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Lauro Baja

FORMER Ambassador Lauro L. Baja Jr., who initiated moves that paved the way for the country and its Southeast Asian neighbors to open talks with China over a code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea, died Friday. He was 86.

Baja succumbed to heart attack, his nephew, also a diplomat, Philippine Ambassador to Morocco Leslie Baja told BusinessMirror. He is survived by his children Maria Elizabeth Baja Facundo and Lauro Baja III.

“The DFA and the foreign service lost one of its best and most accomplished diplomats,” Philippine Ambassador to The Netherlands J. Eduardo Malaya said.

Baja had an illustrious foreign service career including becoming the President of the United Nations Security Council at the time when the Philippines was a member of the prestigious UNSC. Prior to that, he was the DFA undersecretary for policy and ambassadors to Italy and Brazil.

“Baja served the Department and our country exceedingly well and admirably, always with wisdom and eloquence,” Malaya said.

PHL chief negotiator for SCS code of conduct

Since China’s occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995, the Department of Foreign Affairs has become the focal point in the country’s effort to prevent the situation from escalating into full-blown war.

As DFA undersecretary for policy matters, Baja steered the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China to agree to negotiate for a set of rules of behavior among armed forces of states claiming the South China Sea. 

Philippine Ambassador to Australia Hellen Barber-De La Vega was his principal assistant during the critical negotiations of the landmark 2002 Declaration for COC in the South China Sea. 

“What I remember about Ambassador Baja is his friendly but firm stance on negotiations; his sharp focus on deliverables in international meetings he participated in, whether as member, head of delegation or as host of the conference. His circle of Asean Senior Officials respect him and fondly call him Larry,”  De La Vega told BusinessMirror.

“If there is anything I learned from him, it is focus, focus, focus on what needs to be done, and negotiate the best terms for Philippine interests,” she added.

CPR’s protégé

When he was still a junior officer, Baja became one of the protégés of then DFA Secretary Carlos P. Romulo who later became the President of the UN General Assembly.

“Romulo plucked him out and designated  him as his chief of staff (formally called Chief Coordinator), and then left practically to him the management of the Department while Romulo would be at the UN in New York every year for months on end,” Malaya said.

Despite his stature, Baja remained “humble and self-effacing and solicitous to young staff members” including Malaya. 

“He would smile and make us feel that our views mattered,” Malaya said “He will be much missed.”

Image credits: UN

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