February 12, 2021 at 12:55 am
Rey E. Requejo and AFP
The Philippine Embassy in Myanmar has been authorized to undertake “drastic measures” to ensure the safety of Filipinos should the situation there escalate following a military takeover that led to the arrest of the country’s key leaders, including democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
Philippine Ambassador to Myanmar Eduardo Kapunan Jr. said he may be compelled to close down the embassy and evacuate all Filipinos there if the security situation continues to deteriorate.
“The Secretary of Foreign Affairs has given me the authority to take drastic measures in case things escalate, like for example, closing down the embassy and evacuating all Filipinos here by air, by sea, whatever,” Kapunan said in a radio interview.
“We are closely monitoring the situation so that we can take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of Filipinos here,” he added.
Kapunan said he has already coordinated with Bangkok’s top diplomat in Myanmar for possible evacuation of Filipinos to Thailand.
“I already talked to the ambassador of Thailand here and they’re all willing to assist in any way so we can evacuate there by boat, by land. So we’re coordinating with them,” he said.
“We also have a line-up of commercial vessels that we can use, if the need arises,” Kapunan added.
Data from the Department of Foreign Affairs showed there are 1, 273 Filipinos in Myanmar as of June last year.
Many Filipinos in Myanmar work in the manufacturing industry as supervisors while some also work for the United Nations agencies and other international organizations there, the DFA said.
Meanwhile, anti-coup protesters on Thursday took to the streets of Myanmar for a sixth consecutive day, after US President Joe Biden announced sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation’s generals and demanded they relinquish power.
There has been an outpouring of anger and defiance since the military Suu Kyi last week and detained her along with other senior figures of her National League for Democracy party.
Security forces have used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against the protesters, with isolated reports of live rounds also being fired. Police also ramped up their harassment of the NLD with a raid on its headquarters.
But demonstrators again marched peacefully on Thursday in Naypyidaw – the capital and military stronghold – as well as Yangon, the largest city and commercial hub, which saw tens of thousands flood into the streets.
“Don’t go to the office,” chanted a group of protesters outside Myanmar’s central bank in Yangon, part of an effort urging civil servants and people in other industries to boycott work and put pressure on the junta.
“We aren’t doing this for a week or a month – we are determined to do this until the end when (Suu Kyi) and President U Win Myint are released,” one protesting bank employee told AFP.
Joining the protest were dozens from the ethnic Karen, Rakhine and Kachin minority groups, who marched down Yangon’s main Myaynigone junction.
“Our ethnic armed groups and ethnic people have to join together to fight against the military dictatorship,” Saw Z Net, an ethnic Karen protester and sound engineer, told AFP.
There are more than 130 ethnic minority groups across Myanmar, some of whom have been forced to flee their homes due to clashes between the military and ethnic armed groups, who agitate for autonomy in various states.
Fresh rallies also cropped up in the cities of Dawei and Mandalay, with protesters carrying signs that said “Restore our Democracy!” and “We condemn the military coup.”
In the ancient city of Bagan, a UNESCO heritage site, hundreds of protesters dressed in traditional outfits marched between the temples and pagodas, hoisted painted portraits of Suu Kyi in the air and called for the military to “Free our leader.”