ad info

 web features
 magazine archive
 customer service
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


By Anwar Ibrahim

Curriculum Vitae

MORE THAN 100 YEARS ago, José Rizal, then a medical student in Europe, wrote a dedication to his country that began thus: "In the history of human suffering is a cancer so malignant that the least touch awakens such agonizing pains." Alone and homesick, he tried to conjure memories of the Philippines, but "each time your beloved image appeared with a similar social cancer." The dedication was for his Noli Me Tangere, probably the first Southeast Asian novel, which stirred a critical awareness of the fundamental problems of colonial society. Its setting was the Spanish-ruled Philippines, but the book could have been about any nation in Asia. Rizal noted that healing must begin with honest diagnosis. "I will lift part of the veil that conceals the evil, sacrificing all to the truth, even my own pride, for, as your son, I also suffer from your defects and weaknesses."

In a closed society, lifting the veil would be taboo. Indeed, Rizal's social diagnosis was tantamount to subversion. In his time, the closed society was identified with colonialism, but that was only a cloak which wrapped it for a time. A century since Rizal was executed, Asia has had five decades of modern nationhood. But the cloak of colonialism has been replaced by coverings of various fashions and thickness, including dictatorship.

In today's economic turmoil, we must remove the veil hiding our shame. More than ever, we need a courage of Rizalian proportions to be honest with ourselves. Instead of looking for scapegoats, we have to admit that our cancers were caused by our own excesses.

The admonishment against washing dirty linens in public hits hard in the equivalent Malay proverb: "Do not bare your chest, or your ugly sores will show." The diseases we have contracted since Rizal's time - graft, abuse of power, profligacy and the like - are hideous. But we should not be like the sick man who will not see the doctor for fear of confirming his worst fears. Years of self-deception have finally brought on the current systemic crisis in Southeast Asia. We thought we could survive by taking painkillers and bandaging our sores.

Only a vibrant, functioning civil society can provide the framework for a continuous war on excess, be it in the economic, political or social realm. If "political stability" is to be more than a boast, it must be utilized to widen the practice of democracy and to enhance the institutions of civil society. And prosperity cannot be pursued separately from democracy and civil society. Still afflicted by the social cancer diagnosed by Rizal, we cannot ignore it. His meaning is that the exercise of power must be guided by morals, and the economy be humanized by tempering growth with equitable distribution.

The Philippine revolution, the first of its kind in Asia, opened the floodgates of liberation against Western imperialism. More than physical bondage, it aimed to break the chains of mental captivity. In Rizal's words: "We must win freedom by deserving it, by improving the mind and enhancing the dignity of the individual, loving what is just, good and great, to the point of dying for it. When a people reach these heights . . . the idols and tyrants fall like a house of cards and freedom shines in the first dawn."

The fathers of the revolution, the Katipuneros, knew the contagious character of their uprising, "having within its womb the seeds of a disease mortal to colonial interests." Their intellectual luminary, Apolinario Mabini, enunciated the struggle's final aim: "to keep alive and resplendent the torch of liberty and civilization in Oceania, to illuminate the gloomy night in which the vilified and degraded Malay race finds itself, so that it may be led to emancipation."

Their program for liberation was for all Asia. Their articulation of the idealistic foundations of an independent nation - of liberty, human dignity and morality - was unprecedented. These ideals of the Malayan revolutionaries resonate as powerfully as ever. Though free, Asian nations still suffer from intellectual dispossession and economic domination. Thus we commemorate the revolution to celebrate our awareness of its ideals. Our founding fathers did not fight a foreign power merely to have it replaced by a new tyranny, indigenous or otherwise.

The only justification for national self-government is the restoration of the dignity of the people. But this ideal will continue to elude us as long as abject poverty, rampant corruption, oligarchs and encomenderos [vassals favored by rulers] remain. These evils will not be defeated until we liberate ourselves from mental incarceration. Then we can recover our own virtues and be, in the words of José Rizal, "once more free, like the bird that leaves the cage, like the flower that opens to the air."

Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's deputy PM and finance minister, hosted an international conference on José Rizal in 1995.


•Born 1861 in Calamba, east of Manila

•In 1882, joined Filipinos in Spain

agitating for reforms in the colony

•Published Noli Me Tangere in 1887, attacking colonial society's ills

•Exiled to the Philippine south in 1892

•Executed in Manila on Dec. 30, 1896, for alleged complicity in the revolution

Next Essay

Previous Essay

Essays Home

Main Article

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN

Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.