A Man for All Seasons

July 13, 2017 Juvy Dichoso

As a student at the University of the Philippines, Marciano de Borja studied History and European Languages, and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  He learned German, French and Spanish, and enjoyed Literature and loved to read books. He wasn’t quite sure what he would do after graduation, but he thought he might go to law school or become a professor of History. 

Apparently, fate had other plans for him. A good friend had just passed the Foreign Service Officer examination, and he challenged de Borja to also give it a try. “Looking back, I wasn’t really clear about my future profession, yet unknowingly I was preparing myself for this kind of career, because when I studied History I was focusing more on world history, international relations, and I also minored in Comparative Literature so I read and wrote extensively,” de Borja explained.

He applied for the exam just before the deadline, and then went off to Spain where he was given a scholarship for further studies at a Spanish university. De Borja would later find out that he had indeed passed the FSO exam, and the rest, you could say, is “history,” although in a different context than de Borja is typically associated with. 

He believed his love for learning about new languages and cultures has served him well so far in his diplomatic career. “It really helped me to understand the world and gain confidence in dealing with my counterparts,” de Borja said.

As a student, he recalled being inspired by a quote from Charles V, an emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, who simultaneously ruled Spain as Carlos Primero, or Charles the First. “His rule came at a time when Spain was at the height of its power,” de Borja said.

  The quote that resonated with the Consul General also happens to explain one of his favorite topics. “Charles the First once said, ‘The more languages a man knows, the more times he becomes a man,’” de Borja said. He added that the emperor understood the power of language, “because there’s a story about him that when he talks about diplomacy he uses French; when he talks about women he uses Italian; when he talks to God he uses Spanish; and when he talks about his horse, which is a metaphor for war, he talks in German. So this emperor knew the importance of language in dealing with so vast a dominion, and how it can influence the people,” de Borja explained.

The Consul General holds a Master’s degree in History and Geography from the University of Navarra in Spain. He also received a scholarship in International Politics from the University of Tokyo. That’s why he was well prepared for his first overseas posting as Vice Consul to Japan in 1997. He has also held posts in Chile and Spain, and was assigned to the Philippine Mission at the United Nations. He has been the Consul General for Guam, the CNMI, Palau, the FSM, and the Marshall islands since August of 2014. 

But his dream posting would be to return to New York as the Ambassador of the Philippines to the United Nations. That’s where his Foreign Service idol, Filipino hero Carlos P. Romulo, rose to international diplomatic prominence as the first Asian to serve as president of the UN General Assembly, and a four-time president of the UN Security Council. “He was a giant of Philippine diplomacy in the 20th century. He was one of those pioneer diplomats in our Foreign Service; he was really a great man. When we didn’t have a Foreign Service, when we were still a Commonwealth, he was the resident commissioner to Washington DC. He was also the permanent representative to the United Nations. I saw him as kind of a role model for people like me,” de Borja said.

He considered himself first and foremost a public servant, with an emphasis on the word servant. “I’m in the Foreign Service. Foreign is just an adjective to service. That’s the essence.”

The Consul General is the author of three books, and two of them deal with the Foreign Service: FSO IV: Starting a Career in the Philippine Foreign Service, and The State Department Boys: Philippine Diplomacy and its American Heritage.

He is considered a foremost expert in Philippine diplomatic history and is often invited to the Foreign Service Institute in Manila to lecture to new Foreign Service officers. He has a simple message for them, “if you’re joining the Foreign Service because you just want to see the world, of course that’s part of it, but we’re not going out of the country to be tourists. We’re there to serve the interests of our country, and our people. So if you don’t have that dedication, if you don’t have that spirit of sacrifice, it’s not going to be satisfying, at least not for me,” he warned.

The well-rounded diplomat also enjoys classical music. His grandfather was a musician, and de Borja played the clarinet in high school and college. And since arriving in Guam, he’s now learning to play golf. That might be his biggest challenge yet. Fore!



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