Two very different Filipino men. One who’s worked tirelessly for his country to raise its profile in the world – a man just honoured by the Queen of England as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE); the other, a self-confessed killer now on the run in Singapore – a man who’s brought dishonour to the police uniform he once wore.
Hard to find a greater contrast than these two. Both took pledges to serve their country; one did, the other disgraced it. And so now, as the former joins an order of chivalry, the latter becomes a fugitive from justice. Call us old fashioned, but men of honour are men who should be recognised as such; so too should men of dishonour. So let’s look at who they are.
Jesus Tambunting (photo left with OBE), is a former Philippine Ambassador to the United Kingdom, serving from 1993 to 1998 under the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos. He was also concurrently Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland. The present British Ambassador to the Philippines, Asif Ahmad, who on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II will bestow the OBE next month, describes Tambunting as “a great friend of the United Kingdom”. The award, he said, “is a visible and permanent symbol of our deep appreciation”. Asif made the announcement at the British Embassy in Manila on Monday.
Tambunting has been co-chairman of the Philippine British Business Council and a driving force behind it since its inception in 1995. Business-led and government-supported, the Council actively promotes trade and investment between the two countries working directly with the Philippines Department of Trade and Industry and the UK’s Department of International Trade.
Largely for his work with the Council, he was cited for the award for being “instrumental in the significant growth in commerce between the two countries”. Two-way trade, negligible 22 years ago, topped PHP80 billion last year.
On learning he was to be awarded the OBE, Tambunting said: “I am deeply honoured to be the recipient of this very prestigious award. It was a privilege to have served my country in promoting and strengthening the commercial relationship between the Philippines and a country I admire, the United Kingdom of Great Britain”.
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire was instituted in 1917, one year before the end of the First World War, by King George V as a reward for both military and civilian wartime service. The Order comprises five classes of which Officer is one. Its purpose is to distinguish British citizens and in some cases foreigners who’ve made “exceptional contributions” to arts, science, charity and public service. It was for his efforts in this last category that Tambunting has been recognised.
Tambunting rose to corporate prominence in the Philippines in 1976 following his founding of Planters Development Bank – a thrift bank that built a strong reputation and an equally strong bottom line from providing commercial banking products and services to small and medium enterprises. He also expanded his family’s pawnshop business – the oldest of its kind in the Philippines, dating back to 1906 – into a national chain with more than 1,000 branches spread across the archipelago.
Although the OBE is among the most prestigious accolades he’s received, it follows a number of others. In 2003, he was named Management Man of the Year by the Management Association of the Philippines; in 2004, the Vatican made him a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem; in 2005 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Asian Bankers Association, and in 2010, he became the first recipient of the Ramon V. del Rosario Award for Nation Building.
Now we can take a look at the other man, Arturo Lascañas (other photo), the 56-year-old one-time lawman who claims to have personally killed “about 200 people” as the member of a vigilante group known as the Davao Death Squad (DDS), operating in Davao in far south of the country on the island of Mindanao.
Lascañas, who’s been in hiding since late February, fled the country after boarding a Tiger Airlines flight for Singapore on Saturday night. “I have received threats that a lawsuit would be filed against me, and there are also people looking for me as well,” Lascañas reportedly said before leaving.
In February, he told a press conference – held in the Philippine Senate and organised by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, an arch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte – that the DDS was formed by Duterte when he was the Mayor of Davao. Of the alleged killings he said: “We implement the personal orders of Duterte … in all the killings we do in Davao City – whether burying them or throwing them at sea – we’re being paid by Mayor Rodrigo Duterte,” Lascañas said.
At a Senate hearing four months earlier, however, Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Police Officer 3 Lascañas, wearing a crisp police uniform, testified that the DDS was a fiction; there’s no such thing he told the Senate panel and TV viewers the length and breadth of the country. According to the version he delivered to the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights then, the DDS was nothing more than “media hype”.
So the question is which version of Lascañas’s testimony can be believed? Either way he’s a liar. Now he claims he’s had some sort of spiritual awakening; that after his wholesale killing of 200 people, his conscience is bothering him – not after killing 10 people or 50 or 100 or 150, but after killing 200 people he was now feeling remorse.
Earlier this month while in hiding somewhere in Manila he told the UK’s Observer – a sister newspaper to the anti-Duterte Guardian – “The only way out of this evil environment is to tell the truth”. Well apparently he rethought that too and hopped on a plane to Singapore.
And those who championed his “courage” as he made a tearful confession in front of the cameras at that staged press conference which was choreographed like a Filipino soap drama and intended to pull at the heart strings of the audience – how do they feel about this man now? Is he still righteous in their eyes? Do they still believe in his epiphany? Are they still taken in by a man who clearly lacks the courage of his convictions and runs at the first chance? Is that for them what passes for honour?
Of course it’s not. Lascañas is out to save his skin – not his soul. He’ll say and do, as he has, what he needs to say and do when it suits him. In light of the looming lawsuit, he told reporters at the airport, he felt it was appropriate for him to leave the Philppines “for the time being”. That must have been hard for the ‘patriot’ in him who stated as a self-alleged DDS killer with 200 notches on his belt: “I felt that I was serving the country for the greater good”. Meanwhile, for those of us who care to face it, flight by someone facing an impending court case is normally regarded as an indication of guilt.
How he was able to leave the country, however, defies explanation. Apparently, immigration had no reason to stop him; there was no travel ban, no immigration lookout order, no hold-departure order issued against him. Lascañas was as free as a bird to fly off. As far as him being in hiding prior to his dash for freedom was concerned, he certainly wasn’t trying to evade the anti-Duterte media – two London papers got hold of him with no trouble and the local press gave him a celebrity send off at Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Saturday.
The Philippine National Police has a disgraceful image by almost any standard. Its officers have been involved in crime and corruption for as long as anyone can remember. Despite the thousands of good men and women in its ranks, it’s become a national embarrassment. As a law-enforcement agency it’s distrusted by much of the population; the people look on it with suspicion and derision. And what’s helped to create that image – that reality – is men like Arturo Lascañas swaggering in the PNP uniform.
So there we have it; two very different men who in their respective ways have brought, distinction and notoriety to the Philippines. The achievements of one can be celebrated as a source of national pride. The actions of the other will be lamented as yet another example of public corruption. Jesus Tambunting has helped to considerably develop the partnership between the Philippines and the United Kingdom. Arturo Lascañas, a duplicitous figure who puts self first, has managed to heap even further shame on the uniform he once wore.