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The Ethos Of Our Time

Office of the Vice President 

31 August 2017

Message at the RAMON MAGSAYSAY AWARDS,Cultural Center of the Philippines, 31 August 2017 

Former President Fidel V. Ramos; Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps; Former Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr and other members of the Magsaysay family; Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., also a former Ramon Magsaysay awardee; Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee; Chairman Ramon Del Rosario and other members of the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation; Ms. Carmencita Abella, President; 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awardees and past awardees; fellow workers in government; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen: Magandang gabi po sa inyong lahat.

Whenever it is time for the Ramon Magsaysay Awards, the world gets an extra dose of hope. Hope in humanity; hope in our ability to take care of each other; hope in a chance at a better world.

This is something that we desperately need during these extraordinary times. Here and around the world, there seems to be a deficit of courage and hope, and a surplus of anger and frustration. Mankind has always grappled with the dark side of our nature from time immemorial, but not with the kind of scorched-earth intensity we are seeing today.

The irony is that we are living at a time when human innovation and creativity have been unleashed on a world that embraces change. Now more than ever, creative destruction is sought, not stopped. The tools for sustainable progress and development have reached a level of sophistication never seen before. Globalization did not just happen in the world of trade and commerce, but also in ideas and collaborative movements.

And yet, the problems of social and economic inequality looms larger than ever. People left behind by progress seem to be drowning in frustration and anger, because of the neglect that those in power had shown to those who were left behind by progress.

I do not look down on that anger. I, too, believe that more attention could have been given to the last, the lost, and the least.

But a dangerous narrative is creeping in. People are using this to say that democracy has failed mankind, because freedom has caused the poor to remain poor while the rich gained more. Perhaps it’s time for change, they say, and so populism, protectionism, and nationalism started to gain support.

But are we willing to give up our principles because of this? Are we really ready to throw out our freedoms and our rights, for change that goes against old-fashioned values of empathy and collaboration? The path that the world chooses now will determine what kind of lives our children’s children will have.

What this means is that your work—all of your work—have taken on a deeper meaning. From the 318 previous Ramon Magsaysay awardees, to today’s six laureates, to everyone in the audience, the job of keeping darkness at bay continues. Our world today has great need of you: those who would attempt to take on trenchant difficulties no matter the personal cost and sacrifice; those who would do something, not because it is easy, but because no one else will take on the challenge; and those who are living examples of transformative leadership and inspiring service.

How thankful we all are that every year, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation handpicks the best among the best in Asia. This year, the foundation has found five individuals and one organization out of the 4.4 billion or so Asians currently alive, that meet the stringent requirements of the award. These awardees address real and complex issues, take bold and innovative actions that engage others to do likewise, and create outcomes that the ordinary individual can feel. They show unbelievable courage, initiative when faced with resource gaps, fight daunting adversity and strong opposition. But what I find most admirable is how they show respect for human dignity and faith in the power of collective endeavor.

To this year’s awardees—Yoshiaki Ishizawa from Japan, Abdon Nababan from Indonesia, Gethsie M. Shanmugam from Sri Lanka, Tony Tay from Singapore, the Philippine Educational Theater Association and Lilia de Lima from the Philippines—you are the seed to greatness, that, if planted in every corner of Asia, will continue to make our region the part of the globe where growth is inclusive, and people are healthier, happier, and hopeful.

I find it very interesting that threads of precious and golden similarities run through the stories of tonight’s diverse set of awardees. Mr. Ishizawa’s work revolved around saving the gravely endangered Angkor Wat; Mr. Nababans was about gathering and empowering Indonesia’s IP communities; Ms. Shanmugam spent most of her life providing psychosocial support to women and children who have been tortured, abused, and displaced by war; Mr. Tay has not missed a single day of giving food to the poor in the past 14 years; Ms. de Lima’s PEZA lifted 6.3 million Filipinos out of poverty by providing them with gainful employment, among other things; and PETA uses theater arts as a tool for social change.

And yet all of the stories of the laureates today have this in common: they are really about people and communities. Asia’s Ramon Magsaysay awardees highlight the fact that we are all connected to each other. What we do will have an impact on others, whether we like it or not. If we want to see even more growth, exciting innovation, and prosperity in the next century, we must accept the fact that we cannot move forward without taking care of each other and making sure that no one is left behind.

Think about it: progress that leaves people behind is not real progress. It is an indictment of humanity’s selfishness and short-sightedness. On the flipside, social and economic inclusivity are a testament of our goodness and our better nature. Its benefits go all the way to political and social peace.

What I also saw in the beautiful stories of all of the laureates tonight is determination amid much adversity. Leaders must be willing to spend the time necessary—even if it takes most of their lives—to work tirelessly on a chosen goal. Transformative leadership is the kind of leadership that puts others first before themselves.

These are comforting and familiar values. My husband Jesse received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2000 for his work in participatory governance as Mayor of Naga City, a city south of Manila. Jesse dedicated his life to serving those who, as President Magsaysay was fond of saying, had less in law and should have more in life. His work and the outcomes of his work proved that empathy matters and it works. I saw this firsthand as a human rights lawyer serving the poor in the Bicol region when he was still alive. After his death in 2012, I was asked to carry on the torch and continue his work.

In the midst of all of you here this afternoon, I know I am in very good company. I know that despite the challenges we all face in our respective countries, we will not give up, and we will make the impossible possible.

In the past year, since I spoke before you during the last Ramon Magsaysay Awards Presentation Night in 2016, I realized more deeply that a small group of six individuals and organizations can bring much hope to our divided world. Raging fires can truly start with a tiny flame, how much more six beautiful flames.

Because of this, I believe that hatred and divisiveness will not be the ethos of our time. Empathy and transformative leadership will yet win the day. Centuries after today, the peoples of the world will say that during the Age of Asia in the 2100s, inclusive growth happened and it was a golden time of empowerment and growth for all.

It is not yet too late, as long as there are Ramon Magsaysay awardees inspiring the world with their selfless acts of service.

So, keep on keeping on. As we say in the Philippines, mabuhay po kayong lahat. More power to you all.

Magandang gabi pong muli. Maraming salamat.