Philippines: terror tops ASEAN summit, rights activists protest

Leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), meeting in the Philippine city of Cebu, are working on a regional anti-terror pact the day after a series of bombs exploded in nearby towns on the southern Mindanao island. At least eight were killed and over 30 injured in the attacks in Cotabato City, General Santos City and Kidapawan City.

Armed Forces chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon identified the suspect behind the blasts as Usman Basit, a former member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front who is “now working with Jemaah Islamiyah,” the group held responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings. Abu Sayyaf, a radical Moro offshoot, was also named.

“The terrorists merely accomplished the opposite of what they wanted,” Philippine government spokesman Victoriano Lecaros told the New York Times. “The attacks only emphasized the need to address terrorism in Southeast Asia. There is now a renewed urgency to deal with terrorism.”

ASEAN leaders are considering the ASEAN Convention on Counterterrorism, which aims to improve information and intelligence sharing among the group’s members and encourage them to adopt domestic anti-terrorism laws. “Global terrorism has assumed new forms of virulence, and we will make sure that the community is more secure and resistant to the threat of terror,” said Alberto Romulo, the Philippine foreign minister. (Bloomberg, Jan. 11; NYT, Jan. 12)

But opponents of the anti-terrorism agreement fear that it could be used to justify human rights violations. Protesters gathered in Cebu for the summit called on ASEAN to create a regional body to address rights violations in the region. “We call on the ASEAN to put an immediate remedy to the grave human rights situation in the region by creating a regional human rights body, and…ensuring citizens’ access to information and upholding freedom of expression,” a group representing about 300 activists said in a statement.

Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the regional rights network Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, urged Asean countries to support a UN Security Council resolution calling the deteriorating situation in Burma (Myanmar) a threat to regional peace. (AP, Jan. 12)

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