Malayvieng Sakonhninhom : Ambassador of Lao PDR to the Philippines

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Experiencing the World

MALAYVIENG Sakonhninhom, Ambassador of Laos to the Philippines, is a woman ahead of her time.
Malayvieng wanted to become a journalist in a communist country—where journalism is seen as a ticket to experience the world. But her path took a different turn at the age of 19. Her Journalism scholarship to a French university—which she had kept secret from her parents—was accepted. However, she had to give up her dreams of being a journalist at the behest of her mother.

“[I] cried…very frustrated. But in our society at that time, that’s ok,” Malayvieng said in a newspaper interview at the parlor of the Lao PDR Embassy in the exclusive Magallanes Village in Makati City. Malayvieng said their society was very conservative during that time and mothers kept their daughters close to home where they could be protected adequately. With no local universities offering Journalism, Malayvieng took up Law and Administration instead. She specialized in administration, negotiation and diplomacy, and satisfied her writing bug by contributing to the school newspaper, focusing on women’s rights.


After university, she won a scholarship to the Soviet Union with Southam Sakonhninhom, a good college friend—who would later become her husband. This time Malayvieng took the trip Russia. “We studied together, we were in the same class, we shared notes and books…but no copying [during exams],” recalled Malayvieng. “The scholarship was six years, we helped each other. The Russian language is very difficult and it’s very cold there.”

Romance blossomed despite the severe Russian winters, perhaps because of the warmth Malayvieng and Southam drew from each other. They joined the Foreign Ministry in 1982 and, a year later, they had their first daughter, Souridahak. The baby was barely a year old when Southam was posted to Paris, and then to New York, and then Belgium.

Meanwhile, Malayvieng served in the MFA’s Home Office in Vientiane while he was away and served as mother and father to their girls—Souridahak and Sourignahak. “As diplomats we have to learn to live separately,” Malayvieng said. She saw Southam in February when he came over from Brussels and accompanied her on her official rounds within the Philippines. The life of a diplomat is exciting because of all the traveling, but it’s a life for which her daughters seem to have no interest.

“Ok, that’s interesting to travel, but they don’t like,” Malayvieng said with a chuckle. Souridahak now works for the World Bank in Laos, while Sourignahak is studying in De La Salle University. Distance hadn’t hampered their family ties, though. “There was no discussion to leave the MFA. We love our work,” Malayvieng said. Until five years ago in Laos, if both the husband and wife are serving with the Foreign Ministry, only one of them could get posted overseas. With the growing number of diplomat couples, the practice was abandoned so that both husband and wife would have an equal opportunity to get a foreign assignment.

First Posting

In 2011, the Philippines became Malayvieng’s first posting.
Malayvieng acknowledged with quiet laughter that her husband’s gender was a factor in his promotion before hers: “Because he’s a man, because I’m woman…We [came from] the same school, same university, after that he has been promoted. Finally, we are in the level of ambassador. Same.”

“He went abroad three times…I just been posted for first time and straight to be ambassador,” she added.
There’s no real competition between the couple. They co-authored a book on international law in 2007, and wrote another on protocol. The second book’s cover shows a photo of her presenting her credentials to Malacañang. Malayvieng is now working on a third book about extradition. She recognizes that she is a far cry from the young girl who dreamt of becoming a journalist, the same one who occasionally lied to her parents so she could go out with her friends. Malayvieng recognizes she is also quite unlike her own mother.

Her daughters were born into a society that is now different from hers, and she has adjusted to this more modern society: “When I was little, at that time, the parents very conservative. My daughters’ time is different so I had to modernize. What I could not get, I give to my daughters.”

Asked if there is anything more she wants to achieve at this point, Malayvieng candidly acknowledged that her goal is to finalize President Benigno S. Aquino’s visit to Laos: “As ambassador, that’s what we all want [to achieve].”

PH-Lao PDR Relations

In a speech delivered during the Eight Ambassador’s Forum at the Asian Institute of Management last May 31, Malayvieng provided insights on the economic development trends in Lao PDR, and developments on the Lao PDR-Philippines relations. She opened her speech with background information on Lao PDR and its foreign policies. “Laos has been fighting for liberation and peace since the 18th century.  After a long civil war that ended the constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong, the country established a single-party socialist republic in 1975.  In 1986, the country undertook an open-door policy which aimed at improving the country’s economic condition.  Being a landlocked country bordered by Myanmar and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west, Laos PDR has always pursued the ‘foreign policy of peace, independence, friendship and cooperation.’ Laos PDR has desires to be a land-linked nation by connecting to its neighboring countries and enhancing regional and international integration.”

Although the Philippines and Laos have little history of cooperation, there are initiatives to change this. The visit of the Prime Minister of Laos in May 2012 was seen by many as a critical initial step towards improving Laos-Philippines relations. There are planned activities and programs that will help build closer friendship and cooperation. Laos will soon host the first Joint Commission on bilateral cooperation in 2013; and is also arranging for the visit of President Choummaly Sayasone to the Philippines.

Bilateral Consultative Mechanisms

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Philippines and Laos was signed on May 6, 2008 establishing the Philippines-Lao PDR Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC).
Laos offered to host the inaugural JCBC in Luang Prabang. The inaugural JCBC, however, has yet to be convened.

The Philippine Embassy in Vientiane recommends support of the establishment of the Philippines-Laos Parliamentarians’ Friendship Association as this will facilitate a dynamic and proactive parliamentarians’ dialogue between the two countries and contribute to strengthening cooperative relations.
It may be noted that the Philippines is among the countries listed in the Lao National Assembly website as having an existing Lao-Philippines Parliamentarians’ Association.

The Association was established by Resolution No. 156/ST of 14 November 2011 (Resolution of the Standing Member of the National Assembly on an Appointment of the implementation of the Lao-Philippines and Brunei Parliamentarians’ Friendship Association.

AMBASSADOR WILHELM M. DONKO : Man of Literature and the Arts

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BEFORE shifting to foreign service, WILHELM Maximillian Donko—Austrian Ambassador to the Philippines—was a writer and journalist by profession.

Born in Scharding, Linz, Donko worked as a free-lance journalist in the 1980s writing mainly about US naval issues. And even after joining the Austrian diplomatic service in 1990, Donko never lost his love for writing.

(In photo: Madame Yan Donko and Ambassador Wilhelm Donko)
(In photo: Madame Yan Donko and Ambassador Wilhelm Donko)

Coming to Manila in 2009 from his first posting as ambassador in Korea, Donko is the author of two books: “An Austrian View of the Philippines 1858” (published in 2011 by e-publi GmbH—Verlasgruppe Holtzbrink, Berlin) and “A Brief History of the Austrian Navy” (published in 2012).

In his first book, Donko brings to light the chronicles of the frigate Novara, the first Austrian warship to make a port call in the Philippines. Basically, a scientific mission, Norvara had renowned Austrian scholars and artist Josef Selleny who chronicled the mission by through paintings sketches, drawings and aquarelles. #OpinYon #Austria #Foreign #Arts #Literature

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AMBASSADOR JORGE DOMEQ : Selling Spain to the World

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WITH over 300 years worth of shared history, it is fitting that Spanish Ambassador Jorge Domeq’s first Asian posting be here in the Philippines.


Born November 28, 1960, Domeq entered the Diplomatic Corps in 1985 serving in the Spanish Embassy in the NATO Council and Brazil. In 2004 he was appointed second in command at the Embassy of Spain in Morocco and in 2005 he held the post of deputy director general of the Bureau of Gibraltar. He began his official tour of duty here in the Philippines in March 2011 and—like a duck to water—easily felt at home with the Filipino culture and way of life.

Much like Filipinos, Domeq says Spaniards are a blending of rich cultures. #OpinYon#foreign #Spain

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Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines Ivo Sieber: IN LOVE WITH THE PHILIPPINES

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ABOUT 10,530 kilometers of land and ocean separate the Philippines from Switzerland. But in an instant, Filipinos can easily answer what comes to mind when they hear “Swiss”—the Swiss knife, chocolate, cheese, watch, and the Swiss Alps.
Many generations of Pinoys have been raised on products made by the Swiss food and beverage giant Nestle and treated for various ailments using Swiss-manufactured medicines.
Fact is, Switzerland has had official relations with the Philippines since 1862, when the Philippines was still a Spanish colony and most of our revolutionary heroes were still toddlers. The Swiss Consulate in the Philippines was the very first consulate in Asia and have maintained consular offices here until today.
Their man in Manila today is Ambassador Ivo Sieber. And, the Philippines is close to Sieber’s heart because he has been married for some 20 years now to Gracita—a beautiful Filipina with whom he has two teenaged girls. #OpinYon #Foreign #Swiss

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Indonesia Ambassador to the Philippines Yohanes Kristiarto Soeryo Legowo: A MAN AHEAD OF HIS TIME

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DIPLOMATS are—usually—strict about time. When they don’t arrive in time for their appointments, they come early.

This is literally the case of Yohanes Kristiarto Soeryo Legowo, Indonesia’s Ambassador to the Philippines. Born on the 27th of December in 1962, about a week earlier than his mother’s due date, you could say that it is in his providence to become an ambassador.

Known as Kris to fellow diplomats, friends and associates—his arrival to the family came as a big relief (hence the name Legowo—meaning “big relief” in Javanese). His mother fainted and fell while in church two days before he was born and the accident required stitches on her neck and triggered the contractions.
The youngest in a brood of 10, Legowo became the hands-down favorite in the family.

“I could not deny that everybody was always trying to spoil me.… But doesn’t make me a spoiled child,” Legowo said in a magazine interview last year. But while he has had his share of being pinched in the ear for being naughty, he admitted that he did not really enjoy the overprotectiveness of his parents, brothers and sisters. “But in the end, I put it in a very positive perspective. They did it because they love me,” he said.

His father, Soeryo, was a teacher who imparted to them the value of education. So despite the bouts of teenage rebellion and other misbehaviors—Legowo grew up a decent young man.

“All the values of life I learned it from the family. My father taught us how to pursue dream,” Kris said. “But he always emphasized also that the way we pursue our dream is also important…being Christian, process is very important.” #OpinYon#Indonesia #Foreign

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