The Philippine government and the Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation on Thursday hailed Sadako Ogata, a former UN high commissioner for refugees, as they expressed sadness over her recent passing.
The foreign ministry, in a statement, said Ogata, who died on Oct. 22 at the age of 92, "holds a special place in the heart of the Philippines and among the Filipino people."
It cited her active support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which she headed from 2003 to 2012, "for programs and projects that advanced the Philippines' development plans and priorities."
"More significantly, she was deeply devoted to assisting the cause of peace and grassroots development in Mindanao, visiting the island and engaging parties in dialogue in 2006," it said.
"Ogata leaves behind a profound legacy that will enrich international humanitarian work as well as the cooperation between the Philippines and Japan in the years to come."
The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation also expressed "deep sympathies" to the family and relatives of its 1997 laureate for International Understanding. The award is regarded as Asia's counterpart to the Nobel Peace Prize.
Remembering Ogata's work as UNHCR Commissioner from 1991 up to 2000, the foundation said, "Her experience teaches her that if the refugee crisis is to end, the injustices that create refugees must also end."
Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the former leader of the country's largest Muslim rebel group who now sits as chief minister of the newly created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said Ogata will always be remembered in the Bangsamoro for her contributions to the Mindanao peace process.
"She advocated human security in the Philippines and supported the advancement of peace and development in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao," Murad said in a statement.
In 2011, he said, Ogata manifested her continuing commitment to the Mindanao peace process by inviting him and then Philippine President Benigno Aquino for a meeting in Japan, which, he said, "was highly instrumental in moving the peace process forward."
Murad's group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and the Philippine government eventually forged the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro a year later, and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014. He said Ogata "actively supported the crafting of both" agreements.
As part of the accord, the Bangsamoro government and region were established this year. It is hoped the development will end decades of violence in Mindanao that has claimed the lives of over 120,000 people, displaced more than 3.5 million others, and stunted not only the island's but the entire country's economic growth.
"I am deeply saddened by Ogata's passing. I send my heartfelt condolences to her (family) and the people of Japan. The Bangsamoro mourns with you," Murad said.