Column: Aquino and “the troublemaker”

From September to October, I had the good fortune to be allowed to go on book-writing leave. The following column, and the two that come after, were written as I was first coming to grips with the research I had done (or failed to do); they were, I guess, a way of writing a book by other means. This first column was published on September 14, 2010.

The distinction does not belong to Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa, who looks more and more like President Aquino’s weakest link; or Undersecretary Rico Puno, who revealed yesterday morning in a TV interview with Anthony Taberna that he is not playing hardball with the country’s jueteng lords; or my friend Billy Esposo, whose dismaying descent into factionalism has him all but foaming at the mouth, describing erstwhile allies as enemies of the state, and “stray dogs.”

The title refers, instead, to Jose Rizal himself, as Sukarno, Indonesia’s charismatic founding president, described him in yet another rousing speech in 1962. “And I also ask the United States of America, is it true if people say, for instance, that the independence of the Philippines was the result of the troublemaker Jose Rizal y Mercado, or Aguinaldo? No!”

The context of this passage obviously needs explaining; suffice it to say for the moment that Sukarno was responding to Dutch accusations that he was a troublemaker, and the response, characteristically, included a roll call of famous nationalist or revolutionary icons, including Gandhi and Nehru, each one rhetorically accused, by Sukarno, of making trouble too.

Why do I bring this up? Because now that President Aquino’s state visit to Indonesia has been postponed to October, at the earliest, there is an opportunity for the Philippines and Indonesia to jointly recognize Rizal’s role in the formation of Indonesian nationalist consciousness—in time for Rizal’s 150th birthday in June.

Perhaps the President’s staff and the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta can arrange a meeting with veteran journalist Rosihan Anwar, who turned 88 the day Mr. Aquino was elected president. In 1944, when Anwar was 22 and a reporter in Asia Raya, the only Indonesian newspaper allowed to publish in the capital during the Japanese occupation, he wrote the first translation of “Mi Ultimo Adios” into Bahasa Indonesia.

In the first interview I conducted last May, Anwar recalled the circumstances of the translation. He had found the poem (entitled “Mi Ultimo Pensamiento” and accompanied by an English version) while frequenting what is now the Central Library of the National Museum, in a book whose title or author he can no longer remember.

“The situation was favorable to promote nationalism. [On Sept. 7, 1944, Prime Minister Koiso of Japan declared that the ‘East Indies’ would become independent soon, an announcement that was received enthusiastically throughout the islands, and got ecstatic treatment in Asia Raya the following day.] In that context, I thought it would be good that I could disseminate this story about Jose Rizal among our younger people at that time. It was quite natural; I thought it would be good to tell the story of Jose Rizal, this rebel against the Spanish. And of course the climax, when he was already sentenced to death and then hauled off to face firing squad, and he wrote that [poem] ….”

“I translated it from the English. Because I do not know Spanish. I know French, I know German, but not Spanish. Then, according to the custom at that time, everything you want to say over the radio station or anything you wanted to publish in a newspaper … everything must go first to the censorship. I sent it to [the] censor, no objection, it’s okay. Okay. Then I made an arrangement, with my friend, [an] Indonesian friend, who worked at the radio station, where everything was supposed to be supervised by the Japanese. He gave me a chance to read it, which I did …”

He read Rizal’s farewell poem over Jakarta radio on Saturday, Dec. 30, Rizal’s 48th death anniversary. The same day, Asia Raya devoted almost half of its back page to a feature and poem on Rizal written by Anwar, and to Anwar’s translation of the poem.

Fast forward to Nov. 10, 1945, the beginning of the Battle of Surabaya, the iconic conflict of the Indonesian revolution, which Indonesia celebrates as National Heroes Day.

“That day, I went on an ammunition train [to Surabaya]. This locomotive, with two wagons crammed with ammunition, sent by the youth, the pemudas, in Jogjakarta, for the youth of Surabaya … We had to leave Jogjakarta at about 7 o’clock, I think, in the evening. And the whole night we must pass the plains of East Java, you know, so as to arrive in Wonokromo, the suburb of Surabaya, before dawn. Because if it’s light, and we’re still on the rail, it’s dangerous. Because we could be bombarded by … British warplanes at that time … [Along] our route, every station we passed, people were talking there, and they said [to us], ‘Merdeka!’

“I stayed in Surabaya three days …. And then as I returned, some people show[ed] me, they printed this magazine, [on] bad paper, not too big circulation. They [the fighting pemuda] circulated it … It [contained] public information, political news, and then also short stories. I read [different things] kept by younger students who one way or the other have associated with this trouble on the front. Later on, I saw another [magazine], and then I saw Jose Rizal.”

(In your translation?) “Yes, yes.”

“Strangely enough, not the full [translation], it’s a magazine this size, they have to cram, they took only a few stanzas, part of … the beginning, not the whole thing, but then you know, Jose Rizal was introduced, and I thought, ‘Oh yes, that was good.’”

“I don’t know how they [knew] about that, because Asia Raya [had] a big circulation for that time, but [it was] primarily circulated and read in Jakarta … So you can imagine my surprise. They [got] hold of the Asia Raya. Or maybe they heard me talking on the radio.”

(To be continued)

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Notes on Readings, Readings in Politics, Readings in Rizal

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