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Review by Amb. (ret.) Edward Marks

The State Department Boys: Philippine Diplomacy and Its American Heritage by Marciano R. de Borja, Vellum Press, 2014, ISBN-13: 978-0991504787, 388 pp., Hardcover $38.00. Paperback $22.75

The State Department Boys is actually three studies in one, literary triplets under one cover. The first and most obvious is the story of the Department of State’s Philippine Foreign Affairs Training Program, which trained the first groups of Filipinos in diplomatic and consular work. The second is the story of these Philippine diplomats as they went on to create and staff the diplomatic and consular missions of an independent Republic of the Philippines. The third story is a fond and touching memorial to Edward W. Mill, an American Foreign Service Officer who directed the training program and is remembered in Manila as the “Father of the Philippine Foreign Service.” All together they weave an absorbing story of diplomatic professionalism and camaraderie.

It began before Philippine independence on July 4, 1946 when the Department of State agreed to train the first officers of in incipient Philippine Foreign Service. Forty selectees, divided into five groups, participated in a training course at the Department and then went on to internship type postings to U.S. Foreign Service posts. The trainees eventually formed the initial officer corps of the Philippine Foreign Service, many of its most distinguished officers, and were fondly and collectively labeled the “State Department Boys.” The story is a joint one; it is about the Filipino pioneers in their country’s diplomacy but also about the American participation in that story. Not that the prominent American heritage in Philippine diplomacy was surprising, given the dominant American role in modern Philippines history since the Spanish-American War.

The story is full of interesting insights into both Philippine and American diplomatic history. Who knew that the first actual Philippine exchange of ambassadors was arranged during the war between Tokyo and the Japanese organized puppet Government of the Philippines?

Following independence from the U.S. after the war, the Filipino trainees for the projected new Philippine Foreign Service arrived in early December 1945 and were enrolled in the then Foreign Service Officers Training School, the earlier incarnation of today’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI). Interestingly, the trainees – all of whom had academic credentials equal to that of entering American FSOs, mostly from American institutions – then underwent a significantly more exhaustive program than their American colleagues. They began with a five week orientation and training program, later extended, which included department organization and practice, overseas operations, political and economic reporting, commercial and consular work. Then they joined an American “A-100” junior officers course for that six-week program. The first Filipinos took a series of five examinations during this process and later groups a seven-hour graded exam, in dramatic comparison with the one general examination given to the new American vice consuls. Upon graduation, many of the trainees were then detailed to American embassies for field training and exposure, usually for about three months. The Filipinos participated in the program from December 1945 to September 1947 in programs that eventually extended up to six months.

While the difference in approach obviously reflected a then prevalent colonial perspective, the comparison between these two processes might be worthy of further review, both in terms of what went on then, and what goes on today with the current FSI A-100 course barely able to keep its attendees occupied for less two months.

The penultimate chapter is a tribute to Edward W. Mill, an American Foreign Service Officer who served as the director of the Philippine Foreign Affairs Training Program and was given the informal title of “Father of the Philippine Foreign Service” by his former students who referred to him as “Chief.” Mill designed the program with only three months warning and directly supervised it. Mill was not originally a career officer but had extensive academic credentials and government service and did go on to several diplomatic postings, including Manila in 1948 where he was the toast of the his former students.

But the great bulk of the book describes the trials and tribulations of creating a department of foreign affairs and a diplomatic service for a newly independent country, and thus provides a diplomatic history of the Philippines up to 1986 when the last of the State Department boys retired. That the history is full of good stories about interesting people and historic events amply illustrates that the lamentable American practice of persistently inserting domestic politics and political influence in the operations of an ostensibly professional diplomatic service is not unique to the U.S. Introduction of a “Spoils System” into the Philippine Department of State became a subject of public discussion as early as 1954. Still, this history should be part of the education of Filipino diplomats and will be instructive to their American colleagues as well, especially those fortunate enough to be assigned to Manila.

The final chapter is entitled “Leaving a Legacy” and tries to sum up the legacy of the Philippine Foreign Affairs Training Program, both for the trainees themselves but possibly more important for Philippine-American relations. The author claims it was a great success for both, and the book is also a worthy memorial to Edward Mill and his Filipino students, the last of whom died in 2009. Their memory is well served by this book.End.

American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy

AuthorEdward Marks is a retired Foreign Senior Service officer. He serves on the board of the American Foreign Service Association.

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