Hitting the ground running with Amb. Ma. Theresa Dizon-de Vega

Published November 14, 2021, 12:30 PM

by Carol RH Malasig

From Berlin to Seoul

TEAM PHILIPPINES All smiles as the Ambassador engaged with Team Philippines at the Embassy, immediately after her presentation of credentials

After a highly productive stint in Berlin, Ambassador Maria Theresa ‘Tess’ Dizon-de Vega is now the Philippines’ top envoy to South Korea. Three months in—quarantine included—the ambassador already has a good grasp of her new post, the same way it went in Germany and her posts prior.

I first met Ambassador Tess in 2013 when she was serving as the chief coordinator in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), one of the busiest roles in the department. Our then-group of reporters often wondered where she got her energy, working for long hours every single day and always being so cheerful even in the early mornings.

Come 2019, I’d have the chance to see her work once more. This time, in Germany. Proactive and diligent are things that always come to mind when I get to observe the ambassador at events. There’s always something to do to improve the relations between countries. BLURB

It also pays that she speaks multiple languages (English, Filipino, Spanish, German, French, Kapampangan, and, recently, she started Korean) and is well-rounded enough to have great conversations with just about anyone.

CLIMATE ACTION Planting trees with the diplomatic corps in Korea

A diplomatic spouse in Germany once asked me for tips on what her husband could discuss with Ambassador Tess, prior to an event at the Philippine Embassy, something to break the ice. I told her he could go from foreign policy to films (she releases her own, annual Oscars list), books, and even K-pop.

It’s no wonder that when I asked her how she was doing in Seoul, three months in, her response was “Busy!” with a chuckle. With her, you know it’s absolutely true.

Her move, in the middle of a pandemic, was a lot more difficult than usual. Diplomats pack their lives and move countries every few years. It’s tough as it is but with COVID-19 and the restrictions it came with, moving became more challenging for everyone. 

Like in most countries right now, ambassadors’ presentation of credentials is done with stricter measures to avoid the spread of disease. Similarly, at the Blue House, masks are worn at all times.

STYLE AND SUBSTANCE The Ambassador loves to represent Filipino weaves abroad

“Even before that (presentation of credentials), the protocols in Korea, which is similar to the protocols being followed in other countries, including the Philippines, is that we were able to do some preliminary work,” says Ambassador Tess. “Some engagements, protocol dictates, should be undertaken after the presentation of credentials. But there are some things which we can already do.”

Courtesy calls on colleagues from the diplomatic community, engaging with the Filipino community and other agencies up to a certain level, and even the day-to-day operations of the embassy were some of the things she has had to do while COVID-19 was dramatically changing things up. “So, prior to the presentation of credentials for the first month-and-a-half that I was in Korea, I’d been able to do quite a bit of those things already,” she recalls. “After presenting the credentials, then things really kick into high gear, so to speak.”

By the end of October, the Philippines and Korea concluded its negotiations for the free trade agreement (FTA). Done in hybrid format, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and Undersecretary for Industry Development and Trade Policy Ceferino Rodolfo joined the signing from Manila through a videocall. The ambassador and commercial counselor Jose Ma. Dinsay were on the ground with Korean trade minister Yeo Han Koo. The FTA comes at the right time. It is expected to boost trade and investment between the two countries recovering from the pandemic.

“​​South Korea is one of our most important export markets, especially for Philippine fresh fruits and vegetables. In particular, the conclusion of the FTA will mean better access and more competitive prices for our Philippine bananas,” the ambassador explains.

Vaccine mission. Amb. Dizon-de Vega with Vice Consul Reisha Olavario and Commercial Counsello Jose Ma. Dinsay visit the plant of Korean vaccine developer Eubiologics

On the defense side, cooperation is also robust. The Philippines is procuring frigates from Korea to help improve military capabilities. “We continue to receive a lot of delegations. Korea’s one of our most important and active bilateral partners. We also have the close engagement with them within multilateral platforms,” says Ambassador Tess.

It also pays that she speaks multiple languages (English, Filipino, Spanish, German, French, Kapampangan, and, recently, she started Korean) and is well-rounded enough to have great conversations with just about anyone.

As of now, Ambassador Tess is working on several things to keep improving Philippine relations  with South Korea, from engaging locals and the Filipino diaspora to even preparing for—soon, with hope—the gradual resumption of people-to-people exchanges in the tourism sector. “Pre-pandemic, Korea was the number one source of inbound tourists to the Philippines, just a shade under two million,” she says, added that there’s a lot to look forward to in how the embassy and the tourism department team will be promoting the country to Korean travelers once borders start opening up.

FROM THE PHILIPPINES TO SEOUL At her presentation of credentials at the Blue House, Amb. Dizon-de Vega with ROK President Moon Jae In, and Foreign Minister Chung Eui-Yong

She’s also working on film cooperation between the two countries as well as partnerships in the gaming sectors. The Philippines is participating at the G-Star gaming convention in Busan next week, giving a platform to our very own game developers. “We’d like to push our creative industries in Korea and, with hope, find collaborators among Korean companies also for content development for the global audience.”

When it comes to the medical field, the ambassador recently reported a commitment of 40 million doses from Korean developer Eubiologics, which is currently eyeing phase III clinical trials of its COVID-19 shots. She visited the plant in Chuncheon where technology transfer for vaccine development and manufacturing in the Philippines were also discussed.

Germany too donated vaccines, something that was discussed during her exit call on German foreign ministry officials. The first batch of 844,000 Astra Zeneca doses arrived in mid-October and 793,000 more arrived this week, on Nov. 10, incidentally her birthday.

Her work truly speaks for her and if her time in Germany is any indication, we should be very excited for what Ambassador Tess will be cooking up in Seoul.