The Ramon Magsaysay Award is given to persons – regardless of race, nationality, creed or gender — who address issues of human development in Asia with courage and creativity, and in doing so have made contributions which have transformed their societies for the better.
Source: RMAF. “History”. Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation. ND. http://www.rmaf.org.ph/index.php?task=3. Accessed July 26, 2009.
It is often regarded as Asia’s Nobel Prize.
Below is the citation for Gov. Grace Padaca when she received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service in 2008.
Elections are the central institution of Filipino democracy. As Governor Grace Padaca puts it, they give voters a chance “to get the wrong people out of government and the right people in.” In practice, however, Filipino elections are almost always contests for power among an elite few. In most provinces, a handful of families controls political power from one generation to the next. Everyone else may vote, but the choices are limited to a cast of all-too-familiar characters. Such was the case in Isabela Province when Governor Padaca launched her unlikely political career.
Maria Gracia Cielo Magno Padaca was born in 1963 and crippled early in childhood by polio. Taunted by other children, she retreated into a world of books and learned to excel at school. She won scholarships to help pay her own way and, by twenty-one, had qualified as a certified public accountant. At Bombo Radyo in Cauayan, Isabela, she took an accounting job and, almost serendipitously, was soon a broadcaster, too. This suited her, she says, because “I could be heard but not seen.”
Every day, for the next fourteen years, hardhitting “Bombo Grace” took up the issues of the day over the radio. In Isabela, the Dy family controlled politics from the governor’s mansion to the smallest town. As day-by-day Padaca exposed the province’s intractable problems-a stagnating rural economy, multifaceted corruption, a plague of illegal gambling and logging, a ravaged environment-she came to believe that many of them were rooted in the intractable Dys. Yet few dared to challenge them. “This is not what I had been taught democracy should be,” she said. Vowing not to be someone who complained constantly “without lifting a finger,” in 2001 she ran for Congress.
With little money and no political base to speak of, Padaca crisscrossed the province in a borrowed truck, taking her case to the people. Her opponent from the ruling dynasty was declared the winner by forty-eight votes-this after a congressional election tribunal invalidated all the ballots marked “Grace.”
Padaca returned to the fray in 2004 to run for provincial governor. Her opponent was the incumbent, whose father and brother had also been governor. Bucking the opposition of thirty-three mayors and the hysterical charge that she was in league with terrorists, Padaca urged voters to “Free Isabela.” On election day-as her volunteers guarded the ballot boxes-they did. She won by more than forty-four thousand votes.
This was “the easy part,” Padaca says. As governor, she moved quickly to neutralize efforts by Dy loyalists to sabotage her governorship and astutely prioritized her agenda. She paid off two-thirds of the province’s huge debts and restored its fiscal credibility. She abandoned a bankrupt medical scheme for a sounder government-backed plan. And she launched a program to subsidize rice and corn farmers. These programs yielded fresh funds for new infrastructure, better medical coverage for more beneficiaries, and a boon for the province’s farmers and agribusiness sector. Meanwhile, Padaca increased the budgets for education and reforestation and made inroads against illegal logging and gambling. With the province on a healthy footing, she challenged the dynasty again in 2007 and was elected to a second term.
As she pursues her ambitious agenda today, Governor Grace stays in close touch with her constituents. She challenges them to reach beyond their political comfort zones and to “defend what is good in society.” She reminds them that the people of Isabela are no longer “the victims of cheaters and opportunists.” Her victory is their victory, she says. “I will work every day to prove that democracy is the better choice.”
In electing Grace Padaca to receive the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the board of trustees recognizes her empowering voters in the Philippines’ Isabela Province to reclaim their democratic right to elect leaders of their own choosing and to contribute as full partners in their own development.
Source: RMAF. “CITATION for Grace Padaca.” Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation. 31 August 2008. http://www.rmaf.org.ph/Awardees/Citation/CitationPadacaGra.htm. Accessed July 26, 2009.