Scandal ridden UMNO Malay Leadership

February 3, 2017

Scandal ridden UMNO Malay Leadership

Malay Scholars Find Fault in Malay Leaders

Malaysian Official No. 1–The Corrupt and Corruptor

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) presents itself as the guardian of Malay interests, culture and language. So what do the 1MDB and other scandals say about the fundamental problems of this long-dominant ruling party, the institutional arm of the Malay elite?

The disappearance of vast sums from the accounts of the state-backed 1MDB investment vehicle, the murder of a senior investigator, the murder by the Prime Minister’s security detail of a pregnant Mongolian translator/model and former girlfriend of Najib’s close associate, must say something about elite behavior.

They may be extreme events but by no means unique in Malaysian history over the past 40 years. What were then vast sums went down similar drains, more than one associated with Bank Bumiputra, including the murder in Hong Kong of an auditor doing his job too well. Plenty of other lesser financial scandals have emerged from specifically Malay, publicly-owned institutions supposedly created to benefit the rakyat but too often ATMs for the elite. They are mostly quickly forgiven and forgotten.

Rather than looking for a contemporary or political analysis of the causes of these various scandals, it is worth casting a glance back at how some well-known Malay intellectuals in the past saw their Malay leaders. Two examples, separated by 140 years, will have to suffice.

Image result for dr shaharuddin maaruf

The more recent, written in 1982, appears in Shaharuddin B Maaruf’s Concept of a Hero in Malay Society tracing the influences on the Malay elite from the epic of Hang Tuah to the later era where feudal loyalty was allied with a crass materialism. Some of the feudal traits exhibited by Hang Tuah (and by equivalents at the Javanese Majapahit court) included feats of drinking, gambling, hunting and lovemaking. Do they still dominate?

 Interestingly Shaharuddin singled out not a Malaysian but the martyred Philippine nationalist Jose Rizal and General Sudirman, Indonesia’s military leader in the war of independence, as the wider modern Malay world’s leaders as selfless, determined and principled. In contrast, he quoted the principal agent of British imperialism on the peninsula, Frank Swettenham, on the eagerness of the Malay rulers to accept British overlordship in return for position and income.
Image result for dr shaharuddin maarufA Contemporary UMNO Leader

Shaharuddin himself echoed other post-independence critics of the elite such as Syed Hussein Alatas, the Malay academician turned politician who became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya and a founder of Gerakan, a multi-ethnic, reformist party. Alatas wrote the Foreword to Shaharuddin’s book.

They both noted the conflict between the feudal values of the elite, seen in their devotion to hierarchy, show and dynasty, and the Islam it professed. Instead of acknowledging that Islam’s strength lay in the diversity of interpretation of the Koran, it insisted on a single one laid down by an intellectually bereft elite, more interested in the furtherance of narrow Malay racial interests than in religion. Personal loyalty to a leader also trumped laws and principles.

There was, wrote Shaharuddin “no genuine interest on the part of the Malay elite to foster the intellectual, humanitarian and scientific aspects of Islam … but only to organize Koran reading competitions” – a stark contrast to the days when Islam was at the forefront of intellectual and scientific advance.

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 Present Day Malay Heroin Rosmah ‘Birkin’ Mansor

Reading about the shopping sprees of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, of the spending of huge sums to join the celebrity crowd in New York, mansions in California, Hollywood movies and high-priced western paintings suggests that elite behavior has got even worse since Shaharuddin wrote more than a generation ago: “The spirit of indulgence leads it [the elite] to imitate the negative aspects of western culture while the scientific and intellectual tradition is discarded… Being indulgent and imitative, the Malay elite always seeks to identify itself with its western counterpart.”

Image result for dr shaharuddin maaruf

Nor was it just a problem of aping western ways. Another was the desire to be grandiose and showy. “They spend lavishly on buildings, cars, official functions and other expenditures for prestige.”

Worse still, “celebrity worship is widespread in Malay society” – as if foretelling the elite urge to be seen in the company of such trashy western celebrities as Paris Hilton.

Shaharuddin’s criticisms were however mild compared with those of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir 1796-1854) also known as Munshi Abdullah. He was a Melaka-born translator and teacher who worked for the British, notably with Stamford Raffles at the time of the British takeover of Singapore. Abdullah was not a traitor to the Malays but one so appalled by the condition of the Malay states that he saw cooperation with the British as a way of improving the lot of the Malays through economic progress, the end of internecine conflict and the spread of education and knowledge.

An 1838 work following a visit to Kelantan, Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan, had polite advice for Malay rulers. But his better known autobiographical work Hikayat Abdullah written in the 1840s was more scathing in its views of the monarchs.

“It is no light tyranny that has been exercised by the Malay rulers, apart from a few who were good. Women and children who caught their fancy have been abducted by force as though they were taking chickens, with no sort of fear of Allah and regard for his creatures. They have often murdered men whose offences in no way merited death. They have plundered the property of other men, killing the owners or dragging them off into captivity. If they owe money they refuse to pay it. They are very fond of gambling, cock-fighting, opium-eating and keeping a host of slaves. …There are many other disgraceful practices which I feel too ashamed to mention in this book. They keep young girls, sometimes more than a hundred, as concubines in the palace. They have relations with a girl once or twice then for the rest of her life she cannot marry another man…

“Was there not a time when half the world was under Malay dominion and rule? There are many books and records which tell of the rulers of olden times, how great and powerful they were, so rich and full of wisdom. Why have their lands been despoiled by Allah ere now and passed into foreign bondage.

…Even in my own time there have been several Malay principalities which have come to ruin. Some have reverted to jungle where the elephant and tiger roam, because of the cruel injustices of their rulers and chiefs; not merely distant places but, for example, Selangor, Perak, Kedah as well as Padang, Muar, Batu Pahat and Kesang and many others like them. Once they were rich and flourishing states with a large population. Now they are states only in name. …

“Many are the places and lands which have been destroyed by the depredations of the young scions of the ruling house whose rapacious hands can no longer be tolerated by the people. Other races, the English, the Indians, the Arabs, the Chinese do not conduct themselves in the manner I have described. Only the Malays. Among all the other races the ruler’s children are expected to be well educated and very intelligent… If the Malay ruler do not keep their own children under control, how can they themselves exercise authority over the people? As it is under Malay rule ordinary people cannot lift up their heads and enjoy themselves… Another failing commonly found among Malays is their inability to change or modernise their idea or to produce anything new. They utterly refuse to abandon superstitions of the past…”

And so on. Abdullah used many more pages to denounce the rulers and attitudes of the Malay rulers and state of society of his time.

There seems a continuous theme from the 1820s until today. It might be argued that both Abdullah and Alatas were not really Malays. Abdullah was of Tamil Muslim origin, Alatas of Yemeni ancestry and born in Bogor. But the notion of a pure Malay race is a fiction to which the ancestries of Prime Ministers Tunku Abdul Rahman, Hussein Onn and Mahathir Mohamed attest. No one doubted the mastery of Malay language and culture possessed by Abdullah and Alatas, nor their standing as modernist Muslims with enquiring minds. Are there any such figures in Malaysia today?

(Translation of Hikayat Abdullah by A.H. Hill. Concept of a Hero in Malay Society by Shaharuddin b. Maaruf, Eastern Universities Press, 1984)


Politics is in the Blood of the Young

January 26, 2017

Politics is in the Blood of the Young

“Give me 1,000 men and I will move a mountain. Give me 10 young men and I will shake the world.” (Sukarno)

Where political involvement is concerned, young people are generally perceived to be outliers – either too radical in their views or completely indifferent. Yet they make up a potent political force especially in developing nations where they dominate in demography. Once tapped, they are capable of delivering change.

With the median age in Malaysia being 27.1 years and with 72% of the population being under 40 years of age, the relevance of young people in our country is far from insignificant. Faced with the need to engage this important demographic group yet not quite knowing what their needs and desires really are, political parties and governments often end up baiting them with concerts, football tournaments and “tweet famous” celebrities.

While the general view that young people are politically apathetic is not entirely without basis, it is a patronising generalisation that belies the fact that young people, both historically and in the present day, play a very important role in political processes, both formal and informal.

History of Youth in Politics

It is interesting to note that many Southeast Asian nationalist movements at the height of the colonial resistance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were spearheaded by young people.

In the Philippines, for example, José Rizal wrote his influential anti-imperialist novel Noli Me Tangere in 1887 when he was only 25 years old, while pioneering revolutionaries Andrés Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto were in their 20s when they founded the Katipunan movement to oppose Spanish rule. A female colleague of theirs, Gregoria de Jesus, was only 21 when she joined them in 1896. In 1898, when the flag of the Republic of the Philippines was hoisted for the first time, the man chosen to be the newly independent nation’s first president, Emilio Aguinaldo, was only 29 years old.

In Burma, nationalist fervour began when a youth organisation called the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) organised protests against the British colonial regime’s introduction of laws that suppressed student freedoms. Following on from their success, various splinter groups from the YMBA went on to form political parties that would eventually lead the charge for independence.

One important personality from that era was Aung San, the Burmese nationalist icon who, having been a student leader, left university in 1938 to enter formal politics at the age of 23. Eight years and a world war later, he became president of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League in 1946 and deputy chairman of the executive council, which effectively made him the titular head of the Burmese civil government. In this role, he led independence negotiations with Britain, culminating in an agreement jointly signed with British prime minister Clement Attlee in January 1947. Unfortunately, he was not to see the fruits of his efforts as he was assassinated later in the year at the age of 32.

Pioneering revolutionary Andrés Bonifacio, who was in his 20s when he co-founded the Katipunan movement to oppose Spanish rule.

Over in Indonesia, it is impossible to discuss the nationalist revolution without touching on the decisive influence of the Second Youth Congress in 1928. Not only was the national anthem Indonesia Raya played for the very first time, the conference also saw the recital of the “Youth Pledge” – a declaration that forms the basis for the Indonesian national ideal until this very day, namely the idea of “one motherland, one nation and one language”. So influential was the role of young people in the independence movement that Benedict Anderson even termed it a “youth revolution”.

Young people played no less significant a role in the lead-up to Malaysian independence. For example, one of the earliest nationalist movements in the country was formed in Kedah during the Second World War. Known by its acronym Saberkas, it was officially set up as a welfare cooperative called Syarikat Bekerjasama Am Saiburi. Yet its founders meant for the society to be a cover for their true intent – an underground nationalist movement. Accordingly, the acronym Saberkas also had a hidden meaning, which was “Sayang akan bangsa, ertinya redha korban apa segala” (to sacrifice everything for the love of one’s nation).

It is unfortunate that while young people in Europe are increasingly recognised for their abilities and entrusted with responsibilities as political leaders, our youth are suppressed and prevented from playing too active a role in politics, at the threat of university expulsion and jail.

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Senu Abdul Rahman and Syed Kechik Al-Bukhary

Sabekas was founded by a group of young men in their early 20s, including Khir Johari, Senu Abdul Rahman, Abdul Aziz Zain and a few others, under the patronage of a Kedah Prince, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra. Besides providing shelter for refugees fleeing the Burmese death railway, the group also organised bangsawan stage plays that carried nationalist undertones. These plays were written and performed by members of the group and became quite popular, drawing large crowds in Kedah and Perlis.

Tan Sri Mohamed Khir Johari

Following the Japanese surrender in 1945, there was a two-week void before the British could re-establish order in Malaya. During this time, the young men of Sabekas played an important role in keeping the peace, physically helping to defend villages and police stations from communist guerrillas who attempted to seize control. Following the creation of the short-lived Malayan Union in 1946, Sabekas was one of the many organisations that gathered at the Third Malay Congress to form UMNO. Eventually, many of Saberkas’s founders became leading figures in the government, the civil service and the judiciary.

Young people were pivotal to the Malay nationalist movement on the national stage as well. For example, the very first national political movement in the country, the Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM), was founded in 1938 by Ibrahim Yaacob and Ishak Haji Muhammad, then aged 27 and 29 respectively. The movement’s membership was made up predominantly of young journalists and students from the Sultan Idris Teaching College, College of Agriculture Malaya and the Technical School of Kuala Lumpur. Although eventually suppressed by the British due to its leftist tendencies, KMM’s contribution to the overall nationalist consciousness should not be downplayed.

The Depoliticisation of Youth

Although young people were at the forefront of the political struggle against imperialism, it was inevitable that postcolonial national development would necessitate the production of workers for the industrial economy rather than political activists. Thus in Malaysia, young people began to be discouraged from active political involvement and laws such as the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) were introduced to curtail their activities.

As the economy grew, so too did the spoils, and political party hierarchies became a much steeper climb for younger cadres who found it difficult to unseat entrenched elites. This caused the mainstream relevance of young people to decline, as even the various party youth wings were beginning to be led by people who could no longer be reasonably described as youth, despite how young they may consider themselves to be. Even the average age of the federal cabinet, which was around 43 years of age at the point of independence, gradually increased to nearly 60, as is the case today.

This is of course an unfortunate trend that runs counter to developments around the world, particularly in Europe where youth involvement in mainstream politics is in vogue. In the UK, the 2010 general election saw the election of three men in their early 40s to the positions of Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Opposition Leader. In Malaysia, their counterparts would merely be youth wing chiefs and junior ministers at best.

If there is a perception that young people in Malaysia are not interested in politics, it is because they have been shaped over decades by a system that muzzles and subdues them in the name of protecting the status quo.

In recent times, Sweden appointed ministers in their 20s[1] to important portfolios while the current Austrian foreign minister is only 30, having been appointed at age 27 in 2013. I have personally met the former Serbian minister of finance who was below the age of 30 when appointed, while a parliamentary colleague of mine in the UK who is younger than me is now a second term MP and a junior minister in the department of international development.

It is unfortunate that while young people in Europe are increasingly recognised for their abilities and entrusted with responsibilities as political leaders, our youth are suppressed and prevented from playing too active a role in politics, at the threat of university expulsion and jail.

Therefore, if there is a perception that young people in Malaysia are not interested in politics, it is because they have been shaped over decades by a system that muzzles and subdues them in the name of protecting the status quo.

A Youth Revival

That said, changes have begun to take place, especially since the 2008 “political tsunami” which served as a baptism of fire for a whole new generation of young leaders, mostly from the opposition. With greater youth representation at the political front lines, the reform agenda gained greater momentum and even the UUCA was amended to allow students to join political parties.

In this youth revival, it is clear that opposition parties have been the main beneficiary due to their flatter hierarchy and willingness to empower younger leaders. As a result, the federal opposition can now boast of having the youngest representatives in the country at every level of legislature – the senate, parliament, state assembly and local government. On the other hand, the ruling regime would be hard-pressed to name anywhere near as many young politicians holding similar responsibilities.

As mentioned earlier, there is no disputing the fact that young people form an increasingly dominant demography in our country, thus making them more and more relevant from an economic, social and political standpoint. Correspondingly, just as the youth of earlier generations played a crucial role in the formation of Malaysia; so too will the youth of today in charting the future of our nation.

Aung San, the Burmese nationalist icon who, having been a student leader, left university in 1938 to enter formal politics at the age of 23.
[1]In 2014 Gabriel Wikström was appointed as Health Minister at age 29, while Aida Hadzialic was appointed as Minister of Higher Education at age 27. In August 2016 Hadzialic resigned.

Being Malay, so what?: Only a Political Construct

June 18, 2015

Selamat BerpuasaNOTE: My wife, Dr Kamsiah and I wish Muslims around the world Selamat Berpuasa (Happy Fasting) which commences today. May there be Peace and Goodwill in the Month of Ramadhan).–Din Merican

Being Malay, so what?: Only a Political Construct (Article 160 of the Malaysian Constitution

by Dyana

…we should not let politicians decide what is Malay and what is not. Our identities are our heritage, and the government has no right to tell us what we are. As Syahredzan said, “The greatest tragedy that has befallen Malay culture and the Malays over the years is actually the hijacking of Malayness by those with vested interests.”–Dyana Sofya

Dyana SofyaLast weekend, Projek Dialog, a non-governmental social discourse project aimed at promoting healthy debate and understanding within multicultural Malaysia, organised a forum entitled Melayu dan makna-maknanya, or “Malay and its meanings.”

I had the honour of being a panellist at that forum, together with Dr Lawrence Ross from Akademi Pengajian Melayu, Universiti Malaya; Syed Muhiyuddin from HAKIM; Syahredzan Johan from Lawyers for Liberty, and Nurhayyu Zainal from Parti Sosialis Malaysia. The forum was moderated by Projek Dialog’s Yana Rizal.

The forum began with Syahredzan enlightening the audience on the Constitutional definition of Malay. According to Article 160 of our country’s highest law, a Malay is defined by three characteristics, viz. a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, and conforms to Malay customs.

Mahathir the Political ConstructMahathir–The Political Construct (Art.160)

This legalistic definition of Malayness is interesting, because it effectively means that Malay is a political construct rather than an ethnic concept. Technically, this means that a Malay in Malaysia need not necessarily have any Malay genes whatsoever. For example, only in Malaysia would a Javanese identify as a Malay. In Indonesia, for example, no Javanese would ever claim to be a Malay.

Curiously, the Malaysian definition of Malay also prevents other ethnic Malays from qualifying as Malays. For example, the great Filipino nationalist, José Rizal, an ethnic Malay who is hailed by history as an icon of the Malay race, would actually not qualify as a Malay in Malaysia, by virtue of the fact that he was not a Muslim.

A colonial legacy

In truth, the peoples of the Malay Archipelago are made up of over 300 diverse ethnic groups, such as the Javanese, Batak, Sundanese, Achehnese, Boyanese, Minangkabau, Malay, Mandailing (of which I am descended from) and many others, including the Bugis who are reputed to be great warriors, though such a reputation is today in doubt. Therefore, ethnically, Malays represent a small ethnic group that is one of many others.

How then did Malay become the popular reference for the native ethnic groups in Malaysia (in Indonesia, Malay refers to a small minority ethnic group)? Firstly, it was the British (such as founder of Singapore Stamford Raffles) who began to use the label.

This is mainly because most natives in the region spoke the Malay language ― the de facto lingua franca of the region due to the fact that it was the language used along the Straits of Malacca and the coastal areas of the Archipelago. Hence, even though the Malay ethnic community itself was small, the Malay language was adopted by both foreigners and locals as the trading language of the region.

Having decided to label all the different ethnic natives as Malays, the British decided to streamline it through its official documents such as the government population censuses. And through the colonial policy of divide and conquer, the seeds of polarisation in our country were sown.

Standardisation of Malay is against the Malay nature itself

It is important to bear in mind that ethnicity is a concept that is far from monolithic or homogenous. Every geographical province or tribe, even within the peninsula itself, has diverse cultural practices and backgrounds. Therefore, ethnicity is an amalgamation of many cultures merged  and fused over time.

Malay_1The UMNO Malay

For example, the Malays in Terengganu and Sarawak have very different dialects. As a Perakian, even I find the east coast Malay dialects to be quite alien. Even cultural practices were different. For example, the Mak Yong, which has Hindu-Buddhist origins, is popular with the Kelantanese Malays, while the Kuda Kepang with its Javanese influence is popular in Johor.

As Dr Lawrence Ross noted, the Malay culture was never homogenous and will always expand and evolve by adapting to its surrounding influences. Therefore, the culture is also not easily defined and should not adopt strict labeling.

However, our own history has been rewritten by the authorities, as over six decades we have experienced a systematic campaign of standardisation of Malay culture and language. This is in line with the Marxist concept of cultural hegemony, in which the ruling class captures the dominant culture of a society by imposing its own worldview on the masses.

According to Syed Muhiyuddin, Malays should not be afraid to reject the attempt by leaders to enforce an artificial identity upon them. However, in order to do this, we first need to understand our own roots better. Therefore, it is high time that we revise our history textbooks in order to produce a new generation of Malaysians who are proud of their roots.

Reclaiming our identities

In summary, we should not let politicians decide what is Malay and what is not. Our identities are our heritage, and the government has no right to tell us what we are. As Syahredzan said, “The greatest tragedy that has befallen Malay culture and the Malays over the years is actually the hijacking of Malayness by those with vested interests.”

Therefore, it is time we reclaim our identities. Echoing Syahredzan, I am a Muslim, a Malay and a Malaysian, in no specific order. I am all three. That is my identity and no one has the right to take it away from me.


Asia’s Renaissance Man: Dr. Jose Rizal’s Last Farewell (Mi Ultimo Adios)

Phnom Penh

May 26, 2015

Asia’s Renaissance Man: Dr. Jose Rizal’s Last Farewell

English translation by Charles Derbyshire of Jose Rizal‘s last poem, written in Spanish and known popularly as Mi Ultimo Adios.

Dr. Jose Rizal

My Last Farewell (Mi Ultimo Adios)


dear Fatherland, clime of the sun caress’d,
Pearl of the Orient seas, our Eden lost!
Gladly now I go to give thee this faded life’s best,
And were it brighter, fresher, or more blest,
Still would I give it thee, nor count the cost.

On the field of battle, ‘mid the frenzy of fight,
Others have given their lives, without doubt or heed;
The place matters not–cypress or laurel or lily white,
Scaffold of open plain, combat or martyrdom’s plight,
‘Tis ever the same, to serve our home and country’s need.

I die just when I see the dawn break,
Through the gloom of night, to herald the day;
And if color is lacking my blood thou shalt take,
Pour’d out at need for thy dear sake,
To dye with its crimson the waking ray.

My dreams, when life first opened to me,
My dreams, when the hopes of youth beat high,
Were to see thy lov’d face, O gem of the Orient sea,
From gloom and grief, from care and sorrow free;
No blush on thy brow, no tear in thine eye

Dream of my life, my living and burning desire,
All hail! cries the soul that is now to take flight;
All hail! And sweet it is for thee to expire;
To die for thy sake, that thou mayst aspire;
And sleep in thy bosom eternity’s long night.

If over my grave some day thou seest grow,
In the grassy sod, a humble flower,
Draw it to thy lips and kiss my soul so,
While I may feel on my brow in the cold tomb below
The touch of thy tenderness, thy breath’s warm power.

Let the moon beam over me soft and serene,
Let the dawn shed over me its radiant flashes,
Let the wind with sad lament over me keen;
And if on my cross a bird should be seen,
Let it trill there its hymn of peace to my ashes.

Let the sun draw the vapors up to the sky,
And heavenward in purity bear my tardy protest;
Let some kind soul o’er my untimely fate sigh,
And in the still evening a prayer be lifted on high
From thee, O my country, that in God I may rest.

Pray for all those that hapless have died,
For all who have suffered the unmeasur’d pain;
For our mothers that bitterly their woes have cried,
For widows and orphans, for captives by torture tried;
And then for thyself that redemption thou mayst gain.

And when the dark night wraps the graveyard around,
With only the dead in their vigil to see;
Break not my repose or the mystery profound,
And perchance thou mayst hear a sad hymn resound;
‘Tis I, O my country, raising a song unto thee.

When even my grave is remembered no more,
Unmark’d by never a cross nor a stone;
Let the plow sweep through it, the spade turn it o’er,
That my ashes may carpet thy earthly floor,
Before into nothingness at last they are blown.

Then will oblivion bring to me no care,
As over thy vales and plains I sweep;
Throbbing and cleansed in thy space and air,
With color and light, with song and lament I fare,
Ever repeating the faith that I keep.

My Fatherland ador’d, that sadness to my sorrow lends,
Beloved Filipinas, hear now my last good-by!
I give thee all: parents and kindred and friends;
For I go where no slave before the oppressor bends,
Where faith can never kill, and God reigns e’er on high!

Farewell to you all, from my soul torn away,
Friends of my childhood in the home dispossessed!
Give thanks that I rest from the wearisome day!
Farewell to thee, too, sweet friend that lightened my way;
Beloved creatures all, farewell! In death there is rest!

Jose Rizal: A Biographical Sketch
by Teofilo H. Monte Mayoa

JOSE RIZAL, the national hero of the Philippines and pride of the Malayan race, was born on June 19, 1861, in the town of Calamba, Laguna. He was the seventh child in a family of 11 children (2 boys and 9 girls). Both his parents were educated and belonged to distinguished families.His father, Francisco Mercado Rizal, an industrious farmer whom Rizal called “a model of fathers,” came from Biñan, Laguna; while his mother, Teodora Alonzo y Quintos, a highly cultured and accomplished woman whom Rizal called “loving and prudent mother,” was born in Meisic, Sta. Cruz, Manila.

At the age of 3, he learned the alphabet from his mother; at 5, while learning to read and write, he already showed inclinations to be an artist. He astounded his family and relatives by his pencil drawings and sketches and by his moldings of clay. At the age 8, he wrote a Tagalog poem, “Sa Aking Mga Kabata,” the theme of which revolves on the love of one’s language. In 1877, at the age of 16, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree with an average of “excellent” from the Ateneo Municipal de Manila. In the same year, he enrolled in Philosophy and Letters at the University of Santo Tomas, while at the same time took courses leading to the degree of surveyor and expert assessor at the Ateneo. He finished the latter course on March 21, 1877 and passed the Surveyor’s examination on May 21, 1878; but because of his age, 17, he was not granted license to practice the profession until December 30, 1881.

In 1878, he enrolled in Medicine at the University of Santo Tomas but had to stop in his studies when he felt that the Filipino students were being discriminated upon by their Dominican tutors. On May 3, 1882, he sailed for Spain where he continued his studies at the Universidad Central de Madrid. On June 21, 1884, at the age of 23, he was conferred the degree of Licentiate in Medicine and on June 19,1885, at the age of 24, he finished his course in Philosophy and Letters with a grade of “excellent.”

Having traveled extensively in Europe, America and Asia, he mastered 22 languages. These include Arabic, Catalan, Chinese, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Malayan, Portuguese, Russian, Sanskrit, Spanish, Tagalog, and other native dialects. A versatile genius, he was an architect, artist, businessman, cartoonist, educator, economist, ethnologist, scientific farmer, historian, inventor, journalist, linguist, musician, mythologist, nationalist, naturalist, novelist, opthalmic surgeon, poet, propagandist, psychologist, scientist, sculptor, sociologist, and theologian.

He was an expert swordsman and a good shot. In the hope of securing political and social reforms for his country and at the same time educate his countrymen, Rizal, the greatest apostle of Filipino nationalism, published, while in Europe, several works with highly nationalistic and revolutionary tendencies. In March 1887, his daring book, NOLI ME TANGERE, a satirical novel exposing the arrogance and despotism of the Spanish clergy, was published in Berlin; in 1890 he reprinted in Paris, Morga’s SUCCESSOS DE LAS ISLAS FILIPINAS with his annotations to prove that the Filipinos had a civilization worthy to be proud of even long before the Spaniards set foot on Philippine soil; on September 18, 1891, EL FILIBUSTERISMO, his second novel and a sequel to the NOLI and more revolutionary and tragic than the latter, was printed in Ghent. Because of his fearless exposures of the injustices committed by the civil and clerical officials, Rizal provoked the animosity of those in power. This led himself, his relatives and countrymen into trouble with the Spanish officials of the country. As a consequence, he and those who had contacts with him, were shadowed; the authorities were not only finding faults but even fabricating charges to pin him down. Thus, he was imprisoned in Fort Santiago from July 6, 1892 to July 15, 1892 on a charge that anti-friar pamphlets were found in the luggage of his sister Lucia who arrive with him from Hong Kong. While a political exile in Dapitan, he engaged in agriculture, fishing and business; he maintained and operated a hospital; he conducted classes- taught his pupils the English and Spanish languages, the arts.

The sciences, vocational courses including agriculture, surveying, sculpturing, and painting, as well as the art of self defense; he did some researches and collected specimens; he entered into correspondence with renowned men of letters and sciences abroad; and with the help of his pupils, he constructed water dam and a relief map of Mindanao – both considered remarkable engineering feats. His sincerity and friendliness won for him the trust and confidence of even those assigned to guard him; his good manners and warm personality were found irresistible by women of all races with whom he had personal contacts; his intelligence and humility gained for him the respect and admiration of prominent men of other nations; while his undaunted courage and determination to uplift the welfare of his people were feared by his enemies.

When the Philippine Revolution started on August 26, 1896, his enemies lost no time in pressing him down. They were able to enlist witnesses that linked him with the revolt and these were never allowed to be confronted by him. Thus, from November 3, 1986, to the date of his execution, he was again committed to Fort Santiago. In his prison cell, he wrote an untitled poem, now known as “Ultimo Adios” which is considered a masterpiece and a living document expressing not only the hero’s great love of country but also that of all Filipinos. After a mock trial, he was convicted of rebellion, sedition and of forming illegal association.

In the cold morning of December 30, 1896, Rizal, a man whose 35 years of life had been packed with varied activities which proved that the Filipino has capacity to equal if not excel even those who treat him as a slave, was shot at Bagumbayan Field.