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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Visionary Ramon Magsaysay Awardees

I tell myself that those who have their hearts in the right place have also already done so much

In my previous column, we celebrated two Ramon Magsaysay Awardees who made social services more accessible to their communities.

Specifically, Korvi Rakshand makes quality education accessible to poor and remote communities in Bangladesh, while Dr. Ravi Kannan R. makes cancer care more reachable for daily wage workers.

There are two remaining Ramon Magsaysay Awardees this year that deserve to be acknowledged and recognized.

Both of them have been fighting really hard for the inclusivity of those in the margins. They both encourage strong community participation because they believe this is how impactful action and meaningful change come about. They are both visionaries.

First of the two is Eugenio Lemos, an environmental activist who has been fighting for independent food supply in Timor-Leste for years.

According to Inquirer, Lemos experienced extreme hunger as a child since they had to flee to the mountains because of the civil war and Indonesian invasion.

They had to survive off of the forest but his father, sister, and brother all succumbed to death.

Because of this, he promised to dedicate his life to food security for the future generations.

When he was introduced to permaculture many years ago by an Australian practitioner, he realized that this could be the way to food sufficiency.

This is because, at its core, permaculture is about sustainable agriculture and natural ecosystems integrated into people’s lives. He found that traditional Timorese culture already embraces parts of permaculture.

With this, he established Permakultura Timor-Lorosa’e (Permatil) that has programs providing tools for permaculture.

More importantly, Lemos, with the organization, promotes community engagement. He is a big advocate of community-based organic farming which directly puts food on families’ tables.

He has been fighting, not only for food security, but for the involvement and engagement of local communities. He shows that if we want to create a great impact on communities, we must involve them in the process of producing that impact.

According to the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation board, Eugenio Lemos is both “a man of and his people,” and “a man for the world.”

If Lemos promotes the engagement of local Timorese communities for food security, our last awardee, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, fights for the inclusion of women in the peace-making processes in the Philippines. Disclosure: Professor Coronel-Ferrer, or Iye as we call her, has been a friend and colleague for decades.

I have been a big admirer of her brilliant work for decades, even as she was my student in UP Law when she was exploring joining the profession where her father was a giant.

According to the Rmon Magsaysay Awards page, Coronel-Ferrer initiated drafting the Philippines’ first National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security which was adopted by the administration in 2010 as a part of the government’s commitment to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325.

In 2012, she also led the Peace Panel of the Philippine government which negotiated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Through these negotiations, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was also signed by both the government and the MILF.

While the CAB is a big milestone, Coronel-Ferrer chooses to bring light to her advocacy to include women in peace-making processes.

She says, “There is no perfect agreement, but we make it more imperfect by leaving women out of the process.”

She has not stopped pushing for this inclusivity since then.

She co-founded the Southeast Asian Network of Women Peace Negotiators and Mediators (SEANWPNM) in 2020.

Their goal is to increase the role of women in peace processes, to provide space for women at the peace table.

She has also been open about their network’s struggles, still, about sexism.

She says, “Sometimes when you package your group as a women’s group, you get stuck with women’s issues when what you want to do is really deal with the ‘hard stuff’ which was a field dominated by men.”

As a Filipino like Coronel-Ferrer, I can confirm first-hand how badly needed peace-making processes are in our country.

As a Filipino man who has been a negotiator, I can also confirm that we need more women at the peace processes table.

These last two Ramon Magsaysay Laureates have been such a privilege to write about. As someone who is both seen as an environmental activist and a previous negotiator, I respect and admire their drive in pushing for the engagement and inclusion of those who are in the margins, of local communities and women.

While I always keep in mind that there is still so much work to do, I also try to tell myself that those who have their hearts in the right place have also already done so much.

As they say, malayo pa pero malayo na.

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