Acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs

Press Conference

16 March 2017



Okay, thank you very much, first of all my dear friends in the media, new friends and friends from some time ago, good afternoon and nice to see you all here this afternoon.

I am also being accompanied here by my colleagues in the Foreign Service here in the DFA, I wish to acknowledge their presence, so I’ll start off first with some remarks regarding our work here dito sa Foreign Office and I think we’ll be able to have some time for some Q&A.

So let me start by saying that it is certainly a great pleasure to be here to officially meet the members of the local and foreign media, for the first time, in my capacity as Acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

Of course as I said, I see many familiar faces here, especially those who have been covering the Department for many years, as far back as I was a relatively new officer in the Department.

And so I look forward to continuing to work with all of you, whom we consider our key partners, in ensuring that our Philippine foreign policy is truly effective and responsive to the country’s needs. And an effective foreign policy that is understood and appreciated by many of our people in the public and of course especially the Filipino people.

Now, foreign policy, I’m sure as you all know is interesting and of course complex. But it needs to be communicated and to address this challenge, our team here in the Department intends to further strengthen our public diplomacy efforts and in this regard, I hope we can count on you here today to be our partners in this important endeavor.

As one of the most professional and dedicated workforces in the government, we in the DFA work continuously and relentlessly to fill, fulfill our Constitutional mandate, that is, to pursue an independent foreign policy, and a policy that serves the national interest.

And that is a constant, although there are constant numerous changes, developments and challenges it’s our job to remain alert and address them as appropriate.

Now allow me to share with you some of the guideposts that we have here and as we move forward:

First, I have mentioned that our paramount consideration in our foreign policy is the promotion and protection of our national interest.  Any and all partnerships that we enter into, any treaties, agreements we sign, or any initiatives we may take either regionally or in a multilateral setting should promote the well-being of our country, our citizens, and also the national interest.

Second, we will endeavor to maintain friendly cooperative and mutually beneficial ties with all nations. In this globalized world, the strength and standing of our country, as well as the welfare of our people, are enhanced greatly by partnerships that we build, on the basis of mutual respect and benefit.

Thirdly, we will pursue avenues to enhance our country’s capacities and we recognize that because we are all now living in a globalized and inter-dependent world.

Under the leadership of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, we are already moving forward from dependence on any single country to adopting a strong independent foreign policy, and as foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy, it is equally important that we must be responsive to the needs of the people and their interests.

Let me now briefly discuss what I believe are a few of our country’s more urgent interests from the perspective of foreign policy.

One is ensuring the effective governance of the country’s maritime domain.

Second, the Philippines is an archipelagic and seafaring nation, and her progress is firmly connected to her waterways and sea areas. This affects our nation’s security and defense posture, the livelihood of our kababayans especially in the coastal areas, and our capabilities to abide by our commitments in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other related maritime treaties. Effective governance runs the gamut of securing the nation’s territory, to effectively policing our waterways, and to ensuring the health of our marine resources. 

Secondly, building resilient communities is another urgent interest. 

Our country is, unfortunately, beset by many natural disasters. The Philippines sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire. This has blessed us with significant geothermal resources, but has also challenged us periodically with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.  Furthermore, our country is now being visited by about 20 typhoons a year, some of which, including Yolanda and Ondoy, left a staggering amount of destruction in their wake.  It is incumbent upon our government to build disaster-resilient communities and to create effective safety nets to protect both the national economy as well as our kababayans’ livelihood in the event of extreme natural disasters.

Third, securing the nation’s critical and sensitive infrastructure is a priority concern. 

In this digital age, communications, trade, and financial transactions are done almost instantaneously. However, we are now seeing the extent of the dark side of the digital age, from identity theft, to child abuse online, to online radicalization.  Our critical infrastructures – including transportation, power, banking, and the military have also become prone to external threats from hacking. So we must enhance the security of our critical infrastructures so that the Philippines remains firmly on the path of progress.

Fourth, the welfare and well-being of the Filipino people, whether at home or overseas, is perhaps our most important interest.

One hundred million Filipinos - when we speak of our client base, we refer not only to those who are overseas but to those who are also at home.

For the overseas Filipinos, we strive to create an environment friendly to their interests. We deliver quality Consular services. We ensure that any of our kababayans in distress receive assistance expeditiously. And we build bridges to help our countrymen maintain strong links to their native land. This is the DFA’s contribution to the government’s vision to make working overseas a choice and not a necessity.

But that‘s only half of the DFA equation. 

We also help promote Philippine products, tourist destinations, and investment opportunities. We seek educational opportunities and technologies that will help build our nation’s capacities. These efforts help create jobs here at home. They provide a boost to budding enterprises, enabling them to be competitive in the global marketplace. And we do these activities in cooperation with other agencies of government on the basis of a one-country team approach.

So these are but some of our country’s urgent interests.  No doubt, these issues are also cross-cutting and require a whole-of-nation approach. However, these issues are also cross-border, and require effective international cooperation.

So it is in this vein that the men and women of the Foreign Service actively work in pursuit of the nation’s interests. And I believe they are more than up to the challenge. 

I believe the Department of Foreign Affairs is one of the most professional agencies of our government. The DFA is looked upon for leadership in promoting the interests of the Philippines and the Filipinos in the world community and in effectively addressing the complex challenges facing our nation. We are known for reaching beyond our grasp, for demanding from ourselves only the best despite our limited resources at our disposal.

As such, it is important for us to continue to build the DFA and the Philippine Foreign Service. We need to continue building an organization that is professional and proactive. A government agency that effectively exercises with vision, excellence, equanimity, leadership, and a strong sense for consensus-building.

And in pursuit of this goal, and to help our effectiveness in the global arena, we need to make the Department a smarter, more effective and more resilient organization:

So first, we must invest in our people. 

We need to enhance their capabilities so they become more effective in their work. We need to ensure that their welfare and well-being are protected, especially when they are in the frontlines overseas. Our merits-based promotion and rotation system should be strengthened. 

We will seek the appointment of career officials as Heads of Posts as much as possible. And where the President wishes to exercise his prerogative of appointing non-career Heads of Posts, we will actively advise him to seek the services of men and women of stature, integrity and capability, such as the non-career Ambassadors who were recently appointed and who have assumed their postings over the last few weeks.

Second, we must enhance our procedures. 

And I’m pleased that our authentication procedures at our Consular office were recently certified ISO-compliant.  We now turn our focus to other critical procedures of our policy-making and operations – our other consular and ATN services, ICT, and public information, among others. 

Our communications infrastructure must be strengthened and protected against external threats, such as hacking by foreign entities.  But more importantly, our communications protocols should continue to be enhanced to ensure that critical information gets to the right people at the right time. Archives management must be improved to ensure that the Department’s institutional memory is protected.

The advent of the Freedom of Information Act also calls on us to craft a more forward-looking public diplomacy strategy, one that is responsive to the law’s requirements and the public’s needs but also preserving the nation’s security. 

Finally, we need to build strong institutional partnerships.

If we are to continue in our role in leading the country’s team in managing the country’s international engagements, it is imperative that our linkages with partner agencies, with the academe, with think tanks, and with civil society be strong and dynamic. Enhancing public diplomacy, linking with press and the media, is important. And we recognize that, while the DFA is the agency mainly in charge of pursuing our nation’s interests on the world stage, we would need a strong network of partnerships to effectively discharge our function.

So ladies and gentlemen with that, I’d now like to open the floor for any questions that you may have. And certainly, as I have said, it’s a great pleasure to see you all again and with me today as I’ve mentioned earlier are Assistant Secretaries. If there are any detailed points you wish to address I think they would be very happy to address them. And so with that may I thank you again and the floor is now open for any questions or comments you wish to have.