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Jose Rizal And The Asian Renaissance

There is no greater honour that a nation or a people can bestow upon another nation or people than by attempting to appreciate and understand the history and culture of that people. That is precisely what was done when the Institute for Policy Research (IKD) in early October held the international conference on "Jose Rizal and the Asian Renaissance" in Kuala Lumpur.

Dr Jose Rizal, a beloved son of the Philippines, had made the supreme sacrifice of denying defence of ideals he held dear for his country. He died a martyr but his death ignited the flames of revolutionary passions that finally freed his country from over 300 years of humiliating rule from Spain. Perhaps just as important was the fact that Rizal’s life was a record astounding accomplishments that today stands as a measure of what leaders in Asia, whether in government, politics, business or society in general, ought to emulate.

The centenary of the martyrdom of Rizal was held in December 30,1996. To honour the memory of a great nationalist the Philippines held a series of activities about Dr. Jose Rizal. In a meeting between Philippines President Fidel V Ramos and Deputy Prime Minister, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim in Manila in December 1994, it was agreed that a major international conference should be held in Kuala Lumpur to make Malaysians and others more aware of the greatness of Jose Rizal so as to reinforce a kindred spirit among Southeast Asians. IKD was given the honour to organise the meeting.

The conference was therefore organised with the following objectives: To understand and appreciate the place of Rizal in Asian, Southeast Asian and Filipino history. To help strengthen Southeast Asia solidarity through a comparative study of the great leaders that Southeast Asia has produced. To produce a forum for an in-depth analysis of contemporary issues related to entrepreneurship and economic development, human rights, the role of women, culture and education, and regional co-operation utilising Rizal’s ideas and programmes.

However, as the planning for the conference proceeded what had started as a simple conference expanded to be an activity that included several other components: an international conference, an exhibition, a film documentation, and musical drama. The conference and its component activities were organised on 1-2 October 1995 at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

Moreover, the Institute was indeed most privilege when President Ramos and Dato Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, became patrons to the whole projects. President Ramos also gave keynote address at the conference while Dato Seri Anwar delivered the luncheon address on "Jose Rizal and the Asian Renaissance".

The two-day conference was organised in two parts. The first part focused on the life of Rizal; while the second part focused on Rizal in the context of contemporary issues. A total of 17 papers and two distinguished lecturers by former Vice President of Philippines, Dr Salvador Laurel, and Prof. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto of Oxford University, England. A total of over 300 participants attended the conference. They came from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, Europe and the United States.

At the conference opening at 10 minute documentary of Rizal. Specially made for the conference by the National Centennial Commission of the Philippines, was shown to the participants and guests. A bust of Rizal cast in bronze commissioned by the National Historical Institute of Philippines (NHI) was presented to Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim. The NHI also presented a gift comprising 70 books and monographs on Rizal to IKD. These books will be the largest single collection of Rizaliana now available in Malaysia.

An exhibition of Rizaliana exhibits books and photos depicting the life of Rizal was put up at the conference site. It was profession-ally-done exhibition sponsored by the National Centennial Commission. After the conference the exhibits were transferred to the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka where they stayed for a month to allow members of the public the opportunity to learn about Rizal. The exhibits were there after returned to the Philippines where they will go on a nation-wide tour.

One of the most exciting part of the activity was the musical drama that was staged on the evening of the first day. Based on Rizal’s renowned book, Noli me Tangere (Touch Me Not), the musical was performed by the Cultural Center of Philippine’s Tanghalang Pilipino, the resident drama group. The 45-member group of performers and technical crew put up a scintillating performance that few in the audience are likely to forget. Rizal’s heroine in the play Maria Clara was played by Gigi Posadas while Audie Gemora played the role of Crisostomo Ibarra. The musical brought to life the living images of Rizal’s and peoples’ pain and suffering during the period of Spanish colonial rule. The biggest testimony to the success of the drama was the request for a return of the troupe to Malaysia 1996 to perform the "Noli and its sequel, "El Filibusterimo".

To cap the success of the activities Rizal’s most famous poem "Mi Ultimo Adios1 (My Last Farewell)" was read in Malay before the beginning of the drama musical. A dedication to Rizal written by a local poet was also read out before the closing of the international conference.

The Rizal activities have contributed not only to spread greater knowledge about an Asian leader and our deeper appreciation of Rizal’s accomplishments as well as his dream for a better world but also to develop further the close and personal relations between leaders and peoples of Malaysia and the Philippines.

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