Manila Vows to Push for Human Rights

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HUA HIN, Thailand – The Philippines vowed Friday to play an active role in the newly-established ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights which seeks to develop cooperation to promote and protect human rights in a region where governments are facing charges of rights abuses.Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo represented President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the inauguration ceremonies for the new body here.Leaders of the nine other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries were present to formally launch the AICHR which embodies the member governments’ intention to improve their respective records of human rights protection.Earlier, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed Ambassador Rosario Manalo as the country’s representative to the AICHR.The Department of Foreign Affairs said the Chief Executive made Manalo’s appointment as the Southeast Asian leaders launched the Philippines-initiated AICHR, the first regional human rights body in the Asia-Pacific, at the 15th ASEAN Summit in Hua Hin.“To represent the Philippines in the AICHR, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has appointed Ambassador Rosario G. Manalo,” the DFA said in a statement.Civil society and international human rights bodies, meanwhile, have aired skepticism over how far the AICHR would go to protect citizens against present and future abuses by various government regimes.To be funded with a $200,000 startup fund in its first year of operation, the fledgling AICHR already faces charges of being a toothless tiger in the face of allegations of high incidence of human rights abuses in certain ASEAN member countries, particularly in the military-run state of Myanmar.Romulo earlier said the Myanmar government should fulfill its "long overdue" commitments as part of the ASEAN family since 1997.Manalo, for her part, assailed critics of the new human rights body, saying that consideration of proposals for the imposition of sanctions against erring member governments and country visits may have to wait.“Why are you so hung up on giving teeth to an organization that is just in its infancy? When the AICHR is ready then let’s give it teeth,” Manalo said.The Philippine official said that the AICHR cannot be compared yet to a similar body of the United Nations, pointing out that the UN was able to create it after 64 years of existence.“The problem with NGOs (nongovernment organizations) is they want the sauce for the gander to be sauce for the goose as well,” Manalo stated.“Civil society cannot dictate upon governments on how to do these things. Sorry na lang kasi governments are also not happy with what they do. We are talking of 10 countries here, different systems. It doesn’t follow that the black monkey has to follow what the white monkey did,” she added.Nevertheless, the AICHR representative said the body will have to face these constraints in carrying out its mandate.“The constraints, challenges, barriers as much as you want the ideal, you can only approximate it because of these constraints I think some of these civil society groups understand this, or if they understand it they still choose to ignore these realities. …