President Benigo Aquino 3rd conferred presidential awards to Filipino envoys a week before stepping down from office, on the 118th founding anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
“Nangiti po ako dahil pitong araw na lang po bababa na ako sa pwesto [I am smiling because I only have seven days left in office],” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Aquino related that the toughest ordeal he faced in foreign policy was the Arab Spring in 2011 when a revolutionary wave of demonstrations, riots and civil wars swept the Middle East, endangering the lives of Filipinos abroad.
“Sa panahong iyon, malubha na ang tensyon sa Libya, at napakadelikado na ng sitwasyon. Ang hamon po sa atin: Siguruhin ang kaligtasan ng ating mga kababayan doon, at ilikas sila sa ligtas na lugar [At that time, there was a serious tension in Libya and the situation was very dangerous. The challenge to us was to ensure the safety of our people there and evacuate them to safer places].”
“Ang masaklap, noong tinawagan at nakausap ko sa telepono ang ating embahador noong mga panahong iyon doon, ni isa po sa tanong ko, wala siyang tiyak na nasagot. Parati hong ‘mukha ho,’ ‘tila,’ ‘sabi nila’ [Sadly, when I called to our ambassador at that time, he had no serious answer to my questions. It was always ‘maybe, ‘it seems,’ ‘they said’],” said Aquino, adding that he himself did not know what to do because foreign policy was his Waterloo.
During those times, Jesus Yabe, undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs, and Nestor Padalhin, charge d’affaires in the Philippine Embassy in Syria, coordinated to and were able to evacuate and repatriate thousands of overseas Filipinos caught in the violence.
Their efforts were recognized on Thursday when they were conferred the Order of Sikatuna (grand cross/gold distinction) plums.
The award is bestowed on diplomats, officials and nationals of foreign states who have rendered exceptional and meritorious service to the country.
Along with Yabes and Padalhin, Ma. Theresa De Vega, chief coordinator at the office of the Secretary of DFA, also received the same distinction.
She was recognized for her accomplishments and contributions, specifically in building strategic partnerships with local and international institutions and stakeholders, enabling the DFA to promote national interests.
Thirteen other DFA officials and a social welfare officer were recognized for their exceptional and meritorious services to the country and received the Gawad Mabini award.
Foreign Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said the department was able to achieve diplomatic triumph for adhering to a foreign policy that is independent, principled and rules-based.
“As a result, the Philippines is now widely acknowledged as a vital and a responsible member of the global community. With bold reforms we have taken towards the highest standards of transparency integrity and accountability in the department [that]the world now acknowledges,” he said.