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MANILA, Philippines—Why did Teddyboy Locsin, original vanguard of the Cory Aquino democracy struggle and heir to a tradition of journalism at its bravest, post a tweet that in the case of Burma, where historic polls are being held on April 1, “We Filipinos missed destiny?”
The irrepressible journalist-lawyer engaged InterAksyon.com in a “tweet-for-tweet” on Friday afternoon, as another democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, was holding a press conference in Yangon. Reacting to a story on the press conference by the InterAksyon-TV5 team of Roby Alampay, Veronica Uy, and Marlene Alcaide, Locsin tweeted, “Sadly, we Filipinos—except for [then Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary] Bert Romulo—didn't care about Burmese trying to copy us and even less about Suu Kyi.”
In that news conference, Suu Kyi had said that Filipinos, “more than any other people, perhaps best understand what the Burmese are going through,” in apparent reference to the years fighting a dictatorship that led to the glorious EDSA revolt of 1986. [See: More than most, Filipinos understand Burma]
InterAksyon.com responded by noting to the readers that, “in fairness, Teddyboy Locsin and his TODAY newspaper” consistently covered Burma and truly cared for its democratic future. A number of InterAksyon’s staffmembers, including its editor-in-chief Roby Alampay, worked for TODAY.
To which Locsin rebutted, “I mean those with the power and authority to do something. Only Bert Romulo did. No one else.” He was apparently referring to Bert Romulo’s stint at the DFA, when, sometime in 2009 and 2010, he made public statements that were deemed a trifle sharper than usual, coming from foreign chiefs of the member-states of ASEAN—the prime champion of “constructive engagement” of the Burmese junta.
Locsin tweeted again: “But we [TODAY] were just a newspaper, not a government agency.”
And then, apparently noting the Nobel Laureate’s mention of Cory Aquino “and her son” as special friends of the Burmese democratic movement, Teddyboy said: “I hope Noynoy will do better by Suu Kyi and Burmese freedom than we did in our time. We missed destiny.” [See: Teddyboy's pieces for InterAksyon]
What if Manila behaved differently in 1995?
Locsin’s reference to a “missed destiny” brings to mind the frenzied months in 1995, when leaders of Suu Kyi’s party the National League for Democracy (NLD) sought, through its exiled leaders, to lobby ASEAN members against accepting Burma—then renamed Myanmar by the military junta—in order to pressure it to adopt sweeping political and economic reforms.
As it turns out, the plea fell on deaf ears, because many who paid token praise to Suu Kyi did not have the conviction to tangle with the military rulers who had prevented her partymates from sitting in parliament despite winning by landslide in 1990. [See: InterAksyon's Burma microsite]
Manila must have been especially frustrating for the NLD, because the Philippines after EDSA had been widely regarded around the world as a beacon of hope for people in similar struggles, and Filipino officials trumpeted “people power” as a template for peaceful regime change in many parts of the world.
But in the case of Myanmar, the group led by the Washington-based NLD exile sent by Suu Kyi only got as far as getting a hearing from Cory Aquino, who graciously hosted them in her office as then private citizen on Palanca Street in Makati.
Teddyboy Locsin, who had served as press secretary, presidential legal counsel, and eternal speech writer to Cory Aquino, accompanied the Burmese exiles to Palanca Street with his TODAY editorial team.
In the years that followed, Mrs. Aquino and Suu Kyi would find ways to stay in touch, perhaps instinctively reaching out to each other not only because of their common mission but also the uncanny parallels in their lives.
But in 1995, Cory Aquino was an ex-president, and the president, Fidel V. Ramos, was not inclined to shut out from ASEAN the generals in the ruling junta. [See: Ten facts about Burma]
It wasn’t surprising, because just a year earlier, he had barred the holding in Quezon City of the Asia Pacific Conference on East Timor (APCET), a watershed in the 24-year struggle for liberation of East Timor, which until then seemed all but forgotten by the outside world after Suharto’s regime annexed it.
Against all odds, APCET pushed through, mainly because of the tenacity and courage of its main organizer, activist RC Constantino, and his wide network of NGO friends. Many prominent champions of East Timor were barred from entering Manila, including the Danielle Mitterrand, wife of the French president.
As for Burma, it gained entry to ASEAN sponsored by Manila, on the Southeast Asian leaders’ thesis that reforms can only be pressed on the junta if it were inside, rather than out, of the bloc. That it took the junta close to two decades more before calling the April 1 elections—the outcome of which remains dubious at the moment, given initial complaints by the NLD of harassment and poll irregularities—seems to make a case against using constructive engagement as a tool for timely reforms.
On Sunday, as the by-elections where Suu Kyi is seeking a seat in parliament was under way, InterAksyon.com posed a hypothetical question to RC Constantino, the lifetime activist and “godfather,” as democracy advocates around the globe called him, of the Burmese and East Timorese solidarity campaign: What would have happened if Manila had heeded the appeal to block the junta from ASEAN in 1995?
In short, what destiny would we not have missed, in Teddyboy’s words? Following is Constantino’s statement: “Pathways of struggle may differ but the keys to the gates of freedom are often the same. Fortitude and persistence for those at the frontline of resistance, and active solidarity on the part of those who, conscious of the value of their own hard won freedoms, support the struggle of others for liberty.
“Let us be clear about certain things. If Ramos had only supported the request of Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD—to delay if not bar the entry of Myanmar into ASEAN—the elections being held today, if not freedom itself, would have come much earlier for the Burmese people. This is the obvious lesson that we should cull from our history of solidarity with East Timor. Because if the Ramos administration had been allowed by Filipinos to enforce Suharto's dictates, East Timor's freedom would have come much much later, if at all. [See: Are the reforms in Myanmar for real?]
“Hard-won freedom always carries with it an obligation to extend solidarity to others still living in regimes of tyranny. Anything less constitutes a betrayal of everything we fought for. The cowardice it displayed during the hour of need of East Timor and Burma is and will remain one of the more shameful sins of the Ramos government.”
Even now, East Timor struggles to make democracy work. But at least it is free to determine its own fate. As for Burma? Its freedom is, like Teddyboy’s tweet, in the realm of speculation. InterAksyon.com