MANILA, Philippines – Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim, who is poised to become the next Malaysian prime minister, said governments cannot abuse power against dissidents, when asked about attacks against President Rodrigo Duterte's critics, including Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.
"My consistent view is that you cannot abuse power to victimize the opposition or dissidents," said Anwar, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, in a press conference in Makati City on Tuesday, September 4.
Anwar had been asked about the persecution of Duterte's political enemies, including Trillanes, whose amnesty was learned to have been revoked just hours before Anwar met the press.
The 71-year-old Anwar himself was jailed on widely-criticized charges of sodomy and corruption in the late 1990s, which were believed to have been politically motivated. In a surprising turn of events, the man whom he had blamed for his incarceration – 93-year-old Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad – is expected to transfer power to him in two years.
On Tuesday, Anwar was in Makati City to speak at the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) CEO Conference.
What he'd tell Duterte
In his press conference on the sidelines of the MAP event, Anwar said he does not know the basis of the charges against Trillanes, but he has a piece of advice for the Philippine president.
"If I am to meet President Duterte, I will also say I would support some of his measures but I would certainly want him to continue to ensure that there's a vibrant democracy and respect for the rule of law in the Philippines," Anwar said, adding that how to do this is for Duterte and the Filipinos to decide.
"Certainly if I am convinced of a specific case where there's abuse, I would certainly express my view as a citizen of Malaysia," he added.
Anwar cares about the Philippines, he said, because "when I was incarcerated, you know, the Filipino leaders and civil society were there for me."
The late president Corazon Aquino, for one, "became a good friend," and deposed president Joseph Estrada "was there in Kuala Lumpur" and "insisted that he should visit me in prison but he was not allowed." He also recalled the late senator Blas Ople, who "gave a brilliant speech in Congress in the initial phase of my incarceration."
"How do I now say that I don't care what happens here?" he said.
Comment on De Lima, too
"The Philippines is a great country. You're a pioneer when it comes to democratic reforms in the time of Cory Aquino. People often look up to you," Anwar added. "So when you see this derailment or erosion, of course you get a bit concerned."
Anwar was later asked if he is aware of the case of Senator Leila de Lima, one of Duterte's fiercest critics, who was detained for alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade.
"Yes, there were representations made," Anwar said about his knowledge of De Lima's case. "I also made my position known that except for a pure or specific criminal case or charge where due process is respected, I do not condone it, I do not agree, that political leaders, dissidents, journalists are treated in that manner."
In the same press conference, Anwar also stressed the need to maintain due process in the Philippines.
"My view, which is a general position, which I think I do not want to concede or compromise, is that due process must be the ground rule. We must accept due process. No way can you ignore the importance of the rule of law," he said. – with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com