Tony Lambino: Man of Service


Department of Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Lambino is, without a doubt, destined for service.  A nephew of two Jesuit priests, the former Smokey Mountain singer can scarcely remember a life experience that didn’t involve or revolve around being of service to others in some way.  Throughout his life and career, he repeatedly found himself in positions where, as he puts it, “the world could make most use of me,” and for these he is forever grateful.

Tony Lambino at his oath taking as Assistant Secretary of the DOF

Tony Lambino’s interest in social issues began when he received a scholarship to a summer program in the Ryan Cayabyab Music Studio.  He auditioned for a spot singing what he calls his “choirboy’s rendition of Rainbow Connection,” the only solo song he knew to sing.  Out of 200 kids, 14 were chosen to be part of the program, and four were chosen to be part of the pop band that came to be known as Smokey Mountain. 

Tony Lambino (far right) at 13 years old with his fellow Smokey Mountain singers.
Smokey Mountain with National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab.

Along with Geneva Cruz, James Coronel and Jeffrey Hidalgo, they sang about social issues such as environmental degradation, poverty in the streets, OFWs having to leave their families, and more.  He considers singing songs about pride in Filipino heritage, history, and the Filipino people as one of the formative experiences of his life.

“We can get rid of extreme poverty in one generation. What could get you up more? What more worthy cause?”

Smokey Mountain with fellow Filipino singer Tony Award winner and Grammy Award nominee Lea Salonga

Launched into stardom at just 13, it wasn’t long after that he was offered the opportunity to live in both Amsterdam and Los Angeles for one or two years in order to pursue his music career.  The timing wasn’t right, however, so he chose to stay in Manila with his parents and finish school.  He graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in communications.

Shortly after graduation, he became an assistant instructor for English Fiction at Ateneo, having been recommended by the late Professor Doreen Fernandez.  Lambino considers it as the most fulfilling job he has ever had to date.  Though it didn’t pay much (Php180 per lecture hour), he talks about the teaching vocation with much fondness.  “I loved it,” he gushed.  Although, beyond the passion for teaching, he knew he was on the right path because he understood early on that being in the academe would help him obtain a scholarship.

It was his background in academics and the work he’d done for and with former Executive Secretary Renato de Villa during the Arroyo administration (Lambino focused on devolution and finding means for local governments to be capacitated and supported to exercise their functions) that made him an ideal Fulbright Scholar.  He attended Harvard Kennedy School completing a concentration on press, politics and public policy.  After a second program at the University of Pennsylvania, he went on to work for the World Bank for seven years.

Tony at his graduation ceremony for his degree in Political Communication from the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania
Tony Lambino with colleagues from the World Bank.

His return to the Philippines saw him take on a role at a policy think tank for the Ayala Corporation. Just as he was beginning to settle in with the corporate job, a former boss from a previous brief stint in the Office of the President asked him to fly to Davao.  There he joined a group that worked to figure out all the promises, statements and pronouncements that had been made during the campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte.

It was there, in a quiet floor in a small hotel room in Davao, that Lambino assisted in the drafting of President Duterte’s 10-Point Socioeconomic Agenda.  He worked further to organize a conference that soon became Sulong Pilipinas. Soon after, he was offered a place in the Department of Finance as part of Secretary Carlos Dominguez’s tax reform team.

Lambino recalls being fresh out of college and hoping to find the kind of job that could be an integration of public opinion, influence, policy and politics. After all those years of giving himself to different types of service, it seems he realized his wish.

“I am very grateful to Secretary Dominguez for the opportunity,” he says. “Deeply grateful. The experience increases my sense of hope for how policy is crafted in the country.”

Working in the DOF, perhaps, is what Lambino has been unwittingly headed for all his life.  His first album had him singing songs about poverty, hunger and overseas workers – these made him aware of how all policy areas interact and how a problem in one area affects all other areas.  When he started working in and on policies, it became clear to him which things were mutually reinforcing in either a good or bad way. Public policy matters that involve improving people’s lives through evidenced-based solutions have become not just his passion, but also his reason for being.

Asec. Tony with his daughter, Monica, at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Los Banos, Laguna

Through crafting and implementing certain policies, Lambino believes that Ambisyon Natin 2040 is absolutely achievable. Ambisyon Natin 2040 is the 25-year vision created for the Philippines and its people.  Its goals were set by Filipinos, over 10,300 individuals that participated in focus groups and surveys, and these act as a guide for the country’s development planning.

“We can get rid of extreme poverty in one generation,” he shares. “What could get you up more? What more worthy cause?” he concludes.

About the Writer
Rachel Kelly Davis

Rachel Kelly Davis has been a published writer since the age of 14, often writing features, essays, and cover pieces. In 2016 she started writing poetry, leaving index cards of her poems all over the world and posting the photos she is sent by the people who find them.  She has worked in communications for over a decade, wearing various hats ranging from digital marketing and SEO practitioner, brand strategist, and investor relations officer.  Most recently she was the Associate Vice President for Customer Experience (Public Affairs) at WSP Inc., a public relations company based in the Philippines.

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