BOOK REVIEW: THE STATE DEPARTMENT BOYS – Philippines Diplomacy and Its American Heritage

by Rose Churma

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary on July 4th of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Philippines, this issue’s book review is on Marciano de Borja’s insightful look at the evolution of Philippine diplomacy.

In anticipation of granting independence to the fledgling republic, the US Department of State inaugurated the Philippine Foreign Affairs Training Program in Washington D.C. at the end of 1945, with the intent of training the first group of Filipinos in diplomatic and consular work.

Forty Filipino men were selected to undergo training in diplomatic and consular work. These trainees eventually formed an initial officers’ corps and are considered the pioneering Filipino diplomats and were collectively called the “State Department Boys” hence the title of this book.

These “boys” were among those originally called “pensionados” or government scholars who were sent to the United States during the American colonial period.

The 40 men were divided into five groups, and in Group III were Emilio Behasa, Juan Dionisio and Alejandro Yango the three would eventually be assigned to Hawaii. Emilio Behasa would serve as Consul General in Honolulu from July 1953 to August 1957; followed by Juan Dionisio in September 1957 to January 1962; and Alejandro Yango from January 1962 to June 1966.

The Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. was the first and logical diplomatic mission established after Philippine Independence in July 1946, with Joaquin Miguel Elizalde as the first Philippine Ambassador to the United States.

The book notes that the embassy preceded the establishment of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila or the Philippine Foreign Service. To further strengthen Philippine relations with the United States and to provide consular services to the 50,000+ Filipinos in American then, three Philippine Consulate General locations were established soon after in New York City in September 25, 1946; in San Francisco in December 2, 1946; and in Honolulu on January 9, 1947 with Modesto Farolan as head of mission.

By 1950, aside from the three Consulates General in New York City, San Francisco and Honolulu, there were five other consulates in Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, Portland and Seattle, and an honorary consulate in Agana, Guam.

One of the first initiatives of Consul General Modesto Farolan when he arrived in Hawaii was to establish the Philippine Memorial Foundation Ltd. which would be instrumental in raising funds from the local Filipino community to enable the foundation to purchase a large property in Nu’uanu to house the consulate. The foundation leased the property to the consular mission, using the rental income to cover its amortization fees.

When Juan Dionisio (one of the State Department Boys) headed the mission in 1957, he started the negotiation to purchase the property for the Philippine government, finalizing the purchase in 1961. Before he left office, he also organized the formation of the United Filipino Council of Hawaii (UFCH) and its island councils, and after leaving the foreign service, established the Hawaii Filipino News in the mid 1980s.

The author, Marciano R. de Borja is a career diplomat. His most recent post was Minister of the Philippine Mission to the United Nations in New York City. He holds degrees from the University of the Philippines and the University of Navarra in Spain and studied international politics at the University of Tokyo.

Albert F. del Rosario, the former Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs commends Mr. de Borja – whom he calls the department’s prolific in-house diplomat-historian – “for coming up with a well-researched book – a real contribution to Philippine diplomacy.”  

ROSE CRUZ CHURMA is a retired architect who now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books, write about them and encourage others to write. Her online bookstore, Kalamansi Books and Things (facebook.com/kalamansibooks), promotes Filipiniana books and publications by Filipino-Americans. Email her at kalamansibooks@gmail.com.

Read More Book Reviews:
BOOK REVIEW: Ilocano Responses to American Aggression 1900-1901
BOOK REVIEW: MAKING MINDANAO, Cotabato and Davao in the Formation of the Philippine Nation-State


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