'Proud to be Asian': Zamboanga fisherfolk leader among 5 recipients of 2021 Magsaysay Award

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 31 2021 03:58 PM | Updated as of Aug 31 2021 08:16 PM

Indonesian media group receives first Ramon Magsaysay "Emerging Leadership in an Organization" award

Screengrabbed from the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation
Screengrabbed from the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation

MANILA (UPDATE) — A Filipino fisherfolk leader and environmentalist in Zamboanga Sibugay is among this year's five recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the highest accolade in Asia dubbed as the region's version of the Nobel Prize, for uplifting the lives in his community by sustaining marine life.

Roberto "Ka Dodoy" Ballon, 53, showed a "shining example how everyday acts of heroism can truly be extraordinary and transformative," officials of the Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) said during the announcement of awardees on Tuesday.

"The Foundation recognizes Ka Dodoy's inspiring determination in leading his fellow fisherfolk to revive a dying fishing industry by creating a sustainable marine environment for his generation and generations to come," the foundation's president Susan Afan said. 

Aside from Ballon, Muhammad Amjad Saqib from Pakistan, Firdausi Qadri from Bangladesh, and Steven Muncy of Community and Family Service International were also named as this year's Ramon Magsaysay Awardees.

Saqib is being recognized for the impact of his microfinance institution in eradicating poverty among Pakistani families; Qadri, for her "life-long devotion to the scientific profession" that left a mark in people's lives and the new generation of Bangladeshi scientists; and Muncy, for his "humanitarian work, refugee assistance, and peace building."

For the first time since it was established in 1957, the foundation is also handing out an award for "Emerging Leadership in an Organization", which this time goes to Indonesia-based WATCHDOC.

The media outfit is recognized for its "highly principled crusade" and its independence in journalism and documentary film making in digital platforms and for its "efforts in transforming Indonesia's media landscape." 

According to RMAF, this year's Ramon Magsaysay awardees were considered solution builders when it comes to important yet "complex" problems their societies faced. 

They also "embraced the challenges of their advocacies" and remained undaunted to urge others to do the same. 

"Perhaps the most powerful impact of their leadership
can be seen in the heightened moral courage through the many lives they have touched and inspired," a statement from the foundation read.

"Their example will go a long way in making us truly Proud to be Asian!" Afan said.

The formal conferment of the award, which was traditionally held every Aug. 31, the birth anniversary of the late Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay whose ideals inspired the creation of the awards, will happen on Nov. 28.


The RMAF described Ballon, a trained para-technician, as an "exceptional" leader whose self-sacrifice and dedication "transformed his community" for reviving a "dying fishing industry" by sustaining a marine ecosystem. 

According to the foundation, Ballon and 30 other fishermen started the Kapunungan sa Gamay nga Mangingisda sa Concepcion (KGMC), in 1986 due to rampant fishpond conversion in that village in the municipality of Kabasalan.

Ballon and the fishermen noticed that the fishpond conversions destroyed the mangrove forests there, the situation of which was emphasized when such ponds were no longer used and abandoned.

This was the reason his group focused on mangrove reforestation, compelling them to seek government help.

In 2000, they were granted tenurial rights for the area of the project in partnership with the government which led to the "expanse of healthy mangrove forests rich with marine and terrestrial life," the foundation said.

From starting with replanting mangroves in around 50 hectares in 1994, they were able to expand the reforestation efforts to some 500 hectares in 2015, the RMAF said.

Currently, KGMC has some 320 household members, who also conduct anti-illegal fishing efforts and anti-mangrove logging there. 

"The improvement in the fisherfolk’s quality of life has been evident in their ability to buy a boat engine or simple household appliances and send their children to school," the statement read, noting that fish catch rose from 1.5 kilograms (kg) per trips to some 7 kg. 

Moreover, their efforts were widely replicated in nearby towns. 

"When [he] and his fellow fishermen were starting out and it seemed like there was no one to help them but themselves, he said: 'Our families depend on the sea for our survival, not on politicians or other people, so it is only right that we make its protection our priority,'" the RMAF said.

Ballon was named as the most outstanding fisherfolk in Zamboanga Sibugay in 2012, and was awarded the National Gawad Natatanging Parangal of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) for fish conservation in 2019. 

Also in 2019, Ballon was the grand winner and won the best film in Vice President Leni Robredo's Istorya ng Pag-asa Film Festival (INPFF) Gala Night. 

He was a national awardee of Quedancor in 2006 under its Self Resilient Team (SRT) Program in Fish Culture Category. 

In 2011, he was cited as the most outstanding fisherfolk organization leader by the Ateneo de Zamboanga School of Medicine.


In a Facebook post, Robredo described Ballon as an inspiration for changing the lives of the fisherfolk in Kabasalan.

"Binuhay nila muli ang katubigan na nagbibigay sa kanila ng kabuhayan sa pagtatanim ng 500 hectares of mangrove. Ngayon, buhay na buhay muli ang fisherfolk community nila at, selflessly, binabahagi nila ang kaalaman at aral sa iba pang mga communities," she said. 

(They revived the resource-rich waters by planting 500 hectares of mangrove. Now, their fisherfolk community is alive because of the efforts, and they are sharing their knowledge selflessly to other communities.)


"Naimbita na namin siya sa [Office of the Vice President] at sa lalawigan namin sa Camarines Sur noong 2019 para ma mentor niya yung mga mangingisda na tinutulungan namin," she added. 

(We invited him in Camarines Sur last 2009 so he could mentor other fishermen we are helping.)

The Ramon Magsaysay Award resumed for its 63rd installment this 2021 after being cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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.

Magsaysay, the Philippines' 7th president, died in a plane crash in 1957.

Watch more on iWantTFC