A Hero of a Free Asia: Why Indonesia Admires Jose Rizal
Filipinos are well aware of the impact and legacy national hero Jose Rizal had on shaping the Philippines as we know it, but Rizal’s heroism continues to influence countries even beyond our borders—particularly that of Indonesia, a nation that views Rizal with the same amount of respect as Filipinos.
To one of the founding fathers of Indonesia, Tan Malaka (1897 to 1949), an Indonesian national hero and socialist, Rizal was more than a Philippine hero—he was the universal hero of a liberated Asia.
A proponent of the fusion of revolutionary Marxism and an anti-colonialist Islam, Malaka praised Rizal, alongside Andres Bonifacio, as among the ‘founding icons’ of a united Indonesia, the political unification of what is considered to be the former Malay world. Malaka shared the same ideals of Apolinario Mabini who, decades earlier, viewed the Philippine Revolution as the catalyst for future uprisings within the larger Malaya, which was then ruled under the bootstraps of the colonial powers such as France, England and the Netherlands.
While many later generations see Rizal as a pacifist, because such an image is a product of American propaganda, as opined by historian Renato Constantino, Malaka viewed Rizal as a radical—one who was open to examination of an old identity as an alternative to European ideals. To quote the scholar Ramon Guillermo in his study of Rizal and Bonifacio, "Tan Malaka considered Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio as "pure Indonesians" because the Philippines is included in what he calls "Indonesia Raya" (Greater Indonesia)."
Malaka went on to describe him and Bonifacio as "native Indonesians," in the broader sense of the word as he believed that Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines were once a single nation before the colonizers arrived, as per Guillermo.
Malaka was not the only one to profess admiration for Rizal as a liberator. At the height of the Second World War, when the Empire of Japan realized it was losing its hold over the Indonesian archipelago, the Japanese began to pour their energies into promoting Indonesian nationalism by guaranteeing a Japanese withdrawal in exchange for siding with them in the name of a united Asia. As part of their efforts to sway public opinion to the side of the Empire of Japan, they churned out pro-Malay and (ironic) anti-colonial propaganda. Among one of those pieces chosen for distribution was Rizal’s “Mi ultimo adios”, a staple literary piece every Filipino learns.
One of the most penetrating excerpts from the aforementioned poem is its reverence for peaceful or violent methods of reform, which may highlight Rizal’s eventual realization of the latter as an inevitability:
En campos de batalla, luchando con delirio,
(In fields of battle, deliriously fighting)
Otros te dan sus vidas sin dudas, sin pesar;
(Others give you their lives, without doubt, without regret)
El sitio nada importa, ciprés, laurel o lirio,
(The place matters not: where there’s cypress, laurel or lily)
Cadalso o campo abierto, combate o cruel martirio,
(On a plank or open field, in combat or cruel martyrdom)
Lo mismo es si lo piden la patria y el hogar.
(It’s all the same if the home or country asks)
Translated into Bahasa Indonesia by Rosihan Anwar in 1944, the poem, which contains Rizal’s vindication of his dedication to the cause of his people, was admired by the people of this newly emerging nation. It spoke of universal struggle, and Indonesian revolutionaries are said to have recited the poem before going into battle in their own war for independence.
The influence of Rizal is so vast that it’s even a relatively common name for males in Malaysia, Indonesia, and even Brunei Darussalam. This fanfare and adoration for Rizal in neighboring countries is a testament to the reach of the Philippine revolution and its memory abroad. While most don’t remember the revolution in their day to day lives, save for holidays of commemoration, it’s essential for us to break the conception that the Philippines revolution was only for Philippine freedom. As Rizal has proven, his continued relevance and calls for independence are a cornerstone to the free Asia we see today.
His words marked the destinies of these nations in Southeast Asia, who see that the Asian hero Rizal is still a shining beacon and a guide to the continuing challenges ahead of us.
Constantino, R. (1970). Dissent and Counter-consciousness. Manila, Philippines. Echerwon Publishing.
Guillermo, R. (2017) Andres Bonifacio: proletarian hero of the Philippines and Indonesia, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 18:3, 338-346.
Nery, J. (2011). Rizal in Southeast Asia. Quezon City, Philippines. Ateneo de Manila University Press.