Ambassador Jesus P. Tambunting a most excellent gentleman

 Ambassador Jesus Tambunting proudly wears his medal as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Geremy Pintolo/STAR

Ambassador Jesus P. Tambunting a most excellent gentleman

Edu Jarque (The Philippine Star) - July 8, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines - Appearing daily in the upper left corner of The Times, the United Kingdom’s largest newspaper, is the Court Circular, a listing of the day’s activities of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the other royals, mostly with the various organizations and associations they are patrons of. Contrary to common uninformed perception, the royals, led by the Sovereign, live very busy lives, spurred by their dedication to duty.

Twice a year, a set of roll calls of importance – the New Year’s List and Birthday Honors – grant coveted distinctions such as the prestigious Most Excellent Order of the British Empire Award to outstanding personalities who have achieved life milestones, men and women who have performed exemplary deeds, who shared unselfish moments that changed the life of others.

As part of this year’s Birthday Honors, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to the Philippines Asif Ahmad conferred on a Filipino, Jesus Tambunting, the honor as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

I briefly meditated on this gratifying acknowledgement, as I recalled with fondness the days when I was a member of his inspired team in London – comprised of our embassy and consular officers and staff complimented by the attachés representing the military, trade, tourism and labor – and I was proud to see a well-deserved honor bestowed upon him.

A well-respected and admired leader of Philippine commerce and industry, he made a significant mark in rural business when he founded Planters Development Bank in 1976. This venture was dedicated to small retail business owners predominantly in the provinces, many of whom had no previous experience dealing with banks. Gradually, this became a beacon as he pioneered a partnership based on trust with small and medium enterprises – fisherfolk, farmers, workers in home industries, small-time retailers – as they gained access to the then-urban concepts of loans and savings options.

The Planters Development Bank mission and vision expanded soon enough, as they opened branches not only in smaller cities and big towns, but even in secondary and tertiary markets.

The pioneer banker was abruptly plucked from this world during the presidency of Fidel Ramos to serve as the Philippines’ ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In London, he successfully embarked on a sweeping program anchored on economic diplomacy which integrated and enhanced trade and investments, political linkages and bilateral relations, cultural exchanges, tourism arrivals and expenditures, and sincerely reached out to the Filipino nationals in his areas of jurisdiction.

During his stint, he tapped friends, colleagues, and industry fellows in the home country to embark on business trips targeting their British counterparts for sales missions, seminars, workshops, conferences, open forums, where they had one-on-one business meetings, to discuss mutual benefits on the industries we have today, such as gas and energy, BPO, land vehicles, insurance, quality control and sports equipment.

A similar exchange was undertaken by several UK-based business leaders, who visited our islands, hoping to one day engage in infrastructure, construction, mining, tourism and food production projects here.

The 90s saw the very first group arrival of Philippine nurses to the British isles. Their difficult-to-replicate type of service is legendary – exemplifying the best of the Filipino. From then on, demand for Filipino nurses exponentially increased, opening yet another door of opportunity for our talented workers.



Tambunting was actively involved in various bilateral agreements with the Home Office, the counterpart of our Department of Foreign Affairs. The signing of numerous Memoranda of Understanding and Memoranda of Agreement were nurtured until their full implementation.

Since we are a land of seafarers, crisscrossing oceans in cargo barges, passenger vessels and cruise liners – one out of every four mariners worldwide is a Pinoy – the ambassador had always prioritized our sea-based employees’ welfare and privileges.

Our envoy was the Permanent Philippine Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations agency concerning shipping, due to his countless hours of devotion and concentration to this particular sector.

As a lover of history, heritage, customs and traditions, culture and the arts ranked high on his diplomatic platform. He found time to explore the streets and parks of London and its environs, travel to tourist spots and immerse himself in the country’s showrooms and exhibitions.

And with this caliber of integration and immersion, cultural exchanges were the next item on his agenda, driven by love and passion for the Philippines and admiration for the United Kingdom.

The pioneering “The Stairways to the Sky: Rice and Life in the Philippines” exhibit in 1997, a labor of love, in collaboration with the British Museum’s Museum of Mankind, featured the centerpiece House of Dulnuan saved from the town of Ungul, Asipulo, Ifugao, which incidentally gave refuge to two Japanese stragglers of World War II – but that’s another story.  The experts carefully and meticulously dismantled the house brick by brick, piece by piece, numbered each piece to facilitate the set up and assembly in London.

The showcase was inaugurated by Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. The showroom displayed various indigenous items such as animal skulls and horns, chicken coops, Ifugao chairs, baskets, necklaces and even cutlery like ladles, knives and spoons. Today, they form part of a permanent collection and are safeguarded, to preserve the rich history of our peoples.

The captivating and dramatic black and white images of the late Eduardo Masferré (1909 to 1995), a Filipino-Catalan photographer who chronicled the Cordillera populace for much of his life, was key to garnering exposure and awareness about the area’s slowly diminishing lifestyle and customs.

Filipino visual artists such as Prudencio Lamarroza and Manuel Baldemor had their own exhibits of artistic works.

David Hemmings – a television, movie and theater icon in the 60s – toured the Philippines, loved the country so much that he painted local landscapes, which were eventually exhibited at the ambassador’s residence, with the glitterati and literati of London in attendance.

The Madrigal Singers, founded by the late National Artist for Music Andrea Veneracion and acknowledged as one of the best choirs in the world, as well as the Ramon Magsaysay awardee Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company and the internationally acclaimed Ballet Philippines had their respective opportunities to show off the country’s rich talents and traditions, as Ambassador Tambunting introduced them to British audiences in theaters packed with the host country’s leaders of government, business, diplomats and the social circle. The fashion show Katutubong Habi featured local fabrics and original Filipino designs to showcase our talents and crafts to the Western world.

Popular entertainers like Pilita Corales, megastar Sharon Cuneta with her Centennial Concert and comedienne Maya Valdez have also taken the British stage.

Together with the Asia Society, the Independence Centennial Celebration featured a menu that duplicated the original fare served in the first independence celebration in Kawit, Cavite.

Food eventually became an essential part of the cultural exchange, as British citizens discovered Filipino cuisine at the Feast of Philippine Flavors held at the Hotel Intercontinental Hyde Park in the center of the city. With the envoy’s support, all the weekends of June and July for years concurrently ran several barrio fiestas around city parks and boroughs, the biggest of which was held at Lampton Park.

During his tenure, voluntary contributions of note were received, as the English business community, together with our counterparts, sympathized with the victims of the Ormoc flash flood of 1991, the Mindoro quake of 1994 and Typhoons Kadiang in 1993 and Rosing in 1995.

Ambassador Tambunting clearly charmed everyone, and an invitation to dine at the embassy residence was simply an affair not to be ignored.

The Tambunting residence at the 9A Palace Green, in front of Kensington Palace, where Princess Diana was then the most famous resident, was the epitome of Philippine warmth and hospitality, with his wife Margarita at the helm. The sterling couple never lost an opportunity to acquaint and familiarize everyone they met with the beauty of the Philippines and all its wonderful aspects.

At the end of his ambassadorial stint in 1998, Tambunting returned home. But that was not the end of his links with the United Kingdom. Reinforced by his banking background, he has remained co-chairman of the Philippine British Business Council, which has been instrumental in the increase of commerce between the two nations.

And ultimately, these achievements brought about through leadership by example was recognized as the Queen herself bestowed upon him the recognition as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

There are five tiers of awards – the Knight Grand Cross, Knight Commander, Commander, Officer and Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

The medal is a golden cross with images of George V and Mary of Teck surrounded by the words “For God and the Empire,” suspended on a rose-pink ribbon with pearl-grey edges, which may be accompanied by a lapel pin for everyday wear. A certificate and plaque signed by the Queen and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is also presented.

“I shall carry this title proudly and I shall always cherish the memory of the time of conferment,” he says.

When asked about challenges he has encountered during his tenure at the Court of St. James, he still recalls the very first UK state visit of then president Fidel V. Ramos.

Though hectic, he made it possible for our Chief Executive to meet Queen Elizabeth II, her son Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, then UK Prime Minister John Major and several VIPs who wished to meet him – suffice to say, the President’s schedule was full.

Though he is still active and definitely not retired, he now takes on a more leisurely lifestyle, as he spends time traveling with the family, as well as keeping fit through health and wellness regimens.

To cap off our chat, Ambassador Tambunting remembers the Queen with fondness, when they had tea together during his farewell call at Buckingham Palace.

“I will always have tremendous respect for Her Majesty and for her commitment to her role as Queen – it was my first impression of her, and that will never change.”

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