2019 Magsaysay Award recipients exemplify 'undaunted courage'

Ronron Calunsod, Kyodo News

Posted at Aug 09 2019 10:41 PM


The 2019 recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia's highest honor dubbed as the region's counterpart to the Nobel Prize, are faces of "undaunted courage" in the midst of "timidity, helplessness or hopelessness," in the words of the award-giving body's officials.

On Sept. 9, two journalists from India and Myanmar, a human rights advocate from Thailand, an anti-bullying campaigner from South Korea and a respected Filipino musician will each be conferred the prize in formal ceremonies in Manila, where the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation is based.

This year marks the 61st season of the award, which came about after the 1957 plane crash death of then Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay, hailed by the foundation for "his leadership and moral courage, his simplicity and humility, his passion for justice, particularly for the poor, and his advancement of human dignity."

"Looking at these diverse individuals and (their) unique causes, we were amazed to note that they share a common, inspiring characteristic," the foundation's chairman Jose Cuisia said of the new batch of Magsaysay laureates.

"Each of our 2019 awardees illumines through their unique life and work the transformative power of undaunted courage."

Ko Swe Win, 41, chief editor of independent online news service Myanmar Now, is recognized for "his incorruptible sense of justice and unflinching pursuit of the truth in crucial but underreported issues," as well as "his resolute insistence that it is in the quality and force of media's truth-telling that we can convincingly protect human rights in the world."

Both Ko Swe Win and his Myanmar Now, with a current readership of 350,000, are known for well-researched, in-depth articles on issues like corruption, land-grabbing, prison labor camps and anti-Muslim extremists.

Indian TV journalist Ravish Kumar, 47, is conferred the award for "standing up for truth, integrity and independence, and his principled belief that it is in giving full and respectful voice to the voiceless, in speaking truth bravely yet soberly to power, that journalism fulfills its noblest aims to advance democracy."

Angkhana Neelapaijit, 63, of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, joins the list of awardees for "her unwavering courage in seeking justice for her husband and many other victims of violence and conflict" in her country's deep south.

The Muslim Thai's husband, Somchai Neelapaijit, a human rights lawyer, was abducted in 2004 and later killed in the midst of violent insurgency and militarization at the time in southern Thailand. Despite having to look after five young children, Angkhana pursued efforts to seek justice for his husband, and eventually founded the Justice for Peace Foundation.

"Her systematic, unflagging work to reform a flawed and unfair legal system, and the shining proof she is that the humblest ordinary person can achieve national impact in deterring human rights abuses" make Angkhana deserving of the award, the foundation said.

Kim Jong Ki of South Korea lost a son to suicide in 1995 due to bullying. Realizing that bullying and school violence were not recognized then by his government and society to be life-threatening issues, the highly successful businessman established the Foundation for Preventing Youth Violence, or FPYV.

His initiative eventually bore such fruits as "a holistic program of detection, protection and management in youth violence," a law on the prevention and handling of school violence, and a partnership with his country's Education Ministry, among others.

"A 2018 survey showed that since FPYV started its campaign in 1995, the incidence of school violence has dropped from 20 percent to 3 percent," the foundation noted.

It said Kim's "quiet courage in transforming private grief into a mission to protect Korea's youth from the scourge of bullying and violence" and "instilling among the young the values of self-esteem, tolerance, and mutual respect" make him worthy of the award.

Finally, Raymundo Pujante Cayabyab, 65, a renowned musician already named as a National Artist of the Philippines, is being cited for influencing Filipino popular music across generations through his compositions and performances, and also mentoring and promoting younger musical talents.

The foundation said Cayabyab shows "us all that music can indeed instill pride and joy, and unify people across the many barriers that divide them."

According to Cuisia, the 2019 awardees all display a "courage of conviction, the courage of committed and creative action, a moral courage."

"It is this kind of brave leadership and everyday heroism that is in increasingly greater demand, and sadly, in very short supply in today's world. We at the (foundation) call this kind of undaunted moral courage, 'Greatness of Spirit'," he said.

Carmencita Abella, the foundation's president, said the "good news" about "what (the awardees) do and the impact of what they do," as well as "their inspiring life journeys," evokes joy, inspires hope, energizes the spirit and challenges action in more creative ways.

"Beyond acknowledging those who create the good news, it's really holding up the good news so that more and more people can find some light in dark times," Abella said.

Prior to this year, the Magsaysay Award has already been conferred to 305 individuals and 25 organizations in Asia. The awardees receive a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of Magsaysay, and a cash prize.