By Maria Victoria Rufino
The Ramon Magsaysay Award is Asia’s premier prize and highest honor. It recognizes greatness of spirit in selfless service to the peoples of Asia, regardless of race, gender, or religion. It is Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
Sen. Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. and Milagros Magsaysay-Valenzuela, son and daughter of the late President Ramon Magsaysay, stated, “For more than six decades, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) has faithfully recognized outstanding individuals and organizations in Asia and celebrates their remarkable, selfless efforts to make a difference in the lives of people and communities. Through the initiative and generosity of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, RMAF was established in 1957… It engenders hope and optimism through the Magsaysay laureates and their inspiring stories, in a world that is marred by poverty, strife, inequality, and global calamities.
“These are the heroes of today — champions of the poor and marginalized, public service superstars, advocates of truth warriors of peace, protectors of the earth, and guardians of our heritage.”
Among the global icon-laureates are Mother Teresa, India; the Dalai Lama, Tibet; Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, Thailand; Akira Kurosawa, Japan; Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh; and Mechai Viravaidya, Thailand.
The RMAF will celebrate its 65th year in 2023. President Susan B. Afan explained their ambitious dreams: “To amplify the life-affirming messages and inspiring values of the Magsaysay laureates, to further promote their successful solutions across borders, and to make them true examples of the best of humanity which young people can emulate.”
Chairman Aurelio R. Montinola III remarked: “The Ramon Magsaysay Foundation had remained constant and true to its mission — identifying outstanding leaders who have shown ‘Greatness of Spirit’ to help Asia grow with a humanistic, unselfish and Help-the-Community approach.”
Here are the 2022 laureates and their stories.
Soetheara Chhim, the founder of the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO)-Cambodia, which alleviates the suffering of the Cambodian people from trauma and mental health problems over the past decades. He recalled the Khmer Rouge regime that brutally murdered the intellectuals in the country — only 40 doctors survived. “We Cambodians were all living in deep trauma and with baskbat, literally meaning broken courage.”
He became a doctor and saw the need for psychosocial healthcare in rural areas. TPO-Cambodia offers mental health service to hundreds of thousands of Cambodians.
“This award comes with a prize money, I am donating all of this to TPO’s initiative, Operation Unchain Project, to treat and unchain more patients… To do the right thing.
“My mother named me ‘Sotheara’ which means gentle, humble, kind, and compassionate. I hope that I have lived up to this name.”
He thanked Dr. Cornelio Banaag, the Father of Child Psychiatry in the Philippines, who was his revered professor in Phnom Penh 26 years ago.
Tadashi Hattori, an eye surgeon who left Japan to take a new challenge in Vietnam.
“I am in no way an elite doctor,” he said.
“There as a shocking prevalence of cataract blindness in the country… The patients would come to the hospital only when…they have lost sight in both eyes.” He recalled a six-year-old boy who did not turn up again because he could not afford surgery. “I have not forgiven myself since then for having let the boy go…”
That was when he decided, “When patients cannot pay, I tell them… ‘No worries. It will be alright. I will pay for you from my own pocket money and so please have the operation.’
“How would you feel of you have to live in darkness for the rest of your life?… It scares me to think of life without light… If there is anything I can do as an ophthalmologist, it is to bring light to people so that they will turn their despair to hope and live a better life that they deserve to live.
“I am just filled with joy with patients when they see light again. I find happiness in working with the doctors I trained and in providing free treatment for people across the region in Asia… I know that regaining vision is not only about being able to see, but about discovering hope in light. Let there be light.”
Bernadette J. Madrid M.D. is a child protection champion. The multi-awarded pediatrician, a graduate of the University of the Philippines and Assumption Convent Iloilo, is the founder of the Child Protection Unit at Philippine General Hospital (CPU-PGH). It started 25 years ago. It has since expanded throughout the country as the Child Protection Network, with more than 115 Women and Children Protection Units and an excellent multi-disciplinary approach.
“Ending violence against children will not happen on its own. We need to fight for it. It needs planning, commitment, resources, persistence, and leadership. With it comes accountability,” Dr. Madrid emphasized.
“There are no quick fixes….
“Violence against children is a crisis! Children are fast becoming an endangered species and with them goes our humanity. We can prevent violence against children, and we know how. We are stewards of this world and particularly of the children. We are stewards of their soul.
“I am so honored that have my work recognized by Asia’s most prestigious award.
“Why me? It is like the violin player receiving recognition on behalf of the whole orchestra… I am just one violin player. The other members of the orchestra (the CPN Foundation Trustees and the teams) are here. I share this award with each one of them.”
Dr. Madrid called the audience to stand up and pledge, “Ako Para sa Bata: I am for every child.” Everyone present did.
She is the 64th recipient of the award in 64 years.
Gary Bencheghib, the handsome “Rock Star” from Indonesia, is only 28 years old. His parents are French nationals, and he grew up in Bali. He represents the RMAF’s “Emergent Leadership.”
“My short life’s journey has pretty much only revolved around plastics… My mother told me ‘if you don’t do your homework, you’ll end up being a garbage man.’
“I receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award as a garbage man.”
He was referring to his amazing work collecting tons of plastic from the rivers of Indonesia.
“It feels like a never-ending battle. We will be knee-deep in a river, cleaning it up and feeling victorious, but the very next day with big rains, the river is filled up with more trash…
“A new study reveals that there is no surface on earth without signs of plastic pollution. Every island in Indonesia and the Philippines under some shell, under some rock has plastic pollution.
“It is a call for collective action. We need to stop this disaster from destroying our plant and our health. We need to focus on scalable solutions and implement them quickly.”
He revealed that after two short years of running Sungai Watch, and due to growing awareness, they have removed some barriers.
“We have cleaned up some of the worst disaster relief areas. When we fully restore these areas, we let nature do its work. We have seen mangroves regrow.…
“Cleaning up plastics is only half the battle. Processing the trash and turning it into valuable products is a whole other game. We are collecting, sorting, processing, treating and recycling the trash that we collect.
“Join me on this lifelong journey against plastic pollution.
“No little boy dreams of becoming a garbage man but here I am a garbage man, doing everything to make sure that we have a plastic free world… We need to let our planet rest and heal.”
Congratulations to the 2022 Ramon Magsaysay Laureates for their noble mission and inspiring achievements.
Best wishes to the Board of Trustees — Aurelio R. Montinola III, Chairman; Dato Timothy Ong, Vice-Chairman; Susan B. Afan, President; Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. Treasurer, Emily A. Abrera, Randolf S. David, Ernesto D. Garilao, Cielito F. Habito, Cecilia L. Lazaro, Ramon R. del Rosario, Jr., Suzanne E. Siskel and Toshinao Urabe.
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.