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Love in the time of discrimination

- Pia Lee-Brago -

MANILA, Philippines -  Once upon a time in this country, women diplomats were not allowed to marry foreigners.

Diplomat Delia Domingo Albert felt the injustice keenly, especially because 21 of her male counterparts, including the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, could take foreigners for brides.

Albert was prepared to bring all the way to the United Nations the issue of the country’s Foreign Service Board sitting on her request to marry her German fiancé without giving up her career.

Albert, who would become the first woman appointed as secretary of foreign affairs, said diplomatic practice required Filipina diplomats to seek permission from the Foreign Ministry before they could marry a foreigner. Attached with their letter requesting permission to marry a foreigner is a letter of resignation.

“I broke the ice several times,” Albert said, as she talked about being the first woman appointed secretary of foreign affairs and first Philippine female diplomat to break the administrative rule which had made several women in the foreign service quit after choosing love over career.

But Albert was determined to change the “unwritten” rule.

“In the 1960s and 1970s, there were 21 male officers who requested permission to marry foreign women. You had to write two letters requesting permission to marry and attach your resignation letter. That was terrible,” Albert said.

 “In practice, when the men submitted their letters seeking permission, their resignation letters were disregarded. This was how we lost good female diplomats. It was very, very tricky,” she said.

It was during her posting in Geneva, Switzerland when Albert was sent to Bucharest in 1974 to join a Philippine delegation to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) conference and drafted and put UN context in the delegation’s speeches.

With no typewriters to use for the speeches she had to prepare, the Filipina diplomat found herself in a problematic situation.

“In a communist country, typewriters were not available because they believed it was used to make propaganda underground materials,” she said.

But in an elevator in the hotel where the delegation was billeted, she did not hesitate asking a man with a press card if he had a typewriter. This man, a German journalist named Hans Albert, was the man she married on Dec. 27, 1980 in Baguio City and who became the father of their child, Joy Angelika.

“I had an inkling he would become my husband,” she said.

But marrying Hans Albert did not become easy for the Philippine diplomat since Foreign Service Board refused to act on her letter.

“They would not allow us to marry a foreigner for security reasons. You have to bear in mind it was the height of the Cold War,” she said.

Hans Albert had to request his predecessor in the media agency in Vienna where he worked as foreign affairs editor, and who became Germany’s ambassador to the UN in New York, to vouch for his character and prove he was not a security risk.

“It was a UN General Assembly and Germany was president of the General Assembly. Then there came out a photo with caption ‘President of UN General Assembly honors Foreign Affairs Secretary Carlos P. Romulo,’” Albert said. “I was told by my colleagues who were there I was on top of the agenda.”

Finally, she received a memo that her request for permission to marry her fiancé was granted.

“I did not do it for myself. I wanted to establish a process where the permission to marry and letter of resignation is done and applied to the men. I slugged it out. If I believe in something, that’s logical and rational,” Albert said.

“That really broke the ice. The requirement of security clearance is what I objected to. I fought for you girls,” she added.

After her last posting as Philippine ambassador to Germany, Albert said she is now enjoying her time with her husband, with whom she shares the same birthday and call it their Valentine’s Day.

“He gave a lot of his time to us when he availed of an early retirement to be with me and our daughter. Now is my turn to look after him,” she said, referring to her husband who has Parkinson’s disease. Hans Albert, who has decided to settle here, loves the Philippines and calls it his “paradise.”

ALBERT

BAGUIO CITY

BUT ALBERT

COLD WAR

FOREIGN

FOREIGN SERVICE BOARD

GENERAL ASSEMBLY

HANS ALBERT

MARRY

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