[B-SIDE Podcast] ASEAN’s ‘troubled little sibling’ and the fragility of democracy

Myanmar is in the middle of a bloody coup, where, as of this episode’s recording, at least 50 people have been killed since it began in February. Pro-democracy activists are taking to the streets, protesting the military’s attempt to reverse the victory of Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League of Democracy (NLD).

In this episode of B-Side, Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a senior research fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center, speaks with BusinessWorld reporter Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza talks about the fragility of democracy and draws parallels between the mass demonstrations in Myanmar and the 1986 People Power Revolution.

TAKEAWAYS

Myanmar has gained a reputation of being the “problem member” of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

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While a number of countries around the world have already spoken against the revival of military rule in Myanmar and have committed to restoring democracy in the Southeast Asian country, the Philippines–considered the oldest democracy in Southeast Asia–and other neighboring countries have only given a tepid response to the newest erosion of democracy in the region.

“They should not forget that all governments in our region have the responsibility to defend their people. Whether we believe it or not, all ASEAN member states adhere to constitutional principles like democracy, rule of law, human rights,” said Mr. Yusingco. “For all ASEAN member states, we can all hold each other to account for all of our governments to defend the rights of their people. The government should never forget that.”

At the same time, Mr. Yusingco said that the Philippine government’s response was expected. “We will always be calculated, we will always be tempered in our response. And the reason for that is, that kind of way has worked for us. … We have never been at war with each other.”

‘People power’ is not just about the mass movements or the rallies. People power is about organizing at the community level.’

Prior to headline-making protests, civil societies in Myanmar were already organizing at the grassroots level. “What we’re seeing now is just a result of that span of work,” said Mr. Yusingco. “That is now where democracy is alive in Myanmar.”

The Philippines has become ‘too complacent’ with its democracy, and should learn from the crisis in Myanmar.

“We have free speech, we have free assembly but let’s look at the quality of our public discourse,” said Mr. Yusingco, who added that political dynasties represent the biggest threat to Philippine democracy.

“Political dynasties equate to bad governance,” he said. “If we continue on this path of electing political dynasties to leadership positions, … our democracy will further deteriorate.”

The Philippines can avoid a democratic crisis, Mr. Yusingco continued, “by not voting for political dynasties in 2022 and by helping non-dynastic candidates run.”

This B-Side episode was recorded remotely on February 26. Produced by Paolo L. Lopez and Sam L. Marcelo.

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