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The Straits Times Asian of the Year 2018 goes to "The First Responders"

Singapore, 28 November 2018 - Every year, the editors of The Straits Times pick a person, a group or an institution that, in their judgment, has significantly impacted the Asian continent in the year past.

This year, the editors are pleased to honour the many men and women of courage and commitment who stepped up in the moment of greatest need. Many ran towards disaster looking to help friends and neighbours moments after tragedy struck. It is these people, together with the organisations that would arrive later, that The Straits Times would like to honour.

While it is impossible to recognise every single selfless act through the different disasters this year, we have chosen three groups of rescuers, alongside the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) and Mercy Relief, a Singapore NGO, for this year's Asian of the Year award. We believe they personify the group we are calling The First Responders.

Collectively, the award goes to: - The late Ng Kok Choong, Singaporean paraglider, for his rescue work in the aftermath of the earthquake in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, alongside other individuals who rushed to the scene of disasters, including the Tham Luang cave rescue in Thailand - Indian Navy Commander (Pilot) Vijay Varma and Captain (Pilot) P Rajkumar, for their death-defying rescue flying during the floods in Kerala, India - Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman, National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB), Indonesia - Mercy Relief - The Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre)

It did not take a lot of debate for editors to arrive at this decision. The AHA Centre, Mercy Relief, and the men named have operated in plain sight for the world to see; amid large scale flooding, earthquakes and a variety of other disasters, they have served as a beacon of selflessness and the finest instincts of mankind - to preserve and protect the flock at the cost of their own lives, if necessary. One of this year’s winners is a posthumous awardee.

"When calamity strikes, the natural instinct of humans is to flee. Yet there are some who, rather than leave the scene, swivel around to confront danger and fight. Risking their own lives, they protect the herd. Each of you exemplifies the best of your breed," said the award citation.

"As First Responders, your courage, selflessness, calculated risk-taking and presence of mind have mitigated many a terrible situation. By putting yourself in harm’s way your, work has turned many certain defeats into stalemates, and stalemates into victories. Your often-lonely soldiering has been society’s good fortune. Asia owes you, your families and the institutions that moulded your lives and personalities," it added.

In deciding to honour The First Responders, The Straits Times editors were minded by the fact that across Asia, the scale of disasters and the extent of devastation they cause, have only increased over the past decade. This year, Japan suffered some of its worst floods in recent memory, as did the southern Indian state of Kerala. Indonesia has been struck with more than one severe earthquake. Four South-east Asian nations are listed among the top 10 countries worldwide that are prone to disasters stemming from climate change issues.

Mr Warren Fernandez, Editor, Editor-in-Chief of the Singapore Press Holdings' English, Malay, Tamil Media Group, and Editor of The Straits Times, said: "The First Responders were picked after the briefest of debates because theirs was a standout case of courage and selflessness. In an Asia witnessing disasters of increasing frequency and intensity it is clear that there is nothing like 'over there' anymore - we all are equally affected. These men, and the two organisations we picked, have taught us through personal example that at the end of the day security is indivisible."

Now in its seventh year, The Straits Times Asian of the Year award, announced toward the end of the year, has become an important part of the Asian calendar since 2012. The inaugural award went to then-Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein, followed by a joint award for Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2013, and to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. In 2015, the award was given posthumously to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In 2016, five Asian pioneers working in the intersection of technology and commerce were honoured as The Disruptors – the first time the award went to a group. Mr Xi was Asian of the Year in 2017.

Mr Jeremy Au Yong, Foreign Editor of The Straits Times, said: "In a year where personalities and egos often made the news for the wrong reasons, we could think of no more deserving candidates than the many people who behaved selflessly - for no reward other than simply knowing it was the right thing to do. "The Straits Times correspondents spread across Asia often got to see first hand how these unsung heroes - through sometimes little things, like sharing what few rations they had - made a tremendous impact. This is the Asian story we think deserves telling this year, the story of hope amid despair."

Please see attached for detailed accomplishments of the awardees.

Issued by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
Co. Registration. No. 198402868E

For more information, please contact:

Zakir Hussain
News Editor
The Straits Times
Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
DID: 63195331

Rebecca Chee
Corporate Communications & CSR
Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
DID: 6319 1124

About The Straits Times 
The Straits Times, the English-language flagship daily of Singapore Press Holdings, is the most-read newspaper in Singapore and is followed widely in the region for its comprehensive multimedia coverage of local, regional and world news, provided by its correspondents in 12 bureaus in major cities worldwide. 

Launched on July 15, 1845, The Straits Times has been moving with the times in its efforts to engage and grow its audience and exploring innovative ways of story telling, as well as continuously refreshing its products to maintain quality and stay relevant to the changing needs of its readers. Its integrated newsroom operates round-the-clock, providing content as it happens on all platforms, from its website at, Apple and Android apps to social media. 

The Straits Times is a member of two media networks - the Asia News Network and the Impact Journalism Day alliance of newspapers - and it has won multiple international media awards, including from the Society of Publishers in Asia, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers' Association (Panpa), Society of News Design and WAN-IFRA. Its multimedia newsroom and innovative projects were recognised at the annual regional WAN-IFRA event in Hong Kong in November 2018 when it emerged the biggest winner, sweeping nine Asian Digital Media awards, including two golds for best innovation to engage youth audience, and best lifestyle, sports, entertainment website.  

About Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
Incorporated in 1984, main board-listed Singapore Press Holdings Ltd (SPH) is Asia's leading media organisation, engaging minds and enriching lives across multiple languages and platforms.  

SPH core business is publishing of newspapers, magazines and books in both print and digital editions. It also owns other digital products, online classifieds, radio stations and outdoor media.

On the property front, SPH owns 70% in a real estate investment trust called SPH REIT which comprises Paragon, a premier upscale retail mall and medical suite/office property in Orchard Road, The Clementi Mall, a mid-market suburban mall and The Rail Mall, a stretch of shopping and dining outlets along Upper Bukit Timah Road. SPH also owns and operates The Seletar Mall. It is developing a new commercial cum residential site at Woodleigh. It also has a stake in Chinatown Point and acquired a portfolio of Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) in the United Kingdom. 

It is in the aged care sector and owns Orange Valley, Singapore's largest private nursing home operator. 

SPH runs a regional events arm and a chain of Buzz retail outlets. It also invested in the education business. 

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