In defense of deceased envoy

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This refers to Hermenegildo Cruz’s article “The foreign service: our first line of defense” (Inquirer, 10/24/12). As a diplomatic colleague of Ambassador Alejandro B. Melchor Jr. in Moscow from 1986-89, I must take exception to a reference offensive to the memory of the late ambassador who is now buried in the Philippines’ heroes cemetery.

I write this in reaction to the questionable reference to the so-called “restaurant” operated by “the Ambassador’s boys” inside the premises of the Philippine Embassy. Cruz undoubtedly was referring to the “Tamaraw Club,” that is, the Philippine Embassy Club. Many embassies operated their own private club (Canada had our “Canadian Club”) where members of the international community were always welcome. The clubs functioned along the lines of any private club and were authorized by the foreign affairs ministries of both the sending country and the host country, on the basis of reciprocity.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Soviet bloc countries, which covered almost half of this planet in real estate, did not enjoy their food self-sufficiency because of the megadisaster of the “Kolkhoz”—the Cooperative Collective Farm system established by Stalin in the early 1930s. All embassies had privileged access to China-produced rice, otherwise a rare commodity. Tamaraw Club became the best place in Moscow to experience Asian cuisine. It was a highly appreciated service to the “international community” and a clear manifestation of the legendary Filipino hospitality.

Ambassador Melchor, in a short time, earned the respect of high Soviet government officials (including no less than then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev) and the admiration of his diplomatic colleagues.

I’m sure Cruz would agree that, in the “Cold War” climate which still prevailed in the mid-1980s, the first ones to cast blame on a pro-Western ambassador for an alleged violation of Article 42 of the 1961 Convention on Diplomatic Relations were the Soviet authorities. That the hostile blow to the highly respected Philippine ambassador came from behind was puzzling at the time; it is surprising today, some 20 years after the end of the Cold War and 10 years after the ambassador’s death.

My second point is, undoubtedly, a simple grammatical oversight. Cruz blamed the ambassador for having “allowed” Asian food to be served at the club—erroneously referred to as a “restaurant”—then gave the issue a tinge of “cloak and dagger” familiar to KGB observers then, but only to a few today. The KGB was notorious for preying on weaker links in the chain of otherwise loyal and dedicated public servants in pro-Western embassies. Anyone who knew Ambassador Melchor’s strict code of ethics, military discipline and personal integrity would not, in all fairness, link these two unrelated issues in one sentence.

—FERNAND TANGUAY, O.P.

former ambassador to the Holy See,

Professor of International Law,

Graduate School of the

University of Santo Tomas, Manila

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