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29 Aug 2008

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Asean Charter: Philippines’ ratification in the pipeline
Asean has no legal power to force Myanmar on human rights - senator

The Philippines will ratify the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) charter later this year, a senior lawmaker was quoted by Reuters as saying Thursday.

Miriam Defensor-Santiago, head of the foreign relations panel in the upper house of Congress and a staunch ally of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said signing the charter was meant to help encourage Myanmar to improve its human rights record.

If the Philippines senate goes ahead and ratify the charter, it will be a reversal of an earlier reluctance to endorse the regional bloc's constitution.

Manila had previously insisted that Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi be released from house arrest before it would ratify the charter.

"Today, there is no such document that could provide the legal power to enable the rest of Asean to see to it that Myanmar complies with human rights law," Santiago said.

Santiago said she was confident the Senate would ratify the charter before Asean leaders meet in Bangkok for an annual summit in December.

Besides the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines have yet to ratify the charter that would turn a loose association of states into what the group claims will be a rules-based economic, social and security organisation encompassing 560 million people and 10 countries.

Myanmar was the latest state to ratify the landmark document in July.

After other Asean leaders signed the charter in Singapore late last year, Arroyo said she would have difficulty pushing the Senate to approve it if Suu Kyi remained under house arrest.

She said the release of Suu Kyi, who has spent 13 of the past 19 years under detention, would be the "number one benchmark" for Manila to decide whether to ratify the charter.

Santiago said the Senate committee on foreign affairs has circulated a report recommending the ratification of the constitution and she expected her colleagues would overwhelmingly support it. Two-thirds of the Senate are needed to approve the charter.














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