I am from Southern Luzon; from the Bicol region, famous for the Mayon volcano. I am a lawyer by training, and I graduated from the University of the Philippines. However, a friend of mine who was taking the exam to join the diplomatic corps convinced me to do so. Since then, I have never looked back and I am really proud to say that a village boy can make it.
I have been in the Foreign Service for almost 30 years. I was assigned to New York, Brussels, Chicago and San Francisco, then I went back to serve under Fidel V. Ramos. I headed the legal department and I was also the foreign ministry spokesperson. I have been in Malaysia for the last four years, and only God knows where I will head next.
There are a lot of challenges when it comes to the relationship between two neighboring countries. But I am happy to be here because I have discovered that this job provides a unique platform to do some good.
Firstly, where bilateral relationships are concerned, we need to get the people of both countries to get to know each other a little bit better and be closer to each other. We have to be able to take more care of the Filipinos in Malaysia, with emphasis to the children in Sabah. Overall, I am grateful for the opportunity to be here.
There are migrant children in Sabah. They do not have access to education. This doesn’t only pertain to Filipinos; it concerns other nationalities as well. Thus, we are encouraging the community members to come up with alternative programmes for education. Their families have been here for decades. So far we have six centres that cater to 1,200 children. They have been a challenge to implement, but we have worked with UNICEF and the local education ministries to make it happen.
PERCEPTION OF FILIPINOS
The perception is changing. There are now good jobs created in the Philippines, so less and less people are leaving. Our growth rate has been rather impressive. There is now a strong policy guidance to scale back the development of house helpers abroad. The community here in Malaysia is very well immersed. We see more and more inter-marriages. We are in constant engagement. We work together on the various issues and we have accomplished a lot.
There were hardly any sort of relationships before, and now we see Filipino companies investing in Malaysia. The likes of Petron, Century Motolite Battery (providing batteries to Proton), URC or UNAM Pharmaceuticals are the best ambassadors to help mentalities shift. And we are hoping to see Jollibee open here soon.