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A candid interview with Domingo Sia

Subject: A candid interview with Domingo Siazon 

                'WE WILL SPEAK OUT'

            A candid interview with Domingo Siazon

THE PRESIDENTS OF THE Philippines and Indonesia - Joseph Ejercito Estrada
and B.J.
Habibie respectively - criticizing Malaysian authorities for how they have
dealt with former deputy
PM Anwar Ibrahim. Malaysian Foreign Minister Abdullah Badawi berating
Estrada and Habibie for
their remarks. Kuala Lumpur at odds with Singapore over Lee Kuan Yew's
memoirs and other
historical issues. Differences among ASEAN members over how to tackle the
economic crisis, or
how much to democratize. Whatever has happened to the grouping's
traditional tendency to
camouflage any tensions under a façade of unity? For an informed view,
Asiaweek Senior
Correspondent Antonio Lopez talked to a diplomat who has thought deeply
about the changes
ASEAN is undergoing - the Philippine foreign secretary, 59-year-old DOMINGO
Excerpts from their hour-long conversation:

Where exactly does President Estrada stand on Anwar?

He has expressed his concern that Anwar be given due process. The president
feels a certain
attachment to Anwar. Both occupied the No. 2 position. The president and
Anwar are friends, but I
don't know to what degree. Initially, when Anwar was arrested, the
president was already quite
perturbed. What really forced him to comment publicly was when he saw Anwar
with the physical

Were you worried about the president making such remarks?

I was worried about the Malaysian reaction. But since the president clearly
stated he was just
stating his personal view, I thought it would not affect ASEAN's policy of
non-interference in the
domestic affairs of other countries.

So how is Anwar's case affecting Philippines-Malaysia relations?

Relations are of course a little tense now. You have to watch these things,
to see that they do not go
out of control. Both sides have been quite civil about [the situation].
Both sides are trying very hard
to control it. You have to distinguish the Malaysian moves, whether "they"
are the government, the
public or some members of UMNO. There was a rally in front of the
Philippine embassy in Kuala
Lumpur. Some of our people tell us the rally was [organized] by party
members . . . There won't be
any long-term damage. Malaysia and the Philippines have been created by God
as neighbors.
There's no way we can avoid each other.

You haven't made the same noise about Myanmar.

We are just making selective exceptions when there are certain issues such
as Anwar's arrest and
his being hurt while under police custody. It doesn't usually happen that a
deputy prime minister is
arrested and jailed. Aung San Suu Kyi's case is different. She's under
house arrest, she holds
demonstrations outside her house, except that her movement outside of
Yangon is limited. It's a
different situation.

There are quiet negotiations. Our ambassador to Myanmar will host some
"social" meetings among
some of the groups. The idea is to get them to talk, start a dialogue. The
problem is not the generals
but the other side - the National League for Democracy. The NLD wants to
talk but wants to
impose conditions. There should be no conditions.

So has ASEAN abandoned its policy of non-interference in each other's affairs?

During the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in July in Manila, Thailand
wanted to do away with
the principle of non-interference and [adopt] constructive engagement.
There was resistance. [Even
so,] we are telling members that, from now on, we will be true to our own
values and ideas and we
will speak out and express our views. Nobody can deny the right of any
member to say, "this issue
is important to me." This is a clear signal to everyone that, from now on,
our behavioral pattern will
be different from the pattern we were used to in the past. And please
understand this.

What has brought about this seachange?

For one, President Estrada, as a person, is more sensitive to these kinds
of issues and is used to
articulating his views. For another, after 31 years of ASEAN, maybe we are
mature enough to
discuss some of these issues publicly without being too sensitive. You are
seeing this change in
Indonesia. There has been a transformation of the political system there
which involves greater
popular participation and therefore a greater feeling of equity in domestic
power. Once expressed
domestically, this feeling is expressed in terms of international equity.

Do you see an alliance among the Philippines, Indonesia and perhaps
Thailand over such

Not really an alliance. That would be a misnomer. Thailand and the
Philippines have always been
quite outspoken on issues related to human rights. Within ASEAN, Thailand
and the Philippines are
probably the most democratic governments, or governments with the most
popular participation.
Now Indonesia will also tend to be more democratic. People will be asked
their views. The impact
is that you will have more countries speaking out on issues with
trans-boundary effects. For
example, we used to keep quiet about the forest fires in Indonesia. If that
happens now, you will see
a lot of countries speaking out and asking Indonesia to do something about
it. Before, we were
rather embarrassed to do that.

What about Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas? Does he not belong to
the old school of

Ali is not conservative. He has always tried to protect the interests of
Indonesia. Indonesians cannot
reform overnight. But President Habibie is already speaking [of
transparency]. Ali will have to
reflect that view.

Is all this good for ASEAN?

Of course. It will better ASEAN because we won't have anything to hide from
each other. If
something goes wrong, the other countries will say, "Why don't you fix it?"
We will start arriving at
solutions faster than we used to, rather than hide the problem under the

It would add up to a very different ASEAN.

It's going to be [that way]. ASEAN will be more outspoken. Indonesia is the
biggest country. Once
it changes, and with the present Thai and Philippine systems of government,
and invariably even
Malaysia - where you see demonstrations now - you will see greater popular
participation in
government. This will impact on Vietnam, on Cambodia, and later on, Myanmar
and Laos. Popular
governance, people involved in governance, will march in Southeast Asia.
With greater popular
participation, you will have greater accountability, greater transparency.
This will reflect also on the
economic managers.

Given the personality differences among ASEAN leaders, what is the outlook
for the summit
in Hanoi in December?

There are no personality differences. It's a difference over issues.

Is ASEAN still relevant?

It is still very important. It is the glue that binds us all together.
Despite our temporary differences -
as brothers and sisters may have - you still have to go back to where you
belong. We belong to the
same ASEAN family. Individually, we cannot survive in this globalized
world. We have to stick