Meeting With Staff and Families of Embassy Manila

John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy Manila
Manila, Philippines
December 17, 2013

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very, very much. Magandang gabi. (Laughter.) I’m going to let you have it. What?


SECRETARY KERRY: Almost. Well, come here. Come here. Come here. How should I say it? (Laughter.) All right. Give me the right way.

AUDIENCE: Magandang gabi.

SECRETARY KERRY: Magandang gabi. (Applause and cheering.) So he’s not such a good teacher. (Laughter.)

Anyway, it is wonderful to be here in this historic Embassy. And thank you all for the privilege of sharing a few thoughts with all of you being here.

First of all, you are very blessed to have one of the best in the entire Foreign Service. This guy has worked on so many different initiatives. He’s been in Latin America; he’s been in Bosnia, the Bosnia team – of the Dayton Accords. He’s worked with Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott. He has been the bureau chief of INR, as you know – intelligence and research. And you’ve got the right person for this moment out here. He’s a professional, and I’m delighted that he’s representing our country as ambassador. And you’re lucky to have him. Anyway, thank you. (Applause.)

And Brian Goldbeck – it’s hard to see him. Somewhere he’s here. I met him as I came in. Brian (inaudible).

PARTICIPANT: He’s back here somewhere.

SECRETARY KERRY: Brian’s hiding back there, but he shouldn’t be hiding, because as all of you know, his leadership was essential during the period of the typhoon response, and Ben Hemingway and Amy Reardon, the DART team, the extraordinary work that all of you did.

There are so many people I want to run through all of the names but the Citizen Service piece – everything we did was actually stunning, linking people to aid, getting aid, finding the $45 million, rapidly getting it out there. Where’s Colonel Wylie? Is he here somewhere? No, not here. Well, obviously the job that JUSMAG did in terms of operations and coordination, flying so many people from Tacloban and bringing them up to Manila and everything – it’s really an extraordinary story.

I know you guys have a huge tradition here, the sort of one team, one mission concept. But you gave that more meaning than almost any embassy in the entire world. And every one of you should applaud everybody else here, because it’s an extraordinary story. Thank you for doing what you do. (Applause.)

I understand we’ve got a few very special people here. Cesar Buensuceso has worked in HR 30 years. Cesar, I gather is here. Not here. Well, tell him we did him a shout-out and – (laughter) – his absence was noticed. (Laughter.)

How about Lourdes Apolinario? No, she’s not here? She’s also – she’s served 34 years. She knows better than to be here. Excelsa Espiritu. Excelsa. Is Excelsa here? Likewise, they’ve all worked so long they’ve earned the privilege to going home early. (Laughter.)

Well, will you thank them for me? Because honestly, for all of you who are local hires – and we have over 1,000 of them here – we cannot do what we do without you. And everybody is so grateful. There are almost 400, about 350 to 400 folks, here who are direct hires and some of them are Civil Service and some are Foreign Service officers, some political appointees and some third nationals. But we are hugely grateful to all of you from the Philippines who make it possible for us to know what we’re doing and to put the right face on America. So every one of us join in saying thank you to you for the job you do. (Applause.)

I’m going to be very quick, because I want to have a chance to shake some hands and take a few photos as we run out of here. But let me just tell you what a great, great privilege it is for me to be back here. I had always had this thing in my mind about the Philippines because my grandfather’s cousin was a governor-general here back in 1909, 1912. And so he came back with all this beautiful mahogany wood and narra wood – (laughter) – unbelievable baskets and different things, and we grew up with these things, looking at them, and we admired them. And I would say, wow, that’s an amazing place, I want to go.

And when I became a senator, the first place I went to, not so much because of that but because I had heard so many stories about what was happening in terms of political repression and the Marcos regime and abuse and so forth that I wanted to come here. And I spent five hours with Ferdinand Marcos in the Malacanang Palace and was convinced after that conversation that the United States needed to change its policy.

And so the first amendment I ever passed as a young senator was about the Philippines, and we changed our foreign aid program to make it conditional. And Marcos got kind of angry at me, but figured he was going to show this young whippersnapper senator who was boss, and he called a snap election in order to re-legitimize himself.

Well, NAMFREL and lot of dedicated people here in the Philippines had a different idea, and they created a network of poll watching and accountability and transparency. So when that election took place, we knew what was happening with the voting. We weren’t able to prove it until 13 courageous women walked out of the polling counting computer center, took refuge in the church, and I went and met with them at the cathedral, and they stood up and told their story of how they were putting legitimate vote counts that gave Cory Aquino the victory into the computers but coming out on the tote board was completely fictitious numbers worked towards Marcos.

We blew the lid off of the fraudulent election and within weeks Ronald Reagan pulled the rug out from under him, sent his top aide over here, top senator, friend, Paul Laxalt delivered the message and Marcos was gone. That shows you what you can do. That’s called accountability, democracy, people power. That’s what it was called.

So as I come here now, we’re at this (inaudible) in terms of American foreign policy and the world we’re living in. There are huge challenges all around the planet. And every country is in play, in a sense, because there are too many places where there’s failed governments or failing governments or near-failed states, or failed states. And we need to prove successes. We need to show that we can respond to people’s needs. In this incredible economic transformation that’s taking place, an awful lot of people making a lot of money and an awful lot of people being left behind. And what we’re going to need to do is even that out and work at this as we create our trade agreements, as we work at the governance issues, as we bring healthcare, and build capacity in countries.

That’s the challenge of American foreign policy today, and each and every one of you should be really excited about being on the cutting edge of this global transformation taking place. There are a lot of folks I know that I run into – when I ran for president, went around the country, I’d meet a lot of people who hated their jobs, and you knew they got up in the morning and the only reason they went to work was to survive and pay the bills, but not because they loved their work. This work we all have the privilege of really loving, because we can make a difference in the lives of other people and meet people and be ambassadors – every single one of us – for our nation and for our values. And those of you who are Filipino who share those values, share those affections, you can be part of that journey, because it’s yours as much as ours.

So I want to thank all of you for being part of this. Thank you for choosing to do what you do. And I look forward over the next three years – unless I screw up royally – (laughter) – to continuing to work with all of you to help make this happen. Thank you all, and God bless. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/T20-11