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Feminization of Diplomacy: Philippine Perspective

A mere three days after her arrival in Canberra, new Philippine Ambassador to Australia H.E. Belen F. Anota presented her letters of credence to H.E. Quentin Bryce, Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia. Ferried from the Philippine Residence to Government House in a Crown car, the Philippine envoy was honored with a general salute by Australia’s Federation Guard, under Guard Commander Captain Kathryn Christie. Led into the drawing room of Government House, Ambassador Anota was received by a resplendent Governor General. Clad in an elegant terno of iridescent malong fabric – a visual statement of Philippine multiculturalism and unity -- the Philippine envoy formally presented her letters of credence. It will be noted that Ambassadors, as representatives of their Heads-of-State, are required to present their letters of credence to the Head-of-State of their countries of assignment. Ambassador Anota, being the representative of President Benigno Aquino III, thus had to present her credentials to Governor General Bryce, the representative of the Queen, who is Head-of-State of the Commonwealth of Australia. (Phil Embassy 27/9/11)

 Feminization of Diplomacy

by Juan Enriquez Dayang, Jr.

The Australian National University

Women in diplomacy have come a long way.  From  a gentleman’s club it once was, women have become leading figures in world diplomacy with the likes of  United State’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her predecessors Condoleezza Rice and Madeline Albright. In Australia, the head of state and head of government are women, namely  Governor-General Quintin Bryce (representing Queen Elizabeth II) and Prime Minister Julia Gillard, respectively.

Over the last two decades, the Philippines had two female heads of state: President Corazon C. Aquino and Gloria M. Arroyo who decided the foreign policy directions of the Philippines. For example, in the area of protection of Filipino Overseas Workers, it was Aquino who started referring to them as “heroes.” She also started the first Filipino Resource Workers Center in Singapore. On the other hand, Arroyo was the first to articulate the third pillar of foreign policy of promoting the protection of OFWs in her state of the nation address and in deciding to pull-out a small contingent of Filipino troops from Afghanistan to save the life of kidnapped victim Angelo dela Cruz.

Female diplomats occupy high positions in the  Philippine Foreign Service.   In the presidency of Benigno Aquino III, the foreign service career corps had a special boost when he named the most number of career foreign service officers to head Philippine Embassies overseas, many of them women. In the 2009 Foreign Service Officers’ (FSOs) examination, seven women out of twenty passed the four-part exams, which includes a pre-qualifying test, a preliminary interview, a 3-day written examination, and finally a 3-day oral examination. The FSO exams are considered the most difficult qualifying exams in the Philippines.

Over the last 1o years, the number of female FSOs have increased despite diplomacy’s reputation as a “boy’s club”. Apart from the FSOs who join the service through competitive exams, there are even more women who hold the ranks of Foreign Service Staff Officers and Foreign Service Staff Employees in the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines.  Despite the attenuating challenges of working overseas, married Filipina diplomats have also managed to balance their careers and family life. Their husbands have also found a role as a diplomat’s spouse.

Currently, 26 out of 64 Philippine Embassies are led by female Ambassadors while eight out of 21 Consulates-General are headed by women Consul Generals.  Among the Embassies headed by women diplomats as Ambassadors or as Charge d’Affaires, ad interim, are Philippine Embassies in Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Laos, Myanmar, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Sweden, East Timor, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vatican, and Venezuela. Meanwhile, Consulates-General headed by women diplomats include Sydney, Chongqing, Osaka, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, and Milan.

In Australia, women diplomats lead the Philippine Embassy in Canberra and Consulate-General in Sydney, namely Ambassador Belen Anota and Consul-General Anne Louis, respectively. Amb. Anota, who served in Israel and Singapore as Ambassadoris the fourth female Philippine Ambassador to serve in Australia following Amb. Leticia Shahani (1978-1980), Amb. Rora Navarro-Tolentino (1989-1994), Amb. Delia Albert (1994-2001), and Amb. Cristina Ortega (2004-2006).

In 2010,  eight  out of 11 successful  FSO examinees were women. They will join the ranks of career Filipina diplomats who have reached the apex of their careers in Foreign Service since the Department of Foreign Affairs opened the doors for women FSOs in 1959. Some of the women who have joined the service from the professional diplomatic ranks include current Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio and Undersecretary for International Economic Relations Lula del Rosario and current Ambassadors Lourdes Yparraguirre (Austria), Corazon Yap-Bahjin (Bahrain), Victoria Bataclan (Belgium), Eva Betita (Brazil), Angelina Sta. Catalina (Finland), Cristina Ortega (France), Ma. Cleofe Natividad (Germany),  Eleanor Jaucian (Hungary), Ma. Rosario C. Aguinaldo (Indonesia), Marilyn Alarilla (Laos), Ma. Hellen Barbers (Myanmar),  Lourdes Morales (Netherlands), Virginia Benavidez (New Zealand), Minda Calaguian-Cruz (Singapore), Maria Zenaida Angara Collinson (Sweden), Ma. Aniceta Aileen Bugarin (Timor Leste),  Linglingay Lacanlale (Thailand), Marilyn Alarilla (Turkey), Grace Princesa (UAE),  and Jocelyn Batoon-Garcia (Venezuela). Political appointees include Ambassadors Ma. Consuelo Puyat-Reyes (Chile) and  Merceditas Tuazon (Vatican).  Amb. Girly Garcia was the first  female Philippine Ambassador to an Arab country, Egypt.

Among the notable Philippine women ambassadors include Senator Shahani, Secretary Albert, Amb. Rosario Manalo,  Amb. Sonia Brady, Amb. Susan Cástrence, Amb. Delia Rosal,  just to cite a few who have retired from a fruitful career in the service. These Filipina women are joined by remarkable women political appointees such as Amb. Trinidad Fernández Legarda, Amb. Pura Santillan-Cástrence,  Amb. Isabel Wilson, Amb. Henrietta de Villa, Amb. Ching Escaler, among others who have represented the Philippines in the best possible way.

Note: This article is an abbreviated version of an article published on 17 October 2011 by ABS-CBN News, the largest news network in the Philippines.  See: http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/global-filipino/10/17/11/filipina-student-shines-australia-diplomacy-college

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  1. Michelle
    January 4, 2012 at 3:39 am

    Thankyou for maintaining a blog about Philippine Diplomacy. This is a great resource for aspiring diplomat (like me). I have been an OFW for five years as a market researcher in Indonesia and Australia in the past 5 years. I recently decided to go home, take the FSO exam this year and be a diplomat. If you could have a category of a life of a Philippine Diplomat as candid as possible, that would be priceless for future diplomats and in encouraging our fellowmen to also join the diplomatic community. Thanks and again!

    • December 21, 2016 at 5:06 pm

      Dear Michelle,
      Sorry for the late reply. I am no longer actively writing after I completed my studies in Australia. Were you successful in joining the Foreign Service?
      Thanks.

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