, NOVEMBER 22, 2007 (STAR) President Arroyo took a parting shot at Myanmar’s junta yesterday, deploring the pace of democratic reforms in the Southeast Asian nation as she hastily returned home to oversee preparations for a looming tropical storm.

“Let me be very clear. We ... remain concerned about the pace of progress of Myanmar on the issue of human rights,” Mrs. Arroyo said. She particularly deplored the treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader who remains under house arrest. “She must be released, now,” Mrs. Arroyo told reporters before cutting short her visit to Singapore by a day.

The Philippines is the most vocal critic of Myanmar among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Myanmar dominated discussions at ASEAN’s annual summit this week but scored a diplomatic victory when it blocked a planned briefing by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Asian leaders.

But the President said Myanmar was still not off the ASEAN hook.

“We will not rest in the pursuit of justice and reconciliation in Myanmar. We must be active in advocating peaceful reforms in that nation. It is good for Myanmar, for ASEAN and the world,” she said before heading to the airport.

During the summit, ASEAN adopted a charter that calls on member nations to respect human rights and democracy. Mrs. Arroyo said her government is pleased that the charter incorporated language that advances these values. But “we remain concerned that the forces of authoritarianism still move rather slowly toward democracy in Myanmar,” she said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo raised a concern here yesterday that with the signing of the ASEAN charter, the creation of the ASEAN human rights body would not move forward and become meaningless if members would have disagreements.

Romulo said that the Terms of Reference (TOR) on the creation of the human rights body should be acceptable to all 10 ASEAN members because any disagreements on the TOR would delay its establishment.

The TOR will identify the human rights body’s functions such as human rights education and protection.

“My own views is that the TOR should give powers to the human rights body to start working on that but they’ll have to spell out the TOR,” Romulo said.

“But you know we obviously have to take into consideration the views of the others, otherwise it’ll not pass at all so it would be meaningless. We want it to be accepted so we can make it work,” he said.

Romulo emphasized that acceptance of the TRO by the ASEAN members is a prime consideration.

“That’s true, but of course we can’t accept everything, so we’ve to work out in the same way as the human rights body. We have to fight for it so finally they all agree. You have to work out certain dynamics so that everybody gets on the bandwagon,” Romulo added. – Pia Lee-Brago, AP 

Typhoon forces Arroyo to leave Singapore early By Pia Lee-Brago Thursday, November 22, 2007

SINGAPORE (via PLDT) – An approaching typhoon reportedly prompted President Arroyo to leave yesterday ahead of her scheduled departure after attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit and bilateral talks with leaders of four countries.

Mrs. Arroyo departed after attending the East Asia Summit (EAS) in the afternoon.

It was reported that a strong typhoon will hit the city-state today. Tropical storm Lando (international name Hagibis) left 10 people dead in the Philippines.

“We ruturn to the Philippines one day ahead of schedule, saddened by the plight of the victims of the typhoon, but satisfied that as a result of our efforts in Singapore, the Philippines will benefit from greater security, stronger economic growth and enhanced solidarity to make progress to protect our environment,” the President said before her departure.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for ASEAN Affairs Luis Cruz said Mrs. Arroyo and seven ASEAN heads of state could leave ahead of the leaders of Thailand and Cambodia, who will join Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the 50th ASEAN-European Union commemorative summit today.

Cruz said the ASEAN-EU commemorative summit is not a regular meeting and that ASEAN will be represented by Singapore as current chairman, Thailand as the next chairman, and Cambodia as the country coordinator for ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relations.

Cruz said the Philippines will be represented by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo.

“There are some intervening factors like there’s this incoming typhoon,” he said.

“If the typhoon hits tomorrow it’ll be dangerous for her to land in Manila. That’s it. That’s the only explanation.”

‘No heavy spending on foreign travels’

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. disputed yesterday reports that the Office of the President (OP) spent heavily last year on local and foreign travels and on employees’ benefits.

Andaya was commenting on a Commission on Audit (COA) report that showed that in 2006, the OP spent an average of P40 million a month for travel and another P35 million for donations.

The OP also reportedly disbursed an average of P44 million a month for salaries and benefits of its employees.

The budget chief said there should be “value-for-money appraisal of the money spent” instead of calling the expenses extravagant.

He said foreign trips are often expensive but the “unseen and unaudited side are investments the President brings home from such a trip.”

Some trips, he said, are “command appearances” such as the yearly leaders’ meetings of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and the ASEAN.

“There is also the element of reciprocity; some heads of state pay us a visit and we can’t serve boodle fight food in the state dinners for them,” Andaya said, referring to the simple communal fare served to soldiers in the field.

He said provincial sorties of President Arroyo are also necessary to ensure better delivery of basic services to the people in remote areas.

Donations, he said, would include emergency assistance to “a squatters’ colony razed by fire or a town whose market has been gutted by fire.”

“There are also sick people needing a heart bypass, and a patient’s bishop would write the President if she, using the President’s Social Fund, could foot part of the bill. If a soldier gets killed, the President will not ask for a supplemental budget from Congress for abuloy (burial assistance) but she would have to dip into a legal kitty created for that exigency,” Andaya said. – With Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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