MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is prioritizing the safety of its citizens in Myanmar and sees the military takeover in the country as “an internal matter that we will not meddle with,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday.
“What’s important is the safety of our countrymen in Myanmar,” Roque told a briefing, adding, “We expect things to go back to normal as soon as possible.”
He said the Philippine military is on standby in case there would be a need to send air assets or ships to Myanmar to evacuate Filipinos.
“If some Filipinos want to come home, we will find a way. If they need a temporary shelter in the embassy, we will find a way and we also advise all our fellow Filipinos to be careful,” the Palace spokesman said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it has reached out to the Filipino community in Myanmar. There are 1,273 Filipinos in Myanmar, according to DFA’s June 2020 data.
“At the moment, situation in Yangon and Mandalay seems stable, apart from COVID restrictions and mobile lines being down,” the DFA said. “However, the embassy is able to communicate with Filcom through WhatsApp.”
Many Filipinos in Myanmar work for the United Nations and other international agencies or as supervisors in the manufacturing industry.
DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said what happened in Myanmar was more of a “chess move” than a coup.
“Report from Myanmar indicates a chess move but not a coup on the part of the MDS (Myanmar Defense Services); the CIC (Commander in Chief) committed to respect the 2008 Constitution which respects military role,” Locsin tweeted.
“We’re not depending on Western narratives. Last time world did Libya ended up in pieces picked up by Western powers,” he said.
“The West never gave her a chance to succeed weaning Myanmar from dictatorship to democracy making it one of a tiny handful in Asia. Instead the West went into a spasm of masturbatory self-righteousness totally unmerited given how many races it decimated in just the 20th century,” Locsin said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also downplayed the events in Myanmar, saying a takeover by the armed forces “will never happen” in the Philippines.
The military in Myanmar, citing election fraud, seized power and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders of her party.
Lorenzana said Myanmar is ruled by a military junta, unlike the Philippines which has a rich democratic tradition.
“The military and the police are happy with PRRD (President Duterte). He has our full support,” the DND chief said, claiming the commander-in-chief enjoys 91 percent approval rating as of the last quarter of 2020.
Office of Civil Defense (OCD) administrator, Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad, also expressed belief there is “remote possibility” of a military takeover in the Philippines.
He said the Philippine military has already learned its lessons and won’t allow a repeat of the putsch that marred the early years of the first Aquino administration.
“I believe that situation now in Myanmar happening here in our country is a remote possibility. The AFP have learned painful lessons from the past,” Jalad said.
“One lesson is depicted by a decommissioned marine combat vehicle now displayed at the gates of the Philippine Marines barracks. It has this saying painted on its side: Nunquam Iterum (Never again),” he added.
Jalad said the combat vehicle was deployed in Camp Aguinaldo in 1989 to defend against the attacking forces of the military that launched a coup.
“It fired its cannon against an army armored personnel carrier thereby killing some or all of its crew. One of the casualties among the crew was the brother of the gunner in the Marine combat vehicle,” he said.
Senators find the developments in Myanmar disturbing.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee, said the situation in the Philippines’ Southeast Asian neighbor must be closely watched.
“We have to monitor that situation. Get hold of facts,” Pimentel said.
Sen. Richard Gordon lamented the detention of Suu Kyi and other “outstanding political leaders” of the Philippines’ “friendly ASEAN neighbor.”
“I worry for her safety and wellbeing in this period of uncertainty in her country. I hope the current political situation in Myanmar will stabilize and that the country will continue on its path to national unity, democracy and prosperity for its people,” Gordon said in a statement.
During a dinner on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit held in the Philippines in 2017, Gordon said Suu Kyi asked his help for the Myanmar Red Cross Society in providing humanitarian assistance to the affected communities in the restive Rakhine state.
Gordon said he was also asked to lead a high-level humanitarian diplomacy mission in Myanmar in October of the same year. – Michael Punongbayan, Pia Lee-Brago, Paolo Romero