Nov 10, 2012

Philippines - Obama boosts Asian ties with trip

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Newly-reelected United States President Barrack Obama will attend the 21st Association of the Southeast Asian Nations Summit as part of the US’ policy to re-assert its presence in the region.

Obama will be making his first foreign trip following his re-election, as part of his pursuit of becoming the “first Pacific President of the United States.”

Obama’s visit, according to observers, was also a key part of his strategy to expand American imports in competition with China, the world’s second largest economy.

Obama is also scheduled to meet President Tehin Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyii in Yangon, Myanmar to underscore US efforts in encouraging greater political freedom in that country, before stopping by Thailand, where he is slated to meet with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok.

The Asean Summit will be held on Nov. 15-20 at the Peace Palace Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which earlier hosted the 45th Foreign Ministers Meeting as part of its duty as ASEAN chair.

President Benigno Aquino III is also scheduled to attend the summit, where he will be joined by heads of states and governments of Asean members Brunei  Darussalam, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailan.

Aside from Obama, other heads of states outside of the Asean who are expected to grace the event are Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, and possibly Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said that the Mr. Aquino’s agenda and scheduled bilateral meetings with other heads of state will be announced on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, several women’s groups gathered in front of the DFA and the Embassy of Cambodia to call on the governments of the Philippines and Cambodia to reflect the genuine concerns of women in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, which is one of several topics to be tackled during the summit.

At the same time, the women’s groups, along with other human rights advocates expressed their dismay over what they claimed as the haphazard process of adopting the AHRD.

The women’s groups had earlier called for the postponement of the declaration pending a wider consultation process, but the  ASEAN appeared bent on adopting the AHRD during the ASEAN Summit.

The protests were held under the banner of Philwomen, a network of  around 80 organizations that promote women’s rights and gender equality in the ASEAN.

They claimed that women’s concerns have been “glaringly ignored” in the AHRD.

Philwomen earlier said that it wanted  to integrate in the AHRD issues such as access to justice, violence against women, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and migration.

Also on Friday, Philwomen officials went to the office of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario to hand their position paper on the AHRD entitled, “A Challenge to Asean: Be at the Forefront of Human Rights Building in Southeast Asia.”

The group challenged the Asean to “raise the bar” in developing a progressive AHRD and putting in place mechanisms in the Asean for human rights promotion and protection.

Philwomen demanded that the Philippine and Cambodia governments enjoin the Asean member states in ensuring that the Declaration will not retreat from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights standard of universality and non-discrimination.

“The Asean must continue to uphold that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, the group said.

“Access to justice should be at the core of the declaration”, said Jelen Paclarin of Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau.

“Access to justice leads to the creation of mechanisms that provide redress and remedies for human rights violations suffered by peoples, especially women in the region. Access to justice is the ‘teeth’ of the AHRD that will pave the way to a strong, independent, credible and effective regional human rights system in the Asean,” she added.

Sara Susanne D. Fabunan

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