On Sunday, in response to a report that the CPI (M) had vetoed her selection as a finalist for the international Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2022, former Kerala health minister K K Shailaja said that she had consented to her party’s decision. Shailaja said that in view of the anti-communist stance of Ramon Magsaysay, the former Philippines president whose legacy the prestigious award honours, and for its foundation’s decision to consider her as an individual recipient for what was a state initiative, she had declined her nomination.
Launched in 1958, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, widely considered to be Asia’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize, recognises outstanding leadership and communitarian contributions in Asia. This year’s annual list of awardees was announced last week. Shailaja was considered for the award for her performance as state health minister from 2016 to 2021, a period which saw Kerala fight against the Nipah virus and Covid-19.
Born on August 31, 1907 to a father who worked as a blacksmith and a mother who was a teacher, Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay Senior was the seventh president of the Philippines, from 1953 until his death in an air crash in 1957.
Magsaysay started out as an automobile mechanic before being drafted into the Pacific War (1941-1945), during World War II.
The Pacific War would see the Japanese occupation of the Philippines — then a colony of the US — for nearly four years. The US formally recognised the Philippines as an independent nation in 1946.
As a guerrilla leader resisting the Japanese occupation, Magsaysay’s bravery and leadership saw his appointment as a military governor. In 1946, he would be elected under the Liberal Party to the Philippine House of Representatives, where he would serve two terms as a Congressman before being appointed secretary of National Defence in 1950. On December 30, 1953, he would be elected president from the Nationalist Party, the oldest political party in the Philippines.
Founded in 1902, the Unión Obrera Democrática is considered the first modern trade federation in Philippines.
The Communist Party of the Philippines or the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) was formed in 1930. The Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon or the People’s Army Against the Japanese, popularly known as the Hukbalahap (Huk), was a prominent guerrilla outfit that fought the Japanese.
As the country plunged into post-war chaos after 1946, the fortunes of the Hukbalahaps, too, changed dramatically. With the expansion of capitalism, the gap between the rich and poor widened and the farmers continued to languish. Huk leaders were viewed with suspicion over their declaration of commitment to communism and the demand for peasant rights. With the US as its close ally, the Philippine government cracked down on the Huks, who formed an alliance with the PKP to take their struggle to a parliamentary platform.
The severe crackdown against the Huks continued until Magsaysay became the National Defence Secretary under President Elpidio Quirino. Magsaysay drew upon his own experience of guerrilla warfare to initiate a two-pronged system of reforms and military campaigns. It was under his administrative and military policies that the Huk threat was considered to be neutralised.
All through, Maysaysay’s commitment to the US, too, remained strong.
In 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay award was set up by trustees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Philippine government to carry forward Magsaysay’s legacy of service to the people, good governance, and pragmatic idealism. In the six decades since 1958 — the first year the Award was given out — over 300 organisations and individuals have been recognised for their developmental endeavours crucial to Asia, and, consequently, to the world. The award is given out every year on August 31, on Magsaysay’s birth anniversary.
Prominent Indians who have won the award include Vinoba Bhave in 1958, Mother Teresa in 1962, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay in 1966, Satyajit Ray in 1967, Mahasweta Devi in 1997. In recent years, Arvind Kejriwal (2006), Anshu Gupta of Goonj (2015), human rights activist Bezwada Wilson (2016), and journalist Ravish Kumar (2019) have won the award.