A Rare Breed of Public Servant

Kitanglad Updates, Volume VIII – Twin Issue 2008-2009


Bukidnon province felt a great shock and grief as the news on the sudden death of Dr. Antonio T. Sumbalan was announced through texts and on local radio. The former chief of the Provincial Planning and Development Office died of cardiac arrest on 19 July 2009 at around 9pm. He was dining with his family when he suddenly stopped and fell lifeless. No sign of struggle or pain was evident as if he simply stopped breathing.

Antonio T. SumbalanPeople close to “Sir Tony” can agree that they had no inkling of his loss. His persona is always vibrant, warm, light and even filled with a moment of laughter. Sir Tony has helped many citizens, even the disabled, ended a decent job in the government. Like a tower of wisdom and light, he never gets tired of sharing his thoughts and ideas. In what his life stands for, Sir Tony demonstrated the balance of wisdom, diligence, sincerity and humility. And he does this with no pretensions and his presence is sought in many places — even in the mountains of Bukidnon.

Sir Tony was known as a critic, an adviser, a bridge, and a friend to any government employee, to any tribal leader, to any investor, to any NGO advocate, and to any donor agency he meets.

Many can affirm that “Sir Tony” is a rare breed of public servant. The level of prominence of Bukidnon Provincial Governance owes much to his discipline, standard, and credibility. He has served the provincial government practically for three decades from being a provincial administrator and to the head of the planning office. He holds multiple positions and can carry out various tasks par excellence. Sir Tony has served as personal adviser to three governors during their term of office and even after his retirement. Down the line his presence commands respect to national and local chief executives—those seated at the Senate, the House of Congress, as well as among governors and vice-governors, mayors, legislative councils and his peers among the development and planning staffs. Prominent tribal leaders welcome him and listen to his advice. Investors made sure they will ask for his honest opinions if they are to embark on some enterprise anywhere in Bukidnon.

Before his untimely demise, Sir Tony’s latest feats include helping Mayor Leandro Catarata of Valencia City to organize the Bukidnon Environment Summit held last 25-27 June 2008. Backed by his environmental allies in the government, the academe, the church and the NGOs, and with additional funding support from the City Government of Malaybalay and the Provincial Government, the Environment Summit was realized to firm up the environment agenda of Northern Mindanao’s most endowed province in terms of forests, watershed and socio-cultural resources. His co-organizers in this level of Summit hoped to continue his legacy to ensure sustainable development and a green environment for all Bukidnon constituents.

A certified development planner, Sir Tony was a valuable member of graduate faculty in Bukidnon State University and his alma mater in Liceo de Cagayan University. He was Mt. Kitanglad’s volunteer consultant for the Protected Area Management Board. On top of his engagements with the provincial government, Sir Tony was also the adviser of Kitanglad Integrated NGOs project in bridging the state and indigenous people’s initiatives in environment conservation in Mts. Kitanglad, Kalatungan and Pantaron Ranges (KKP) under the Ecosystems Grants Program of International Union for Conservation of Nature in Netherlands. In his engagement with KIN, Sir Tony made sure that environment conservation projects in KKP will gain the cooperation and support of the mayors of Pangantucan, Maramag, Talakag, San Fernando, Cabanglasan and Valencia City, and likewise, with the national line agencies in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples.

To the social and tribal movement to whom much of Sir Tony’s time was equally shared, his legacy in Bukidnon is his contribution in environmental protection of Bukidnon forests and in keeping the balance between State authorities and the informal and traditional community leaders especially among the IPs. This was one proof of his tenacity and belief in seeing the future in the spirit of brotherhood and solidarity amongst all. Throughout the years of polishing his wit, candor and discipline, Sir Tony has planted deeply his indigenous Bukidnon-Higaonon roots that rightfully gained dignity and a place of local history for Sumilao. Sir Tony always dreams for his fellow IPs to develop and to be proud of their culture and their traditional leadership skills.