By FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE JOSE DE VENECIA JR.
Five days ago, Japan’s Emperor Naruhito formalized his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne, the throne of the Emperor of Japan, which was attended by some 2,000 dignitaries from all over the world, including Prince Charles of United Kingdom, King Felipe VI of Spain, and the Southeast Asian monarchs King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia and King Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand.
Our President Rodrigo Duterte also attended the royal event to illustrate the continuing special relations between the Philippines and Japan, the sustained largest donor, we believe, to Philippine projects.
The ceremony last Tuesday, October 22, is the official declaration of Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement, although he became Japan’s reigning monarch on May 1, 2019, after his father, the well-loved 85-year-old then Emperor Akihito stepped down from the throne, citing his advanced age and health condition.
Reports say that emperor Naruhito, 59 years old, is the first Japanese monarch who studied in a foreign country, at the prestigious Oxford University in the United Kingdom.
The new Japanese Emperor’s reign in the “Land of the Morning Sun” is referred to as the “Reiwa,” which began when he succeeded his father last May. His father’s era was called the Heisei.
It has been said that Emperor Naruhito’s father, the highly-respected and soft-spoken Emperor Akihito, is the first Japanese emperor who relinquished his throne since 1817, or some 200 years, ending his reign of 30 years, from 1989 to 2019.
Akihito is the son of the Emperor Hirohito, who was at the time regarded by the Japanese as god-like, presided over Japan during World War II at the height of the Japanese reign of war and conquest of many countries in Asia, including the Philippines.
Akihito was 12 years old when the war ended in 1945, with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He became emperor in 1989, when his father passed away.
As we mentioned in this column much earlier, my wife Gina and I had the privilege of being received twice by then Emperor Akihito and his lady, Empress Michiko, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, first in the early 1990s and again in 2006, during our first and fourth terms, respectively, as speaker of the House of Representatives.
We will miss the highly-respected Emperor Akihito, who, as emperor, reached out to Japan’s former enemies and victims, healing the deep wounds inflicted by military-led Japan during the late 1930s until the early 1940s in its quest for supremacy in Asia.
Historians say the Japanese monarchy is the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world, dating back to 660 B.C. and counting 126 monarchs, beginning with the legendary Emperor Jimmu, who, according to Japanese Shinto belief, was a direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu.
In our Southeast Asian neighbor-countries, we are honoured to have met several times the highly revered legendary monarchs — King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand and King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia.
We are also privileged to have been received by Cambodia’s current King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh last year. King Sihamoni is the son of the late King Sihanouk and brother of our dear friend, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who served as co-prime minister with Hun Sen and later as speaker of Parliament of Cambodia.
The renowned King Sihanouk became Cambodia’s reigning monarch in 1941, at the age of 18, and served until 1955, and again from 1993 to 2004. In between his rule as king, he served his country as minister, president, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United Nations.
Under Sihanouk as prime minister and later as president, 1955 to 1970, Cambodia experienced relative peace and prosperity while many countries in Asia were experiencing political upheavals. He amazed and entertained his people as concurrent film director, writer, and composer.
In Thailand my wife and I had the privilege of being received by the immensely popular and well-loved King Bhumibol at the Royal Palace in Bangkok. He was his country’s longest serving monarch and one of the lengthiest among kings in the world, beginning in 1946, at the age of 18, until his death in 2016, or for 70 years.
King Bhumibol played a crucial role in unifying Thailand in the midst of the many challenges and difficulties that the country faced, particularly in recent years prior to his death. The Thai people considered King Bhumibol a man of the people, who travelled even among the poor and to far-flung villages in Thailand to listen personally and address the concerns of his people.
He was a painter, musician, photographer, and author. God gave him the gift of humility and the desire to work even among the poorest.
We hope leaders all over the world could be like him.