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Philippines changes tune, now voices 'deep concern' over Myanmar coup

A day after stating it will not “interfere” with the military takeover in its neighboring country, the Philippines changed its tune and said it views the Myanmar coup with “deep concern.” 

In a statement, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) further stated it was “especially concerned” for the safety of Myanmar’s civil leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whom the military had detained along with top officials of her National League for Democracy Party. 

“The Philippine government is following with deep concern the developing situation in Myanmar, and is especially concerned with the safety of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” it said. 

The Philippines, which is the oldest democracy in the region, recognized that Myanmar had made efforts toward democratization. Since 2011, the country had started its transition to democracy after holding general elections in 2010. 

“Myanmar has made substantial and important strides toward democratization in recent years. The Philippines has supported these efforts,” the DFA said.

The actions of Myanmar’s military on February 1 came after rising tensions over the result of recent elections where Suu Kyi and her party won in a landslide victory, capturing 396 out of 476 seats in the November 8 polls. 

Switching positions

The DFA’s statement contradicts that of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who earlier branded the unfolding military coup as an “internal matter” Manila would not interfere with. 

“We expect that at the soonest possible time things will go back to normal, though the situation in Myanmar is an internal matter we won’t interfere with,” Roque said in Filipino during a virtual briefing on Monday, February 1. 

Roque said the primary concern of the country was the safety of Filipinos in Myanmar, adding the Philippine military was on standby to evacuate them if necessary. But Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr called out Roque on Twitter, saying assembling the military would be the “last thing” the country would do. 

Locsin then said Roque “does not express foreign policy.” 

Rather than describing it as a coup, Locsin earlier likened the Myanmar military’s takeover of its government to a “chess move” that may have been carried in the interest of protecting democracy in the country. ”

“Let’s hope it is for her (Aung San Suu Kyi) and her democratic project’s protection,” Locsin said. He added the Philippines would adopt a wait and see attitude to developing situation in Myanmar. 

With its latest statement, the Philippines falls closer in line with other Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia which had expressed “grave concern” over the military coup in Myanmar. 

Cambodia and Thailand earlier said the events in Myanmar was an internal matter it would not comment on further, while Vietnam, Brunei, and Laos have yet to issue formal statements on the issue. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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