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Filipino activists urge Aquino to take action on Burma

Originally appeared in Mizzima News

July 1, 2010

Activists from the Free Burma Coalition Philippines have called for stronger policies and more concrete action on democratisation in Burma from the new Aquino administration, which was sworn in yesterday.

The calls came yesterday as Benigno Aquino III was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Conchita Corpio-Morales at Rizal Park in Manila. The judge also witnessed the oath of office from Vice-President Jejomar Binay, in nationally televised ceremonies. Aquino, who last month won presidential elections by a landslide, succeeds Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was plagued by abuse of power and corruption allegations.

Egoy Bans, spokesman of the Free Burma Coalition Philippines, a network of Filipino activists for Burma, told Mizzima of the group’s hopes for the new presidency.

“The new president has made the commitment in his inaugural address to continue working for the restoration of democracy, not only in the Philippines but in the Asean region as well,” he said.

Aquino’s official government policy outlined a push for human rights, so the coalition hoped that policies strengthen “but with more concrete actions for democratisation in Burma and to lead Asean towards supporting those actions”, Bans said

“We are looking for better actions than those of the previous government, and we are hoping that the new president, Aquino, will follow the lead of his mother, [the late] Corazon Aquino, who was also president and a strong supporter of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the democracy movement in Burma,” he added, using the Burmese honorific out of respect for the opposition leader and Nobel laureate.

The coalition was looking specifically to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to look into the human right situation in Burma and establish stronger mechanisms for the protection of human rights, he said.

The Philippines government had strongly denounced the elections to be held this year by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the Burmese ruling junta’s name for itself. Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) has boycotted the polls as electoral laws announced in March effectively banned leader Suu Kyi and thousands of other political prisoners from taking part.

“We want the Philippine government to run with the Asean countries towards denouncing the election signed in by the SPDC … and to call for a ‘no-election’ policy urging for complete change,” Bans said. He added that the coalition called especially for the “release of all political prisoners including Daw Suu, cessation of the brutality against ethnic minorities and a review of the 2008 constitution”.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo made a call in early January during the Asean foreign ministers’ meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, for the regime to release Suu Kyi along with the other political prisoners to make the elections free and fair. He said otherwise the polls would be a mere imitation of Burma’s “road map to democracy”.

Bans said that as Aquino had signalled plans to retain foreign minister Romulo, who had expressed a strong position for democratisation in Burma, he thought it likely that the Aquino government could be engaged along similar policy lines.

If the new president’s inaugural address is an accurate guide, with his calls for a new era of good governance, interactivity with the people and freedom from corruption, Burmese people might benefit from policies under Aquino.

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