On the first day of February 2021, the Myanmar military staged a coup and took power from the democratic government. What is really happening in Myanmar and how does it affect Filipinos? Here’s what you should know.
First: The basics on Myanmar
Like the Philippines, Myanmar is a country in Southeast Asia. It is also known as Burma. The country shares borders with China, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Laos.
From the late 19th century, Myanmar was a British colony until it was granted independence in 1948. However, the military ruled the country from 1962 until 2011, when a new government started a democratic rule.
Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?
Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, who is known as the Father of the Nation of modern-day Myanmar. She is known for her democratic work in her home country as it transitioned from military to civilian rule, earning her a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
She led the NLD to victory in the 2015 elections. But with her late husband and children being foreign citizens, she was barred from becoming president due to a constitutional clause. She was instead granted the title of State Counsellor, which was equivalent to a prime minister.
Despite her popularity for her work in democratic reform, Aung San Suu Kyi drew criticism from all over the world due to the government’s lack of action over the genocide of the Rohingya people, a minority group in Myanmar. The Rohingya are refused citizenship, unable to travel freely within the country. Thousands were killed by Burmese military and local Buddhists and over 700,000 are left without homes, forcing them to flee into Bangladesh. The Burmese government has dismissed these figures as exaggerations.
During the 2021 military coup, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was detained along with other members of the NLD party.
What is happening now?
On 1 February 2021, the Myanmar parliament was supposed to convene. But Myanmar’s armed forces — known as Tatmadaw — raided the parliament and cut off communications channels throughout the country. They detained the members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Soldiers also detained several Buddhist monks who were openly critical of the military.
To prevent further detainment, around 400 elected parliament members were placed under house arrest and confined to a government housing complex in the capital. In retaliation, the military issued an order that they only had 24 hours to leave the premises. However, on 4 February 2021, 70 parliament members took an oath of office in a clear act of defiance.
On 3 February 2021, both President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi were accused of criminal charges (i.e. breaching COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and laws and violating export/import laws), remaining in custody. Two weeks later, Aung San Suu Kyi was additionally charged with violation of Myanmar’s National Disaster Law.
What events led up to the coup?
After almost 50 years of military rule, the junta was dissolved and Myanmar saw a series of democratic reforms starting in March 2011. In the 2015 elections, Aung San Suu Kyi won and became Myanmar’s de facto leader until she assumed the role of State Counsellor in 2016. Despite the large percentage of pro-democracy officials in position, the military still held substantial influence, including the power to appoint a quarter of parliament members. Still, until 2020, Myanmar enjoyed a so-called “democratic decade” led by civilians.
In November 2020, the NLD party won the general elections by a landslide, securing 396 out of 476 parliament seats. The military disputed the results, calling fraud and threatening to “take action.” Rumors of a coup were already floating around since then, and it has come to fruition this February 2021.
Who is in power right now?
On the same day as the detainment of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Tatmadaw handed the power to General Min Aung Hlaing. Before the coup, he had been the commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s Defence Services since 2011.
He established the State Administration Council, which he heads as its Chairman, joined by 11 members that will serve as the executive governing body.
The military also declared a year-long state of emergency, stating that by its end, they would be holding a new election to replace the results from November 2020. He said that the military wants to form a “true and disciplined democracy”, unlike the previous military rules.
What are the citizens’ reactions?
The giant funeral cortege today for 20-year-old Myanmar protester Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing. She was the first to be killed when security forces broke up a demonstration. Two more were killed yesterday. #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar pic.twitter.com/Tj64gGbPHX
— Matthew Tostevin (@TostevinM) February 21, 2021
Across the country, citizens have been protesting nonstop. These efforts have been the largest since the 2007 Saffron Revolution, where thousands of monks took to the streets to openly criticize the military junta.
Myawaddy, Kayin State, Myanmar.
😲💪#WhatsHappeningInMyanmar #Feb21Coup pic.twitter.com/lORvjHa7RH
— Dls (@Dls59090588) February 21, 2021
Citizens from all walks of life have flocked to the streets to join the protest efforts, including lawyers, teachers, students, government works, among many others. According to reports, 593 people have been detained as of 22 February 2021.
Similar to what happened during the Philippines’ People Power Revolution, people are also offering prayers for people who have passed away or are missing.
In this evening, Myanmar citizens around the country, prayed for those who failed in the battle of Democracy by lightening up the candles. This is in Monywa.#Feb21Coup #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar
STOP TERRORISM pic.twitter.com/VhrmVgIJvC
— COtTon’s MOcHi (@Zuns85418428) February 21, 2021
What is the international reaction?
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres released a statement voicing his “grave concern” over the events. “These developments represent a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar,” he said. He also called for “respect [for] the will of the people and adher[ance] to democractic norms” from the military junta.
Several countries have also expressed condemnation for the military coup, including the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and Australia. Neighboring countries like Cambodia and Thailand have said the events are an “internal matter.”
The Philippines had the same stance in the early days of the coup, but had supported the “complete restoration of the status quo” in Myanmar on 9 February 2021. However, the Philippines didn’t join the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution deploring the military coup, citing support for Myanmar’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
How is the Philippines affected?
Myanmar may seem like a faraway land to you right now, but many fellow Filipinos call that country their present home. In Myanmar, there are 1,273 Filipinos as of June 2020, according to the numbers from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Some work in UN agencies and other international organizations, while many work in the manufacturing industry.
There have been efforts to bring them home since March 2020 due to the pandemic. But now, with the recent changes in Myanmar’s political situation, the need is ever more urgent.
The DFA is working to bring home the Filipinos remaining there. Just last 15 February 2021, 139 Filipinos have been repatriated, 11 of which are dependent children while four are dependent parents.
— DFA Philippines (@DFAPHL) February 15, 2021
Should the situation escalate, Philippine Ambassador to Myanmar Eduardo Kapunan Jr. said he was authorized to take “drastic measures”. This included evacuating all Filipinos from the country and even closing down the embassy.
In addition to bringing home Filipinos, DFA Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. shared that President Rodrigo Duterte is offering “refuge for Rohingya” amid the political upheaval.
What are your thoughts on the current situation in Myanmar?