Ramon Magsaysay Awards

[Ilonggo Notes] Getting to know Iloilo’s Ramon Magsaysay awardees

Vic Salas
[Ilonggo Notes] Getting to know Iloilo’s Ramon Magsaysay awardees
To date, there have been nine Ilonggo recipients!

Two months ago, Filipinos (particularly Ilonggos) and child protection advocates were thrilled with the announcement that pediatrician Bernadette Madrid had won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for her pioneering work in child protection. 

The awards were first given in 1958 to honor “greatness of spirit shown in service to the peoples of Asia, regardless of race, gender, or religion.” As of 2022, 318 individuals and 26 organizations from 22 countries have been elected to receive what is generally recognized as Asia’s premier prize, often referred to as the Asian equivalent of the Nobel. Annually, the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation (RMAF) solicits nominations from a wide pool of international confidential nominators; these are carefully investigated, and awardees are determined after a rigorous evaluation.  

The awardees, annually selected by the RMAF board of trustees, are presented with a certificate, a medallion with a profile of Magsaysay, and a $50,000 prize. This is presented in formal ceremonies in Manila every August 31st, the birth anniversary of the former president whose ideals inspired the award’s creation. Notables such as the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Mohammed Yunus, Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, and Mechai Viravaidya have been recipients; Filipino awardees include Nick Joaquin, F. Sionil Jose, Corazon Aquino, Jesse Robredo, Lino Brocka, Ryan Cayabyab, Dr. Fe del Mundo, Washington Sycip, Sheila Coronel, and Rosa Rosal. 

Having personally known Bernie in Iloilo since high school, I felt a justifiable surge of pride. To date, there have been nine Ilonggo recipients. Most of the information cited is from the RMAF website.

2022 – Dr. Bernadette J.  Madrid 
Dr. Bernadette Madrid. Courtesy of Ramon Magsaysay Awards website

Dr. Bernie has devoted her career to ensuring that the problem of child abuse is “seen” and fully addressed. Since 1997, she has headed the Philippine General Hospital Child Protection Unit, a one-stop health facility providing a coordinated program of medical, legal, social, and mental health services for abused children and their families.

In partnership with various institutions and the private sector, the Network of Women and Child Protection Units (WCPUs) was formed. This now consists of 123 WCPUs in 61 provinces and 10 cities – and has served 119,965 children and adolescents and 30,912 women.

RMAF recognizes her for “championing the Filipino child’s right to protection by creating safe spaces for abused children; unassuming and steadfast commitment to a noble and demanding advocacy;  leadership in running a multi-sectoral, multidisciplinary effort in child protection; and her competence and compassion in seeing that every abused child lives in a healing, safe, and nurturing society.”

Coincidentally, the 64-year-old Dr. Madrid is the 64th Philippine awardee, and 2022 is the 64th anniversary of RMAF.

2004 – Haydee B. Yorac
Haydee Yorac. Courtesy of Ramon Magsaysay Awards website

Negrense Haydee Yorac was a public servant, law professor, and chair of the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG).  After the People Power Revolution, she served seven years as a national election commissioner, organizing elections in contested, far-flung areas of the country and lending her reputation to restoring integrity to the country’s electoral process. In 2001, she was named chair of the PCGG. On her watch, PCGG recovered for the national treasury $683 million from Marcos’s Swiss bank accounts.

RMAF recognizes “her building confidence in government through service of exceptional integrity and rigor and her unwavering pursuit of the rule of law in the Philippines.”

Yorac passed away in 2005 from breast cancer, aged 64.

1999 – Raul Locsin 

Locsin was a Silay-born publisher “whose dedication to journalism nurtured business reporting in the Philippines from infancy to robust maturity; for his enlightened commitment to the principle that, above all, a newspaper is a public trust.” In 1967, he founded Business Day, Southeast Asia’s first daily newspaper devoted to business, addressing the need to make complex economic information comprehensible to the public. He sharpened his staff, mostly bright young graduates, in free-wheeling office discussions and formed them into research teams to undertake exhaustive investigations.

Locsin led in rebuilding the Philippine Press Institute after the ravages of Martial Law and has devoted himself to strengthening the country’s hundreds of community newspapers.

Locsin passed away in 2003, at 71.

1988 – Miriam Defensor Santiago 
Miriam Defensor Santiago. Courtesy of Ramon Magsaysay Awards website

She was the youngest presiding judge in the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City who became the Commissioner of Immigration and Deportation, “for her bold and moral leadership in cleaning up a graft-ridden government agency.” Known as the “Fighting Judge,” she handled a record 50 cases a month, refusing to tolerate delays and postponements, gaining a reputation for impartiality in applying the law.

“No bribes or extortion” was the first rule. As immigration commissioner, she showed that a traditionally corrupt government agency can be reformed. She threw out fixers, transferred suspected bribe-takers from sensitive positions, and filed administrative charges against corrupt employees. She swept away corruption-breeding disorder and red tape. She declared war on crime syndicates, drug pushers, pedophiles, gunrunners, and passport forgers.

Santiago sought simple yet effective solutions: self-deportation with amnesty for certain illegal aliens, and, for close to 500,000 other overstaying foreigners, an opportunity to legalize their Philippine residency. The hefty fees would go to the state.  

Defensor served with distinction for 18 years in the Philippine Senate; was elected to serve as a judge at the International Criminal Court; and thrice ran for the presidency. 

She passed away in 2016 from lung cancer, at 71.

1973 – Benjamin Gaston and Bishop Antonio Fortich (joint awardees)

Priest to the Negrenses for 23 years and a prime mover of social change, Fortich became Bishop of Bacolod in 1967. He sought a just society, prodding planters and millers, priests, politicians, and the less privileged to cooperate in meeting glaring needs.

Collaboration between the Bishop and Gaston created the Dacongcogon Producers Cooperative Marketing Association, Inc. and the Dacongcogon Sugar and Rice Milling Company. The first project was acquisition of an old sugar mill; their aim was to eventually make farmers the owners. By 1973 the Cooperative had increased ten-fold the members who had secured titles to their lands. Fortich and Gaston were cited “for their engineering of an experiment in rural development giving small, indebted farmers in Dacongcogon Valley control of their livelihood and new hope.” 

Gaston passed away in 1974, while “Kumander Tony” passed away in 2003, at the age of 89. 

38 years after, the mill and cooperative were foreclosed to a creditor bank in 2011.

1972 – Gilopez Kabayao (award shared with Cecile Guidote Alvarez)

He was a renowned Ilonggo violinist devoted to bringing fine music to ordinary people, awarded “for leadership in the renaissance of the performing arts, giving a new cultural content to popular life.”

Kabayao opened musical vistas for rural Pinoys. Son of a prosperous doctor-farmer, he learned to play the violin from his father and the piano from his mother. Training under American, Italian, and French masters, he became an international virtuoso, performing with the Vienna and Tokyo Symphony Orchestras and at Carnegie Hall.

Since 1952 he has been devoted to bringing fine music to his own people. From schools in Panay, Bicol, and Mindanao, to cockpits in Negros and Romblon, improvised stages in Mountain Province, and a boxing ring in Cebu, he has purposefully given of his talent, often contributing the proceeds to community projects. Wherever he goes, he has taught students rudiments of music and encouraged them to play instruments. 

Kabayao is now in his 90s and occasionally performs.

1959 – Jose Vasquez Aguilar (award shared with Chintaman Deshkmuh of India)

Born in Cadiz City, he is recognized as the Father of the Community School Movement in the Philippines, introducing reforms to ensure that community life is integrated into the education system. He first taught in the one-teacher school of his home barrio.

His first successful trial in 1938, using the public schools to persuade a community in Capiz to plant two rice crops instead of one, encouraged him to test his theories on a wider scale. As Division Superintendent of Public Schools in Iloilo, he developed his community school concept. An integral part of his Iloilo experiment was the use of the vernacular as the medium of instruction in the primary grades, as a natural link between the schools and the people. The Bureau of Public Schools eventually incorporated the community school scheme and the use of the vernacular in its national program. The first Filipino recipient of the award, he passed away in 1980, two months before his 80th birthday.

Institutions and organizations have also received the Magsaysay Awards, among them the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction, the UPLB College of Agriculture, the International Rice Research Institute, and the Asian Institute of Management.  

2011 – Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. (AIDFI)

AIDFI started up and has its headquarters in Negros Occidental; for that it can be considered Ilonggo. AIDFI was born out of the social turmoil that accompanied the collapse of the sugar industry in Negros during the 1980s. Hundreds of workers and farmers were displaced, their survival threatened. Focusing on rural poor, livelihoods, and technology, AIDFI redesigned an ancient and largely abandoned technology called the ram pump which uses the natural kinetic energy of flowing water from rivers to push water uphill without the use of gas or electricity. 

AIDFI designed and fabricated an essential oil distiller that can process lemongrass into organic oil for industry. They installed 227 ram pumps, benefitting 184 upland communities in Negros and other provinces, bringing the technology to waterless communities in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Nepal. RMAF recognizes “collective vision, technological innovations, and partnership practices to make appropriate technologies improve the lives and livelihoods of the rural poor in upland communities in Asia”.

Information on all 344 Magsaysay awardees are on the RMAF website. The inspiring stories highlight “greatness of spirit, transformative leadership, and service to the peoples of Asia” over the past six and a half decades. – Rappler.com

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