'Triumph of human spirit amid adversity': Asia's 'modern heroes' get region's premier prize

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 30 2021 08:54 PM

Vice President Leni Robredo during the virtual ceremony. Screengrab from RMAF. 
Vice President Leni Robredo during the virtual ceremony. Screengrab from RMAF. 

MANILA - Vice President Leni Robredo on Tuesday pleaded for a future built on compassion and empathy, as she hailed recipients of this year's Ramon Magsaysay Awards, Asia's highest honor and counterpart to the Nobel Peace Prize.

"We resume this annual tradition not necessarily in triumph over a darkness that still lurks, but in recognition of the human spirit that cannot be dimmed despite that darkness—that persists despite adversity," the Philippines' second highest official said during the first virtual conferment ceremony of the Magsaysay Awards since its establishment in 1957.

The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the awards last year, and prompted this year's resumption to be held online, both for the announcement of recipients last August and Tuesday's awarding ceremony.


Robredo, the event's guest of honor and a 2022 presidential aspirant of her country, said that as with the lessons and values demonstrated by the 2021 Magsaysay laureates, everyone should think of a future that includes the poor and vulnerable.

"It is a future where rights and freedom and fairness and dignity are upheld not only when convenient, but as a matter of human survival. A future where empathy is the default; where every child grows up valuing every other human being, knowing that to devalue another, to hurt another, means to hurt ourselves," she said.

"This is the lesson of the pandemic: We need to build a future of true and radical solidarity."

The awardees include Robert "Ka Dodoy" Ballon, a fisherfolk in Zamboanga Sibugay in the southern Philippines, who, according to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, has made significant contribution to his community's environment.

Muhammad Amjad Saqib of Pakistan was recognized for the impact of his microfinance institution in eradicating poverty among families in his country.

Firdausi Qadri of Bangladesh was honored for her "life-long devotion to the scientific profession" that left a mark in people's lives and the new generation of Bangladeshi scientists.

For "his life-long dedication to humanitarian work, refugee assistance, and peace building has alleviated the suffering of displaced persons all over Southeast Asia," Steven Muncy of Community and Family Service International was also conferred the award.

The RMAF also recognized Indonesia's Watchdoc as an "Emerging Leadership in an Organization," the first time such award was handed.


Ballon said he never knew that an initiative that would allow fisherfolk in his home province to eat thrice a day would be recognized internationally. 

In 1986, Ballon and 30 other fishermen founded "Kapunungan sa Gamay nga Mangingisda sa Concepcion" and led mangrove reforestation program to increase the catch of fishermen in their community.

"Because of this award, I am exceedingly grateful and hopeful that this platform could be a great mechanism to help our poor fisherfolk, to sustainably manage our coastal resources," Ballon said in his acceptance speech. 

Philippines' Ka Dodoy Ballon receives his Ramon Magsaysay Award in its virtual presentation ceremonies.
Philippines' Ka Dodoy Ballon receives his Ramon Magsaysay Award in its virtual presentation ceremonies.

"No matter how simple we are, we are capable of rising above our weaknesses, capable of choosing what is good, and ever capable of making a new start. May this crusade continue until we can achieve our goal of being successful and progressive Filipinos," he added.

Ballon urged his fellow fisherfolk to continue the program and for the Magsaysay recognition to "serve as a vehicle to sail smoothly."

"Let us not hook our destiny with the ways and means that our government has for us. We are capable of shaping our own, we break the silence of each dawn with noble purpose... Ours is not a passive waiting. ours is the call to be proactive," he said.

Qadri, who was recognized for her role in life-saving vaccines and for her devotion in scientific research. said she is dedicating the rest of her life to public health after winning the award. 

"After receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award, I now feel that I need to deliver even more for Bangladesh, for the people living in low to middle income countries of the world, for the people living in very fragile settings," she said.

"The award has made me feel responsible and I promise to dedicate the rest of my life to public health and contribute to saving lives."


Robredo, who had earlier urged Philippine leaders to go on the ground to help individuals in need during crises, said services should not be treated as "taglines."

"Inclusiveness should not be a matter of charity. It is the very rationale of governance... Such change will not happen overnight, or in three to six months, or even the span of a single presidency," she said. 

"It might take lifetimes. But much like Ka Dodoy's mangrove forests, we need to start walking into the brackish waters, bending our backs, and planting, seedling by seedling, until the sea itself notices. This is what it takes to build a future."

Robredo's husband, the late Interior Sec. Jesse Robredo, was a Magsaysay Awardee in 2000 for "good governance because of sheer dedication, untarnished reputation, and visionary leadership as the 3-term Mayor of Naga City" in Camarines Sur.

Aurelio Montinola, the RMAF chairman said "we can kindle our hope, and believe that we too can do something" based on the example of the 2021 Magsaysay laureates.

"Every little effort counts... Indeed there is no limit to what we can do when we are one. And proud to be Asians," he said.

Past recipients of the Magsaysay Awards include 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. His ideals inspired the awards.


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