“IT’S A Burmese protest slogan I grew up with: ‘Aungpe Marcos!’” L Khun Ring, a 35-year-old Burmese human rights lawyer, told me last week. “It means ‘Get out, Marcos!’”
I was in Myanmar (Burma) then to speak at a workshop attended by several members of its national parliament and a number of human rights lawyers. The workshop was cosponsored by the Myanmar Media Lawyers Network and the Center for International Law Philippines (Centerlaw) of which I am the president.
One objective of the workshop was to share the Philippine experience in the cases filed by Filipinos at the United Nations Human Rights Committee against their own government, a topic for which Centerlaw lawyer Gilbert Andres was the excellent speaker.
Also on the agenda was a discussion on the Philippine experience during and after martial law, which I presented. The keen eagerness to learn about the Philippine experience was evident in the way the parliament members vigorously took notes during the workshop.
Prior to 1962, the Philippines and Myanmar were the No. 1 and No. 2 richest countries, respectively, in Southeast Asia. They also had the freest press in the region. Then the terrible scourge of dictatorship blighted both nations, and both dropped to the bottom of the rankings.
(When Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. declares that the Philippines would have achieved the level of success of Singapore had his father not been ousted from power, he wants Filipinos to stand on their heads when reading country statistics during his father’s rule, so that the descent from top to bottom would transform into a delusionary ascent from bottom to top.)
Myanmar was ruled by a succession of military dictators for nearly 50 years, from 1962 to 2011, when the military allowed some level of democracy. Two popular uprisings were mounted by the Burmese people: The first one known as the “1988 People Power Uprising” drew inspiration from the Philippines’ Edsa People Power Revolution in 1986. The second one in 2007 was called the “Saffron Revolution” because thousands of Buddhist monks clad in saffron-colored robes joined the street protests. The military violently suppressed both uprisings resulting in the imprisonment, torture, death, and disappearance of innumerable protesters.
Last week’s workshop was held in Nay Pyi Taw, the new political capital of Myanmar whose buildings, stadiums, parks, roads, and hotels are appalling in their grandiosity given the country’s level of poverty.
Even the infrastructure of First World countries pales in comparison with the 16- and 24-lane roads virtually empty of vehicular traffic; its more than 60 hotels with 5,000 rooms, perched on 6-60 hectares of land each, but with a mere 20-30 percent average occupancy rate; and a parliament building reputed to be the biggest in the world.
Nay Pyi Taw was carved out of the jungle in the territorial center of Myanmar by a dictatorship completely detached from or utterly insensitive to the economic reality of that country, which is second to Afghanistan in a recent ranking of the poorest countries in Asia. This kind of disastrous disconnection from reality arises from a dictatorial government that listens only to itself and deprives its people of the freedom to express their sentiments in the flea market of ideas.
Freedom of expression was severely restricted throughout the reigns of the military dictators. Journalists, protest leaders, and ordinary citizens earned long jail sentences for daring to criticize the government.
Because their freedom to criticize their government was curtailed, Burmese protesters cleverly used the “Aungpe, Marcos!” slogan as a protest call for the ouster of their dictator through a people power uprising similar to what Filipinos had won. Every Burmese knew that the “Marcos” in the slogan stood for their dictator. The slogan is a heartwarming testament to the inspiration provided by the Philippines’ people power revolution to the Burmese people.
Many of the workshop participants gasped in disbelief when I told them that while the Burmese people were invigorated by chants of “Get out, Marcos!” the land that Ferdinand Marcos plundered now reverberates with chants of “Please come back, Marcos!” Most of the participants expressed shock upon hearing that the son and namesake of the Philippine dictator is a frontrunner in the vice presidential election.
In November 2015, the National League of Democracy (NLD) of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide election victory by taking nearly 80 percent of the contested parliamentary seats. However, Myanmar’s military-drafted constitution provides that unelected military representatives take up 25 percent of the parliamentary seats, and have a veto power over any constitutional change.
In March, the new parliament will choose the next president, but a provision in the constitution disqualifying individuals with foreign children has been tailor-fit to prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president. But the NLD victory last year ensures that the next president will come from its ranks, and Aung San Suu Kyi has declared that she will be “above” whoever will be selected as president.
Myanmar now finds itself at the same crossroads as the Philippines was when Corazon Aquino took over the reins of government. The Burmese people will strike a gold mine of lessons if they study the mistakes of the Philippines that have given rise to a dysfunctional democracy. We Filipinos will equally strike a gold mine of lessons if we learn from Myanmar that it is wrong to head in the opposite direction, where we will find ourselves chanting “Aungpe, Marcos!”
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