FULL TRANSCRIPT: Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's interview with ANC


Posted at Mar 03 2023 06:38 PM | Updated as of Mar 04 2023 05:04 PM

(UPDATED) Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim shared with ABS-CBN News Channel his views on a territorial dispute with the Philippines over Sabah, the 1MDB scandal, and the need for a united ASEAN stance on the South China Sea, among others.

Below is the updated transcript of Anwar's exclusive interview with ANC's "Headstart," which aired on Friday.

Karen Davila: Welcome back to the Philippines, Mr. Prime Minister. Coincidentally, this is your second time you’re back in the country. Your first time you met with then-senator Bongbong Marcos, Jr., who's now president and you are meeting now as heads of state. What was that like? Seeing each other again as heads of state?

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim: Well, [it is] quite an experience and I thought it was useful to be able to meet and discuss frankly prior to holding office. But now look at the chemistry, the camaraderie and friendship meeting and discussing… that’s something commendable on both countries.

Karen Davila: What can both countries do, Malaysia and the Philippines, when it comes to issues in the South China Sea?

Anwar Ibrahim: We did tackle the subject which is quite contentious because of the position we have with China. But both of us agree that the mechanism should be balance and to try and engage with the Chinese and to take a position. There is also a dialogue because we are dealing with neighbors but taking a multi-lateral position would be better because all of us would somewhat similar shoes with China and as far I asked him because he was in China recently and I said yeah he thinks that’s the best option with the Chinese and to listen and engage. 

Karen Davila: Malaysia is a claimant country when it comes to some territory in the South China Sea. How would you approach this problem considering that the Philippines has the arbitral ruling victory and yet China refuses to acknowledge it when experiencing incidents in the West Philippine Sea in our own exclusive economic zone?

Anwar Ibrahim: Precisely because with this concern and I raise the subject with President Bongbong and we did suggest that we should explore more high-level session within ASEAN so we could take a common position. Well, the Chinese are willing to discuss and that is subtlety positive as far as I'm concern. Not an easy resolution but we must secure some sort of a basic understanding among ASEAN vis-a vis China. 

Karen Davila: Did you discuss partnerships in terms of joint patrol when it comes to the South China Sea issue?

Anwar Ibrahim: We're not to come to that stage but the understanding is there particularly within Malaysia and the Philippines but our navy need[s] to be able to further enhance the capability. This is not as strong as we expect as even compared to the Indonesian Navy or the Filipino. 

Karen Davila: Interestingly wrote a book "The Asian Renaissance" that actually covers Asia's independence from the West it’s that journey and yet considering the influence of China today. Do you believe that US presence in the region would help?

Anwar Ibrahim: We have never argued against US presence although military presence in our view should be avoided because then would then provoke and escalate tension. But we want to preserve ASEAN as zone of peace, neutrality, and freedom of course. So, which means we’ll have to continue to engage with the Chinese and with the U.S. But [it] would be disconcerting, if any force, east or west, starts showing military might or presence within ASEAN and that we have to strongly guard ourselves. 

Karen Davila: Would you want ASEAN to speak in a more decisive voice when it comes to the South China Sea issue?

Anwar Ibrahim: We have to take a common position and then engage with the Chinese because [if we] would take [a] combative view we will not dissolve; we will not ease the tension. So, I think let us start with the first option to get a consensus within ASEAN and take a position with the Chinese to suggest that this is our concerns and I think the best route is to get into amicable solution to this. I don’t believe that we need to combat with our neighbors because we are among ASEAN we were never combat although there are some issues affecting the border, the territory but we have already maintained sort of reason, calm attitude. Except to Myanmar of course.

Karen Davila: Right now you are experiencing a refugee crisis. What would you want your Asian neighbors to do more when it comes to the crisis? 

Anwar Ibrahim: Four decades of constructive engagement [have] not been meaningful. People are still being killed. Hundreds of thousands are leaving or force to leave their villages and house are being burned. We have 200,000 refugees from Myanmar, mainly from Rohingya, in Malaysia. We cannot see that this is purely an internal issue. So, I have appealed to the friends ASEAN to say ‘Look we have to be tougher.’ How I think of course my senior partners have to engage more effectively and probably be more assertive if necessary engage with the forces of this countries because sometimes the military junta do not understand probably the civilian sort of narrative. 

KD: But what's difficult is Malaysia's bearing the brunt of the immigration problem.

Anwar Ibrahim: That’s why I suggested to President, I said okay why would I think of a relatively stronger position, this is affecting our country and it’s not small and of course, the atrocities cannot be condoned. I mean how do you expect me of doing through all these human rights abuse and violations and suddenly keep silent and completely ignoring oblivious realities. So, it is both on personal experience point of view for the general policy of Malaysian government but we’ll have to find amicable solution which is difficult right now because they have tried all. We don’t want other forces in countries to be involved so ASEAN has to prove that it is relevant and able to ease some of the problems. 

Karen Davila: Is it difficult or different for you now, you used to be the opposition leader now you're the prime minister of the country. Clearly you have to compromise one way or another with your own values. Do you see that as a challenge? 

Anwar Ibrahim: Yes, it is, frankly it is because the things you have to be more cautious or circumspect in expressing your views. I tend to joke in my foreign minister because every time I speak I got nervous. I understand of course because we are living in a multi-lateral relationship and therefore there must be. But certain fundamental principles must be at least accepted that is why I'm known to be a Rizalian because other than foreign issues, ethics issues, issue of justice, morality cannot be compromised too far because otherwise you are degrading the human values. 

Karen Davila: Many don’t know that you were once a Rizal scholar. Is that accurate?

Anwar Ibrahim: Well, I'm just a student of.

Karen Davila: But what is it about Jose Rizal, our national hero, what is about his life that you can relate to it so much?

Anwar Ibrahim: Well, his tragic life not only as a national hero. He talks himself as wanderlust Malay. He talks of the region very comfortably and he is not only a freedom fighter in a sense but he is also very, the philosophical construct about the strength of the indigenous values, the rejection of this colonial mindset of condescending towards the colonized and touching on the fundamental values like justice and compassion and tolerance. Which is so critical. 

Karen Davila: Do you see yourself as Jose Rizal? Do you see if you have the same characteristics do you feel?

AInwa Ibrahim: Well, there is a huge gap, but of course I’ve read most of his works and some including Noli Me Tangere that has been translated into Bahasa our national language. I used even in the University of the Philippines lecture the “Indolence of the Filipinos” that gives really the spiritual strength of the Filipino nation against the might of the colonizers and only true indigenous resolve and dignity you can actually free the society and move forward. So, I think in that sense I am a Rizalian but otherwise I'm a small…

Karen Davila: Another interesting point that February last year before you actually took an oath as prime minister a French arbitration court ordered the Malaysian government to pay 14 billion dollars to Sulu claimants of Filipino descent and I’m curious how will your administration deal with this. Do you even respect that ruling?

Anwar Ibrahim: We have one case I mean this is some claimants and individual basis the Filipino authorities have not been involved in any matter. They got to solicit some professional council from the U.K. and taking certain comeback. I don’t think it is a decision that would affect the sovereignty of the nations. To us it is our national sovereignty. There are issues regarding agreement which we can resolve. I don’t think I am on that but it is a ridiculous claims there are fault in our legal process but it’s been corrected and we will continue to win the cases. 

Karen Davila: You’re hitting a hundred days of office interestingly this week as prime minister. What would you say is your biggest achievement in the last 3 months?

Anwar Ibrahim: You know two weeks, 100 days, to me it is inconsequential because of course this is mainly the legacy of American administration apparently during the days of Roosevelt but I think the most important first thing was the message, good governance in the country, rid the country of corruption, get a clear framework on what development means. We cannot ignore and marginalize some sectors of the community to remain abject poor and to allow for such gross disparity from the very rich and the very poor. The country must free itself from endemic corruption. Malaysia should not be known because of this various past scandals so think from day one I give a strong message. I made it clear that no I compromise on this. So, I think that to me whether it’s one day or hundred days or hundred years we must begin now and we have done so. 

Karen Davila: Let’s start with that since you mentioned corruption, the 1MBD scandal, sadly Malaysia has been coded all over the world because of the sovereign wealth fund gone wrong right and you've demanded Goldman-Sachs to pay up. Where are you now with that?

Anwa Ibrahim: You see as I have said these sort of deals and of course absconding of sovereign funds could have not happened if the national system with juris independence, professional prosecution and independent institution of the central banks have been intact. But it could not happened in that scale if the international finance institution like... is not complicit to the crime. And we cleared it to the government stocks, and it is not right for you to say now will pay you some minor compensation. Yes, it was done by the previous administration which I think of course clearly not complicit and certainly didn’t focus on the issue. I've changed and dismissed the legal team and work again because I think I owe it to the innocent people. I mean why do we have to pay billions of dollars to the complicit crime of others. I think in that position we are re-opening the case and negotiation with... it is not over. Two days back we settle with Abu Dhabi investment I pick in London we are opted 1.8 billion dollars which is a major success. Thanks not only the team but also the Abu Dhabi authorities for trying to solve it amicably and move on. But only through leadership integrity if you don’t have any side deals can you begin what was lost.

Karen Davila: Malaysia also sued J.P. Morgan and Deutsche Bank. Are you willing to negotiate with these two banks?

Anwar Ibrahim: Yes even with... it is better if they come up with some reasonable proposals, we can adjust. I am in favor of quick resolutions… but it must be a fair deal with this financial institutions with all so called experts I cannot be complicit and I cannot just let squat free without taking some responsibility for the misdeeds. 

Karen Davila: You always lead an argument of righteousness and justice, anti-corruption even when you were an opposition leader and some of the interviews I've seen they've also brought up issues about you working with your Deputy Prime Minister who's charged with 47 counts of corruption and you are also accused of nepotism. How do you balance this now?

Anwar Ibrahim: It’s not balance we have to form a coalition any party in order to form a government will have to enter a coalition. Now the president or the prime minister has been charged of some technical offenses I don’t understand why it is 47 clearly it is also questionable how is it has been done but nonetheless it is not my issue we have to respect due process. 

Anwar Ibrahim: And for nepotism, because they brought up, I wanted my daughter to just advise me, pro-bono, I say what is important to the country governance that you don’t interfere with the contracts you do not take money you do not squander money. It is appalling. I mean for the people having the corrupt who have taken billions and appoint their sons and son in laws and give hundreds of millions of contracts to have the audacity to come back and say well this is nepotism. Notwithstanding because there were perception that my daughter opted to resign. 

Karen Davila: You have had a stellar life. Your political journey is sort of miraculous one would say, you’ve been incarcerated twice for charges for other people cannot even imagine that would fall into their own life. How could you be here right now? And not be bitter not be angry still smiling and run the country?

Anwar Ibrahim: You are of course familiar of the case you are there since 1999, and you understand it particular. It wasn’t easy, prison is not better of roses it, and prior to that I was also detained because the student demands protest against the treatment of the poor farmers. But between your personal predicament and the nation, I am the nation president, we have to move on I mean people do make mistake but they should not repeat it. Now that I’m in charge I said I will not tolerate this nonsense. Whatever they say they accuse me in terms of governance we have to save the country and now Malaysia to re-emerge as a vibrant economy, as a mature, democratic society. 

Karen Davila: What do you think being in jail with those trumped-up charges that kind of political harassment what did that teach you that’s helping you become the leader you are today?

Anwar Ibrahim: Wiser, and older unfortunately. I think what I did was a lot of time to reflect you meditate at the same time you keep yourself healthy. One year was no meat so your cholesterol level is very low. Sugar is very well controlled. So this also the positive side of the imprisonment. But you spend a lot of time hours of hours just reading whatever that I can find, the classics the philosophy, the religous texts and great.

Karen Davila: And I have to ask this because you have a such unique relationship with former prime minister Mahathir, you were once his prodigy and until it turn sour at one point, what's relationship like today?

Anwar Ibrahim: No we have no communication, as much I think we have to move on, I don't have an issue against him. It was he who... he put me to prison. And I was tortured when he was prime minister. He reneged on the promise, which is a major surprise after all that happened and we have forgiven and moved on. It is in him either forgive me or no, I just want to move on. And he is 97 I think he needs to move on and make sure he has good health and peace of mind. But my task is horrendous having to repair all this. I think it will good for me as my family and the nation if we have a little preoccupied just helping the nation grow.

Karen Davila: You're 75 years old, you look great. What's the secret?

Anwar Ibrahim: A doctor wife whose strict with the diet. I tend to have a good exercise have a good diet. I can't do it in manila you've been serving me too good food. But really moderation, try to catch up with good sleep, which I fail of course. But I'm lucky.

Karen Davila: How do you not lose the Anwar Ibrahim that the world knows? 

Anwar Ibrahim: We have to draw the line of quite a lot of compromises. Given the choice, I would have done better many other ways but I think that you draw the line. For example, governance on issue of poverty, on issue of anti-corruption, I think you draw that line. You will be able to succeed. I think and not to obsess about what others think, you know? What a lot of politicians do. Having to be excited every time there's a poll. Okay. But just do what is right and that's important. and finally, I believe we say shallah, God willing. if you do what is right, then there is the satisfaction -- spiritual, mental that you know you do your best. It would satisfy everyone and the days of social media... you know, it is not easy but I'm generally a happy person. I mean I'm relaxed, i'm happy, I don't get too engrossed with all these problems, the tears you know why? Because I went through hell already. So it's not good to be worst than what I had experienced.

Karen Davila: But clearly you know about Philippine History, it's close to your heart in one way or another and Sabah has been part of the Philippines history and you spoke about it with President Marcos Jr. in 2018, that's the irony of it all. Did you talk about it now? 

Anwar Ibrahim: Well I mentioned it because he is quite contentious because of the position of the Philippines and the historical .. of Malaysia Sabah is part of Malaysia. We are very comfortable to it, But I think to be fair to the Filipino position they're not taken hostile or ... So let us evolve slowly although it is tough for us because our people in Sabah feel that we should be more assertive in defending but I think the president has been very cordial , that's the Philippine position that's the Malay position but let it rest for a while and there should not be an issue that easily provoke or cause antagonism because there are too many things in common these are two great nations they must walk together. I represent this generation and I told the president very clearly that lets us work together to enhance this materal relations that never happened before. 

Karen Davila: Another interesting point that February last year before you actually took an oath as Prime Minister, a French arbitration court ordered the Malaysian government to pay P15 billion to Celu Claimants of Filipino descent. And I'm curious: How will your administration deal with this? Do you even respect that ruling? 

Anwar Ibrahim: We have one absequent cases I mean this is some claimants and individual basis the Filipino authorities has not been involved in any matter, they got to solicit some professional council from the UK and taking certain comeback. I don't think it is a decision that would affect the sovereignty of the nations. To us it our national sovereignty there are issues regarding .. agreement which we can resolve I don't think I am ... on that. But it is a ridiculous, claims there are fault in our legal process but its been corrected and we will continue to win the cases. 

Karen Davila: On that note, Mr. Prime Minister, what an honor to be speaking with you, sir. Really what an honor.

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