Ratification of ASEAN Charter rests on democratisation in Burma: Philippines

Francis Earl A. Cueto
Manila Times

21 Dec 07http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2007/dec/20/yehey/top_stories/20071220top4.html

Tumultuous Myanmar holds the fate of Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Charter in its hands, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said Wednesday.

At a Christmas luncheon with reporters, Romulo said the ratification of the Asean Charter hinges on proof that Myanmar is following its promised “roadmap to democracy.”

The charter refers to the proposed organic law for all 10 Asean members, which include the Philippines. It was drafted by senior officials of the member nations, and adopted and signed by the Asean leaders at the 13th Asean Summit in Singapore on November 20.

Romulo said Myanmar promised compliance with a roadmap to democracy 10 or 11 years ago, “and they have been repeating the promise every year. But every year since Secretary [Domingo] Siazon was there, it’s up to them, not the nine members. We are just waiting.”

Among those being asked from Myanmar is the release of pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, and government’s negotiations with her and her political party, National League for Democracy (NLD) as a “genuine political force.”

At the summit, President Gloria Arroyo appealed to the government of Myanmar to release Suu Kyi.

President Arroyo, in her speech at the International Human Rights Celebration in Malacañang, said the release of Suu Kyi could help Myanmar “move quickly toward a democratic path.”

“You know the role that the President played in stating the need for Myanmar to show that it has truly made important steps in the roadmap to democracy. The more important step is the freeing of Suu Kyi, as well as the inclusion in the Constitutional and democratic process,” he said.

Romulo said they may or may not seek the ratification of the Asean Charter in Congress, but they are hoping that Myanmar would follow the preconditions.

“We told the Asean members that we may have a difficult time in getting our treaty-making body in the legislature to ratify and concur with the Asean Charter unless there are really major steps in implementing the roadmap to democracy,” he said.

Romulo recounted that when they were in Singapore, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, who heads the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said they may have a difficult time ratifying the Asean Charter.

“It is up to Myanmar to show that meaningful and significant steps have been taken starting with the freeing of Suu Kyi, and the inclusion of the NLD in the democratization and constitutional process,” he said.

Since May, Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest has consistently been one of the international advocacies of the Philippine government.

On May 30, the Philippines led Asean in calling on Myanmar’s military leaders to reverse their decision to extend Suu Kyi’s house arrest.

It was the first time that a Philippine government official has called on all other Asian leaders to rally behind Suu Kyi.

In a statement released earlier, Romulo said, “The Philippines joins the call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners [in Myanmar]” and that “…The Philippines deeply regrets the Myanmar government’s decision to extend her house arrest. We urge the Myanmar government to reconsider its decision.”

Myanmar’s military junta has detained Suu Kyi since the 1990s, after her political party won in the general elections. She was supposed to assume office as prime minister of Myanmar after her group’s victory at the polls.

But the results of the polls were nullified because the ruling military-led junta refused to hand over power to Suu Kyi.

Besides batting for Suu Kyi’s freedom, President Arroyo also urged Asean leaders to “accept its responsibility to advance the cause of economic and social justice within its membership,” after it “has taken tangible steps to be a true union.”

She said the Philippines placed great importance on its international responsibilities, which included its duty to the Asean and in sending peacekeeping forces to areas of conflict.