Note: This photo-essay was featured in the 12-18 September 2014 issue of the FilAm Star, a weekly newspaper published in San Francisco, CA "for the Filipinos in mainstream America," with the title "2014 Ramon Magsaysay awardees honored / Pinoy teacher Randy Halasan recognized for Emergent Leadership." This author/blogger is the paper's Special News/Photo Correspondent based in Manila.
|RMAF Streamer at the CCP Lobby|
The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) presented the month of August as Magsaysay Festival Month with the theme “The Spirit Lives On”, reflecting the mission of the award program, which started 57 years ago, of “honoring greatness of spirit in selfless service to the peoples of Asia.”
That spirit certainly inspired the Magsaysay laureates, which are, to President Benigno Aquino III, “those who have dedicated their lives to serving the marginalized and the oppressed, while at the same time mobilizing entire communities to follow suit.” Aquino was the guest of honor during the presentation ceremonies on 31 August 2014 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
President Aquino III (center) with the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation Board of Trustees (group to his left) and the 2014 Ramon Magsaysay awardees (group to his right).
“This year’s roster,” Aquino said, “is composed of individuals imbued with the missionary zeal to promote social justice, and each one of them has taken a personal stand to contribute to the improvement of the communities in which they live.”
He pointed out “[t]he innovations of Ms. Saur Marlina Manurung and Mr. Randy Halasan, who have poured their hearts and souls into their work to educate indigenous communities.” He cited The Citizens Foundation (TCF) of Pakistan, “which has been focused on education for all, regardless of religion, gender, or economic status.”
|Halasan's portrait (inset) is not part of his exhibit panel|
Our countryman Randy Halasan, 32, from Davao City is the school-in-charge of Pegalongan Elementary School, which is located in the hinterlands of Malamba, Marilog District of the city. It takes him seven hours to reach the place: “two hours by bus, an hour over extremely rough roads by habal-habal motorcycle, four hours of walking and crossing the waters of two treacherous rivers [Sinod and Davao].”
When he was first assigned there in 2007, there were only two of them teaching multi-grade classes between Grades 1 and 6 in a two-room schoolhouse. “With no electricity and only primitive amenities ... [His] first thought was to seek a reassignment ... the first chance he could get.”
He did not leave. He is still there as a member of the Matigsalug community with a strong compassion “for the children who also walk miles and cross rivers just to get to school” and a “sense of duty to help the defenseless forest tribe against encroaching powerful outsiders.”
The Pegalongan School has already expanded to nine rooms; it now has eight teachers for 210 students. A cultural-minority high school has also been established.
Halasan has gone beyond the classroom: “Envisioning a food-sufficient community, he inspired fellow teachers to donate seeds and encouraged the villagers to plant fruit trees and vegetables. [The Pegalongan farmers] now have a collectively-owned rice-and-corn mill, a seed bank, a cattle dispersal project, and horses for transporting their products. By 2014, the Matigsalug community of Pegalongan will become both stewards and beneficiaries of the rehabilitation of one hundred forested hectares in their area. And Halasan’s youthful graduates are helping their elders protect their legal rights to their ancestral domain.”
The RMAF awarded Halasan for Emergent Leadership in recognition of “his purposeful dedication in nurturing his Matigsalug students and their community to transform their lives through quality education and sustainable livelihoods, doing so in ways that respect their uniqueness and preserve their integrity as indigenous peoples in a modernizing Philippines.”
The Emergent Leadership award was created in 2000 to honor “greatness of spirit among men and women forty years old and below. Another Filipino received this award in 2004: Benjamin Abadiano.
Left to right: TCF representatives Aleed Riaz & Ahsan Muhammad Saleem, Wang Canfa and Randy Halasan receiving their certificate and medallion from Pres. Aquino.
RMAF recognized Saur Marlina Manurung of Indonesia for “her ennobling passion to protect and improve the lives of Indonesia’s forest people [the Orang Rimba], and her energizing leadership of volunteers in SOKOLA’s customized education program that is sensitive to the lifeways of indigenous communities and the unique development challenges they face.”
SOKOLA’s major program is the Sokola Rimba or Jungle School. SOKOLA has become “a network of fourteen schools in ten provinces, run by volunteer teachers and trained Orang Rimba youth, benefitting ten thousand children and adults.” The volunteer teachers follow wherever the forest people move to hunt and gather food. They stress on “basic literacy for children and practical skills to cope with the changing forest environment” because the Orang Rimba now “have to deal with the encroachment of forest-exploiting businesses, government agencies, threatening their basic rights, livelihood, and community cohesion.”
The Citizens Foundation (TCF), from Pakistan, was recognized for “the social vision and high-level professionalism of its founders and those who run its schools, in successfully pursuing their conviction that, with sustained civic responsiveness, quality education made available to all—irrespective of religion, gender, or economic status—is the key to Pakistan’s brighter future.”
TCF, a non-profit organization, was launched in 1995 with a mission “to remove barriers of class and privilege” through affordable, quality education and “to make the citizens of Pakistan agents of positive change.”
The TCF network has grown from five schools and 800 students in 1996 to “one thousand schools spread over a hundred towns and cities, with over 145,000 students ... and guided by 7,700 teachers and principals.” All their teachers are women because of their “desire to open up employment opportunities to women.”
Left to right: Hu Shuli, Saur Marlina Manurung and Omara Khan Masoudi receiving their certificate and medallion.
President Aquino invited attention to the winners in other areas: “Mr. Wang Canfa, a lawyer from China who has worked tirelessly to protect the environmental rights of pollution victims, and to hold polluters accountable ... Mr. Omara Khan Masoudi who, while working in the National Museum of Afghanistan, went to great lengths to literally hide his country’s cultural treasures from those who threatened to steal or destroy them ... [and] Ms. Hu Shuli, a prominent Chinese journalist, who has ably fulfilled her duties as a journalist towards promoting good governance.”
Wang Canfa was recognized for “his discerning and forceful leadership—through scholarly work, disciplined advocacy, and pro bono public interest litigation—in ensuring that the enlightened and competent practice of environmental law in China effectively protects the rights and lives of victims of environmental abuse, especially the poor and the powerless.”
Wang, an environmental lawyer, founded the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) in 1998. With its volunteer lawyers, CLAPV has handled more than 13,000 environmental complaints, filed more than 550 cases, and has scored victories against chemical, steel, mining, waste incineration and other plants. The Center also participates in legislation, reviewing environmental laws and regulations, and helping set up some legal systems to better protect the rights of victims, and strengthen the punishment of polluters.
Wang’s public interest Beijing Huanzhu Law Firm, which specializes in environmental law and provides free services, bolsters CLAPV’s litigation efforts.
Omara Khan Masoudi, from Afghanistan, was recognized for “his courage, labor, and leadership in protecting Afghan cultural heritage, rebuilding an institution vital for Afghanistan’s future, and reminding his countrymen and peoples everywhere that in recognizing humanity’s shared patrimony, we can be inspired to stand together in peace.”
Masoudi became deputy director of the National Museum of Afghanistan in 1998. He witnessed the destruction of the country’s cultural treasures, which the Taliban considered anti-Islamic, including the famous, sixth century Buddha statues of Bamyan. Seventy percent of the museum treasures were destroyed, looted or lost.
Masoudi and some of his colleagues were able to hide some of the most precious objects like the world-famous Bactrian treasure consisting of some 20,000 ancient ornaments. Safety locations included secret vaults underneath the city streets of Kabul.
When Taliban rule ended in 2002, Masoudi was appointed museum director. He led the rebuilding of the museum, restoration of historical monuments, repair of broken museum objects, and resurrection of the treasures they hid and saved. Much work is still continuing in these areas although the museum reopened to the public in 2004.
Hu Shuli, from China, was recognized for “her unrelenting commitment to truthful, relevant, and unassailable journalism, her fearless promotion of transparency and accountability in business and public governance, and her leadership in blazing the way for more professional and independent-minded media practices in China.”
In 1998, Hu established and edited the business magazine Caijing, which became popular because of the quality of its coverage and its groundbreaking investigative reporting. Their Caijing reports led to the ousting of high public officials, the prosecution of corporate leaders, and reforms in China’s stock market. She has been dubbed “the most dangerous woman in China.”
Hu and her colleagues formed in 2009 the Caixin Media Group in Beijing, which has multimedia platforms. She is the editor-in-chief of Caixin (China Economics & Finance) magazine, which reports on corporate fraud and government corruption, among others. Its September 2014 special edition chronicles the rise and fall of the former senior party official Zhou Yongkang.
Like all the other awardees, Randy Halasan of the Philippines delivered a response.
The six 2014 Magsaysay awardees join the community of 301 other Magsaysay laureates who have received Asia’s highest honor.
Randy Halasan joins the roster of 45 Filipino awardees, which include National Artists Lino Brocka, Nick Joaquin, Bienvenido Lumbera and Francisco Sionil Jose, National Scientists Angel C. Alcala and Ernesto Domingo, and Pres. Corazon Aquino, among others.
In the conclusion of his address, President Aquino reflected on “how we can harness democracy to make sure that our progress is felt by every last citizen, especially by those who are most vulnerable. President Magsaysay, in his credo, had already envisioned our pursuit of inclusive growth. He said that “the 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.” “
Guest enjoying post-ceremony sidelights at the exhibit area.