Ramos bows to Suharto on East Timor conference


By Jon Land

Organisers of the Asia Pacific Conference on East Timor (APCET) in Manila have been issued a court order preventing it from going ahead. The restraining order was taken out on May 27 by a private organisation which claims the conference is a threat to the Philippines state. The legal action comes less than a week before APCET was to open at the University of the Philippines.

Judge Marciano Bacalla issued the order in response to a petition from the Philippine-Indonesian Friendship Society Inc, an organisation made up mostly of influential business people, which formed only in the last few weeks.

The APCET organising committee is consulting with its lawyers on the next steps. It is determined to have the conference go ahead as planned.

President Ramos has come under heavy criticism from both the press and human rights groups for his handling of the issue. While he originally took a stance that the Philippines government would not interfere in the running of APCET, he has bowed to pressure from the Indonesian government, which has intensified over the last few weeks. Conference organiser Renato Constantino Jr stated that Ramos was acting "as though he were a governor general appointed by Indonesia".

The Indonesian Chamber of Commerce has boycotted a regional trade fair taking place in the southern Philippines city of Davao. At least 350 Filipinos have been arrested by Indonesian authorities for fishing in or near Indonesian waters, despite having licence to do so. There is a total blackout of these arrests in the Philippines press.

Tony Cabardo from SANLAKAS, a federation of mass organisations involved in building the conference, told Green Left, "There is a constant pressure on the Philippines from Indonesia. This is part of the 'bully' tactics of the Suharto regime to force the Philippines to surrender its sovereignty, particularly on the question of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The Suharto government has succeeded in forcing the Philippine government to toe its line. We have decided to call the Philippines the 28th province of Indonesia, because it has been so subservient to its dictates."

This latest hurdle for the conference follows the May 20 decision by chief legal counsel to Ramos, Antonio Carpio, that foreign nationals would be denied visas to attend the conference, and those already in the Philippines would have their visas revoked.

A black list of Timorese and solidarity activists refused entrance earlier by the Philippines government has been expanded to include other activists. Bishop Deakin from Melbourne is one of those added to this list.

Actions of solidarity in support of APCET have taken place all over the world. There have been protests outside Indonesian and Philippines embassies in the Philippines, Japan, North America, Australia and across Europe. Pro-democracy and East Timor solidarity activists staged a protest in Indonesia outside the Philippines consulate in North Sulawesi.

APCET organisers and participants insist that the conference will go ahead. The feeling in Manila is perhaps best expressed in a press release from Tom Hyland of the Irish East Timor Solidarity Campaign. "Indonesia is yet again throwing its weight around South East Asia by interfering in the human rights of others. Mairead Maguire [Nobel Peace Prize laureate] and myself decided that to bow to this intimidatory act of exclusion would be a betrayal of the people of East Timor and the solidarity with them that we claim."

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