MANILA, Philippines—At a time problems and challenges leave many disheartened, they are shining examples that give the world hope.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s premier prize named after a Philippine president known for his tranformative leadership, on Sunday handed out this year’s citations to five awardees for selfless and inspirational service in their home countries.
“Your lives are now shining far brightly even more than the stars of Hollywood. Greatness lies really not in one’s official position, but in how you lead, how you lay down your lives for others,” the Philippines’ Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said in congratulating this year’s winners.
The awardees were three individuals and two organizations cited for sparking change in pursuit of their advocacies, from universal health and combating violence to fighting corruption and human trafficking.
The individual awardees were Filipino doctor Ernesto Domingo, who was cited for his “health for all” advocacy, Myanmar’s Lahpai Seng Raw for her grassroots-based leadership against conflict, and Afghan Habiba Sarabi, Afghanistan’s only female governor who built up her local government despite challenging circumstances.
Indonesia’s Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK or the Corruption Eradication Commission) won the award for its decisive action against deeply entrenched corruption in the Indonesian government. Its staggering 100-percent conviction rate of corrupt government officials garnered loud applause from the Philippine audience, who clearly could only wish this could happen in their country.
“I was afraid of saying something about your organization. You must understand I am the chief justice. But I think you can hear it from the applause of my people, especially when they mentioned your 100-percent conviction rate,” Sereno said, addressing the KPK leaders. Her comment drew laughter and applause from the audience.
Women’s group Shakti Samuha (Power Group) of Nepal, the world’s first nongovernmental organization initiated by trafficking survivors, was cited for its growing repatriation, rehabilitation and reintegration program for victims.
In her response to the recognition, Sarabi underscored the importance of selflessness in the mission to effect change.
“Upon returning to Afghanistan, one message to take back is the importance of selflessness in public service. We should never be selfish and dedicate our work to our people, even when we are faced with adversaries,” Sarabi said.
Calling her countrymen’s attention to the examples set by this year’s awardees, Sereno had one message: Never give up.
“Their stories should not only just continue to amaze us. Let’s ask ourselves: Why have we not deepened our hearts that yearn for revolutionary transformation? Why have we allowed the system to go rotten and inefficient? Why we have stopped caring? Why have we stopped doing what is best on a daily basis?” Sereno said to a suddenly hushed audience.
“Perhaps we have been too comfortable or perhaps we’re too afraid because of the complexity of the problems that are besetting us as a nation. It does not matter if we say we have no hope, if we have had so many starts and an equally good number of stops. The only thing that matters is if we in our hearts, we find the caring that is necessary for our fellowmen, that will allow us to forge our nation together,” she said.
The audience responded by giving her thunderous applause.
Considered Asia’s Nobel Prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Award has recognized 301 individuals around the region for devoting their lives to serving their fellowmen.