Our new Philippine Ambassador on life in the Foreign Service, how others view ambassadorship, and how he hopes to help Filipinos in Bahrain.
It was just another sunny afternoon, hot and humid. The kind that makes you appreciate the perks of technology, like the ac that chilled the room. And then we come face to face with Ambassador Alfonso Ferdinand Agbayani Ver, the new Philippine envoy to Bahrain. For all the majesty of his title, Ambassador Ver is a down- to-earth kind of guy.
His presence makes the place feel open and approachable. He said that we may call him by his nickname “Doy”. The youngest among seven children, his father was a military engineer and his mother was a high school teacher. Growing up in a religious household, their parents instilled in him and his siblings the Filipino traditional and conservative values.
Ambassador Ver earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science in 1986 and his graduate diploma in Public Management in 1995, both at the University of the Philippines. He acquired his Master of Arts in Public Policy in 2004 at the National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies in Tokyo, Japan, as a scholar under the Young Leaders Program of the Japanese Ministry of Education.
Bahrain is Ambassador Ver’s first ambassadorial posting. Prior to this, he served as Consul then Deputy Consul General in San Francisco, California, USA from July 2009 to September 2012. He also served as First Secretary and Consul General then Minister and Consul General at the Philippine Embassy in Ankara, Republic of Turkey from August 2005 up to June 2009. His first foreign assignment was at the Philippine Consulate General in Guam from 1996 to 2002 as Vice Consul before being promoted to Consul.
“As the principal representative of the country to Bahrain, my principal duties are to advance the Philippines’ interest in Bahrain and further strengthen and broaden all aspects of relations and mutually-beneficial ties between our two countries.”
With his wife of 20 years, Mrs. Caroline Belinda Custodio Ver, together with the youngest of their three boys, packed up their belongings, head on to Bahrain, and began settling the family into their new home. On 24 May 2015, Ambassador Ver took his post as the 7th resident Ambassador of the Philippine Embassy in Bahrain, bringing with him a wealth of experience in diplomatic and consular affairs gained from his Foreign Service and home office assignments.
How are you finding your stay in Bahrain so far?
I’ve been in Bahrain for about a month now and I’ve been so warmly welcomed by everyone, the people are so friendly and gracious. The Filipino community is largely respected and recognized for its contribution to Bahrain and this “people- to-people relations” form the firm foundation of our two countries’ close relations. I hope to learn more continuously about Bahrain and its people as well as the language, customs and traditions and its rich culture and history.
Could you share with us the story on how you became an ambassador?
This year would be my 26th year in the Department of Foreign Affairs. I started as a Contractual employee in 1989 and “rose through the ranks” to be a career foreign service officer and now reached my current rank as Chief of Mission II/Ambassador. To be a career diplomat, one has to pass the Foreign Service Officers (FSO) Examination, arguably one of the toughest examinations in the Philippines to gain entry as Foreign Service Officer IV. I passed this exam and took my oath as FSO IV in 1994. Another examination must be taken when one reaches the rank of Career Minister to determine, among other things, his or her qualification to become a Chief of Mission. From the rank of Foreign Service Officer Class II to Chief of Mission Class I, each promotion must undergo confirmation by the Philippine Commission on Appointments (CA) composed of members of the Senate and Congress. My appointment as Ambassador also required CA confirmation.
What education and the skills needed to be an Ambassador?
To be eligible to take the FSO exam you must be: a Filipino citizen, not more than 35 years old at the time of the examination, a graduate of a 4-year bachelor’s degree or higher and minimum two years employment or further studies. The academic background and experience of the members of the Philippine Foreign Service Corps are as diverse as they come. We have diplomats who are lawyers, accountants, international relations experts, economists, teachers, bankers, historians, journalists, nurses even those from the clergy, military, and the sciences.
Can you tell us a bit about your job, your duties and responsibilities?
As the principal representative of the country to Bahrain, my principal duties are to advance the Philippines’ interest in Bahrain and further strengthen and broaden all aspects of relations and mutually-beneficial ties between our two countries. I look forward to new initiatives in expanding Philippine-Bahrain economic relations and help businessmen from both sides find common economic opportunities. Equally important is to address and respond to the needs of the Filipino community in Bahrain, from rendering efficient consular services to the promotion of their welfare and protection of their rights.
What is the best part about your job? What do you dislike about your job?
The best part of my job as a diplomat is having that capability to concretely effect change and achieve objectives in the service of the Philippines and the Filipino people. The worst part? Well, if I tell you that, then I’m not a diplomat (he says jokingly).
What are the obstacles you’ve face as an Ambassador and how do you go about navigating around them?
One of the obstacles that need to be hurdled is the fact that we have limited resources that we are able to muster towards the implementation and execution of some of the Embassy’s programs and objectives. We have limited budgets and personnel as well as legal and operational procedures we have to follow, and we must therefore be creative and innovative in allocating these limited resources for our needs. I am, nonetheless, certain that we can forge linkages and partnerships with other sectors as well as look for ways to address and achieve matters of mutual interest and concern.
Would you say there are any perks to being an Ambassador? What do you think is a common misconception people have about what you do?
Many still have the perception that an Ambassador just goes around attending receptions and cocktail parties. Indeed, attendance to social activities has a purpose and has been an effective tool in our line of work. However, more than this, there are new demands expected of Filipino diplomats in fulfillingtheEmbassy’skeyfunctionofpromoting and protecting the rights and welfare of the Filipinos abroad, who now number over 10 million and are scattered in every corner of the world. We also have to be ready to respond during times of crisis – I have in fact served as a member of a rapid-response team dispatched to help Filipinos in distress. A retired Filipino diplomat who I truly respect said that tapos na ang panahon ng Filipino diplomat na pa-porma-porma lang (the time that Filipino Diplomats are only for show is finished). This has never been truer given the realities and challenges of the Philippines and the Filipino Diaspora.
How do you go about improving relations between the Philippines and Bahrain?
With the support of Bahrain’s government leaders and officials, particularly those from the Foreign Ministry, I intend to establish and cultivate cordial and productive relationships with key officials and policy-makers, prominent members of the Bahraini community, the business sector, the professionals, academe, media and artists and other sectors, and harness such ties to promote bilateral interests. I would like to reiterate that we can expand Philippine-Bahrain economic relations, in the areas of agriculture/agri- business, renewable energy, health services, education and tourism. I believe these areas have very strong potentials which just need to be unleashed and allowed to flourish. Moreover, there are other fields that may be enhanced, particularly in the areas of cultural cooperation, technical and vocational training and sports.
“I have been truly blessed that I have reached this milestone in my career and have been granted this singular opportunity to serve my country, my fellow Filipinos.”
What do you do to unwind?
To unwind after long hours at work, I’d like to be with my family. Presently it’s my wife and youngest who are with me as my two older boys are in the United States. We get in touch through the wonders of modern communications technology and this helps us be together, albeit virtually. We like trying new restaurants and cuisines but my wife and I need to compensate for this by doing additional exercises (walking). Although I’m not a good player, I hope to be able to play golf again, having recovered from a shoulder issue.
Please share any particular quotes or bits of wisdom that have inspired you and any tips or inspiring words for others who wish to be in foreign service.
I guess just like everybody else, we all strive to try and do our best, do good, live a simple and contented life. You must love your job and don’t really care who gets the credit or who shines.
I laugh a lot and I think I have very good sense of humor, at least that’s what my wife told me. In all, I hope and pray that I could be a good model for my sons, impart to them the same values I received from my own parents and that they use their God-given talents in realizing their potential and finding their true calling in life.
I have been truly blessed that I have reached this milestone in my career and have been granted this singular opportunity to serve my country, my fellow Filipinos and further enhance the already good relations between the Philippines and Bahrain. My Foreign Service career has thus far given me the opportunity to serve in places ranging from the small island states, territories and islands in the Pacific Ocean, to some parts of Europe, and then the US Northwest-Pacific states. This is my first time to serve in this region, and particularly in Bahrain, and, I look forward to a productive tour of duty confident of the support of the host government, the Filipino community, my colleagues in the diplomatic corps and the officers and staff of Team Philippines at the Embassy.