Rights, cultural activists among winners of Asia’s Nobel Prize

Then President Benigno S. Aquino III delivers his speech during the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation 2015 presentation ceremony at the Main Theatre of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay City. Image: Benhur Arcayan/Malacañang Photo Bureau

By Joe Torres in Manila

An Indonesian tribal rights activist, a Sri Lankan woman who has helped civil war victims, and a Japanese man working for the preservation of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat are among this year’s winners of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered Asia’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

The formal presentations will be made next month.

Indonesian Abdon Nababan has been recognised for “his brave, self-sacrificing advocacy to give voice and face to his country’s indigenous people communities, his principled, relentless, yet pragmatic leadership of the world’s largest tribal rights movement, and the far-reaching impact of his work on the lives of millions of Indonesians.”

Gethsie Shanmugam of Sri Lanka has been recognised for her “compassion and courage in working under extreme conditions to rebuild war-scarred lives” and for her “tireless efforts” in building Sri Lanka’s capacity for “psychosocial support, and her deep, inspiring humanity” in caring for women and child victims of war.

Yoshiaki Ishizawa from Japan will receive the award for “his selfless, steadfast service to the Cambodian people, his inspiring leadership in empowering Cambodians to be proud stewards of their heritage, and his wisdom in reminding us all that cultural monuments like the Angkor Wat are shared treasures whose preservation is thus, also our shared global responsibility”.

From the Philippines, former PEZA director-general Lilia de Lima was recognised for “her unstinting, sustained leadership in building a credible and efficient [economic zone], proving that the honest, competent and dedicated work of public servants can, indeed, redound to real economic benefits to millions of Filipinos.”

Also given recognition was Tony Tay of Singapore for his “quiet, abiding dedication to a simple act of kindness – sharing food with others – and his inspiring influence in enlarging this simple kindness into a collective, inclusive, vibrant volunteer movement that is nurturing the lives of many in Singapore”.

Shaping theatre arts
Also a recipient of this year’s award is the Philippine Educational Theatre Association of the Philippines for its “bold, collective contributions in shaping the theatre arts as a force for social change, its impassioned, unwavering work in empowering communities … and the shining example it has set as one of the leading organizations of its kind in Asia”.

Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is Asia’s highest honour aimed at celebrating the memory and leadership example of the third Philippine president after whom the award is named.

It is given every year to individuals or organisations in Asia who manifest “selfless service and transformative influence”.

Carmencita Abella, president of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, said this year’s awardees “are all transforming their societies through their manifest commitment to the larger good. Each one has addressed real and complex issues, taking bold and innovative action that has engaged others to do likewise”.

“The results of their leadership are palpable, generating both individual efficacy and collective hope,” Abella said in a statement.

“All are unafraid to take on large causes. All have refused to give up, despite meager resources, daunting adversity and strong opposition,” she added.

The six awardees will join a community of 318 other laureates who have received Asia’s highest honour to date.

This year’s winners will each receive a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of the late president Magsaysay, and a cash prize.

They will be formally conferred the award during formal presentation ceremonies in Manila on August 31.

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