Prominent Burmese political prisoner lauds Philippine solidarity activists for Burma

“Your work has significantly contributed to my freedom”

Calling directly from Rangoon, Min Ko Naing, a prominent student leader in Burma’s country-wide pro-democracy uprising in 1988 expressed his deep appreciation to the Philippine solidarity activists under the Free Burma Coalition-Philippines during the coalition’s public forum held at the University of The Philippines, Balay Kalinaw on Feb 9.

Min Ko Naing, also a former chairman of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) shared his thoughts and ideas for Burma’s struggle for democracy. He said, “although there were political prisoners released it is still very minimal. Conflict in ethnic areas are still prevalent and peace remains elusive in our country.”

Min Ko Naing, just like Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been in and out of arrest since 1988. He was among the hundreds of political prisoners released recently by the Burmese regime.

Min Ko Naing phoned his colleague Mr. Thwin Lin Aung Secretary for Foreign Affairs Committee Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB)), who was the forum’s main speaker. Thwin Lin Aung meanwhile said that while there are changes happening inside Burma, a need to further challenge the new parliament to institute tangible political reforms including the release of all political prisoners in Burma is one crucial task.

Dubbed “DEMOCRATIZATION PERSPECTIVES IN BURMA: Strengthening Philippine Solidarity”, said public forum aims to further consolidate the FBC-P membership and solidify its solidarity and regional campaigns in support of the aspirations of the peoples of Burma for justice and genuine democracy.

The FBC-P was founded October 30, 1995 with various people’s and non-government organizations, and solidarity activists as the coalition’s initial members. It was convened by the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) after the latter initiated the formation of the renowned Asia-Pacific Coalition for East Timor (APCET).

In the recent months, especially after the release from house arrest of democracy leader Daw Ang San Suu Kyi and the establishment of the new ‘civilian’ government and parliament coming from the November 2010 elections, the struggle for democracy in Burma once again finds itself in a very challenging situation. For the solidarity movement including the coalition, there are many compelling issues that require concrete responses.

PERSPECTIVES & CHALLENGES

Mr. Fernando Pena, Chairman of IID’s Board of Trustees started his statement by chanting “Mabuhay ang Malayang Pilipinas! Mabuhay ang Malayang Burma! (Long Live a Free Philippines, Long Live a Free Burma) “This brought a roaring response from the participants.

Mr. Pena said that the community has to be vigilant on the current changes in Burma’s Military Junta; at present the government has taken several measures to show its eagerness to be more democratic which includes: the release of several political prisoners; gradually opening its door for international markets, allowing investors and have accepted the group of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to take part in the up-coming election scheduled on 01 April 2012.

Evelyn Balais – Serrano, a member of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) Campaign for the Commission of Inquiry in Burma challenged the group on how they should look at these changes in Burma, while recognizing the fact that these are somewhat “good” and “valid” steps taken by the current regime.

Balais – Serrano also stated and affirmed that while the group should recognize the new “changes” and “steps” in the current political arena in Burma they should never allow justice to be neglected. She further discussed that accountability is a major issue in this struggle and that the military in particular should be made responsible for the atrocities it committed against the Burmese people.

Ric Reyes of Active Citizenship Foundation and President of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) observed that what transpired in Burma created mixed signals in the international communityand in many solidarity groups who have been rallying behind the people of Burma.

“We must remain on guard” said Reyes. He explained that solidarity group should also strengthen the idea that these “opportunities” is all that the groups have and they should capitalize on it and work towards a democratic rule in Burma and finally end the military dictatorship. He then reminded the group that it is important for them to be able to tap the International Civil Organizations and continue to work together for genuine democracy to take place in Burma.

For his part, Joshua Mata, secretary general of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), an active member of the FBC-P affirmed that the role of the solidarity movement is to continue to be vigilant, continue to discuss and criticize the military government in Burma and pressure the government to be more transparent in its dealings.

WE MUST BE READY

Gus Miclat, executive director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) and convenor of the FBC-Phils explained, “the word “challenges” is an opening for us to strongly come-in and claim our participation, we need to widen our involvement and pushed ourselves to come together and continue what we have started.”

He added, “we need to sharpen our roles and efforts to help Burma. We must be ready to engage certain issues like if the government would be willing to give up its power or not. Will they create amnesty programs? Will they initiate dialogues or negotiations? How are they going to uphold justice?” Let’s organize across sectors and capture, celebrate and hammer out our role, be engaged with Burmese civil society for they will be the ones who will guide us to come up with a clearer stance.”

After the forum, the group then held a strategy session mapping out their plans for Burma campaign for the year 2012.

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