The 1967 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service
CITATION for Keo Viphakone
Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies
31 August 1967, Manila, Philippines
A people only come to feel themselves a nation when they share in common institutions for accomplishing valued public purposes. Nowhere in Asia has the task of creating these facilities been more difficult than in Laos.
Isolated by geography and French colonial policy, the more than two million inhabitants of Laos felt the first stirrings of modernization after World War II. Over the centuries the once proud Buddhist Kingdom of Lan-Xang had disintegrated before more aggressive neighbors until the remaining small state of Luang Prabang welcomed French protection in 1893. Thereafter, incursion by Tonkinese and Annamese was condoned by allowing them to take over trade, commerce and petty administration. Lao Issara, the freedom movement prompted by Japanese occupation, crystallized a national consciousness among younger elite and members of royalty. In 1949 Laos became an autonomous kingdom within the French Union and in 1954 won full independence.
A keen participant in this struggle, KEO VIPHAKONE was convinced that agitation must make way for building. At his first post as Chief of Water and Forest Service for Champassak Province in late 1945, he showed his courage and principles in enforcing regulations against the rich and powerful. Serving briefly in 1949 as Chief of the Forests and Land Division of the new government his understanding of the country's needs soon led to his appointment as economic representative to high councils of the Associated States of Indochina in Saigon, then as a senior diplomatic representative to Paris, Washington and the United Nations.
When the Royal Lao Government in 1958 decided that lowland farmers and tribesmen in the hills must be reached with modern systems of education, transportation, water works and health services, KEO was brought home to improvise something entirely new for his country as Commissioner of Rural Affairs. In a land where there were only a dozen university graduates at the close of World War II, he had to enlist from without or train from within an entire range of skills. It is a measure of his competence that each of the rightist and neutralist governments that rose and fell in rapid succession over the next nine years retained his services.
Roughly 20 per cent of the population of Laos has now come under programs he today directs as Secretary of State for Social Welfare and concurrently as Commissioner of Rural Affairs. Starting with relief and resettlement of refugees, KEO trained manpower and fruitfully utilized such outside organizations as Operation Brotherhood International, United Nations specialized agencies, and bilateral aid from several countries. His rural self-help and public works include well-drilling, building schools, roads, bridges, crematories, markets and dispensaries. More than one-half of all U.S. economic assistance to Laos is under his management. Repeatedly he has urged the Americans to be more patient in giving help so villagers can become involved in building and cherishing innovations.
As a particularly underdeveloped new nation that has become a cockpit of the cold war, Laos has experienced tortuous military and political changes and offers easy temptation to ostentatious official corruption. In contrast to many leaders for whom independence has been an avenue to personal wealth and power, KEO has remained true to his Buddhist faith of simplicity in personal living and honesty in official dealings. Now at the age of 49, he has shown that even under the most adverse circumstances a man who claims his office as a public trust can bring progress to his people and foster their faith in government as a means to serve them.
In electing His Excellency, KEO VIPHAKONE to receive the 1967 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his sustained initiative and integrity in inaugurating public services for Lao villagers under handicaps that easily could have excused defeat.
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