pledged a civil disobedience campaign to be sustained until the junta vacates power. Over the past few weeks, they have shown they have the audacity to carry out a stubborn campaign from the streets.

The voice of the Burmese people cannot be more clearly delivered than by the results of the last elections. In that free exercise of popular sovereignty, the Burmese articulated their desire for a democratic country free from oppressive military rulers.

Not all the resistance to the military junta will be non-violent. For decades now, armed movements representing ethnic minorities have persisted against all odds. The Burmese military, despite a 60-year campaign, failed to completely quash these insurgencies.

With the junta under tremendous siege internationally and domestically, it is likely the ethnic-based guerrilla movements will escalate their activities. This, however, will reactivate the separatist political dynamic that will threaten the sustainability of Myanmar as a nation.

When the junta seized power at the start of February, they did so almost on impulse to conserve the privileged position of the military in Burmese society. That move, after a decade of gradual democratization, did not fully take into account the many political forces that will be unleashed by the coup.

After a month with the generals in power, it is now clear the coup can only bring calamity on the Burmese people. Without the slightest veil of legitimacy, the military can only enforce its will through the sustained exercise of repression.

Resources for repression are not infinite. The desire for freedom, on the contrary, is inexhaustible.

If the generals continue to insist on wielding illegitimate power, they can only bring their poor country to the abyss.

Production capacity

The peanut gallery that struggles daily to find fault with government’s vaccination effort might benefit from zooming out and looking at the global situation.

There are 7 billion human beings, all of them vulnerable to the coronavirus infection. At the moment, total production capacity only adds up to a few hundred million.

This week, the Biden administration succeeded in convincing Merck (whose own effort to produce a vaccine failed) to use its manufacturing capacity to make the Johnson & Johnson vaccine instead. That will enable the US to accelerate its vaccination program. It will benefit global supply only much later, after all Americans have been vaccinated.

The real game-changer will be the deployment of India’s vaccine production capacity for the effort to meet global demand. India’s pharmaceutical industry can produce a billion doses a year.

In our region, Vietnam is reportedly readying its own production capacity so that it will not be dependent on China for its vaccine supply. Our own vaccine production capacity is underdeveloped and we do not have the luxury of time to wait for it to emerge.

Meanwhile, we can only scrape in whatever supply we can get. We have the initial delivery of vaccines donated by China. This will soon be supplemented by the first delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines coming from the WHO Covax facility.

The experts are one in telling us: the best vaccine is the one we have in our arms. We are racing against new variants that may be more transmissible. We deploy whatever we could get our hands on.

It is not an ideal situation. But that is the reality we labor with.

The most irresponsible thing critics of this administration can do at this point is to cast xenophobia on the vaccination program or to accuse government of exchanging our islets for vaccine doses. They maliciously accuse government of acquiring less efficacious vaccine bands. This only encourages vaccine hesitancy and undermines the national effort to run ahead of the pandemic.

The more hesitancy there is, the more the infections run rampant. The more people will get sick and more will die.

There are those consciously peddling vaccine disinformation to score political points. This is not only unpatriotic. It is ultimately criminal.

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