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Career diplomats vis-à-vis ‘politicals’

/ 03:12 AM October 10, 2011

Why do I feel iSad? I don’t know the difference between an iPod, an iPhone and an iPad. My granddaughter knows more about gadgets that provide her with all kinds of entertainment at the touch of her tiny fingers.

The papers reported the death of Steve Jobs. I was reminded of these lines used by Sen. Edward Kennedy in paying tribute to his brother Bobby:

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“Some men see things as they are and say why.

“I dream of things that never were and say why not.”—George Bernard Shaw

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Steve Jobs made many dreams come true.

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Exactly one year ago this month, Sen. Franklin Drilon, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to reduce the number of diplomatic posts particularly in countries where our presence is minimal or trade negligible. He pointed out that it takes P57 million to P125 million annually to maintain an embassy or consular office. “We cannot just keep on opening embassies all over the place as though we had limitless finances.” At that time, the DFA reported that the country maintained 67 embassies, 23 consular offices and four missions abroad.

Drilon cited statistics in the case of Romania, Hungary and Poland where the Philippines had established embassies. There were only 377 Filipinos in Romania, 170 in Hungary and 245 in Poland. Trade with Romania and Hungary was a combined $80 million and with Poland $51 million. In comparison, trade with Singapore was $6.2 billion, Malaysia $3.1 billion, and Indonesia $2.1 billion.

Last week, the DFA announced that it had plans to close down 12 embassies and consulates by the end of next year. The posts were not identified. Perhaps that was a good move; otherwise you can be sure that the affected personnel would be sending SOS messages to their respective padrinos to either keep them there or be reassigned elsewhere, preferably in the neighborhood.

Let us be candid. A number of diplomatic posts were opened to accommodate political favorites. This is reflected in the fact that almost one-half of our heads of mission are political appointees. Their number may have gone down with the change of administration since political appointees are supposed to be co-terminous with the appointing authority. A few have managed to stay on. The problem is not just a proliferation of embassies but also a proliferation of politicals (that’s a term used by the career people for outsiders who join the DFA at the top). I myself was a political, having been appointed ambassador to Indonesia after my stint as chief of the Philippine Air Force. I recall that my Venezuelan colleague in Jakarta at that time was also a political appointee. He was an oil company executive prior to joining the foreign service. He described both of us with much amusement as being “parachutists.” We descended from above in assuming our positions as ambassadors. If we reduce the number of politicals, the career people, even with fewer posts, would have better chances of moving up and becoming heads of mission abroad. This is probably the dream of every foreign affairs officer.

Not all politicals are deadweights in the foreign service, just as not all career diplomats are the best representatives of our country abroad. Having passed a tough foreign service exam is no guarantee that they will be able to successfully promote the national interest or project a positive image of the nation on the world stage. There is room for a limited number of politicals whose special skills and qualifications make them valuable assets in dealing with the international community.

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The practice of appointing politicals in the foreign service is an old habit that we picked up from our American mentors. Some of their ambassadors-designate were plainly ignorant of the countries to which they were being assigned. On one occasion, when facing confirmation hearings before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one candidate could not remember the name of the prime minister of the country to which he was being sent. But you can be sure he was confirmed. A hefty donation to the election campaign of the party in power always helps to overcome these minor lapses.

Personally I feel that we should close down even more of our posts abroad. A respected retired career diplomat, Ambassador Rodolfo Severino Jr.,  was recently quoted as saying: “I’ve always been against the proliferation of overseas missions. We tried our best to cut them down but more powerful forces were for keeping them and even adding to them… They are wasteful of national resources.” I shall salute Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario if he succeeds in shutting down the 12 unnamed posts. But he shouldn’t wait for the next budget hearing to do this, lest he be misunderstood.

But going back to the man who set in motion this badly needed rationalization of our foreign service, Senator Drilon should be commended for making use of his committee hearings to spotlight deficiencies in our institutions. We have too many congressional exposés or hearings that come up short when it comes to remedial legislation or actions. We could use more of the kind of work that Drilon has done if we are to improve the level of performance of government agencies.

* * *

The Philippine Military Academy Class 1956 recently honored four members who successfully reached the 80-year milestone in their lives:

Federico Macabasco

Agustin Mateo

Jose Almonte

Rodrigo Ordoyo

Rod Ordoyo is the father of Brig. Gen. Caesar Ronnie Ordoyo, PMA Class 1980, newly appointed chief, Intelligence Service AFP (ISAFP). A few years back, Ronnie was our defense attaché in Paris and took us on a tour of Normandy beaches, the site of D-Day landings marking the start of the Allied invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944, history’s “longest day.” Many thanks again, Ronnie, and congratulations!

* * *

I wish to thank SM Management for their prompt response to my column on the subject of free parking for senior citizens in Quezon City. Lawyer Josefina Wan-Remollo, SM vice president for legal operations, assures QC senior citizens of the full implementation of the new ordinance as soon as the implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) are promulgated. (I was just informed that these IRRs have now been released. I shall devote more space on this subject next week.)

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TAGS: DFA, Diplomacy, Foreign service
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