HIGHLIGHTS

  • When the ongoing fight between the government and the communists became a hindrance to development efforts, Keo was able to pull off the Rural Development Plan with the construction of 701 schools.
  • 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.
  • He has a deep understanding of of the country’s needs and this patriotism became the bedrock on which he led the Laos government to respond to the needs of the Laotian people. His competence and leadership opened appointments 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.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his sustained initiative and integrity in inaugurating public services for Lao villagers under handicaps that easily could have excused defeat.”

 CITATION

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.

 RESPONSE

I am happy to accept the Magsaysay Award and, with deep humility, the signal honor bestowed on me.

In accepting the Award for Government Service, my first thoughts are of the people of my country, the Royal Kingdom of Laos, whom I tried my best to serve during the last 25 years, and of the others in my Government with whom I had the privilege of working and sharing the responsibilities of public service. It is they, not I, who made this award possible. I consider myself only a human instrument, one might say, in the government machinery of my country to implement the policies and programs designed to promote the welfare and well-being of the Lao people.

I would be less honest and frank if I did not say that the work for which I was cited is just begun and, therefore, the Award is yet to be fully deserved. We still have so much to do and with only limited resources of our own. I am happy to say that it is in our need for trained human resources that the Filipino people have been most helpful to us. Our problems are increasing in magnitude and complexity as our population is increasing. And, as if these vicissitudes are not enough, we are also plagued with the problem of peace and order, as we have been for many difficult years.

It is in this context that I consider this Award as both a challenge and an opportunity: a challenge to continue with the task we began, inch by inch if need be, hut with increasing vigor and, hopefully, with clearer imagination, and with the tenacity of the elephant, our national symbol; an opportunity to accomplish more in the service of our people so that the Magsaysay Award with which I am being honored may be more completely deserved.

 BIOGRAPHY

KEO VIPHAKONE was born on August 15, 1917 of an upper middle class family in Luang Prabang, the Royal Capital of the Kingdom of Luang Prabang, part of the French Protectorate of Laos. KEO was the oldest of seven children—four boys and three girls—and his father was a French officer in the Colonial Army; KEO’s name, until he changed it, was HENRI BOUCHARON.

When KEO was still a child, his father, who had gained fame and honors in a war against the Meo hill people of northern Laos, suffered an illness, went back to France and never returned. He had sought to take KEO with him but the lad’s grandmother refused to let her favorite grandson go. Letters from the father dwindled as the years passed until they ceased altogether. His Lao mother, daughter of a courtier, or Mandarin, of the Luang Prabang court, remarried, this time to a Lao. A devout Buddhist and now widowed, she lives a cloistered life in a pagoda in Ban Houei Say on the border of Thailand, leaving once a year to visit her children and grandchildren.

KEO was raised by a doting grandmother who kept him out of school for she could not bear the thought of his being chastised by a teacher. The merry life of play and swimming in the Khan River, a tributary of the Mekong on whose banks Luang Prabang is located, ended abruptly one day when the boy ran into a teacher who pinched him on the ear and dragged him bodily off to school. It was a pinch that KEO never forgot—and never regretted—for it changed the course of his life.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)