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[FNPFP ORIGINAL] The Power and Purpose of Philippine Cultural Diplomacy

Andrea Chloe Wong
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cultural diplomacy plays a vital role in international affairs. It promotes the unique identity of a country and advances understanding with other nations. Its importance is increasingly evident as the world becomes more globalized and interdependent, especially with the proliferation of mass communication technology that ensures greater access and interaction among states and people all over. It is because of this reality that many countries regard cultural diplomacy as an important component in their foreign policy.

Cultural diplomacy is defined as “the exchange of ideas, information, art, and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding.”[1] It is considered the “linchpin of public diplomacy, for it is in cultural activities and exchanges that a nation’s idea and image of itself is best represented.”[2]

As with other countries, the Philippines recognizes the importance of cultural diplomacy in its foreign policy. It employs cultural diplomacy to promote the country’s identity and distinctiveness, especially amidst rapid globalization that tends to standardize cultural expressions. It also utilizes cultural diplomacy to build inter-state relations and enhance socio-cultural understanding with people all over the world. These reflect the government’s regard for culture as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) acknowledges the “impact of culture in modern diplomacy and sees it as an effective tool in protecting the national interest, advancing our advocacies, and achieving the development agenda of the country in the international arena.”[3]

Enhancing the Philippines’ Image Abroad

Through its cultural diplomacy, the Philippines seeks to enhance its international reputation. As a small power, the country projects itself to be an advocate for inter-cultural cooperation through its global efforts towards the promotion of respect and understanding among nations.

These efforts are reflected in the Philippine government’s commitment in Interfaith Dialogue and other inter-cultural initiative in various international organizations. In 2010, the Philippines sponsored a UN resolution titled “Promotion on Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue” that was adopted by the 65th session of the UN General Assembly. Also in the same year, it hosted the Special Non-Aligned Movement Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace and Development in Manila.

In addition, the Philippines implemented various cultural initiatives to gain relevance in the region. In ASEAN, the Philippines hosted events and activities showcasing the various cultures of ASEAN member countries and encouraging people-to-people exchanges.[4] From 2010 to 2011, the Philippines has become the First ASEAN Culture Capital. Such initiatives are in line with the country’s goal of being the leading advocate for the socio-cultural community pillar towards the establishment of an ASEAN Community in 2015. These also put the Philippines in high esteem as it actively promotes the ‘ASEAN identity’ in the region.

Marketing the “Philippine Brand”

In addition, the Philippine government utilizes cultural diplomacy to enhance its image abroad that is expected to produce economic benefits for the country. As a developing economy, the Philippines seeks to incorporate “country branding” strategies to its cultural diplomacy as a practical way to advance its economic interests. This country branding is intended to project a concrete image of the Philippines that synchronizes government efforts for trade promotion, investment mobilization, and tourism campaign. It can also be used as a marketing tool to promote Filipino workmanship. Through an integrated marketing campaign, the promotion of the Philippines in the international community is expected to encompass various aspects of its culture and economy. Its marketing campaign showcases, not only the cultural aspects of the Philippines such as art, music, film, food, and clothing, but also its products and places that are estimated to result in tangible profits for the country.

This integration of country branding in cultural diplomacy reveals an important notion that culture and commerce are inextricably intertwined. Both can reinforce each other to produce a favorable image for the Philippines and at the same time serve its economic interests. Like cultural diplomacy, the “Philippine brand” reflects what the country stands for and presents the best of what it can offer. By highlighting a strong “Philippine brand” in its cultural diplomacy, the country can effectively distinguish itself from other competing economies in the region and the rest of the world.

Appreciating Philippine Culture and Identity

By employing cultural diplomacy, the Philippine government also seeks to encourage understanding and promote appreciation of the country’s culture and identity, not only between Filipinos and foreigners but also among Filipinos themselves. As a multicultural society, the Philippines regards this rationale behind its cultural diplomacy as vital to its national interests. While it is commonly seen as a tool to build relationships and develop socio-cultural understanding with other countries and their people, Philippine cultural diplomacy can also serve as a “catalyst for cultural reawakening in the country and contribute to national policy on culture.” [5]

This is considered important since an effective cultural diplomacy should have as its foundation a strong sense of national identity and a profound understanding of its own culture. This is to stress that the Philippines can efficiently advance “mutual understanding” with other countries, if it has established first a strong sense of “self understanding.”

It is expected that the Philippines shall simultaneously employ cultural diplomacy as a dynamic tool in relating with other countries and in developing a strong consciousness of culture and heritage among its people. Recognizing this dual purpose, Philippine cultural diplomacy is thus expected to cater to different audiences. Aside from the international community, the promotion of cultural diplomacy must also consider Filipinos at home and abroad. The government can employ cultural diplomacy in the country through various initiatives that would arouse pride among Filipinos about their identity and culture. At the same time, it can use cultural diplomacy abroad to encourage appreciation of Philippine culture among overseas Filipinos who feel the need to revisit their roots and rediscover their identity in order to find meaning and pride in their existence.

Establishing a strong awareness of national identity and developing a strong appreciation of Philippine culture are important in order to connect with the rest of the world. These shall enable Filipinos to effectively relate to other people of different race, faith, and culture. And more importantly, a strong consciousness of Philippine cultural identity will enable Filipinos to appreciate similarities and understand differences with others.

Promoting the Positive Filipino Image

Indeed, a strong national identity among Filipinos is vital to have a credible and influential Philippine cultural diplomacy. This national identity is mostly reflected in the image we imbibe and project. It is therefore important to understand the Filipino image, for “a people’s image of themselves tends to become a reality.”[6] And the image that the people create for themselves is the “psycho-cultural basis of their strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and failures.”[7]

Aside from struggling with a lack of solid understanding and appreciation of cultural identity, Filipinos also suffer with a general predisposition to wallow in a negative self-image that has long been ingrained in us as a nation. This is usually tantamount to a self-fulfilling prophecy that must be deconstructed. For we can never erect a viable nation based on the “notoriously self-deprecating and false concepts of ourselves that we habitually entertain in our minds.”[8]

If social self-images are generally self-fulfilling, then we as Filipinos must strive to minimize the negative and accentuate the positive in us. This can be achieved by being constantly reminded of anything positive about being Filipino. Essentially, “we have nothing to lose by discovering and constructing the most exalted and inspiring images of ourselves.”[9] This is considered crucial for Philippine cultural diplomacy to be effective and for our culture to be appealing to the rest of the world.

In constructing and projecting a positive image of ourselves, it is important to first recognize and understand the strengths of our most profound values and traits as a nation. There are certainly many positive qualities that Filipinos possess. But what is strikingly recognized and appreciated about us all over the world is our highly relational, people-centered orientation. Essentially, we are admired for our strong nurturing and caring spirit. This is reflected in our consensus-oriented diplomacy, warm hospitality towards guests, excellence in the services sector, and compassion to people in distress.

Such positive values should compel us to imbibe and proclaim them as the prominent feature of the social image we must promote. Promoting the noble and inspiring social image of the Filipino is essentially a good foundation to unite us and promote national unity amidst our cultural diversity. Recognizing the positive in us can also be a good basis to bring about a strong national consciousness as Filipinos. This is especially critical for a multicultural and geographically-fragmented country such as the Philippines that frequently struggles with discord and lack of shared identity.

Given the importance of cultural diplomacy, it is indeed vital to stress the country’s uniqueness abroad. A constructive and inspiring image of the Filipino is crucial, for it is the people who represent and personify the country to the world. An effective cultural diplomacy must therefore highlight not only the best of the Philippines, but also the finest among Filipinos.

Developing an Effective Cultural diplomacy

Cultural diplomacy is indeed a vital instrument to further enhance the Philippines’ international standing. It serves as a comprehensive marketing tool to advertise the “Philippine brand.” It is also used to showcase the country’s culture to the rest of the world and simultaneously encourage deeper cultural appreciation among Filipinos. And most importantly, it highlights the best and the most positive about the country and its people.

As the Philippines relies heavily on its “soft power,” it should all the more develop and implement a strong, holistic, and well-coordinated cultural diplomacy. At the government level, this requires collaboration and coordination with the different agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) to create and implement cultural activities at home and abroad. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) must be included in this collective endeavor to integrate the “Philippine brand” in its trade and investment promotions overseas. Likewise, the Department of Tourism (DOT) should be constantly engaged to incorporate the “More Fun in the Philippines” campaign as part of the Philippines’ cultural diplomacy to attract more foreign tourists into the country.

This inter-agency coordination is expected to synchronize various government activities that must be linked to a broader and overarching cultural diplomacy program. This program must be firmly institutionalized to be effective and to have a long-term impact. At the home front, this requires engagement with the various educational institutions, local government units, non-government organizations, and the private sector with the aim of further developing a national policy on culture. This national policy must create and implement cultural activities that would promote understanding on Philippine culture and instill pride among Filipinos.

Overseas, the country’s cultural diplomacy program should be tailor made specifically for different nations that acknowledges their various cultural sensibilities, similarities, and differences with the Philippines. It must also take into account existing cultural agreements with other countries that should guide the government in crafting high-impact activities that would raise awareness and gain appreciation of the Philippines abroad.

As the international community becomes more integrated, the Philippines is expected to rely heavily on its cultural diplomacy to stand out from the rest. But to have an effective cultural diplomacy, the country must exhibit a long-term commitment to invest its resources into winning the hearts and minds of both the foreigners and the Filipinos all over the world.


[1] Milton Cummings Jr., Cultural Diplomacy and the United States Government: A Survey, (Washington, D.C: Center for Arts and Culture, 2003).

[2] “Cultural Diplomacy: The Linchpin of Public Diplomacy,” Report of the Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy, US Department of State, September 2005,, (accessed 16 July 2012).

[3] “Remarks of DFA Sec. Albert del Rosario during DiplomART,” Signing Ceremony of a Memorandum of Understanding on Cultural Cooperation between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Metrobank, Carlos P. Romulo Library, 25 October 2011.

[4] “Philippines as ASEAN Cultural Capital to be Highlighted in ASEAN Summit,” Department of Foreign Affairs, 24 October 2010,, (accessed 12 July 2012).

[5] “Cultural Diplomacy: Concept Paper,” Foreign Service Institute.

[6] Kenneth Boulding, The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society, (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1961)

[7] Felipe de Leon Jr., “The Other Dimensions of Corruption in the Philippines,” National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 29 July 2011,, (accessed 22 October 2013).

[8] Felipe de Leon Jr., “Beyond the Doña Victorina Syndrome,” National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 29 July 2011,, (accessed 22 October 2013).

[9] Ibid.

Andrea Chloe Wong is currently a Senior Foreign Affairs Research Specialist at the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies of the Foreign Service Institute. She may be contacted at

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