LAST OF 3 PARTS: 2003 RAMON MAGSAYSAY AWARDEES

MANILA, OCTOBER 10, 2003  (STAR) Ninoy a personal hero to Timorese awardee  By Ann Corvera

Like his personal hero Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr., Ramon Magsaysay 2003 awardee Aniceto Guterres Lopes does not believe that violence will bring justice to victims of human rights abuse.

He had named his first son Benigno Aquino in honor of his personal hero. Upon his arrival in Manila on Aug. 27, he paid respect to the Aquino memorial at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Today, he will meet former President Corazon Aquino at her office in Makati City.

Lopes, an East Timorese human rights lawyer, use "tattered law books" as his weapon against the brutal and oppressive Indonesian reign that had occupied East Timor for nearly 25 years.

Lopes, cited by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for Emergent Leadership, said in a lecture that he believes that justice will prevail "at the end of the day," and this has kept him moving forward throughout the difficult years.

But more than upholding the rule of law, Lopes reminded his young audience yesterday of the need to establish a "stable foundation of personal principles" if they are to become effective leaders of tomorrow.

Lopes’ moving lecture about oppression in his homeland was delivered in English by compatriot Fr. Jose Araujo. At the end of the lecture, Lopes was accorded a standing ovation.

East Timor, Asia’s newest country, is undergoing reconstruction from the ravage of Indonesian colonialism. The road to independence was rough and bloody, with an estimated 200,000 East Timorese — more than one-third of its population — allegedly killed by the invading Indonesian forces.

Pinay RM awardee pursues goal of enriching democractic discourse  By Ann Corvera

Veteran Filipino journalist Sheila Coronel said yesterday that investigative journalism is "hard, lonely work" but it informs and empowers citizens to participate actively in democratic process.

Coronel, a pioneer in investigative journalism in the Philippines, is the 2003 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for Journalism, Literature, and the Creative Communication Arts for "leading a groundbreaking collaborative effort to develop investigative journalism as a critical component of democratic discourse in the Philippines."

She is the executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).

In her lecture yesterday entitled "Enriching Democratic Discourse: Investigative Journalism for An Informed Citizenry," Coronel said the work of the PCIJ is based on "two fundamental premises: First, the capacity of citizens to understand the issues that have an impact on their lives, and second, the power of an informed citizenry to effect positive changes."

"The rigorous research that investigative journalism requires results in the production of new knowledge, in the uncovering of new information that empowers citizens. Compelling reporting, especially of scandalous corruption and abuse, also has the power to engage citizens - and to enrage them. Democracy is not a spectator sport. It relies on the collective wisdom and action of informed citizens. Without this, democracy is a sham," she said.

Under Coronel’s stewardship, the PCIJ had written several in-depth articles about scandalous mansions of alleged mistresses of then President Joseph Estrada, making Filipinos aware of the excesses of the Estrada presidency.

Coronel said investigative reporting sometimes "makes people so angry that they demand that something should be done."

"Most of the time, the fear of media exposure is the only deterrent to official abuse. Officials often have no qualms about stealing from the public coffers. They know that courts can be corrupted and the wheels of justice not only grind exceedingly slow, sometimes they do not grind at all. Investigative reporting can help break this chain of impunity," she said.

"In some notable instances, media exposés have compelled corrupt officials to resign. If they don’t, public pressure forces governments to bring to justice those guilty of malfeasance. Because of investigative reporting, wrong policies are reversed, extravagant projects are shelved, and politicians whose misbehavior has been exposed lose elections," she said.

Coronel said investigative reporting "helps educate both officials and citizens on the notions of accountability and transparency."

"By exposing crooks, investigative reports not only publicly name and shame them. Exposés also show that corruption and the abuse of power are not publicly acceptable, and that those guilty can expect retribution, if not from the trial courts, at least from the court of public opinion," she said.

In addition, Coronel said investigative reporting "helps curb some of the excesses of a free press" which is especially true in new democracies. "Euphoria is a wonderful thing, but it does not always give birth to good journalism. There is a lack of skilled journalists to staff the news organizations created by the media boom. The boom also results in intense competition, which often means racing for the headlines and sacrificing substance and depth."

She said that investigative reporting offers a way out of these problems. "It addresses the problem of skills by forcing journalists to sharpen research and reporting techniques. It helps resolve the problem of sensationalism because investigative reports require sobriety and depth. They require that journalists be careful with their methods and that they act in a manner that is above reproach," she said.

"We have seen that investigative reports also help sell newspapers and give publications a competitive edge. If constantly exposed to excellent reporting, audiences develop a more discerning palate and will learn to tell the difference between fast-food journalism and substantial reading fare," she said.

"In time, they may even get weaned from the merely distracting and entertaining, and will demand more in-depth reporting. Unless exposed to new ideas and better kinds of journalism, audiences will stagnate and news organizations will be stuck pandering to their undeveloped tastes," she said.

Coronel said that apart from improving the quality of the media and the audience, investigative reporting helps widen the scope of journalistic freedom. "By constantly digging for information, by forcing government and the private sector to release documents, and by subjecting officials and other powerful individuals to rigorous questioning, investigative journalists expand the boundaries of what is possible to print or air."

Coronel said that carefully researched, high-impact investigative reports help build the media’s credibility and support among the public.

"The press as an institution is strengthened if journalists have demonstrated that they serve the public interest by uncovering malfeasance and abuse. A credible press is assured of popular backing if it is muzzled or otherwise constrained. Such support may not be forthcoming if journalists squander their freedoms on the superficial and the sensational."

"Public support buttresses the media’s capacity to play its watchdog role. Investigative journalism gives the media not only more bark, but also more bite, making them better watchdogs. The better the media, the more capable they are of finding proof of wrongdoing, the more they can hold powerful individuals and institutions accountable." she said.

In 1998, the PCIJ, together with other journalist associations in Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines got together to form the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, a watchdog group to promote press freedom in the region, she said.

The alliance facilitates exchanges of information among press groups, keeps track of press-freedom violations, and conducts training seminars. The PCIJ is also a founding member of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, which raises funds for journalists who have been killed or hurt in the line of duty.

"In the end, however, journalists alone cannot solve social ills. Civil society plays a role and eventually, the wheels of government have to be set in motion to fight malfeasance and abuse. At best, journalism plays a catalytic role. Investigative reports enrich public debate and put on the news agenda issues that should be of concern to citizens," she said.

In investigating the consequences of corruption in terms of the quality of government services or the magnitude of the waste of public resources, journalists help readers to understand the problems of governance and to make decisions about who they should vote for and what changes they should demand, she said.

Japanese doctor gives 19 years to Afghan people By Ann Corvera

A passion for mountain climbing led Japanese medical doctor Tetsu Nakamura to the rugged mountain ranges of eastern Afghanistan where he has devoted 19 years of his life to better the condition of its war-worn people.

Dr. Tetsu Nakamura's mission is to cure people in the impoverished, remote areas of Afghanistan and its border with Pakistan. However, Nakamura, the 2003 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for Peace and International Understanding, said that understanding the Afghan people has been giving him much fulfillment.

"I feel fortunate to have been able to see the truth and speak the truth while the whole country (Afghanistan) seems to be confused by the campaign of war against terrorism," Nakamura said yesterday in a lecture "Transcending Ethnicity, Religion and Politics towards Peace" at the Ramon Magsaysay Center Manila.

"My experience in Afghanistan helps me see things more clearly. To me, it is time that we seriously contemplate and find what is truly needed for mankind and what is not," he said.

Nakamura is the executive director of the Peshawar Medical Services Hospital, near the Afghanistan border in northwest Pakistan. In 1984, he started working in the war-plagued regions after becoming a volunteer with the Japan Overseas Christian Medical Cooperative Service at the Mission Hospital in Peshawar. He headed its leprosy-control unit.

The harsh realities of life in the border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan had made Nakamura strive to "transcend politics, religion and ethnicity and to practice mutual dependence." Nakamura, who converted from Buddhism to Christianity at a young age, said he believes that this is the key to attaining peace.

"This is the spirit that must be built in our hearts. The real enemy that we have to fight is from within ourselves," he said.

Nakamura's lecture culminated the week-long Awardees' Lecture Series by six of the seven 2003 Ramon Magsaysay awardees that started Aug. 28. Chinese awardees Dr. Gao Yaojie, for Public Service, was unable to come to Manila.

The Awardees' Lecture Series provided the venue and opportunity for individuals and organizations to learn more about the awardees' work and exchange ideas with them.

Nakamura's message of hope on transcending national border, ethnicity, religion and politics toward peace was a fitting conclusion to the Awardees Lecture Series.

In his lecture, Nakamura recalled that when he started to work in Pakistan in May 1984, there was a grave shortage of medical facilities and equipment at the leprosy control unit which he headed at the Peshawar Medical Services Hospital.

He said treating the disease requires a "wide range of medical knowledge both in theoretical and clinical aspects."

"However, what they had at the hospital 19 years ago were a broken trolley, a gauze container, several broken pairs of tweezers, one stethoscope that would hurt your ears when you wear it and some syringes," Nakamura said. "These syringes were disposable ones but they were repeatedly used after being soaked in suspicious looking antiseptic," he said.

Undaunted by the tasks, Nakamura pushed on and worked with extremely limited resources. Financial and material donations later came in, helping him and his staff extend their services to benefit more patients.

"We have come a long way. Now, Peshawar's hospital and clinics are the only places where complications of leprosy can be treated throughout Afghanistan and the northern part of Pakistan," he said.

During the then Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan, Nakamura was unfazed by difficulties. He organized emergency health centers for Afghan refugees streaming into Pakistan, and inside Afghanistan, while setting up mobile clinics in the war zone.

When the Taliban authorities later established their regime in Afghanistan following the pullout of Soviet troops in 1998, Nakamura won the confidence of the regime and operated clinics in territories under its influence.

It was also in 1998 when Nakamura established the Peshawar Medical Services Hospital with only 70 patient beds.

The "core hospital" and four satellite clinics presently provide low-cost but exhaustive medical services to over 150,000 patients a year.

His long years in the troubled region of Central Asia have taught him that medical services and emergency aid alone cannot alter the basic equation of poverty, citation from the Ramon Magsaysay award foundation said.

This tireless 56-year-old doc from Fukuoka City has a; helped in restoring and improving the water supply in drought stricken villages.

Today, some 250,000 villager in more than a thousand are draw life-saving water from

wells that Nakamura and his followers have built. He is linking new irrigation project to thorough

program for community vitalization and self-sufficiency

Amazingly, with all his project and accomplishments, Nakamura has only relied on his 12,000 loyal donors for financial aid.

He avoids international a givers and has not sought any assistance from governments. supports himself and his family of four by occasionally practicing medicine in Japan.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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