MANILA, APRIL 19, 2009
(MANILA TIMES) By Llanesca T. Panti - President Gloria Arroyo called on Myanmar to release its opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi by next month, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported Friday. President Arroyo said that such a move would be an important gesture toward Myanmar’s national reconciliation efforts.

Suu Kyi has been under detention for more than a decade, but her house-arrest order expires in May.

“Like Myanmar, the Philippines has over a hundred ethnic groups and a variety of political persuasions, but rather than impair the vibrancy of our country’s democracy, these have only served to strengthen it,” President Arroyo said during her meeting with Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein at the sidelines of the aborted Asean Summit in Pattaya on April 10.

Asean is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional bloc of 10 countries that include Myanmar and the Philippines.

The said meeting between the two leaders happened on the request of Myanmar.

The President noted that the Philippines, in recent years, has also been preoccupied with opposition personalities vying for the people’s support.

“I have reached out to them in the spirit of reconciliation and national unity, which has enabled our society and political system to move forward without giving undue importance to their political mystique,” she added.

GMA’s suggestion

The President suggested that Myanmar consider a similar course of action, such as releasing Suu Kyi, and dealing with all political groups including the National League for Democracy (NLD).

She pointed out that releasing Suu Kyi would result in “tremendous goodwill for Myanmar from the international community.”

“As a neighbor of Myanmar, the Philippines has a deep sense of friendship with the people of Myanmar. We only have your country and your people’s welfare at heart. This is the single, most concrete piece of advice and experience I can share with you,” the President said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo echoed the President’s call, saying it is time for Myanmar to carry out its own ‘Road map for Democracy’ and release political detainees, including Suu Kyi.

“Fulfilling these commitments is long overdue,” he said. “Doing it would be “a compelling act of goodwill and sincerity” if Myanmar could fulfill these commitments before the launching of the Asean Human Rights Body in October.”

Myanmar’s reaction

Prime Minister Thein Sein has expressed appreciation for the President’s valuable suggestions, saying that his government would take them into account and that it stays committed to implement the seven steps towards democratization and reconciliation.

“The adoption of the new Constitution is the critical first step in fulfilling the government’s vision for democracy in Myanmar. We are now preparing for the general elections in 2010,” the Prime Minister said.

He added that Myanmar considers its cooperation with the United Nations as the cornerstone of its foreign policy, along with the desire to improve relations with the United States under the Barack Obama administration.

'No threat in deployment of Chinese boats in Spratlys' Updated April 18, 2009 12:00 AM

(STAR) MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang downplayed yesterday China’s deployment of patrol boats to the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said China’s actions were expected, and that the Philippines would always take the diplomatic route in dealing with them.

“We still believe that China will conduct itself in accordance with the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea which it has bound itself to as a matter of international comity,” he said.

The government would continue to closely monitor developments in the disputed islands and “make the appropriate actions and reactions at whatever level is necessary,” he added.

China has been deploying patrol boats to the Spratly islands and the number of such boats has increased since Congress passed the Baselines Bill, which defines the country’s territory, including some of the disputed islands.

It was reported yesterday that at least six patrol vessels belonging to provincial units of the Maritime Safety Bureau of China have been sent to the South China Sea in recent weeks, with several others being prepared for departure. – Marvin Sy

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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