Filipino peace-builder is among recipients of 2023 Ramon Magsaysay Award

Filipino peace-builder is among recipients of 2023 Ramon Magsaysay Award

Champions of holistic health care, food sovereignty and environment conservation, education for all, and women in peace-building are the recipients of the 2023 Ramon Magsaysay Award. They are Dr. Ravi Kannan R. of India, Eugenio Lemos of Timor Leste, Korvi Rakshand of Bangladesh, and Miriam Coronel-Ferrer of the Philippines. 

Following the global online announcement made earlier today, Aug. 31, by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF), Coronel-Ferrer noted in brief acknowledgement remarks that all four of them and previous awardees may be involved in different fields, but “all of this adds up to some basic human need for peace and justice.” 

In that sense, “we are really all connected,” she added. “We are not in disparate paths; we are all working toward that better future for everyone. And it is not just about global peace—because global peace would be meaningless without the everyday peace of the ordinary people in our societies.”

Inclusion, not division

The RMAF recognized Coronel-Ferrer, “women in peace-building pioneer,” for “her deep, unwavering belief in the transformative power of nonviolent strategies in peace-building, her cool intelligence and courage in surmounting difficulties to convey the truth that it is through inclusion rather than division that peace can be won and sustained, and her unstinting devotion to the agenda of harnessing the power of women in creating a just and peaceful world.” 

A student activist during martial law, the former political science professor at the University of the Philippines, along with other women peace-builders, initiated the drafting of the Philippines’ first National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security in 2010. Two years later, she was appointed presidential adviser on the peace process, eventually heading the government panel in the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which resulted in the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

In its citation, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) called Coronel-Ferrer an exemplar in the shift in women’s roles in decision-making: “Women, in their gendered roles of settling disputes, healing, and nurturing, have risen to the task in many conflict-ridden communities. However, they have typically been left out of the decision-making processes that are crucial in ending wars and transforming the polity. This is changing, albeit slowly.”

Ramon Magsaysay Award for Health care

Indian oncologist Kannan R., “hero of holistic health care,” - 2023 Ramon Magsaysay Award

Indian oncologist Kannan R., “hero of holistic health care,” is recognized for “his profession’s highest ideals of public service, his combination of skill, commitment, and compassion in pushing the boundaries of people-centered, pro-poor health care and cancer care, and for having built, without expectation of reward, a beacon of hope for millions in the Indian state of Assam, thus setting a shining example for all.”

The former head of the surgical oncology department in Adyar Cancer Institute, a major cancer institute in Chennai, opted to work in a small hospital in a remote part of the country, where he said he was needed most. 

As hospital director, he transformed the Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Center into a full-service cancer care facility, now with 28 departments covering oncology, pathology, radiology, microbiology, epidemiology, tumor registry and palliative care and other services and specializations. 

Ramon Magsaysay Award for Food sovereignty

Lemos, of Timor-Leste, “food sovereignty visionary,” - 2023 Ramon Magsaysay Award

Lemos, of Timor-Leste, “food sovereignty visionary,” is recognized for “his indomitable spirit in uplifting the lives of local communities, his vision and passion in integrating local and indigenous cultures in his advocacy for the care of the environment and the well-being of people; and for being truly a man of and for his people, and thus for the world as well.”

As an agriculture student, Lemos started a group to promote organic farming. A training course in permaculture inspired him to establish Permakultura Timor-Lorosa’e (Permatil), which provides training in school gardening and water and soil conservation; and organizes youth camps. 

He noted that the concept of sustainable use of land, resources, people and the environment, without waste, was inherent in traditional Timorese culture and should be promoted—hence the organization’s motto: “Earth care, people care, fair share.” 

Ramon Magsaysay Award Education-for-all

Rakshand, “education-for-all champion,” - 2023 Ramon Magsaysay Award

Bangladeshi awardee Rakshand, “education-for-all champion,” is recognized for emergent leadership for “his determined spirit and quiet courage in turning away from a secure life to a more demanding one of working for the underprivileged; his strong, visionary leadership in democratizing education and inspiring thousands of young people to heed the call of social transformation, and for thus demonstrating how the young can be not just the bearers of the promise of the nation, but its realization.”

Returning home with a law degree from the University of London, he turned his back on his privileged life following an encounter with poor, hungry street children. He got six friends to join him in teaching poor children English to improve their chance at a better future. 

From this humble act of kindness sprang JAAGO Foundation (the Bangla word means “wake up”), one of the largest, most dynamic nonprofit organizations, providing free government-recognized English-language primary and secondary education to underprivileged children in rural areas, along with free uniforms, school supplies, food, health checkups, and medicines. 

Greatness of spirit

Each of the four awardees has their own distinct approach in addressing the issues in their society, but they all exemplify greatness of spirit through their transformative work, according to Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) chair Aurelio R. Montinola III.

“They are redefining inclusivity in these modern yet troubled times. At its core, their collective message is very simple yet often forgotten: treat one another with love, care and respect,” he said.

Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) president Susan B. Afan called the awardees “Asia’s torch bearers of hope, illuminating the lives of millions…They have offered their respective societies successful solutions to some of the most pressing challenges and have reminded us all of our common humanity.”

The 65th Ramon Magsaysay Awards Festival Season has adopted the theme, “Transforming Asia, Inspiring the World,” as it strengthens its commitment to celebrating greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia. 

The award is inspired by the life of the Philippines’ seventh president, Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay, who commanded the admiration, respect and affection of people because he was a simple, humble man who cared for all people as individuals, believing in their dignity. 

“He worked to build a nation—a world—in which all people were free and lived in honor and peace with one another,” the RMAF said in a statement. “The world is richer and better because Ramon Magsaysay lived. His spirit will continue to be an inspiration. He exemplifies the highest type of leadership.” 

Magsaysay was born on Aug. 31, 1907. He served as president from Dec. 30, 1953, until his death in a plane crash on March 17, 1957.

Peace process in the Philippines

Coronel-Ferrer wrote a report for in which she assessed the peace process in the Philippines during a UP conference examining the presidency of one of Magsaysay’s successors, Fidel V. Ramos, a month after his demise.  (See “Peace and the FVR presidency,”, Aug. 2, 2022.)

Coronel-Ferrer said that while Ramos’ election as president was a positive sign following the coup attempts against President Corazon Aquino’s six-year coalition administration, she conceded that she had doubts about his “caliber and credentials.” 

Giving him a grade of 6 out of 10, she noted that during his term as Aquino’s chief of staff and later as defense secretary “the Army went on war footing even before the 60-day ceasefire with the [Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front] was terminated.”

Reopened talks with MNLF

But within Ramos’ first 12 months in office, Coronel-Ferrer acknowledged, “he and his lieutenants led by the likes of Generals Manuel Yan and Alexander Aguirre formally reopened talks with [Moro National Liberation Front] leader Nur Misuari, with the final peace agreement forged in September 1996.”

This was followed by ceasefire negotiations with the MILF. The agreement achieved in January 1997 “served as the important foundation for the political negotiations to prosper in the next 17 years until the signing of the CAB in 2014,” she wrote. 

It had been a “roller-coaster ride for all of us—mostly downhill,” from the abbreviated term of Joseph Estrada to the “controversial years of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to the relative stability under Benigno Aquino III, to the six years of unorthodox and deadly administration of Rodrigo Duterte, and finally to the return of the Marcoses through their scion,” she said.

“That is why the loss of ‘Steady Eddie’ steering the state toward peace and development could not but make one sentimental,” she concluded.

That is why, too, the work of Coronel-Ferrer—and indeed, of Kannan, Lemos, Rakshand, as well as that started by the 344 other Ramon Magsaysay Award laureates over the past 65 years—continues.

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