‘We have done well as shown by those we honor today’

(Remarks by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. at the 121stfounding anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Delivered at the DFA’s Bulwagang Apolinario Mabini on June 26, 2019).

Honored guests, colleagues in the Department, ladies and gentlemen. Today, we honor the men and women of the Philippine Foreign Service as we celebrate the 121st anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is said that an institution is only as great as its people. I am grateful that this institution maintains and strengthens a professional pool that can meet any challenge in foreign affairs.

But it should be said as well that a great institution—which is to say an institution made great by those who came before—can make those who come after good and worthy of that institution by exposing them to the same challenges.

Thus, we encourage the perpetuation of the right institutional practices; and discourage the longevity of individual institutional occupation.

Our honor is not to stay here. Our honor is to have been here; to have served here; to have stood here on such occasions as this—in the felt but unseen presence of those who make us proud to be here today as having been one of them; to have done the things that needed doing in our time as they did in their time; to have done these things well if not memorably; and moving on, that others shall have the chance to do the same. Those who came before us had one thing we did not have when we first came in: experience. Those who come after us have one thing we do not have anymore: new blood, fresh energy.

I have said, time and again, the Department of Foreign Affairs is one of, if not the most professional agency in the Philippine government. I honored that conviction by heaping upon it another great and therefore equally thankless task: the administration of my law, the Overseas Voting Act.

Since I assumed as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, I have been guided by the directive of the President to provide every Filipino with a “comfortable and secure life.” In this regard, I have worked with all of you in ensuring we adhere to this directive. The first priority was to give every Filipino beyond the Republic’s physical reach to protect and help immediately the means enjoyed by his and her fellow countrymen at home: the right to vote.

Under the guidance of this President, we are pursuing an independent foreign policyWe continue to reassess our relationships with other countries. Even as we pursue new relations with nontraditional allies; we continue to adapt our relations with traditional allies to the changing times. But never to their changing fortune: we shall never be opportunists. The basis of our external relations with other countries is, foremost, friendship; and not whatever material benefit we hope to get from them. We scorn talk of mutual benefit first rather than sincere friendship.

We have not backed down in our pursuit of this independent foreign policy. We have stood our principled ground on various issues such as the return of the Balangiga Bells, the West Philippine Sea, the protection and repatriation of displaced persons—ours and that of other countries, the promotion and protection of the welfare of our overseas workers, the decent treatment of migrant workers, most famously the open-arm reception of refugees—and that garbage thing.

Last year, we worked on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), which was overwhelmingly adopted by 152 States. We guided that endeavor; we “wisened up” its tone and direction to fundamental human decency; and we got it adopted by most nations and rejected apologetically by some. For this we were, as expected, rewarded by the rejection of the most worthy candidate for the job of deputy director of the IOM: our own. But that is public service: thankless. We knew it when we took it.

We have expanded the Department’s global presence to serve millions of Filipinos in 195 countries by opening new Foreign Service Posts—the Philippine Embassy in Copenhagen and the Consulates General in Houston and Frankfurt. And they should be filled with fresh new faces. Everybody should have a chance to serve abroad; because everybody here is good enough for it.

In 2018, we assisted 101,918 Filipinos all over the world through our Assistance-to-Nationals services and 14,542 Filipinos through the Legal Assistance Fund. As of May 31, 2019, the number of beneficiaries of the ATN services and Legal Assistance Fund has reached a total of 56,435 and 2,393 respectively. Thank you Sara Arreola.

We continue to respond to our countrymen’s need for consular services. From January to December 2018, we issued 4,340,407 passports and from January to May 2019, we have already issued 1,928,241 passports. We simplified the requirements for passport applicants, and we have acceded to the Apostille Convention, which effectively reduces the authentication process by half. And soon we shall revise the guidelines for courtesy diplomatic passports in order to enhance the credibility of passports held by those who really need them for their work. Our diplomats enjoying the protection of the Geneva Convention must, on the face of their blue passports, not be mistaken on purpose as mere tourists who do not enjoy the same. I am assured that our former diplomats are wholeheartedly in favor of this.

We have expanded our services by opening five Consular Offices in Ilocos Norte, Isabela, Laguna, Rizal, and Davao del Norte. We also recently opened an Authentication Services Center in Davao City. Cebu is next.

To strengthen our frontline processes, we continue to implement the Department’s Quality Management System. In December 2018, our passport and authentication services were recertified to the ISO 9001:2015 standard.

The Department’s work is not easy. We are on call at all times. And that is why, as we celebrate our foundation day, we recognize the men and women who have gone above and beyond the usual call of public service of sitting on their butts and waiting for the time to pass for the dismissal bell to ring. We are no longer school children. We also recognize the loyalty of our people and the dedication of our various organizations that have significantly contributed to the success of the Department. These organizations need our financial assistance. It is my hope to realign many budget items for travel toward relieving their financial distress. Let us give a round of applause to all the awardees.Thank you for all you have done; thank you for the institutional memory you have enhanced by your service. I came as I shall go, in the twinkling of an eye but of that instant I shall always say: I am proud to have been your servant and your leader. I thank the hardworking members of the DFA Day Committee for ensuring the success of today’s event.

As an institution, we have been doing our best for more than a century. The years have seen what we have done; the next generation will decide if we did well by the tasks we left undone; even as the generation that came before already judge us by the challenges they watched us—from the sidelines of retirement or from above as their just reward—surmount or fail. But we know, whether we tried hard or just pretended, serving time and our careers. But, as far as I know, we have done well as shown by those we honor today. Thank you. Happy 121st Anniversary! Mabuhay!


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