I take my beret off to Ambassador Delia Domingo Albert, former foreign affairs secretary, and perhaps our finest diplomat ever. I’ve known Ambassador Albert since the early 1960s, when she was a fledgling foreign service officer. The Department of Foreign Affairs was then on Padre Faura and she used to visit my bookshop with her colleagues. I followed her career through the years.
Delia Albert has contributed so much to building not only cultural but also economic relationships with our ASEAN neighbors and with every country where she has served. She is fluent in eight languages, including her native Ilokano. Once I had as houseguests Mr. & Mrs. Akira Kanda, owners of an art gallery in Tokyo. Delia had come to our house for dinner and when she left, the Kandas said they were awed by her very refined Japanese.
Last month, Ambassador Albert went to Tokyo, where Prime Minister Abe presented her with one of the highest recognitions conferred by the Japanese Emperor, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star. Last week, the Japanese ambassador, Koji Haneda, gave a reception in her honor. This is excerpted from her response.
My Japan Story
Two years ago some of us gathered here to witness the conferment of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star on Washington Sycip, an icon in the Philippine business community. It was Mr. SyCip, who, a day after my retirement from four decades of diplomatic service, invited me to join SGV, the company he founded 72 years ago, and gave me a clear and specific mandate to “continue serving the country."
My own Japan story began at the University of the Philippines where a noted Japan specialist, Professor Josefa Saniel, impressed me with her keen knowledge and appreciation of Japan that I aspired to see for myself what I had learned about the fascinating country.
The prize opportunity came in 1962, when I participated in an international students seminar at Tsuda College in Tokyo, followed by a workcamp in Awajishima, where, together with Japanese and foreign students, I worked on a road that would link the small fishing village of Nigoro to other places on the island.
It was my first experience not only in physically building a road with a pick and shovel but also in building friendships with people from different nationalities and cultures, and especially with the people of Nigoro. After the workcamp, I was invited to teach at a pioneer school for girls, the Tokyo Friends Girls School, run by the international Quaker community.
Soon after my return to the country, I was invited to introduce then Secretary of Foreign Affairs Narciso Ramos at the annual "Soiree Diplomatique" of the University of the Philippines Foreign Service Corps. Because his CV was too short, I introduced him in three languages -- English, French, and Japanese. This prompted the Secretary to engage me on the spot as his social and appointments secretary because, as he said, I could say "no" in different languages.
Soon I was arranging the negotiations on the Host Agreement between the Philippines and the Asian Development Bank, which had just been founded. I was also tasked to arrange the calls and meetings of the Secretary with his counterparts in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and later with Singapore as they prepared to meet for a historical game of golf in Bangsaen, Thailand, and later draw up the Bangkok Declaration, which established ASEAN.
When economic diplomacy became the focus of our foreign policy, we pursued the negotiations for the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement, otherwise known as JPEPA, which provided the framework for increased bilateral economic relations.
At this point I would like to recognize a dear friend, a partner in economic diplomacy and a recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun Gold and Silver Star, Lilia de Lima, who, as the trusted and respected Director General of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority or PEZA, successfully convinced Japanese companies to invest as well as increase their presence in the Philippines.
After thirty-six years in the Foreign Service I became the first woman career diplomat to serve as Secretary of Foreign Affairs in Asia, I felt a natural responsibility to promote women participation not only in diplomacy but especially in the economy. In support of Prime Minister Abe's policy of "womenomics," I led a group of Filipino women entrepreneurs to meet with their Japanese counterparts at the ASEAN-Japan Centre during the 26th Global Summit of Women held in Tokyo in 2016. At that Summit the keynote speakers, Vice President Leonor Robredo and Prime Minister Abe, enjoined women in Asia to take more active and responsible roles in various aspects of society.
Last July, Ambassador and Madame Haneda visited my hometown, Baguio. They met with the new set of city officials and the descendants of the Japanese settlers who worked in the construction of the famous Kennon Road from 1903 to 1909. At the Baguio market, Madame Haneda was pleasantly surprised to see familiar fruits and vegetables introduced by the Japanese communities who settled mainly in Trinidad Valley, which became known as the “salad bowl” of the Philippines.
For me, personally, road-building, whether in the island of Awajishima or the Kennon road, represents a very special connection between the Philippines and Japan. Not only did they connect places, they also connected people.
May I now take this wonderful opportunity to thank you, Ambassador Haneda, for your kind and generous hospitality and, through you, the people and government of Japan, for conferring on me on May 23, 2019, the Order of the Rising Sun Gold, and Silver Star, which I received from the hands of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, followed by a most heartwarming and memorable audience with His Majesty Emperor Naruhito.
Saigoni kansha wo komete kokoroyori onrei moushi agemasu.
(Finally, please accept my heartfelt gratitude).
First published in The Philippine Star, October 7, 2019: https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/10/07/1957952/praise-career-diplomat-delia-domingo-albert