A singing diplomat’s new journey

A profound truth exists in devotion: “You cannot serve two masters.” This age-old expression serves as wisdom, reminding us that our commitment must be undivided, our focus unwavering.

They say serving two masters dilutes our efforts and spreads our passion thin until it becomes shallow and insignificant. It is a recipe for mediocrity, a compromise that prevents us from reaching our true potential.

So, too, is the case in our own lives. Whether it be our careers, relationships, or personal passions, we must choose wisely and devote ourselves wholly to the path we wish to tread. In this singular pursuit, greatness is born, where excellence takes root and flourishes.

Philippine Ambassador to Portugal Paul Raymund Cortes employs harmony to find success in his profession as a diplomat and in his passion for singing.

Philippine Ambassador to Portugal Paul Raymund Cortes defies expectations, harmonizing his role with his passion for singing. His melodic voice resonates with compassion and dedication, inspiring hope and joy in those he serves.

Cortes embarked on a journey over 25 years ago. In 1996, he stepped into the DFA, unaware of the odyssey that awaited him. Before diplomacy, he pursued his dream of becoming a professional singer, defying convention with unwavering faith.

Challenging the timeless wisdom of ‘You cannot serve two masters’ requires exceptional courage, which Ambassador Cortes recognizes.

Despite countless challenges, Cortes refused to let his dream fade. He honed his voice, persevered through auditions, and embraced life’s unexpected twists. His path shifted, but his passion burned brighter.

After earning a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics degree at Ateneo de Manila University, he worked for two years in a multidisciplinary professional services firm.

Unhappy with his job, he decided to quit and take a break.

“You see, you’re only 20 when you graduate in our time. Because we entered college, you’re 16. Right? You graduate at 20,” he told DAILY TRIBUNE. “And then you’re expected to begin your career at 20, so at an age where you’re still trying to find out exactly what you want to do.”

He continued: “So that’s what happened to me. After quitting, I decided to join a band and went into professional singing. And I did that for five years.”

During his break, he decided to pursue singing and signed with a record label despite his parents’ strong opposition.

Unfortunately, things did not unfold as he had anticipated.

“There has to be at least some focus on how they plan to sell you and your songs, you as an artist, you and your songs to the public. That’s where we found a little inconsistency with my manager,” he said.

Cortes, however, remains grateful for daring to pursue fame and take a chance.

“Those were the happiest moments of my life. I sang and learned songs and how to deal with people. I learned how to read a crowd,” he said.

Life as a diplomat

After trying his hand at singing, Cortes took a moment for self-reflection and decided to follow his parents’ wishes for him to become a lawyer or forge his own path. He chose the latter.

A first from a family of lawyers, he entered the DFA hoping to be a diplomat.

His first foreign post was in Budapest, Hungary, where he served as third secretary and vice consul from 1997 to 2004. 

For seven years, he and his wife, Dra. Yasmin Balajadia-Cortes, served the Embassy of the Philippines in Hungary.

Cortes’ journey took him to Hawaii and Dubai, where he served as a deputy consul general and Consulate General, respectively. In Dubai, he faced the challenge of leading the Philippine mission in a city that became a second home to countless Filipino workers.

Known to many as the “Singing Consul General,” Cortes brought comfort and joy to Filipino migrant workers who were separated from their loved ones in pursuit of better opportunities. Through his music, he touched their hearts and reminded them that they were not alone.

“Make them feel at home. Make them realize that the government is closer to them than they actually think,” he said.

On special occasions, the then-Consul General would offer classic songs from the 1970s to overseas Filipino workers in Dubai.

“I would have an event from, usually on the weekend. And it’s usually from 7 a.m. to midnight,” he said.

“So, it wasn’t just more of singing; it was more of feeding your way through what they want. So, you’re adjusting to the situation.”

Cortes faced his most significant challenge in Dubai during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic was difficult because people lost their jobs. People didn’t have money because of the no-work, no-pay policy,” he said. They didn’t have money to pay for their house or rent. They didn’t have money to buy groceries.”

New journey

His journey continues to unfold as he takes on new roles and responsibilities. From serving as Assistant Secretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs to being appointed on 15 May 2024 as the Philippine Ambassador to the Portuguese Republic, his dedication to diplomacy shines. He will also serve as the country’s envoy to the African republics of Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, and Angola.

“So, it’s not like Dubai’s dynamism. When you talk about over a million people, that’s a different dynamic,” he said. The element is just so totally in the air. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of plate Lisbon will be. It’s a new way of studying.”

As an envoy in Portugal, Cortes aims to forge meaningful connections between schools in Lisbon and Manila. His vision is to bridge cultures and create opportunities for knowledge exchange, inspiring a brighter future for both nations.

“Maybe with a special focus on migration studies because for the past nine years, seven years in Dubai, then two years in Manila, I focused on the diaspora of migration,” he said.

He envisions a future brimming with possibilities within the diaspora. His mind teems with ideas and projects that will empower and uplift communities scattered across the globe.

The singing diplomat embraces the challenge of shaping a brighter tomorrow, leaving an indelible mark on the lives of those he encounters — a reminder of our potential to ignite change and create a legacy where the diaspora thrives and flourishes.

His journey inspires us to chase dreams despite the odds and shows us that greatness can emerge from unexpected places.

Challenging the timeless wisdom of “You cannot serve two masters” requires exceptional courage, which Ambassador Cortes recognizes.