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Joint Statement: Bilateral talks with Myanmar dictator undermines that country’s democratic aspirations February 23, 2005

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The State Visit of Myanmar Prime Minister Soe Win to the Philippines comes at a time when calls for the suspension of its Chairmanship of the ASEAN Summit in 2006 are already gaining ground. The timing is suspicious. Is the military junta in Yangoon trying to project an image of equal footing with other democratically-elected governments?

Myanmar’s junta is fabled worldwide for its atrocities, not the least of which is the repression of workers’ rights to form unions and collectively bargain. Reports of forced labor and inhumane treatment of prisoners have not stopped coming from inside that country. Year after year, thousands of activists are jailed in Myanmar. The press is stifled, restrictions extend to the simplest act of purchasing and using fax machines. The Internet is off-limits to everyone except government agents. And worst of all, the democratically elected government leaders of the 1990 general elections are either in exile, under arrest and in prison, or dead. Its most prominent leader, Suu Kyi, continues to languish in house arrest.

The more business partners Myanmar finds, the more emboldened it becomes to stay put, keep its hold on power and walk all over the democratic rights of the Burmese people.

It is for this reason that Akbayan Representatives initiated the filing of House Resolution 593, which is now co-authored by 131 other Representatives. The number includes House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Antonio Cuenco of Cebu’s 2nd district and all 21 other party-list representatives.

This resolution deals with Myanmar insofar as its impending Chairmanship of ASEAN is concerned. We need to remind government that Myanmar has not kept true to its promise of introducing reforms specified by ASEAN as terms for its entry into the organization. More than seven years later, however, Myanmar is still ruled by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the military junta that continues to reject the overwhelming victory of the NLD in the 1990 elections.

The filing of House Resolution 593 comes amid efforts by ASEAN parliamentarians to form and develop an ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC). Here in the country we are finding ways of gathering more support from our fellow parliamentarians to urge the government to send out a stronger signal against Myanmar’s efforts at legitimacy.

We would like to reiterate the obvious: the Philippines is no stranger to dictatorships, and we remind the President that it was having foreign governments conferring a mantle of confidence and legitimacy to a regime seeking out trade agreements while oppressing its own people that helped prop up that dictatorship. Engage Myanmar on a multilateral platform, lest we find ourselves lending credence to the SPDC’s rule to the detriment of the Burmese people.

Loretta Ann P. Rosales
Mario Joyo Aguja
Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel
AKBAYAN party-list

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Majority of solons nix Myanmar Chairmanship of ASEAN, calls for democratic reforms and release of Suu Kyi February 17, 2005

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134 members of the House of Representatives, a clear majority, today lent their support to calls for the Philippine government to “strongly urge the ASEAN to reconsider Myanmar’s chairmanship of the 2006 ASEAN Meeting” pending tangible democratic reforms, the restoration of the duly elected government of 1990 and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the National League of Democracy (NLD).

House Resolution 593, authored by Akbayan Representatives Loretta Ann Rosales, Mario Aguja and Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel was supported by around 130 other Representatives. The number includes House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Antonio Cuenco of Cebu’s 2nd district and all 21 other party-list representatives.

In the resolution Rosales and the rest of the co-authors reminded government that in 1997, Myanmar committed to abide by certain principles of democratic governance specified by ASEAN as terms for its entry into the organization. “More than seven years later, however, Myanmar is still ruled by the state Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the military junta that continues to reject the overwhelming victory of the NLD in the 1990 elections,” Rosales explained.

Rosales also said that the SPDC also continues to hold Nobel laureate Suu Kyi under house arrest, to harass Burmese ethnic minorities and to commit human rights violations up to today. The 134 solons stressed in Resolution 593 that unless democratic reforms are instituted in Myanmar, its 2006 Chairmanship will permanently undermine ASEAN’s political, diplomatic and economic future.

The filing of House Resolution 593 comes amid efforts by ASEAN parliamentarians to form and develop an Inter-ASEAN Parliamentarians Caucus for Myanmar (IAPCM). This new group includes Rosales, Senate Minority Floor Leader Aquilino Pimentel of PDP-Laban and Rep. Erin Tañada of the Liberal Party. It aims to increase advocacy efforts among legislators to restore democracy in Myanmar and is scheduled to go to that country soon to directly lobby with SPDC leaders for democratic reforms and the immediate release of Suu Kyi.

The IAPCM is busy organizing local caucuses among fellow parliamentarians towards strengthening the role of ASEAN in promoting and protecting democracy in the region. The IAPCM met last November in Kuala Lumpur and in Jakarta recently, and plans to hold its next meeting in time for an IPU meeting in Manila, to strategize and draw up further plans to complement and support a roadmap of democracy in Myanmar.

Trafficking victimizes women, erodes human rights February 11, 2005

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It seems that even with the passage of RA 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking Law of 2003, we are yet to begin a serious crackdown on traffickers and ensure the safety of our women and children from this form of exploitation and human rights violation.

The Anti-Trafficking Law is a beneficial law for thousands of women and children as it provides protection for the ‘trafficked’ person and emphasizes culpability on the part of the trafficker, those who had a hand in their recruitment and subsequent victimization.

But what exactly ails our country that three years into the passage of the law, we have not had the desired deterrence we sought? Why, if the problem was that urgent that we had to legislate to correct this social aberration, are we faced with an almost nonexistent track record in cracking down on this problem?

Part of the problem is in the political will to really go after the big-time traffickers. This crime is a multi-million peso enterprise, one regrettably capitalizing on the desire of a lot of our citizens to seek greener pastures in urban centers or abroad.

At the same time, it seems our judicial system is ill equipped to face the daunting sensitivity of the phenomenon. The stigma of ‘consenting victims’ has to be eradicated at the same time we are educating our law enforcers and our court officers – lawyers, judges and personnel. It is not exactly a different story elsewhere. When it comes to crimes committed against women and children, our courts really has their work cut out for them.

What we need is a broad united front to confront this menace. Our cause-oriented groups have to find a common ground with various allies – shipping companies, airline companies, the police, the judiciary and relevant government agencies to effectively fight this organized crime.

The legislature in its dispensation of its oversight function can help our sector exact accountability from our government as regards the implementation of RA 9208 and to dig deeper into the various factors that hinder us from effectively addressing this problem.

(Cebu)

Doubts over spending of Marcos money will persist in absence of public accounting February 11, 2005

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If the President is to be really believed that the Marcos money is intact, both those intended for the human rights violations victims of Martial Law and the millions of CARP beneficiaries, then it should disclose all the relevant documents that would tell us where each centavo went.

After the US$ 683 million was transferred from the Philippine National Bank, the government kept mum on just what had happened to the money. The transfer occurred in March 2004, a few months before the elections.

This was the very same concern we had earlier raised in filing House Resolution 343 in the context of our recognition that the fulfillment of the Constitution’s social justice clause does not end with the installation of farmer beneficiaries but well into the provision of needed agricultural support and the further acquisition of massive lands that remain in the hands of big landlords in places like Negros, Davao, Bondoc Peninsula and Mindanao. Simply put, CLOA holders must be protected, their ranks increased. That has always been our call.

But allegedly, P12 billion of the total P28 billion for the CARP has been spent, including cash advances of P2.7 billion that went to LBP for the year 2003 and P2.2 billion for the office operations of DAR and other CARP implementing agencies. A clear violation of a Presidential Agrarian Reform Council Resolution directing a 70-30 proportion for spending the CARP-allocated Marcos money between land acquisition and high-impact intervention. Is this true? Certainly questions like this have to be answered.

It doesn’t help that movements within the DAR bureaucracy have taken place making it difficult to make inquiries. Former DAR OIC Jose Mari Ponce, efficient and transparent in his dealings, had been transferred to the Cagayan Industrial Authority. A certain Director Geoffrey Galang who works for the finance department of the PARC has also been reportedly replaced. We’d like to know if this is correct? The Finance Officer of the DAR ascertained to be a Thelma Vinuya and the Chief Accountant, named Charlie Reyes have either resigned or been transferred. Where are these people?

House Resolution 343 seeks to call them before the House Committees on Agrarian Reform, Human Rights and Good Government and account for how the money has been spent. These people are those directly responsible for the budgeting and accounting within DAR and they should be around to answer these questions. #