Thu 31 Mar 2005
Filed under: ASEAN,News
Manila: Lawmakers asked President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and other Southeast Asian leaders Thursday to be more aggressive in bringing Myanmar to democracy, urging them to block it from leading a regional bloc next year unless it undertakes immediate reforms.
Although the Philippines adheres to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ policy of engaging Myanmar rather than ostracizing it to wean it from dictatorship, Manila has also been among Yangon’s most scathing critics.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said ASEAN’s policy of “constructive engagement” of Myanmar has failed and the region’s largest economic and trade bloc should take a more aggressive approach to prod Yangon to move faster toward democracy.
“This policy of constructive engagement has been there for quite sometime but it has not brought substantial reforms,” Drilon said.
ASEAN, which groups Myanmar, the Philippines and eight other countries, should ask Yangon to set a definite timetable for democratic reforms that should prioritize the release of political detainees like Aung San Suu Kyi and the drafting of a constitution with input from pro-democracy groups, Drilon said.
The Philippine Senate is debating a proposed resolution approved by its foreign relations committee which proposes to block Myanmar’s assumption of ASEAN’s chairmanship next year unless it sets a roadmap for reforms.
Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the Philippines, considered the region’s cradle of democracy, should take the lead in convincing other ASEAN members to oppose Myanmar’s chairmanship next year.
“I think we will be true to our history of struggling for the rights of people if we’ll take that lead,” Pimentel said. “We think that Myanmar has lost all moral authority to lead ASEAN in the light of its continued repression of the Myanmar people.”
Drilon said he would propose to an international conference of parliamentarians here next week to take up the issue of human rights in Myanmar, which is not on the agenda. ASEAN legislators are to meet Saturday to discuss how to further pressure Yangon into immediate reform, he said.
Arroyo came under fire for a red-carpet welcome for Myanmar Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Soe Win last month. But her aides said she expressed concern to Soe Win over Suu Kyi’s condition and discussed Myanmar’s pledge to democratize.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under international pressure since it detained Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in May 2003. She remains under house arrest.
While criticism of Myanmar has been growing in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, other ASEAN members have been reluctant to denounce rights abuses because of a tradition of noninterference in each other’s domestic affairs.