Rodolfo Severino
Tribute to Asean diplomat
FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - January 24, 2020 - 12:00am

I was pleased to receive tributes on Rodolfo Severino from four individuals: Ambassador Ong Ken Yong of Singapore our Ambassador Carlos Sorreta in Moscow, a close advisor to Rod in the ‘90s Johanna Son, a Filipina editor/manager of “Reporting ASEAN” in Bangkok and Ms. Moe Thuzar, an ISEAS fellow.

By Ong Ken Yong

Rodolfo Severino was an exemplary Filipino diplomat, an excellent teacher to all who sought his counsel and an extraordinary champion of ASEAN. He served as the 10th secretary-general of ASEAN from 1998 to 2002. I was his immediate successor. He had worked on ASEAN affairs for decades in the Philippine government service before assuming that apex job in the only regional organization for the Southeast Asia nations.

Rod continued his passionate work for ASEAN after he completed his term as secretary-general. He published several significant books and essays which contributed to better understanding and public awareness of ASEAN, not only in the region but globally. His knowledge of the beginning, functioning and ideals of ASEAN is unmatched to this day.

Mr. Goh Chok Tong, the prime minister of Singapore during the time Rod was the secretary-general of ASEAN said, “Rod was a fair man who tried to keep ASEAN going in spite of the ‘tom-yam effect’ of the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. . . He was a professional who worked quietly, effectively and without flamboyance.”

For Rod, ASEAN is a family. There will always be differences as family members see and do things in a variety of ways. No two individuals are the same or think alike on everything. Yet, the family sticks and stays together. To Rod, this is the inherent strength of ASEAN and the grouping will manage its challenges through regional solidarity and sharing of the burden of co-existence in a diverse and ever-changing environment.  The key is to engage all those who matter and share the responsibility of bridging the gaps of disconnect and ignorance of the broader interests of the community.

Rod had talked up what ASEAN and its member nations can do for peace and prosperity, for the progress of their peoples, and for the fulfillment of our human responsibility. His message is always that we have the potential to do better for ourselves and we must strive to achieve that.

Let us do what we can to continue Rod’s vision and mission for ASEAN.

By Carlos Sorreta

ASEAN integration would have been seriously delayed if he hadn’t worked on normalizing relations with Malaysia and orchestrated FVR’s historic visit. 

He also played a key role in redefining our post-bases relations with the US and thereby help shape regional attitudes and perspectives on the role of the US in the region.

He also started the dialogue within ASEAN on the need to deal with an emerging China as one.

He also pushed for a more strategic approach to our territorial disputes leading to a national maritime policy.  He headed the first ever boundary talks which led to the conclusion of a boundary settlement with Indonesia. We probably owe greater public consciousness of our maritime domain to him.

By Johanna Son

He was a rare mix of two species –a consummate, intellectual diplomat who was also a journalist. Those two trades are usually at odds with each other, but he was both of them.

During the years he was the Philippines’ foreign undersecretary or even as ASEAN secretary-general, it was common for veterans of ASEAN coverage to at some point say ‘Punta tayo kay Rod’ (Let’s go to Rod). When we found him, journalists from other ASEAN countries would be there too. We Filipino journalists used to lament that it was ‘unfair’ how all other ASEAN journalists could have access to Mr. Severino (because he spoke in English), while we did not because other diplomats spoke to their journalists – and did not need to go behind closed doors – because they did so in Thai, Malay, or Bahasa Indonesia. ‘All of ASEAN’ could talk to the person who was probably the most sought-after Filipino diplomat, unbeaten to this date.

In retrospect, that said a lot about a diplomat of integrity and skill who was a truly ASEAN citizen.

By Moe Thuzar

At the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore, Mr. Severino put his retirement years to active use, and wrote several books. Building on his years spent on both sides of the table of ASEAN discussions, he wrote “Southeast Asia in Search of an ASEAN Community” which has been hailed as “a must-read for journalists, policy-makers, political scientists and others who need an insiders’ view on how ASEAN operates”.. 

For ASEAN’s 40th anniversary commemoration in 2007, Mr. Severino accepted his successor’s request to explain 40 important facts about ASEAN to younger audiences.  The result was the “Know Your ASEAN” booklet which has been translated into several ASEAN languages, and even Korean.

In 2011, he also contributed to the Philippine policy community’s thinking and discussions on the country’s territorial and maritime boundaries, with his book “Where in the World is the Philippines”.

The spirit of regional cooperation in the 21st century owes much to the quiet and unassuming efforts of one man, who, in his own words, committed to “project an image, an idea of ASEAN that tends to correct the pendulum swings of perceptions.”

ASEAN RODOLFO SEVERINO
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