It is a brother nation with which we share many things in common. We are neighbors in our corner of the globe, a group of nations in Southeast Asia on the southwestern part of the vast Pacific Ocean. Myanmar, with over 650,000 square kilometers has more than double the size of the Philippine land area of a little over 298,000 square kilometers. But our population of some 110 million is more than double Myanmar’s 54.5 million.
WE are closely following developments in Myanmar, for a number of reasons.
We were both taken over by colonial powers. Myanmar, which used to be known as Burma, was ruled by the British from 1824 to 1948. The Philippines was a colony of Spain for three and a half centuries, and of the United States for half a century until 1946. Today, we are both proud members of the ten-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Last Monday, Myanmar was in the news – a military takeover of the government ousted the elected government led by State Counselor Suu Kyi, whose party had just won the parliamentary elections, and President Win Myint. The military, led by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, claimed there was fraud and other irregularities in the election and simply took over.
The military has long held the reins of power in Myanmar. Since independence from British rule in 1948, the military has openly taken over twice with coups in 1962 and 1988.
The United Nations, the United States, and Australia have been quick to condemn the coup, but the Philippines and the other ASEAN nations see it as an internal matter. “We will not meddle,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said. Our most immediate concern is for the safety of the many Filipinos who now work in Myanmar in its industries as well as for the United Nations and other international agencies.
Some quarters have noted that in the Philippines, the military has been prominently in the news lately. Only recently, some military officials claimed the University of the Philippines has been a breeding ground for students who eventually joined the New People’s Army. They published a list of names but the list has been disowned by higher officials.
Thus Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana minimized any fears over the events in Myanmar. A takeover by the military “will never happen” in the Philippines, he said.
The possibility of a military takeover in the Philippines is remote, Civil Defense Administrator Ricardo Jalad added. There was such an attempt in the early years of the Cory Aquino administration after the fall of martial law, but it failed and the military will not allow a repeat of that attempt, he said.
We share in these hopes and expressions of confidence, but we must continue to keep a close watch on events in Myanmar and any related events here and around the world. For, as a well-known quote generally attributed to Thomas Jefferson of the US points out, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”