Jun 272013

Having just returned from an extended trip abroad, I am shocked at the headlines regarding Department of Labor personnel accused of “sex for fly”.  Even assuming they are guilty, I hasten to confirm that those instances are the exception rather than the rule.

It may not be as newsworthy but there are individuals who have served the nation with dignity and commitment to excellence which greatly outnumber the sorry lot that give public service a bad name. I would like to cite two examples of individuals who have made immense contribution to our national interest and yet have managed to keep under the radar despite their very senior positions in government and the private sector.

Tomas I. Alcantara

He cannot be categorized as a career public servant although he continued to serve the public interest long after his brief stint in government. Tommy belongs to a prosperous Davao family.  He graduated from Ateneo de Manila, went to Harvard for his MBA and then to Columbia for an Advanced Management Program. He then went into private business as was expected of him.  In 1986, he was invited to join the government of President Cory Aquino as undersecretary of Trade and Industry, a position he occupied for nine years. 

I first met him in 1992 when I was in DFA.  He impressed me as a driven individual, politely aggressive but fiercely stubborn if prevented from getting the job done.  During my first trip to Japan, he volunteered to join my delegation.  It was only then that I realized how committed he was to enhancing the bilateral relations of the two countries. As described by the Japanese Ambassador Toshinao Urabe: “During his nine year tenure as undersecretary, he emphasized the development of the CALABARZON area.  His vision and efforts were rightfully rewarded.  In 2011, 17.4% of the Philippine output came from this region, second only to the National Capitol Region.  In the last year alone, major Japanese manufacturing companies like Murata, Canon, Brother, Furukawa Electric, Lion, Ibiden and Cemedine opened new factories. Next month, I am going to the opening ceremonies of Bandai and Fuji Film Optical. Epson, Toshiba, Suzuki, NDEC, Tsukiden and Terumo expanded their facilities. ALL THIS WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED IF TOMMY HAD NOT PERSEVERED….  Even after his tenure at DTI, he advised officially and unofficially different administrations.  …Tommy was instrumental in the signing and eventual ratification of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).”

It was for the above reasons that the Emperor of Japan Akihito bestowed on Tomas I. Alcantara, the Order of the Rising Sun, a rare distinction.

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This recognition of his substantial contribution to Japan-Philippine economic relations, particularly in attracting major Japanese investments to the country, is only one side of his multi-faceted career serving government. In 1996 he was tapped by President Ramos during our hosting of APEC where he made substantive contributions to the success of the APEC meeting.  In state visits, he was a key planner in both the logistical and substantive aspects. His main obsession was to enhance the image of the country. Although not a member of cabinet, the economic managers valued his advice and treated him as an equal. 

I want to thank the Japanese government for recognizing Tommy. Otherwise we would have never known about it. Always low-profile to a fault, very little is known to the public about his accomplishments serving three presidents. I will respect his wishes and will refrain from reciting chapter and verse about his other accomplishments.  In my humble opinion, he should have also been awarded the highest decoration from the government of the Philippines. 

Marciano A. Paynor Jr.

I have known Jun Paynor since the time of President Fidel V. Ramos.  In all his assignments – as presidential chief of protocol in two administrations, as Ambassador to Israel and currently the consul general in San Francisco – he has distinguished himself as the model for the proper diplomat.  A career foreign service officer, he has demonstrated absolute loyalty to the nation transcending partisan politics. 

In the long history of those who have occupied the position of chief of protocol I can say that he belongs to the best of them and that to me he was one of the few who understood the nuances of diplomatic protocol. That has meant sometimes rubbing off some people in the presidential party who have a different notion of diplomatic order of precedence. In the context of presidential state visits, he is THE AUTHORITY in the Philippines. During the APEC Leaders meeting in Manila and Subic, Mr. Paynor made the difference in some very ticklish situations. That experience alone should make him a valuable resource person for our hosting of APEC in 2015 and it would be a pity if his expertise is not utilized.

I had occasion to be in San Francisco during this year’s Independence Day celebrations orchestrated by Paynor in coordination with the Filipino American Community.  On June 12th, he hosted a reception at the Intercontinental Hotel for 400 Filipino-Americans including city officials and senators from the California legislature. I met several Fil-Ams who were mayors of the Bay area who had nothing but praise for our consul general. Two State Senators Leland Yee and Ellen Corbettt were speakers at the reception.  Aside from the perfunctory congratulations on the occasion of Independence Day, both senators spoke with warmth and praise for Paynor.  

On June 14th, the Consulate General hosted a business conference in coordination with the Science and Technology Advisory Council of Silicon Valley. The keynote speaker was Dado Banatao, the Filipino venture capitalist and Silicon Valley pioneer. The conference focused on the Philippines as Asia’s rising tiger and a gateway to ASEAN. 

On Saturday, June 15th, my wife and I went to Union Square – the  “ceremonial heart” of San Francisco – for the celebration of Philippine Independence Day…. a first in Fil-Am history.  Allan Pineda, better known as Apl.de.ap of the Black Eyed Peas headlined the Philippines Independence Day free concert.  Thousands of Filipino Americans as well as residents of the city enjoyed the daylong celebration which showcased entrepreneurs, food booths, performing artists and martial arts to highlight the “Legacy of Filipino Creativity, Talent and Ingenuity”.

A Filipino-Chinese, a long-time resident of San Francisco commented how delighted she was that the Filipinos have finally held such a public celebration.  In the past, she could only participate in the traditional Chinese New Year’s celebration.  In a sense this woman’s statement has demonstrated what Paynor has aspired to accomplish. He has been sustained in his determination to make the Filipino as significant as the other ethnic communities in San Francisco.

I have described the Independence Day events in great detail only to demonstrate that Jun Paynor is an accomplished diplomat who knows how to manage people and events. He has reached the mandatory age of retirement and will soon return to Manila. The foreign service has lost a valuable asset. I would suspect that based on his track record, a large corporation will take advantage of his skills and experience.

It has been an honor and privilege to have worked side by side with these two gentlemen.

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