SINGAPORE The president of the Philippines took a parting shot at Myanmar's junta Wednesday, deploring the pace of democratic reforms in the Southeast Asian nation as she hastily returned home to oversee preparations for a looming tropical storm.
"Let me be very clear. We ... remain concerned about the pace of progress of Myanmar on the issue of human rights," President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said.
"We particularly deplore the treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi," the pro-democracy leader who remains under house arrest. "She must be released, now," Arroyo told reporters.
The Philippines is the most vocal critic of Myanmar among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Leaders at the summit have adopted a landmark charter to create an EU-style bloc but the pact will collapse if one country fails to ratify it. The Philippines has warned that its Congress would be hard-pressed to do so unless Myanmar upholds the charter's principles of democracy and human rights.
Myanmar scored a diplomatic victory this week when it blocked a planned briefing by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Asian leaders, but Arroyo said Myanmar was still not off the group's hook.
"We will not rest in the pursuit of justice and reconciliation in Myanmar. We must be active in advocating peaceful reforms in that nation. It is good for Myanmar, for ASEAN and the world," she said before heading to the airport.
Arroyo said her government is pleased that the charter adopted Tuesday incorporated language that calls on member nations to respect human rights and democracy. But "we remain concerned that the forces of authoritarianism still move rather slowly toward democracy in Myanmar," she said.
Arroyo will miss a summit Thursday of ASEAN leaders and the European Union because she is returning home early ahead of a storm that is expected to make landfall in eastern Philippines this week.
The ASEAN charter adopted Tuesday sets out a common set of rules for negotiations in trade, investment, environment and other fields. It aims to turn Southeast Asia into a single market and production base with a free flow of goods, services, investment and capital.
One of the most significant pledges in the charter is to set up a regional human rights body. Critics note, however, that it will have limited impact given that it will not be able to punish governments that violate the human rights of their citizens.
Negotiators watered it down by dropping earlier recommendations to consider sanctions, including possible expulsion, in cases of serious breaches of the covenant by member nations.
ASEAN's members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. ASEAN held an expanded summit Wednesday with China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Climate change dominated the agenda and the leaders were expected to issue a joint statement calling on the international community "to urgently act to address the growth of global green gas emissions."