An Interview With The Ambassador
by Dennis Sun
Jeepney Press is deeply honored to have His Excellency the Philippine Ambassador to Japan grace its centerfold. It is our hope that through this interview, Filipinos in Japan would get to know more and get closer to our dear ambassador.
Japan is home to about 250,000 Filipinos. When you were given the post to become ambassador of the Philippines in Japan, what was your reaction? And how did you prepare yourself for your first job as a public servant?
I welcomed the challenge given to me by the President since Japan is perhaps our second most important partner after the United States. I tried to learn as much as I could since I wanted to leave for Tokyo right after the New Year. The reading materials on Japan were voluminous, so you tried to absorb as much as you can and at the same time meet with friends who were posted in Japan one time or another. Up until this day I continue to learn something new about Japan.
What were your expectations on your role as ambassador for the Philippines?
Definitely to serve our countrymen in Japan the best way I can and at the same time bring everyone in the Embassy staff to instill the spirit of “malasakit” to all our kababayans. Together with the entire staff, both Tokyo and Osaka, we want to bring quality service to all our countrymen to the best of our abilities.
You were welcomed to Japan with one of the country's most tremendous disasters, the 3/11 earthquake. How did you tackle the experience?
It was perhaps a most challenging and daunting experience not only for me but the entire embassy since none of us have ever experienced a disaster of this magnitude. Yes, I have experienced calamities back in the country but they were mostly on typhoons and floods. But the disaster that hit Japan in March 11, 2011 made all of us work doubly hard, sacrificed personal safety and comforts to ensure that our kababayans in the Tohoku area were attended to. I thank the leaders of the Filipino communities in the stricken areas for also rising to the challenge by supporting our efforts. Everyone did their best to see to it that those most affected especially were taken cared of. We hope there will not be a next time, but should it happen again, we shall be better prepared.
In your 2 ½ years in Japan, what has been the most difficult task you have encountered?
To try and improve the image of the Filipino and the Philippines as an admired country in the international community and deserving of the respect and recognition of the Japanese people. Our jobs are made easier with the inspiration of President Benigno S. Aquino III who has made all Filipinos proud of their country due to his “matuwid na daan” policy. With the increase in Japanese visitors to the country the last few years and the level of trade and investments of Japanese companies to an all-time high, we feel rewarded by the new image of our country and definitely the best is yet to come.
How were your expectations and preconceptions of the Filipinos in Japan before you came different from your actual encounters and experiences so far?
In my 40 plus years in the private sector, I was always involved in dealing with our employees and the community we live in and so working with the Filipino community in Japan was not really a problem. Mrs. Lopez and I have vowed to make ourselves open to meeting with them and attending to their functions. We have become close to many of the community leaders especially those in Philippine Assistance Group (PAG) who have supported the Embassy’s initiatives. Maraming salamat sa kanilang lahat.
There are many social and community events that bring the Filipino community together in Japan, but not as many that help them assimilate with the Japanese society in terms of doing projects together, etc. Do you think there is a need for this interaction and what programs or projects can you conceive that can make this happen?
This is definitely a continuing work in progress, however, I am happy to note that many of our countrymen who live here have very well assimilated with the Japanese society. Their knowledge of the Japanese language and practices are very noteworthy and certainly has made them very much a part of the Japanese society. I am quite pleased with the way the majority have adopted to their new home away from home environment. Interaction and participation in local events and activities are certainly encouraged to gain better understanding and acceptance with the communities we all live in.
In assessing the Japanese language proficiency level of the average Filipinos in Japan, I think most of them are limited to speaking basic conversational Japanese only and have difficulty in reading and writing either formal or business Japanese. The language barrier has been a huge block to hindering the Filipinos succeed in the Japanese mainstream market. What motivational projects and programs can the embassy propose to develop the Japanese language ability of the Filipinos?
Learning to read, speak and write Japanese is very difficult and even those who have studied here in Japan can attest to that. However, this should not be a hindrance in succeeding in business or working here since the Japanese community has learned to accept migrant workers who have adopted themselves to understanding the Japanese way, the best way they can.
I have spoken to a number of Filipinos working in Japanese companies and they have somehow managed even if they are not very proficient with the local language. The Japanese labor market today is very different from before. Today, they welcome more and more overseas workers who are competent and willing to work hard for their companies. It is my hope that more of our nurses and caregivers will not only become proficient in Japanese language but also adopting well to Japanese healthcare requirements which is quite challenging I was told.
What are the things you would like to achieve for the Filipinos in Japan? What is your vision for the Filipinos? How do you envision the Filipinos in Japan to be by the end of your term?
I would like to see all Filipinos living and working in Japan to be held in high esteem by the community or their employers. I am pleased to note that our countrymen working for the many different emba-ssies based in Japan are very highly regarded not only by the Ambassadors but also by their fellow workers primarily because of their proficiency in English, work habits and “malasakit.” I have yet to hear even a mild complaint from my ambassador colleagues here on any of their Filipino staff. As a matter of fact, they were very proud of the Filipinos especially during the March 11, 2011 earthquake where they did not leave their employers for their own personal safety.
When you took the role as an ambassador, what was your mission? What legacy would you like to leave in Japan when your term ends? How would you accomplish it?
When my posting ends, I would like to be remembered as having given the best I could in the service of all Filipinos irrespective of status. I also want to thank my entire staff, past and present, for giving their 100% support to our vision of providing our countrymen quality service to the best of our abilities and at the same time creating a positive image in Japan.
What message would you like to send to the Filipinos in Japan?
Sa mga kababayan kong minamahal, maraming salamat po sa inyong suporta at pang-unawa sa Philippine Embassy at sana lagi tayong magtulungan para sa ikabubuti ng ating mga kababayan. Maasahan niyo lagi ang suporta ng buong kakayanan namin para makapaglingkod sa inyong lahat. Kung meron kayong mga hinaing, maari ninyong ipaalam sa amin at sisikapin naming matugunan ang lahat ng ito upang lalo pang mapaganda ang aming serbisyo sa inyong lahat.
Maraming marami pong salamat at mabuhay ang Pilipino!