Inspiring Ramon Magsaysay Awardees for 2013

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva

The Bohol Chronicle

September 1, 2013

We are enduring the tragedy and stench of massive corruption involving political patronage and the pork barrel scam implicating many legislators and other officials, and a few private persons and NGOs. In this sordid atmosphere the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation’s annual award ceremonies on August 31 bring us refreshing and inspiring relief.

Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is an annual celebration to perpetuate President Ramon Magsaysay‘s example of honesty and integrity in government, humble and courageous “servant leadership” to the people, and pragmatic idealism in a democratizing society. The Foundation has named 281 people and 20 organizations as laureates. The prize was instituted by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in New York City with the concurrence of our government.  It is given to Asian individuals or organizations achieving excellence in their respective fields and helping change and inspire their communities. Each awardee receives a certificate, a medal, and a cash prize of US$50,000.

The 2013 Awardees. In the words of the RM Award Foundation, commentators, and the awardees themselves, here are brief portraits of the awardees.

1. Habiba Sarabi. First and only female Governor of Afghanistan. Fifty-five years old, she is a member of the minority Hazara group. She was chosen for helping build a functioning local government and pushing for education and women’s rights in Afghanistan’s Bamyan province despite working in a violent and impoverished environment in which discrimination is pervasive, the Foundation said. Public education and the ratio of female students have increased in her province, where more women are taking up careers that were forbidden under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime.

“In the face of widespread hostilities toward women assuming public roles, her courage and determination are outstanding,” the Foundation said of Sarabi, a member of an ethnic and religious minority in Afghanistan.

Sarabi gets her motivation to serve from the people she is able to help. : “I love the people. I love my country. My people deserve that I help them, that I work for them.”

2. Lahpai Seng Raw. A 64-year-old widow and Advocate for Peace and Reconciliation in Myanmar, she is honored for helping the rehabilitation work in damaged communities amid ethnic and armed conflict. The emergency relief, health care and sanitation projects of the civil society group that she helped found in 1997 in then-military-ruled Myanmar has today reached over 600,000 people across the country.

She has never considered her gender to be an impediment to her endeavors, especially in spurring development in the marginalized borderlands of her country, which is still reeling from decades of military dictatorship. Her being a woman was actually something of an advantage in her work for Metta Development Foundation, a nongovernment organization (NGO) she formed in 1997 that sought to provide emergency relief to people displaced from conflict zones, including the Kachin ethnic minority to which she belonged. Under her leadership, Metta has established more than 600 farmer field schools and trained more than 50,000 farmers in effective farm and forest management, according to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation. The NGO has established schools and training centers in early childhood education, and introduced community-managed water, health and sanitation systems, and other health-care projects, the foundation said. Metta has also provided funding and technical support for a wide range of livelihood projects, it added.

The group has since become the largest NGO in Burma (also known as Myanmar), with a staff of 600, branches outside Rangoon, and three research and training centers, implementing programs that have reached more than 600,000 people in 2,352 communities.

In electing Seng Raw to receive the 2013 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes “her quietly inspiring and inclusive leadership … to regenerate and empower damaged communities and to strengthen local NGOs in promoting a nonviolent culture of participation and dialogue as the foundation for Burma’s peaceful future.”

3. Ernesto Domingo, Filipino Advocate of Universal Health Care. A 76-year-old physician, U.P. professor of medicine, and former chancellor of U.P. Manila, is honored for dedicating his career to pushing for the poor’s access to health services and for groundbreaking and successful advocacy of neonatal Hepatitis vaccination that has saved millions of lives in the Philippines. To him: “Medicine is caring, not just curing illness!”

The RMAF trustees “recognizes his exemplary embrace of the social mission of his medical science and profession, his steadfast leadership in pursuing ‘health for all’ as a shared moral responsibility of all sectors, and his ground-breaking and successful advocacy for neonatal hepatitis vaccination, thereby saving millions of lives in the Philippines.”

He says: “My career was spent in a public hospital [Philippine General Hospital]. Aside from  being reminded at every turn that you have a responsibility to society, you actually see real examples of the life of the poor.” Recognized as National Scientist for his research, he has dedicated his career to pushing for the poor’s access to health services and for groundbreaking and successful advocacy of neonatal hepatitis vaccination that has saved millions of lives in the Philippines, the Foundation said. “The practice of medicine,” he says, is “about empathy, feeling like your patient…. Once you lose that, I think you lose an aspect of your being a physician.”

“His research has saved millions of people from the danger of life-threatening illness, and reduced health-care costs,” according to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation. He has also pushed for hepatitis vaccination to be mandatory and available to all, and worked closely with legislators and successfully lobbied for a law that ensures annual budgetary support for neonatal hepatitis immunization. “From ground-breaking scientific discovery to policy advocacy and securing implementation resources, he has painstakingly demonstrated how medical science can truly protect and promote the quality of life of everyone, especially the poor,” it said.

4. The Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Corruption Eradication Commission). Since the 1950s, the Indonesian government formed different anti-corruption bodies, but these were mostly short-lived showcase pieces, sabotaged by the lack of serious political will. Then, amid the collapse of the 32-year  Soeharto regime, Indonesians decided they had had enough, and resolved to take the problem by the horns. With the initiative of civil society and pressure from international organizations, the Indonesian government passed a law in 2002 creating Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK). Its accomplishments have been impressive. From 2003 to 2012, KPK has handled 332 high-profile cases involving top government officials; of these, 169 cases have been processed in court, and KPK has chalked up an amazing one-hundred percent conviction rate.

From 2004 to 2010, KPK has returned to the state treasury recovered assets worth Rp. 805.6 billion, or more than US$80 million. Less spectacular but exceedingly important are KPK’s preventive programs. It has undertaken civil service reforms for greater accountability and transparency, tightening rules on wealth reporting by public officials, closing opportunities for corruption through changes in management and operational systems, and setting up “integrity zones” in the bureaucracy as a way of monitoring and grading government agencies.  For the Indonesian public, anti-corruption education has been introduced at all educational levels, and innovative campaigns have been undertaken, such as the “honesty shops”—where customers pay for what they get by simply depositing the appropriate amount in a box.

When the parliament refused to allocate money for a much-needed KPK building, Indonesian citizens voluntarily donated money for the building construction. Now on its tenth year, KPK has become a symbol of reform and hope for Indonesians, and is hailed as one of the few effective anti-corruption agencies in the world.

In electing Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi to receive the 2013 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes its fiercely independent and successful campaign against corruption in Indonesia, combining the uncompromising prosecution of erring powerful officials with farsighted reforms in governance systems, and the educative promotion of vigilance, honesty and active citizenship among all Indonesians.

5. Shakti Samuha (Power Group) is the Nepalese NGO formed by heroic Nepalese survivors of human trafficking in India. It is recognized for helping fellow victims by setting up halfway homes and emergency shelters. It is the world’s first NGO created and run by human trafficking victims. The group’s founders are being recognized for working to root out human trafficking and transforming their lives to serve other trafficking survivors. The group has established a halfway home that provides shelter and assistance to survivors and emergency shelters for women and girls at risk of trafficking. Its leaders say: “Whatever we saw in brothels make us strongly fight against human trafficking. It is our personal history.”

Now working in eleven districts, Shakti Samuha has reached fifteen thousand people in its awareness-raising activities; rehabilitated and reintegrated 678 victims of trafficking and domestic violence; and provided financial support for livelihood and education to 670 women.

In electing Shakti Samuha to receive the 2013 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes its founders and members for transforming their lives in service to other human trafficking survivors, for their passionate dedication towards rooting out a pernicious social evil in Nepal, and for the radiant example they have shown the world in reclaiming the human dignity that is the birthright of all abused women and children everywhere.

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