FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - April 10, 2021 - 12:00am

There is a sense that things will get even uglier in Myanmar.

The Burmese army built a reputation for brutality. We saw that when they burned down Rohingya villages, commit massacres and rapes with abandon in an effort to drive them across the border to Bangladesh. Their final solution is clearly to make an entire ethnic community disappear from their midst.

The army has held power in Myanmar (Burma) for 50 years: directly for 40 years and from behind the scenes in the last 10 years until they deposed the elected government they committed to work with. Over those 50 years, the country degenerated from being Southeast Asia’s wealthiest and best educated to the backwater society it is now.

But it is also this arm that holds the nation together, preventing it from descending into communal warfare and civil strife as we saw in Libya, Iraq and Syria. The generals have invoked this unifying role in justifying military control of society and institutionalizing the army’s economic hold.

When the Burmese military was rejected in the popular vote last November, the humiliation stung. When the generals ousted the duly elected democratic government Feb. 1, it was motivated more by the army’s desire to preserve their entrenched economic interests than to build national unity. That could have been the fatal mistake here.

The army clearly miscalculated the Burmese people’s intense desire for democratization. That desire was seen in the almost continuous street protests that happened since the coup. The most brazen acts of brutality by the soldiers could not dissuade people from participating in the protests.

Hundreds of unarmed protestors have been shot and killed over the past two months. There is no indication the popular resistance will subside.

There are numerous acts of courage performed by individual Burmese citizens indicating the depth of pro-democracy sentiment.

In one international beauty pageant, the Burmese contestant flashed the three-finger salute used by pro-democracy protestors. The military rulers of Myanmar are reported to have issued a warrant for her arrest.

Myanmar’s ambassador to London declared his support for the democratic resistance to the junta. The military attaché maneuvered to lock the ambassador out of his own embassy.

On the ground, the pro-democracy protestors have escalated their tactics. They no longer want to be brutally shot while defenseless in the streets. Some of them have started acquiring crude firearms and Molotov cocktails to fight back.

The various ethnic militias that have been fighting the central government for decades have declared their support for the pro-democracy activists. The junta responded by bombing and strafing towns populated by ethnic minorities. This has sent refugees fleeing across the border to Thailand.

The confrontation between the pro-democracy forces and the army will likely escalate into a full-scale civil war. This will be tragic. But the generals are making this inevitable.


While science worked its wonders producing vaccines to protect against COVID-19, little progress has been made developing prophylactic or therapeutic drugs against the disease.

There is one report of a therapeutic drug called “Molnupiravir” being jointly developed by two major pharmaceutical companies that has undergone first- and second-stage trials. The third-stage trial is currently underway and if that proves efficacy the new drug will be available in about four months.

Originally intended as an anti-flu drug, the manufacturers claim 100 percent efficacy in treating those infected with COVID-19. The trials indicate full recovery is possible in as little as five days.

We can only hope this report is true. With the global vaccine shortage and a strong surge in infections, people are getting desperate.

As a measure of that desperation, there has been much pressure applied on our regulatory authorities (especially by politicians) to allow prescription of anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin. Much has been said about the supposed efficacy of this drug to fight off COVID-19 infections. A virtual black market has developed through which this drug is bought and sold.

Our FDA, however, is hesitant to authorize use of this drug except under very strict “compassionate use” terms. The regulators argue that clinical tests do not show any therapeutic value in this drug and experts say there could be serious side effects to taking this drug. The first duty of the FDA is to ensure the safety of any drug made available to the public.

I am not competent to make a judgment one way or the other about Ivermectin. My first instinct is to trust the regulators. They have expertise on their side.

Most of the argument favoring widespread use of this drug is anecdotal. As a social scientist, I am skeptical of anecdotal evidence. Such evidence should not be taken as being of equal weight to laboratory trials or large statistical numbers.

Also, much of the frenzy about this anti-parasitic drug calls to mind the same frenzy about a year ago that anti-malarial drug touted even by former president Trump. The US government even stocked up on this drug only for it to go to waste as one clinical study after another refuted the therapeutic claims attributed to it.

Fans of the anti-parasitic drug claim that it has been used safely for 40 years. But they should also mention it has been used mainly on animals. We do not have a human-grade stockpile of this drug.

Those disappointed by the FDA’s prudence have now resorted to peddling a conspiracy theory about the regulatory agency and “big pharma.” When any group advocating anything resorts to conspiracy theories, this raises a very big red flag in my mind.

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