Philippines to say no if Thaksin asks for political asylum
By Philippine Daily Inquirer
Asia News Network

Manila to "politely" turn down Thaksin's request for political refuge

Manila, Philippines--Filipinos marvelled at how Thaksin Shinawatra turned around Thailand's drooping economy when he spoke at a business gathering in Manila five years ago.

This time, the ousted prime minister may find the Philippines' door closed to him should he decide to seek refuge here.

Foreign Undersecretary Franklin Ebdalin said on Sunday the government would "politely" turn down any request for political refuge from the self-exiled Thai leader, citing Manila's "friendly" diplomatic relations with Bangkok.

"If an applicant for a political asylum insists, the first thing the friendly country customarily does is to send him back to his home country," Ebdalin said in Filipino in a phone interview from Hong Kong.

As of Sunday, Ebdalin said the Department of Foreign Affairs had not received "feelers" that Thaksin indeed wanted to seek haven in the Philippines, after reports reached Manila about his alleged plan to seek asylum here.

"Of course, he wouldn't want to be embarrassed, that's why I don't think he would make such a request," Ebdalin said. "He's no ordinary figure. He's a former Prime Minister of Thailand."

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita also said on Sunday that Malacañang has not received any official word on whether Thaksin, ousted by a military coup in September 2006, intended to fly to the Philippines.

The Thai media reported that Thaksin could be bound for Manila, especially with new Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, his brother-in-law, arriving on Monday for a visit.

Somchai is visiting Manila to formally introduce himself to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, according to Press Secretary Jesus Dureza.

Britain has slapped an entry ban on Thaksin and his wife by revoking their visas, provoking speculation in the Thai press over where Thaksin might set up home next.

The British move came after Thaksin was last month sentenced in absentia to two years in jail for conflict of interest after helping his wife buy state-owned land when he was prime minister.

There appeared to be a number of countries willing to take in the multi-millionaire, the Thai media said.

"We don't have to be concerned about Thaksin and his family... There are the Bahamas and several countries in Africa and around the world that will gladly welcome high-quality people like him," the Thai-language Matichon newspaper quoted Pracha Prosobdee, a member of the ruling pro-Thaksin People Power Party (PPP), as saying.

The Nation newspaper quoted an unnamed source from the PPP saying Thaksin was building an $8.5-million mansion in China, where he and his wife might take up residence.

Somchai himself remained tight-lipped about his relative's plans. He refused to say whether he planned to meet up with Thaksin on his trip Monday to the Philippines.

Thaksin has spent most of his time since the coup in Britain, where he bought and subsequently sold Manchester City football club. He returned to Thailand in February 2008, but fled again in August after his wife, Pojaman, was sentenced to three years in jail for tax evasion.

The British government had also revoked Thaksin's visa and that of his wife Pojaman.

Several countries such as Bolivia had reportedly expressed willingness to accommodate the disgraced Thai leader.

Somchai's visit to Manila is seen to have added significance because of Thailand's chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2008.

Asean ministers are set to hold a technical working group meeting in Manila on Tuesday to flesh out details of the $80-billion standby facility proposed for the region during the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing last month.

The fund -- to be put up with the help of China, Japan, and South Korea -- was the region's response to protect itself from the impact of the global financial turmoil.

The outcome of the Manila meeting will be formally presented to Southeast Asian leaders during the ASEAN summit in Chiang Mai, Thailand next month.

Arroyo will host a state dinner for Somchai Monday night before flying to New York for a United Nations interfaith dialogue.

Somchai himself has been facing stiff political opposition—highlighted by hordes of street protesters—less than a month after becoming prime minister. It's a situation not alien Arroyo who will formally welcome him in Malacañang on Monday.

Arroyo is facing her fourth impeachment complaint in as many years.