[PHOTOA T LEFT - Protesters display a wanted poster of Myanmar’s military junta leader Gen. Than Shwe during a rally near the Myanmar embassy in Makati City. - Photo By AP]

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 29, 2007 (STAR) By Marvin Sy and Pia Lee-Brago - President Arroyo yesterday called on Myanmar to release all its political prisoners, including democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and hold a dialogue for national reconciliation.

In a statement, Mrs. Arroyo expressed concern about the growing unrest in the country and urged the Myanmar government “to act with the utmost restraint.”

The President, who is in New York for a meeting of the UN General Assembly, also called on Myanmar to invite UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari to visit the country “as soon as possible.”

Myanmar and the Philippines are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has previously maintained a soft policy on Myanmar.

The other ASEAN members are Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

About 30 labor activists staged a peaceful rally outside the Myanmar embassy in Manila yesterday, with five of the activists shaving their heads as a sign of solidarity with the protesting monks in Myanmar.

The ASEAN has also expressed its “disgust” to Myanmar for using violent force against demonstrators.

ASEAN members agreed to issue a statement following a “frank” and “full” discussion of the foreign ministers from the regional bloc with Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win during the annual meeting of foreign ministers from the regional bloc at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting resulted in the statement by the ASEAN Chair on the current developments in Myanmar.

The ASEAN Foreign Ministers gave their full support to the decision of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to send Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Myanmar. They welcomed FM Nyan Win’s assurance that a visa would be issued to Gambari in Singapore as they asked the Myanmar government to cooperate fully and work with him.

British Ambassador to the Philippines Peter Buckingham said he is encouraged by the robust statement of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers in response to the deteriorating situation in Myanmar.

“We hope that the Burmese authorities understand the strength of feeling within the international community on the recent events there,” he said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, “The whole world is now watching Burma and this illegitimate and oppressive regime should know that the whole world is going to hold it to account and that the age of impunity for neglecting and overriding human rights is over.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, who attended the ministers’ meeting, said that “there will be no letup on efforts by the ASEAN to convince Myanmar to adopt democratic reforms.”

Romulo said that the crisis caused by high oil prices is just one of many problems that a country in today’s world could face, noting that these problems can best be solved by an open, pluralistic and democratic government.

A senior Philippine diplomat also said it is necessary to activate the ASEAN crisis response committee, chaired by Singapore, to address the crisis in Myanmar.

The diplomat, who asked not to be named, cited the urgency in the developments in Myanmar and the escalation of violence that already requires the “Friends of the Chair” to convene.

“The turn of events in Myanmar is alarming. The situation falls within the purview of the ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum) preventive diplomacy mechanism,” the diplomat said. “Any disorder within a country in the Asia Pacific region that may disrupt peace and stability is in the purview of ARF preventive diplomacy mechanism.”

After two years, the Philippine initiative of setting up the “Friends of the Chair” to respond to emergency situations and crises in the region and in the world finally gained consensus of the ASEAN last May.

The Friends of the ARF Chair is composed of the current ARF chairman, the former ARF chairman and the incoming ARF chairman. The current chair will select a country friendly to the government facing crisis or a non-ASEAN member.

The ARF includes the 10 ASEAN members.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed a resolution urging the United Nations Security Council, the European Union and the ASEAN to take steps to end the violent repression in Myanmar.

The resolution, proposed by Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., was approved by the Senate Wednesday evening.

Pimentel said that the Philippines, as member of the United Nations, has an obligation to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedom as stated in the UN Charter. - With Christina Mendez, AFP

Palace on Abalos: He’s on his own ‘It’s up to JDV to inhibit self on impeach case’ BY REGINA BENGCO

(MALAYA) ELECTIONS chair Benjamin Abalos apparently has been left to fend for himself in the impeachment complaint filed against him.

His "friends"’ in Malacañang said yesterday they are distancing themselves – at least for the record – from a case that involves a constitutional officer.

"We believe that Chairman Abalos can very well defend himself," presidential management staff director general Cerge Remonde said in a press conference.

The 64-page impeachment complaint filed Thursday by Iloilo Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico and endorsed by minority congressmen led by Teofisto Guingona III of Bukidnon and Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna accuses Abalos of betrayal of public trust, culpable violations of the Constitution, bribery, and graft and corruption.

Remonde said the Commission on Elections is an independent and constitutional body while impeachment is a process in Congress, which is a co-equal body of the executive branch of government.

He said the Palace would just "leave to the moral values" of Speaker Jose de Venecia on whether he should inhibit himself from the impeachment proceedings because his son Jose "Joey" de Venecia III is a party to the complaint.

The young De Venecia has testified before a Senate probe on the $329 million national broadband network project that Abalos offered him $10 million in exchange for the withdrawal of his company, Amsterdam Holdings Inc., from the project.

Former economic planning Secretary Romulo Neri has also testified that Abalos offered him P200 million in exchange for his endorsement of the NBN-ZTE contract.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, in an interview, said the impeachment case is a numbers game and a party matter but lawmakers should be allowed to decide on their own.

Suplico’s complaint needs the signatures of at least 80 congressmen to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

"It’s a matter for our political leaders starting with the lower House to find out how they look at the situation…Let’s give it to our congressmen, these are responsible people. I’m sure their conscience will guide them properly on how they should act," Ermita said.

Ermita said he is confident that the impeachment case would not derail the Comelec’s preparation and conduct of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections on Oct. 29.

Abalos said he will not ask Speaker De Venecia to inhibit himself.

"What I am more concerned is the influence he wields over the congressmen," Abalos said.

Abalos said he is leaving his fate to the congressmen.

He said he is afraid that he might be impeached already even before the documents formally reach the Senate "given the kind of attitude our senators have."

"I am wondering why they (senators) are taking the words and affidavits of Secretary Romulo Neri and Joey de Venecia as if it is already the gospel truth. Bakit kapag ako hindi na nila pinakikinggan as if I am always telling a lie?" he said.

"They took my word against someone who had admitted having used drugs in the past," Abalos said, referring to the young De Venecia.

Abalos accused the young De Venecia and Neri of conspiring to destroy the broadband project "while implicating me, a public official, to make it easier for them (to succeed)."

Abalos cited two points to prove his accusations.

"Number one, why did he (Neri), as NEDA chief, entertain an unsolicited proposal from a private firm (AHI) through that comfort letter when he should have automatically sent it to the implementing agency, which is the Department of Transportation and Communications?

"And number two, as a proof of their closeness, ako I am calling Secretary Neri, ‘Sec’ while Joey calls him ‘Romy’," he said.

Abalos denied comment on questions whether he believes President Arroyo or any Malacañang official is involved in the "conspiracy."

"Hindi ko alam. Wala naman kasi akong full grasp of the information. I don’t want to be second guessing like Neri," he said.

House committee on justice chair Rep. Matias Defensor (Quezon city) said his panel is ready to hear the complaint and we will observe highest form of neutrality," he said.

De Venecia, in a radio interview, said his only role in the process will be to endorse the complaint to the justice panel for deliberations.

Casiño said he believes that many administration congressmen are having second thoughts in endorsing the complaint for fear that this could foil another impeachment complaint against President Arroyo.

"Abalos is just a broker but where is his handler?" he said. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Gerard Naval and Wendell Vigilia

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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