With the recent unrest in Burma and the Burmese military junta's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, Wahyu, the journalist fellow from Jakarta I wrote about here last year, was all agog.
"Burma monks are now on fire for democracy," Wahyu wrote, obviously agitated, when I chanced upon him in my monitor.
"Yes, I read about it!" I replied.
"You don't want to go there?" he asked.
"No one will pay for my plane ticket," I lied.
"How do you look at the move of Burma monks?" he asked again.
"Will they succeed the way Cardinal Sin succeeded in leading the people power in the Philippines?"
"Sure!" I said. "To speak up against oppression is in keeping with their role as keepers of the soul of Burma! But don't talk to me about Cardinal Sin, Wahyu! He was such a disappointment! The Philippine people power at Edsa was a big disappointment," I said.
"Filipinos want real change, Wahyu, not a show!" I continued. "People power at Edsa was a fake revolution!"
Wahyu was silent for six minutes, so, it was my turn to be agitated. It was also my turn to seethe with fury. Then, all of a sudden, he scribbled again onscreen. "Hahaha!" he laughed, "I don't know why you are very pessimistic! I think the Filipino people power was an inspiring thing for peoples in other Asian countries struggling for democracy."
"Inspiring?!" I asked. "At the moment that it was happening, yes, it was really very inspiring! We looked up to Cory Aquino. We believed in her initial moves to broaden "democratic space." But what's happening now?
Where is the so-called "democratic space?" What happened to Hacienda Luisita, the big landholdings owned by Cory's Cojuangco clan, supposed to be subjected to her most touted land reform program? What happened to the farm workers there? Have the lives of the people improved after democracy was restored? How about the number of journalists and political activists getting killed everyday? How about the silent Martial Law in our midst, the Human Security Act--the law that allows the arrest without warrant of anyone suspected of being a terrorist? Edsa was really a disappointment, Wahyu. Please don't talk to me about it. People around the world who love the idea of the people power that happened in the Philippines more than two decades ago should not only praise and "get inspired" by it but should also study why it failed."
"Well," Wahyu replied, "We always get disappointed by things but I think the Philippines is still the most democratic country in Southeast Asia."
("Democracy, my foot!" I was about to say but I restrained myself!)
"So, what really is democracy, Wahyu?" I asked, instead. "Is it democracy when you are starving because the few who control the country's wealth are enjoying the fruits of your toil and selling your country to foreigners? Is it democracy when you get killed when you ask for a raise in wages because your pay is no longer enough to feed your family? Is it democracy when you'd rather brave being a truck driver and get killed in Iraq than die of starvation at home? Is it democracy when women have to leave their children at home to take care of the children of other people abroad? Is it democracy when you get raped in your own country by a US serviceman, get blamed for it and wake up the next day to find your own government scuttling the condemned criminal out of jail unscathed just to please the US government?!
What really is democracy, Wahyu? Please tell me, Wahyu, please tell me!"
(NOTE: The above photo was sent by Myo Zaw at the height of the September protests that rocked Burma while the Shwe Dagun temple (below it), still looked deserted when Wahyu took this photo during his Burma visit as a Seapa journalist fellow in 2006. Recently, the beautiful temple has turned into a site of riots and protests.