“DID you know that wine was first produced in Georgia?”
Consul General Joselito Carlson Aseniero asked this reporter as we sat together during a recent diplomatic event in Makati City.
The latter replied in the negative, with the thought that this universally fermented juice of grapes must have been accidentally discovered by prehistoric people in places where the purplish fruit was plentiful.
The Philippines’s consul general to the Eurasian country was trying to enlighten this pretentious oenophile about the origin of the alcoholic beverage, while his interviewer sipped away a cheap version of a vinegary kind. (Many brands that come from all over the world have since invaded Metro Manila’s winery racks. Magazine articles and television shows worldwide generated the feeling that drinking wine imbued a certain air of sophistication, and thus sparked a high market demand.)
Aseniero went on: “[Actually,] Georgia is considered as the ‘Cradle of Wine and Viticulture’ [the science, production and study of grapes]. National Geographic had also published studies that revealed wine was made in [the said country] as early as 8,000 years ago.”
Brokering business, ties
IN the course of our brief interview, the consul general shared his plans to import wines from Georgia, “because they are simply one of the best in the planet.”
He lamented the fact that, while the rest of the wine-drinking world enjoys the Georgian export, it has yet to arrive on Philippine shores.
Same goes with its cheese, which he described as “very good,” originating mainly from an agricultural country.
Our diplomat said he is also venturing to promote Georgian cuisine in the country.
“On the business side, we have created the Philippines-Georgia Business Council through a memorandum of agreement between the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry [PCCI] and the Georgian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.”
Aseniero revealed that encouraging business between Georgia and the Philippines “is one of the functions of [being] an honorary consul, aside from the promotion and improvement of educational, cultural, tourism and diplomatic relations between the two countries.”
In academics, he was able to successfully link De La Salle University and Caucasus University in Georgia, as well as the University of Asia and the Pacific and Ilia State University.
“These will allow exchange of professors and students between these universities. I am working on the MOA [memorandum of agreement] for other universities,” he revealed.
Before Aseniero became its honorary consul, Georgia had no other official representative to the Philippines. At that time, he had just finished his watch as the vice-admiral and national director of the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary (PCGA).
The country’s consul recalled, “I learned there were Georgian sailors who were detained [here in the Philippines], and I helped them with their cases. The following year, Georgia realized that they needed someone to represent them [locally], because they [do not have an embassy here].”
“And so [the government of Georgia] appointed me as their honorary consul for Manila, Central and Southern Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.”
ASENIERO is the grandson of Charles Gustaf Carlson, a Swedish national who arrived in the Philippines as an American teacher who established the grassroots of the country’s system of education.
“My grandpa arrived in the Manila Bay via the USS Thomas, a converted cattle carrier that transported about 540 teachers. They were later known as the ‘Thomasites,’ being passengers of the said vessel. One of them was Austin Craig, who wrote several books about Jose Rizal, and he came to know my grandfather, Jose Aseniero from Dapitan.”
The Filipino envoy said that, soon after the boat’s arrival, “my granddad was sent to Mindanao to establish the Zamboanga Trade School. He then married a Filipina, who was my grandmother. He died when my mother was still young, so there was no chance for me to meet him.”
“I was born and raised in Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte; my grandfather, Jose Aseniero, was a student of Rizal.”
Admiral, ‘captain’ of industries
CONCURRENT to his consular duties, Aseniero also holds the chairmanship of the Philippine-Georgian Business Council arm of the PCCI.
He is also involved with businesses in Japan, particularly with Mentec World Co. Ltd., which oversees the maintenance of Mazda’s Hiroshima automobile factory.
Aseniero is also fondly called “Admiral” by those who know him well in both social and business circles, referencing his leadership and competence as head of the PCGA from 2002 to 2008.
Rising through the ranks of the PCGA since his induction in the 1980s as lieutenant (senior grade), Aseniero became its national commander, with the rank of vice admiral, from 2002 to 2008. He was involved in the search-and-rescue operations of sea disasters in the country, including the 2008 Princess of the Stars incident.
As a multifaceted person, Aseniero’s areas of expertise are in the fields of engineering, agriculture, business and management. He founded his own engineering company, Asephil Manufacturing Corp., which is engaged in liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder repair and manufacturing, where he serves as chairman of the board and president.
The Consul is acknowledged as the “pioneer and father of the LPG cylinder repair industry.” He had spent the past 37 years of his professional life working in that sector and held the presidency of the Philippine Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association for many years.
Aseniero is also involved in agribusiness (corn and coconut farming), quarrying and engineering works. He took up a consultancy position for the Asian Development Bank’s Bangladesh Fisheries Refrigeration Project from 1978 to 1979.
He was the operations manager of the Food Terminal Market, and a consultant to various French companies that conducted business in the Philippines from 1968 to 1972.
Among his past associations as a socio-civic leader, he was the chairman of the Dapitan City Tourism Council, former president of the Rotary Club-Makati, Rotary District governor-representative, post captain of the Manila Yacht Club, charter commodore of the International Yachting Fellowship of the Rotarians (Philippine Fleet), as well as chairman and president of the Association of Former Scholars of the French Technical Cooperation.
Early in his career, Aseniero brought into the country quite a number of European multinational companies that had made considerable local investments, such as ATO Chimie, Atochem, Legris and Total Exploration, among others.
FOR his philanthropic pursuits, Aseniero has supported, until their graduation, many college students and scholars at the Rizal Memorial State University in Zamboanga del Norte.
As a “Rizalist,” he is a life member of the Knights of Rizal and had received various grand awards as Knight Grand Officer of Rizal (Fourth Degree), including the Service Star of Rizal Award, given by the organization’s Supreme Council.
For his many achievements, his hometown conferred on him the noble title “Datu-Order of Pagbuaya” during Dapitan City’s 36th Charter Day on June 22, 1999.
Aseniero speaks English, French and some Spanish, in addition to his facility of Filipino and Cebuano.
His hobbies include restoration of vintage cars (over a dozen of them have been restored to concours d’elégance; one captured a prize in Best of Show magazine’s international competitions).
Being an admiral and a sailor, he has also restored a classic wooden yacht, which he brings out of the dock regularly. His sports activities include sailing and sea racing, having competed in the Easter Regatta, the President’s Cup, the Admiral’s Cup and the grueling 1998 Philippine Centennial Regatta.
As an audiophile, he collects and restores classic tube amplifiers.
Invitation for tourism
THE Filipino envoy advises would-be visitors to Georgia to come during the summertime, and added that soon, Philippine Airlines might have air connections to Moscow with its brand-new A350-900XWB.
“There are numerous ways to get to Georgia via Moscow: by plane, train, car or bus—although air travel is the fastest, which would take a little more than six hours from Domodedovo airport to Tbilisi.”
Transportation is simple: via a marshrutka (or minivan) to anywhere in the country for a pittance and up to $10. Any bus station or train terminal in Tbilisi is easily accessible from the subway for $.25 a ride.
He further described his country of assignment: “Georgia has four seasons. It is also a predominantly Christian-Orthodox country, with around 90 percent of the population [professing the faith. Moreover, it] is a beautiful country. The streets in Tbilisi look like those of Paris.”
“Many times I had been to the capital city Tbilisi, which in the local language means ‘warm.’ Its name stems from the legendary hot springs frequented by [Alexander] Pushkin and [Alexandre] Dumas, who are world-renowned European writers.”
With a population of 4.9 million, Georgia is a republic governed by President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.
Hotel meals in the capital city range from $50 or more, while restaurants are reasonably priced at $5 for a feast.
As an exhortation to Filipinos to visit his country of assignment, Aseniero concluded, “Wine is also reasonably priced [there], so I encourage everyone to go to Georgia and enjoy!”
Image credits: Jimbo Albano