Robredo remembered on RM awards nightBy Niña Calleja, TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
They are the “living bearers” of the legacy of the late President and popular Philippine leader Ramon Magsaysay, President Benigno Aquino III said of the six Asian heroes who were awarded Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize in ceremonies that also paid tribute to 2000 Ramon Magsaysay (RM) awardee for government service Jesse Robredo.
The interior secretary died with two others when the plane he was riding en route to Naga City crashed in waters off Masbate City on August 18.
The awarding ceremonies held Friday night at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City devoted a few minutes in prayers for Robredo, whom President Aquino also extolled.
“Almost two weeks ago, our nation suffered a great loss when Secretary Jesse Robredo passed away. We continue to mourn the loss of a true servant leader. But I’m glad we have ceremonies like this to remind us that there are still excellent, like-minded people continuing works such as these, be it here in the Philippines or in other countries,” Mr. Aquino said in a speech aired over government-run dzRB.
‘Greatness of spirit’
The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF), which celebrates the “greatness of spirit” of Asians who have made significant contributions to their communities, named as this year’s RM awardees Taiwanese vegetable vendor Chen Shu-Jiu, social worker Kulandei Francis from India, Syeda Rizwana Hasan from Bangladesh, Yang Saing Koma from Cambodia, Indonesian Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto, and Filipino plant pathologist Romulo Davide.
Mr. Aquino paid tribute to each of the awardees, saying they met the standards and mirrored the philosophy of the popular Philippine leader who died in a plane crash in 1957.
President Aquino said Taiwanese vegetable vendor Chen lived by the late President’s philosophy that: “Every little man is fundamentally entitled to a little bit more food in his stomach, a little more cloth on his back, and a little more roof over his head.”
The President said the “same spirit” could be gleaned in Ruwindrijarto’s advocacy to uproot illegal loggers and protect the environment.
Mr. Aquino said Koma and Davide brought to life Magsaysay’s credo: “I believe that government starts at the bottom and moves upward, for government exists for the welfare of the masses of the nation.”
He continued: “Through their hard work in the fields of agriculture and science, [Koma and Davide] have enabled thousands of farmers to achieve better harvests in their own fields.”
Life of dignity
Mr. Aquino also praised Francis, “who has provided the poor the means to help themselves.” His efforts have empowered the women of India, “thus proving that if we provide the keys of opportunity to those with less in life, they themselves will turn the lock, open the door, and step through to a life of dignity,” he added.
Hasan, for her part, lived by Magsaysay’s principle that those who have less in life should have more in law, the President said.
Mr. Aquino admitted that he admired the work of the RM awardees and hoped that they would press on in improving the “world we live in.”
“As my people have assured me, so do I assure you: You are not alone. We are all allies in striving to live up to the example set by Ramon Magsaysay, with his big heart, his honest mind, sound instincts, his virtue of healthy impatience, and his abiding love for the common man,” he said.
The death of Robredo, himself an RM awardee for government service in 2000, cast a shadow on the awards rites attended by Robredo’s widow Leni and his three daughters, as well as former President Fidel V. Ramos.
“Standing here before you today, I cannot help but remember a Ramon Magsaysay awardee that I worked very closely with—a good friend, and a member of my Cabinet who received this award in 2000 for his work as mayor of Naga City—the late Jesse M. Robredo. Jesse, as do all recipients of these awards, stood as a bearer of Ramon Magsaysay’s legacy,” Mr. Aquino said in his speech.
The President said Magsaysay was known for his straightforward, uncomplicated, but effective leadership, as well as honesty.
“Whenever I hear these stories about Ramon Magsaysay, I cannot help but remember Jesse. Like Magsaysay, Jesse was unassuming, unpretentious and very effective. He kept himself grounded. When he was mayor, he joined garbage collections at least once a month, and was the first man out after a storm, shoveling mud from the streets in his trusty tsinelas (rubber slippers),” he said.
‘Path of integrity’
“In the same vein, each of you here is being awarded because you, too, have met the standards of Ramon Magsaysay, as laid out in the credo he lived by. This was not merely his agenda of governance; it was his life philosophy. It was his own ‘daang matuwid’ or straight path of integrity,” Mr. Aquino said.
A five-minute video, a compilation of Robredo’s interviews and photographs, was also shown during the awarding ceremonies.
Maria Cynthia Rose Bautista, chair of the RMAF’s board of trustees, said Robredo’s untimely death brought up memories of the charismatic President Magsaysay.
“Kept apart in time by more than half a century, Ramon Magsaysay and Jesse Robredo were bound together in life and in death, by the same spirit that impelled them to govern with a big heart, an honest mind, sound instinct, virtue of patience and abiding love for the common man,” Bautista said.
‘Raised the bar’
Juan Santos, vice chair of the RMAF’s board of trustees, said the country continued to mourn for one of its finest public servants who “raised the bar of public service in the Philippines.”
President Aquino personally handed each of the awardees a medallion bearing the likeness of former President Ramon Magsaysay. Each of the awardees also received $50,000 as cash prize.
Since 1957, the RMAF has recognized 296 Asians for their outstanding work on a wide range of economic, social and political issues in their respective communities.