Early in the week, Nurul Izzah, a member of the Malaysian parliament, visited our country, part of an international swing to drum up the support of world leaders for the effort to ease the plight of her father, jailed Malaysian opposition leader, former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.
She was warmly welcomed by former Philippine President and now Manila City Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada, a long-time Anwar friend who earlier in July this year issued an official statement, which said:
“I join the international community of leaders who recognize Dato Sri Anwar Ibrahim as a respected world leader and proponent of democracy.
“I believe that Anwar Ibrahim has been a victim of political injustice as has been the plight of many a world leader who fought for changes towards democracy for their country.
“The politically-motivated imprisonment of Mr. Ibrahim is a travesty of justice and I join other world leaders in signing the international pledge supporting the call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Ibrahim from prison.”
In meetings with Philippine political leaders, Anwar’s daughter lamented his prison conditions, particularly citing his health as “deteriorating inside a filthy cell.” For five years, Anwar has been detained in that cell on conviction for sodomy.
“That conviction was false,” explained Anwar’s daughter. “It was made just to destroy his political career and the opposition.”
Izzah elaborated that a shoulder injury Anwar sustained years ago has affected his spine, necessitating delicate surgery abroad. According to her a United Nations Working Group of human rights experts has declared his detention as arbitrary. She disclosed that the UN experts ruled that Anwar’s lack of medical care and his maltreatment in prison constitute “torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading acts” that are prohibited by international conventions.
Also readily expressing support for the free-Anwar call were former presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Vice President Jejomar Binay, House Representatives Silvestre Bello III and Regina Ongsiako Reyes, Governors Carmencita Reyes and former governor and former congressman Hermilando Mandanas, and the heirs of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
Very noticeable was the absence of the topmost official of the land from among the Philippine endorsers of Anwar’s freedom – President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd.
That absence is intriguing.
To begin with, Aquino’s mother, Cory, was a close ally of Anwar and raged when her Malaysian counterpart as democracy icon was incarcerated on charges of sodomy five years ago. She walked right into the Malaysian prison to see Anwar but was prevented from seeing him by Najib’s security forces. In fact, Cory became Anwar’s friend before Erap, whom she actually introduced to him.
For another thing, Aquino’s father, Ninoy, had publicly lauded Anwar for the latter’s unflinching conviction to uphold democracy in Malaysia.
That the progeny of the country’s contemporary so-called icons of democracy now cold shoulders his parents’ political ally is cause for some deep thinking. It would seem that as far as entrenching the Aquino dynasty in Philippine politics is concerned, Benigno S. Aquino toes the line. But when it comes to amassing the spoils, the son is his own man. And in this regard, Anwar’s current tormentor, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, stands shoulder to shoulder with Aquino.
That is, on quite a number of counts.
Top-level investigations by the FBI and the Wall Street Journal disclosed in July the transfer of some $700 million in Najib’s Kuala Lumpur account. The disclosure sparked widespread street protests by tens of thousands, and pressed to explain, Najib admitted that the money was a donation from a Middle East country for a purpose he only hinted at: to facilitate matters in the government-MILF peace talks held in Kuala Lumpur. Some sectors in the Philippine media had gone as far as insinuating that the money was meant to buy, through the BBL, real state in the country, that is, Muslim Mindanao, and to freeze the Philippine rights to Sabah.
All the foregoing show that Aquino and Najib have a kindred spirit, let alone the fact that in nature and in magnitude, the corruption charges from the money transfer quite approximates the Napoles pork scam that rocked the Aquino administration early in his tenure.
And then, too, there is the systematic elimination of political enemies.
Under Malaysia’s Sedition Act and the Peaceful Assembly Act, a slew of opposition politicians have been charged in court for the purpose of disqualifying them from seeking public office. Similarly a slew of opposition politicians have been hailed by the Aquino administration to the Sandiganbayan, effecting a similar disqualification from the electoral process. Need we cite the examples of Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla?
In 2008 Anwar captured a majority of parliament seats but lost the election due to gerrymandering. His opposition party got back in 2013, winning 88 out of 212 parliament seats. Reports said this electoral performance was what provoked Najib to jail Anwar.
Izzah herself, together with 29 other opposition leaders, was either jailed or placed under prosecution. In many cases, prosecution was based simply on remarks made in parliament.
As things stand now, more than 300 Malaysians are in political prisons, including a large third jailed in relation to the supposed 2013 Sabah invasion by Sulu indigents.
In any case, what Najib evidently seeks to avert is a repeat, in fact, a much improved one, of the Anwar 2013 performance come general election of 2018. So he must be kept in detention.
In the case of Aquino, his damning for more than a year of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay is evidently also intended to keep the Vice President away from the elections in May 2016. As late as now in the election period, speculations continue to be rife that the Ombudsman ruling that declared him indictable for graft and corruption will be the Aquino administration’s last card in preventing an imminent Binay win: arrest and jail him – as Najib did to Anwar indeed.
The Aquino-Najib analogy exposes implications both in contemporary and historical contexts such that one column article won’t suffice to disclose them. Suffice it to say that Aquino and Najib share an alliance that makes it mandamus for the former to uphold the latter’s stand on the popular call to free Anwar Ibrahim.
So the Aquino’s silence on the plea for support from Anwar’s daughter. Social events, particularly political, do have a most infallible way of figuring into one another.