Leni: Stand up to dictators
On her third year as keynote speaker at the Ramon Magsaysay Awards ceremony on Friday, Vice President Leni Robredo urged her audience to “fight for those who cannot defend themselves.”
“The message for all of us is clear: Each one of us is called to turn our gaze to the last, the least and the lost,” Robredo said.
The Vice President also took a jab at President Duterte’s recent remarks, which said that the Philippines was “better off with a dictator, the likes of (former President Ferdinand) Marcos,” than with Robredo at the helm.
In her speech, Robredo told the six Magsaysay laureates to stand up to dictators across the continent, and to be inspirations in creating “quiet, courageous and hardworking heroes,” who would be the “last line of defense of humanity” to avoid a strongman-led future where “people are killed, institutions are decimated and our very way of life threatened.”
Robredo’s speech which was flashed onscreen at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ main hall, named a specific dictator.
“Quiet bravery and empathy, and leaders that put in the hard work of actually transforming the lives of people, are rarities in these times, when dictatorship Marcos-style is said to be better,” read an excerpt of Robredo’s speech.
Marcos, whose 20-year strongman rule was marred by thousands of human rights abuses and corruption amounting to billions of dollars, was ousted during a popular uprising in 1986.
Robredo also noted the importance of remaining “defiantly hopeful” and “actively determined to change the future, the way [former] President [Ramon] Magsaysay showed us in the way that he lived.”
“I speak of hope that is not passive, but grounded on a culture of discipline, excellence and service,” she added.
Asia, Robredo said, is home to men and women “who throughout time, have fought for freedom and independence; where demanding for truth is the norm, and where power resides in the hands of the people.”
Asians have also remained resilient, ensuring that human lives would not be snuffed out by any tyrant, the Vice President said. “We have had a long history of bloody struggles in very dark times and I refuse to believe that we suffered for nothing,” she added.
Instead of looking up to dictators whose powers come from fear and intimidation, Robredo said we should recognize the Ramon Magsaysay awardees as “real heroes who draw strength from compassion.”
“You are the ultimate proof that quiet bravery is the most potent kind of strength and that empathy belies a deeper kind of power, not weakness,” the Vice President said.
On its 60th year, the Ramon Magsaysay Awards honored six individuals for their selfless service.
The awardees included Howard Dee, who had served five administrations, from President Cory Aquino to her son, President Benigno Aquino III, and led peace building and reform initiatives with separatist groups.
“During these difficult times, do not be discouraged. Do not despair. It is in darkness that our lamps should be lit. It is in darkness that we see the stars. Goodness and righteousness will triumph! Justice and peace will reign in our land,” Dee said when he received the award.
Bharat Vatwani of India was recognized “for his tremendous courage and healing compassion in embracing India’s mentally ill destitute,” while Sonam Wangchuk, also from India, won the award “for his uniquely systematic, collaborative and community-driven reform of learning systems in northern India.”
Peace with nature
“In declaring peace with nature, we will have to redesign our education system to heal the planet and its people,” Wangchuk said in his speech.
Youk Chhang, a survivor of Khmer Rouge atrocities, was recognized for preserving the memory of the victims of the Cambodian genocide in order to bring justice, national reconciliation and collective healing.
“We must remember mistakes of the past.” Chang told the audience. “It is not easy because it requires us to consciously accept additional pain in the present so that our children will not relive them in the future. But this is the pathway to justice. Justice will always begin and end with the duty of memory.”
Timor Leste’s Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz received the award for building a lay institute dedicated to uplifting the poor through self-help programs in healthcare, education and agriculture.
Vo Thi Hoang Yen of Vietnam was feted for “her creative and charismatic leadership in the sustained campaign to break down physical and mental barriers that marginalized persons with disabilities have.”
Each of the six awardees received a medallion, a certificate and a cash prize. Since its founding in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation has recognized 305 individuals and 25 organizations.
Recognized as Asia’s version of the Nobel prize, the award was named after President Magsaysay, who died in a plane crash in March 1957.
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