The Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) joins the peoples of Southeast Asia in mourning and expressing outrage against the virtual genocide of the Rohingya peoples of Myanmar. We also express grave resentment on two things: 1) the inhumane responses conducted by the Myanmar government under the direction of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as 2) the carelessness of the official statement released by the office of the Chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the issue.
The Rohingya, people, it must be remembered, trace their origins from 7th century Arab Muslim settlers in Arakan. Their ancestral domains lie in the Rakhine state, a geographically-isolated area in western Myanmar. Since the 1950s, they have been subjected to systematic discrimination in their home country.
The current crisis, however, could be traced back to 2012, when dubious accusations of criminality against the Rohingyas sparked riots that left dozens of them killed and around 75,000 fleeing. By May 2015, the horrors of their privations were exposed to the world. Mass graves in Thailand and Malaysia reportedly filled with dozens of dead Rohingya kept against their will by human traffickers were discovered. Countries such as Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia denied them asylum. Seven hundred Rohingya and Bangladeshi immigrants testified that their boats where left adrift at sea, half full of sea-water, forcing them to throw off their fellow refugees.
In 2015, the Philippines was among the only few countries who made efforts to accommodate the 3,000 Rohingya refugees who reached our shores and call for humanitarian resolutions to the crisis. This was something which we have been commended by the rest of the world, something we could be proud of. It is thus a source of clear disappointment and frustration that after spearheading the appropriate responses to the crises in the past, the Philippine Chairmanship of the ASEAN, as represented by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, would now choose to paper over the entire crisis. The statement supposedly “strongly urges all the parties involved to avoid actions that will further worsen the situation on the ground,” without acknowledging the atrocities committed by the Myanmar government against its own people—all because they are not members of the Buddhist majority.
SENTRO also joins the rest of the concerned peoples of the world in criticizing the long-standing silence and denials of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi regarding the mass extermination of the Rohingya. In multiple instances, she has waffled and downplayed the severity of the crisis, and even dared justify the responses of the Myanmar government as commensurate response to the “global Muslim terror” situation. It is a clear betrayal of the principles which brought her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
SENTRO is committed towards contributing to expanding the discourse on this crisis, as well as raising awareness and mobilizing actions which may pressure ASEAN member-countries to do action on this end. In the same breadth, we call on the Department of Foreign Affairs (with or without the direction of its Secretary) to revisit its previous responses to the Rohingya crisis, so that it may justly provide succour and relief to those Rohingya communities which continue to hope for a place of refuge in our country.
Finally, the horrifying plight of the Rohingya should serve as a cautionary tale to all organizations and movements about what will happen when our basic and universal human rights are set aside and ignored in the name of state policy. Now, more than ever, we cannot surrender them. Now, more than ever, we have to fight for them—even to the gravest costs.