Recognizing service to the nation: Britain’s way

"If Philippine heads of state could be relied upon to make non-political and meritorious choices for national recognition, who in Philippine society deserve to be bestowed the equivalents of knighthoods and damehoods?"

In this country there are two ways by which a Filipino’s service to his country is recognized by a grateful nation. One, reserved for high-rank government officials upon retirement from office or in posthumous fashion, is the system of Presidential awards, which are given on a stratified basis (datu, maharlika, etc.). The other way is the legally mandated National Artist and National Scientist systems, in which individuals are recognized for their outstanding contributions to specific fields of human endeavor (an art form, a scientific field, etc.).

Although  they have from time to time encountered glitches—e.g., when President Gloria Arroyo insisted on inserting a personal choice for National Artist—these two ways of recognizing service to the nation have on the whole done their job well. But there is another way, not familiar to most Filipinos, that I wish were also used to reward Filipinos who have done right by their Inang Bayan.

It is the British way I have in mind. In the course of a long stay in the UK (United Kingdom) I learned to appreciate traditions that over the centuries have gone to form parts of Britain’s storied history. One of these traditions is the Queen’s (or King’s) Honors List.

The List, which is issued twice a year—on the monarch’s official birthday in June and on New Year’s Day—contains the names of British men and women who the monarch wishes to honor for services rendered to a grateful nation. Although the twice-yearly list is regarded as a part of the royal prerogative, it is nevertheless issued with the concurrence and upon the advice of the Prime Minister, representing the sovereign people. Also by tradition, the Queen (or King) asks the Prime Minister for suggestions for Queen’s List honorees, but she (or he) is not bound to accept any proffered names, although it would be imprudent for her (or him) to ignore a Prime Minister-suggested name.

This should not be taken to mean that little thought goes into the drawing up of the Queen’s Honors List. Not at all. Her Majesty (or His Majesty) is, after all, a person who keeps track of what is happening in the nation at large—in governance, in business and the media, in science, in arts and letters, in sports, in community work and in other important areas of British society. Only the hide-bound traditionalists were heard to complain when Cliff Richard and, later, two of the Beatles were awarded knighthoods by the present Queen in successive Honor’s List; not only were the honorees extremely popular with the youth of the UK and other countries but they also generated lots of foreign exchange for Britain’s Treasury from foreign sales of their records and their overseas appearances. A KBE (Knight of the Order of the British Empire) gets to be addressed as ‘Sir’ and his wife gets to be called ‘Lady.’ The female counterpart of a knighthood is the title DBE (Dame of the Order of the British Empire). One of the most famous of DBEs is Dame Judy Dench of cinematic fame.

If this country had a Queen’s Honors List-type system for recognizing exemplary service to the nation, and if Philippine heads of state could be relied upon to make non-political and meritorious choices for national recognition, who in Philippine society deserve to be bestowed the equivalents of knighthoods and damehoods?

For their exemplary service to the government, past or continuing, the following men deserve, in my view, to be awarded knighthoods: former President Fidel V. Ramos, former Prime Minister and Secretary of Finance Cesar Virata, Senior Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, former Senators Rene Saguisag and Aquilino Pimentel Jr., and Representative Edcel Lagman. The title ‘Dame’ should be bestowed on former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and former PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority) Administrator Lilia de Lima.

In the realm of business and the profession, the equivalent of ‘Sir’ or ‘Dame’ should, in my view, be placed before the names of SM Group founder Henry Sy, San Miguel Corporation president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang, PLDT chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan, Ayala Corporation chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Robinsons Group chairman John Gokongwei Jr., Jollibee Foods Corporation chairman Tony Tan Caktiong, National Book Store founder Socorro Ramos and book publisher Dominador Buhain Jr.

Richly deserving, in my view, of the equivalent of the title Dame, in the world of the arts, are ballerina Lisa Macuja, actresses Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos-Recto, Broadway star Lea Salonga, pianist Cecile Licad, diva Pilita Corrales, composer Ryan Cayabyab and directors Brillante Mendoza and Lav Diaz Jr.

At President’s Honors List for the professions would include architect Felino Palafox Jr., fashion designer Monique Lhuillier, furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue, doctors George Garcia, Joven Cuanang and Esperanza Cabral, undersecretary Heidi Mendoza, lawyers Joaquin Bernas Jr., Ricardo Romulo and Cesar Villanueva and economist Felipe Medalla.

Last but by no means the least, the domain of literature and the communications media. A President’s Honors List for this segment of Philippine society should include newspaper publisher Felipe Gozon Jr., former CBS News bureau chief Gabino Tabunar Jr. and former publisher Eugenia Apostol.

The British system of recognizing citizens who have served their country well continues to be respected because the grantor of the honors, in the bi-annual sovereign’s Honors List, is an independent and non-partisan and admired person. The Honors List has become one of Britain’s cherished traditions.

What a pity that this country has not been able to install such a tradition.

Topics: Filipino , British , National Artist , National Scientist , Conchita Carpio-Morales , Philippine Economic Zone Authority , Lilia de Lima
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