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Awards: The audacity of doing good — The 63rd Ramon Magsaysay Awards honors this year’s awardees

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — It was the 63rd year that the Ramon Magsaysay Awards were presented, but the event has not lost its luster.

Once again, four individuals and one organization emerged from a deep search to join the ranks of distinguished Laureates who have been honored with Asia’s Premier Prize.

This year’s Awards once again displayed the diversity and inclusiveness of the Magsaysay Laureates. Coming from a wide range of backgrounds, visions, and
undertakings, they prove that greatness of spirit can be found anywhere, and in everyone.


The 2021 Awardees are Roberto “Ka Dodoy” Ballon, a fisherman and community environmentalist from Southern Philippines; Steven Muncy, a humanitarian and peacebuilder working all over Southeast Asia; Muhammad Amjad Saqib, a poverty alleviation visionary from Pakistan; Firdausi Qadri, an affordable vaccine champion from Bangladesh; and WatchDoc, media truth crusaders from Indonesia.

RMAF President Susan B. Afan opened the virtual Presentation Ceremonies by saying, “We at Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation want to be remembered as the Foundation that soldiered on. We have realities we need to face – sickness, lockdowns, death, and more uncertainty. But we want to do our share by focusing on stories of courage and hope. The stories of the 2021 Ramon Magsaysay Awardees.”

In his Welcome Remarks, RMAF Chairman Aurelio R. Montinola said, “We continue to give the Magsaysay Award because Greatness of Spirit is timeless. It is the virtue that is shared by all the Laureates. And it is even more relevant today with a global health crisis, social and political conflicts, and widespread negativism overwhelming people everywhere.

By celebrating the Awardees lifework, we hold them up for their undaunted and untiring labor to overcome formidable challenges; and release their fellowmen from the sufferings that they endure. By their example, we can kindle our hope, and believe that we too can do something.”

The diversity and Asian character of the Awards were manifest in the actual presentation rites. Two of the Awardees were given the honor in Manila, while the other three got theirs in Islamabad, Dhaka, and Jakarta. They all got together by the wonder of digital technology.

In Manila, Laureate Ka Dodoy Ballon received his medallion from RMAF Trustees Randolf S. David, Cielito F. Habito, and Ernesto D. Garilao at the Ramon Magsaysay Center.

Laureate Steven Muncy was likewise handed his medallion at the RM Center in Manila by RMAF Chair Aurelio R. Montinola III and Trustee Emily A. Abrera.

In Pakistan, Mohammad Amjad Saqib accepted his medallion from Charges d’ Affaires Dan Erwin Bagaporo at the Philippine Embassy in Islamabad.

In Indonesia, Laureate WatchDoc’s medallion was received by Edy Purwanto, Ari Trismana, and Puspita Retnani from Ambassador Leehiong Wee at the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta

In his acceptance response, Mr. Ballon said, “Let me say it again, no matter how simple we are, we are capable of rising above our weaknesses, capable of choosing what is good, and ever capable of making a new start. May this crusade continue until we can achieve our goal of becoming successful and progressive Filipinos in the entire nation and to the whole of Asia and the world.

In his own response, Mr. Muncy said, “Many have asked what has kept me going in this work for more than 40 years and counting. Quite frankly, I believe every person is a holy place. Meaning, there is something of the Divine in each of us. This, my brothers and sisters, is the basis for my firm conviction that we are indeed members of the same family- humanity.”

The event was graced by Vice President Leonor G. Robredo who gave the closing congratulatory remarks. We quote from her stirring speech: “Inclusiveness should not be a matter of charity. It is the very rationale of governance. And this revelation can only be put into practice if those who govern truly understand the meaning of solidarity—walking in the slippers of the people not for show but for real, feeling their despair, carrying their burdens as their own. Only then can the structures blurred by patronage be seen with moral clarity—and be reformed, reoriented, or even dismantled to give way to a society animated by radical solidarity.

“Such change will not happen overnight, or in three to six months, or even the span of a single presidency. It might take lifetimes. But much like Ka Dodoy’s mangrove forests, we need to start walking into the brackish waters, bending our backs, and planting, seedling by seedling, until the sea itself notices. This is what it takes to build a future.”

It was a fitting end to an uplifting Presentation Ceremonies. With this, we can hope that the selfless perseverance of the 2021 Magsaysay Laureates will inspire us to similarly dream, and work for, a better Asia. We are Proud to be Asian.

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