We have in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) a tradition of non-interference in the local affairs of our fellow ASEAN nations. Over the centuries, these nations have gone through different historical experiences. Their only common bond, it seems, is that they occupy these same geographical area on the planet.
The British were in Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore; the French in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam; the Dutch in Indonesia; Spaniards and Americans in the Philippines. Only Thailand managed to escape colonial rule. But with all their disparities, ASEAN nations have come together under “One Vision, One Identity, One Community.”
It is against this background that we in the Philippines look at what is happening today in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The Myanmar military has long held power in that country, but it has gradually allowed civilian government through an assembly, while reserving for itself one-fourth of assembly seats for the pro-military party. In the elections last November, the National League for Democracy party with its woman leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, won over 80 percent of the vote. The military accused the party of committing electoral fraud. On February 1, the day the new assembly was to open, the military mounted a coup, took over the government, and detained Suu Kyi and other government leaders.
For a month now, the people of Myanmar have been coming out in street protest rallies, while many nations, among them the United States, the European Union, and China, condemned the Myanmar military takeover. The ASEAN, true to its traditional policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of any member, has declined to issue any statement of criticism or condemnation.
On the day of the coup, presidential spokesman Harry Roque called it an “internal matter,” but the Department of Foreign Affairs expressed “deep concern,” especially for the safety of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia have likewise expressed “deep concern.” Cambodia and Thailand called the evens in Myanmar an intern.al matter. Vietnam, Brunei, and Laos have yet to issue statements.
The Philippines is likely to desist from making any further official statements in deference to ASEAN tradition. But it must be said that ongoing events in Myanmar are to be deplored. Thirty-five years ago, in February, 1986, the Philippines astounded the world when our people gathered en masse at Epifanio de los Santos Ave. near Camps Crame and Aguinaldo in February, 1986, to condemn the military rule imposed on the country by President Marcos in 1972, continuing with an authoritarian government that kept him in power for 20 years.
We have this proud tradition of our people massing in protest against government abuses. Our government respects the ASEAN tradition of respect for the internal affairs of our fellow ASEAN members, but the world should know that the Filipino people are with the Myanmar people in their protest against unjust actions in their country.