Lucky 9!

Our Foreign Service Officers (FSO) Batch '73 were 11 men and 7 women. One of us became Secretary of Foreign Affairs (Delia Domingo Albert), two made Undersecretaries (Franklin Ebdalin and Rafael Seguis), and all went to head Embassies and/or senior positions.

A generation-plus after, over 1,500 signed up for the FSO exams... 534 took the "screen test" (pre-qualifying civil service exam)... 90 pre-qualified... 81 cleared the nitpicking interviews... 11 passed the DFA written test proper... and only 9 were left standing after psychological test.

The FSO is the toughest government exam, with ten times the bar casualty rate. In a manner of speaking, it can be tougher than the Marines' obstacle course because it is designed to sift the crème de la crème for the civil service equivalent of the Special Forces.

Those who made it to last lap had two more summits to climb - a whole day's Inquisition on Wednesday, followed by the Thursday cordon bleu dinner at the Skylounge of the Diamond Hotel where candidates in formal attire (long dress for ladies) clinked their glasses pretending to enjoy themselves while under the gun of a three-minute speech they must deliver on whatever subject they won in lottery.

It was more hard work and pluck, than luck. Or, as one candidate put it, it felt more Russian Roulette than Lucky 9.

Philippine birth statistics list 1.05 male born for every female. But something must have skewed the last FSO exams, because there were 8 Roses and only one Thorn. (Have all the boys gone for PBA?). We cross-examined the One, who assured us that he is 100% thorn. The successful survivors:

Iris Vanessa Caranzo, 26, staff writer and gofer with Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation, is skilled in arnis self-defense. She will be out front in the country's first line of defense.

Andrea Cristina Caymo, 26, after a stint in banking, opened her own travel service. She will optimize the bonus miles for our frequent flying diplomats... and help OFWs Go Negosyo.

LV Ignacio de Guzman, 26, improved her Spanish (so that her Enlish isn't dumbed down) at Cervantes before transferring as bilingual process expert of Maersk Line. She will facilitate balikbayan boxes.

Miguel Carlo Hornilla, 23, is a realtor. He will provide housing for homeless diplomats and offer the Chinese rent terms on their informal settlement at Panganiban Reef.

Anna Theresa Licaros, 28, is a cum laude lawyer who will protect OFWs abroad. She is a former Miss Philippines-Universe. (Sorry for you, Sir, she has no sister. She just wed; but her husband wasn't crowned Mr. Philippines-Universe.)

Mary Grace Perpetua, 26, is researcher/writer. She will help upgrade research in the Foreign Service Institute.

Anna Patricia Seron, 23, is a ballet instructor and philosophy grad. She will teach our diplomats poise and pirouette sokotidino.

Lyza Maria Viejo, 28, was investment banking customer support executive. She will get better returns for DFA co-op. No pyramids.

Johaira C. Wahab, 27, is legal counselor to the Peace Process. She will advise PH how to deal with MILF, rebels, and territorial claimants near and far.

One man and 8 women with great promise accept cut in pay to join DFA. Five are cum laude's, one summa cum laude. Two are Ateneo philosophy grads (talagang filosopo iyang mga Atenista). Five are UP grads; two from De La Salle; and one from UST.

One was cheerleader. All are UAAP fans, except for the one successful examinee from Lyceum ever since Ambassador Reynaldo Arcilla assumed as its Dean of College of International Relations.

BTW, Arcilla imposes the English rule on the campus; anyone speaking in vernacular was fined.

Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Pasig President Ambassador Rosalinda V. Tirona may have something to say about that.

Some candidates attribute their success to what they learned of diplomacy outside textbooks from practitioners like former Ambassadors Rosario Manalo, Ofelia Gonzales, Antonio Rodriguez, Jose del Rosario, and Alfredo Almendrala.

After the lottery of speeches, the Chairman of the Board of Examiners Undersecretary Rafael Seguis assured everyone (by way of instruction to panel members) that he won't hold against the examinees the inanities which may have escaped their lips as they fought butterflies in their stomachs.

The final test was how the candidates comport themselves under duress and what they could do with knowledge... or lack of it. Many spoke with clarity and creativity (in the sense of Genesis, i.e., to make something out of nothing).

In any case, the successful candidates will be schooled and given time to draft talking points, position papers, or speeches. Seguis will hand them over to Ambassador Angelina Sta. Maria, DFA Foreign Service Institute director, for the next 9 months of their cadetship (same time it takes to make a baby or to mold a diplomat). FEEDBACK: