Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Thelmo Cunanan

With a boyish grin and a twinkle in his eyes, he transported himself back to the late 50's as he narrated how he excitedly hopped from airbase to airbase, from one military transport plane to another, to get to Europe.

Thelmo delightfully told me his story of hitchhiking all over Europe before joining his class at West Point.  Prior to crossing the Atlantic and on his first plane rides (as his youngest son, Conrad, revealed to me today), this young man from Bacolod (Negros Occidental, Philippines) embarked on an adventure, thumbing his way around a strange land.  Just before that he was a plebe at the Philippine Military Academy.

Thelmo's adventures only stopped when he succumbed to cancer on January 16, 2011.

Thelmo was our ambassador in Phnom Penh when we first met during the parliamentary elections in Cambodia in 1998.  With him in Phnom Penh and I in Manila, we assisted Joecon (Concepcion) set up the 10-member National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) delegation, which alongside the Joint International Observer Group (JIOG) monitored the elections.  With his usual efficiency, Thelmo had arranged meetings for Joecon with Cambodian leaders, including the ones with King Sihanouk, Prince Ranariddh, Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen.

We learned that Thelmo had secured information about which provinces we would be deployed and inspected each hotel where we were to be billeted.  He flew and traveled by land for the inspection to help ensure that we would be able do what we came out there to do.  I am sure that his plan included details on how we would be moved to safety in case the situation went south.  I observed in Battambang; the elections were orderly; and we came home pleased with our little contribution to strengthening democracy in Asia.

Namfrel again had the honor of being served by Thelmo in Indonesia in the 1999 presidential polls.  The 100-member Namfrel delegation of pemantau pemilu, largest of the observer groups, saw the  landmark election that handed power from Mr Suharto to Ms Sukarnoputri.  Exhibiting the same due diligence, attention to detail and professionalism, the observer mission under his watch went smoothly and was a success.  We went home inspired by the peaceful and orderly way the Indonesians had conducted their elections.

I will remember Thelmo by his fatherly care and attention.  He had his trademark of steadfast professionalism -- as a true soldier would, in all the things that he had done for us and with us, at all times.  I thank God for the privilege to have served alongside him and for his inspiration for adventure.

Godspeed, Thelmo.

Changing of the Guards


  1. Thank you Telibert. What a beautiful piece you wrote about Dad. I'm very touched by your kindness. This would have made him very very happy. Buddy

  2. What a lovely accounting of part of Thelmo's interesting Life..,and, what a wonderful Man.
    Thanks for sharing that with all of us.

  3. Bay, great words, great man ...

  4. May we invite you to join us in a Namfrel-sponsored Mass for Amb. Thelmo Y. Cunanan. The mass will be scheduled tomorrow, Friday, 7:00pm, at the Heritage Memorial Chapel in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
    We hope you could be with us as we pay our last respects to one of our volunteers. Please wear your Namfrel shirt or vest. Thank you

  5. bay,

    nagpasalamat pud ko sa atong Ginoo nga nahatagan ko ug higayon nga maka-uban si gen. cunanan sa 1999 indonesian democratic elections as a member of the philippine delegation to observe the exercises.

    wala gyud ko niya mailhi personally but i can honestly say that i felt then his fatherly guidance as we performed our assigned tasks as election observers.

    may his soul rest in peace, amen.

    terence m. grana

  6. @Telibert,
    Thanks so much for your wonderful writing about the late Gen. Thelmo Y. Cunanan, I am a very good friend of him and it distubed me when you said that he was from Negros Oriental, the fact that he was from Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. Thanks.

  7. Hi Telibert,

    My appreciation for providing us some insights on the altruistic acts of the late Amb. Thelmo Y. Cunanan and the NAMFREL staff in Cambodia and Indonesia.

    I respectfully salute the team.


    Orlex Yllano