Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Donald McConville
His name would appear regularly in some of the political gossip columns and so forth. He knew virtually everyone in the political and journalistic world in the Philippines. In fact, he actually was a godfather to Ferdinand Marcos' son Bonbon. When I arrived in September of '65, way back, and Marcos was elected as President two months later in November of 1965, here we had the consul general who was actually the godfather of Marcos' first son. But he had had very little involvement with the consular section except for the fact that all of the political types were forever sending cases over to him to do them a favor. Now we had this change in the immigration law where, rather than a well-ordered visa section, very well staffed and so forth, we suddenly went from 2,000 to an annual rate of 20,000 for immigrant visas plus all this handling of petitions and everything else with it. The State Department, in its wisdom, had decided that Manila only needed five additional local employees to handle the change in the immigration law and no additional officers, so we suddenly went from a situation in which we had been very comfortably staffed to one in which we had just enormous crowds there and all sorts of problems arising trying to manage it. Most of this fell on my shoulders because I was the second ranking man in the visa section and the chief of the section wasn't interested. In fact, once he left, retired, they didn't replace him at that time, and so I was the acting head of the visa section as an FS-07, and it was an extraordinary experience trying to organize all of this. We went through so many different situations with huge crowds, that we came up with solutions. There was an outside cover outside of the office building we were in, so we were able to set up a lot of chairs and a little waiting space out there and put in loudspeakers so we could call people from outside. There was just one thing after another, and I kept handling all of this and resolving all of this, so as a management experience it was a pretty extraordinary experience. Now, in the meantime, as I mentioned, I had decided that my strongest interest in the Foreign Service was in economic work. That's what I came away from my experience in Panama with. I might add, as I mentioned early on in our discussion, when I first came into the Foreign Service, I really had only a vague notion about what the Foreign Service was about and my reasons for coming in were fairly nebulous. I really just wanted to work abroad. My experience in Panama and the training I had had as a junior officer had pretty strongly persuaded me by this time that indeed I thought I liked the Foreign Service and I thought I had a future in it and I wanted to specialize primarily in the economic side of things. But then in addition, my experience in the Philippines was rapidly persuading me that I also wanted to concentrate a lot in Southeast Asia or East Asia generally. I was fascinated by East Asia. I took a trip, for example, on my vacation I took when I was in the Philippines and managed to visit Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong on this trip and had been fascinated by all of this, and some of the training I had, like the Southeast Asia area studies, had awakened a great deal of interest in the area. So by this time I was persuaded that I both wanted to focus on the economic side and also wanted to focus on East Asia, so I thought that I needed two things, that I needed to get some economic training and that I also wanted to get some sort of Asian language. I figured that with the Department, while they wouldn't invest in both of those for me, my best shot was for getting Asian language from the Department and getting the economic training on my own, so I started taking courses at the University of the Philippines, night courses, while I was there in those two years, taking economics. I don't know how many credits I got by the time I got out of there, but I was going pretty regularly, a couple of courses each semester, and was getting a lot of economics, formal economics, and the school, the University of the Philippines, was taught in English and it was a very good experience. In fact, where they had the night classes was well within walking distance of the embassy. So I was taking advantage of those opportunities too while I was in the Philippines, and I was enjoying the Philippines immensely. Filipino people fascinated me. It was a very, very positive and warm experience. While the consular work itself didn't particularly attract me, the management experience I was going through was of tremendous value. As it happened, at that time, the inspectors when they came around - and Manila was inspected again like Panama was when I was there - the inspector who inspected the consular section was a very able fellow who actually had an admin background. Following his tour in the inspection tour, he went on to some very significant positions in the administrative side of the State Department. He was very impressed by what I had done in the visa section, so when I talked to him about my future desires, he recommended in the inspection report - and at that time they wrote individual inspections.