Critics called it a disorganized, overpriced junket that achieved very little, while
others said it was a useful meet-and-greet for members of Southeast Asia's parliaments.
Whatever it was, the 25th ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organization (AIPO) wrapped up
in Phnom Penh on September 16 with modest progress on the list of mostly uncontroversial
Cambodia played host to ASEAN members Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, with the Union of Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam
given special observer status, allowing them to vote on resolutions.
Aspiring ASEAN member East Timor was considered a "special guest" of AIPO
and a range of observer countries held dialogues with ASEAN parliamentarians.
Tangible benefits were hard to measure, but most draft resolutions on politics, economics,
social and organizational matters were approved and moved up the bureaucratic ladder
to be further considered in other ASEAN forums.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in his last duty as the rotating president of opposition
parliamentarian and AIPO participant Son Chhay were less generous.
"No one questions the outcomes of AIPO... [because] nothing comes out of it,"
said Chhay, saying delegates complained about the lack of organization, high costs
and bad food at the meeting.
"We cannot just agree on what the [ASEAN] executive has agreed on or talked
about," said Chhay. "We are members of parliament, we should talk about
how we can make our governments more accountable, strengthen our institutions and
take hold of issues such as drug and child trafficking."
Two of the more significant achievements were made by 30 women parliamentarians of
AIPO (known as WAIPO), who met a day before the week-long talks began to discuss
women's rights and human trafficking.
They passed a resolution to create new laws or bolster existing legislation on the
illegal trade of people for sexual or labor exploitation and to better coordinate
efforts amongst ASEAN's police, courts, NGOs, international agencies and migration
and social authorities.
Improving livelihoods and promoting gender equality was considered critical to keeping
women out of the clutches of human traffickers in the first place and so WAIPO approved
a resolution to promote women's access to education, legal rights, land ownership
Once the main meeting kicked off, the Philippines delegation parted with neighborly
niceties to offer a strongly worded opening statement demanding that AIPO prove itself
to be of a concrete benefit to participants.
"Our country, as you know, is in the midst of a financial crisis... and it has
become more and more difficult for us to justify our attendance at what many of our
people are beginning to criticize as a 26-year old 'talk shop'," said spokesman,
Jose De Venecia Jnr.
"That is why we ask this Assembly to approve - if only in principle - three
key proposals in regional cooperation that have been before it for sometime now,"
The Philippines wish list included the proposal of an ASEAN Anti-Poverty Fund, further
consideration of an ASEAN university and the creation of an ASEAN Parliament, an
idea that has been on the AIPO agenda since 1980.
AIPO delegates urged the next ASEAN Summit to consider a Study Committee Report on
developing an ASEAN-wide poverty fund to assist poorest members, namely Cambodia,
Laos and Myanmar, an idea already endorsed at the previous AIPO meeting.
The idea of setting up an ASEAN university to give the brightest students the chance
to gain top qualifications without leaving Southeast Asia was supported and moved
forward at a bureaucratic snail's pace.
"The Assembly recommended submitting to the ASEAN Summit a recommendation to
conduct a thorough evaluation of the achievements and realized potentials of the
ASEAN University Network as a step towards considering the establishment of an ASEAN
University," stated the final report on social matters.
When, after 24 years in the making, the idea of an ASEAN Parliament was allocated
another study committee who would work out a clear mandate for themselves and present
it at the next AIPO meeting, observers could empathize with the frustration of the
Cambodia had two of its main economic proposals knocked back.
A request to set up micro-credit and other financial institutions to assist agricultural
enterprises in less developed member nations was rejected because delegates thought
it was too similar to the anti-poverty fund proposal.
Another Cambodian initiative, to establish a cultural and eco-tourism center in the
Kingdom was watered down to appointing a committee to study means of promoting eco-tourism
and culture in the region.
However, the passing of a resolution encouraging the richer ASEAN members to help
boost agricultural yields through the transfer of technology may have some benefit
for Cambodia in the future.
Cai Dao protesters deported
Twelve members of the religious sect Cai Dao were ar-rested and later deported after
entering Cambodia illegally from Vietnam to protest at the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary
Organization (AIPO) meeting against alleged persecution.
The six women and six men wore white robes and carried a petition claiming the Vietnamese
government restricted their movements and right to worship, calling on the United
Nations to take action.
They were arrested outside the AIPO venue and held by Cambodian authorities for several
days before being deported to Vietnam on September 17.
The Vietnamese embassy would not comment on the incident, saying all authorized spokespeople
were out of the country.