DFA Foundation Day and "Mabinian" Diplomacy
By Rudy Arizala
23 June 2010
On 23 June 2010, we celebrate the 112th anniversary of the establishment of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The basis of such celebration is the letter of Mr. Esteban A. de Ocampo then Chairman of the National Historical Institute dated 06 February 1978 to Foreign Secretary Carlos P. Romulo. In said letter, Chairman De Ocampo told Secretary Romulo that on 23 June 1898, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo issued a Decree changing the Dictatorial Governent to a Revolutionary Government and creating the Department of Foreign Affairs. He further informed Secretary Romulo: “Your choice of June 23 as 'Department of Foreign Affairs Day' is historically valid and correct.”
Consequently, the President of the Philippines (Ferdinand E. Marcos), issued on 24 February 1978, Presidential Proclamation No. 1717 declaring that “June 23 of every year as Department of Foreign Affairs Day”. Since then, every 23rd of June is celebrated as “Department of Foreign Affairs Day.”10
II. The First Secretary of Foreign Affairs
Incidentally, contrary to popular belief, Apolinario Mabini was not the first person to discharge or exercise the function of foreign affairs. According to Chairman De Ocampo in his letter to Foreign Secretary Romulo: “May we inform your office that the first Acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs was President Emilio Aguinaldo. This fact is expressl stated in the second paragraph of Article 1 of Gen. Aguinaldo's decree dated July 15, 1898.” Aguinaldo's Decree of 15 July 1898, states as follows in Spanish: “El despacho del ramo de Relaciones Exteriores, Marina y Comercio estara provisionalmente a cargo de la Presidencia, hasta que se nombre el secretario mas apto.”
Translated to English, it reads: “The office of Foreign Relations, Marine and Commerce shall be temporarily under the Presidency until a secretary most suitable shall have been appointed.”
General Aguinaldo later offered the secretaryship of the department to Apolinario Mabini which the later declined due to his poor health. It was offered to Cayetano Arellano. On the expectation that Arellano would take the job as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Mabini in the meanwhile took temporary charge of most of the business dealing with foreign affairs. Eventually, Mabini became the Secretary of Foreign Affairs officially in January 1899.
This is what Mabini said on the matter: “Although Mr. Arellano had not yet assumed office of Foreign Affairs, his deputy, Don Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, had taken over the business of the Department, so that I was simply Mr. Aguinaldo's private adviser. I assumed office (Secretary of Foreign Affairs) on the 2nd of January 1899.”
Be that as it may, in a speech delivered by Foreign Minister Carlos P. Romulo on the occasion of the 80th foundation anniversary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Maharlika Hall, Malacanang on 23 June 1978, he said: “It is fitting that on this day, the 80th anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, we should look back to its founder, the first man to hold the portfolio of Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the First Republic and one of the greatest heroes of our country – Apolinario Mabini.”
III. “Mabinian” and Modern Day Diplomacy
According to Foreign Minister Romulo, the foreign policy that Mabini charted for the Philippines was “to establish immediate relations with as many foreign countries as possible, in order to strengthen the bargaining powers of the revolutionary government against the American adversaries.”
It may be stated in this connection that during the Aguinaldo government, diplomatic committees or juntas (not embassies or missions as we know today) were established abroad such as the United States, United Kingdom, France and Australia. A junta was also established in Hong Kong. The main objectives of Philippine diplomacy at that time were to obtain the sympathy of foreign countries; to gain recognition of Philippine independence; and to purchase armaments and ammunitions for the Aguinaldo Army.
However, Apolinario Mabini who formally assumed the post of Secretary of Foreign Affairs on 02 January 1899, did not last long in the service of the Aguinaldo Goveernment for Mabini and the other members of the cabinet resigned “en masse” on 04 May 1899 due to differences in policies on how to conduct the affairs of government vis-a-vis the war against the American forces. Said resignations were accepted by President Aguinaldo on 07 May 1899. Aguinaldo appointed Felipe Buencamino as Secretary of Foreign Affairs as replacement of Mabini.
The Aguinaldo Goveernment failed to obtain recognition of Philippine Independence by foreign governments despite the best efforts of Aguinaldo's diplomats due to our defeat in the battlefield and the signing of the 1898 Paris Treaty of Peace between the United States and Spain.
The world of Mabini in 1898-1899 within which he implemented the foreign policy of the Aguinaldo Government, was difficult being a country having declared its independence, struggling for recognition in the family of nations and at the same time at war with two big powers at that time. Yet, the world of today requires the same, if not more patriotism, dedication, brains and skills to attain the three main objectives of modern diplomacy: 1) national security; 2) economic development; and 3) general welfare of its nationals at home and abroad.
Aside from “Mabinian” talent, spirit of self-abnegation, enlightened nationalism and abiding love of country, modern day diplomacy requires also the intellectual brilliance of a Metternich, audacity of a Bismarck, and the diplomatic savvy of a Talleyrand.