What’s the future for Anwar Ibrahim?


By Carmen N. Pedrosa, Philstar

I have met Anwar Ibrahim several times both in Kuala Lumpur and in Manila. The first meeting was at the UP many years ago after Mahathir Mohamad dropped him as his political protege. He came to deliver a lecture on Jose Rizal. I was surprised how well he knew our national hero whom he said he greatly admired.

“In a way, Malaysians envy Filipinos because they had a hero and patriot like Jose Rizal. We don’t. And since he is called the Great Malay, we can also claim him,” he said.

I was in Kuala Lumpur February last year when the defense sought access to certain “prosecutor evidence.” His lawyers were optimistic that the evidence would not hold water and so they aggressively wanted it out. After much legal wrangling, the upshot of the court hearing was a mere postponement.

Anwar said the trial was a machination led by Prime Minister Najib and his wife to re-open the case against him. Others said they see the hand of Mahathir Mohamad and this was more of the same.

My daughter, Veronica covering the trial for Al-Jazeera, told me the case has also placed the judiciary on trial. Will he get a fair chance? I later interviewed Mahathir in his office in Putrajaya who said quite candidly that he will get a fair trial. He said he was not a great admirer of Prime Minister Najiv either. “It isn’t politically motivated,” he said. “I am out of politics.”

 I asked the former prime minister what brought about the estrangement between him and his protégé. He said “differing policies”. While he was abroad, colleagues told him that Anwar was upsetting his government’s program and could not be relied upon.

 Outside the court were members of the opposition chanting support for Anwar and pushing to get in. There were some minor scuffles with police.

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 That was last year. But things have changed in KL since then. More aggressive crowds will be prowling the streets that can very easily turn into a political protest not unlike what is happening in the Middle East.

The recent walk for democracy organized by BERSIH, the 9th of July Malaysian democracy movement drew some 20,000 to 30,000 mostly young students who said they were fighting for freedom and democracy in Malaysia. They were asking for “fair and clean elections, as well democratic rights.” A keen watcher of Malaysian politics said some planning went into this show of force with Malaysians abroad in Singapore, Bangkok, London and Melbourne joining in.

More than a thousand protesters were detained, including organizers and opposition parties. The police used tear gas and chemical-laced water to disperse the crowds. Curiously, they were also wearing yellow shirts reminiscent of colored “revolutions” in other countries for regime change.

BERSIH is limited to calling for ‘fair and clean elections’, and says nothing about the social and economic needs of the working class majority as well as the youth, as a consequence of the pro-capitalist policies and agenda of the BN government.

Anwar’s visit to Manila would be perfectly timed in case trouble breaks out next week.

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With a growing opposition in the appointment of Domingo Lee as Philippine ambassador to Beijing, newly appointed ambassador to KL, Eduardo Malaya’s book on the “Frontlines of Diplomacy” is a good read. It is time that the Philippines thinks carefully about assigning diplomats. Beijing is probably the most sensitive post today, even more important than the US post. Domingo may be a good man and a family friend of the Aquinos but he does not have the experience necessary for the job.

In his book Malaya asked 31 entry-level foreign service officers to interview 37 retired and active ambassadors and three spouses about their careers, the issues and challenges they faced and many other sundry things. It is less on substantive issues that ought to be the subject of another book but about the daily challenges of the life of diplomats and as Malaya said more about human-interest stories for a reading public on just what a diplomat’s life is all about. “It is not always a charmed life.”

He gives the example of two Filipina envoys — Ambassador and later Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani and Minerva Jean Falcon who teamed up to write the first draft of what we now know as the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and how it almost never made it to the UN floor.

There is a section on Domingo Siazon Jr., the first career officer to become Foreign Secretary, that is full of amusing stories on the ASEAN troika in the Cambodia peace process, democratization process in Myanmar, the South China Sea issue and the Flor Contemplacion execution in Singapore.

 “When I took over as secretary of Foreign Affairs, my main concern was Filipinos on the block for hanging. So I talked with Prime Minister Mahathir, who said “Siazon, we are not as efficient as the Singaporeans! … I have been in politics long enough. This is a sensitive issue. No Filipinos will be hanged here.” Then I went to Brunei. I got the same message. This is what diplomacy is all about. It is personal. You really have to know each other. Puwedeng pakiusapan.” (interview by Priscile Yap-Bahjin)

The book dispels the notion that being a diplomat is all about being in the social circuit. Clemencio Montesa was held hostage by Sandinista rebels in 1996 while awaiting to present his credentials at the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry.

Leonides Caday’s limbs were shattered in Jakarta in 2000 when his car was blown up by the Jemaah Islamiyah. “I was vulnerable. I thought I had no enemies,” reminisced Caday.

Rounding out these narratives are interviews with three spouses whose contributions to the success of their partners’ work are immense. Ada Ledesma-Mabilangan, spouse of the former envoy to the UN, helped in the renovation of the Philippine townhouse in New York and also wrote the informative “Entertaining with Ease: Etiquette and Protocol for the Modern Filipino.”

 Malaya was in Brussels when my late husband, Alberto Pedrosa was Ambassador to Belgium and the European Union from 1992 to 1995. He says it helped that having lived in exile in London during the martial law years and worked in euro-capital markets, he was familiar with the continent’s issues and the ways of the Brussels bureaucracy. This helped when he negotiated the entry of Philippine carrageenan and tapioca to the EU market, among other issues.