Department of Foreign Affairs

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The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA; Filipino: Kagawaran ng Ugnayang Panlabas) is the executive department of the Philippine government tasked to “contribute to the enhancement of national security and the protection of the territorial integrity and national sovereignty, to participate in the national endeavor of sustaining development and enhancing the Philippines' competitive edge, to protect the rights and promote the welfare of Filipinos overseas and to mobilize them as partners in national development, to project a positive image of the Philippines, and to increase international understanding of Philippine culture for mutually beneficial relations with other countries.”[1] The current secretary of the department is Teodoro Locsin Jr.



General Emilio Aguinaldo, as the president of the Philippines, issued a decree that created the Department of Foreign Affairs, among other departments, on June 23, 1898, the day the First Philippine Republic was inaugurated in Malolos, Bulacan. As such, the DFA was among the first government departments to be established along with the proclamation of the First Philippine Republic, the others being the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Department of Trade and Industry. Apolinario Mabini was the department’s first secretary.

With the need for international recognition of the legitimacy of his government, Aguinaldo tasked Mabini with establishing diplomatic relations with friendly countries. Members of the Hong Kong Junta, a group of Filipino exiles in Hong Kong, served as the country’s envoys for this purpose.

Post-War Philippines

The Commonwealth government during the American colonial period did not actively craft and execute its foreign policy. The same was also the case during Japan's occupation of the Philippines. With the passing of Commonwealth Act No. 732 on July 4, 1946, the Department of Foreign Affairs was created, ushering in a period of full government control over the country’s foreign affairs and diplomatic matters. On September 16, 1946, President Manuel Roxas issued Executive Order No. 18 providing for the organization and operation of the DFA and the foreign service. Given the situation at the time, the primary functions of the DFA were to assist in postwar rehabilitation, make policies on the promotion of investment, and re-establish diplomatic ties with neighboring countries.

Among the other accomplishments of the DFA at the time were its proposed amendments to the Bell Trade Act, the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty, and the Laurel-Langley Agreement with the United States, which helped bolster trade and military relations with the US, and at the same time initiated the Philippines into independent foreign policymaking.

The DFA  participated in the international arena with increasing frequency after the war. With the changing international environment, new priorities in Philippine foreign policy were needed. The country anticipated a foreign policy that was increasingly internationalist as the world dealt with the Cold War, the Korean War in 1950, and the intensifying communism in China. The Philippines took part in the forging of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade or GATT in 1949. The country also became a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 and was among the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, it was one of the early proponents of disarmament and non-interference in the internal affairs of free peoples. With the Philippines' increased participation in global affairs, Carlos P. Romulo became the first Asian to be elected president of the UN General Assembly, in 1952.

Acknowledging the importance of foreign relations, President Elpidio Quirino pushed for the passage of the Foreign Service Law in June 1952, as embodied in Republic Act (RA) No. 708. During the post-war period, the Department of Foreign Affairs focused on institution-building, while working to increase the Philippines’ global exposure. In 1953, Secretary Raul S. Manglapus instituted the foreign service officers’ examination with the aim of professionalizing the foreign service and improving the recruitment and selection of new FSOs.

The Marcos Years

During Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency,  foreign policy was redefined as "the protection of Philippine independence, territorial integrity and national dignity," with emphasis on increased regional cooperation and collaboration. During his term, great stress was put on being Asian, with the government pursuing a policy of constructive unity and co-existence with other Asian states notwithstanding ideological differences.

In 1967, the Philippines initiated the formation of a regional association with other Southeast Asian countries, called the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). After Marcos’s visit to China in 1975 and the USSR in 1976, the Philippines managed to set up economic and diplomatic ties with the communist and socialist countries. The Philippines also opened embassies in the eastern bloc countries, and a separate mission to the European Common Market in Brussels.

Throughout the 1970s, the DFA promoted trade and investment, hosted international meetings, and participated in the meetings of the Non-Aligned Movement. Meanwhile, the Foreign Service Institute was created in 1976 to provide in-house training to foreign service personnel.

Post-EDSA 1986

After the 1986 EDSA Revolution, the country reverted to a democratic government under President Corazon C. Aquino. During this period, the DFA once again focused on development policy and sought opportunities for the country in trade, investment, finance, technology and aid. The DFA also revived its efforts to enhance the Philippines' place in the Asia-Pacific region.

In 1989, the Philippines became one of the founding members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The country also actively participated in regional efforts to establish the ASEAN Free Trade Area. In 1990, the DFA proposed the launch of more diplomatic missions to the Middle East to improve relations with Arab states and respond to the growing needs of overseas Filipino workers in the region.

In 1991, the senate, heeding the growing nationalist sentiments among the public, voted against extending the Military Bases Agreement. This symbolized the cutting of the political and ideological ties which had long linked the country to the United States. Also in 1991, President Aquino signed into law R.A. 7157, otherwise known as the New Foreign Service Law, which reorganized and strengthened the foreign service. It instituted a career minister eligibility examination as a requirement for promotion of FSOs to the rank of minister counselor, thereby ensuring the professional selection of those who would eventually rise to the level of career ambassadors.

Under Fidel V. Ramos Administration

The Fidel V. Ramos administration from July 1992 to June 1998 laid out four core areas of Philippine foreign policy: the enhancement of national security, promotion of economic diplomacy, protection of overseas Filipino workers and Filipino nationals abroad, and projection of a good international image of the country.

The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 provided the framework for the stronger protection of Filipino workers abroad. This was made possible with the creation of the Legal Assistance Fund and the Assistance to Nationals Fund and the designation in the DFA of a Legal Assistant for Migrant Workers’ Affairs with the rank of undersecretary.

Other significant events in foreign affairs during the Ramos years include the Philippine-initiated 1992 ASEAN adoption of the Declaration on the South China Sea, which sought to build confidence and avoid conflict among claimant states. Further such developments include the establishment of the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines (BIMP)-East Asia Growth area in 1994; the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1994 as the only multilateral security dialogue in the Asia-Pacific region conducted at the government level; and the signing of the Mindanao Peace Agreement between the Philippine Government and the MNLF on September 2, 1996.

Joseph Estrada Administration

The Joseph Estrada administration sustained the foreign policy thrusts of the previous administration, focusing on national security, economic diplomacy, assistance to nationals, and image-building. The Philippines remained an active player in the regional and multilateral arena. It successfully hosted the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in July 1998 and undertook confidence-building measures with China over the West Philippine Sea issue in a meeting held in March 1999. President Estrada oversaw the strengthening of bilateral ties with neighboring countries with visits to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea.

The DFA also actively participated in the forging of a Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, which was ratified in the senate. During this period, the country sent a delegation of 108 observers to the Indonesian parliamentary elections and engaged in cooperative activities in the areas of security, defense, economy, culture, combating transnational crimes, and protecting OFWs and Filipinos abroad.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Administration

At the beginning of her term in 2001, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, pursued foreign policy based on nine facts:

  • The dynamics of relations between China, Japan and the United States determine the security situation and economic evolution of East Asia.
  • Philippine foreign policy decisions are increasingly being made in the context of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
  • Europe will continue to play a significant role in promoting international prosperity and stability.
  • The international Islamic community remains crucial to the country's search for lasting and permanent peace in Mindanao.
  • Inter-regional organizations will become increasingly influential in the global context.
  • The protection of the environment, natural resources and maritime territory.
  • The drive for foreign markets and foreign direct investments will form a focal concern of economic diplomacy efforts.
  • International tourism will be a major driver of national growth.
  • Overseas Filipinos play a critical role in the country's economic and social stability.

Functions and Responsibilities

The objectives of the Department of Foreign Affairs are as follows:

  • To aid in the enhancement of national security and the protection of the territorial integrity and national sovereignty
  • To participate in sustaining development and enhancing the Philippines' competitive edge in a global milieu
  • To protect the rights and promote the welfare of Filipinos overseas and to mobilize them as partners in national development
  • To present a good image of the Philippines;
  • To further enhance the international understanding of Philippine culture for mutually-beneficial relations with other countries
  • To increase and maximize human, financial, technological and other resources in order to optimize the performance of the Department

List of Secretaries

# Name Term Began Term Ended President
Minister of Foreign Affairs
1 Apolinario Mabini January 21, 1899 May 7, 1899 Emilio Aguinaldo
2 Felipe Buencamino May 7, 1899 November 13, 1899
Secretary of Foreign Affairs
3 Elpidio Quirino July 5, 1946 April 15, 1948 Manuel Roxas
April 17, 1948 January 6, 1950 Elpidio Quirino
4 Felino Neri January 6, 1950 May 1950
5 Carlos P. Romulo May 1950 1951
6 Joaquin Miguel Elizalde April 18, 1952 December 30, 1953
7 Carlos P. Garcia December 30, 1953 March 18, 1957 Ramon Magsaysay
March 18, 1957 August 22, 1957 Carlos P. Garcia
8 Felixberto M. Serrano August 22, 1957 December 30, 1961
9 Emmanuel Pelaez December 30, 1961 1963 Diosdado Macapagal
10 Salvador P. Lopez 1963 1963
11 Carlos P. Romulo 1963 1964
12 Mauro Mendez 1964 1965
13 Narciso Ramos December 30, 1965 1968 Ferdinand Marcos
14 Carlos P. Romulo 1968 1978
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Carlos P. Romulo 1978 1984 Ferdinand Marcos
* Manuel Collantes 1984 1984
15 Arturo Tolentino 1984 1985
* Pacifico A. Castro 1985 February 25, 1986
Secretary of Foreign Affairs
16 Salvador Laurel March 25, 1986 February 2, 1987 Corazon Aquino
17 Manuel Yan February 2, 1987 October 15, 1987
18 Raul Manglapus October 15, 1987 June 30,1992
19 Roberto Romulo June 30,1992 May 1, 1995 Fidel Ramos
20 Domingo Siazon, Jr. May 1, 1995 June 30, 1998
June 30, 1998 January 20, 2001 Joseph Estrada
21 Teofisto Guingona Jr. February 9, 2001 July 15, 2002 Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
* Gloria Macapagal Arroyo July 15, 2002 July 16, 2002
22 Blas Ople July 16, 2002 October 14, 2003
* Franklin Ebdalin October 14, 2003 October 22, 2003
23 Delia Albert October 22, 2003 August 18, 2004
24 Alberto Romulo August 23, 2004 June 30, 2010
June 30, 2010 February 23, 2011 Benigno Simeon Aquino III
25 Albert del Rosario February 23, 2011 March 7, 2016
* Jose Rene Almendras March 8, 2016 June 30, 2016
** Perfecto R. Yasay, Jr. June 30, 2016 March 9, 2017 Rodrigo Duterte
* Enrique Manalo March 9, 2017 May 17, 2017
26 Alan Peter Cayetano May 18, 2017 October 17, 2018
27 Teodoro Locsin Jr. October 17, 2018 Incumbent