By Patricia Mirasol
Five awardees were honored at the 63rd Ramon Magsaysay Awards presentation ceremonies on Nov. 30. The awardees are Roberto “Ka Dodoy” A. Ballon, a fisherman and community environmentalist from the Philippines; Steven Muncy, a humanitarian and peace builder working all over Southeast Asia; Muhammad Amjad Saqib, a poverty alleviation visionary from Pakistan; Firdausi Qadri, an affordable vaccine champion from Bangladesh; and WatchDoc, media truth crusaders from Indonesia.
“Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start…,” said Mr. Ballon in his acceptance speech, citing Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si. This, he said, exemplifies the choices he makes as a fisherman.
The 53-year-old awardee, whose father was also a fisherman, saw how fish harvests in his hometown of Kalabasan, Zamboanga Sibugay dwindled as the mangrove forests along Sibuguey Bay were cleared to make way for aquaculture farms. Mangroves serve as breeding grounds and nurseries for fish.
In 1986, he founded Kapunungan sa Gamay ng Mangingisda sa Concepcion (or the Association of Small Fishermen of Concepcion) with 36 other small-scale fishermen to preserve the coastal environment and restore fish breeding grounds. The association now has tenurial rights to 500 hectares of mangrove forest, yielding an improvement in the quality of life of fishermen.
A Sept. 2 press statement from the Senate of the Philippines noted that fish catch in the area has improved from 1.5 kilograms in an eight-hour fishing trip to seven kilograms after three to five hours of fishing.
“As a simple fisherman, I only have one desire for the community that makes me do what I have been doing,” Mr. Ballon continued in his acceptance speech. “To offer myself to provide a better environment, sustainable livelihood, and an empowered community, and to realize our vision and mission in life: to have 3, 8 [or 3 Eat, referring to three meals a day].”
His association’s aspiration, he added, is a harmonious life — one that is propelled by a sustainable and equitable co-existence in the coastal communities of Zamboanga Sibugay.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award is Asia’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize.
“We have realities we need to face — sickness, lockdowns, death, and more uncertainty. But we want to do our share by focusing on stories of courage and hope,” Susan B. Afan, president of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, said in a press statement.