MANILA, OCTOBER 8, 2003  (STAR) By Ann Bernadette Corvera  - They battled great odds for the sake of the greater good. And their commitment continues to propel them forward in the hope of making this world a better place.

Seven extraordinary men and women of diverse cultures were not discouraged by neither war nor violence or oppression, poverty and diseases and the constraints of a freewheeling press from pursuing each of their noble goals.

In fact, they have turned these stumbling blocks into a source of inspiration.

Rightfully so, these men and women - one of them a Filipina - were bestowed upon the honor of receiving Asia’s most prestigious prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Award.

The Magsaysay laureates braved adversities and achieved distinction in their respective fields without expecting public recognition in return. For this they embody the "greatness of spirit," the "universal characteristic" recognized and honored by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) in all its awardees, past and present.

This is what makes them extraordinary.

Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award honors the memory and leadership of the third Philippine President and is given yearly to individuals and organizations in Asia who manifest the same selfless service that Magsaysay a beloved Filipino leader.

This year, the RMAF honored four men and three women in six categories: government service; public service; community leadership; journalism, literature and creative communication arts; peace and international understanding; and emergent leadership.

For Government Service, James Michael Lyngdoh, India’s Chief Election Commissioner, was cited for his vital role in restoring the confidence of 650 million voters in the electoral process in the midst of India’s extreme ethnic diversity and deep social cleavages.

Dr. Yao Gaojie of China, a 76-year-old retired gynecologist-turned-AIDS activist, was awarded in the Public Service category for her "fervent personal crusade to confront the AIDS crisis in China" and for immediately addressing her countrymen’s ignorance on the deadly disease.

From India, Shantha Sinha played the lead role in rescuing 240,000 children from child labor in the state of Andhra Pradesh and putting them where they truly belong: school. Sinha, who received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, is fighting for the total abolition of child labor.

Veteran Filipino journalist Sheila Coronel, awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, is a pioneer in investigative journalism in the country. As head of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), she led a "groundbreaking collaborative effort to develop investigative journalism as a critical component of democratic discourse in the Philippines."

From Japan, Dr. Tetsu Nakamura for Peace and International Understanding, is spearheading volunteer health service programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His passion for mountain climbing led this Japanese medical doctor to the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan and in the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands, he went on to devote 19 years of his life to better the condition of its war-worn people.

The eldest among the awardees, 97-year-old Japanese Seiei Toyama, is happiest wearing his high-knee boots and sun helmet as he greens the desserts of Inner Mongolia, China "in a spirit of solidarity and peace." A soil agriculturalist and environmentalist, Toyama also received the award for Peace and International Understanding.

A human rights lawyer, East Timorese Aniceto Guterres Lopes, for Emergent Leadership, used "tattered law books" as his weapon against the brutal and oppressive Indonesian reign that had occupied East Timor for nearly 25 years. East Timor is Asia’s newest nation.

These names may not ring a bell as much as those who typically grab headlines on stories of scams and scandals, power and politics, terror and conflict.

True enough our minds are often distracted by persisting divisiveness and seeming hopelessness in the midst of painful social issues.

Nonetheless, we need to take action now and not regrettably look the other way. And what better manner to start than by drawing inspiration from these remarkable men and women who have exemplified the true strength of humanity in dealing with longstanding problems we are confronted with.

In the Awardees’ Lecture Series held from Aug. 28 to Sept. 4, the Magsaysay laureates implored the youth, the future generation of leaders, to aim for endeavors that would bring about healing, justice, solidarity, reconciliation and ultimately, peace.

Evidently encouraged, the mostly young audience in the lecture series responded by participating in the open fora for a lively learning discussion with the awardees.

The 2003 Ramon Magsaysay awardees accepted with "great honor" what is considered as Asia’s equivalent to a Nobel Prize. Humbled by the experience, they vowed to pursue their noble goals with "great courage" and fervent ardor.

"This year’s Magsaysay awardees continue this tradition of ‘greatness of spirit in selfless service to the people,’" RMAF president Carmencita Abella said.

RMAF chair Professor Randy David lauded all 236 awardees including the 2003 batch for being "independent thinkers who are in continuous pursuit of solidarism."

"The Ramon Magsaysay awardees are the closest embodiment of the soul of war… they are courageous and nothing can stand in their way (in achieving their noble goals). Their achievements prompt us to do likewise," David said.

Read the inspiring stories of the 2003 Ramon Magsaysay awardees as published on The STAR during the week-long Awardees' Lecture Series.


Indian RM awardee urges vigilance in 2004 polls By Ann Corvera Star 08/29/2003

India’s chief election commissioner James Michael Lyngdoh exhorted Filipinos to be vigilant in ensuring a credible, fair and free election.

"Essentially, an alert citizenry is what counts," Lyngdoh, one of seven 2003 Ramon Magsaysay awardees said in a forum yesterday after delivering his lecture on "Building Faith in the Electoral Process" at the Ramon Magsaysay Center in Manila.

Lyngdoh won the 2003 Ramon Magsaysay award for government service for his "convincing validation of free and fair elections as the foundation and best hope of secular democracy in strife-torn India."

In the open forum, Lyngdoh reminded the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to enforce the "rule of conduct" during polls and strictly impose necessary sanctions for any misconduct.

Lyngdoh, 64, is known for his integrity and is reputed to be honest, straightforward and non-partisan.

As chief commissioner of the Election Commission (EC), he helped restore the confidence of 650 million voters in the electoral process amid India’s extreme ethnic diversity and deep social cleavages.

"If you do not have an independent election commission, you do not have a good election," Lyngdoh said in the open forum as he stressed the need for a "decisive and effective authority" to govern over the electoral exercise.

India’s Constitution provides for a non-partisan commission to conduct the electoral exercise.

The EC is tasked to ensure that India’s federal and state elections are "well-organized, free and fair" in the midst of "rising religious fundamentalism and raging communal hatred."

Lyngdoh called this "good fortune" for India because they do not have to consult with the government on the date that elections would be held among other pertinent election matters.

"We do this certainly on our own," he said in his lecture.

Lyngdoh also reminded his audience composed mainly of high school students from different schools to "provide the idealism" of the youth to the electoral process –the same advice he gave to the youth of India.

He said he recommended "tolerance, patience, basic honesty and ethics" for the young to imbibe.

"But to make themselves effective, they must more energetically pursue issue-based networking with superior courts, inquiry commissions, citizens’ committees, NGOs (nongovernment organizations), and the media," Lyngdoh said.

He said the public has to ensure that the election commission is "professional" and that "credible people" are appointed to run it.

Although civil servants may be perceived as having bias for the government, Lyngdoh, himself a former civil servant, said there is still a "small percentage of civil servants who are impartial" that could make the difference.

In the forum, he went on to remind the audience the importance of having to scrutinize the candidates and political parties of which leaders must be "democratically chosen by the party itself."

Of Kashi tribal origin, Lyngdoh hails from the extreme northeastern corner of India. Lyngdoh completed education in Dehli and entered the elite Indian Administrative Service when he was only 22 years old.

"Lyngdoh quickly became known for his probity and toughness and for favoring the underdog against politicians and the local rich," a citation for Lyngdoh said.

Lyngdoh’s clashes with the "powers-that-be marked his rise in the Service."

In 1997, Lyngdoh was appointed one of India’s three election commissioners by the HD Deve Gowda government. By 2001, he was chief of the Election Commission.

Lyngdoh is set to retire next February.

Tomorrow on the Ramon Magsaysay Awardees’ Lecture Series, another Indian national, Shantha Sinha will talk about "Promoting the Child’s Right to a Real Childhood."

Sinha is the recipient of the community leadership award for "guiding the people of Andra Pradesh to end the scourge of child labor and send all of their children to school."

The Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, was established in 1957 to honor the memory and leadership exemplified by the former Philippine president. It is awarded annually to individuals or organizations in Asia who manifest "the same sense of selfless service that ruled (Magsaysay’s) life." This year’s awardees join 229 other laureates to date. Each of them will receive a certificate, a medallion bearing the image of Magsaysay, and a cash prize to be formally conferred on Aug. 31 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. (TO BE CONTINUED)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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