MANILA— The Ramon Magsaysay Awards, Asia's highest honor and version of the Nobel Prize, will resume this year, recognizing four "stellar individuals" and one organization after last year's cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation behind it said Friday.
"Although we are still in the midst of a pandemic, we were able to find creative ways to do our work without compromising our process," Susan Afan, president of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF), told ABS-CBN News in an email interview.
"We will be able to once again honor the exemplary individuals and organizations that have been selflessly working to improve the lives of the marginalized and underprivileged," she said.
"We can share their stories to the world, and offer the much needed spark of hope in these trying times."
Since its establishment in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Awards have only been disrupted in three instances: the 1970 financial crisis, the 1990 earthquake in Luzon, and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Travel restrictions aimed at containing cases of the respiratory disease prevented the RMAF from validating the work and record of nominees last year, the foundation's communications officer Apple Deferia told ABS-CBN News.
While "it was not easy" to select the awardees this year, with adjustments made and extra constraints put on the foundation's research team, the RMAF decided to resume the awarding this year because "it is committed to present the Ramon Magsaysay Awards every year."
"We are delighted that we will be able to present the awards this year... Selecting the awardees has been a Magsaysay trademark secret for over 60 years... I can assure you that the result (this year) is just as fulfilling and joyous as it has been in previous years," Afan said.
Aside from recognizing influential individuals and organizations, and using their stories as sources of hope for all, the resumption of the awards "will give us a great opportunity to counter the Asian hate that has intensified in the US and elsewhere by showcasing the awardees' inspiring work," she said.
"Their stories make us proud to be Asians."
A virtual ceremony to be livestreamed at 2 p.m. on Aug. 31, the birth anniversary of the late Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay whose ideals inspired the creation of the awards, will be held for the announcement of this year's honorees.
"The (RMAF) Board of Trustees felt that they are worth giving an award to as a shining example of how new technologies and communication mediums can be used to inspire and promote awareness for positive change," Afan said of this year's recipients.
"With the pandemic causing so much suffering and dislocation all over the world, it is precisely the examples of the Awardees and President Magsaysay that can propel people and leaders not to lose heart and give up, but to steel themselves with greater resolve to rise and carve a better world," she added.
"These awards are a reminder that there is greatness in everyone! And we are seeing it firsthand 17-18 months into the pandemic - especially with our frontliners and health care professionals that are continuing to go to work every day, risking their lives in service of others."
The conferment of the awards will be held on Nov. 28, an adjustment from the traditional Aug. 31 awarding ceremony, as the foundation hopes "things will be better by then."
"We hope our foreign awardees will come to the Philippines during the actual awarding in November. But with the COVID situation, we are hoping for the best... At this point, the event will most likely be a hybrid (live and virtual)," said Afan.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award has been bestowed on over 300 individuals and organizations "whose selfless service has offered their societies, Asia, and the world successful solutions to some of the most intractable problems of human development," according to the RMAF website.
Laureates include, among others, the late Mother Teresa, the late Philippine Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the late Japan's Sadako Ogata who became United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and former president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and Singapore's Tony Tay, who shared food to the needy through his "Willing Hearts" nonprofit organization.
"The awardees are mostly ordinary people who rise above their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things. Fueled by a deep concern for the welfare of the disadvantaged, they push on, undaunted, to make a positive difference in their lives," Afan said.
"Similarly, President Ramon Magsaysay was single-minded in his efforts to lift the lives of the common man. Armed with compassion, he went to great lengths and initiated unprecedented measures to achieve that," she added.
"We call this greatness of spirit."
Magsaysay, the Philippines' 7th president, died in a plane crash in 1957.
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