"The regional bloc has shown no backbone in dealing with issues of oppression since its founding in 1967."
In the wake of growing violence against civilian protesters by the military rulers of Myanmar, the Philippines has called for the immediate release of the detained civil leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a complete return to the country’s existing state of affairs.
The declaration by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. During an informal meeting among foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Tuesday was a significant departure from its initial reaction to the Feb. 1 coup in which it said it would not “interfere” with the military takeover in its neighboring country.
In fact, less than three weeks ago, the Philippines refused to back an international call by the United Nations seeking the same objective—to free Suu Kyi--citing the importance of “sovereignty and territorial integrity.
That move put the country in the same club as China and Russia, which veered away from a UN Human Rights Council resolution urging the Myanmar junta to free Suu Kyi.
“As a sovereign country in a world of sovereign states, the Philippines cannot stress strongly enough the primacy of national internal efforts towards democratic reforms, and never by the imposition of foreign solutions whether in regional or multilateral contexts, including through this Council,” the Philippine statement read.
But the bloody events of Sunday clearly showed that the military leaders in Myanmar were not interested in “internal efforts toward democratic reforms.”
Since the Myanmar military’s February 1 takeover, at least 21 people have been killed in a bloody crackdown that seeks to quell weeks of unrest. Soldiers and police have opened fire on civilians who gathered in the thousands to call for the restoration of democracy.
On Sunday, security forces security forces opened fire and made mass arrests as they sought to break up protests against the military’s seizure of power, and a UN human rights official said it had “credible information” that at least 18 people were killed and 30 were wounded.
That would be the highest single-day death toll among protesters who are demanding that the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi be restored to power after being ousted by a Feb. 1 coup. About 1,000 people are believed to have been detained Sunday.
“Deaths reportedly occurred as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku,” the UN Human Rights Office said in a statement referring to several cities, adding that the forces also used tear gas, flash-bang grenades and stun grenades.
In calling for the same things that the earlier UN resolution sought, Locsin made the distinction between outside interference and an appeal “made from the inside” – referring to Myanmar’s membership in the ASEAN.
“Our appeal is not from the outside but from inside what we claim is one family: a family first of peoples and not of governments; feeling the hurt in one of its members. In the Philippines, we have a saying: The hurt of the small finger is felt by the whole body. Myanmar is not a small finger but a big part of the two hands that together make up the family of ASEAN 10,” he said.
But he made no mention this time of sovereignty or territorial integrity or “the imposition of foreign solutions whether in regional or multilateral contexts.”
To nobody’s surprise, the ASEAN members who discussed the coup Tuesday failed to find a breakthrough to get Myanmar back on the path to democracy. The regional bloc has shown no backbone in dealing with issues of oppression since its founding in 1967. Sadly, our own wishy-washy posturing fits right in.