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Fulbright Student ’16 Atty. Johaira Wahab – Manantan Talks About World Peace and National Progress: The Role of Global Education for Women in Foreign Service
Friday, 21 July 2017

Just how important is global education to Foreign Service Officers? Specifically, for women?

Atty. Johaira Wahab-Manantan works as a Principal Assistant at the Law Division of the Office of Legal Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy magna cum laude in 2005, and Juris Doctor degree from the UP College of Law with distinction in 2009. She was admitted to the Philippine Bar in 2010 and topped the Foreign Service Officers Examination in 2012.

One might wonder why she still wanted to go to the U.S. to pursue an LL.M. in National Security Law (in fact, she’s the first Philippine Fulbright scholar to do so).

It should be noted that she was a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission in 2013, who initially drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law. She was also the former head of the legal team of the Government Negotiating Panel with the MILF from 2010-2013. Her experience with regards to peace processes translate to her understanding of global education:

Global education is not just about education – it’s also about finding yourself in a different place, immersing yourself in a different culture and learning about other people. Because once you’re in that position, you have a better shot and more reason to understand other people and their values and appreciate your differences. And every time you do that, to understand another culture or someone who is different from you – as a person, you grow and you are transformed. Your world gets bigger. So with that kind of growth and cultural transformation, I think you expand opportunities for understanding between peoples and cultures, not just tolerance, but also acceptance. So I think, especially now, it’s very important. A lot of confusion and suspicion can result from conflicting ideologies, or just people having wrong assumptions about each other.  These things can easily be corrected, or avoided through cultural exchanges and communication.

(Atty. Johaira: Top row, third from the left)

Aside from deeply understanding other people’s beliefs and way of thinking, the political culture in the U.S. is something that Atty. Johaira also learned more about.

In my program, National Security Law, we didn’t have that many books in some of our classes because the things that we were studying were still happening. For example, in our class on “Measures Against International Terrorism,” we were studying things that happened quite recently, and many of the questions that we needed to address had no settled answers yet. The topic is so current, and so I was able to witness how the Americans approach their national issues as a people. It was also quite memorable for me to be studying in Washington D.C. and witness the debates and the mood during the weeks leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and the days that followed.

I observed that Americans like to argue a lot and to challenge each other’s opinions. But this is what I like about their political culture: even when there is disagreement, as long as there is a healthy space for disagreement, then at the end of the day, everything goes through an open and deliberative process – a process which allows everyone to challenge one another’s ideas and then make a decision. It’s not just the outcome that is important, but the process as well — the fact that you were able to test and vet ideas, and everyone had the opportunity to be part of this vetting process. Whatever is the best will survive: it is a healthy competition of ideas. There is a sense of accountability, but also shared accountability knowing that this decision was not just made by one person. That was one of the biggest lessons I learned from my Fulbright education in the U.S. More than the law, more than the policy, what’s important is the process – which I think is something we could do better on here in the Philippines, especially in the field of national security.

As for women’s representation, she noted that then-President Obama’s National Security Adviser, Presidential Adviser for Counter-Terrorism, and Deputy National Security Adviser were all women. There is also a number of women in the key leadership positions in the U.S. national security field, particularly in the various armed services, something she observed isn’t that common in the Philippines yet.

However, Atty. Johaira noticed that women usually outnumber men in terms of applicants and passers in the Philippine Foreign Service Officers Examinations. But what is often overlooked is what happens to women as they go through government service.

In the DFA, women usually dominate the numbers upon entry but these numbers taper as you climb up the ranks, and many women eventually choose to leave the service. I’m hoping for more research that can look into this. Why do many women make this choice? Are we doing enough for women in the Philippine Foreign Service so that it becomes a worthwhile career option for all competent women? That is to say, women who are capable can work and at the same time have the kind of life that they want, whether as a single woman, married, or even with children. In many cases, eventually, it becomes a choice for women whether to stay in the job or be with their family – which isn’t a dilemma usually encountered by men.

Atty. Johaira understands why some might say that getting a university degree is not necessary to earn money. However, she thinks that having an affordable higher education program may still be socially desirable for the long run:

Some people might say that it is elitist to believe that everyone should have a university degree. I agree that there are many ways to earn money even without a university degree. However, I also believe that an educated citizenry is a key component of nation-building, and so everyone who desires a university education should be able to afford one.

And what better way to enrich your life than immersing yourself in the world out there to help nurture your own country when you get back?

Atty. Johaira C. Wahab-Manantan studied LL.M. in National Security Law at Georgetown University with Distinction in Washington, D.C. She was awarded the 2017 Dorothy M. Mayer Award by the Georgetown University for outstanding academic achievement by a foreign student in the LLM program. She is married and blessed with a two-year old daughter. She finished her program in May 2017. Aside from continuing to work for the Department of Foreign Affairs, she will also teach Comparative Foreign Policy at Miriam College in Quezon City.

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