Five awardees and an organization from countries across Asia received the Ramon Magsaysay Award on August 31 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila.
This year’s 59th Ramon Magsaysay Awardees came from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Japan and the Philippines who were recognized and honored by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation board of trustees for their distinction in their respective fields who altogether advanced causes to improve lives and transform societies across Asia, without anticipating public recognition.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award is an annual accolade established to uphold former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay’s example of integrity in governance, courageous service to the people, and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society. The prize was established in April 1957 by the trustees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund based in New York City with the concurrence of the Philippine government. The award has been lauded as the most reputable continental award in Asia, at par with the West’s Nobel Prize.
The event was graced by dignitaries including Ombudsman Conchita Carpio, who was also an awardee in 2016, former Philippine President Fidel Ramos, and Vice President Leni Robredo, whose late husband Jesse Robredo was also an awardee in 2000.
“If we want to see more growth, exciting innovation, and prosperity in the next century, we must accept the fact that we cannot move forward without taking care of each other and making sure that no one is left behind,” Robredo said in her closing speech.
The awardees are Tony Tay from Singapore for “his quiet, abiding dedication to a simple act of kindness — sharing food with others — and his inspiring influence in enlarging this simple kindness into a collective, inclusive, vibrant volunteer movement that is nurturing the lives of many in Singapore” through his fully volunteer-based, non-profit organization called “Willing Hearts”. This organization distributes hot, packed meals daily to the poor. The group now cooks 6,000 meals daily by 300 regular volunteers.
Gethsi Shanmugam from Sri Lanka devoted four decades of her life with her intense involvement in rebuilding lives of Sri Lankan people from the psychosocial wounds of war and violence when she worked with Save the Children Norway (SCN).
Lilia De Lima from the Philippines, is the first Director-General of Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) who led spectacular reforms during her leadership and regulated the foreign investments in the country’s economic zones. “Her unstinting, sustained leadership in building a credible and efficient PEZA, proving that the honest, competent and dedicated work of public servants can, indeed, redound to real economic benefits to millions of Filipinos.”
For 50 years, Yoshiaki Ishizawa from Japan, devoted his life to help ensure that Angkor Wat survives and remains a living monument for Cambodians. He worked side by side with Cambodians to generate awareness and support, and devised programs for Angkor’s protection and conservation which shows his selfless service. He insists that “The protection and restoration of the sites of Cambodia should be carried out by the Cambodians, for the Cambodians.”
The Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) was the only organization that was recognized this year. The organization rose to prominence with groundbreaking productions in Filipino, the national language, that were remarkable for their artistry and social relevance, at a time of resurgent nationalism and deepening political crisis in the country.
Abdon Nababan from Indonesia, was one of the organizers of a congress that launched AMAN (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara), or “Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago,” a mass-based organization that today has over 115 local chapters and 21 regional chapters throughout the country’s thirty-four provinces. He gave a compelling face and voice to Adat communities and their rights.
The awards are given in five categories: government service; public service; community leadership; journalism, literature, and creative communication arts; and peace and international understanding. Some of the most notable Ramon Magsaysay awardees are Mother Theresa in 1962, who’s now known in the Catholic Church as Saint Therese, the late former Philippine President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino in 1998, famed Filipino director Lino Brocka in 1985, and the late former Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago in 1988.