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

Indonesian, Sri Lankan, Japanese Ramon Magsaysay Award recipients recognized for their commitment to the larger good
Rights, cultural activists among winners of Asia's Nobel Prize

Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino addresses the recipients of the 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Award during ceremonies in Manila. (Photo courtesy of Malacanang Photo Bureau)

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.

Indonesian Abdon Nababan was recognized 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 was recognized 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, Lilia de Lima was recognized 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."

Also a recipient of this year's award is the Philippine Educational Theater Association of the Philippines for its "bold, collective contributions in shaping the theater 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 honor 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 organizations 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," said Abella 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 honor 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 Aug. 31.

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