Visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim cited Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal as he called on members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to stay true to the bloc’s key ideals—stand up for justice and rule of law—amid the ongoing crisis in Myanmar.
A scholar of Rizal’s works, PM Anwar made the statement Thursday in a lecture at the University of the Philippines, which conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Earlier, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gifted the Malaysian head of government – the first to visit Manila under his administration—with a copy of Rizal’s classic novel, “Noli Me Tangere,” as Anwar wrapped up a two-day official visit.
Mr. Marcos gave the book to the premier after their bilateral meeting at Malacañang Palace in Manila, according to a Facebook post by Radio Television Malacañang (RTVM) on Thursday.
Meantime, the Prime Minister’s spouse, Dr. Wan Azizah binti Wan Ismail, received a Waling-Waling brass card holder.
The card holder is a decorative ornament that combines the beauty of the Waling-Waling with the durability and attractiveness of brass crafted by Cebuano artisans, according to RTVM.
In honoring the Malaysian leader, UP Vice President for Public Affairs Jose Wendell Capili said Anwar has been a devoted scholar on the life, works, and teachings of Rizal.
The premier’s interest in Rizaliana was furthered by his frequent visits to UP in his youth under the tutelage of the late University Professor Emeritus of History and UP Diliman College of Arts and Sciences Dean Cesar Adib Majul.
Anwar was sworn in as Prime Minister by King Al-Sultan Abdullah on Nov. 24, 2022, and previously served as Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister from 1993 to 1998 and Minister of Finance from 1991 to 1998.
“[W]hen I mentioned in Bangkok recently about the need to temporarily carve out Myanmar, on account of the blatant human rights violations, it was said in the larger context of the imperative to stay true to one of the key ideals of ASEAN, which is nothing less than to stand for the cause of justice and the rule of law,” he said in his lecture at UP’s Diliman campus in Quezon City.
“In this regard, it bears repeating these immortal lines from Dr. Rizal, who I must reiterate, remains truly an Asian Renaissance Man, that ‘Justice is the foremost virtue of the civilizing races. It subdues the barbarous nations, while injustice arouses the weakest,’” he added.
Anwar noted that while consensus continues to be a central tenet of decision-making in the ASEAN, it does not follow that the bloc should remain silent over the violation of ASEAN Charter by its own members.
“In all honesty, I believe that non-interference is not a license for indifference,” he said.
Last month, Anwar said ASEAN should “carve out” Myanmar – currently ruled by a military junta—for now rather than let the state “frustrate” the bloc’s actions.
He called for a “strong consensus” among member states in giving a strong message two years since the military coup that saw Myanmar de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi detained.
At present, ASEAN continues to urge for “significant progress in the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus” to pave the way for an inclusive national dialogue in Myanmar.
As ASEAN turns 56, Anwar said the way forward for its goal of a “just and peaceful” world is to bolster cooperation in all “crucial” issues that bind the bloc as a solid and diverse regional grouping.
Meanwhile, the state university cited the Malaysian leader for being a scholar on Rizal and being an internationally acclaimed expert on economics, democracy, freedom, and governance, among others.
UP cited his “thought-provoking advocacy of the concept of an Asian Renaissance and his elaboration of its discourse for his devoted study of the life works and teachings of Jose Rizal”.
He was recognized for describing Rizal as “the first Asian to set the standards in the struggle to restore human dignity and self-respect to subjugated peoples worldwide”.
Anwar was also acknowledged for his “commitment to the pursuit of justice and democratic ideals into the attainment of a more inclusive and pluralistic Malaysia, at great personal cost.”
Based on a video uploaded by RTVM, Mr. Marcos and Anwar exchanged gifts at the President’s Hall of Malacañan Palace during their tête-à-tête.
“The President hands over one of Dr. Jose Rizal’s greatest literary works, Noli Me Tangere (Tercera Edition, 1909), to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim,” RTVM said.
Noli Me Tangere follows the story of the fictional character in the novel named Crisostomo Ibarra, an idealistic young man who studied in Europe and returned to the Philippines to try and bring progress to his nation.
Anwar, RTVM said, considers Dr. Jose Rizal as a “precursor to Asian renaissance” and “deeply appreciates” Mr. Marcos’ gesture in giving a “very invaluable” present.
Prior to the exchange of gifts, President Marcos and Anwar reaffirmed the Philippines and Malaysia’s long-standing ties following their bilateral meeting.
Mr. Marcos also hosted an official dinner for Anwar at the Palace’s Ceremonial Hall.
In his toast remarks during the official dinner, the President said he was heartened by Anwar’s visit “not only because I am happy to see a friend, whom we have come to admire greatly.”
“I view the Prime Minister’s visit as a rekindling of an old friendship and old bond that took millennia to make, between neighbors and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) founding members, whose people have interacted and traded for centuries before they even knew the concept of countries,” Mr. Marcos said.
“More importantly, I view this visit as a reaffirmation of our shared commitment to revitalize our bilateral relations,” he added.