PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte's recent visit to Thailand and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) was again centered on trade, commerce, industry, peace in the region, and his favorite, war on drugs.
Thailand (formerly Siam) is called by Thais as “Muang Thai” (free people), the only Southeast Asian country never colonized by a Western power.
Myanmar is the “land of golden pagodas” because of its many gilded Buddhist pagodas. It is also known as the “land of superstitious generals” because the military has dominated its government since 1962.
When President Duterte was there, he met the heads of state and had serious talk with them concerning our ties with them, and of course on matters related to Asean conference hosted by the Philippines.
Bangkok the capital of Thailand is “City of Angels.” If you have been to Bangkok by night, the place is sprawling with angels. Tourism in Thailand is bringing in billions of dollars a year. President Duterte wants to discover the secret of their angelic beaches especially in Phuket and Pattaya. Many Filipinos are there but not as angels. They are there as entertainers. The Thais greet visitors with a head bow (with hands pressed upward). Thai women do curtsy.
President Duterte and his staff were taught that nobody must touch the head or point the foot at people. That could be insulting. The Thais are experts in kickboxing (using both hands and feet). The Thais became tired of military government. They rose in a four-day “People Power Philippine-Style Revolution”. It was bloodless and the generals were ousted from power (May 16-20, 1992).
The booming economy of Thailand made it the fifth “tiger economy” in Asia after Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea, though the countryside is still poor and backward. Thailand was hit by the great tsunami in 2004. It took 5,395 lives, including the king’s grandson.
On the other hand, the people of Myanmar are believers in superstition, numerology, astrology, and the occult. That could be the reason why Burma was changed to Myanmar. It is funny but the capital was moved from the city to a remote jungle area called Naypyidaw. Gem export is banned because it is considered blood money.
In Myanmar, deeply religious people believed that to be a Burmese is to be Buddhist. Buddha is very forgiving and does not speak bad words. If the President was able to talk to God in the Philippines, he could have been given the chance to talk to Buddha. That could have been his heart-to-heart talk with Buddhang Ina. The monastery there is center of life and the monks are highly venerated.
President Digong could have observed that Burma remains in the twilight zone between democracy and dictatorship. We would like to believe that the military has not fully turned over the power to the civilian government. Unseen hands are playing tug-of-war in Burma. The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions while China, India, and Russia continue to support and enrich the Burmese regime.
Transparency International ranked Myanmar as “the most corrupt country in the world” (tied with Somalia). Poverty, forced labor, and prostitution are visible. Civil war with tribal minorities in border areas is apparent. The military junta facilitates ethnic cleansing. Millions of refugees fled to Thailand and other neighboring countries. This could have reminded President Digong what is happening in Mindanao.
There is lack of unity among military leaders. There was a crack in the tripartite alliance (intelligence officers, field commanders, generals in the junta). Foot soldiers were shocked when they were ordered to arrest and shoot the monks during the Saffron Revolution. To date, there are few foreign investors or international organizations operating in Myanmar.
Opposition leaders threaten the investors, “Investing in Myanmar is like throwing gasoline into a burning house.” This could be partly correct. We have to listen to President Duterte. He might encourage some investors to do business in Myanmar. Some foreign diplomats say, “Burma today is a nation of millions of people held hostage by a dozen military generals who are criminals.”
Let us hope the “President’s Visit” in Thailand and Myanmar would bring good fortune to the Filipinos as we socially and economically connect with them.