Leading a transformation

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In 2016, a few days after officially stepping down due to health reasons, the former Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alberto F. del Rosario graced a testimonial luncheon organized in behalf of him by the nonprofit Makati Business Club (MBC), along with the American Chamber of Commerce, Bankers Association of the Philippines, Chamber of Mines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Management Association of the Philippines, and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In a speech, which was published by MBC, Mr. del Rosario said, “It has been three days since I retired from foreign service, and it has been a matter of great privilege and profound satisfaction to have served our country and the Filipino people under the leadership of His Excellency [former] President Benigno S. Aquino III, who also is the chief architect of our foreign policy.”

“My role was only to implement policy,” he said.

Over the course of his tenure, the Department of Foreign Affairs achieved great progress in transforming itself into, in the words of Mr. del Rosario, “an organization that is smarter, leaner and more proactive.”

A number of steps were taken to make this possible. And they included restoring morale by further strengthening the career service corps, with Mr. del Rosario noting that the department, at least by the time he left, had the “fewest political appointees as ambassadors in the history of DFA; upgrading economic diplomacy skills through a partnership with the Asian Institute of Management; developing effective strategies to negotiate and assert the rightful position of the country in the community of nations; encouraging foreign service personnel to reach beyond their grasp to promote the national interests; and endeavoring to ensure that the people of DFA were well provided for by continuing to update compensation and allowances, making provisions for a balance foreign posting system and encouraging their professional development.”

Also, the department was able to provide better assistance to more Filipinos who were in need of it. “Assistance to nationals remains a top priority for the Philippines. The DFA takes care of almost eight million overseas Filipinos on a 24/7 basis, in 174 countries, over 40 time zones,” Mr. Del Rosario said.

“Consequently, DFA has maintained its reputation as the ‘department that never sleeps’.”

In a span of three years, from 2012 to 2015, the department provided assistance to over 80,000 overseas Filipino workers and their families, with the Foreign Service personnel giving round-the-clock legal consular assistance, counseling, shelter and labor mediations. The department also did jail visitations and administered overseas absentee registration and voting, among other things.

“In an effort to bring DFA’s consular services closer to the people, 14 of the 19 regional consular offices were already mall-based as of 2015,” Mr. del Rosario said.

It was under his leadership that the department, through its 84 posts, was able to perform a better of role of promoting Philippine trade, investments, tourism and official development assistance (ODA).

“With the DFA strategic plan for economic and cultural diplomacy, we have presumed a one-country team approach and our posts have been guided by the following goals for economic diplomacy: strengthening of DFA structures and capacities in relation to economic activity, contributing to job generation, assisting in poverty reduction,” Mr. del Rosario said.

Since 2011, the DFA signed a total of 205 economic agreements concerning labor, trade, education and air services and twelve cultural agreements, while from 2011 to 2014 it was instrumental in securing $4.33 billion worth of ODA through various bilateral consultation mechanisms and economic diplomacy initiatives.

Mr. del Rosario also led the department in forging partnerships “to manage new realities on defense cooperation.” The department focused on engagement in challenges related to transnational crime, terrorism, maritime security and cooperation, and cooperation on humanitarian emergencies.

The DFA also helped expand the country’s defense and security engagements with its allies. “In 2015, we witnessed the deepening and broadening of the Philippines’ bilateral relations with Japan, Australia and Vietnam,” Mr. del Rosario said, adding that there were several agreements signed with Japan on the sidelines of the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s Economic Leaders’ Summit.

He also noted that DFA was able to facilitate the conclusion of 64 agreements the country had on political and defense security matters from 2011 to 2015.

Near the end of his speech, Mr. del Rosario said, “I am deeply saddened by having to step down prematurely from the cabinet. Including my posting as ambassador to Washington, it has been a total of 10 years that I have faithfully served our country.”

He concluded, “At the DFA, we did our best and we gave our all. It has been truly an honor and a privilege.”