Ramon Magsaysay Awardees: Changing Asia

by Anna Krisna Noble Bautista/Asianjournal.com

MAKATI CITY– The Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation (RMAF) marked the 51st death anniversary of former President Ramon Magsaysay  with the launching of the 50th  Ramon Magsaysay Awards at the Asian Institute of Management’s World Bank Resource Development Center.

RMAF president Carmencita Abella said that the awards began “to celebrate the achievements of the men and women of Asia that have given substance and dignity to the greatness of the Asian Spirit.”

Highlighting the celebra-tion was the audience’s dia-logue with Ramon Magsaysay Laureates Jon Ungphakorn (Government Service, 2005) and Arvind Kerjiwal (Emergent Leadership,  2006) via live stream.

Ungphakorn, through his Thai Volunteer Service, exposed Thailand’s privileged university graduates to the country’s rural poor and non-government organizations.  A pioneer in providing confidential counseling for people with HIV-AIDS, he also fought the public stigma on AIDS and asserted their rights to effective and affordable treatment.  He uncovered the government’s brutality against the Muslims in Southern Thailand and upheld the rights of rural folk property speculators and scandal-ridden infrastructures as well.

“After work they realized that they [volunteers] con-tribute to change.  Volunteer law graduates especially enjoy community service and were used to fight social injustices,” Ungphakorn said of his Thai Volunteer Service, which already has 40 genera-tions of volunteers.  “I would like to see that universities support their undergraduate to work with communities.”

Activating Indian citizens’ right to information and empowering New Delhi’s poorest citizens to fight corruption by holding the gov-ernment answerable to the people, Kejriwal was a significant factor for the passage of the Right to Information Act in his country.  Realizing that corruption stemmed mostly from the lack of transparency, he established the Parivartan movement, which makes government officials accountable for their projects.

“I would always feel guilty whenever I use the electricity because 40,000 families were displaced because of [the building] of the dam,” Kejriwal said.  The Indian of the Year in Public Service honoree in 2007 pointed out that everyone should find out his purpose and ask himself if he should choose pleasure while others suffer.  “What family gives us is little to what the community gives us.”

On the effective strategies they used to pressure the government and to keep the issue covered by the media, both said that a massive movement and the participation of the media and the youth helped, aside from upholding the right to information and having a political party that represents the marginalized and the poor.

Asked whether they were ever disheartened to continue their advocacy, Ungphakorn said, “My view is that this work is very interesting for me.  I don’t really like working for the government” but “doing your own moves, working with the community, the marginalized is always rewarding.”

Kejriwal, on the other hand, narrated the story of a 20-year-old girl who had her throat slashed by a mob, however, “In trying moments, all of us [working for the same cause] get together to carry on.”

he event also featured the launch of the RMAF blogsite and the Best Practices Video Documentary Series, which is the first DVD highlighting the Best Practices as exemplified by the RMAF Laureates.

Other activities of RMAF for this year include the opening of its blogsite this month, the announcement of the 2008 awardees in July, the Magsaysay Awards Week in August wherein Taiwan’s renowned dance group will perform, and the awarding ceremony proper also in Au-gust.  Bringing together the Magsaysay laureates, Gathering @ 50 conference will be held on September 1 and 2.

Among the youth participants were Paulo Benigno ‘Bam’ A. Aquino, Chairman of the National Youth Commission in the Philippines; Noelle Arcinue, former student council president of De La Salle University; Jay Bernardo, one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World in 2004; Carlos Conde, a National Book Awardee in 2004 for his book Unholy Nation: Stories from a Gambling Nation; Maria Streegan-Cruz, an active member of the Gawad Kalinga, the Holy Family Foundation, and the Habitat for Humanity; and Fan Dai, an assistant professor and an Outstanding Graduate of Jinan University in China.

The late Senator Raul Manglapus, in paying tribute to President Magsaysay, once said: “To Magsaysay, the word ‘man of the masses’ was clear and it was this: that there, across the mud puddle, stood a being, a person deserving of human dignity and it was worth leaping over that puddle with arm outstretched for a handshake, to give him perhaps his first taste of dignity – the dignity of recognition.”(AJ)

(For more information, visit the RMAF website at http://www.rmaf.org.ph.)

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