Explained: Why did former Kerala health minister KK Shailaja reject Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered Asia’s Nobel?

The Ramon Magsaysay Award named after the former Philippine president is said to be Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Former Kerala health minister KK Shailaja rejected her nomination for the award because of the late leader’s alleged brutality against communists

FP Explainers September 05, 2022 17:32:15 IST
Explained: Why did former Kerala health minister KK Shailaja reject Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered Asia’s Nobel?

Former Kerala health minister KK Shailaja, who received accolades for the fight against COVD-19, rejected the nomination for the Ramon Magsaysay Award. Image courtesy: Facebook

The Ramon Magsaysay Award is a prestigious honour bestowed upon many prominent Asians over the years. However, now former Kerala health minister KK Shailaja has declined the nomination for it.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] to which the senior leader belongs had vetoed her selection for the international Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2022. Shailaja said that she agreed with the party’s decision.

While Shailaja told reporters in Kerala that she turned down the award as she was not interested in receiving it in her capacity, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the award is in the name of Ramon Magsaysay who has a history of alleged brutal oppression of communists in the Philippines.

Who is Ramon Magsaysay?

Born in August 1907, Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay Senior was the son of an artisan. He went on the become the seventh president of the Philippines in 1953 and continued until he died in an air crash in 1957.

Explained Why did former Kerala health minister KK Shailaja reject Ramon Magsaysay Award considered Asias Nobel

Ramon Magsaysay was the seventh president of the Philippines. The award launched in 1958 recognises outstanding leadership and contributions to Asia. Wikimedia Commons

He started as an automobile mechanic and then served as a guerrilla leader in the Pacific War in World War II. During the Japanese occupation of the nation, he led the fight against its forces. He was then appointed military governor of his home province Zambales.

The Philippines became a colony of the United States for four years and it was recognised as an independent nation in 1946. Magsaysay made a foray into politics that year and served two terms as a Liberal Party Congressman for Zambales.

In 1950, he was appointed secretary of national defence under President Elpidio Quirino and three years on, he was elected president of the Nationalist Party, the oldest political party in the nation.

What was Magsaysay’s stand on communism?

After the war, Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon, popularly known as the Huk, a prominent guerrilla outfit that fought against the Japanese, weakened. As capitalism spread in the country, the rich became richer, the poor became poorer; the farmers suffered. The Huk leaders declared their commitment to communism and demanded rights for the peasants, according to a report in The Indian Express.

The government in the Philippines cracked down on the Huk and it continued even as Magsaysay became the national defence secretary. In February 1950, the leader of the Huks, Luis Taruc, formed the People’s Liberation Army and tried to overthrow the government.

Magsaysay carried out anti-guerrilla and he tried to win the trust of the peasants by offering land and tools to those who came over to the government’s side. When he became prime minister in 1953, Huks were not a big threat.

As PM, he promised reforms that would benefit the public but was unable to pass effective land legislation despite initial support from Congress which represented the interests of the rich.
However, Magsaysay was revered for his commitment to democracy and improving the lives of the common man in the Philippines. His reputation as a clean leader remained.

He was a close ally and supporter of the United States and a vocal spokesman against communism during the Cold War.

What is the Ramon Magsaysay award?

The award, named after the former president, is considered Asia’s version of the Nobel prize. It was established in 1957 by trustees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Philippine government to honour Magsaysay’s example of integrity in governance and idealism in a democratic society.

The first award was given out in 1958. In the 64 years since it has been given to more than 300 organisations and individuals for the betterment of Asia.

Explained Why did former Kerala health minister KK Shailaja reject Ramon Magsaysay Award considered Asias Nobel

More than 300 organisations and individuals from Asia have received the award. AFP

Why did KK Shailaja reject the nomination?

After consulting with the CPI(M)’s national leadership, Shailaja rejected the award.

The former health minister said she was considered for the award for the work which was part of a collective effort and it was not right to receive it in her individual capacity. “The NGOs may not be in favour of the Communist ideology. And hence it was not right that I receive it as an individual because I was considered for something which was actually part of a collective effort. So, I decided not to accept the award. I thanked them and politely refused the award saying I was not interested in receiving it in an individual capacity,” she said.

Senior CPI(M) leader Yechury also said that Magsaysay was against communism. “…this award is in the name of Ramon Magsaysay who has a history of brutal oppression of the communists in the Philippines. So, for all these factors together, she politely refused it saying that she will be the first politician to get it,” he added.

Who else won the award this year?

This year’s award was given to Sotheara Chhim, a mental health advocate from Cambodia; Tadashi Hattori, a Japanese ophthalmologist and humanitarian who has committed his time and resources to provide free eye surgeries in Vietnam; Gary Bencheghi, a young Frenchman who working toward eradicating marine plastic pollution in the rivers in Indonesia’s Bali, and Bernadette J Madrid, a Filipino paediatrician who has been championing for child rights in the country.

Have other Indians received the honour?

Social reformer Vinoba Bhave won the award in 1958 and Mother Teresa in 1962. Activist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was given the honour in 1966, filmmaker Satyajit Ray in 1967, and writer Mahasweta Devi in 1997.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was given the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2006. In 2015, Anshu Gupta of the non-profit Goonj and in 2016, human rights activist Bezwada Wilson won it. The last Indian to be bestowed the honour was journalist Ravish Kumar in 2019.

With inputs from agencies

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