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Aquino urged to lead ASEAN push for Burma’s democracy

Originally appeared in The Inquirer

May 30, 2010

Filipino activists called on presumptive president-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to take the cudgels for Burmese democratization among leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in keeping with the legacy of his mother.

“We urge Noynoy to adopt his late mother’s critical position against the ruling military generals in Burma,” said Aguinaldo Bans, Philippine spokesperson of the Free Burma Coalition (FBC), a network of institutions and individuals opposing the Burmese military dictatorship.

Bans said that as the next Philippine president, Aquino could “lead the ASEAN in applying stronger political pressures to the junta.”

“He has to prove that Filipinos abhor tyrannical regimes like the one in Rangoon,” he stressed.

Bans noted that the late president Corazon Aquino was a known supporter of Burma’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi who has been under house arrest the past few years. Suu Kyi’s defiant stance against the military regime has earned her the Nobel Peace Prize.

FBC activists staged protest actions in Davao and Makati cities on Friday to denounce plans by Burmese military rulers to hold elections sometime this year according to the rules the junta issued.

The FBC said that preparations and recently issued election laws by the military government “clearly indicate that Burma’s 2010 elections will not serve the interests” of the country’s peoples. It viewed the planned exercise as “one-sided” and only meant to “legitimize the (military) junta’s hold on power.”

“Burma needs genuine democratic solutions and not military elections. An election that is being pursued only to elect Burma’s next generation of military oppressors and human rights violators will not bring significant democratic changes in Burma,” said Bans.

“The junta’s extreme hunger for legitimacy and international recognition forced the generals to violate all existing international laws and human rights standards. This upcoming election should determine the future of the peoples of Burma, but the junta, at this early, already ensured that dictatorship is the past, the present and the logical future for Burma,” he added.

“(A semblance of) success of the regime’s sham elections will depend on the legitimacy lent by the international community. It is more important than ever that the Philippines send a strong signal to the regime, by denouncing the military elections, unless the regime meets minimum (human rights) benchmarks,” said Augusto Miclat, executive director of the non-government Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID).

These conditions should include the release of all political prisoners, an end to attacks against ethnic groups, inclusive dialogue and review of the constitution with the participation of democratic sectors, said Miclat.

Miclat noted that the current Burmese Constitution was submitted to a referendum amidst a calamity situation in 2008, which was an abnormal social circumstance.

On Thursday, FBC marked the 20th year when opposition groups, including Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory in the elections, which the military regime refused to acknowledge, hence, those elected were not allowed to assume power.

The group pointed out that after two decades of seemingly standing in the sidelines, the ASEAN must now take bolder steps to compel the military regime to tread the path of democratization.

Bans said the time has come for ASEAN to acknowledge that “the policy of constructive engagement with Burma is a miserable failure.”

On Sunday, activists throughout the world who have been opposing military rule in Burma will mark a Global Day of Action in various countries to register their “strong stance against the regime’s undemocratic elections plans.”

Several months back, foreign affairs secretary Alberto Romulo had shrugged off the planned election in Burma as a farce, an unusually blunt personal criticism coming from a top official of a fellow member-state of the ASEAN.

The regional grouping has traditionally refused to “meddle” in internal affairs of its member-states.

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