Oct 242014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2008-10-30 09:42
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #2446/01 3040942
O 300942Z OCT 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 002446


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/28/2018

¶B. MANILA 282

Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney, Reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: The Philippine Senate on October 7 ratified
the new charter adopted by the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) at its 13th Summit in November 2007, bringing
ASEAN one step closer to being a recognized legal entity.
The Philippine government has consistently pressed Burma in
human rights issues but ultimately concluded that being the
“odd man out” risked their losing credibility with ASEAN.
Foreign Secretary Romulo told Ambassador they would continue
to work within ASEAN to push Burma human rights. The
Philippine Senate voted 16 to 1 in favor of ratification.
Only Thailand has yet to ratify the charter and is expected
to do so in December.


¶2. (SBU) Under the administration of President Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo, the Philippines has been one of the most
proactive members of ASEAN in pressing for democratization in
Burma (refs A and B). From the outset, Arroyo indicated
that, absent the release of detained opposition leader Aung
San Suu Kyi and other demonstrations of moderation,
Philippine ratification of ASEAN’s charter might be
problematic. Speaking in January 2008 at World Economic
Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, Arroyo said, “We must
work together to make the tough choices to make ASEAN real
and Aung San Suu Kyi free,” later emphatically reasserting,
“We must see political reform; we must see Aung San Suu Kyi
released — and now.” President Arroyo also publicly
denounced the Burmese junta’s rejection of a UN proposal to
monitor the planned constitutional referendum in May, bluntly
characterizing the junta’s rejection of the UN proposal as a
“sad day for democracy and our region.” Senate Minority
Leader and frequent Arroyo critic Aquilino Pimentel also
called publicly on the Burmese regime to release Aung San Suu
Kyi and move toward democracy. Local media outlets strongly
criticized the junta’s response to the devastating typhoon
that struck Burma May 2-3, calling it “ASEAN’s
Embarrassment,” and observing that the people of Burma were
reaping the bitter harvest of their totalitarian government’s

Decision up to the Senate

¶3. (C) Notwithstanding the widespread Philippine criticism
of the junta, some government officials acknowledged that,
given its minimal trade and contact with Burma, the
Philippines was less positioned to influence the regime than
Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. During a June 12
Independence Day reception at Malacanang Palace, President
Arroyo publicly called for the charter’s ratification,
saying, “As for the passage of the ASEAN Charter, we would
love nothing more than to see ASEAN consolidate its gains
closer together. However, we’ll leave this up to the
Philippine Senate.” In a conversation with emboffs prior to
the Senate’s vote, influential opposition Senator Francis
“Chiz” Escudero said that the issue of ratification of the
ASEAN charter was “a wash,” having garnered neither strong
supporters nor opponents in the Senate. Alluding to
President Arroyo’s public statements questioning whether
Philippine ratification would be difficult in the absence of
moves toward democratization in Burma, Escudero added that
Arroyo lacked the influence to affect the Senate vote. “Once
the issue was submitted to the Senate, it was for us, not the
President, to decide,” he emphasized.

Building a Region

¶4. (SBU) After an August public hearing on the charter,
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and
pro-administration Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago pressed
for ratification, noting that it was the Philippines that
first proposed an ASEAN charter in the 1970s and that she did
not see any strong opposition to the charter in the Senate.
Santiago said that signing the charter was meant to help
encourage Burma to improve its human rights record.
Ambassador Rosario Manalo, chairperson of the Philippine
government’s ASEAN charter task force that drafted the
document, said the document “is not about Myanmar, but the
building of a region.”

Charter a Product of Consensus

MANILA 00002446 002 OF 002

¶5. (SBU) After the Senate voted 16 to 1 in favor of
ratification, Senator Santiago opined that the government
wanted a “more perfect document,” but that regional
differences made it difficult to get a consensus. Her
statement underscored a point made during the public hearing
by Ambassador Manalo who said, “Consensus is the way of life
in ASEAN. It is the earmark of the region.” Senator
Santiago continued her remarks by saying that human rights
issues, such as the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, would be
addressed by the charter’s human rights body. Foreign
Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo told Ambassador October 10
that the vote reflected the government’s desire to influence
ASEAN on key issues from within the organization. Romulo
stressed that being the “odd man out” on charter ratification
would not have served Philippine interests when it came to
pushing ASEAN on issues such as Burma’s human rights abuses.

A Lone Voice in the Senate

¶6. (SBU) The lone dissenting vote in the Senate was cast by
Minority Leader Pimentel, who expressed the fear that “ASEAN
is just closing its eyes to the atrocities of the ruling
junta (in Burma) against its own people.” He underscored
that while the charter provides for the establishment of a
human rights body, it also enshrines the principles of
non-interference in the internal affairs of member states and
respect for the right of every member state to lead its
national existence free from external interference,
subversion, and coercion. Senator Pimentel’s assessment
reflects the reality that an ASEAN human rights body may not
be able to influence the Burmese junta to democratize or
recognize the rights of its people.

The Economic Factor

¶7. (SBU) During her post-vote remarks, Senator Santiago was
quick to emphasize that the charter could hasten the economic
integration of ASEAN members to balance the economic rise of
China and India. The creation of a single ASEAN market and
production base would, under the terms of the charter, permit
the free flow of goods, services, and investment, making the
region more competitive not only with China and India but
also with the established economic powers like Japan and the
Republic of Korea. Of particular importance to the
Philippines is the charter’s commitment to facilitating the
movement of business persons, professionals, and labor. As a
major exporter of skilled labor, the Philippines stands to
benefit more than most ASEAN nations by the lowering of
barriers to the movement of workers. An estimated ten
percent of the Philippines’ population is currently employed
overseas, and this number is likely to grow once the ASEAN
charter is fully implemented.

COMMENT: Ratification a Balancing Act

¶8. (SBU) COMMENT: Given the Philippines’ outstanding record
speaking out against the Burmese junta, Senate ratification
of the ASEAN charter could be seen as a step back in the
struggle to reform the Burmese junta’s atrocious record on
human rights abuses. However, the inclusion of a human
rights body in the charter will permit the member states to
continue engaging Burma on that issue, and the Arroyo
Administration seems intent on keeping up the pressure.
Ambassador has regularly underscored the deep U.S. concerns
on Burma in meetings with senior Philippine government
officials and suggested to Secretary Romulo that President
Arroyo could use the occasion of the final signing of the
charter at the December ASEAN summit in Thailand to make a
strong statement on the importance of respecting human rights
and reform in Burma. The Philippines may also hope to gain
additional political support from Indonesia and Malaysia in
dealing with Muslim insurgents and transnational terrorists
through the charter’s principle of shared commitment and
collective responsibility in enhancing regional peace,
security, and prosperity. From the Philippine perspective,
the Senate vote on the charter may have come down to weighing
one major symbolic reason not to ratify — Burmese human
rights abuses — against several practical economic and
political reasons to ratify. In ratifying the charter, the
Senate preserved at least a forum to address human rights
violations in Burma, while helping the Philippines address
some of its more urgent economic and political priorities.




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