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Philippine Pull-out in the Coalition Forces in Iraq to Save Angelo de la Cruz

by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

The Australian National University

 

The last of the Australian contingent to the war effort ended when seventeen soldiers returned home from Iraq on August 6, 2011. It was a year after President Barack Obama withdrew  U.S.combat troops from Iraq that ended the 7 ½ year war which President George W. Bush started on March 20, 2003 through the  U.S.-led multinational coalition. The casus belli was the belief that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that threatened the West.  Based on evidence, the world knows  that Iraq did not have an arsenal of WMD and that the war, which left 4,415 American soldiers and more than a hundred thousand Iraqis dead, was aimed at regime change in Iraq.

The  Philippines was also part of the U.S. led “coalition of the willing.” However, compared with other coalition members, the Philippines  pulled-out its 51- man  humanitarian contingent in Iraq in July 2004,  days ahead of schedule  in a last-ditch effort to save the life of Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz who was threatened with beheading by the so-called Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Al-Weleed Corps if the government did pay ransom and did not pull-out its troops from Iraq.

Foreign Secretary Delia Albert announced the early pull-out of the Filipino troops from Iraq.  Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, a veteran career diplomat, who also negotiated the release of another OFW Robert Tarongoy from his Iraqi kidnappers in 2005, led the Iraq Crisis Team. The government decision angered the U.S. and its allies. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said  that  “I don’t want to be harsh on a friend, but it is a mistake and it won’t buy them immunity”.

Pulling out from the US-led “Coalition of the willing[1]

In the Philippines, foreign policy emanates from the President. The case of Dela Cruz is noteworthy because of the decision of President Gloria M. Arroyo to withdraw from the coalition was seen as the Philippine abnegation of its commitment with a long-time ally, the United States which it shares a common history being a former colonial master. The Philippine relations with the U.S. was at its peak because it was one the first countries who supported the U.S. in its decision to go to war in Iraq. It warmed the relations of the nations whose relationship cooled after the Philippine Senate decided not to renew the Philippine-U.S. Bases Agreement in 1991.

The Philippine government was torn between saving Dela Cruz or keeping with its commitments with the coalition. The hostage taking of Dela Cruz gripped the nation with distress by the impending beheading of Dela Cruz by his captors. The government was reminded of the public furor  when a Filipina maid, Flor Contemplacion, was hanged in 1995 raising the people’s awareness of the sufferings of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) without government’s full  support. Again, as in the case of previous people power revolts in the Philippines that toppled the dictatorial rule of Ferdinand Marcos in 1996 and the presidency of Joseph Estrada in 2001, the government  was again brought down to its knees by a potential people power demonstrations.

President  Arroyo defended her position from criticisms from coalition forces Iraq by affirming that saving lives of OFWs was more important to her than international acclaim and affirmed that the country’s “foreign policy is to defend national interests, including the safety of OFWs.”[2]  She said that she made the force to agree with the kidnappers to prevent Filipinos abroad, particularly the large numbers of OFWs in the Middle East, from being the targets of terrorism or held hostage by insurgents. Arroyo’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA)  in July 2004 came on the heels Dela Cruz’s release and return to the Philippines. She used the SONA as an opportunity to announce a new policy direction she called“mamamayan muna” or “people first”.

The President’s decision calmed down the Filipino public. There were sectors, particularly members of the coalition, who were angered by her decision. In the Philippines, many welcomed it. For example, in a forum organised by the University of the Philippines on 12 August 2004 titled “Hostaged? Philippine Foreign Policy after Angelo de la Cruz”, retired Ambassador Nelson Lavina who wrote a paper entitled “Angelo and Philippine Foreign Policy–A Post-Mortem”, said:

  “the recent announcement by the Department of Foreign Affairs that protection of contract workers is now the third pillar of Philippine foreign policy is very much welcome. It is only now, during the term of Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Albert that the foreign policy postulating protection of Filipino contract workers is in effect.”[3]

In the same forum, Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Gilbert Asuque defended the President’s decision saying that:

“The President was guided on deciding this issue by existing policies of the Philippine government, which is the Constitution. The Constitution says that the president, the government, is bound to protect the Filipino people. The Department of Foreign Affairs and, of course, the government will have to assist Filipinos in distress. So, the President of the Philippines was in fact implementing such policy.”[4]

Travel Ban and OFWs in Iraq

As a result of the kidnapping of OFW Angelo dela Cruz, the Philippine travel and deployment ban to Iraq became compulsory in July 2004.  Owing to the long-term unstable security in Iraq, the Philippine government has maintained the deployment ban in Iraq.[5]   Until 2010, there were still about 6,000 OFWs working for US Contractors despite the ongoing ban.[6]   Today, there are calls from OFWs, including Dela Cruz, who have returned to his native province Pampanga, for the government to lift the ban after President Obama’s promise of U.S. pull-out after the March presidential election and infrastructure development taking place in Iraq that would open up jobs for OFWs.[7]

Conclusion

The Philippine decision to pull-out its troops  to save a Filipino life is highly contentious and does not lend itself to easy answers. Many of what critics have said are also worthy of examination. What was clear in the Dela Cruz hostage case was that   Presidential decisions in the Philippines were constrained by the high political demands of the Filipino public to protect OFWs, which number to more than 5 million all over the world.  The choice between pulling-out its troops from the U.S. coalition and saving a human life was a turning point in the Philippine government’s direction to enforce its mandate to protect OFWs.


[1] For a discussion on  Philippine foreign policy after the release of Angelo dela Cruz and the  withdrawal of the Philippines from its membership in the “coalition of the willing” read “Proceedings”, (paper presented at the A Public Forum: Hostaged? Philippine Foreign Policy After Angelo dela Cruz

University of the Philippines, 2004 ).

[2] “Summary: President Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address from 2001-2008,” GMA News, http://www.gmanews.tv/100days/story/168440/summary-president-arroyos-state-of-the-nation-address-from-2001-2008.

[3] “Proceedings.” p.136.

[4] Ibid. p.138.

[5] The Migrant Workers Act (R.A. 8042 of 1995 as amended by R.A. 10022 of 2010) mandates that the government hold fast to stringent guidelines in allowing the employment of OFWs to other countries, and impose heavy penalties on government officials who agree to deploy migrant workers without guarantees required by law.[5]

[6] The travel ban imposed by the Philippine government was supported by the US when US Air Force Colonel Richard Nolan of Central Command’s Contracting Command stated in a memorandum dated July 20, 2010 that contractors who employed people from countries which prohibits work and travel to Iraq, including about 6,000 from the Philippines, must return them home. See  Veronica Uy, “US orders pullout of OFWs in Iraq by August 9,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 27,2010 2010.

[7] Roli Talampas, “Angelo dela Cruz: ‘It’s time to lift the Iraq ban’,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 7, 2011.

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Diplomacy and Use of Force: two sides of a coin?

by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

Neville Chamberlain (L) and Adolf Hitler (R) in summit diplomacy in Munich

Diplomacy is usually associated with peace building and creating an environment of cordiality and cooperation among states for the pursuit of national and common interest.  The tools of diplomats are negotiations and persuasion while traditional military tools are guns and weapons. The duties of diplomats and military are difference. One prepares for war while the other prepares war. These dichotomies are not simple. For a strategist, both diplomacy and force are part of a state’s foreign policy instrument.  In the practice of state craft, military and diplomacy are part of one continuum.

Two perspectives of force and diplomacy

There are two distinct perspectives between the force and diplomacy nexus. For the realists, the use of threat or use of force is essential in the pursuit of power.  Hans J.Morgenthau, a proponent of the use of force in diplomacy, advocates that foreign policy is best achieved by combining force and diplomacy through coercive diplomacy, for instance.

On the contrary, the liberal perspective questions the use force to achieve peace. The classic liberal theory, which is rooted in the writings of Immanuel Kant, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, rejects the realist perspective of international relations which is classified as a “zero-sum game”.  An assumption espoused by liberals is the “democratic peace theory” which lends to the notion that democracies are inclined to avoid wars among fellow democracies.  Liberalism argues that economic interdependence and political integration produce peace.  However, some liberal scholars, does not preclude avoiding war altogether. Some advocates the “just war” doctrine which has its roots from the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. “Just war theory” justifies the use of force if the aim is to defeat evil and the result is geared towards the common good.  A liberal may also view coercive diplomacy’s utility to threaten an adversary rather than actual its actual use.  Therefore the effectiveness of coercive diplomacy could be gauged by how it could coerce the  other party by escalation tension as a last ditch effort to achieve peace.

“hard power” vs. “soft power”

In modern diplomacy, Joseph Nye’s concept of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power provides a framework in the usefulness of military force and economic sanctions vis-à-vis persuasion and negotiation. To contextualize these two concepts, it would be useful to explore the differences between ‘hard’ and ‘soft power’.  By definition, “hard power” is about coercing your opponent to adhere to your will through threat and use of force while “soft power” is about attracting your ally to share your goals through cooperation and dialogue.  In terms of objectives, “hard power” seeks to annihilate, contain, and defeat the enemy while “soft power” seeks to persuade through mutual understanding and search of common interests.  Their techniques are different. “Hard power” relies on sanctions to foes through threats and use of force, while “soft power” coaxes partners through meaningful exchange and negotiations. “Hard power” is offensive, competing and zero-sum game while “soft power” is defensive, collaborative and a win-win game. The natural consequence of “hard power” is that i produces fear, suspicion and torment while “soft power” encourages trust and confidence.

The dissimilarities of the two viewpoints can be polarizing when situated in the context of an institutional milieu or applied in practice. The usual set-up of the military and foreign ministries as distinct, detached, and removed from each other produces divergent cultures.    However, it may also be argued that the separation of armed forces and diplomacy has been adjoined by the concept of “civil-military operations” veering away from “all-out war” approach to an “all-out peace” approach.  This is manifested by the military engagement in community-building and disaster and relief operations such as in the Philippines.

A combination of the two approaches may prove to be effective versus the use of a single approach. Absolute “hawkishness” of the Adolf Hitler sort or pure “dovishness” of the Neville Chamberlain category could be fatal.   The combination of  “hard” and “soft power” is what  Nye refer to as “smart power”. However, its mismanagement could again be disastrous as exemplified by Western power’s intervention in Afghanistan which could be described as “neither here nor there”.   A key question to be pondered is the pros and cons of using force or threats of force to accomplish foreign policy objectives.

A case in point of the success of “soft power” is  South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s “sunshine-policy”.  It was the first time that Seoul engaged  Pyongyang that resulted in the warming of relations.  The policy which was largely adopted by President Roh Moo-hyun yielded positive results and created an environment of peace. However, the policy of current President Lim Myung-bak to pressure North Korea has resulted in skirmishes and exchange of threats from both sides.  In this example, hard power approach was counter-productive.

Force, Diplomacy and Ethics

In conclusion, diplomacy is generally perceived as diametrically opposed to the use of force. A key issue to be explored beyond the relationship of force and diplomacy is the role of ethics and moral sustainability in international relations. The Gulf War and the unilateral intervention of the United States in Iraq opened a Pandora’s box and raised questions of moral and ethical use of force.  In the “just war” doctrine, force could only be justified if it attains the common good and does not produce negative and “evil” consequences. Therefore, the challenge of states is how to justify the use of force if its main concern is the pursuit of narrow national interest.  Consideration of ethics must then guide international relations.

Challenges for American diplomacy in the current U.S.-China relations

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (L) meets with U.S. President Barack Obama in New York, the United States, Sept. 23, 2010. (Xinhua/Huang Jinwen)

by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

The relationship of China and the United States (U.S.) will shape the 21st century.

For nearly two decades since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has enjoyed unparalleled leadership in shaping the new world order.  However, the rise of China as an emerging major power  is a threat to the pre-eminence of the U.S. in the region.  For instance, China’s deepening socio-economic relationship with ASEAN has raised worldwide concerns over its strategic consequences and raised new areas for U.S. diplomatic engagement with China.  Sino’s economic integration with Southeast Asia has raised questions in Washington whether it is China’s pretext to eventual regional hegemony.

Compared with its predecessor, U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration seemed to have shifted from unilateralism to multilateralism.  For instance, Obama’s visit to China last year was an effort of the U.S. to strengthen ties beyond Bush’s economic cooperation. The U.S. sought to expand bilateral relations including issues related to regional security, energy use, climate change and cultural exchanges. Obama also acknowledged that U.S.-China relationship is huge and complex.  He invoked the need for both countries to work on areas of common interest and to have open dialogue on areas of disagreements.

The security challenges for U.S. diplomacy in the current U.S.-China relations could be illuminated by three International Relations perspective. From the U.S. realist perspective, China’s rise is a threat to Pax Americana. This view supports the idea that China’s military build-up  should be viewed with suspicion and therefore must be controlled and  pre-empted through coercive diplomacy.    The liberal approach, however,  lends support to Obama’s multilateral engagement with China in fostering political, economic, and cultural cooperation.  The liberal perspective views economic interdependence as crucial to the peace in the region.    And beyond economic issues,  collective action is required in other areas such as resolving the recent financial crisis, climate change, and nuclear disarmament.  According to the liberal perspective, China’s authoritarian regime may evolve into a more open political system by its integration in the world economy.  For the constructivists, who view ideas and identities as forces that shape interests, the challenge for U.S. diplomacy is how to promote democratic reforms in China, persuade China’s emerging leaders to adopt moderation on Taiwan Straits issues, and promote modern western cultures  and norms in China  through “soft power” approaches.

The challenge for U.S. diplomacy under the Obama administration is how to maintain and strengthen U.S. position of global leadership. In the Asian region, particularly in Southeast Asia, China  could be classified as both as a regional and an emerging global power.   Although China’s diplomacy has made inroads in regional economic integration, security structure in the region remains dominated by the U.S. and its bilateral alliance.  The strength of the U.S. is its perceived moral leadership and its readiness to assume a social and political burden that leadership entails; virtues that are yet to emerge from China as it faces scrutiny over human rights concerns and suspicions over its real intentions.

On the other hand, the U.S. has to realize that it could no longer remain complacent in the status quo it has enjoyed for the past few decades as a global leader. The future of the region is inextricably linked with U.S.-China relation.  One way for the U.S. to keep its leadership role in the region is  to strategically engage China in a shared leadership role within Southeast Asia in the future.

Graduate Institute of Peace Studies: Training Peace Oriented Leaders

Graduate Institute of Peace Studies: Training Peace Oriented Leaders

by Juan  “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

(Revised for this blog)

I attended the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies (GIP), Kyung Hee University from fall 1993 to spring 1996 as a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) student.  Before applying to GIP, I also considered applying to several universities in the United States and Europe for my post-graduate studies.

Apart from the full-scholarship, I was impressed by the vision of its founder Chancellor Choue-young Seek  to develop peace-oriented leaders through  holistic education.  In the early 1990s, the academic debate centred on the so-called “paradigm shift”  in the post-Cold War era. Choue predicted that the world will move towards the Pacific Century.

Therefore, in preparation for this eventuality, the region will need leaders who would champion the creation of an integrated global  society, under the spirit of oughtopia,  a society of ought-to be. The idea stems from his desire to reconstruct human society by the integration of material and spiritual needs of human beings. The action plan was to seek and develop leaders who will  pioneer this vision. Personally, I shared his belief that society should reject the deduction of man as purely material but consider the ethical and spiritual dimensions and well-being of humans.

GIP offered a high-level academic program steeped in theory and practice. It was highly regarded in  peace and security  and human welfare studies internationally.   What was unique about the graduate program was its strong leadership training component through co-curricular activities.

I was amazed at how the honour system for students worked in guiding our action based on mutual trust, respect and self-regulation. While at GIP, I joined various student activities.  I was editor of the Peace Forum academic journal  on my 2nd semester. I also learned  about Korean language and culture from a senior student who also gave us lessons in Buddhist meditation.  Although a Catholic, I also joined the protestant bible study group.   For sports,  we took Komdo  oriental swordsmanship and had regular mountain climbing events.

The  academic rigor and the structured life in GIP instilled in me  life skills such as hard work, discipline,order, and courtesy.  A typical day at GIP includes getting up at 5:45 in the morning, doing meditation, jogging and working on assigned cleaning duties before breakfast.   Life was communal. We all have three meals together and many community activities are done in groups. Individualism was not an accepted norm.

The teaching method at GIP was socratic.  We also  had to wear business attire (coat and tie for men) when attending classes.  The dormitory life was structed  in a way that we have time for studies, co-curricular activities and sports.  The holistic education  was geared towards the development of the intellect, spiritual growth, and physical well-being.

On my third semester, I was elected as President of the Student Body.  At a young age of 22, it was both exciting and challenging to lead a more experienced and more senior fellow students.  As the first international student to hold such position, my platform of government was centred on making the student body more international.

During my term of office, GIP co-organized the Seoul International Model United Nations (SIMUN) with the United Nations Association-USA. It was such a great opportunity for all of us to develop our leadership and communication skills.  In preparation for the conference, where I played the role of the Security Council President, I proposed the use of English during meal times and started the translation of the GIP creed from Korean to English among students. We also changed all the room name plates to English and adopted parliamentary procedures in the monthly student body meetings.  Such experience offered me the opportunity to test my leadership skills in an international setting and I thank the students and staff for their trust and support during my term of office.

GIP’s  internship  requirement was an opportunity for us to test and apply our skills in the real world. I was fortunate to do my  placement at the Forum of Democratic Leaders in the Asia-Pacific (FDL-AP) organized by opposition leader Kim Dae-jung, who later became South Korea’s president and Nobel laureate.  The 3-month  internship gave me the opportunity to meet and assist Asian leaders such as former Indonesian Presidents Gus Dur and Megawati Sukarnoputri.

When  I returned to the Philippines in 1996,  FDL-AP appointed me as their liaison officer  and spokersperson in Manila. One on my functions was to  coordinate with the FDL-AP leaders in the Philippines led by  former President Corazon Aquino and fomer Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus.  FDL-AP’s   advocacy was to promote democracy in Burma.

In 1996, I founded the Youth for Asia-Pacific Cooperation (YAPC) and organised the Youth Forum on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) attended by President Fidel V. Ramos as guest of honor and speaker.  I became very active in student and youth organisations. At same time, inspired by GIP’s  strong emphasis on  the importance of scholarly and academic study,   I worked as assistant professorial lecturer at De La Salle University in Manila and was a research fellow of the Yuchengco Center for East Asian Studies  from 1996 to 1999.

Politics was also an area of interest.  In 1998, I organized the Alliance for Youth Solidarity (AYOS), an aggrupation of three youth organizations, and participated in the first party-list elections.  Although AYOS was proclaimed to a seat in the House of Representatives, we were not able to claim our seat in Congress.  Such setback did not deter me from pursuing my other dream to become a diplomat.

In 1999, I was fortunate to be one of the 25  people (out of  about 2,000 who initially  took the exams) who passed the rigorous national Foreign Service Officers’ examination.     In 2000, I was appointed as principal assistant then  briefly as acting director of the Northeast Asian Division  of the Office of Asian and Pacific Affairs where I took care of the Japan and Korean desk.

In 2002, I was assigned as Vice Consul and Third Secretary by President Gloria Arroyo to the Philippine Embassy in Seoul, South Korea.  I was fortunate because my work as a diplomat became easier because of my Korean language background and access to  to the leaders and supporters of President Kim Dae-jung. The strong GIP alumni network in media, government, NGOs, and business circles made my work in Seoul more effective and meaningful.

In 2005,  I enrolled in the Masters of Public Administration (MPA) evening program by University of Oklahoma at the U.S. Military Base in Seoul (across from the Philippine Embassy).   My courses had immediate relevance to my professional work.  I came up with projects such as the review of the Crisis Management Manual of the Embassy, streamlining the administrative and financial process of the office, and conducted staff training on emergency preparedness.

In 2008, I organized the Financial Literacy Campaign program for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in Korea  together with the Labor Attaché, Trade Counselor and the full-support of the Philippine Ambassador. Our aim was to promote savings and investments and to prepare Filipino migrant workers in their return and reintegration back  home.   I submitted  a research paper to the University of Oklahoma on the “Effects of  Financial Literacy Program on Overseas Filipino Workers in Seoul.”

In December 2009, I returned to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila and was appointed as Special Assistant to the  Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs.   My work consisted of migration and development policy coordination, anti-human trafficking, assistance to nationals, and special concerns. I also coordinated the publication of a coffee-table book  for the 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD)  and two Reports to Congress .

In 2010,  I embarked on a Doctoral research on migrant workers’ protection in the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at The   Australian National University under the Australian Leadership Award (ALA) grant.

I consider my years spent in GIP as a starting point in my leadership journey. GIP not only provided me with the opportunity to develop my academic and leadership skill but also in crafting my vision  of action for a better future for my country and people. I hope that many students and peace advocates could avail of the GIP program, if it is chosen as one of the Rotary Center for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution.

Note:

Prof. Hong Ki-joon of the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies (GIP) of Kyung Hee University asked me if I could write a testimonial  for the school. Prof. Hong, who is also an alumnus, was collecting documents for  the institute’s proposal to host the Rotary Club’s Center for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution. Without hesitation, I agreed.  My immediate response was prompted by  two reasons: first, by a sense of gratitude to GIP , which sponsored my studies for two and one half years under a full-scholarship grant, and  second, by a profound sense of community spirit among fellow GIPians.

I think much of what I have become  today is due to my experience at GIP. I learned a lot and made lasting relationships with my Korean seniors and juniors as well as the faculty and staff. Some Filipino alumni such as Prof. Pedro Bernaldez and my fellow student Lisa Mercado-Gascon remain my best friends.

I have to admit that living in Korea in the early 90s was challenging for international students.  South Korea’s circumstance and the cultural context prevailing at that time,  shaped our student life at GIP and living in Korea.

____________________________________________________________________________________

From Student to Diplomat: Reflection on my First Year in South Korea

by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.*

I came to Korea for the first time on a windy autumn afternoon in 1993. I was full of hope, knowing that living in another Asian country and pursuing graduate school would open up new experiences for me, since I was more accustomed to western culture. The Philippines, after all, was a Spanish and American colony in the past.

I was in summer school in California when I learned about the prospects of studying in Korea.  My father encouraged me to apply to the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies (GIP) of the Kyung Hee University after having a chat with Professor Pedro Bernaldez,  a Filipino from the GIP program, during one of the functions related to the State Visit of former President Fidel V. Ramos toSouth Koreain 1993.

Prof. Bernaldez, the international relations coordinator, sent me a brochure about the GIP which promised to train future leaders in the Asia-Pacific. It also described the GIP campus as being “nestled on a pine forest (next to Kwangneung Arboretum) near a meandering brook”. The description evoked a sense of mystery and adventure. Being interested in leadership issues, I was fascinated with the program.

I initially had a very vague knowledge of Korea. I only knew two things:Seoul’s successful hosting of the 1988 Olympics and South Korea’s production  of quality Reeboks rubber shoes popular in the late 1980s.  When we landed at the Kimpo airport inSeoul, I couldn’t help but notice the massive concrete infrastructures including the roads, bridges, and ubiquitous apartment complexes in the capital city.  I was dismayed by the lack of trees in Seoul.  However, as we were going through the city, I was delighted to see that modern infrastructures blended well with traditional palaces and temples.KyungHeeUniversity was also very green but since it was autumn, my eyes instead feasted on the changing colours of the season.

My stay in South Korea turned out to be life-changing. Apart from earning an Masters of Business Administration degree, the opportunities that a Korean education offered were immense. For example, the focus of South Korea on globalization helped me develop skills and awareness of international concerns as when I completed an internship with the Forum of Democratic Leaders in the Asia Pacific under Dr. Kim Dae-Jung. Moreover, I felt very close with the South Korean people and eventually became accustomed to their culture, from the rituals of drinking sessions to the hard work that everyone displays whether in school or at work.

Frankly speaking, however, my two and a half years living in Korea as a student, from 1993 to 1996, were not always a bed of roses. Adjusting to a foreign culture, with a different language and social constructions, takes time and requires an open mind. However, I view those difficult and challenging times to be part of my journey and experience in living overseas.

In 2006, I returned toManila to pursue a career that brought me to stints in the academe, non-governmental organisations, electoral politics, and eventually diplomacy.  The direction I had taken could be directly linked to my exposure in South Korea. Despite my return to the Philippines, I found myself visiting Korea each year from 1996 to 2001, except in 1998 when I led the party-list group Alliance for Youth Solidarity in a national election. Korea had really left a lasting imprint on me.

My relationship with Korea and the Korean people is deep and lasting.  It is a friendship built on constantly expanding one’s horizon and being open to foreign cultures and traditions. In the end, I realized that  to know Korea is to eventually fall in love with Korea. To me, the virtue of friendship is that it looks after the welfare and anticipates the  needs  of the other.South Korea offered me much, and I myself would like to think that I was able to contribute in any small way to South Korea through my interactions with friends and colleagues.

In November 2002, I returned to Korea – this time as a diplomat of my country. My colleagues in the Foreign Service told me that I was returning to my second home. As a diplomat stationed in Korea, my role was to help build bridges of friendship between our two nations.  My previous experience as a student and intern proved significant in navigating the challenges of a foreign posting.

I took part in the Philippine-Korean Friendship Day, an occasion attended by Filipino expatriates in Korea. The event was also attended by former Korean Ambassadors who were assigned to the Philippines. Many of them had retired from the Korean Foreign Service. It was a time for merry-making and renewing old ties. In the event, the Philippine Ambassador spoke of our two nations having a long history of friendship and that this friendship was born and nurtured during the darkest years of the Korean War. Strengthened by our shared commitment to democracy and freedom and respect for human dignity, our relationship has become stronger and more vibrant more than half a century later.

Most significantly, it is through people-to-people exchanges that our relationship has become more dynamic. Many South Koreans live, study or tour in the Philippines while many Filipinos have, like me, found a second home in South Korea. These human interactions, I believe, represent the special ties that bind our two nations together.

It has been ten years since I first stepped foot on Korean soil as a student. I look forward to the next several years of continuing friendship with Korea and its people as I continue my diplomatic career.

Note: this article is an edited version of “Philippine-Korean friendship: An enduring relation”  originally published on UpKorea.net on 15 December 2003.  

*At that time, the author was 3rd secretary and vice consul of the Philippine Embassy in Seoul.  He was asked by fellow GIP alumnus Lee Byung-chul to write a piece in haste.  If he had to write this piece again, ten years after in 2013, he would have a lighter and more jovial take on his experiences.

 

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