What sets Ramon Magsaysay Awardees apart from other people is that they are like our country’s heroes who struggled and endured hardship for a greater cause, President Benigno Aquino 3rd said on Monday.
Speaking before a crowd of government and private sector leaders, media and students, Aquino lauded this year’s awardees of what is said to be Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize.
“Each of them has transcended the ‘individual’ perspective. Each of them has chosen to leave their comfort zones, and answer the call to serve more and more people, whether the immediate community, or all of society,” Aquino said of the men and women who received their Ramon Magsaysay Award at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in Manila.
“To our awardees: You have all faced formidable opponents, from corrupt employees and officials in government, to the phenomenon of widespread poverty and inequality, and even to the way that time erodes our most valuable traditions. But you were not daunted; you have persevered, and continued to persevere, in order to protect justice, basic human rights, and our cultural heritage,” he added.
Among the 2015 recipients of the ‘Nobel Prize of Asia’ is a Filipina cultural researcher and artist credited for preserving the endangered artistic heritage of southern Philippines.
The Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) named 71-year-old Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa as one of the five winners, recognizing her “single-minded crusade…in creatively propagating a dance form that celebrates and deepens the sense of shared cultural identity among Asians.”
“Indeed, our country holds the belief that if you forget your roots, you are bound not to reach your destination. Our own kababayan [fellow Filipino], Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa, has lived by this code. She turned her appreciation of the arts into an advocacy, with the most important one being the study, practice, and teaching of the dance style, pangalay, from the southernmost part of our country,” Aquino said.
“Mrs. Fernando-Amilbangsa refused to let this tradition be forgotten, believing that it is not only a unique manifestation of our people’s culture, but that it also links us to our brothers and sisters in Southeast Asia. In the face of indifference or perhaps even scorn, she persevered and even modernized the dance—ensuring that the tradition of pangalay (a Tausug traditional dance in the Philippine archipelago) becomes a living embodiment of Filipino progress,” he added.
The President, who was among those who gave out the awards, also lauded Anshu Gupta, from India for “his creative vision in transforming the culture of giving in India, his enterprising leadership in treating cloth as a sustainable development resource for the poor, and in reminding the world that true giving always respects and preserves human dignity.”
“Realizing its intrinsic value for survival and human dignity, Mr. Gupta left a lucrative job and founded Goonj, an organization focused on empowering those at the margins through the redistribution and processing of cloth to fit all kinds of needs. Working in 21 of India’s states, Goonj has now helped a vast number of Indians to take stock of their own lives through the various initiatives under its Cloth for Work program,” he said.
Aside from Fernando-Amilbangsa and Gupta, Aquino also recognized Kommaly Chanthavong, from Laos, for “her fearless, indomitable spirit to revive and develop the ancient Laotian art of silk weaving, creating livelihoods for thousands of poor, war-displaced Laotians, and thus preserving the dignity of women and her nation’s priceless silken cultural treasure.”
“From the utilitarian, but no less meaningful, use of cloth, we move to the example of one who has preserved its beauty, and used it to help others weave stronger, brighter futures: Kommaly Chanthavong from Laos. She turned her love for silk-weaving into the Phontong Handicraft Cooperative, covering 35 villages—and did not stop there,” he said
“Today, the Lao Sericulture Company manages Ms. Chanthavong’s many initiatives: from the Mulberries Organic Silk Farm, to Camacrafts, which markets handicrafts, and even to Mulberries, which initiates livelihood projects from traditional arts and crafts. All these provided thousands of Laotians with dignified livelihoods, while preserving and honoring ancient cultural traditions,” Aquino added.
The President also recognized Kyaw Thu, from Myanmar, for “his generous compassion in addressing the fundamental needs of both the living and the dead in Myanmar — regardless of their class or religion — and his channeling personal fame and privilege to mobilize many others toward serving the greater social good.”
“In 2001, as we have heard, he founded a society to help the poor bury their dead in accordance with the proper Buddhist burial rites. Since then, their work has expanded to cover almost every aspect of life, including medical assistance, vocational training, and humanitarian assistance to victims of conflict and calamities,” Aquino said.
“Mr. Thu has never just been a figurehead. He has helped to carry coffins during funeral services; he has lent material support to those protesting restrictive government policies; he himself has spoken out on social issues, even in the face of harassment,” he added.
The President also lauded Sanjiv Chaturvedi, for Emergent Leadership, from India, for “his exemplary integrity, courage and tenacity in uncompromisingly exposing and painstakingly investigating corruption in public office, and his resolute crafting of program and system improvements to ensure that government honorably serves the people of India.”
“The idealism that paved the way for his entry into public service has spurred his investigations of corruption and determination to uphold integrity, even in the face of threats, humiliation, and harassment. Let us emphasize: Mr. Chaturvedi does not only strive to uncover wrongdoing, he also works to institute policies that ensure the transparency and accountability of systems and to implement meaningful projects,” Aquino said.
“Despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges before him, he continues to work towards lasting reform. Such a situation, as you may well know, is very familiar to those working in this administration, who have spent the past few years struggling to uproot corruption and impunity, and institute good governance in its place,” he added.
The Magsaysay awardees of 2015 are truly stoking fresh hopes for a better Asia, said RMAF President Carmencita Abella.
According to the foundation, the prestigious award is given to persons “who address issues of human development in Asia with courage and creativity, and in doing so have made contributions that have transformed their societies for the better.”