, SEPTEMBER 30, 2007 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - President Arroyo addressed the 62nd United Nations General Assembly in New York Friday night, focusing on the message that the Philippines is the most democratic country in Southeast Asia and does not tolerate human rights violations “at home or abroad.”

With a dark cloud hanging over the country on the issue of human rights, specifically the unexplained killings and disappearances of activists and journalists, the President emphasized before the General Assembly that the Philippine government respects and upholds human rights on the domestic and international fronts.

“The Philippines is the most democratic country in our region. We have no tolerance for human rights violations at home or abroad,” the President said in her address.

“We support the effort to revitalize and refocus the work of the UN in human rights. It is for this reason that the Philippines sought and won a seat in the Human Rights Council,” the President added.

Back at home, Anakpawis representative Crispin Beltran scored the President and called her a hypocrite for openly declaring support for Myanmar democracy and the release of freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi.

“President Arroyo’s hypocrisy in speaking out against bloodshed and military dictatorship leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth,” Beltran said.

“Without a doubt, while the controversy generated by the anomalous NBN (national broadband network) contract rages here at home, President Arroyo is trying to distract international attention from the issue by adopting a pro-democracy stance. She’s projecting herself as an economic expert when the Philippine economy remains slow and backward,” he added.

Various international groups have raised questions about the Philippines’ membership in the UN Human Rights Council in light of the reports of unexplained killings.

The issue was serious enough to merit the conduct of reviews about human rights and unexplained killings by several sectors, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Philip Alston.

Alston has reported his findings to the UN General Assembly.

Mrs. Arroyo emphasized her point by citing the efforts being undertaken by the government to bring lasting peace in the conflict areas of Mindanao.

“Closer to home, I have personally advanced the process of peace in Muslim and Christian Mindanao to a new level of engagement, focused on interfaith dialogue, economic development and mutual security,” the President said.

“We have done so with the largest possible international involvement, including the UN. Peace there is very much an issue of human rights, just as alleviating poverty is, which is our number one issue,” she added.

However, Beltran has accused the President of allowing the military to perpetuate human rights violations.

“President Arroyo herself has all the trappings of a dictator. She remains in power on the strength of a rigged election and on the support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. To silence her critics, she has allowed a comprehensive campaign of extrajudicial killings and abductions implemented by the military,” Beltran said.

On the other hand, Mrs. Arroyo cited the contribution of the Philippines in the international peacekeeping missions undertaken by the UN as a proof of her administration’s drive to support democracy in the region.

“Our country is among the largest, if not the largest, contributor of police officers to UN peacekeeping missions. We will continue our participation to safeguard communities so that they may overcome conflict and regain the peace needed to pursue development,” the President said.

During her speech, the President also aired her call for the government of Myanmar to immediately release Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and other political prisoners, echoing a call made by several nations.

With the ongoing conflicts in Myanmar brought about by increasing anti-government protests, international attention has once again been focused on the country.

At least nine persons have reportedly been killed by the military in Myanmar while several Buddhist monks have been arrested for taking part in the protests.

Myanmar is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which the Philippines is a founding member.

“The attention of the international community has been drawn, with great reason and justification, to the current situation in Myanmar,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“This is the time for Myanmar to return to the path of democracy and release Aung San Suu Kyi now and to involve all the parties, including the National League for Democracy, in the democratization and the constitutional process,” she added.

In the same speech, the President took the opportunity to report gains made by the Philippine economy under her administration.

The President pointed out that the Philippines “has reached a new level of maturity and stability with some of the strongest macroeconomic fundamentals in 20 years.”

“Six years ago, no one thought we could get more revenues, cut down on tax cheats, strengthen the peso and move the stock market. And no one thought we could bring our budget into balance, which we did last month, pre-pay our debts and raise employment, but we did,” the President said.

The President also emphasized the need to sustain the natural environment while promoting economic growth.

“Too many nations, developed and developing, believe the environment must be sacrificed at the altar of growth. We believe otherwise,” the President emphasized.

“We believe that we have a unique opportunity to get it right from day one: to introduce new industries that are clean and profitable,” she added.

Beltran, however, continued with his vilification of the President by saying, “Mrs. President, it would be good before you speak on matters of democracy and justice in other nations that you should first clear your own government’s record of human rights violations and attacks and restrictions on civil liberties and other democratic rights. The world sees you as a hypocrite, the same way the Filipino people see you as a dictator.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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