By Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III

What does the recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award think about the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize Award? That’s an intriguing question I would have asked Miriam “Iye” Coronel Ferrer, this year’s recipient of the Magsaysay Award for her “long-standing peace advocacy” and her dedication to “harnessing the power of women.”

The Ramon Magsaysay Award is described as “Asia’s premier prize and highest honor.” The Award is given to those “whose selfless service has offered their societies, Asia, and the world successful solutions to some of the most intractable problems of human development.” Meanwhile, the Nobel Prize is awarded for “the greatest benefit of humankind.”

Both the Magsaysay and Nobel Awards have an equivalence in purpose and vision. It is a mistake to view the Magsaysay Award as inferior to the Nobel Prize.

In fact, Iye, the Magsaysay awardee, is far more qualified, far more deserving than some recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Think Kissinger. Read how Anthony Bourdain, the iconic chef and a no-nonsense person, depicted the former US State Secretary and National Security Adviser and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973:

“Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia — the fruits of his genius for statesmanship — and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Miloševi?.”

How cruel life is. Kissinger, the Nobel laureate who had the blood of millions of people on his hands, even outlived Bourdain, the decent guy. Kissinger died at his home aged 100 in November 2023. Bourdain committed suicide at the age of 61 in June 2018. In the graphic words of freelance journalist Richard Swift, “Kissinger died peacefully in his bed of impunity, unlike those murdered in East Timor, carpet bombed in Indo China, or tortured to death in the dungeons of Chile and Argentina.”

Greg Grandin, history professor at Yale University, has written extensively about blood-soaked stories linked to Kissinger’s foreign meddling and war crimes — in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, in East Timor, in Bangladesh, in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, in Cyprus, in Kurdistan, in Palestine, and in the Middle East.

Yet, Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize for having negotiated a ceasefire during the Vietnam War, known as the 1973 Paris Peace Accords. Different accounts nevertheless point out that Kissinger secretly sabotaged the peace talks between the US and North Vietnam. Worse, newly released papers reveal that the 1973 Peace Prize, quoting Reuters, “was given in the full knowledge the Vietnam war was unlikely to end any time soon.”

Stein Toennesson, a professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, reviewed the documents on nominations and deliberations, which Nobel rules prohibit from being disclosed for 50 years. What he found was startling. The committee that deliberated the Peace Prize was “fully aware” that the Paris Agreement was “unlikely to hold.”

In an interview with Reuters, Toennesson said, “The prize was given to Kissinger for having gotten the US out of Vietnam … without any peaceful solution in South Vietnam.” Le Duc Tho, North Vietnam’s chief negotiator, was likewise given the award because according to Toennesson, the Nobel committee “could not give it to Kissinger alone.” Kissinger needed a partner, and so the committee “added Le Duc Tho, whom they knew little about.”

Le Duc Tho showed his dignity and ethical standard by refusing the Prize. He wrote the Nobel committee: “When the Paris agreement on Vietnam is respected, guns are silenced and peace is really restored in South Vietnam, I will consider the acceptance of this prize.”

The story of Kissinger and his undeserved Nobel Peace Prize suggests how a globally prestigious award can be tainted and hijacked by self-serving big power interests.

An Al Jazeera article published in October 2022 (“Why does the Nobel Peace Prize often stir controversy?”) is worth quoting: “The award has been criticized for its premature or faulty understanding of peace or for being politically motivated.”

The Kissinger award is the most egregious. But Democrat US President Barack Obama being awarded the Prize in 2009 met with strong opposition as well. The Obama administration waged wars in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen, with disregard for international human law. Obama’s war against terrorism was also characterized by human rights violations.

I now return to the question that I would have asked Iye. I haven’t heard from her since the time she received the Magsaysay award. But a post on her Facebook account might provide the answer to my question regarding her thoughts about the recent Nobel Peace Prize. The post is not her opinion. She copied and pasted the column of Elmira Bayrasli simply titled “On the Nobel Prize….” (Dec. 8, 2023, Interruptrr).

The opening salvo of Bayrasli’s column says it all: “Narges Mohammadi deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. The Peace Prize doesn’t deserve her.”

Mohammadi is an Iranian human rights and feminist activist whom the Iranian government has imprisoned for leading protests and movements. She has been awarded the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize “for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.”

Columnist Bayrasli does emphasize that Mohammadi’s award is well-deserved. Yet, she is disturbed that the Nobel Prize is “political grandstanding” and “virtue signaling, which is something the West is prone to do when it comes to Muslim women.”

Bayrasli does not pull punches: “Iran’s regime is brutal. Its treatment of women is unconscionable.” What she laments is the West’s selection bias in condemning ruthless regimes. In her words, “Iran is not the only place where women are oppressed.” She asks, for instance, why Saudi Arabia, where gender violence is pronounced and where women activists are jailed and silenced, is not being denounced. Of course, Saudi Arabia is a “key to Western interests in the Middle East.”

To buttress her point, Bayrasli quotes a sociology professor, Zeynep Tüfekçi: “When a great Western institution condemns Iran and overlooks repression by its neighbors, reactionaries in the region can use this selectivity to paint those struggling for women’s rights as mere policy pawns for Western interests. The very prize that’s supposed to recognize the cause of these brave women instead ends up as a symbol of Western indifference, hypocrisy and selective interest.”

Bayrasli’s plea is: “Stop treating women as a tool or a checkbox to advance an agenda.” But by all means, “celebrate Mohammadi and her tireless efforts not only on behalf of women in Iran but for human rights overall.” Iye, my friend, will wholeheartedly agree, and that’s why she posted Bayrasli’s column.

In the same vein, let’s celebrate Iye, her progressive activism, her indefatigable global advocacy for a just peace, and her advancement of a movement of women peace builders, her defense of the rights of our discriminated Moro brothers, and her championing of Bangsamoro governance.

At a time that the world suffers from extreme violence, even genocide; at a time that intensifying geopolitical rivalry is resulting in armed conflicts; at a time that the fragile peace in local areas like Moro Mindanao is being threatened, we need the Iyes and Mohammadis — and they are plenty — to express their activism.

Iye is proud of her history of activism. The Ramon Magsaysay Award recognizes her “impassioned engagement in political issues… when as a student activist, she joined the resistance against martial rule.”

Then, her nom de guerre was Rivas. Iye’s inspiration was Paquito Rivas, the 1979 Tour of Luzon champion. The qualities that made Rivas a cycling champion were humility and cooperation, courage and tenacity, stamina and durableness, perspicacity and keenness. Those are Iye’s very qualities that have enabled her to become a leader for social change and peace building.

Those are the qualities that have given her a “greatness in spirit.” Iye is thus most deserving to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award. More, she is most deserving to be a Nobel laureate, even if arguably the “Nobel Peace Prize [being again controversial] doesn’t deserve her.”

Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.