Not only Filipinos heroize Jose Rizal. Malaysians, Indonesians, Bruneians also study Rizal as central to their histories. Scholars glean from Rizal’s life and works a Malay racial consciousness.
Rizal mastered geography, among many fields. In his time, Spaniards born in Islas Filipinas called themselves “Filipinos.” Both Castilians and Filipinos derogated the natives as “Indios.” British, Dutch, French, and Portuguese colonialists had other diminutives for their conquered Malay islanders.
Undaunted, Rizal elevated “indio” to respectability by naming fellow expatriates in Europe “Los Indios Bravos.” Later he arrogated “Filipino” for fellow nationals in forming La Liga Filipina. Rizal envisioned Malay unity. Awareness of Malay legacy showed in his annotations of Morga’s “Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas.”
Rizal inspired future leaders to reunify. Carlos P. Garcia and Tunku Abdul Rahman organized the Association of Southeast Asia. Diosdado Macapagal initiated Maphilindo. Then rose the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is a Rizal scholar. From initial readings in high school, he learned more about the Malayan visionary during visits to history prof Cesar Adib Majul at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. As an opposition leader, Anwar was imprisoned twice on false charges. Tormentors failed to break him. He drew inspiration from the Qur’an, and Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which he reread six times.
On Rizal’s birth anniversary last year, Anwar honored Rizal with his article:
“‘Justice is the foremost virtue of the civilizing races. It subdues the barbarous nations, while injustice arouses the weakest.’” – Dr. José Rizal
“Today we celebrate the 160th birthday of one of the greatest Malayans, the Philippine National Hero, Dr. José Rizal who was truly an Asian Renaissance Man. A polymath, Rizal’s knowledge and scholarship was beyond measure and his contributions as a writer, thinker and artist was titanic. Dr. Rizal is the ultimate demonstration of how education can take anyone, regardless of race, religion or identity, to seize their moment in history, empowered to make for better tomorrows.
“To call José Rizal a revolutionary is disingenuous, for he denounced violent uprisings and referred to himself as a reformer. Without doubt, his efforts helped to launch the Philippines’ fight for independence from Spain, but his pen was mightier than the Spanish sword. The potential power given in his education, received from the West, helped him lead his community out of colonial slump. His two novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo are a testament to global literature and demonstrate mastery of language, satirizing the Spanish colonial project with allusion to classic Spanish literature and history, judging the brutal methods used with their own mythology. In his essay, ‘The Philippines a Century Hence,’ Rizal’s foresight warned the Spanish Empire of the struggle ahead if reform is not pursued and predicted the US’s growing influence in the Pacific. His hope was to inspire peaceful reform and gradual transition, but Spain labelled him a traitor and, at the age of 35, he was executed by firing squad in Manila in 1896.
“Rizal’s efforts took him beyond acclaim in just one nation. He not only believed in the indigenous peoples of the Malay Archipelago, but demonstrated what they were truly capable of. He advocated the union of the Malay lands against colonialist rule. He saw education as the highest element of any society that would ensure its survival and prosperity into the future. ‘In my blood runs the wanderlust of the Malays’ was a saying of Dr. Rizal. Let us take his example and seek the betterment of ourselves and our neighbors to build better futures.
“Rizal’s message reverberates today in his concept of the Malayan world and those sentiments of community we need to embody. For international cooperation and regional partnership, we should all take a page from Dr. Rizal’s words. His message remains important as we still find ourselves plagued by poverty and injustices in Southeast Asia.” (Reading Rizal kept Malaysian PM Anwar Ibrahim steadfast during two political imprisonments)
Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.
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