Philippine Musician, Thai Deep South Activist Receive Asia’s Highest Honor

Jojo Rinoza
190802-PH-magsaysay-620.jpg Foundation chairman Jose L. Cuisia Jr. announces the 2019 Ramon Magsaysay awardees, Aug. 2, 2019.

A musician who inspired popular Philippine music for generations and a woman honored for her courage in seeking justice for her husband and other victims of violence in Thailand’s Deep South are among this year’s recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards, Asia’s highest honor, officials in Manila announced Friday

Filipino Raymundo Pujante Cayabyab, one of five Asians to receive the honor in 2019, was recognized for more than four decades of contributions as a composer, arranger, music director, conductor, performer and educator.

“In a country known for its rich musical culture and blessed with a surfeit of musical talent, to stand out as singular and indispensable is truly outstanding,” begins the citation honoring Cayabyab, and which described him as an inspiration and guiding light to many.

“The next generation should be better than us for our country to move forward. For this to happen we must teach them everything we know at every possible instance. I like teaching, I like sharing what I know, and I like playing music. When I’m doing all these, I’m very happy,” Cayabyab said, according to the citation with his award.

Created in 1957 and named after a late Philippine president, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is Asia’s most prestigious prize and often has been described as the region’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Thai Angkhana Neelapaijit was honored for founding the Justice for Peace Foundation (JPF) in 2006, the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation said, calling it a network of human rights and peace advocates that has done important work in documenting the human rights situation in southern Thailand.

Her citation noted that JPF was “raising public awareness and putting pressure on [the] government to act on human rights cases, providing legal assistance to victims; and training women on human rights and the peace process.”

She is the widow of noted human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, who was abducted in Bangkok in 2004 after he accused the military of torture in the south. Angkhana is a housewife and mother of five small children who “valiantly worked to bring the police officers involved to trial, but due to a flawed justice system they were acquitted,” the citation said.

In 2015, Thailand’s junta government appointed Angkhana to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand – the only member with grassroots human rights experience, the citation noted.

“Despite the skepticism of government critics, Angkhana has taken her appointment seriously, firmly committed to taking the peaceful, legal approach to fighting human rights abuses and to doing what she can in ‘pushing the limits,’” it said.

Three honorees

Other awardees are a Myanmar journalist who has challenged his government’s defamation law, an Indian journalist who excelled in his commitment to ethical standards, and a South Korean man whose son’s suicide spurred him to create a foundation to detect violence among youth.

Two years ago, Ko Swe Win, editor of the online newspaper Myanmar Now, was charged with defamation under Article 66 (d) of the country’s Telecommunication Law for sharing a story on Facebook about a nationalist monk who has been vocal about his support for a gunman who killed a prominent lawyer.

Press groups allege the law was meant to curtail freedom of the speech in Myanmar, which has been cracking down on dissenters and journalists.

Win regularly traveled about 1,200 km (745 miles) from his home to Mandalay, Myanmar, where the charges were filed to attend court hearings.

Indian Ravish Kumar was described as an important voice taking on threats against the free press in his country.

“In a media environment threatened by an interventionist state, toxic with jingoist partisans, trolls and purveyors of ‘fake news,’ and where the competition for market ratings has put the premium on ‘media personalities,’ ‘tabloidization,’ and audience-pandering sensationalism, Ravish has been most vocal on insisting that the professional values of sober, balanced, fact-based reporting be upheld in practice,” his citation stated.

South Korean Kim Jong-ki, was recognized for “his quiet courage in transforming private grief into a mission to protect Korea’s youth from the scourge of bullying and violence,” and for instilling values of self-esteem, tolerance and mutual respect that prevented many suicides.

Kim was on a business trip in 1995 when he learned of his son’s suicide. He later found out that his son was constantly bullied in school, a phenomenon that was not being addressed by the government.

He established the Foundation for Preventing Youth Violence, the first organized effort in South Korea to address school violence as a systemic social problem affecting students, families, schools, and the community-at-large.

South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates among the world’s developed countries. Official statistics indicated that in 2005, the suicide rate among middle and high school students stood at 8.2 students per 10,000, representing the second leading cause of death among teenagers.


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