Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and the military takeover in Myanmar

Published February 7, 2021, 12:23 AM

by Former House Speaker Jose C. De Venecia Jr.


Jose de Venecia Jr.
Former Speaker of the House

The UN, US, G-7, and many other countries and international organizations expressed either condemnation or grave concern over the military takeover in Myanmar and the detention of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and other political leaders.

Suu Kyi, a democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was reportedly arrested at dawn Monday when the military, led by its commander-in-chief General Min Aung Hlaing, seized control of the government on grounds that the country’s November, 2020, elections were marred by fraud. The military also placed the entire country under a state of emergency.

Based on news reports, Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won overwhelmingly in the polls.

This turn of events in Myanmar is a big blow to the political stability and modest economic growth enjoyed by the Southeast Asian country since its dramatic transition from military to civilian government in 2011, although the military, called Tadmidaw, retained considerable power in the country.

We join the calls for immediate peaceful dialogue among the parties to prevent an escalation of conflict in the country. We also hope that the military will immediately release Suu Kyi, President U Win, and the others who were arrested, respect the will of the Myanmar people, and begin the process of national healing and reconciliation. A prolonged political tension will shatter the hard-won modest economic gains and international esteem achieved by the country since its democratization ten years ago.

We wish to mention that there are approximately a thousand Filipino workers in Myanmar who will be affected if the situation worsens.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, had earlier been under military regime for some 50 years, from 1962 to 2011.

In the early years of Myanmar’s military rule, when we were a young economic minister and press counselor at the Philippine Embassy in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh, during the Vietnam War, from 1966-1969, we had the privilege of meeting a great Burmese leader, then UN Secretary General U Thant.

He served as UN chief from 1961-1971 and was widely recognized for his crucial role in facilitating the negotiations between US President John F. Kennedy and Russian Premier Nikita Krushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, which prevented a possible third world war.

We first met Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital, in early 2012, a year after her release from house arrest. We led a delegation from the 350-member International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) where we agreed to work with her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), which was then the opposition party, and the then ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in promoting dialogue, understanding and cooperation among the countries in Asia and the international community.

From Yangon, our ICAPP delegation travelled to Naypyitaw where we conferred with senior leaders of the USDP.

As ICAPP’s contribution in strengthening political stability in Myanmar, we in ICAPP unanimously elected its two leading political parties, the USDP and NLD, to our Standing Committee, the governing body of our organization.

In subsequent years, we had the chance of meeting Suu Kyi in various international forums and events, including the 31st ASEAN Summit here in Manila in 2017.

Suu Kyi also received us and our wife Gina, together with Philippine Ambassador to Myanmar Eduardo Kapunan and his wife Elsa, in Naypyitaw in 2017, where we discussed ways and means of strengthening economic cooperation between the Philippines and Myanmar as well as enhancing bilateral relations under the International Conference of Asian Political Parties and the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP), where we serve as co-chairman with former US 30-year congressman Dan Burton.

Suu Kyi has been denounced in the international community, with some countries even accusing her of “complicity” in the atrocities committed by Myanmar’s armed forces against the Rohingya, the ethnic Muslim minority, who live in Rakhine state in Myanmar.

Some observers, however, explained that Suu Kyi has been leading her country in a delicate position as the military still exercise significant power and influence. They saw her refusal to criticize, even defend, the military crackdown against the Rohingya as a necessary bitter pill to swallow to maintain civilian rule in a country.