Magsaysay is asking: Where is Sombath?

Ramon Magsaysay Foundation: 12 December 2014

#WhereIsSombath: RMAF marks 2 years of RM Awardees’ disappearance

Magsaysay-LogoWhere is Sombath?

The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) and the community of Magsaysay Awardees had been asking this question for two years now, since RM Awardee Sombath Somphone disappeared in his native Laos.

Somphone received the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005 in recognition of “his hopeful efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and motivating its young people to become a generation of leaders.”

He was last seen at around 5:00 p. m. on December 15, 2012 when he left the offices of the Participatory Development Learning Center in Vientiane to go home. He was in his own car; his wife Shui Meng was in another. Footage from CCTV cameras showed that Somphone’s car was stopped at a police outpost, with the Magsaysay awardee leaving his vehicle and another person driving his jeep away. Later, a pick-up truck arrived, Somphone got in, and he and two other men drove off. He did not reach his home, and his family has had no news of him since then.

A few days after the disappearance, the Magsaysay Awards community began sending emails and messages to support Somphone’s family and to ask: “Where is Sombath?”

RMAF President Carmencita T. Abella circulated “A Petition for Sombath Somphone’s Safe Return,” an effort initiated by Thai Magsaysay Awardee Jon Ungphakorn of Thailand, to all Magsaysay Laureates and the RMAF community.

The response from the RMAF community ranged from shock to sadness, to hopefulness.

“I am extremely shocked and fully support this petition letter. I condemn this inhumane act and strongly support the resolution for a full investigation,” wrote Syed Adibul Hasan Rizvi (Government Service ’98, Pakistan).  Teten Masduki (Public Service ‘05, Indonesia) messaged, “I’m very sorry to hear this news. I hope that this case will be solved and Mr. Sombath Somphone can return home safely. I want to give my support for the petition as well.” Tadatoshi Akiba (Japan, 2010)  also said: “Praying for Mr. Sombath’s safety. I support the petition letter you have prepared for Sombath’s safe return.”

Other awardees, such as The Bayanihan Folk Arts Foundation (International Understanding ’65, Philippines) and Antonio Meloto (Community Leadership ’06, Philippines), offered prayers and deep concern for the missing RM Laureate,

Present and past members of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, among them sociologist Randy David, journalist Cecilia Lazaro, and financial and management consultant Vitaliano Nañagas, also expressed their support for Somphone , by signing the petition.

On December 19, 2012, RMAF’s Board of Trustees, officers, and staff, as well as the Magsaysay Awardees sent the strongly endorsed petition letter to key officials of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic government requesting “urgent investigations into the disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone and actions to ensure his safety.” (The full text of the letter can be downloaded here.)

As the second anniversary of Somphone’s disappearance nears, the Foundation once again joins the international community in calling for an investigation into his disappearance and for his safe return to his family.

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