Can’t find Felipe?

For those who left messages asking for sources and materials on Philippine diplomatic history, apologies for not getting back to you sooner. Ever since I’ve left the Philippine foreign policy establishment, I have not really thought much about diplomatic history, or this blog site, for that matter. But I still do have the materials I have accumulated over the years and, at the least, I can still point you in the right direction for any research work on Philippine diplomatic history. If you need help, just email me at

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

LMG: an Ambassador of Cool

Apologies to my 3 or so followers for the recent lack of posts, but as wildly addicting writing diplomatic history can be (it’s like crack!), I had to focus on other matters that, well,  pays better than blogging. My friends and I are about to embark on a business venture which, for nondisclosure’s sake, pretty much revolves around the business of cool. And in one of our meetings, a surprising realization struck me, and that was how intertwined my academic interests are to my other less boring interests. Now, I’ve always thought that the two were oil and water, east and west, and “never the twain shall meet” kind of thing (let’s just say I’ve never discussed the music of the Roots with any of my history-mates), but I was sorely mistaken. This happened while I was pitching a storyline which draws a great deal of inspiration from the past. I used a picture of Leon Ma. Guerrero as a visual aid, and the results were more than effective. It was downright inspiring.

Ambassador of Cool.  The same image I showed my business associates. Source: LMG: The Leon Maria Guerrero Anthology (Guerrero Publishing Inc., 2010)

Ambassador of Cool.
The same image I showed my business associates. Source: LMG: The Leon Maria Guerrero Anthology (Guerrero Publishing Inc., 2010)

My usually apolitical and ahistorical friends took to the image of Leon Ma. like a moth to a flame. I explained to them who Leon Ma. Guerrero was–that he was a diplomat, a writer, a public servant. It was a revelation, to say the least. Well-dressed gentlemen are already hard to come by as it is, but well-dressed gentlemen in government service? Whoa… that’s just crazy talk. But nevertheless, there he was: His Excellency, Ambassador Leon Ma. Guerrero in a dapper suit, an image of cool on an ipad, a testament to a time when public service attracted good people who actually looked good. It was in sharp contrast to the image of the arrogant, sloppy, pot-bellied slobs we’ve all encountered in government offices. As an advocate of historical awareness, it was inspiring to witness a simple static image of a well-dressed man (accompanied by anecdotes, of course) bring out genuine interest in history, in our history.

But that’s a topic for another day. This being a diplomatic history blog, I should at least have the decency to ramble on about something related to the subject matter, which in this case will be a wonderful discussion (meaning, totally unscientific and devoid of research) on the relationship between image and diplomacy.

2 or 3 years ago, I was fortunate enough to work with a truly talented and distinguished senior diplomat–one who I consider a mentor even though we only worked together briefly. Being around this man was an education in itself, and often, it was not of the kind you would find in staid and boring classrooms. I fondly recall one evening when he was gently admonishing a junior officer for clinging on to conformity. Ever so gently he said, “As a diplomat, if people are wearing jeans, wear a suit.” For those in the room who heard him, the message was clear. Stand out. Make an impression. Image is a powerful tool, and in deft hands, it can be used to create a lasting positive impression.

As I recall my friends’ reaction to Leon Ma. Guerrero’s picture, I knew that here was a diplomat who understood the intricate interplay between image and diplomacy. Leon Ma. Guerrero understood that style and substance went hand in hand. For style without substance is ridiculed, while substance without style is often ignored. Leon Ma. Guerrero was a perfect combination of the two, and the result was a long and illustrious diplomatic career of the compleat diplomat. Before he passed away in 1982, President Marcos came to his deathbed and pinned on him the Gawad Mabini Award–the highest recognition given to a member of the Philippine Foreign Service.

Leon Ma. Guerrero with his wife Anita Corominas Guerrero. Beside every dashing successful man is an equally beautiful and capable woman. Source: LMG: The Leon Maria Guerrero Anthology (Guerrero Publishing, 2010).

Leon Ma. Guerrero with his wife Anita Corominas Guerrero. Beside every dashing successful man is an equally beautiful and capable woman. Source: LMG: The Leon Maria Guerrero Anthology (Guerrero Publishing, 2010).

But Leon Ma. Guerrero took a rather unusual path towards diplomacy. The year was 1954. As Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs, Leon Ma. found himself embroiled in controversy for espousing a more neutral foreign policy, as encapsulated in his  “Asia for the Asians” speech. In it, he pointed out that:

quotation mark copyI believe I can say with truth that this administration is not only Nacionalista but nationalist. It believes in nationalism, not only for itself but also for others. It believes that Asia belongs to Asians for the same reason that the Philippines belongs to the Filipinos.

The backlash was swift and sure. This was the cold war era, and Manila was no stranger to McCarthyism. Leon Ma.’s words had stirred a hornet’s nest (yes, during those days, foreign policy was newsworthy), and soon he found himself out of Arlegui and into London. As “punishments” go, it wasn’t all that bad. As the Philippine ambassador to the Court of St. James, he would be far enough not to influence policy-making. In the words of Teodoro Locsin, “he would be an echo, not the word.”

But the echo that was Leon Ma. Guerrero soon turned into an avalanche, as echoes are sometimes wont to do. Leon Ma. Guerrero was in the pinnacle of his manhood: young enough to be dynamic (he was only in his forties!) yet wise enough to command respect. His coming to London was a breath of fresh air to the otherwise stale air of traditional diplomacy. The British political and cultural magazine, the New Statesman, provides this description on August 31, 1957:

quotation mark copyThe present Philippine Ambassador to this country, Mr. Leon Ma. Guerrero, is an almost unique member of his profession. His speeches are so fresh, so sensible, so free from the conventional emptiness of official utterances that they fully justify reprinting in pamphlet form.

From 1954 to 1962, Leon Ma. was the Philippine Ambassador to London. And those years were not spent in idle time. His sister, Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, recalls that despite meager government compensation, “he lived well, dressed correctly, entertained famously and made many high-profile, glossy friends for the Philippine government. In London, probably because of his Ateneo English, he was a regular on BBC radio.” And in between all that, he negotiated trade protocols, reported on numerous international crises, and sat on various prestigious international groupings, such as the International Sugar Council. Oh, and he also just happened to find the time to translate two of Dr. Jose Rizal’s books into English, as well as write the definitive biography of our national hero. Yes, weep, all ye mortals.

He talks. You listen. Source: LMG: The Leon Maria Guerrero Anthology (Guerrero Publishing House, 2010).

He talks. You listen. Source: LMG: The Leon Maria Guerrero Anthology (Guerrero Publishing House, 2010).

But perhaps Leon Ma.’s most admirable contribution was the image he provided for his country. He lived in a time of reconstruction and of the emergence of a new world order. The Philippines, as a young nation trying to find its footing in the world, heavily relied on its diplomats to present and articulate Philippine aspirations abroad. But it wasn’t easy. In his reflections, Leon Ma. explained that:

quotation mark copythe job of a Philippine ambassador is somewhat different from that of an ambassador from more ancient and powerful states. Our problem is not so much bad publicity as no publicity at all. Our main difficulty, even, I should say, in the U.S.A., is the appalling absence of any information about the Philippines.

As Philippine Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Leon Ma. provided an image of grace, of dignity. He carried the honor of his nation upon his shoulders, and he bore it well. He was the face of the Philippines: young and handsome; intelligent and proud. He was steeped in tradition, but was open to innovation. He was our representative. And he represented all that was good about the Filipino.

Leon Ma. Guerrero once commented that “all it takes to succeed in government service is complete honesty and yes, some patriotism and a little intelligence.” But looking at his life, at his awe-inspiring diplomatic career, I would like to add the following: in diplomatic service, it is not enough that one is honest, intelligent, and a patriot–he must also have style. Like it or not, image is an integral part of diplomacy and the Philippine Foreign Service might want to remember that. I’m all for equal opportunity, but if you’re going to be short and ugly, you better be a f@#&ing genius. ‘Coz if you’re going to have the height of a Carlos P. Romulo, then you better have his intelligence as well.

Perhaps, Leon Ma. never had to dwell on this because it was so effortless for him. It says something about the man that 30 years after he’s been laid to rest, his picture still inspires interest, or even inspiration. That’s because he exuded style and grace. He was a proud representative of his race. He was a diplomat of the highest order. He was, for his generation and for many more to come, an ambassador of cool.

May we have many more like him.


Posted in Profiles | Tagged | 1 Comment

O.D. on the Philippine Foreign Service

As a tribute to Dr. O.D. Corpuz, whose passing last march 23, 2013 left his country and his people bereft of yet another much-needed public intellectual, let us revisit one of his lesser known works, “Realities of Philippine Foreign Policy” (in Frank H. Golay, ed., The United States and the Philippines, Prentice-Hall, 1966) and see what the great man has to say about our field of study. O.D. Corpuz was not what people today would term as a “foreign-policy expert” nor was he a diplomatic historian (although I am sure he would have been the finest if he had wanted to be known as either one, or both). No, he was much more. The scope of his thoughts ran wide and deep. His friend F. Sionil Jose put it best when he wrote that “[most people] don’t realize the grand sweep of OD’s thought, his conclusions as formulated by our past, our culture, our creativity and heroism as a people.”

So what did the man have to say about Philippine foreign policy. Well, for one, that Filipino politicians are generally ignorant about foreign policy matters. That assessment was made in the 60s, but I think that little bit of insight still resonates today. O.D. Corpuz was so effective (and entertaining!) as a critic because his words were so sharp, so insightful, that what he reveals stands for what it truly is. Take, for example, his assessment of the Philippine Foreign Service:

quotation mark copyWere the Philippine foreign service truly a professional and career service, it would have attracted to its ranks a fair share of the finest minds in the nation. As it is, the outstanding men in the service have been a handful of ambassadors and department secretaries, almost all of them political appointees. The career specialists and deskmen of the department are not noted for ideas, not for the profound and authoritative knowledge of the history, language, culture, economy, demography, politics, etc. of the countries with which we have relations, as well as those with whom we have no ties but whose activities in world or regional affairs affect our national interests. Consequently, the department is not noted for independent research, and it is doubtful if the department can produce the imaginative and competent foreign policy planning that is commensurate to the needs arising from our positions in the Southeast Asia.

Dr. Corpuz was not one to mince words, yet despite the harsh critisms, I feel no ill will in his words–just levelheaded analysis. I have no idea how the DFA responded to his assessment, but let’s just say that the DFA and the Foreign Service have a history of meeting criticisms (both positive and negative) with scorn and derision, especially from people they consider as outsiders. But O.D. Corpuz was not just any run-of-the-mill critic. His words commanded the attention of the high ups, not least of which was President Marcos himself. And this is what makes O.D. Corpuz’s passing doubly depressing. His worth as a bonafide public intellectual stemmed not just from his thoughts, but also from his ability to actually influence policies.

No doubt, the Philippines still have a handful of public intellectuals hanging around, but it seems as if their words fall on deaf ears, if they fall at all (seriously, who advises the President on foreign relations???). If Dr. Corpuz was still around, I wonder what he would say of the current makeup of the Foreign Service? I get the feeling that he’d say the same thing he enumerated in his “Realities of Philippine Foreign Policy.” Because not much has changed. And for a true intellectual, stagnation is only slightly less repulsive than regression. But that’s the beauty of an O.D. Corpuz, of a true public intellectual. Because he is never satisfied; he is always looking to improve on things, to demand the best out of everything, out of everyone, and most important of all, out of himself. So whether you’re a foreign service officer or a blogger, let’s honor this man and learn a thing or two from his words and deeds.


Posted in Musings | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Historian as Diplomat

Renato Constantino, nationalist historian.Source:

Renato Constantino, nationalist historian.

Renato Constantino is a name most Filipino historians are familiar with. Together with Teodoro Agoncillo, Renato Constantino popularized the writing of Philippine history from a Filipino perspective. His works (The Philippines: A Past Revisited, A Continuing Past, etc.) may be dated, but for any student of Philippine history, it remains a must-read. His detractors (and there are many) accuse him of flouting objectivity in his writings, and many have branded him as a leftist historian. But for his equally numerous admirers and followers, he is better recognized as a nationalist historian, who believed that history, as a discipline, can never really attain perfect objectivity.

Whatever you may think of his writings, Renato Constantino’s influence on Philippine historiography is undeniable, and it is largely through his work as a historian that many Filipinos have come to know of him. For all those young and impressionable minds who were enthralled (or repulsed) by Renato Constantino’s call for counter-consciousness, it is hard to think of the man as anything else but a historian or writer. But once upon a time, Renato Constantino, that fiery nationalist of a historian, was, believe it or not, a suit-wearing, bowtie-rocking, diplomat.

Renato Constantino was part of the dream team of Philippine diplomacy. Source: Mauro Mendez: From Journalism to Diplomacy (UP Press, 1978).

Renato Constantino was part of the dream team of Philippine diplomacy.
Source: Mauro Mendez: From Journalism to Diplomacy (UP Press, 1978).

Renato Constantino was part of what Finding Felipe considers the “dream team” of Philippine diplomacy–that stellar group of talented diplomats handpicked by Carlos P. Romulo to serve with him in the newly established Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. From 1946-49, the young Renato shared office space with the likes of S.P. Lopez, Jose D. Ingles and Mauro Mendez, first as an assistant to Romulo, then later as Acting Counselor for Cultural Affairs. He came back to Manila in 1949, where he served as Counselor for the Department of Foreign Affairs until 1951. The young Renato’s diplomatic career was promising (there were speculations that then Undersecretary Felino Neri would have appointed Renato as his Undersecretary if Neri had been appointed as Secretary). But unfortunately, his ideological leanings spelled the death knell of his once promising diplomatic career. McCarthyism knew no bounds, and in the Philippines, a Congressional Committee on Anti-Filipino Activities would go on to weed out suspected communist supporters from key government posts.

Now, the extent of Renato Constantino’s ties to communism is unknown to this author, but let’s just say that the man was known to prefer the company of prominent leaders of the Left. An undated intel report on the “alleged communistic activities” of Renato Constantino dug up from the Elpidio Quirino Papers states that:

quotation mark copyDuring the occupation and shortly after liberation subject was frequently seen in the company of Gokhale, Amado Hernandez, Jose Lansang, Angel Bacquing, Prof. Lava, Madame Luise Fernandez…. It is reported that subject is in contact with Huk Jesus Lava and other top men of the Huks.

Renato Constantino’s stint as a diplomat apparently did not water down his communist affiliations. From that same intel report:

quotation mark copyWhile serving at the United Nations, Romulo entrusted subject to attend various conferences during which he repeatedly aligned his sympathies with those of Russia and her satellites…. Because of the declared views of the subject and his notable preferences to the company of Russian and satellite delegates, U.S. Intelligence place subject under their surveillance.

The report then proceeded to warn the reader (presumably President Quirino) of the dangers of having someone like Renato Constantino in the Foreign Service:

quotation mark copyIt is reported that Neri has grown to depend entirely upon subject and it is bruited about that if Neri should be made Secretary of [Foreign Affairs] he would recommend subject as his undersecretary…. It is to be anticipated that in his present position and his relationship with Undersec. Neri, subject can excellently sabotage whatever maybe our foreign policy. Briefly, subject has placed himself in a dangerous position for his country.

Intel report on Renato Constantino's alleged communist activities.Source: Elpidio Quirino Papers (Filipinas Heritage Library).

Intel report on Renato Constantino’s alleged communist activities.
Source: Elpidio Quirino Papers (Filipinas Heritage Library).

For the diplomatic historian, Renato Constantino’s brief brush with Philippine diplomacy is interesting for various reasons. One, it is an embodiment of the unique relationship between history and diplomacy (historians seem to be attracted to diplomacy, and diplomats, in return, are attracted to history). Two, it is a pleasant reminder of what Amando Doronilla describes as the “golden age” of Philippine diplomacy, a time when the Philippine Foreign Service truly (once more, for emphasis, truly) attracted the best and the brightest of Philippine society. The debates and discussions among brilliant and opinionated men such as Romulo, Lopez, Ingles, and Constantino must have been fast and furious, but at the end of the day, despite their differences, those men must have known that they all shared a common sacred ground: love for country.

Posted in Profiles | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Manila Swagger

For most serious people, discussions on image are cosmetic matters that are not to be taken seriously. But that’s only because serious people seriously suffer from image problems. Lucky for us here in Finding Felipe, we are not serious people. So let’s take a look at image and it’s role in the history of Philippine foreign relations, in particular the image of the Filipino expatriate.

Manila swagger as seen through the eyes of Mariano Ezpeleta (the guy with the sweet bow tie).Source: Memoirs of an Ambassador (Mariano Ezpeleta, 1973).

Manila swagger as seen through the eyes of Mariano Ezpeleta (the guy with the sweet bow tie).
Source: Memoirs of an Ambassador (Mariano Ezpeleta, 1973).

The catalyst for my current musings was my discovery of the term Manila swagger which I picked up from the memoir of Mariano Ezpeleta, the first Philippine Consul-General to Shanghai (1948-49). According to his memoir, Manila swagger was the style and attitude associated with Filipino expatriates living in Shanghai at the time (1930s-40s). In describing a rather colorful Filipino-Chinese character named Stanley Alberto, Ezpeleta reveals more about the Manila swagger:

quotation mark copy[Stanley] began working as a reporter in an English daily and was making good. He had applied for the position of reporter as a ‘Filipino not as a Chinese.’ He considered himself a full-blooded Filipino, not a half-caste. He even developed what in Shanghai was known as the Manila swagger: that is, walking with a decided bit of arrogance.

The historical value of such an account may seem trivial, but (at least for me), it provides a different perspective with which to view Philippine labor migration. It’s an endearing reminder that there was a time when Filipino expatriates were not viewed upon as either “modern day heroes” or problems to be solved by our Foreign Service Posts (i.e., repatriation, drug cases, beheadings, etc.). They were, plain and simply, fellow kababayans working abroad. And it just so happened that they did it in style.

According to Ezpeleta, the Filipinos of Shanghai at the time numbered over a thousand. The majority of them were musicians, but a few were employed as accountants, stenographers and newspapermen. Of the Filipino community, Ezpeleta had this to say:

quotation mark copyThe Filipinos were enjoying life well. Most of them were earning more than enough for their families, the musicians had a higher scale of wages  in their profession. The Filipino entertainers were very much in demand in the first class nightclubs and restaurants. Being exposed to the international community they intermarried freely with the various nationalities.

I can say without any fear of contradiction that the Filipinos in Shanghai had the most well-knit community organization than any Filipino expatriate groups I had dealt with during my 25 years of diplomatic work. They were helpful not only towards one another but also to other Filipinos that visited Shanghai. They had become cosmopolitan without losing their nationalistic fervor.

But the most striking feature of this particular Filipino community was that it seemed to have enjoyed an image of unparalleled cool. Filipinos won sporting events, hosted amazing parties, and lest we forget, walked around with an air of confidence (or Pinoy yabang, if you will), as embodied by the Manila swagger. Ezpeleta recalls that in a city (then) known for its nightlife, “Filipinos were the most sought-after friends and boom companions because they were good musicians and friendly with the girls.”

Don Jose Alindada, voted the best bandleader by the Shanghai expatriate community.Source: The Philippines in Shanghai (PCG Shanghai, 2005).

Don Jose Alindada, voted the best bandleader by the Shanghai expatriate community.
Source: The Philippines in Shanghai (PCG Shanghai, 2005).

Pinoys bringin' the house down in Shanghai, circa late 1940s.Source: The Philippines in Shanghai (PCG Shanghai, 2005)

Pinoys bringin’ the house down in Shanghai, circa late 1940s.
Source: The Philippines in Shanghai (PCG Shanghai, 2005)

All in all, it was a great time to be a Filipino in Shanghai, much to the delight of the Philippine Consulate General. Apparently, the PCG had little problems with the Filipino community. As Ezpeleta recalls:

quotation mark copyThe main problem of the Filipinos in Shanghai was want of documentation. Many had gone to Shanghai before the war. Some had lost their passports, others had married women of different nationalities and had not registered their marriage…. So our first month in Shanghai was spent in giving the Filipinos proper documentation. We legitimized their children by issuing them proper papers. We issued passports to those who had already legal papers.

The men and woman of the Philippine Consulate General in Shanghai.Source: The Philippines in Shanghai (PCG Shanghai, 2005).

The men and woman of the Philippine Consulate General in Shanghai.
Source: The Philippines in Shanghai (PCG Shanghai, 2005).

Coz there's no party like a Filipino party...Source: Memoirs of an Ambassador (Mariano Ezpeleta, 1973).

Coz there’s no party like a Filipino party…
Source: Memoirs of an Ambassador (Mariano Ezpeleta, 1973).

Unfortunately, the good fortune enjoyed by the Filipino community was to be short-lived. By May of 1949, Mao’s Red Army had overtaken Shanghai, and the once carefree and lively city slowly lost its cosmopolitan atmosphere as the expatriate community evacuated the city.

The Manila swagger may have lost its (ahem) swagger, but the image of the Filipino expatriate–proud and confident–strutting about in the streets of Shanghai is a wonderful reminder of what positive image can do for an individual or a community. The Filipinos in Shanghai did not just make a good living; they lived a good life, a life lived with dignity. And this was reflected in how the overall Shanghai community treated them, and more importantly, how they treated themselves.

There was a reason why Mariano Ezpeleta wrote down that he felt that the Filipinos in Shanghai had the “most well-knit community organization” he had ever encountered during his 25 years of diplomatic service. The Filipinos in Shanghai did not need the government to pander to them, to tell them they were the modern day heroes. They knew their self-worth. For them, the journey that took them across the seas meant one thing: the search for a better life. Not just a search for higher wages, but for a better life. A life lived with dignity. And they found it.

That was over 60 years ago. Now, times have changed, and the world of the Filipino expatriate along with it. The story of the Philippine diaspora have become more complicated, more politically and socially charged. Yet, one thing remains the same, and that is, at its core, Filipinos leave their homes in search for a better life. For all those who have a hand in crafting the country’s (unofficial, ha!) labor export policies, I think this is something they all have to, well, seriously remember.

Posted in Musings | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Who is Felipe Agoncillo?

First Filipino Diplomatby Esteban A. De Ocampo with the collaboration of Alfredo B. Saulo (NHI, 1977)

First Filipino Diplomat
by Esteban A. De Ocampo with the collaboration of Alfredo B. Saulo (NHI, 1977)

Years ago, while I was disturbing the dust in the DFA library, I chanced upon a rather unassuming hardbound book–the type that you would expect to find in the bookbinding stalls of Recto–with a not so unassuming title: the First Filipino Diplomat. I was instantly intrigued, but mainly because, to my embarrassment, I had no idea who it could be. Of course I knew that Mabini was the first foreign affairs secretary, or that Carlos P. Romulo was the first Filipino to be elected as the President of the UN General Assembly. But the first Filipino diplomat? I was stumped.

As I dived into the contents of the book, I was at once regaled  by the fascinating life of a certain Felipe Agoncillo–a great man whose great deeds continue to hover, unfortunately, along the outskirts of Philippine history. According to his biographers (Esteban De Ocampo and Alfredo Saulo), Don Felipe carries the distinction of being the first Filipino diplomat, by virtue of his diplomatic undertakings in Hong Kong, America and Europe, first in his capacity as the president of the Revolutionary Committee/Hong Kong Junta, then later as “minister plenipotentiary” of the Philippine Revolutionary Government. Now, the term diplomatic undertakings here is used loosely, since Agoncillo’s appointment as minister plenipotentiary was never recognized by any foreign government. But viewed from a philosophical, rather than technical perspective, it can be argued that Don Felipe’s activities during those trying times were, at its core, acts of diplomacy.

Check out Don Felipe, rockin' the cane. How can anyone not take this man seriously?Source: First Filipino Diplomat (NHI, 1977)

Check out Don Felipe, rockin’ the cane. How can anyone not take this man seriously?
Source: First Filipino Diplomat (NHI, 1977)

The diplomacy of the Philippine Revolution, while unsuccessful, was replete with high drama and excitement worthy of a movie. Around August of 1898, President Aguinaldo, alarmed by news that the future of the Philippines would be decided in the coming Spanish-American peace commission to be held in Paris, urged Don Felipe (who at the time was in Hong Kong) to travel to Washington to try to convince the US government of the validity and morality of Philippine independence and sovereignty. Don Felipe, with his secretary Sixto Lopez, arrived in San Francisco on 22 September 1898, amid much fanfare. Of this, De Ocampo and Saulo have more to say:

quotation mark copyIn San Francisco a large crowd of curious Americans had turned out to see for the first time how a representative of an unknown and ‘uncivilized’ country like the Philippines looked. They had learned earlier of Agoncillo’s arrival from the press. Stories of Filipino natives with tails, people who had just come down from the trees, were then current reading fare in American apartheid newspapers and magazines. They got the biggest surprise of their lives when Agoncillo, a progressive ilustrado, walked down the gangplank in elegant, high-quality European suit complete with top-hat.

American media covered Don Felipe's mission with great interest.

American media covered Don Felipe’s mission with great interest.

While Don Felipe was able to secure talks with key American officials (including President McKinley), it was all done so in an unofficial manner. Sensing the futility of his mission in Washington, Don Felipe crossed the Atlantic to seek Philippine representation in the Paris Peace Conference. But all Philippine efforts were rebuffed, and Agoncillo and the rest of his compatriots were reduced to mere bystanders as Spain ceded the Philippine Islands to the US government for $20million.

Pinoys in Paris. Source: First Filipino Diplomat (NHI, 1977)

Pinoys in Paris. Source: First Filipino Diplomat (NHI, 1977)

Agoncillo’s resolve, however, never weakened. He rushed back to Washington (he arrived on December 24), hoping to stop the US Senate’s ratification of the Treaty of Paris. Capitalizing on strong anti-imperialist sentiments in America, Don Felipe  engaged prominent members of the Anti-Imperialist League and Senate members sympathetic to the Philippine cause. On 25 January 1899, Don Felipe wrote to Apacible that he was “gaining [US] Senators to support independence. Party opposed has not yet succeeded in having the treaty ratified.” But despite all this, on 6 February 1899, the Treaty of Paris was ratified by the slimmest of margins: by one vote!

Don Felipe's resolve never wavered, and he tirelessly worked for the recognition of Philippine independence, as this Jan.16, 1899 NY Times article illustrates.

Don Felipe’s resolve never wavered, and he tirelessly worked for the recognition of Philippine independence, as this Jan.16, 1899 NY Times article illustrates.

By that time, hostilities between the Philippine and American troops had broken out, and Don Felipe and his companions found themselves in the most dire of circumstances since they were representatives of a nation at war with the United States of America. Fearing for their safety, they traveled to Montreal, Canada, all the while being pursued by would-be assassins on the “imperialist payroll.” From Novia Scotia, Don Felipe boarded a ship bound for Europe. He knew that the cause was lost in America and that the Philippine Republic’s only hope was to gain support from the traditional powers of the Old World. But before he reached Europe, our hero was once again overtaken by adversity, as his ship was caught in a storm and capsized off the coast of Scotland. Don Felipe was able to swim to a lifeboat, but all his possessions, save for the clothes on his back and a satchel containing priceless documents of the Philippine Revolution, were lost.

Survivors of the shipwrecked Liberator (ha!) with Don Felipe.Source: First Filipino Diplomat (NHI, 1977)

Survivors of the shipwrecked Liberator (ha!) with Don Felipe.
Source: First Filipino Diplomat (NHI, 1977)

Don Felipe eventually found his way into Paris where he once again spearheaded the diplomatic activities of the Philippine Republic. Together with other notable Filipinos staying in Europe (e.g., Juan Luna, Apacible, Regidor, etc.), Don Felipe sought to present Philippine aspirations (and capability) for self-rule. In the end, however, all diplomatic efforts by the Philippine Republic proved ineffective, and the Philippine Republic eventually floundered under the weight of American expansionist policies, as well as indifference to the principle of self-determination by the imperial powers of the Old World.

While Don Felipe wore many hats (he was a lawyer, propagandist, legislator, among others), he will always be associated with the diplomatic activities of the Philippine Revolution. Upon his death in 1941, the Philippine Herald had this to say about the man:

quotation mark copyWhen General Emilio Aguinaldo needed a cultured and tactful man to represent the Philippines in Europe and the United States, he chose Don Felipe Agoncillo who bore the title of minister plenipotentiary of the Philippine Republic to foreign capitals.

Though he was thus withdrawn from the ranks  of actual combat, the job that was assigned to him was no less delicate if not hopeless. For his task was none other than to represent a country that had no official standing in the international affairs of the time, a government that neither the United States nor Spain cared to recognize during the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Paris.

Yet Don Felipe, convinced of the justice of the cause of the country for which he served as international spokesman, persevered in the performance of his duties. As a result he was able to establish for the Philippine Republic a prestige in the eyes of the United States government which may be said to have formed the basis for subsequent Philippine-American relations. Little of positive importance immediately resulted from the labors of Don Felipe as minister plenipotentiary; yet by his cultured, intelligent and diplomatic demeanour he had given the Filipino people a position of respect and dignity that they would otherwise not have been able to secure.

Yet, for all his brilliance, for all his great deeds, Don Felipe remains largely unknown, then as now. On October 11, 1941, barely a month after his death, the Philippine Free Press bemoaned that:

quotation mark copymost of the youth of the land had never heard of him, for contemporary history and politics had relegated him to the background. He belonged definitely to the past, although his record of service forms an inspiring, stirring act in the epic of his people’s struggle for freedom. Agoncillo served his country unstintedly–with the spirit of a hero who expected no returns. The Philippines was his first and last thought and for it he spent gladly all his and his wife’s fortune. A far cry he was from many a self-anointed patriot of today

Indeed, all Filipinos could learn a thing or two from this great man, particularly those who serve as the country’s diplomats. Don Felipe may never be officially recognized as the First Filipino Diplomat (too many constipated people insist on technicalities), but it doesn’t matter. For those who believe that a diplomat is the embodiment of a nation’s honor, for those who look for integrity, intelligence, and patriotism in the people chosen to represent us, then certainly, Don Felipe Agoncillo will always have a special place in the annals of our country’s diplomatic history.

Nevermind if Don Felipe is the first Filipino diplomat or not. He has achieved the greater honor.

Don Felipe is the standard for all Filipino diplomats.

Posted in Profiles | Tagged | Leave a comment

Executive (dis)Orders

Executive (dis)OrderIf there is one lesson students of history cannot afford to forget, it is this: no document, no history. Well, after hours upon hours of research, I would like to add the following: no patience, no historiography.

Historians are generally thought to be longwinded academics, and most of the time, they really are. Ask a question, and you’ll get answers. Lots of it. Now, I’ve thought long and hard about this particularly sleep-inducing nature of historians, and I’ve come to only one conclusion–historians need to say so much because they waste half of their life digging up so much unnecessary information! And to compensate, they waste the other half trying to tell others what they’ve dug up.

Now, I didn’t really get to appreciate this until I was forced to sift through files and files of the Roxas and Quirino presidential papers just to make sure that one (ONE!) paragraph in a paper I was writing was historically accurate. I’m talking about maybe 2-3 weeks of research work just for one $@#$*%! paragraph. But that’s the reality of historical research. More often than not, the juice is just not proportional to the squeeze.

Historians pore through countless documents, and most of the time, we find interesting tidbits of history that have no room in our formal output but are fascinating nonetheless. For instance, while I was collating information on the diplomatic activities of the post-war years, I found out that the first executive order of President Roxas* (E.O. No. 1) dealt with the rules and regulations for the issuance of Philippine passports. Now, this may seem a tad mundane, but for students and practitioners of diplomacy, it is an indication that at one point in our country’s young history, foreign relations occupied top billing in the executive agenda. Of all the countless matters of state which vie for the President’s attention, it just so happened that the matter of passports (and by extension, foreign relations) was urgent and important enough to be placed in the forefront of executive orders.

Executive Order No. 1"Prescribing Rules and Regulations for the Granting and Issuing of Passports"

Executive Order No. 1
“Prescribing Rules and Regulations for the Granting and Issuing of Passports”

All this fuss about Roxas’ E.O. No. 1 may seem like historical nit-picking, but taking into account the hierarchy of presidential missives (executive orders being at the top of the pecking order), it is reasonable to assume that executive orders are important historical sources that can provide colour to the political atmosphere of the times or even provide clues as to what the political personality of the incumbent administration would be. Allow me to illustrate.

Roxas’ E.O. No. 1 was signed on the 4th of July, 1946–the day the Philippines regained its independence. On the same day, for its first official act, the Philippines signed the Treaty of General Relations with the United States of America. The signing of the Treaty is significant for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that by the mere signing of the Treaty, the U.S. essentially recognised Philippine independence and sovereignty. My generation may have a harder time trying to grasp the significance of this act, but for Roxas and his contemporaries, the path to independence was a long and arduous affair. Moreover, the spectre of the First Philippine Republic (Roxas and his ilk were only a generation removed from that heroic episode), was a stark reminder that declarations of independence are moot if not supported by declarations of recognition by other nations.

E.O. No. 1 was the perfect companion to the Treaty of General Relations because the act of providing passports was a powerful display of sovereign independence. At long last, the Filipino was his own man, and he has the passport to show for it! And so taken together, the signing of both the Treaty of General Relations and E.O. No.1 was a resounding declaration of Philippine independence.

Before the issuance of Philippine passports, Filipinos travelled with American issued passports such as the one Roxas used as Commonwealth President.

Before the issuance of Philippine passports, Filipinos travelled with American issued passports such as the one Roxas used as Commonwealth President.

At the outset, and totally without the benefit of proper academic study, this historical anecdote leaves me with two impressions. First, that Roxas was a president who was mindful of the intricacies of international relations, and that second, the political atmosphere of the times was heavily influenced not just by domestic considerations, but to a greater extent, also by our foreign relations. Other historians, more knowledgeable and infinitely more credible than myself, more or less give weight to such impressions. As the historian Wilton Walter Meyer observed of Roxas, “he saw issues of foreign relations clearly and simply.” Roxas’ issuance of E.O. No. 1 is but a tiny example of this, but it is definitely telling.

But what of other presidents? What do their E.O. No.1s say about themselves or the political climate of their times? President Fidel V. Ramos’ E.O. No. 1 saw the reduction of import rates on electric generating sets. For those who remember those candlelit nights, Ramos’ E.O. No.1 is a good historical reminder of the power shortages which he inherited from the previous administration. More interestingly, it is an indication of the businesslike attitude Ramos would bring into office, and of Ramos’ zeal to make the business climate of the country conducive to foreign investment (economic diplomacy anyone?).

By contrast, Presidents Corazon Aquino and Noynoy Aquino have stamped their E.O. No. 1 with the creation of the Presidential Commission on Good Government and the Truth Commission of 2010, respectively. One can simply allude the creation of these presidential commissions to the necessary political “housecleaning” both Aquinos had to conduct, but for those blessed with mischievous minds, it definitely smacks of political vindictiveness. Either way, the contents of these executive orders are indicative of both the political climate as well as the mindset which prevailed/prevails in Malacañang.

As I’ve learned to appreciate, executive orders are great historical sources in that it sets the tone of the presidency. And while it may not merit enough academic attention for, say, a thesis topic, it is, at the least, fodder for historical chismis. Me, I’m just glad I chanced upon Roxas’ E.O. No.1. At least it gave me a topic for blog post no. 2.

* President Roxas issued prior executive orders as the Commonwealth President. Even if he had wanted to tackle the issue of passports in his first executive order as Commonwealth President, he wouldn’t have been able to due to the Commonwealth government’s quasi sovereign status (meaning, Filipinos had no control over foreign affairs since it was under the direct supervision and control of the United States).

Posted in Musings | Tagged , | 2 Comments

What’s in a Name?

whats in a name illustration2 copy

Since this is a blog about Philippine diplomatic history, I think it’s fitting that I start off with a post discussing what diplomatic history is. It may seem overly simplistic–boring even–but for those who have never had the privilege of attending a proper diplomatic history course (like me!), a brief foray into the heart of the discipline is recommended .

But first, a few words of grief. Diplomatic history is on the decline! Long considered the titans of the historical profession, diplomatic historians have somewhat lost their swagger as other fields of history have become more fashionable (yes, it’s a bit of an oxymoron). A 2009 New York Times article by Patricia Cohen details the discipline’s spiral into subsidiarity:

quotation mark copythe shift in focus began in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when a generation of academics began looking into the roles of people generally missing from history books–women, minorities, immigrants, workers. Social and cultural history, often referred to as bottom-up history, offered fresh subjects. Diplomatic historians, by contrast, generally work from the top down, diving into official archives and concentrating on people in power, an approach often tagged as elitist and old-fashioned.

But what is diplomatic history? George Kennan–that wonderful blend of diplomat and scholar–provides the following definition:

quotation mark copyDiplomatic history is, of course, only one phase of political history generally. It is a part of the study of man in his behavior  as a political animal; and it concerns itself with what occurs at that particular point of friction where the activity of one sovereign political authority rubs and grates on that of another.

In the Philippines, the study of diplomatic history deviates somewhat from standard notions of the discipline mainly because of the country’s unique political development. In the book Toward A Diplomatic History of the Philippines, the eminent Filipino diplomatic historian, Bonifacio Salamanca presents the following considerations:

quotation mark copyStrictly speaking, diplomatic history deals only with the relations between or among sovereign states. Even with such a delimitation, we already have a problem because the Philippines was a sovereign state at least twice before 1946, but somehow subsequently reverted to a nonsovereign status, during which Philippine foreign relations were the prerogative of the sovereign power. Of course, we can always get out this bind by simply treating the foreign relations of the First Philippine Republic (1898-1902) and the Second Philippine Republic (1943-1945) as chapters of our diplomatic history before 1946. But must Philippine diplomatic history cover only those periods when we were sovereign, de jure or de facto? Should it not also include the period since 1521? Or even before? I believe it should.

From this perspective, Philippine diplomatic history, therefore, should cover not only the diplomatic activities of the Philippine nation, but also the foreign relations of the Filipino people. Maybe a better term would be “A History of Philippine External Relations” or even “A Diplomatic History of the Filipino People.” But somehow, Philippine diplomatic history continues to be the name of choice for both academics and the general public alike.

What’s in a name? you ask. Nothing really. It’s all just meant to impress or confuse. Besides, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, as long as you understand and appreciate the importance of our past relations with our neighbors and what it means to the overall evolution of the Filipino, first as a people, then as a nation.

Posted in Musings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment