Thursday, August 11, 2011

Public Lecture by Koul Panha, 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee

Thursday, September 1, 2011 · 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon

Pulungang Claro M. Recto (Faculty Center Conference Hall)
Rizal Hall, College of Arts and Letters
University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City

Mr. Koul Panha of Cambodia, one of this year's Ramon Magsaysay Awardees, will deliver a public lecture entitled, "Citizenship Vigilance from the Grassroots: The Movement for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia," at the University of the Philippines-Diliman on September 1, 2011.

The public lecture is organized by the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation and the Third World Studies Center and co-sponsored by the University of the Philippines (UP) Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs, the College of Arts and Letters' Office of the Dean, the UP Department of Political Science and the UP Department of History.



Caesar A. Saloma, PhD
University of the Philippines-Diliman
(To be delivered by Ronald S. Banzon, PhD, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, University of the Philippines-Diliman)
Alfredo E. Pascual
University of the Philippines


Koul Panha
2011 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee

Maria Elissa Jayme-Lao, DPA
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science
School of Social Sciences
Ateneo de Manila University




Jose Wendell P. Capili, PhD
Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs 
University of the Philippines


Citation for the 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Award

In many places in the world today, citizens are engaged in a historic struggle to democratize their societies, often under conditions of extreme difficulty and danger. One such place is Cambodia. The country was traumatized by decades of war and the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, which left 1.7 million Cambodians dead. The country took its first step to establishing a “multi-party liberal democracy” when it proclaimed a new constitution and embarked on its first democratic elections in 1993. Cambodians have gone through five national and local elections since then. But democracy’s progress has been slow and turbulent, and elections have been undermined by factionalism, fraud, violence, and the threat of a return to authoritarian rule. Many know that the central challenge is for Cambodians to claim the electoral process as their own, by protecting it as an instrument for building a democracy. One of those who have bravely stepped up to this challenge is a Cambodian engineer named Koul Panha.

Koul knows firsthand what brutalities are possible in the absence of a true democracy. He was eight years old when his father and relatives were killed by the Khmer Rouge. The indescribable trauma impelled him to dedicate himself to changing his society. He finished his university degree, taught in Phnom Penh, and was already involved in the human rights movement even in the time of the dictatorship. When Cambodia embarked on its first free elections in 1993, he joined the non-partisan Task Force on Cambodian Elections, and was one of the organizers when this task force became the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (COMFREL) in 1997. Koul assumed the role of COMFREL executive director in 1998; returning home after earning a master’s degree in the Politics of Alternative Development, he threw himself full-time into COMFREL’s mission of assuring that Cambodian elections are free and fair.

Under Koul’s leadership, COMFREL has become the country’s leading independent organization on electoral issues. It aggressively campaigns for responsible voting and electoral reforms, using all available media. In protecting the 2008 electoral process, COMFREL and its partners trained and deployed over ten thousand volunteers, covering 60 percent of the country’s polling stations. For the first time in Cambodia, a citizens’ parallel “quick count,” initiated by COMFREL, helped forestall the manipulation of results by establishing voting trends three days after the elections. They have also proactively campaigned for the wider political participation of women, who constitute half of Cambodia’s population, a campaign that has seen a subsequent increase of women in public office.

Based in Phnom Penh, COMFREL maintains a nationwide network of partners and has mobilized, since its inception, over fifty thousand election volunteers; more than 150,000 Cambodians have participated in COMFREL’s training programs, workshops and other activities. This is an impressive show of civic participation in a democracy still so young. Even more significant is how COMFREL has gone beyond elections—into post-election issues of governance. It actively lobbies for reforms in matters like election campaign finance and the national budget. In 2003 it initiated Parliamentary Watch, which monitors the performance of legislators and officials using benchmarks and concrete indicators in grading government performance at both local and national levels. COMFREL’s monitoring reports are publicly disseminated.

Democracy in Cambodia remains fragile, and the situation complex and dangerous. Koul has experienced harassment, and he knows he has to walk a tightrope for COMFREL to continue doing its work. But despite the legitimate fears of friends and family, he remains committed to using every inch of democratic space to empower his people in building a homeland that is democratic and free. Recalling the tragic experience of millions of Cambodians and his own family, the soft-spoken Koul says: “I think Cambodia has suffered enough. This pushes me to do something as a citizen of Cambodia, to make sure the suffering does not happen again.”

In electing Koul Panha to receive the 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes his determined and courageous leadership of the sustained campaign to build an enlightened, organized and vigilant citizenry who will ensure fair and free elections—as well as demand accountable governance by their elected officials—in Cambodia’s nascent democracy.

Click on this link to access the full text of Mr. Koul Panha's lecture:

Below is a playlist of the video recordings of the public lecture:

No comments:

Post a Comment