Dili, Timor Leste (May 18, 2015)– While leading now the All-Out Peace (AOP) campaign for an inclusive and just Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in the Philippines, the Davao-based regional advocacy and solidarity organization Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) will be conferred the highest civilian award in Timor Leste this week for their similar role in leading the campaign in the region for East Timor’s self determination more than a decade ago.
Timor-Leste President Taur Matan Ruak will confer on IID and the Asia-Pacific Coalition for East Timor (APCET) the “Order of Timor-Leste” to recognize the “valuable contribution given by IID/APCET to the Timorese people’s struggle for self-determination.
The awarding ceremony will be held in Maliana, Timor Leste, on May 20, 2015 during the annual celebration of the country’s liberation from Indonesian occupation which they dub as Restoration of Independence Day.
IID Executive Director and AOP Convener Gus Miclat, who will receive the award in behalf of APCET, expressed elation at the recognition given by the Timorese government to APCET. Miclat also recognized the efforts of thousands of other activists who embarked on a “deeply personal and at the same time unmistakably political journey to accompany the Timorese diaspora and those who endured decades of hard struggle against the Indonesian occupation inside the Timorese homeland.”
APCET was organized by IID and other partner organizations in the Philippines and the region in 1994 at the University of the Philippines in Manila to lead a broad solidarity movement of activists in Asia and the Pacific supporting the Timorese people’s struggle for self-determination. APCET organized a series of bi-annual international conferences to map out plans and coordinate direct action and mass information campaigns by its national affiliates in support of the struggle inside Timor-Leste. The Ramos government at that time tried in vain to scuttle the 1994 conference due to intense pressure from the Indonesian dictator Suharto but the Philippine Supreme Court weighed-in in APCET’s favor. Then Jamie Cardinal Sin of Manila also supported APCET and apologized to the East Timorese people for the Philippine government’s actions. Prominent nationalist Renato Constantino, Jr. was tapped as APCET convener then.
APCET also sheltered mostly activist and clandestine Timorese refugees in the aftermath of the pro-Indonesia militia violence following the overwhelming vote for independence of the Timorese people in a UN-backed referendum in 1999. APCET took its bow in the Timorese capital Dili in 2005 and transformed into the Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition (APSOC) which continues to support and campaign for non-violent struggles of self-determination in the region. IID remains as APSOC’s secretariat.
The AOP is meanwhile helping lead efforts in the Philippines to convince its Congress to pass a BBL in the spirit of a signed pact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) called the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). The AdHoc Committee on the BBL in Congress is meeting this week to vote on a draft version of the bill.
According to Miclat, who served as the coordinator of APCET and APSOC since its inception, the award is a testament to the dream of those who wished to witness a free Timorese homeland. He added that advocates of Timor-Leste’s right to self-determination faced “immense challenges” but in the end succeeded in unraveling the truth behind the illegal occupation by Indonesia and also did well in unmasking the role of countries like Australia and the United States as well as member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) who collectively backed or turned a blind eye to the repression of the Timorese people.
ASEAN’s policy of non-interference in the “internal conflicts” affecting its member-countries is being criticized as an outdated principle. Civil society organizations led by the Initiatives for International Dialogues (IID) under the helm of Miclat are currently leading a regional campaign to institutionalize a dispute prevention and settlement mechanism in the ASEAN to replace the archaic policy of ignoring internal conflicts. ASEAN has largely kept its hands off the violent conflicts in major regional flashpoints like Mindanao, South Thailand, Burma, and West Papua and in various ethnic territories including the plight of the Rohingya in Burma.
According to Miclat, the aforementioned conflicts have serious right to self-determination (RSD) undertones and the recognition of APCET’s work affirms the just struggle of peoples to assert their distinct identities and the need to promote people’s right to freely determine their future.
Miclat added “It is not fate that brought us here today, but faith in the inalienable right of peoples and nations to stand proud as equal partners among the community of nations. The brave and heroic struggle of the Timorese people and the valuable lessons learned as they build the institutions that will guarantee a democratic and sovereign nation inspire us all.