Philippine ambassador to UK describes Myanmar coup as military “taking back democracy”

Philippine ambassador to the United Kingdom Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin, Jr has denied in comments on Twitter that the Myanmar military carried out a coup, instead blaming the country’s political crisis on Western powers. 

“It wasn’t a coup; it was the military taking back Burmese democracy it had given Aung San Suu Kyi,” wrote the ambassador, who served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the Philippines between 2018 and 2022, in an April 18 tweet. 

“[Aung San Suu Kyi] was the most famous icon of democracy since Cory Aquino, because her courage and poise in detention had made her the embodiment of Burmese aspiration for freedom. Until the West tore her down for what the Army was doing to [sic] Rohingya,” he added. 

His statement was a reference to Corazon Aquino, the Philippines’ first female President—serving from 1986 until 1992—whose election deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos. 

Locsin’s comments were in response to an article published in Nikkei Asia analysing how disagreements among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had delayed actions to address political problems in Myanmar. 

Nikkei Asia quoted Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, who warned that in regards to Myanmar, “ASEAN is fast being overtaken by events on the ground. It either has to regroup and do things differently or fall further into irrelevance and ridicule.”

Locsin initially tweeted: “We of ASEAN have sanctioned Myanmar in our fashion with full regard for the role of the Army in keeping an ethnically fractious country together to spare it the fate of Libya at the claws of the oil-hungry West, which tore down the guardian of democracy—Aung San Suu Kyi.” 

In fact, neither ASEAN nor any of its member states has imposed sanctions against Myanmar’s regime since the 2021 military coup. 

U Moe Zaw Oo, the deputy foreign affairs minister of the publicly mandated National Unity Government, said the ambassador should be more careful in his phrasing and make an effort to understand the real situation on the ground in Myanmar. 

“The Philippines should be even more active in defending democracy in a member state of ASEAN given her past experience with a dictator. Democracy is not a possession of the military,” he said. 

ASEAN, a regional bloc of ten countries that includes Myanmar and the Philippines as members, appealed to the Myanmar coup regime in April 2021—two months after the military attempted to seize power—to resolve the political crisis in accordance with a non-binding “Five-Point Consensus” accepted by the bloc’s members. The consensus included provisions for ASEAN to engage in dialogue with groups opposing military rule in Myanmar. 

However, the effectiveness of the agreement has been in doubt since the military regime reneged on its terms, saying it would begin to implement ASEAN’s plan only after the situation in the country became “stable.”

ASEAN has faced mounting criticism of its approach to the Myanmar crisis, with the Five-Point Consensus widely considered a failure, and deep divisions in the bloc preventing action against the junta beyond the exclusion of “political” representatives in certain high level meetings among the bloc’s members. 

With preparations underway for an ASEAN Summit from May 6-11, the current ASEAN chair, Indonesia, is under increasing pressure to take more decisive action with regard to Myanmar.

Locsin’s public statements have provoked controversy in the past. In 2016, he was widely criticised for tweets that praised the Nazis’ management of the German economy. In 2020, he was temporarily barred from Twitter after tweeting death threats against activists.

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