MANILA (UPDATED) - Filipino music icon Ryan Cayabyab and four other Asian trailblazers were presented with the Ramon Magsaysay Award on Monday at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
Cayabyab was recognized for being a “moving force” in the local music industry--from promoting original Filipino music to mentoring young artists.
He was joined on stage by Kim Jong-Ki of South Korea, who started a movement to curb suicide and youth violence in schools; Ko Swe Win of Myanmar whose journalism and truth-telling has resulted in his persecution; Ravish Kumar of India who has given voice to the voiceless through his professional and ethical journalism; and, Angkhana Neelapaijit of Thailand, who after her husband’s enforced disappearance, devoted her life to seeking justice for victims of human rights abuses.
Ramon Magsaysay Award Board of Trustees chair Jose Cuisia Jr. said the gathering’s purpose is to celebrate the work of the “best of humanity” in the region.
“Embracing their life work has brought all of them a powerful sense of commitment,” he said. “To rise above fear, limitations and setbacks.”
In his speech, trustee Aurelio Luis Montinola III pointed out that “millions of Asian lives remain impoverished, vulnerable, conflicted.” He said this is why the award-giving organization continues to search for solutions and to help its laureates improve and scale up these solutions “to impact more lives.”
PROMISE OF MUSIC
Vice President Leni Robredo congratulated each of the awardees for being “prime movers and changemakers in their respective field and discipline.”
She thanked Cayabyab in particular for creating music that “reminds us that what brings us together holds more power than the things that tear us apart.”
“His melodies instill hope, pride and unity in the nation’s soul, teaching every FIlipino to dream of a better world,” Robredo said, adding that Cayabyab’s songs show that through unity “what seems to be impossible will be possible.”
In his speech, Cayabyab recalled how his mother, who was an opera signer, dissuaded him and his siblings from pursuing music.
But Cayabyab, who is known for writing numerous memorable and award-winning songs like “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika,” said it was in music that he found his calling.
“When I was starting out as a teacher at the UP College of Music in Diliman, I realized immediately that this was what I wanted to do - spend my life teaching music,” Cayabyab said.
At one point, a colleague asked him why he was so generous in teaching.
“Aren’t you afraid that by teaching everything you know you are divulging trade secrets,” he recalled his colleague asking.
“There really are no trade secrets. But even if there were, I would divulge them anyway,” Cayabyab told the audience at CCP.
The music icon pointed out that “teaching can transform lives.”
“I want everyone I teach to discover their maximum potential. I want them to become better than me,” he said. “I want the new generation of songwriters to be better than our generation so our music community can move forward.”
“This goal to make the Filipino public ware that our Filipino music is not just a form of entertainment but a living tradition,” he said.
Cayabyab then delighted the audience by announcing that his new composition will be performed by the Ateneo Chamber Singers.
Let me now introduce to you a recent work of mine that will be performed by the Ateneo Chamber Singers, who entranced the crowd as they sang from the theater boxes.
During her speech, Vice President Robredo talked about how Asia “is caught up once again in a wave of democratic dilemma.”
“New modes of populism, protectionism, and extreme nationalism are shaping government policies and regulations. In some societies, human rights have taken a back seat, and the relevance of traditional institutions are being questioned,” she said. “Racism, religious extremism, and gender discrimination continue to instill fear in our people, challenging our notions of freedom, privilege, and equality in the 21st century.”
She said the awarding ceremony was an opportunity to show approval “towards those who refuse to accept that the use of brute force, violence, and aggression have become the Asian norm; that silencing one’s critics is the most effective way to enact and pursue reforms; that ethnic, religious and gender lines must be drawn in the name of preserving tradition.”
She lauded Ko Swe Win’s “indomitable spirit.” The editor-in-chief of Myanmar Now spent seven years in jail as a student protester and later faced trumped up charges for heading a newsroom that produced in-depth articles about human rights and social justice issues.
Robredo also called Ravish Kumar’s brand of journalism a “window of hope and empathy for the entire Indian nation.” The veteran anchor, is one of the country’s most influential TV journalists because of his ability to connect with the poor, as well as social media users.
“For many years, his commitment to balanced and fact-based reporting remains a bastion of hope for the Fourth Estate,” Robredo said.
Both journalists talked about the freedom of expression and the press in their respective countries.
“The congratulatory messages I am receiving are also replete with worries about how media in India has turned rogue,” Ravish said.
“Indian media is in a state of crisis,” he added, calling it a systemic problem. He said many journalists fight alone and as “corporate (media) owners are never questioned.”
Ravish also emphasized the importance of knowledge as a measurement of wealth.
“I accept it on behalf of all those readers and viewers who continue to live in areas of knowledge inequality,” he said.
GRIEF AS STRENGTH
Robredo also cited Kim Jong-ki for showing people “that grief can be turned into one of the greatest strengths we can ever possess.”
In his speech, the former Samsung executive talked about how he became a successful businessman who neglected his family.
“No one had time for their families and I was like that too. Then one day, I lost my beloved son,” said Kim, recalling the painful incident. “He ended up taking his own life as he was unable to bear violence in school.”
During the time that his organization Foundation for Preventing Youth Violence gained ground in Korea, the incidence of school violence dropped from twenty percent to six percent.
“I finally found peace of mind as I took this work as my destiny and mission from God,” he said. “I’m sure my son is smiling at me from heaven.”
Another Magsaysay laureate whose loved one’s death forced her to take on another role is Angkhana Neelapaijit of Thailand.
Neelapaijit’s husband Somchai was a prominent human rights lawyer who was abducted in 2004. The former housewife found herself finding legal options to pursue those behind the enforced disappearance of her husband.
She became deeply involved in human rights work and became a commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission in Thailand.
Neelapaijit said the Magsaysay Award given to her was not a “symbol of victory” or an end of her advocacy but instead a “recognition of continuing struggle.”
“Each and every one of us has a choice to work to promote the upside rather than the downside of humanity,” she said. “All of us have a hero inside us that is able to recognize the beauty in all humanity.”
The Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s premiere award, was established in 1957 after the death of Philippine president Ramon Magsaysay.
In the last six decades, there have been more than 300 Magsaysay laureates. Of the 335, 50 were from the Philippines.
Cayabyab and the other awardees will be giving a series of free public lectures this week. Schedules of the lectures are posted on the Ramon Magsaysay Award Facebook Page.