, December 14, 2005
(STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo expressed hope here yesterday that the constitution for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations would be ready when ASEAN leaders gather for another summit in Cebu next year.

ASEAN leaders earlier signed a declaration giving the green light for the drafting of the charter, which would be a landmark constitutional document to promote democracy, human rights and obligations, transparency, good governance and the strengthening of democratic institutions in the region.

In a press conference in the Malaysian capital, the President tentatively set the ASEAN leadersí summit in Cebu from Dec. 11 to 13, but preparatory meetings would start on Dec. 4.

ASEAN leaders created an "eminent personsí group" that would examine and provide practical recommendations on the directions of the ASEAN and the charter. The Philippines nominated former President Fidel Ramos to the EPG.

Mrs. Arroyo said the Philippines advocated the idea of an ASEAN charter as early as 1990, when then foreign affairs secretary Raul Manglapus proposed an ASEAN Treaty of Economic Cooperation.

"Let us extend all the support to the EPG so they can fulfill their task and make their final recommendation in time for the next summit in the Philippines," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The Philippines will chair the ASEAN after Malaysia and will host the next summit. Myanmar gave up its turn at the chairmanship due to pressures for it to speed up democratic reforms.

Mrs. Arroyo said the Philippines presented three major innovations to the ASEAN framework: the transformation of the loosely knit association into a cohesive juridical regional group similar to the European Economic Community, the creation of supranational institutions similar to the European Commission and European Council, and the adoption of a higher degree of regional economic cooperation.

"They will be discussing, giving their advice and then there will be professional scholars... who will be hired to write the draft of the charter under the guidance of the EPG," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the EPG will decide on the details of the personality of the charter, including an earlier proposal for an ASEAN parliament.

"According to the Philippine concept paper, an international organization acquiring legal personality means that the organization under the municipal laws of its member-states can own property, enter into contracts, sue and be sued in court," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the Rome Treaty of 1957 that created the European Economic Community indicated that the arrangement was an economic one but the politico-legal aspect was also of the highest priority.

Aside from regional economic cooperation, ASEAN has slowly deviated from its policy of non-interference in the political affairs of its member-countries.

The charter is expected to help hold Myanmarís military junta accountable to basic rights standards, according to Zaid Ibrahim, chairman of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Democracy in Myanmar.

If Myanmar agrees to the documentís principal points in its role as ASEAN member, then "the regime must also show proof that they subscribe to them," he said.

Zaid said ASEAN is long overdue for adopting rules defining principles of human rights, good governance and the rule of law.

The President brought with her some of Cebuís local officials to observe the preparations done here for the summit.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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