Press Release
November 18, 2009


Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today warned that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will remain inutile in dealing with human rights violations in member-countries unless the organization gives itself greater leeway in discharging such important role.

Pimentel decried that the ASEAN is constrained by its own Charter from taking forceful steps to prevent the people's democratic rights from being trampled upon by authoritarian and repressive rulers as shown by the miserable situation in Myanmar.

The ASEAN Charter was adopted to establish a mechanism to monitor human rights abuses and prevent the derogation of fundamental freedom in member-states. But Pimentel said this noble goal is nullified by specific provisions in the Charter that "lead to the opposite directions."

"But like a clown who can speak from both sides of his or her mouth, the Charter itself provides a way out for members like Myanmar not to comply with its human rights provisions," said Pimentel, a member of the five-man committee on human rights of parliamentarians of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

The ASEAN Charter, in its Preamble, Paragraph 7, manifests its respect for the "fundamental importance of amity and cooperation, and the principles of sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, non-interference, consensus and unity in diversity."

Under Article 2, subparagraphs (h) and (i), the Charter underscores that ASEAN upholds the standard of "noninterference in the internal affairs" of its member-states, and "respect for the right of every member state to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion and coercion."

Not satisfied with those "carefully crafted exit outlets for its member-states in case of need," Pimentel said the Charter, in the Declaration of Principles (subparagraph k), allows member-states to abstain "from participation in any policy or activity - which threatens the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political and economic stability of ASEAN member-states."

"These clearly indicate that nothing much may be expected from ASEAN or its Charter to rectify that barbaric situation obtaining in Myanmar today," the senator from Mindanao said.

He said it was for the reason that he voted against the ratification of the ASEAN Charter when it was submitted to the Senate sometime ago.

Pimentel said the ASEAN should not allow itself to be hampered by its own rules from alleviating the plight of the hapless people of Myanmar, the only ASEAN country that is run by a rogue regime.

"Myanmar does not respect human rights. It brutalizes its own peoples especially the ethnic minorities. It imprisons the innocent without trial and the old without regard to his or her health and the youth with impunity. It rules through the bared bayonets of its armed forces not through the cast ballots of its peoples" he said.

Pimentel voiced outrage that elected legislators and other political leaders remain in jail or house arrest in Myanmar since the ruling junta dissolved the parliament more than a decade ago but the ASEAN has done nothing to put an end to such repression.

The minority leader said ASEAN leaders probably believe in the saying that "time heals" and given time, Myanmar will cure the grievous ills it is committing against its own peoples.

"And while the atrocities of the ruling junta may in time pass away, so would the lives of thousands of innocent victims be gone," he said.

Pimentel also expressed dismay why the ASEAN, in its leaders summit in Bangkok last week, barred representatives of non-government organizations from the member-states as if they had no role to play in the affairs of the regional organization. He said this seemed to indicate how inutile ASEAN has come in matters of safeguarding the people's basic rights.

"In fine, the ASEAN Charter is full of sound and fury that signifies nothing concrete in the advancement of the human rights of the parliamentarians and the fundamental freedoms of the peoples of Myanmar," he said.

"Like a fangless tiger, its roar is more scary than its intended bite."

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