It was the academic and social critic Camille Paglia who said “ambassadors have always been symbolic incarnations of the sovereignty of their nations and the dignity of their leaders.” If one were to apply these words to Antonio M Lagdameo Snr, current Philippine ambassador to the Court of St James in the United Kingdom, the Philippines would be seen as a dynamic entity that is rooted in tradition, honed by a great deal of experience in working with other nations, and one that looks forward to a progressive future.
Ambassador Lagdameo has served the nation in a diplomatic capacity since 2007 when then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo named him official envoy to Mexico. Since then, he has also served as the country’s chief emissary to Spain and the United Kingdom. Indeed, it came as a surprise to the ambassador that he would be the Philippines’ Man in London for a second time in February of this year.
“I should have been enjoying my retirement after many years in the private sector and a long experience in business,” he admits ruefully. “But when your country demands service of you, I’m sure the patriot in you will never be able to say no.”
His initial stint as ambassador to the UK, which began in July 2009, came immediately after his posting to Spain. By then, he had ample experience with regard to being at the helm of an agency in the Foreign Service, as well as representing the country’s interests in the highest levels of society.
“Thus far, the highlights of my second tour of duty in London include the opportunity to present my credentials to Her Majesty [Queen Elizabeth II] for a second time,” he says. “It is an honour and a privilege enjoyed only by very few ambassadors to London.”
According to the ambassador, his first stint came at an economically and politically difficult time for the UK. In 2009, Great Britain was still reeling from the impact of the global financial crisis of 2007. However, despite the economic downturn and thepolitical turmoil at the time, the Philippines was still considered a viable investment destination for British corporations. At the same time, the population of the local Filipino community continued to grow—and the ambassador saw an opportunity to help empower his countrymen abroad.
“In the UK, where we have many workers, we introduced livelihood and financial literacy training programmes to many of our kababayans to enable them to become entrepreneurs later on,” he adds with pride.
It was something that further increased the ambassador’s understanding of the plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), as well as his appreciation for their sterling qualities and strong work ethic. His experiences also opened his eyes to the myriad possibilities that appeared whenever nations cooperate and interact with each other.
From Private Business to Public Service
Ambassador Lagdameo’s concern for the wellbeing of others had its roots in his youth when he considered a career in medicine at the University of the Philippines. But his aptitude for business would lead to a Bachelor’s Degree in Accountancy from the University of the East in 1964 and, subsequently, graduate studies in Business Administration at the Ateneo de Manila.
His work in the corporate sector was, nevertheless, a good foundation for the career he found himself in later on in life. “Most surprisingly, there are more similarities than differences between running a private company and managing an embassy,” he says. “You have people of different talents and backgrounds; and you have a team where everyone knows his or her role in achieving the organisation’s objectives. You operate on a budget and you try to get as much return on investment.”
The ambassador notes that his returns will include a more positive perception of the Philippines and increased bilateral business and investment activities from his host country; closer cooperation in the political, social, and cultural arenas; and a positive feedback from the British public. Keeping this in mind, he does not really see himself as the boss; rather, a public servant in the service of all Filipinos within his jurisdiction.
The Better Half
Diplomats the world over will agree that life overseas can be difficult. But for Ambassador Lagdameo, his wife Linda Floirendo-Lagdameo has been with him every step of the way.
“As the wife of an ambassador, I get to meet many of our compatriots and learn about their lives: their triumphs and trials, the sources of their joy and sorrow, as well as their aspirations and the dreams that energise them every morning for the day ahead,” Mrs Lagdameo says of her role. “You could say that I do my part in providing them with the care that they expect from the embassy.”
In her own way, Mrs Lagdameo works as the country’s socio-economic spokesperson in the sense that she speaks of the best aspects of the Philippines to everyone she meets. Along with the standard responsibilities expected of a diplomat’s spouse, she also promotes Philippine destinations, products, and cultural initiatives at various functions.
“You get to promote Philippine culture and values through activities that range from an intimate dinner to a diplomatic reception,” she explains. “If your guests leave with a better appreciation of the Philippines, then you know you have done your part.”
It would not be going too far to say that the ambassador and his wife are looked up to as parental figures by the Filipino community in the UK, given their constant concern for their welfare and growth. Likewise, the doors of our embassy in London are always open, giving expatriates a home—so to speak—away from home.
“Our children are all grown and are pursuing their individual careers and interests, so you could say we are feeling a sense of having an empty nest,” Mrs Lagdameo admits. “I know that one of our roles is to be the parents of the Filipino community in the UK. Knowing this compensates well for the absence of our children.”
We're In This Together
The Lagdameos are a striking couple who turn heads wherever they go and their work for Filipino communities abroad has earned them the respect of both their countrymen and the countries they have worked in. Indeed, their shared reputation earned them the title of Most Prominent Couple at the 5th Philippine Tatler Ball in 2006.
But they both feel that there is still so much to do with regard to their work representing the nation abroad. They speak of continuing the provision of mobile consular services to make the processing of expatriates’ documents and concerns easier and more convenient, regardless of where they are in Great Britain. They have also given OFWs the opportunity to interact with high-level visitors from home at the embassy’s regular “Kapihan sa Pasuguan” (Coffee at the Embassy) townhall gatherings. There are even initiatives for promoting Philippine culture: the ambassador aims to intensify partnerships with UK-based Philippine cultural organisations like the Batubalani art group, the Lahing Kayumanggi dance troupe, and the British Filipino Master Chorale.
It is a hectic life and, at times, a difficult one. But it certainly has given the Lagdameos a deep sense of fulfilment. For those considering a similar path in the service of the nation, A mbassador Lagdameo has a bit of ad vice: “Be patient with the bureaucratic hoops you have to jump; make sure you harness your people’s talents and abilities by giving them time to shine; and always decide and act with the interest of the Philippines in mind.”