His Excellency

Mr Teodoro Lopez Locsin, Jr

Ambassador of the Philippines

The Philippines new Ambassador His Excellency Mr Teodoro Lopez Locsin, Jr declares: “I must have been the least travelled foreign secretary in history, because you couldn’t travel anywhere!” He was his country’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs between 2018 and 2022, a period that principally covered the health pandemic and rise of China as the world’s biggest economy. “Our work had to be done by Zoom, which was quite testing,” he recalls. “We had to condense the issues, and only bring up matters of top priority that absolutely had to be resolved. A gain in directness came with loss of nuance. This was not a problem between Asians who understood the likelihood that some things were left unsaid and made allowances for it. But with great powers misunderstanding grew.”  

Thankfully, the Ambassador – also known as ‘Teddy Boy’ – had extensive expertise in this area, having served as speechwriter to Presidents Corazon Aquino, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo between 1987 and 2006. Before he became the Philippines’ top diplomat, Locsin was already a journalist and editorial writer in the family news magazine that was founded in 1908 and shut down by the military on 21 September 1972 upon the declaration of martial law. After the restoration of democracy 13 years later he published two newspapers where he wrote a column and various editorials. Locsin was also a congressman representing the country’s equivalent of Wall Street for three terms from 2001 to 2010 – the constitutional limit imposed by the 1987 Constitution he helped ratify, although, he admits, not all of it to his satisfaction.

The Ambassador and his wife Maria Lourdes Barcelon Locsin arrived in the capital a couple of weeks ahead of the Coronation. “I had to be registered with Protocol as President Bongbong Marcos was attending, so it was important that I was here to receive him. The ASEAN Summit took place in Indonesia during that same week, so it was quite an operation getting him to fly into the UK, and then to Westminster in time for the service. Baffled by the challenge of heavy traffic, the President, who had studied at Worth School in Sussex, told him “Let’s take the Gatwick Express.” They were in central London in 40 minutes.

Considering his life’s work, Ambassador Locsin notes, “I believe my various careers have chosen me, rather than the other way round. As the heir to my father’s newspaper, I started work there at the age of 17.” His father was Teodoro Montelibano Locsin, Sr., an influential journalist and publisher of one of the oldest and most respected weekly magazines in the country, The Philippines Free Press. “When the Free Press was shut down during World War II, my father joined the Philippine resistance against Japan for which he was decorated.

“The Free Press was alone in exposing military plans to impose martial law in the face of leftist riots in the capital. Marcos’s inauguration ceremony as re-elected President was attacked in what looked like a reprise of Jakarta 1965, which had toppled populist Indonesian President Sukarno. Among those caught on camera leading the rioters was the same Filipino Jesuit priest who had organised the riots Jakarta. The Free Press exposés invited scathing attacks from the Senate; but when martial law was declared the patrician Senate got little support from the populace. The Free Press and all the newspapers were forced to shut down but two.”

The Ambassador went to Jesuit law school where he graduated with honours and went on to work one of the largest law firms in the country. After several years he took a leave and went to Harvard Law School.

He then joined Corazon Aquino who led the People Power Revolution of 1986, also joining her Cabinet. “Aquino convinced me to run for Congress to show my mettle. It was a tough fight; I had to connect with every voter.”  He won three congressional terms, and authored the Anti-Money Laundering Law, the Anti-Terrorism Act, the Expanded Value Added Tax (which made its proponents lose their seats except Locsin who gave them all the credit knowing how unpopular taxes are.) At the urging of the US Treasury, he wrote the Securitisation Act allowing mortgages of mostly bad debts to be traded. He says he emasculated the bill to prevent what transpired in the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. He also crafted and sponsored the privatisation of National Electric Grid.

He concedes that the job and all it had to offer enabled him to go on to become the Philippines’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations (2017-18). “At the time, I was news presenter on TV until the new President summoned me. Two weeks later, I got a letter appointing me to the UN post.”  

It was here that the Ambassador’s speech writing career once again was an asset. During my time on TV, I had been given three minutes to deliver my take on the news. As it turned out, one has only three minutes to speak at the UN, so I had no problem with brevity. Soon diplomats from other countries came to me to prune their pieces. I advised them to stop addressing the Secretary General; worse yet thanking the audience for its attention. You didn’t get that anyway and you lost a minute with bromides. So, we became quite popular with colleagues in that regard.”

He continues: “I learnt a lot from that diplomatic experience. There were times in which I didn’t quite agree with the vote I was instructed to cast. But one conversation I had with a diplomat when the vote concerned his country has stuck with me since. I was fulminating against my home office. He said: ‘That’s enough. Now we know where your heart is—with us. Now you obey your government because that is what we are here for.’ This changed how I saw diplomacy. An ambassador was not a man paid to lie for his country abroad and just lobby for a post-retirement job in a multilateral institution. It was never to lie to colleagues. Diplomacy is impossible without honour.”

He recalls watching Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan speak at the UN General Assembly. “He was the most magnetic speaker I’d ever seen. He was tall with a powerful smile and a dominating stage presence. He was as pleased and encouraged when booed as when he was cheered; both told him he had the audience in his grip.”

Considering his role in the UK, Ambassador Locsin notes: “During my time in government, our principle military relationship has been with the United States. Our independent foreign policy rests on the assumption that we would go all-out in either other’s defence. We are lucky it hasn’t been tested. Until now, our experience with the UK has been limited by distance; it is now bridged by our President who has a huge personal affinity for the country.  In the defence arena, the UK has something to offer that has nothing to do with military hardware. Fighting is in the British blood. We can learn best how to defend ourselves if we train with the British. So that’s my mandate.”

Of the so-called three pillars of Philippine diplomacy, Locsin regards the principal pillar to be the protection and care of Filipino overseas workers. “Largely due to their hard work, discipline and honesty, our overseas workers are mostly well treated; sadly, they are sometimes abused. To ensure that the rights of these Filipinos are protected, and their welfare safeguarded, the Embassy provides legal, consular, and other forms of assistance.” He continues, “when I presented my Credentials to King Charles III, he spoke warmly of the contribution of Filipino nurses and care workers in the NHS system, and particularly during the health pandemic. We’re all very proud of that.”

Ahead of COP28, Ambassador Locsin admits that “the Philippines is the third largest plastics polluter in the world. But we are investing serious money to change that.”

When he is away from his desk, Ambassador Locsin has long been a fan of browsing London’s book shops. “This is a solid hobby that I inherited from my father. As he used to say: book collecting is the cheapest hobby and the most satisfying. The only frustration is that I’m unable to travel with my collection.” Away from his books, Ambassador Locsin is hugely active on social media. With over 650,000 followers, he is sure to keep us continuously updated with his activities in the capital, and beyond.