Carlos P. Romulo (1899-1985) Top diplomat and PR man extraordinaire

IN an article I did for this column on November 10, 2015, I wrote of how an able and dedicated public servant like the late former Health Secretary and Sen. Juan Flavier, who possessed both natural and acquired PR skills used these capabilities to gain public support for the government and promote the welfare of the country and the Filipino people.

Going back further in our history, there was another such government official, a world-renowned Filipino diplomat, Carlos P. Romulo or his initials CPR as he was also widely known. Romulo used his considerable diplomatic and personal PR skills to promote the interests of the country in the international arena. He did this from the time he joined the government in the American Commonwealth era to the time his failing health forced him to retire in1984 as secretary of Foreign Affairs.

As resident commissioner to the US House of Representatives of the Philippine Commonwealth, he lobbied for legislation that would help gain favorable preferential tariffs for Philippine products in the US, which was the Philippines’s main market and trading partner at the time. He also went on a speaking tour and wrote a series of articles warning the American public on Japan’s imperialistic designs in Asia, for which he won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in Journalism, the first for a Filipino.

 

CPR as ‘Voice of Freedom’

BUT it was during World War II, as a general in both the US and Philippine Army and as aide-de-camp to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, that Romulo’s communication skills came to the fore. He made radio broadcasts from Bataan “as the Voice of Freedom” to keep up the morale and fighting spirit of American and Filipino forces and counter the Japanese war propaganda.

Even from Australia where he first landed and later from the US, Romulo continued to make radio broadcasts to keep the hopes of Filipinos for the return of the US armed forces to liberate the Philippines.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Romulo must have also helped “stage” the dramatic photograph of MacArthur, a PR expert himself, showing MacArthur, several of his officers and Romulo wading from the warship towards the shore of Leyte. The resulting photo, flashed around the world and distributed throughout the islands, symbolized the return of the US Armed Forces to the Philippines to liberate the country from Japan.

After the War, in October 1945, he was among the world diplomatic leaders who helped establish the United Nations to promote international cooperation and lasting world peace. He was one of the signatories of the UN Charter. Even if he came from a small and poor country, Romulo was among the most respected of the delegates because of his evident diplomatic skills and eloquence and the way he comported himself, with confidence and dignity.

Despite his small physical stature, Romulo did not allow himself to be bullied by the taller diplomats from the bigger, more powerful countries. Once, he disagreed with a proposal by the head of the Soviet delegation Andrei Vishinsky. The Russian looked down on Romulo by referring to him as just a “little man from a little country.” Romulo’s eloquent retort was: “It is the duty of the little Davids in this world to fling the pebbles of truth in the eyes of the blustering Goliaths and force them to behave.” Flustered and at a loss on how to reply, Vishinsky just sat down fuming.

 

‘Mr. United Nations’

IT was because of the respect accorded Romulo by the majority of the delegates that he was elected President of the Fourth Session of the UN General Assembly, serving as such from 1949 to 1950. As UN president, he promoted the causes of democracy and human rights and supported the efforts of colonies to gain independence from foreign rule, gaining friends and allies for the Philippines and Filipinos around the world in the process. During his time as UN Assembly president and long thereafter, Romulo was referred to as “Mr. United Nations.”

In fact, even long after his stint as Assembly president, the high esteem in which Romulo was held by UN officials and personnel continued to linger. In the late 1960s when my then-girlfriend (and later my wife) Genny joined the UN, a security guard asked Genny where she was from.  She answered “the Philippines.” To this, the guard reacted warmly and said: “Ah, you are a countryman of General Romulo!” The close association of Romulo with the Philippines and the UN earned, for Filipinos joining the UN like Genny instant goodwill and acceptance, more so when they performed themselves ably in their jobs.

 

Supported the Philippine Association

AFTER his stint with the UN, Romulo was named secretary of Foreign Affairs by President Elpidio Quirino in 1950 and Philippine ambassador to the United States in 1952. It was while he held these positions that CPR again brought his PR skills to bear by helping convince leading Filipino and foreign companies operating in the Philippines to get together and establish the Philippine Association Inc. (PA), a nonstock, nonprofit organization aimed at promoting the country as an attractive place for investments and ideal trading partner for foreign companies.

The activities of the PA were primarily of a PR nature, involving dealing with both domestic and international media, especially in the US which was then (and even up to now) the communications center of the world. Through the PR professionals it hired, Jose Carpio in the Philippines and George Peabody in the United States, PA interacted not only with the media, but communicated directly with its key target publics, the leading American and multinational companies based in or with affiliates in the US.

For the said function, the association produced a weekly newsletter directed at these business leaders to update them on the economic advances being made by the country, as well as the various opportunities for trade and investments it offered. It also regularly put out special supplements about the Philippines in leading American general and business publications, especially during visits to the US by Philippine presidents or top government economic officials accompanied by leading Filipino businessmen.

In the Philippines itself, PA started a PR program called “Operation Perspective” aimed at balancing all the negative news and views appearing in the local media which were unfortunately being picked up by the international press. It used mainly radio which was then the best medium to reach Filipinos quickly and widely throughout the archipelago, and engaged respected and credible former journalists to broadcast positive developments about the country and the economy which were largely being ignored by the local media.

In all its activities, Romulo gave the PA his full support and encouragement. The association eventually folded up, but by that time, it had already largely accomplished its mission to ensure the survival and continued economic progress of the Philippines during one of the most difficult and tumultuous periods in its history.

 

Served 8 Philippine presidents

CPR served a total of eight Philippine presidents as Foreign Affairs secretary, except for short but successful tenures as secretary of Education and president of the University of the Philippines. In both these capacities, Romulo again used his persuasive powers and wide international network to gain educational grants and other forms of support for the country and for the state university from top philanthropic bodies and leading universities around the world. Again, there was the quintessential PR master at work.

The fact that these eight Philippine presidents transcended their political interests and put their trust and confidence in Romulo to look after the Philippines’s relations with other countries is testimony to CPR’s personal capability and prestige to represent the country in the global arena. It also showed that skills in diplomacy—which essentially is PR practiced on an official and international level and scope—can be used to bring about solid and concrete benefits to a country, as CPR has done so successfully for the Philippines.

To paraphrase the title of one of his books, “I Walked with Heroes,” Romulo not only walked with heroes; he was a hero himself, especially for PR professionals like myself and my other colleagues in the industry. For Romulo (he preferred to be called “General” among all the titles he ever held) was a shining example of the crucial role PR has played and continues to play in the affairs of men and nations and helping make this world a better place.

 

PR Matters is a roundtable column by members of the local chapter of the International Public Relations Association, the premier association for senior professionals around the world. Rene Nieva is the chairman and CEO of Perceptions Inc.

We are devoting a special column each month to answer the readers’ questions about public relations.  Please send your comments and questions to [email protected]

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Rene Nieva is the president and CEO of Perceptions Inc. PR Matters is a rotating column of members of the local chapter of the United Kingdom-based International Public Relations Association, the premier association for senior professionals around the world. PR Matters is devoting a special column each month to answer readers’ questions about public relations. Please send your comments and questions to [email protected]

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