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‘Hatred and divisiveness will not be the ethos of our time’ – Robredo

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo said people must continue valuing empathy and collaboration if the world was to truly address the perennial problem of social inequality.

The Vice President delivered her keynote speech during the presentation ceremonies for the 6 recipients of the prestigious 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards on Thursday, August 31.

The awardees are as follows:

In her speech, Robredo acknowledged the anger and frustration people feel because of the growing gap between the rich and the poor. She said this disparity was caused by the “neglect that those in power had shown to those who were left behind by progress.” 

“I do not look down on that anger. I, too, believe that more attention should be given to the last, least, and lost,” said Robredo.

But she warned of a “dangerous narrative” wherein this anger is leading people to say that “democracy has failed mankind because freedom has caused the poor to remain poor while the rich gain more.”

“Perhaps it is time for change, they say. And so populism, protectionism, and nationalism started to gain support. But are we willing to give up our principles because of this? Are we really ready to throw out our freedoms and our rights for change that goes against old-fashioned values of empathy and collaboration?” asked the Vice President. 

Populism had led to the overwhelming victory of President Rodrigo Duterte. His critics have slammed him and his allies for supposedly promoting a culture of hate against those who oppose them. Duterte's campaign tagline was "Change is coming." (READ: State-sponsored hate: The rise of the pro-Duterte bloggers)

According to Robredo, this is why the stories of the Ramon Magsaysay awardees are crucial because they are a reminder that “selfless acts of service” can spark a change in society.  

“I realized more deeply that a small group of 6 individuals and organizations can bring much hope to our divided world. Raging fires can truly start with a tiny flame. How much more 6 beautiful flames?” said Robredo.

“Because of this, I believe that hatred and divisiveness will not be ethos of our time. Empathy and transformative leadership will yet win the day,” the Vice President added, earning her applause from the crowd.

The awardees 

Two of the 6 Ramon Magsaysay awardees this year are from the Philippines.

Former Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Director General Lilia De Lima was recognized for her "unstinting sustained leadership in building a credible and efficient PEZA, proving that the honest, competent, and dedicated work of public servants can, indeed, redound to real economic benefits to millions of Filipinos.” 

The recognition for PETA, meanwhile, also came on the same year they are celebrating their 50th anniversary. 

PETA was recognized for its "integrated, people-based cultural collective engaged not only in performance but also in training, curriculum development, national and international network building, and mobilizing communities using a participatory approach that is rooted in local culture and responsive to real issues in the larger society.” 

Meanwhile, Japan’s Yoshiaki Ishizawa devoted 50 years of his life to restoring the Angkor Wat to ensure it remains a living monument for Cambodians.

Indonesian Abdon Nababan is recognized for "his brave self-sacrificing advocacy to give voice and face to his country's indigenous peoples communities.”

Gethsie Shanmugam of Sri Lanka received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for using psychosocial support to rehabilitate women and children scarred by war in her country.  

Singaporean Tony Tay, meanwhile, was lauded for establishing “Willing Hearts,” a volunteer-based, non-profit organization that provided hot, packed meals daily to the needy in the last 14 years. –

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.