Culture and diplomacy

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - November 11, 2019 - 12:00am

I was asked last week to speak at a seminar sponsored by the European Union on Culture and Diplomacy.

This is what I told them:

First, we must define the terms culture, diplomacy, and nation. I suppose the discussion will not concern itself with culture as a way of life but rather culture as art and its many forms.

Diplomacy is the promotion and defense of the national interest without violence. We have to go back to how a nation is shaped, first by the family, then the tribe with its particular territory, the worship of the unknown by primitive men, the taboos, the building of temples, the institutional hierarchy of priests and the leaders – the princes, the kings  – who expand their kingdoms into empire.

The ancients conducted diplomacy based on their capabilities. Ancient Athens, with its civilization and mastery of the arts, had a powerful navy. Warlike Sparta, with its martial culture, had a powerful army. The British empire was protected by a powerful navy, and vast land armies were the traditional strengths of the Germans and the French.

Diplomacy pertains to how leaders protect and maintain their territories by building fences, walls, moats around their palaces and beyond these traditional safeguards, through intermarriages with the offspring of powerful rulers, the taking of hostages – all these we have seen from ancient times into the recent royalties of Europe.

This kind of diplomacy and maintenance of the national interest depended so much on patriotism of the ruled and the loyalty of the elites to the supreme rulers. The tests of their loyalty in ancient times were great. Ieyasu Tokugawa demanded from one of his leaders that he kill his wife to prove his loyalty.

In the Philippines, from the 1930s onwards to the early 1970s, when we were wracked by agrarian problems and political radicalism, the national interest was narrowly defined by an economic group called the sugar bloc. It was headed by the Lopez family, and the great families in the Visayas, the Locsins, Ledesmas, Montinolas, and Lacsons, and in Luzon, the Cojuangcos, Aranetas, and Ayalas. Controlling the sugar industry, they also controlled national politics and at the core of their machinations was the enlargement and the perpetuation of the American sugar quota which gave them economic dominance. It was the Americans who built this oligarchy.

President Magsaysay, who died in that plane crash in 1957, was not its creation, but of the Filipino people with some assistance from the United States. For the first time the country had a very honest government. It would have been easy for Carlos Garcia, who succeeded Magsaysay, to continue the Magsaysay legacy. He did not. He was an ally of the Lopezes, who soon after, were able to get the Manila Electric Company from the Americans.

Before 1946, independence from the United States, was a goal which most Filipinos believed in. Today, that sovereignty is challenged by two great corroding factors: one, internal decay – we continue to elect corrupt leaders and, two, the Chinese reach for hegemony, which we cannot seem to avoid, the national leadership itself a collaborator.

In 1962-1964, I was an aide to then Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez, who was also Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs. I was to learn about diplomacy and the foreign service before he sent me to Colombo, Ceylon, in 1962-1964 as Information Officer of the Colombo Plan Bureau. He asked me to see what could be done to improve the foreign affairs department. I talked with veteran diplomats, and they all agreed we needed an institute to train our foreign service officers in diplomatic practice.

I wrote to the Foreign Service Institute of the US State Department and to Chatham House of the British Foreign Service in London. With the materials they sent, I put together the framework for the Foreign Service Institute. Aside from training our foreign service officers in the diplomatic practice, all our diplomats would have a thorough training on Philippine history and culture, that every Philippine embassy should have a library that includes the novels of Rizal in Spanish and an anthology of our best writing in English, that the institute would sponsor a monthly publication on cultural events in the Philippines for distribution to foreign embassies, to media, and particularly to those who are interested in Southeast Asia.

Our export of culture should include the finest of our arts. The Filipino identity must prevail in our music, literature, visual arts, the movies, and the best of our classical dancers in ballet and modern dance. If it were to be folk dancing, it should be the Maranao Singkil and the Ifugao Suite as choreographed by the late Leonor Orosa Goquingco.

Filipino food should be introduced worldwide as national policy. In major cities where we have an embassy or a consulate, there must always be a Filipino restaurant.

Special attention must be paid to media and be accorded all the possible assistance when they visit the country. And in receptions, Tanduay rum which is considered the best in the world, and San Miguel beer should be served together with dilis and even basi.

In our problem with China, we must recognize that face underlines Chinese diplomacy.  We have thousands of overseas workers who can demonstrate in front of Chinese consulates, embassies, and institutions because this is one way we can internationalize the Chinese grab in the South China Sea.

Our overseas workers – we must never, never forget what they can do as Filipino ambassadors wherever they work. And we must therefore breed in them before they leave the country the attitudes that make them exemplary Filipinos.

We can never underestimate the very important lessons that the European Union teaches us; they have transcended their nationalisms to work together to make the union one of the biggest political and economic areas in the world. A model for us in Southeast Asia to emulate and the best market as well for us to develop.

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