Bernardo M. Villegas
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Role Model for Aspiring Diplomats

           One need not take at face value the very sanguine forecast of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank that the Philippine GDP will be the sixteenth largest in the world in 2050, surpassing countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Turkey.  It is evident to most objective observers, however, that the Philippines is discarding its long-standing image as the "sick man of Asia."  In fact, in 2013, despite the destruction wrought on Eastern and Central Visayas by super storm Yolanda (or Haiyan), the Philippine economy is still expected to be one of the fastest growing in East Asia.  It will play an  important role in the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community, together with such other emerging markets as Indonesia and Vietnam, two of the other countries in the region with  a growing and young population.

          In this new role as an emerging tiger of Asia, the Philippines will need a larger pool of world class diplomats who can bring the country to a higher level of cooperation with countries within and outside the ASEAN region.  In my more than forty years of going all over the world in investment road shows, the world class career diplomats who come to my mind are individuals like Delia Albert (who recently received a lifetime award from the CEO forum), Rosario Manalo, Philip Mabilangan, Erlinda Basilio, Jaime Bautista, and Luis Cruz.   I am sure there are others, but these are the ones with whom I had to arrange economic briefings in the countries in which they served as Ambassadors.  I was impressed with their very high level of professional competence.  We have to increase their tribe in the very near future since practically all of them have reached retirement age.

          To encourage the youth with the talents and interest to join the diplomatic corps, let me cite a possible role model of a young career diplomat who recently passed away of a stroke at the age of 49, literally at the service of his country in Cairo, Egypt.  I am referring to a former research assistant of mine at the Center for Research and Communication, Raul "Ray" Mayo Santiago.  To get a picture of his accomplishments as a career diplomat over the last ten to fifteen years, let me just quote excerpts of a column of Ambassador Jose Zaide that appeared in this paper:  "Raul 'Ray Santiago joined me at the Office of European Economic Affairs, a freshman foreign service officer at DFA...Ray's sphere of influence in the DFA was the European Union.  We climbed summits, including Bontoc, and the rice terraces.  At Banaue, we watched the Ifugao ritual dance and slaughter of the pig...Ray was a dedicated officer, one you can count on.  If one went mountain climbing tied to a partner and your lives depended on each other, you could choose Ray as that partner.  He was also a stickler for giving his boss the seat and place of honor.  As his Assistant Secretary, I was happy to administer his oath of office on his first promotion. "

          "...Vienna was my first embassy, and Ray's first foreign posting.  He continued to burn midnight voltage as one of my most reliable officers...We didn't always agree.  He even refused to sign my daughter Luningning Beata's certificate of legal capacity to marry (Reason:  I got the document directly from DFA consular office, skipping the NSO requirement).  Not even my word that, even if I could lie for my country, I would not do so for my daughter's certificate...could bend his conscience.  In the end, my deputy Minister Victoria Bataclan, signed.  He did, however, eventually attend the despedida de soltera and came to the wedding....

          "Ray took very badly our closing Frankfurt, a post whose opening he had mid-wifed.  Consul General Peachy Natividad, cross-posted as our Ambassador to Berlin (and knowing Ray's fragile condition) tried without success to bring him as her deputy.  But Ray was a good soldier, and he marched to Cairo as our Charge d'Affaires...A snapshot of the critical situation in Cairo is an email I came across from one of his associates.  'He (Ray) has been continuously emailing me about the efforts they are doing in Cairo for the safety, monitoring and repatriation of Filipinos there.  He mentioned about how he traveled to unsecured places to check the condition of Pinoys there but never mentioned about his condition.' "

          Given the heroic services he rendered to the overseas Filipino workers in troubled Cairo, it was no wonder that the funeral Mass held in that city, just before his remains were brought back to the Philippines, was attended by a Standing Room Only crowd.  Back in the Philippines, in addition to the eulogy given by Ambassador Zaide quoted above, many others gave their testimonies to his human virtues of excellence in work, perseverance, humility and the spirit of service to others.  As Dr. Paul Dumol, the famous playwright and expert on Jose Rizal, pronounced in the eulogy in the final funeral Mass in Camp Aguinaldo:  "Ray loved his work.  That much is clear to everyone:  it was his predominant virtue, so to speak, and also in the view of others, his tragic flaw--the good soldier's sword by which he kills and is killed.  I would say on the basis of the DFA's eulogies and as someone completely ignorant of his inner life that he exemplified the ideal of sanctification of work luminously..."

          As his first employer immediately after he obtained a LIA-COM degree at De La Salle University, I can only comment that he started young in cultivating the virtues enumerated above.  With only an average intelligence (in fact, he had great difficulty learning languages), he demonstrated excellent work habits as a junior researcher in what was then the Center for Research and Communication and later as one of my assistants at the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution under President Cory Aquino.  As a college student, he was already putting into practice the teachings of St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, that the main instrument of an ordinary citizen in order to reach heaven is the sanctification of his daily work. That is why I never had any doubts that he would go far in his chosen field which was foreign service.  I hope his example will inspire some of the young Filipinos today to aspire to become diplomats in order to develop harmonious relationships with countries all over the world and, like Ray, be of service to the millions of overseas Filipino workers who will be a permanent force in the global economy, even after the Philippines shall have eradicated mass poverty.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia