OR Burmese, it doesn't matter for H, a 24-year-old communications worker whom VG and I got to share in a universal ritual eternally practiced by pretentious few who call themselves journalists: beer drinking.

I'd rather hide H's real name as insurance when he goes home sometime in the coming months. H says the ritual is best enjoyed alive and outside prison.

He says his government frowns upon such lifestyle, which doesn't concern beer, as journalism, he says, is best only when any opposition is not mentioned.

But that is what H has been doing here in the country for the past months: going to websites that have become a voice against the military junta that has ruled Burma since 1967. That is aside from drinking beer.

H said visiting such websites within Burma is risky since the government monitors the Internet and its use by an estimated 0.4 million Myanmarese in 2007, according to the 2009 Unctad Information Economy report.

The Philippines, to note, recorded some 9.20 million Internet users that year, with a penetration rate of 10.39 percent. Myanmar's rate was less than a percent (0.82) that year.

I would've brushed aside H's Orwellian notion as something coming from a drunk X-Filesphile. Except that our drinks haven't arrived yet and H's face was like that of a losing poker player.

He explained that government can play Burma's Big Brother by controlling telecommunications access.

"We can't access the websites that say anything against the government or what's happening to a particular group of people," H said adding that proxy servers are being monitored, especially from Internet cafes.

He explained that even phone calls are being monitored. "You can hear an echo when you talk."

But since arriving in Manila, H said he's never felt so free. He's been surfing every website he wasn't able to visit while in his country. Porn maybe included but I didn't ask and he didn't say.

He read and copied everything that he can. But H says he has to diligently erase every file, even links, in the laptop he also bought here.

This may be construed as paranoia for some but it has kept H alive as a communicator. It has also gave him the short freedom, however ensconced in clear parameters, he's enjoying in our country.

This gave me a pause.

On one hand, I'm grateful for Filipinos whose actions in the past allowed me to enjoy the freedom elusive in a country like Myanmar.

On the other hand, I felt silly to sometimes take small things like press freedom for granted seeing how very important it is for people like H.

H may have noticed and, despite or maybe because of his youth, said what's important is the moment and what we both can walk away with something valuable from that moment.

At that moment, we savored the bottle of beer and grateful for its chill effect.



Internet Users (millions)


Penetration (users per 1,000 inhabitants)






CAGR (%) 2003-2007/





Change in penetration 2003-2007/





















bEstimates for 2007

dEstimates for every reported year


Source: United Nations Commission on Trade and Development Information Economy Report 2009: Trends and Outlook in Turbulent Times

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