Hope for Freedom and Equality

“Sir, are you aware of what is happening to our country?” A question asked by my students in Banmaw, my mission place in Myanmar.

Hope for Freedom and Equality

Michael Javier 2

by Michael Javier

Michael is a Filipino Columban lay missionary who was assigned to Chile and Myanmar, and presently in the Philippines awaiting for his next assignment.

“Sir, are you aware of what is happening to our country?” A question asked by my students in Banmaw, my mission place in Myanmar.

Upon waking up on the first of February 2021, I turned on my mobile phone to check the time and messages, and found that there was no network signal. I wondered if there was something wrong with my SIM card. I soon learned that  my companions were also experiencing the same problem, although we had different network subscriptions. There was a growing sense that something was going on, and we wondered what the real reason was behind the malfunctioning communication system. Soon enough, a local priest informed us that the military started a coup and declared a year-long state of emergency because they could not accept the results of the national elections. That same day, they declared Martial Law and prevented all means of contact and information transmission, including a news blackout.

Michael Javier

A photo taken by Patrick Si Thu on the peaceful protest which was organized nationwide.

In response, the people of Myanmar organized a nationwide protest. Uniformed military personnel were visible in most corners of the towns to apprehend protesters, but it did not stop the people from fighting for what was right for their country. The citizens of Myanmar want the military to respect their votes in favor of the Democratic party. 

The youth were the most active in the protests and some of them were my students. There were times they asked me, “Sir, are you aware of what is happening to our country?” 

“Yes, I am aware,” I answered. 

Then why are you not joining us in our fight?” 

I simply told them, “Even though I would like to join you, it is not practical for me because I am a foreigner. However, I can support you in other ways.” I planned to continue to offer help in the best way that I could through social media. I knew they understood, but it was still one of the most frustrating moments of my life. 

While the protests continued, violence became prevalent. Many youths were arrested, or worse, killed. To be more informed about the strained situation,  we invited the bishop of Banmaw Diocese for a luncheon meeting at the Lay Missionary house. “Most of the foreigners have already left, especially those who live in the big cities because their safety is threatened and they are slowly losing their businesses. In that case, I think you should go home for a while.” He explained that the situation could get worse and there is no certainty  about what might happen if we wait for the circumstances to improve.

After that meeting, we informed the Myanmar Mission Unit Coordinator and the Central Leadership Team about the bishop’s suggestion and they supported it. The next day we registered ourselves with the Philippine Consulate for a repatriation flight. Getting to Yangon International Airport was a big challenge for us because all domestic flights were cancelled and there were roadblocks with several checkpoints for those travelling by land. Fortunately, the bishop was able to arrange a safe passage for us. 

From Yangon, we caught the repatriation flight home to the Philippines, where we arrived with heavy hearts and mixed emotions. It was not easy to say goodbye to the people we worked  with. We have established  good relationships and leaving felt like abandoning them in their time of difficulty. Despite the chaos, we are all hopeful that this time will pass and better days will come soon.

Fr. Michael Javier

Youth leaders holding red ribbon signs as symbol to their silent and peaceful protest.

After spending the holidays in my hometown, I am showing my support to the Myanmar people by echoing their sentiments and the ongoing news of their country through social media. I know it means a lot to them since their only request is for me to participate through my posts as soon as I arrive in the Philippines. Right now, the whole world is already aware of the struggles of Myanmar, but we still need to continue praying that their cry for freedom will be heard and justice will be served for the victims.