BARANGAY BIBINGKAHAN, SORSOGON, March 17, 2006 (OFFICE OF THE PRESS SECRETARY) On the day former Malacanang chaplain Monsignor Augusto Laban celebrated his sacerdotal jubilee here as a priest, he said he has nothing but admiration for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, one of the many people whose lives he has touched in the course of his vocation.

"I admire her for being religious, she hears mass everyday wherever she is, and I really feel that she is being guided by the Lord," exclaimed Monsignor Laban moments after the concelebrated Holy Mass held in his honor at the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in this city.

Now in his 70s, Fr. Laban knows whereof he speaks.

As Palace chaplain for four years, starting in 2001 when President Arroyo assumed power, he has touched many lives in Malacanang with his homilies. He also acted as spiritual director and personal adviser of the President.

Before his Malacanang pastoral stint, he was the Parish priest of the nearby St. Michael’s Church.

"I am very positive that the President’s faith has enabled her to thwart destabilization attempts against her administration," he said.

The President was among the parishioners, family members and friends who graced the golden anniversary of the Sacerdotal Ordination of Msgr. Laban.

The President recalled that shortly after she assumed office in 2001, Msgr. Laban, then the parish priest of St. Michael’s Church, was assigned as palace chaplain and stayed as such for four years.

"Monsignor Laban would be there everyday saying mass for us, but not just saying mass for us, he was there as our spiritual director. As our pastor, he would nurture us, pray with us, comfort us, listen to our woes, listen to our joys, never condemning, always understanding, always affirming," she said in her message during the one-and-a-half hour Mass.

"And I know this is what he’d done for 50 years to so many and my family joins all of the people whose lives he has touched. Monsignor, have a wonderful golden anniversary and may you serve the Lord and the people," the President said.

With the President during the solemn occasion were Sorsogon Governor Raul Lee, Sorsogon City Mayor Sally Lee, Representative Jose Solis, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, Presidential Son Diosdado "Dato" Macapagal-Arroyo and Mrs. Gina de Venecia, wife of House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.

Sorsogon City Bishop Arturo Bastes headed the 80 priests from the provinces of Sorsogon and Masbate in the concelebrated Mass followed by the Fraternal Agape attended by the President at Our Lady of Peñafrancia Minor Seminary in Barangay Bibingkahan, Sorsogon City.

ASEAN moving slowly on creating human rights watchdog, say proponents 03/17 4:39:30 PM THE PHILIPPINES STAR

KUALA LUMPUR (AP) - Southeast Asian countries are taking very tentative steps toward setting up a regional human rights watchdog, officials said Friday, suggesting progress is slow because of bureaucracy and national sensitivities.

The idea of a watchdog has been proposed by the national human rights institutions of Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, but does not have the formal backing of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

ASEAN has shown willingness to tackle the problem by tentatively agreeing in 2004 to set up a commission to protect the rights of women and children, human rights officials from the four countries said after a three-day meeting.

"We see the beginning ... baby steps," Malaysian Human Rights Commissioner Ranita Hussein told reporters.

The four countries hope their discussions will act as a launch pad for the eventual establishment of a human rights mechanism in ASEAN, a diverse grouping including nations practicing varying degrees of democracy, communist governments and a military dictatorship.

Ranita said the four countries' human rights bodies also discussed the possibility of cooperating in areas such as guarding the rights of migrant workers, human trafficking, economic, social and cultural rights and fighting terrorism.

"There has been no great leap as yet. It's definitely quite slow," said Sriprapha Petcharamesree, an official of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand. "You know how ASEAN works."

The organization is notoriously bureaucratic and member states tend to be reluctant to interfere in each other's internal affairs.

"But I think with the (cooperation) of the national human rights commissions and civil society, I know we will be able to push the ASEAN governments," Sriprapha said.

Sriprapha said a regional watchdog would help promote and protect rights, especially in countries where no rights bodies exist, "for example in the case of Myanmar."

The representatives of the four countries said they would encourage rather than pressure governments to establish independent domestic human rights watchdogs.

The 10 countries in ASEAN are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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