Awards and their true meaning: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Ramon Magsaysay 2016 awardee, Conchita Carpio Morales (left) of the Philippines receives her prize from Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo (centre) during the award ceremony held in Manila, Philippines on Aug 31, 2016.
Ramon Magsaysay 2016 awardee, Conchita Carpio Morales (left) of the Philippines receives her prize from Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo (centre) during the award ceremony held in Manila, Philippines on Aug 31, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on Sept 1, the paper says the Ramon Magsaysay awards are a reminder that society is shaped more by its builders and creative forces, than those of destruction.

There are awards that call attention to the award-giving organisation, rather than to the awardees.

The process of nomination and selection can be hit or miss, with the purpose often merely to associate the award-giving body with the accumulated prestige of the honorees.

And then there are awards which, year in and year out, consistently follow the most rigorous qualification process; the objective is to discover individuals and institutions truly worthy of society's esteem and emulation, and the spotlight is focused squarely on the awardees.

Such is the 2016 edition of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards, which will be conferred today; and such are next week's Metrobank prizes for outstanding teachers, policemen and soldiers.

The roll of honorees is as impressive as it is inspiring.

Two months into the so-called war on drugs, these awards have also become a necessary reminder-that society is shaped more by its builders and creative forces, than by its forces of destruction.

The Magsaysay Awards, known as the Asian version of the Nobel Prize, are an especially effective reminder.

For almost 60 years, it has paid tribute to the very best of Asia. The most number of laureates come from the ancient civilizations and modern polities of India (first, with 55) and Japan (third, with 24). The Philippines as host country comes in second with 47.

It is unusual that three of this year's Magsaysay awardees are institutions, but this circumstance, too, has a timely lesson for us.

Dompet Dhuafa is an Indonesian organisation which channels Islamic "zakat" or charity into social development projects; the full name means "wallet of the poor."

The Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, as the program name implies, sends Japanese volunteers in almost 200 fields of specialisation to developing countries in Asia and Africa; since its start in 1965, the program has deployed almost 41,000 volunteers, about half of them women.

Vientiane Rescue is a humanitarian group that has grown in less than 10 years to a core group of 200, and in between 2011 and 2015 was credited with saving as many as 10,000 lives.

These organisations are a mix; there is an element of the required and the voluntary, the programmed and the improvised, the large and the small.

What binds them together, making them deserving recipients of Asia's highest prize, is that they are dedicated to the highest interests of their host countries; they respond to humanity's noblest ideals.

At a time when the Philippines is preparing to engage in a wholesale reconsideration of its institutions, with even the very shape of the government structure and the nature of the police force now up for discussion, the example of these effective, empowering, even heroic organisations should serve as a reminder of what is both possible and necessary.

The three individual awardees are also luminous examples of extraordinary achievement and tantalising possibility.

Bezwada Wilson has for the last 32 years led a grassroots movement in India that has helped liberate about half of that country's 600,000 scavengers.

T.M. Krishna, also of India, has used his musical genius, in the words of the award citation, "to break barriers of caste, class or creed by democratising music."

And the Philippines' own Conchita Carpio Morales, a former justice of the Supreme Court and, since 2011, the country's Ombudsman, has been cited for her "moral courage and commitment to justice" in leading the legal fight against corruption.

It is a fight that is yet unfinished, but one marked by exhilarating victories, temporary setbacks, and a systems-based, conscience-backed approach to investigation and prosecution.

The three individual awardees prove that moral courage and the power of example can inspire a movement or reinvigorate a bureaucracy, by appealing to the better angels of human nature.

* The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.