Woman of Substance: Ambassador Corazon Yap Bahjin

Woman of Substance: Ambassador Corazon Yap Bahjin

Photo Courtesy of the Philippine Embassy in Bahrain

 

COMMITMENT

Ambassador Corazon Yap-Bahjin

First Muslim Filipina Ambassador

 

“Forget that you are a woman; because dignity and humanity has no gender.   Women do not need any special treatment, because we can do it just like everyone else can.”

That philosophy might sound quite radical in a world where specific gender roles – male versus female – are still as distinct as night and day, but for the First Muslim Filipina Ambassador, who considers herself “feminine but not a feminist,” these are just simple truths founded on sound and pragmatic thinking.

Ambassador Corazon Yap-Bahjin made Philippine Foreign Service history when she became the first Filipina Muslim to pass the career Foreign Service Officers’ examination, and then head a diplomatic mission, when she became the Philippine Ambassador to Bahrain in 2009 – the fourth female to have done so in the kingdom.

Of Tausug roots, the eldest of two siblings born to highly educated parents – her father was a lawyer and her mother the first Regional Director of CNI (a defunct office in charge of indigenous people in the Philippines) who later became a college professor – Ambassador Yap-Bahjin takes pride in her parents’ legacy of good values. “The pursuit of excellence and hard work has always been a tradition in our family, with both my mother and my father.  We were taught to be honest and dedicated, and to be loyal to our service,” she shares.

 

And indeed, her family’s principles put her in good stead, setting her up for a purposeful future.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Education degree at the University of Santo Tomas in 1967, graduating cum laude with a co-major in English and Theology. In 1974 she finished Master of Arts, major in Social Studies, at the University of the Philippines, and went into a teaching career from 1967 to 1979.

She joined the Foreign Service in 1979.  Rising from the ranks, she started as Acting Director of the Cultural Division of the Office of Islamic Affairs (now the Office on Muslim Affairs). Her first overseas posting was for a Vice Consul’s position in Jeddah in 1986.  Thereafter, she was posted as Second Secretary and Consul at the Philippine Embassy in Amman in 1990 where she assisted in the repatriation of Filipinos from Kuwait during the first Gulf War.  Her next posting took her to Cairo as Second Secretary and Consul at the Philippine Embassy.  She then moved to the same position in Bangkok in 1992 and was promoted to First Secretary in charge of Political Division and Consul and    Deputy Representative, ESCAP for the Philippine Embassy there.  Her last post before heading the Philippine diplomatic mission in Bahrain was in Xiamen, China as Consul General from 1995-2005.

At the home office, she served as Acting Asst. Secretary of the Office of Consular Affairs in 1999, Asst. Secretary of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Coordination 2006-2007 then Asst. Secretary of the Office of Personnel and Administration Services from 2007 to July 2009.

 

Asked about her formula for success, the Ambassador credits it all to hard work, her commitment to her profession and her constant pursuit to improve upon herself and the work she did.  She explains, “I was never competitive.  I only competed with myself.”  She furthers, “At the end of the day, if you want to set your target on 80 percent, or 100 percent or even 120 percent, it is all up to you.”

On being the first Muslim Filipina Diplomat, she says that certainly, there are challenges that one faces, not only because of being from a community that is considered a minority back home and one that suffers some negative stereotypes, but being a woman at that – “I have to prove that we also have what it takes to succeed and that we can be as good, if not better, as everybody else. But,” she counters, “in the long run, when it comes to my work, it is really not about me being a Muslim, or me being a woman, it is the work and the service that I am focused on. My output and work do not depend on my religion or gender.”

The good Ambassador is constantly working for the betterment of some 45,000 Filipinos in Bahrain and hopes that someday the deployment of domestic helpers, the most vulnerable segment of Filipino expatriate workers, will eventually stop. She says, “It would be better if our women did not put themselves at such a vulnerable situation, for meager salaries, especially considering the social cost of such employment.” She continues, “We’re not belittling our compatriots, but if only they can be a little creative, they can earn more at home.”

Ambassador Yap-Bahjin says that she has nothing against Filipinas opting to go and work overseas, as long as they are dignified.  She explains, “If they really want to work abroad, it is better for them to acquire some skills that will allow them to work in other fields, instead of having to take care of other people’s children.  Then at least, they will have the freedom to move and they will be treated better.”