KASAMA Vol. 23 No. 1 / January-February-March 2009 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Bridges – Dialogues Towards A Culture Of Peace

Is Long Lasting Peace an Attainable Dream?

Davao City — Timor-Leste President and Nobel Peace Laureate JOSE RAMOS-HORTA shared his insights on this question in a public forum at the Ateneo de Davao University on 14 January 2009 to an audience of hundreds of students, academics, media, government workers, NGOs, clergy, nuns, businessmen, diplomats and overseas visitors. We have included a blog report about the lecture and reprinted GUS MICLAT’s very personal account of meeting again with Ramos-Horta and recounting the solidarity links between the peoples of Timor and the Philippines, ‘Jose Ramos-Horta on my mind’.

President Ramos-Horta’s visit in the Philippines is part of “Bridges – Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace” an event series initiated and facilitated by the Vienna-based NGO International Peace Foundation under the joint patronage of 21 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. As an independent contribution to the United Nations’ “Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence”, commencing in the year 2000, Thailand and the Philippines were chosen as the first Asian host countries for the “Bridges” series. The International Peace Foundation web site is online at


H.E. Prof. Jose Ramos-Horta biographical note
published on the Ateneo de Davao University web site at

Jose Ramos-Horta

H.E. Prof. Jose Ramos-Horta is a 1996 Nobel Laureate for Peace, the President of Timor-Leste and a Patron of the International Peace Foundation. Jose Ramos-Horta was born in Dili, the capital of East Timor, to a Timorese mother and a Portuguese father who had been exiled to what was then Portuguese Timor by the Salazar dictatorship. He was educated in a Catholic mission in the small village of Soibada. Of his eleven brothers and sisters, four were allegedly killed during the struggle between Fretilin and Indonesian military.

A moderate in the emerging Timorese nationalist leadership, Jose Ramos-Horta was appointed Foreign Minister in the “Democratic Republic of East Timor” government proclaimed by the pro-independence parties in November 1975. When appointed minister, Jose Ramos Horta was only 25 years old. He left East Timor three days before the Indonesian troops invaded to plead the Timorese case before the United Nations.

Jose Ramos Horta arrived in New York to address the UN Security Council and urge them to take action in the face of the Indonesian military onslaught which would result in over 200,000 East Timorese deaths between 1976 and 1981. During the 24 years of the occupation of East Timor José Ramos-Horta was the international voice of the Timorese people. In exile from his country from 1975 to 1999, he was the Permanent Representative to the United Nations for the Timorese independence movement. The youngest UN diplomat in history and an international human rights figure, he is one of the three central figures in the country’s struggle for independence.

In 1996 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Bishop Carlos Belo, the religious leader of East Timor, “to honour their sustained and self-sacrificing contributions for a small but oppressed people”. A portion of the funds received from the Nobel Prize were used to establish the Jose Ramos-Horta Microcredit Fund for the Poor, which is in full operation today, with a payback rate of 97%.

In 1999, under the umbrella of the United Nations, East Timor held a referendum allowing the Timorese to vote on independence. When the referendum results showed more than 85% favoring independence, Indonesia-backed militia were unleashed across the country. They killed thousands in the streets, displaced hundreds of thousands and burned 85% of the buildings in the country. After the entry of a UN peacekeeping force, Jose Ramos-Horta returned to his homeland to help rebuild the country from the devastation. Working closely with the UN and Sergio Vierra de Mello, the head of the UN Adminstration in East Timor until 2002, he helped to bring about peaceful elections of the country’s President and Parliament, who in turn drafted the country’s constitution.

After serving for seven years as the new country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, when turmoil and civil war threatened the new country, he stepped into the shoes of Prime Minister and immediately set about restoring calm to the country.

Before his appointment as Prime Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta was considered a possible candidate to succeed Kofi Annan as United Nations Secretary-General. He dropped out of the race in order to serve as East Timor’s Prime Minister, but he has indicated that he might run for the UN position at some time in the future. In May 2007 Jose Ramos-Horta was elected President of Timor-Leste.

José Ramos 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 was trained in Human Rights Law at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg and attended Post-Graduate 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 and until today continues in his role as the international voice of East Timor.


Extracts from Danny Escabarte’s blog

“PEACE is possible in the Middle East. Peace is possible in Gaza. Only Israelis and Palestinians can bring Peace to their Land, Only Filipinos can bring Peace in the Philippines… in Mindanao, and not the outside mediators or negotiators,” President Jose Ramos Horta said in his one-hour talk, which inspired many among the audience. “Peace is possible in Myanmar, peace is possible in Timor Leste! …The continued house arrest of Aung Suu Kyi is an indictment to us,” he added.

An East Timorese young lady who is now studying at the Ateneo de Davao University urged her President to send more East Timorese students to the Philippines. The President replied that he would arrange for that.

When asked to mediate in the stalled peace talks with the government of the Republic of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), he replied, “As a human being, how can I refuse?”

President Ramos Horta stressed that PEACE is not abstract. It must start within ourselves. There’s a need to dialogue, for dialogue is a healing process he said. Every leader must heed people’s cry for peace. Referring to nuclear armaments possessed by some countries, he said “Nuclear arms cannot solve extreme poverty… We can’t talk peace when there is extreme poverty,” he added. “Why could we not live as brothers and sisters?” President Ramos Horta thanked the Filipino People for inspiring them to solve East Timor’s problem peacefully. In 1986, Filipinos launched “People Power” and toppled the dictatorial and oppressive regime of Marcos without much bloodshed, bringing a new era of responsible governance in the country.

Ramos Horta proposed a Peace Plan for East Timor during its darkest moment of survival. Phase I- Humanitarian efforts to ease the pain and suffering of civilians (2 years), Phase II- Autonomy which includes pull out of Indonesian troops in East Timor (within 5 years) and, Phase III- Self Determination (within 12 years period). The Peace Formula earned him the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.


Jose Ramos-Horta on my mind
By Gus Miclat/IID
Thursday, 15 January 2009 08:45 DAVAO CITY

There was a time that His Excellency, Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta, President of Timor-Leste and Nobel laureate -- was simply Jose to me.

I first met him over breakfast at a quaint hotel in Bangkok sometime in 1992. We were both attending a conference called “Peoples Plan for the 21st Century” that, well, wanted to chart a common framework for the broad social movement in the region at the dawn of the new millennium . He was there to speak on behalf of his forgotten people, some 600,000 East Timorese who were under the yoke of a then occupying force, Indonesia. A third of his people — around 200,000 — had been slaughtered, starved, killed or impaled by the military and police of the dictator Suharto who in 1975 sent in a Catholic army general to lead the invasion of this puny, gentle, territory. Jose was one of the Timorese resistance leaders and became the indefatigable spokesperson as he was sent abroad to gather international support for their lonely crusade.

He traveled the world under the auspices of activist or citizen supporters and some friendly governments or agencies, pounded the corridors of the UN, visited and cajoled diplomats, sought and strategized with solidarity activists; flew economy class, rode buses, slept in friends’ couches, ate cold, packed lunches, attended, spoke or organized symposiums, conferences; wrote treatises, articles, columns; tirelessly sat and planned how to project, promote Timorese self-determination with friends and supporters into the dawn.

Over coffee, eggs and Thai sticky rice, we talked about the need for the issue of East Timor to be highlighted in the region. Because of his and other comrades’ efforts, the Timorese cause was slowly gaining mileage in the UN, in Western capitals, specially in Europe where its former colonizer, Portugal, was also doing all it can to help its former colony achieve its freedom. Portugal abandoned East Timor when it was invaded by Indonesia in 1975.

But virtually no one in Southeast Asia — even among activist circles — was aware that a carnage, a virtual genocide was going on right in its own backyard. It was the best kept secret of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) then. Suharto had convincingly used the ASEAN non-intervention tenet to the hilt by keeping it quiet about this atrocity. The same principle has been lately challenged in ASEAN with another monstrosity that is Burma. It was but natural then, nay, imperative to bring back “home” the story that was East Timor.

So Jose and I mulled over how to do it and decided to organize a conference in Manila first called the “International Conference on East Timor and Indonesia” or ICETI. The objective was to call attention to their plight and gather support from their own neighbors. Manila was chosen to be the venue of the conference as the Philippines was the only capital in the region that provided the most viable and proper “democratic” environment to host such a potentially controversial meeting. The Philippines had just come out of its own dark years of dictatorship and was basking in its “democratic credentials”. Together with other groups and friends, it took us two years to finally organize it as we meanwhile decided to focus just on East Timor. Thus in 1994, the first Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor (APCET) was held. The then Ramos government tried to stop it, bowing to the intense pressure of the autocrat Suharto, and Horta was barred from attending it. APCET must have upset Jakarta and Malacanang so much. Many foreign delegates were deported but history cannot be denied as the conference proceeded and paved the way for the launch of the Asia-Pacific Coalition for East Timor, also APCET. And the rest they say was herstory.

Eventually, East Timor gained its independence. Thanks to the valiant struggle of the gentle East Timorese and the efforts and leadership of people like Jose who was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 together with his compatriot, the humble Dili Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo. And we continued to assist and support his people in whatever way we could. Not only by organizing APCETs around the region, but through internships, capacity-building, solidarity, relief and medical missions, humanitarian endeavors and lobbying the UN and the ASEAN governments. For our modest work, we got ourselves deported from Malaysia in 1996, tailed and harassed in Bangkok by intelligence and police operatives in 1998. We finally held an APCET in East Timor in 2000 and transformed it into the Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition (APSOC) in 2005 that aimed to offer the same solidarity of APCET for other akin struggles in the region. As we bowed out in Dili, the capital of this new-born country, Jose -- who was now his nation’s senior foreign minister, and a godfather to my third daughter born in 1999 -- was there to accompany the transition of APCET. And the newly-liberated Timorese became part of APSOC and were ready to also offer their own solidarity for other peoples.

As is the case of emerging nations, the newly-minted Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste faced tough birth pangs, was beset by internal political wrangling among former comrades and Jose, the complete diplomat and bridge-builder, was called upon to become his country’s second Prime Minister. He then became Timor-Leste’s second President after the other icon of the Timorese struggle, Xanana Gusmao, switched roles with him as Prime Minister.

Despite now being President of his country, Jose is as accommodating and accessible as he was when he was a fellow “activist” like us. He was now returning to capitals of the world as a state guest, complete with all the trappings and protocols. Jose seemed to be as comfortable wearing those power suits as he donned his faded jeans before. Whenever we meet him, it is now either in his simple, but beautiful house near the beach in Dili, his Presidential office or in Presidential suites in six-star hotels. We now have to meet with Presidential Security Guards (PSG), police and protocol officers, government functionaries, escorts, contend with some personalities and a cordon sanitaire naturally foisted upon a person of his stature. Activists like us may have chosen to focus on working with Timorese civil society even as we continue to maintain warm relations with friends like Jose who are now in the center of political power. A few of even our own erstwhile friends and many of those who were not visible during their long and tough struggle now swarm around them and try to eke out or curry favors or offer enticing investments. I’ve also seen a number of carpetbaggers.

An attempt on his life in 2007 must have been one of those trying moments when we all ask “was all the struggle worth it?” “Of course” would still be the answer. I was mulling over this and other questions while I sat yesterday with the Ateneo de Davao president — who is hosting him in the city today — the PSG, police, DFA, city officials and others planning his arrival. My old friend Jose, whom I now have to also address, Your Excellency, was coming to my city and I was not even hosting him. But thanks to my alma mater Ateneo for inviting me to assist, and my organization, the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), to attend his lecture. I was now sitting with these guys talking about convoys, protocols, security, how to handle media, SOPs, etc. The PSG even had to request that an ongoing construction inside its premises be stopped for the day while Jose was around to give his lecture.

So President Ramos-Horta is visiting Davao today. And it was now my turn to ask him for his solidarity. And asked him, I did, if he was willing to help in facilitating the stalled peace process here in Mindanao. He was of course willing, as he says his heart has a special place for Filipinos because of our role in their struggle. But he is not anymore the activist Jose who could outrightly offer his services and vast experience. He is now the President of a proud and lovely nation and needs to be invited by both the government and the Moro front. Protocols. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is thankful of his offer and is seeking his help in convincing Manila to proceed with the talks based on the botched ancestral domain deal last August. We are meanwhile awaiting government’s response to the idea of his helping out.

Welcome to Davao, Your Excellency! But you will always be Jose to me.

The IID web site is at

This article is reprinted from the 16 January 2009 edition of MINDA NEWS at