MANILA, Philippines – Senator Loren Legarda has urged the Philippine government as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to continue to push for the restoration of democracy in military-ruled Myanmar, especially now that democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from detention.

Legarda met with Suu Kyi several days after her release as chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations.

She said Suu Kyi believes the ASEAN could play an important role in restoring democracy in Myanmar in the same way the African nations played a significant role in resolving political disputes in the Ivory Coast.

“The release of Aung San Suu Kyi last November sent us a signal that the restoration of democratic rule in Myanmar could be on the way,” Legarda said.

“Now, as a member of the ASEAN, we must continue to call on Myanmar authorities to take concrete steps towards a fair political system that would allow the involvement of all its citizens in the country’s political affairs,” she added.

Suu Kyi made it known that she would only take part in elections in Myanmar if all citizens can participate in the polls. She previously won an election but the military junta refused to accept the results and placed her under house arrest.

Legarda said the Philippines should continue to support nations that want to democratize.

“We all need to do our part in helping nations, especially our neighbors in Asia, become practicing democracies – the kind that works better for development,” she said.

This year, Indonesia assumes the ASEAN chairmanship with the theme “ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations.” Indonesia officially took over the ASEAN chairmanship from Vietnam on January 1.

The ASEAN Charter prescribes that the chairmanship rotates alphabetically based on the English names of the member states. Brunei Darussalam was supposed chair the regional bloc this year but Indonesia requested a swap at the summit last April.

ASEAN Secretary General Dr Surin Pitsuwan said the swap, “done with a real necessity,” will not set a precedent.

He said Indonesia’s theme is focused on “enhancing ASEAN profile in the global arena.” “Indonesia has a weight, an international legitimacy and a global appeal to draw tremendous support and attention from around the world to the ASEAN community, building efforts that we are all engaging in now,” Surin said. –-Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) with Pia Lee-Brago