To begin their tour of duty, every new ambassador to the Philippines goes through an official ceremony called the Presentation of Credentials to the President of the Philippines. This ceremony is a diplomatic requirement in which the Philippine government formally recognizes an ambassador as the official representative of his or her country. During the ceremony, the new ambassador presents to the President of the Philippines a document called a “letter of credence,” which accredits him or her to deal with the Philippine government in a diplomatic capacity, with appropriate rank.
There are different types of ambassadors. A nonresident ambassador represents more than one country. An ambassador-at-large is assigned to operate within a specific region, or represent organizations such as the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. More commonly known is the resident ambassador, tasked to represent his or her country.
In all cases ambassadors present their credentials personally to the President in his capacity as head of state. However, nonresident ambassadors and the ambassadors-at-large mainly present their credentials during less formal ceremonies that do away with the traditional military honors and flourishes. The resident ambassadors present their credentials in the most formal way, typically with honors on par with a visiting head of state or government. Below is a diagram of the procedures and protocol as established during the Third Republic (1946-1973), adopted from the late Ambassador Luis Moreno Salcedo’s A Guide to Protocol, published in 1959. The protocol of that era remains the basis of these ceremonies to this day.
Excerpt from A Guide to Protocol by Ambassador Luis Moreno Salcedo:
The Chief of Protocol informs the Ambassador of the day and time when he will be received by the President.
Shortly before the hour indicated, the Chief of Protocol, accompanied by the Junior Aide to the President, proceeds to the Ambassador’s residence in the President’s car, with two motorcycle escorts and other cars for the members of the Ambassador’s staff. In the automobile, the Junior Aide sits to the left of the Chief of Protocol. The Chief of Protocol and the Aide are met at the door of the Embassy by a diplomatic officer who accompanies them to the drawing room. Here the Ambassador receives them and presents the officials of his staff.
The Ambassador and the member of his staff are in uniform, with decorations, when this is allowed by their regulations. Otherwise, they may wear ordinary suits. Not more than six members of the diplomatic staff usually accompany the Ambassador.
The party proceeds to Malacañang in the following order:
- The members of the Embassy staff occupy the cars immediately preceded by the motorcycle escorts, in the reverse order of their precedence. Hence, the lowest ranking officers occupy the car following the motorcycle escorts and the highest ranking officers occupy the car immediately preceding the President’s automobile.
- The Ambassador, the Chief of Protocol and the Junior Aide to the President sit in the President’s car.
- In the President’s automobile, the Ambassador is seated to the right of the Chief of Protocol, with the Junior Aide to the President seated on the folding seat in front of the Chief of Protocol. For this purpose, the Chief of Protocol goes in first and occupies the left end of the rear seat of the automobile. The Ambassador then steps in and occupies the right side of the rear seat. The Junior Aide goes around the automobile and occupies his seat by passing through the left rear door.
The Reception Ceremonies. Upon arriving at Malacañang, the Ambassador’s staff is led by an officer of the Presidential Guards to one side of the main entrance, outside the chapel. The Ambassador stands in front of his staff, facing the military band. He is flanked by the Chief of Protocol to his right and the Junior Aide to his left. A unit of the Presidential Guards then presents arms and the band plays the National Anthem of the Ambassador’s country.
At the conclusion of the playing of the anthem, the Ambassador, followed by his staff, ascends the staircase of Malacañang. They are met at the head of the staircase by the Senior Aide to the President. At this point, the chandeliers in the Reception Hall are simultaneously lighted.
The Senior Aide is presented to the Ambassador and the party proceeds to the Reception Hall where they are arranged as follows: The Ambassador, flanked on his right by the Chief of Protocol, and on his left by the Senior Aide, stands in front of the table in the center of the Hall. Behind them, and to their right, the members of the Ambassador’s staff are arranged in the order of their precedence by the Ceremonial Officer.
In the Ceremonial Hall, the President stands at the end of the Hall, beneath and to the rear of the last chandelier. One foot behind and two feet to his right is the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Two feet to his left and one foot behind is the Executive Secretary. Between the latter and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs is the place of the Senior Aide. The Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs is one foot behind and two feet to the right of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, while one foot to the left and two feet behind the Executive Secretary is the Malacañang Protocol Officer. Approximately five feet behind the President, and to his right and left, are the national colors and the presidential standard respectively. They are set about ten feet apart.
The President and his accompanying officials are therefore arranged as follows:
The Senior Aide withdraws from the Reception Hall to announce to the President the Ambassador’s arrival, and to inquire if the President is ready to receive him. As soon as the President is ready, the Senior Aide returns and informs the Chief of Protocol that the President will be pleased to receive the Ambassador.
The curtains separating the Ceremonial Hall from the Reception Hall are drawn aside by the attendants, and the chandeliers in the Ceremonial Hall are likewise lighted. The Ambassador, with the Chief of Protocol to his right and the Senior Aide to his left, enters the South Room. Inside the entrance, they pause and bow slightly to the President. They continue walking towards the President and stop when approximately six feet in front of him. The Senior Aide, however, continues advancing and takes his position behind the President and between the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Executive Secretary.
In the meantime, the Ceremonial Officer of the Foreign Office escorts the members of the Ambassador’s staff to the Ceremonial Hall. They stand, single file, at a distance sufficiently near to witness the whole ceremony, but far enough so as not to divert attention from the Ambassador.
The Chief of Protocol Presents the Ambassador as follows:
Mr. President: I have the honor to present the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of (name of country) to the Republic of the Philippines, His Excellency (name of Ambassador).
When the Ambassador comes from a Spanish-speaking country, the ceremonies are conducted in Spanish. In this case, the presentation is as follows:
Señor Presidente: Cábeme el honor de presentar al Embajador Extraordinario y Plenipotenciario de (nombre del país) a la República de Filipinas, el Excelentísimo señor don (nombre del Embajador).
The Ambassador steps forward and hands to the President the Letter of Recall of his predecessor, as well as his own Letter of Credence. Without breaking the seals, the President passes the Letters to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, who in turn hands them to the Undersecretary. The Ambassador then steps back and reads his address.
Reproduced below is the speech of Dr. Alexander A. Maramis, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Indonesia to the Philippines, on the occasion of the presentation of his credentials on February 28, 1950.
When the riptide of colonialism hit Asia in the sixteenth century, not only did it enslave the peoples of Indonesia and the Philippines, but it also sundered the close links of blood, culture and unity which had for so long welded us together. For the ensuing three hundred and fifty years we remained divided, virtual strangers hardly aware of each other’s existence.
Today the onward march of freedom in Asia has brought about our independence and, with it, an awareness of the existence of old friends. Forgotten memories are being revived, the old fires of friendship are beginning to burn with increased vigour. The freedom of Indonesia, towards which the Philippines contributed in such rich measure, has restored old friends to the family circle, and the exchange of diplomatic missions which we are consummating bears evidence of the moral union we have achieved.
There is pressing need today for close collaboration between the free countries of South East Asia. Indonesia, in concert with her neighbours, is ready and willing to contribute her share towards furthering economic, cultural and political understanding in this part of the world in a spirit of friendship for all and malice towards none. In the challenging task of creating a better world we shall participate wholeheartedly, without playing favourites.
To me has fallen the signal honour of being Indonesia’s first ambassador to the Philippines, and it will be my constant endeavour to keep full to the brim the great reservoir of goodwill towards Indonesia which exist in this country.
The President replied as follows:
It is with deep personal pleasure as well as fraternal pride that I welcome you as the first ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia to the Philippines. To my countrymen and myself, you are more than the accredited representative here of a great neighboring republic. Your presence among us today in your high diplomatic capacity is the first tangible mark of the free and sovereign status which we have at one time fought to achieve for ourselves and later sought, in a modest measure, to help you attain.
I share your feeling, Mr. Ambassador, that the independence of Indonesia has served to revive in the peoples of our hemisphere the immemorial ties that have bound them to one another. In the Philippines, however, the rediscovery of our racial, geographic and cultural oneness took place long before Indonesia emerged as an independent and sovereign nation. That is the reason why from the beginning we embraced your cause as our own.
But in order to preserve the freedom which your people and mine have won at such great sacrifice, it will be necessary not only to nourish it within our respective countries but to protect and advance it among ourselves. It is, therefore, imperative that the sense of solidarity which by blood, culture, tradition and mutual desire is ours, should be strengthened by methods of close economic, political and cultural collaboration between our two countries. It is our desire that the happy and mutually beneficial relationship that exists between Indonesia and the Philippines be duplicated in our relationship with the other countries of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific so that, while respecting each other’s independence and sovereignty, we may the more effectively devote ourselves to our coordinated full development, insure our stability and security and contribute to the peace and progress of the world.
I extend to you, Mr. Ambassador, the fraternal greetings of my countrymen and assure you that during your sojurn in the Philippines you will be among brothers who wish you well and have the highest esteem for your country.
After the President has made his reply, the Ambassador steps forward and shakes hands with the President who, immediately thereafter, presents the Ambassador to the officials present. The Executive Secretary moves behind the President to a post between the Secretary and Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs. All these officials now arrange themselves in a straight line with the President. After being introduced, the Ambassador request permission from the President to present the members of his staff.
The Ceremonial Officer escorts the members of the staff to the President. He walks to the left of the senior diplomatic officer. The others follow them single file, in the order of their precedence.
The Ceremonial Officer conducts the staff in such a manner that they approach the Ambassador and the President from the President’s left.
The Ambassador, standing to the President’s left, presents the members of his staff, who file past the President and shake hands with him and the members of his Cabinet. Immediately after this, champagne is serve and informal conversation takes place.
After about ten minutes, the Ambassador, flanked by the Chief of Protocol and the Senior Aide, resumes his original position in the Ceremonial Hall. They bow slightly and withdraw to the entrance separating the Ceremonial Hall from the Reception Hall where, turning about they bow again to the President. The Ambassador’s staff then follows.
Upon reaching the head of the staircase, the Ambassador takes his leave of the Senior Aide. The Junior Aide who accompanied the Chief of Protocol at the beginning of the ceremony then takes over.
The party once more forms beside the Palace Chapel, facing the Presidential Guards and the military band. The Guards present arms while the band plays the National Anthem of the Philippines.
At the conclusion of the National Anthem, the Ambassador with the Chief of Protocol and the Junior Aide to the President, leads the return to the Embassy in the President’s automobile. The others follow in the normal order of their precedence, with the high-ranking officials first, and the low-ranking officials last.
In the Embassy drawing room, and after a few minutes of conversation, the Chief of Protocol and the Junior Aide take leave of the Ambassador and the members of his staff.
The reception of a minister is distinguished from that of an ambassador in that only a double row of guards renders military honors. The playing of the national anthem is omitted.
During the Third Republic the ceremony was typically held in the Ceremonial Hall in Malacñan Palace.
Today, the President normally receives the credentials of incoming Ambassadors in the Music Room in Malacañan Palace but if several Ambassadors president their credentials at the same time, the President receives them at the Rizal Ceremonial Hall.