With the election of a new Philippine government along with global developments, the BusinessMirror’s Envoys and Expats section looks back at the diplomats and business executives who were featured throughout 2016.
The month of January saw envoys and expats who have found a way to merge their culture with that of the Philippines, seeing similarities and creating connections that either go back to history or fast forward to emerging trends.
Marriott Hotel Manila and its Grand Hotel Ballroom Executive Chef Meik Brammer admitted to immersing himself in the entertainment and pop culture of the Philippines through listening to Freddie Aguilar songs and catching Kris Aquino movies.
According to the German chef, being up to date with how a certain culture goes about helps in coming up with authentic dishes that relate well to customers.
“I wanted to read and study about the Philippines. I cooked and listened to Filipino music. I also watched Filipino movies. I think I have been eating too much Filipino food at that time,” Brammer said.
Meanwhile, Syrian Arab Republic Consul Issam El-Debs said the love for eating is a commonality between Syrians and Filipinos. He recalls a time when Syria enjoyed a peaceful atmosphere among different religions. El-Debs also stated that Syrian nationals in the Philippines are happy and are well-settled.
Having a tongue for Mandarin and going to Chinese school have helped Foreign Affairs Spokesman Charles C. Jose handle the diplomatic demands in the department.
Being a vice consul in China, Jose had the chance to witness its affairs, both good and bad, including the Tiananmen Massacre. He said the job is not an easy one, as it entails balancing the concern of two countries and having to provide the audience with the correct information and updates without misinterpretation.
“As spokesman, the work keeps me on my toes, I am aware and became familiar with so many issues and subject matters. I found that everything is always new. Things always keep changing. I always have to learn new things. I am always exposed to new things,” Jose said.
Korean Tourism Organization Manila Director Park In-shik also does a balancing act, ensuring that Korean nationals see the beauty of the Philippines and that Filipinos also visit South Korea more.
In-shik said the goal for 2016 was to have 20 million tourists visit South Korea. With new attractions other than a white Christmas for visitors coming in December, South Korea also boasts of the largest museum in Asia and one of the biggest sporting events in the world—the Winter Olympics happening in 2018 and the Paralympic Games.
Care for the environment and the society, and providing quality service are traits of the individuals featured for the month of February.
Australian mining company OceanaGold Country Director Bradley Norman said mining is an industry that is not a walk in the park but requires a lot of time, effort and planning. Companies should also be responsible in their operations to be able to provide a sustainable means of economic benefit in the long run, he said.
“Mining could assist in the development through sustainable and responsible ways, and the use of modern technology. Mining has a multiplier effect greater than any other industry. It has an inclusive effect,” Norman said.
Meanwhile, economic and political analyst Dan Steinbock said the country needs to learn from its past and strongly campaign against corruption, while creating a healthy ground for foreign investments in the country.
Norwegian Ambassador Erik Forner noted the need for inclusive growth to be able to close the gap between the rich and the poor.
“There is contrast between Forbes Park and other parts of the city that is not as privileged. Many of the big cities have it. A mixture of the good and bad, rich and poor,” Forner said.
Forner added that the country must maintain a fairly large middle class to be stable.
Putting the literal sense into the word care, British national Josephine Ive, who worked as a butler for Queen Elizabeth II, said Filipinos have the hospitality, trustworthiness and natural care to be top butlers.
Ive said she wants to train Filipinos to become butlers, because she sees potentials in them based on their competency level, attentiveness and eagerness to provide service.
The value of years-long collaboration in literature and social development was highlighted in March with personalities like Instituto Cervantes Manila Cultural Department Head Jose Maria Fons Guardiola, who has been influenced by various artists and writers, including the late Nick Joaquin.
Project Manager for Psychological Empowerment for Gawad Kalinga Ruben Chaumont, a French national, also said empowerment in the community and of the people in its outskirts is the key to a transformed society.
“To perform at their best, human beings need to feel valued and find meaning and purpose in their work; but the more workplaces become short term-focused, the harder it is to provide these conditions to employees,” Chaumont said, noting the country’s huge asset is its sense of belongingness.
Friends also highlighted accomplishments and contributions of the late ambassador and businessman Antonio L. Cabangon Chua, not only in his distinguished career but also as a devout Catholic.
Stories of perseverance and the struggle to climb up the career ladder marked the month of April.
Despite misfortunes and obstacles, these individuals did not fail to see the silver lining in every situation.
Fr. Gian Maria di Giorgio, OFM-Cap bids the faithful to pray for priests and other members of the Church in their mission during the Lenten season.
Gian Maria invited everyone to talk to our Lord and the Virgin Mary through prayers, adding that we can receive graces, blessings and peace within when we pray constantly, like Saint Pio did in his lifetime, thus, becoming agents of peace ourselves.
For Sofitel Philippine Plaza Restaurant Operations Chef Paul Cottanceau-Pocard, it was the simple life in the countryside and the tough city one that molded him. But Pocard worked his way up, from cleaning kitchens to manning the kitchen of the biggest Sofitel branch in the world.
“I cannot imagine kids growing up in the city. It is all superficial, dangerous and fake. I work in the city for the opportunities not present in the countryside,” Pocard said. “The first two days were hard. I worked 16 to 17 hours daily, with one day off from work. I was assigned to clean everything, including the locker rooms.”
From a mere interest to now a full-blown career, Steve Kim, founder of the Asian Hot Air Balloon Federation, said one has to follow his or her heart, and work to achieve his or her dreams.
Kim is now the event director of the Lubao International Balloon Festival, which is the biggest event of its kind in Southeast Asia, a long way from his previous dreams of being a jet-fighter pilot but taking flight anyway.
Meanwhile, two diplomats and a commerce chamber head shared their optimism on the country’s future.
American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines Executive Director Ebb Hinchcliffe said he is positive that other countries will see plenty of opportunities in the Philippines regardless of the administration.
“Despite the horrible traffic and dire prediction that Manila would be uninhabitable in four years, this is a wonderful country. They are blind, because they do not see Fort Bonifacio and Rockwell. They see it grow like a child and did not notice the growth,” Hinchliffe said.
Netherlands Ambassador Marion Derckx also sees “amazing” growth in the Philippines plodding more interest from Dutch companies to come in and invest.
Derckx said their embassy sees the Philippines as having one of the most skilled labor forces in Asia, with a literacy rate of 96.30 percent and wages that are 16 percent to 25 percent lower than those in Europe and the United States.
“I look at the Filipino people, and I see them as playful and flexible in the way they think. They are intelligent people who can easily relate,” Derckx said.
The 24/7 demands of British Consul Brendan Gill’s job are tough, but he said being able to assist Filipino and British nationals always provided a sense of fulfillment.
Actual developments and points for political discussion were covered by personalities featured in the month of May as the national elections set in.
Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands President Jose Luis Yulo, who also served as an honorary consul in Slovenia, mentioned five pillars as basis for economic development for then-President-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte.
The five pillars, composed of education, the government, infrastructure and environment, Philippine businesses and the economy, are guiding visions for the country to leapfrog and catch up with its Asean neighbors.
Meanwhile, Australian Trade Commission Minister Counselor and Senior Trade Commissioner Anthony Weymouth said foreign investments need to be addressed, as the Philippines continues to lag behind its Asean neighbors.
“There is room for more Australian investments. The key thing is the 60-40 restriction in the Philippine Constitution,” Weymouth said, while citing that more investments can be placed on infrastructure projects in the country, if international companies are allowed more than 40-percent equity.
Travel technology provider Amadeus Asia-Pacific President Albert Pozo, on the other hand, stressed the need for stronger technology and connectivity in the Philippines.
“We will enable travel through technology. We see an opportunity to drive innovation. We see new ways of conducting businesses,” Pozo said. “It is not just about airports and roads. Travel is a large ecosystem, and it must function effectively. There should be intermobility that involves land, air and sea travel.”
He added: “Filipinos are now savvy transacting online. More are now willing to pay online. There is a change in behavior, a new generation.”
Assisting diplomats and foreign-affairs leaders in their spiritual life, Diplomatic Society of Saint Gabriel Secretary-General Ramon Jose Moreno Jr. said the Church has a role to play in diplomatic relations, as it is a mover of world peace and interfaith dialogues.
For June, featured foreign nationals showed their innovative side and stressed on the importance of peering beyond impressions.
Israel Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines President Itamar Gero, who came into the country and entered the business-process outsourcing (BPO) industry, said one must have long-term vision and be able to anticipate changes and trends in the industry.
“I saw the talent pool. It is an English-speaking country and understands the West. Establishing business also comes at an affordable cost. You have to come in with an idea and a vision. That is the backbone of any nation,” Gero said, while adding that start-ups are exciting for any Israeli, with them regularly holding hackathons.
Spartan Allied Services Management Inc. Vice President Deepender Rawat said the BPO industry should not be downgraded and be seen as just “telemarketers”.
“We teach people process technology,” Rawat said, while adding that, in reality, after 2000, the changes wrought by technology around the world were very much evident.
He added: “The requirements are changing in the market, so we have to update ourselves. Go with the program that would educate more people.”
Willing to partner with the Philippines in agriculture studies and other farming know-how, Republic of Fiji Consul General Jesus Pineda Jr. said Fiji is currently in the process of streamlining its agriculture, trade and other industries because the country is transitioning from military rule to democracy.
Pineda said Fiji is looking at how the country handles its coconut production and learn from its rice technology.
Meanwhile, Iran Ambassador Mohammad Tanhaei said countries should not be boxed by their impressions, as this hindered trading opportunities and business between countries.
“The Philippines, being an agricultural country, should bank on exporting tropical fruits, like bananas and mangoes, and other fruit produce ‘that would be quite welcomed in Iran,” Tanhaei said. To be continued