Foreign Service Insider

A frank and open forum on the Philippine Foreign Service and how it affects the lives of millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth

The bitter battle between Ambassador Lauro Baja and former Chief Justice Davide, for the position of Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, is a sad spectacle to behold.

Two old men. Both overaged. Jousting each other for a position that they should cede to the younger generation of Filipinos -- whether career diplomat or political appointee. Without a doubt, both Davide and Baja are brilliant men. They held sterling records, speaking of their eloquence and erudition. But now they are old as the hills.

Their tug-of-war is undignified and does not befit their social and intellectual status. Worse, it exposes, for the whole world to see, how dirty and politicized our government has become.

The uncivil disservice of the Philippines.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

12th ASEAN Summit in Cebu

I think that the DFA deserves to be congratulated on the successful hosting by the Philippine Government of the 12th ASEAN Summit in Cebu. It is, indeed, a proud moment for the professional men and women in the Department who labor behind the scenes, attending to the many aspects of Summit hosting that could mean its success or failure.

As a Filipino, I am proud that we have proven all our detractors wrong. They doomed the Summit to failure even before it began.

They did not factor in the fact that the DFA deserves its place as the premier Department of the Philippine government, and the men and women of the Philippine foreign service are primus inter pares.

Credit should also be given to the people of Cebu who gave it their best. They really laid out the red carpet to the summiteers, showing them the very best of Cebuano hospitality.

The security people must also be commended for a job well done. All that gloom-and-doom talk of possible terror attacks at the Summit was disconcerting. But they managed to secure the meeting venue and, thankfully, nothing came of the alleged terror threats. All went well and we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

This has been a very bright spot in an otherwise stormy political season.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

ASEAN Summit Postponed

The last-minute postponement of the Philippine hosting of the ASEAN Summit in Cebu was a terminal blow to the international image of the Arroyo administration. It is simply unheard of. As a career diplomat, I am embarassed by these events. After all, it was a great inconvenience to the visiting heads of states/governments who plan their trips way in advance because their time is precious. And the lame excuse of the incoming storm (which, in the end, did not even hit Cebu) was an insult to one's intelligence.

I believe that the Philippines was pressured into the last-minute postponement. USA, Australia, Canada, UK and other countries had issued advisories against travel to Cebu by their citizens during the summit. They may as well have shouted in our faces that they do not want to go to Cebu at this time.

Why? Because of the brewing political storm over the desperate attempts of the administration to amend the constitution. The desperation seems to be out of fear that the administration candidates will lose in the May 2007 elections. This could lead to GMA's impeachment if they lose the majority in congress to the opposition.

Meantime, they are heading for a collision with the left, the intellectuals, the organized church (Catholic, INC, El Shaddai, JIL, etc.). The handwriting is on the wall. No leader can continue if he/she is at loggerheads with the Church.

This is the beginning of the end. And the world leaders know this. I wonder how long this will play out.

Monday, December 04, 2006

On re-cycled and extended ambassadors

Retired Ambassador Juan A. Ona has issued a very interesting challenge to the young career officers of DFA: sign a manifesto promising not to ask for extensions when the time comes. This is premised on the theory that in order to change the world, start with yourself. Also, it sends a powerful signal to those shameless recycled and extended ambassadors.

I have very high regard for Ambassador Ona. He has always been a voice of wisdom in the howling wilderness that has befallen the DFA. What's more important, he walks his talk.

It is unfortunate that nobody will be able to gather the nerve to take up his challenge. You see, this would be tantamount to a CLM (career limiting move). Any young officer who signs such a manifesto at this time would make powerful enemies in the likes of Seguis, Caday, Siazon and their allies down the line.

But, thank you, Ambassador Ona. You are quite right. We can't change others. We can only start with ourselves.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Changing of Guards

As a career foreign service officer, it is my dream to build up my career through merit, by dint of hard work and diligence. This vision is shared by many like-minded professional Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) in the Department of Foreign Affairs. On the average, we join the Department when we are in our 20s, hoping to build experience and expertise through the years, and rise up in the career through the merit system defined by the Foreign Service Act of 1991 or R.A. 7157.

Barring any career-ending event, a career FSO could realistically become a Chief of Mission after 20 years. Ideally, he would be around 50 years old, young and strong enough to meet the physical challenges of the job. And after 20 years in the service, he would have chalked up a wealth of experience to be able to skillfully navigate the corridors of diplomacy and negotiations on behalf of our country. He would be ripe for the job of ambassador.

Alas and alack. We helplessly watch our dreams and the future being shattered and destroyed by the very persons who are tasked to safeguard and protect them. Our seniors in the career corps. Many of them are clinging to their posts, in total disregard of the rotation system. This prevents infusion of fresh, young blood into the system because the old officers are blocking the youth from rising. Compared to their counterpart ambasadors from other vibrant and dynamic countries, they are relics of another time.

Some even hang on to their jobs, way beyond retirement age, unable to make a life outside the DFA. They are nothing but old men and women, deluding themselves into thinking they are serving the country. Worse, some of them don't even bother with these delusions. They are simply hanging on for dear life to a job that is better done by the youth. You see them in the lobby of DFA, in the Executive Lounge and in the elevators. They are out there as our envoys. Barely able to walk. Shuffling pitifully around with their canes. Or simply snoring away during meetings.

What on earth has happened to aging gracefully?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Low Morale

It's no secret that the career corps of the DFA is suffering from low morale. We are supposed to protect OFWs from cruel and abusive employers, but who will protect us? We have to constantly deal with so many stakeholders, pressure groups and vested interests.

1. Of course the cruel and abusive employers themselves
2. The laws of the host government
3. Politicians back in the Philippines
4. The OFWs themselves
5. The Next-of-kin (NOKs) of the OFWs
6. Philippine media
7. NGOs
8. In the home office, there are hidden undercurrents to swim against; co-workers lying in wait for us to fail
9. Embassy/consulate intrigues

We, ourselves are just like everybody else. Working to make a living. Like the new "heroes", the OFWs, we also need protection and security. Are we OFWs? Shouldn't the foreign service personnel also institutionalize a means of securing itself from being easy prey to these pressure groups? We need to be able to defend ourselves from opportunistic forces that might undermine our capacity to effectively discharge our duties.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Sound of Silence

I have been silent since June. Why? Because too many things have been happening that I felt needed unity -- if not unity, at least silence and cooperation.

The war between Israel and Hezbollah exposed our OFWs to the line of fire, necessitating their evacuation.

What awful sight it was to behold our high officials in the government, bickering over money and who's in charge.

How I envy Israel and their wartime solidarity. There is much we should learn from them. They may quarrel amongst themselves constantly, but when it is their country, their "eretz Israel" that is at stake, they will stand together.

In our case, the opposite happens. We resort to finger-pointing. It was pathetic.