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Five 'courageous' people pick up 'Asia's Nobel Prize'

Ramon Magsaysay winners lauded as wellsprings of perpetual hope and titans of compassionate

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Published: September 10, 2019 09:37 AM GMT

Updated: September 10, 2019 09:46 AM GMT

Five 'courageous' people pick up 'Asia's Nobel Prize'

This year's winners of the Ramon Magsaysay Award (from left) Filipino musician Ryan Cayabyab, Thai human rights defender Angkhana Neelapaijit, Indian journalist Ravish Kumar, Myanmar journalist Ko Swe Win, and South Korean anti-bullying advocate Kim Jong-ki. (Photo supplied)

Five Asians with a “powerful sense of personal commitment" and an "uncompromising conviction about the fundamental dignity of everyone" have received this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award at a ceremony in Manila on Sept. 9.

The winners of what is commonly regarded as "Asia's Nobel Prize" include South Korean anti-bullying advocate Kim Jong-ki, Myanmar journalist Ko Swe Win, Indian journalist Ravish Kumar, Thai human rights defender Angkhana Neelapaijit, and Filipino musician Ryan Cayabyab.

They join a long list of over 300 recipients from across Asia recognized for addressing human development issues "with courage and creativity, and in doing so have made contributions that have transformed their societies for the better,” the awards panel said.

"We need good news in these times of overwhelming conflict. Good news in Asia needs to be celebrated and widely shared," said Jose Cuisia, chairman of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.

In her address during the awards ceremony, Philippine Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo praised the "bravery" of this year’s recipients in battling "injustices and cultures of violence" in Asian society, even as it has become far "too easy for some of us to forget those who are in need."

She described the new laureates as "wellsprings of perpetual hope and titans of compassionate and transformative leadership."

Robredo said their stories are proof that heroism can be shown through "everyday acts of kindness and compassion, of resistance and dissent, and of generosity and joyful service."

The vice president said the people of Asia should recommit themselves to the "relentless pursuit of peace, social justice, freedom, and reconciliation."

She reminded people what it means to be Asian as the region is "caught up once again in waves of democratic dilemma."

Robredo, a member of the political opposition in Manila, said some regional leaders have turned to "authoritarianism and abuse” which not what they were elected to do.
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"In some societies, human rights have taken a back seat and the relevance of traditional institutions are being questioned," she noted.

"Tonight, we turn our gaze with pride and approval towards those who refuse to accept that the use of brute force, violence, and aggression have become the Asian norm," added Robredo.

South Korean laureate Kim, who established a foundation that helps prevent youth violence, noted that perpetrators and victims of violence are getting younger.

"We have to gather all our wisdom and efforts to protect our children," said Kim, whose son's suicide spurred him to start an organization that provides counseling for families and students.

Meanwhile, Angkhana Neelapaijit of Thailand said her award "means that the voice of victims [of human rights violations] should be heard."

Angkhana was recognized for her "unwavering courage" in seeking justice for her missing husband, a victim of involuntary disappearance, and other victims of violence and conflict in southern Thailand.

Filipino musician and teacher Raymundo "Ryan" Cayabyab, meanwhile, believes that "teaching can transform lives."

I want [my students] to be better than me. [I want] to enable a new generation of songwriters to be better than our generation, so our music can move forward and thus bring the entire music community to great heights," he said.

Cayabyab has been recognized for compositions and performances that have defined and inspired Filipino popular music across generations.

Named after the third president of the Philippines after World War II, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is given every year and recognizes "greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia."

Marielle Lucenio contributed to this report

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