In the 30 years that he has been a diplomat in the service of the State Department of the United States, Ambassador Sung Kim has “never made more friends” than right here in the Philippines. And he’s been everywhere, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, etc.
The quote is not new. The ambassador has said goodbye more or less officially a number of times beginning last December, when he was instructed to wind down, pack up for his next assignment, Jakarta. Whether State Secretary Mike Pompeo couldn’t find someone with the right shoe size for the Manila posting or the ambassador’s angels heard his secret wish, the fact is Mr. Kim is really leaving us this time, in a few days.
Four years in the Philippines and events conspired to make him an extraordinary diplomat, one to remember for a long time. On the day President Duterte granted Joseph Scott Pemberton absolute pardon for the homicide death of Jennifer Laude, the ambassador was in Malacañang to receive the Order of Sikatuna, the highest reserved for very special friends of the Philippines. Like everyone in the room, Mr. Kim was taken by surprise at the President’s news. Would he have been surprised to learn that two predecessors, Philip Goldberg and Harry Thomas, were not similarly honored?
Less controversial and definitely much more dramatic was the history-making return of the Balangiga bells to the people of Samar in December 2018. The perfect Christmas gift it was, one that Secretary Pompeo attributed to a century-long wait for the stars to align, even if the ringing of the bells was not music to the ears of certain American legislators who did not look kindly at Sung Kim for his role in working for and ensuring their journey home.
For the many friends he will leave behind, the good ambassador has a simple gift: a pictorial record, published 2019, of America’s “culturally significant properties” abroad. With India, France, Czech Republic, and Italy, the Philippines is among only five countries with more than one heritage building featured, viz., the embassy in Manila and the Ambassador’s Residence in Camp John Hay in Baguio, which the ambassador and his family were quite fond of.
Mabuhay, Excellency! Mind you, Manila is only four hours away from Jakarta.