This is an excerpt from Ambassador Philippe Jones Lhuillier's book, Bayang Magiliw: Finding Bel Paese.
THE TRUE GEM
When I first arrived at the Philippine Embassy in Rome, I came only with my two feet and few pieces of luggage. I did not even have a personal secretary nor my own people to assist me.
My family even found it difficult to believe that I was willing to serve in government. But I thought that since I had been good in business, I might as well be good as an Ambassador. I came to Rome with just myself and my desire to serve the Filipinos living there.
As a businessman, I never run away from a challenge and I view my posting as Philippine Ambassador to Italy as one. I also pose the same challenge to the embassy staff. I often remind them to think that the people who come to the office could be them or their friends or relatives. They have sacrificed a lot by leaving their own country to work alone in a faraway country. We should try to assist them in every possible way.
I have set some changes since I first arrived in Rome in 1998. The Embassy is now open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. – without any noon break- and processing time of consular documents has consequently been reduced. A closed circuit television system installed all over the embassy helps me know if additional staff is needed in areas where there is a deluge of clients. Outreach programs to other provinces in Italy are also held regularly to meet the needs of Filipinos in those places.
A have also institutionalized regular consultation meetings with the Filipino communities. My weekends and holidays are preoccupied by visiting them in their communities. It is not surprising that I get to eat three lunches and four meriendas during Sundays. I attend bowling competition or basketball game to award trophies. My pressing concern always is how to be of greater help to the Filipinos.
My assistant would often say that I will not carry on this way since I do “micromanage.” However, I guess this is really my management style. I once told the embassy staff that I may not have an MBA, but I am an MBWA holder-Management By Walking Around.
Contrary to accepted views, OFWs are not oblivious to the Philippines’ cause. They remain interested in government affairs and try to participate in political exercises. The comments and suggestions I have made at the first Overseas Absentee Voting process held in 2004- particularly when we resolved, as Special Board of Election Committee, that loyalty to the party ends when one assumes a government position – has been used as basis for the drafting of the law.
Surprisingly, that election process got a huge participation, not only from the Filipino communities but also from the religious sector. For several days, we did not go home – much to the anxiety of Mrs. Lhuillier – and painstakingly counted the ballots for the presidential and senatorial candidates. We amused ourselves by singing and joking around, but it was hard work.
I have also transformed the embassy and made it much bigger to accommodate the large number of clients. There is a library and a technology center now where Filipinos, who are waiting for their documents to be processed, can go and read about country or email their family, relatives and friends back home.
I am also trying to find a way for our countrymen to improve themselves and enhance their skills. I believe they should not be content with being hired help. They could be nurses, caregivers, telephone repairmen, utility men, and the like. I often think of Mircea Eliade – as Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher and university professor – who believed that a person leaves home in order to return successful. I want the Filipino workers to be successful when they go back to the Philippines and enjoy the fruit of their hard work in II Bel Pease.
My ultimate dream, however, is to have a Philippine Center In Italy. I want to put up a “home” for our community where they can cease to become “migrants” for the time being. The center will also showcase to the Italians our rich heritage and diverse culture. I thought I could accomplish this within a year of assuming office but it has proven to be a bit difficult. Hopefully, with the help of my friend Gianni Alemanno, who has been elected Mayor of Rome, in finding suitable location for the center, this dream will soon be a reality.
In my long sojourn in Italy and with the numerous personalities whom I have met, I believe that indeed, home is where the heart is.
And my heart is with the Filipinos in Italy. I have grown to love, care and be concerned with them – and I wish a can do more for them.
Despite all the diamonds and precious stones that I have encountered in my business, I have found the gem of all gems in Italy – the Filipino people.
Cebuana Lhuillier Pawnshop has been the leading pawnshop chain in the Philippines with over 1,500 branches across the country—from Aparri to Tawi-Tawi. For 25 years now, Cebuana has been true to its slogan “Walang Kapantay Magpahalaga” through the incomparable services that the company offers to its customers- this includes — pawning, local and international remittance, insurance, bills payme
nt, e-load, collection, and foreign exchange. Founded in 1987 by the current Philippine envoy to Portugal, Ambassador Philippe Jones Lhuillier, Cebuana Lhuillier is currently managed by its President and CEO, Jean Henri Lhuillier.