It’s a fitting coincidence that this year’s celebration of National Heroes’ Day falls on the birth anniversary of a man in whose honor an award was created to recognize unsung heroes. Ramon Magsaysay, though not recognized as a national hero, is regarded as one of the nation’s best presidents. Respected for both his competence and integrity, Magsaysay rose from humble beginnings to become a national leader in every sense of the word.
His exemplary life, tragically cut short in a plane crash, inspired the creation of what has been dubbed as Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, honoring selfless service and transformative influence. This year’s batch of Ramon Magsaysay awardees will be honored today: two from India, and one each from Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines.
Sanjiv Chaturvedi is the recipient of the award for emergent leadership. The forest service officer blew the whistle on cases of corruption in public office. Beyond exposing graft, he has worked to craft measures to promote good government in India.
His compatriot Anshu Gupta left a high-paying job in public relations to start a non-government organization that addressed a basic lack among India’s poorest: decent clothing. The Ramon Magsaysay Foundation is honoring Gupta for his social innovation in addressing a need that has been largely ignored in his country.
The awardee from Laos, Kommaly Chanthavong lived through poverty and hardships brought by more than half a century of war and authoritarian rule. Undaunted, she worked to revive the nearly lost Lao art of silk-making, employing impoverished village women for the work. The enterprise has since expanded to include other native handicraft, providing employment to thousands of Laotians and helping preserve their culture.
Myanmar’s Kyaw Thu became famous in his country as a movie star, but he is the recipient of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award for public service for his social work. His Free Funeral Service Society has provided free funerals to more than 120,000 families in Myanmar since it opened in Yangon in 2001. He also runs a free healthcare clinic.
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The awardee from the Philippines, Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa, is being recognized for a unique contribution: preserving a pre-Islamic dance tradition in Mindanao called pangalay. The temple dance of the Badjao, Jama Mapun and Tausug tribes of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi has become an endangered artistic heritage.
Each of the Ramon Magsaysay awardees deserves commendation and applause. Each is a hero in his or her own right.