Welcoming the New Year has been an emotionally exacting experience even if mixed with copious amounts of a deeply fulfilling feeling for Wilfredo C Santos, the outgoing ambassador of the Philippines to Qatar.
The Manila-born Santos grew up in the US and studied in Switzerland before returning home to finish his education. Following his father’s footsteps as a journalist, Santos wrote on everything from extensive opinion pieces on foreign affairs to his experiences in Europe for various newspapers such as Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Manila Times, and wire agencies, before embarking on a career in Foreign Service.
As Santos readies himself to depart next week and take up the new challenge as the ambassador of the Philippines in Iran, Community caught up with the affable diplomat for a chat.
How do you look back at your time here in Qatar and what will you miss the most about it?
Qatar will always be memorable to me because this is my first posting as ambassador. My stint in Qatar has taught me a lot of things for my personal and professional growth, which will come in handy in my future postings. While it is with a heavy heart that I leave Qatar soon, I take with me the wonderful experiences and excellent memories one could ever have. For that, Qatar will always have a special place in my heart. I will certainly miss the family I have in the Embassy and friends from the Filipino community that I have truly enjoyed working with.
What were some of the highlights of your service here, both professionally and personally?
I consider the following occasions and events as highlights of my career in Qatar as ambassador: Presentation of credentials to His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad al-Thani, Deputy Emir of Qatar, at the Emiri Diwan on August 30, 2015; farewell call on His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Emir of the State of Qatar, at the Emir’s palace on January 4, this year; chairmanship of the Asean Committee in Doha (ACD), a loose membership of Asean countries which have representation in Qatar, from August to December of last year; recognition of the Filipino community in the State of Qatar as the “Best Community” at the Labour Welfare Awards 2016 during the Third Annual Labour Rights Protection Conference held at the St. Regis, Doha, on May 2, 2016; and launching of Kulinarya Qatar in 2015, which is one of the flagship programmes of the embassy aimed at promoting Philippine culture and tourism through Filipino cuisine.
Given the terrific feedback, Kulinarya Qatar appears to have become a successful brand or movement on its own…
Indeed. In just a short period of time, Kulinarya Qatar has grown to be a household name, especially among Filipino migrants in Qatar. As a brand, Kulinarya Qatar is simple but impactful. It speaks for itself, as it clearly delivers the message. It can easily connect to people as evidenced by the turnout or foot traffic that it generates whenever a Kulinarya event is held. As a platform, Kulinarya Qatar is unique and flexible. It complements and adapts to any Filipino community-organised event, without losing focus on Philippine cuisine as the central theme. As an initiative or movement, Kulinarya Qatar is community-driven, which makes it sustainable. It is worth noting that Kulinarya Qatar is the only one of its kind initiative in the GCC and Mena regions.
Would you like to talk about any other standout, community-driven features of your tenure here?
It would have to be the inauguration of the Sentro Rizal in Qatar on September 20, last year, in the presence of Felipe M. de Leon, Jr., Chairman of National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Sentro Rizal is a resource centre with information about works related to the Philippines’ national hero, Dr Jose Rizal. The Sentro Rizal in Qatar is the second centre to be established in the Middle East after Oman, and the 19th centre worldwide. Also, conducting of a month-long Overseas Voting for the 2016 National Election, which yielded a total of 15,695 votes cast representing 35.02 per cent of the 44,810 registered voters in Qatar, was another highlight of my tenure here. That, along with the adoption of the automated election system (AES), which allowed faster counting of ballots and real time transmittal of the May 2016 election results.
How fulfilling has it been for you to interact closely with the vibrant Filipino community here?
My engagements with the overseas Filipinos in Qatar are as fulfilling as they are inspiring. Qatar is a unique post in the Middle East, as most Filipino expatriates are professional, skilled and semi-skilled workers. Various Filipino groups actively organise events almost on a weekly basis. I have come to appreciate the various Filipino professions in Qatar and the cause they promote by attending these events. For any ambassador, knowing the Filipino community is important. Only then can he or she be truly effective in delivering the services expected of him.
Of your many pleasant memories here, is there a particularly funny memory that you would like to share?
Sometime late last year, I was invited as guest of honour to the opening of the GCC All-Filipino Bowling Tournament held sat the Qatar Bowling Centre. In haste, I went to the event without wearing appropriate bowling shoes. I had only brought my bowling ball. Part of the ceremony involved me making a ceremonial throw, and so a throw I threw. The ball rolled straight into the bowling pins, and it was a strike, a lucky strike. A good throw to kick off the event! Afterwards, players jokingly offered me to play for their teams, as they were short of team members.
How do you see the Filipino community in Qatar moving ahead in the coming months?
What I like about the Filipino community in Qatar is that it is self-regulating and professional. It runs on its own with minimal direction from the embassy. It knows its vision and strives to achieve this vision with passion. Whoever will head the embassy is fortunate, as I have been fortunate, because of the mutual respect and strong partnership between the embassy and the community. With the new ambassador, I am sure that the Filipino community will continue to be an important partner of the embassy, as OFWs in Qatar evolve with the host country.
Lastly, what are some life lessons or interesting insights you learnt during your time here in Qatar?
While in Qatar, I have come to appreciate more how the Filipino community can be a true partner of the embassy to the many endeavours aimed at promoting the welfare and interest of the Philippines. The embassy is not a “Superman” or a “Super Agency” that can do all tasks on its own. So partnership is key, especially with the Filipino community. Another thing is the importance of a One-Country Team Approach. All agencies under the embassy should get their acts together to better render the required services to stakeholders. We become strong and efficient when we are united — all of us working towards a common purpose and goal.
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