By Priscila R. Confiado
We arrived in Tokyo on January 12, 2006. Little did I imagine that in a span of four and half years we will get to work with three ambassadors. But mind you, the fast turnover came only in the last 4 months. Having served with several ambassadors in the past, one can’t help but ponder on the last three. They come from different backgrounds, upbringing and interests. “Amba” as we fondly call them: Siazon had the reputation of being the more intellectual one not to say that he is the most intelligent, pero yung dating niya ay ganun. Amba Anota was the more spiritual and deeply religious one and Amba Lopez, is the business tycoon with a “heart and malasakit” for our kababayans.
In Modern Diplomacy, an ambassador is defined as the highest ranking diplomat who represents a nation and is usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization. For us Filipinos, our ambassador is not only the highest ranking diplomat, but the official representative of the President of the Philippines to the host country.
The Philippine Embassy in Tokyo, Japan is one of our most important foreign posts. Japan, being one of our major trading partners, the largest source of investments and development assistance, and home to 224,558 Filipinos, the fourth largest foreign community in Japan.
From 1944 to the present (a span of 57 years), we have had 14 Heads of Posts, each one of them leaving their mark in the embassy, each one of them leaving their legacy.
I first met Amba Siazon when we were posted in New Delhi, India. He was attending the Non Aligned Movement or NAM meeting. I was awed by what I had heard and read about my husband’s boss, a scholar and accomplished diplomat. At that time, 1998, he was serving as Secretary of Foreign Affairs. So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to an evening with him.
We were riding in the “old” Mercedes car of the embassy. We were requested to take care of Secretary Siazon, pick him up from his hotel, the Oberoi, and bring him to the Ambasador’s residence in Channakyapuri (New Delhi’s diplomatic enclave). While on the way, he asked Solphie if the driver could turn on the car’s air conditioning. Apparently he was starting to perspire, owing to the intense heat (summers in New Delhi could heat up to 48-50 degrees). Solphie then proceeded to talk to our driver, and he replied, “No Saab, if I turn on the air conditioning the car will stop!” Then the three of us started laughing and I gamely said, “Welcome to India, Sir.” He gamely replied, “Oh no, please don’t turn on the aircon, I don’t want to push!” and proceeded to take off his coat.
Domingo L. Siazon began his love affair with Japan as a Monbusho scholar at the Tokyo University of Education in 1964. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Physics. He not only mastered Japanese but did so by marrying one of their own, Kazuko I. Siazon. They have 2 sons, Dan and Ken.
Jun Siazon, as he was called by his friends, was always supportive of Filipinos and scholars wanting to study in Japan, and learning their culture and language. He felt that this was one of the best ways to foster our relations with the Japanese people, when we take the time and effort to learn their ways. It was also a way for paving the way for “future” diplomats to serve in this post. On several occasions, he encouraged our son Andre to take his masters degree on Asian studies at the Waseda University.
Also on many occasions, Amba Siazon can entertain you with his wit, his stock knowledge of politics and politicians, society figures, golf and songs!! Because of his experiences in the service and his long memory, he can tell you stories about prominent figures in our government and society. An important advice when you are with a man like Amba Siazon is that you listen, one can learn a lot just by listening to him.
And oh yes, he can belt out a tune, him being a former member of the Ateneo Glee club. One Christmas party, I remembered having great fun singing Christmas carols the whole night with him!!
Because the “amba” is our premier representative of the country, it is most important that the person chosen to be the ambassador truly cuts a figure of respectability, in other words “kagalang-galang.”
Para sa akin, lubos na kagalang-galang ang ating ambassdor kung magaling siyang “magdala” sa ating Philippine dress o Barong Tagalog kung tawagin. Ah, dito masasabi ko na lubos na kagalang-galang si Amba Siazon dahil matipuno at magiting siyang magdala ng ating Barong.
Our second Ambassador is a woman diplomat, Belen Fule Anota. We remember Amba Belen fondly with her saying that she is an “Ambassador for Christ!” She was appointed Charge’ d’ Affaires of the Embassy from October 2010 to mid-January 2011, following the retirement of Ambassador Siazon and prior to the arrival of Ambassador Manuel M. Lopez.
In diplomacy, chargé d’affaires (French for “charged with (in charge of) matters”), often shortened to simply chargé, is the title of two classes of diplomatic agents who head a diplomatic mission on a temporary basis.
She arrived in October amidst the flurry of preparations for President Benigno S. Aquino III’s first visit to Japan last November to attend the APEC Leaders’ Meeting in Yokohama. Prior to Tokyo, Amba Belen served as Head of Post in Israel then in Singapore, very tough assignments for a mother of two. From her stories, Amba Belen seemed to have visited every corner of Israel, most especially the Holy Land, a must for the Catholic faithful. Her transfer to Singapore was unexpected, but providential because as she said it was in the city-state that she found a more suitable school for her son.
We had a special affinity to Amba Belen because she is a sister in the community, them (she and her husband), being members of the Catholic renewal community called Couples for Christ or CFC. I believe that this is one of her legacy to our embassies, her deep faith has always guided her in the decisions she made and the kind of leadership she asserted in the embassy.
She will be remembered as the ambassador who pulled the embassy together during the “Guen Aguilar” saga in Singapore in 2005-2006. The Singapore Supreme Court (SC) sentenced her in 2006 to ten years imprisonment for killing fellow Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) Jane La Puebla in September 2005. She narrowly escaped the death penalty. The Flor Contemplacion case was still fresh in the minds of everyone and apparently Secretary Blas F. Ople was known to have said that he wanted someone in Singapore who has the heart and faith that will move mountains. I will never forget her response to the question, “How did you manage it?” and her response was, “With a lot of prayer.”
In the preparations for the PNoy’s visit, two memories come to mind. The first was her support for the choir. Solphie organized the choir coming from ten different parishes and we began rehearsals 2 months before November 14. She made it a point to attend some of our rehearsals and on the first time she came, she told us that she wanted to speak to the members, and this is what she said, “Please sing with all your heart and soul, because you will not only be singing to our kababayans and our President but most specially because you will be singing to the Lord!” All of us in the choir became doubly inspired to sing our best.
The second memory is from our preparations for the “Children’s Segment,” Amba Belen amazed me with her attention to details. First, she said the number of origami should be significant to the Pnoy and she was so concerned with how the 2 boys will carry the origami and how the President will receive it. Truly, a woman can be so meticulous about the details and specifics. But it was because of her “pangungulit” about how it will be handed over to the President that we got it right. So I guess she was the best “woman” for the job!!
Amba Belen also had a lot of trivia about the Nativity or what we commonly call “Belen.” While having dinner with Bishop Bacani who came to Japan to attend the anniversary celebrations of El Shaddai, her first question to us was, “Why does the ox and the ass merit a place in the Belen?” Bishop Bacani paused for a moment and said Isaiah 1:3, “ An ox knows its owner and an ass its masters manger” (NAB). Obedience, said Amba Anota, is one of the great lessons of the Nativity story.
Just before leaving for Manila during the December holidays, she invited a small group of us to view her “Belen Collection,” and enthralled us the whole evening with anecdotes about each set and the role of each character or animal in the nativity. Oh it was a nice and wonderful evening that will long be remembered. Amba Anota shared with us that she has more than 100 sets of Nativity in her personal collection. She has nativities from all over the world! I guess having a name Belen prompts people to gift her with them. “Belen on Belen,” that is the title of the book she hopes to write one day when she retires from active diplomatic service. I wished we had more time with her because I always learned something new each time we got together.
Amba Belen, we wish you the best in your next posting!!
I got a glimpse of Ambassador Manuel M. Lopez years back when I attended a function to honor Fr. Fernando Suarez (the healing priest) at the house of Greg and Paz Monteclaro. Fr. Edo requested me to be one of the emcees during his birthday celebration and Amba Lopez with Mrs. Marites Lopez were amongst the guests. Little did I know that I would meet them again today.
Ambassador Manuel Moreno Lopez, known to his friends as “Manolo Lopez,” is married to Maria Teresa Lagdameo Lopez and they have four children; Maria Margarita L. Lichauco, Manuel Eugenio L. Lopez, Miguel Ernesto L. Lopez and Martin Antonio L. Lopez. To date they have 7 grandchildren. Amba Lopez said to us one time that he hopes to bring his grandchildren to Tokyo for the summers. I am sure that the residence in Kudan will surely echo with the laughter and voices of children, a sure way of warming up those cold corridors Sir!
Tokyo is his first assignment as an Ambassador and as a government official. Prior to this posting, Ambassador Lopez is known for his 45 years experience in being a successful businessman and a distinguished corporate leader. He is a respected and admired visionary leader of Meralco. His stewardship propelled the premier electric distribution company into its highest operational efficiency and very impressive operational results. Compassionate leadership has endeared him to all his employees.
Amba Lopez started his career as a management trainee in MERALCO or Manila Electric Company in 1965, he worked his way up in this company until he became its President and COO and eventually its Chairman and CEO from 2001 until his retirement last July 2010. In an interview with the Daily Inquirer, Lopez said ”I won’t be happy retired, Lopezes don’t retire. Geny was the same. We die with our boots on.” “Geny” is Eugenio Lopez Jr., the late oldest brother of Manolo.”
It is said that if one goes to the Manuel M. Lopez Development Center or MMLDC in Antipolo, one can see written the core values that this business tycoon turned Diplomat lives by; malasakit, honesty, integrity and hard work. I still remember fondly what he said to Solphie over coffee last November, “Pagdating sa consular services, importante na maayos ang pakikitungo sa lahat, dapat maramdaman ng ating mga kababayan na mahalaga sila!”
As it turned out, the Pnoy had other plans for Manolo. He has brought Manolo to Japan and I can feel winds of change brewing in the horizon.
I believe each of the three ambassadors mentioned in this article came to Japan for a reason. Each of them had a role to play and a mission to fulfill at that particular time. To be called to serve in Foreign Service is not a job but a mission. You have to have the heart for it because if you don’t, then your presence will not be meaningful.
The profile of the Filipino community in Japan has changed. We are not just OFW’s or contract workers anymore, we have become a migrant community. Our women have married into Japanese families, bore children, built their homes, planted their roots here and they will be here to stay. We have a growing second generation of half Japanese and half Filipinos whom they fondly call double. As such our Embassy will have to fully respond to this changing profile and changing needs and pressing concerns of our kababayans. As such the formation of the proposed Philippine Center or “Tahanan” is indeed providential and responsive to the call of the times.
I believe that a Divine intervention has brought Ambassador Lopez to Japan at this perfect time because we need someone like him. A man with his business acumen to further deepen the ties we have in trade and development aid, a man with his love for our country and our kababayans, specially his “malasakit” principle in order to relate in a very humane way with our kababayans here in Japan and lastly his deep and abiding faith in God which will be the measure by which he will be measured. “A man after God’s own heart” as David was known to be, we welcome and look with much anticipation the days to come when we will walk tall because our ambassador cares for us, when our ambassador shares not only his knowledge and experiences with us but more importantly his heart. Amba Lopez, allow us to journey with you in the days to come and we will match your dedication with ours.
Maligayang pagdating po Amba Lopez!!!