Ramos-Horta as Mindanao peace broker?

www.businessmirror.com, 12 January 2009

CITY—The ball is round, indeed, as the solidarity movements in the Philippines and East Timor are now finding out.

Less than a decade ago, the Philippines played a key role in gathering international support for the apparently forgotten struggle of independence of East Timor. Last week, it was East Timor’s turn to help the host of the 1994 Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor (Apcet), after a Philippine nongovernment organization asked its leader to broker peace in southern Philippines.

In a statement, the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), which helped gather the Apcet—a watershed in the 24-year struggle for independence for the tiny Southeast Asian island—asked Timor-Leste President and Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta to help in the peace process in Mindanao.

Horta will be here on January 14, his first Philippine visit after Timor’s independence, to speak on “Is Long Lasting Peace an Attainable Dream?” at the Ateneo de Davao University.

Gus Miclat, IID executive director, “highly recommends President Horta for his unwavering work for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in then-East Timor which finally led to its independence from Indonesian rule in 2002.”

Horta, Miclat said, “can very well complement the already exemplary work of Malaysia in seeing through the peace process,” adding that Horta did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize “for nothing, and his prestige and wisdom, plus his impartiality, can provide the stalled talks a new whiff of energy and perhaps the corridor to an eventual agreement.”

Horta was among the champions of Timorese independence once barred by the Ramos administration from attending the IID-organized Apcet at the University of the Philippines, owing to strong pressure from Indonesian President Suharto “to stop the conference at all cost.”

Miclat said “Horta has since been joking about that debacle, saying it was just a little misunderstanding between distant Ramos cousins”—alluding to their common surnames. “However, he is now returning to the country and in Davao City not only as a head of state but a champion for peace who is willing to help the people of Mindanao,” Miclat said.

Miclat said he is confident of Horta’s response to the IID request, saying the IID is intimate to Horta’s cause, and even East Timor’s.

“IID was also recently honored by Horta in a personal tribute on its 20th anniversary last August, affirming that IID’s work helped in eventually galvanizing support for the Timorese cause in the region,” Miclat said.

So far, Horta “has intimated that he is willing to help only if both the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front [MILF] invite him,” Miclat said. Miclat has relayed the IID request to the government and the MILF.

Miclat said both parties were yet to respond

Horta will give a lecture at the Ateneo de Davao on invitation of the university in cooperation with Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace and the Bangkok-based International Peace Foundation. His public lecture will be held in the afternoon and admission will be free.

Horta studied Public International Law at the Hague Academy of International Law and at Antioch University, where he completed a Master of Arts degree in Peace Studies. He underwent training in human-rights law at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg and attended postgraduate courses in American Foreign Policy at Columbia University in New York.

He is a Senior Associate Member of the University of Oxford’s St Antony’s College.