“He was my batchmate at DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs],” greets new Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands Jaime Ledda, referring to The Filipino Expat’s recent feature on Ambassador Leslie Baja.
Despite his very busy schedule, Ledda shows no signs of fatigue or stress when he welcomes me one afternoon at the Philippine embassy in The Hague for an interview.
“I have to credit my staff for taking good care of me. I hit the ground running so to speak, arriving in the evening of December 28 and reporting to work immediately the next day,” enthuses Ledda. “I’m excited to be here, to start my work.”
The ambassador has been making the rounds, presenting his credentials to King Willem Alexander and key government organizations in the Netherlands. During his meeting with the King, he thanked the government of the Netherlands and the Dutch people for their support during Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation in the Philippines. Their fundraising campaign for the victims and their families generated more than €36,000,000, equivalent to more than P2 billion. That’s on top of the relief goods and other resources for rescue operations that the Dutch government, private individuals and organizations provided the Philippines.
Ledda compares this show of support to bayanihan, or the Filipino concept of solidarity and unity in times of need. The Dutch call theirs, “saamhorigheid.”
Career in diplomatic affairs
Like his colleague in Switzerland, Ledda is a career diplomat, who has spent most of his early years in the profession serving Filipino expats in Europe and China. His assignment in the Netherlands is his first ambassadorial post. Though, Ledda has already gained the necessary experiences as a head of post in Macau.
Ledda notes that an ambassadorial position does not end with being the head representative of the country abroad. His role also entails managing the staff, embassy resources as well as facilitating activities for the Filipino community.
Ledda took up political science and law at the University of the Philippines. Right after passing the bar exams, he worked for the government in 1989. Since childhood, Ledda has set his sights on a career in foreign service.
“I worked towards [achieving] that. I studied political science then, law. At the same time, I was preparing for the foreign service exam, which I passed,” narrates Ledda.
He started his foreign posts in 1995, six years after working for the DFA. He was assigned in Brussels and Milan as vice consul until 2001. From 2004 to 2008, Ledda was assigned at the Philippine embassy in Beijing. He eventually became head of post in Macau until 2010. Before leaving for the Netherlands, he spent four years in the Philippines as assistant secretary for consular affairs.
“The experience in Brussels gave me that sense that this is a post that let me do all aspects of being a diplomat. Our work as diplomats involves focusing on bilateral and multilateral relationships, in this case, with the European Union. It is our duty as well to provide consular assistance and services to the Filipino community,” he elaborates.
Ledda is quick to add he also enjoyed his time in Milan, Italy. Aside from being captivated by the beauty and rich history of the place, he felt at home in the city with a relatively huge Filipino population.
“In [Italy], my work largely focused on reaching out to and engaging the Filipino community. The Filipinos I met there were very hard working, warm and hospitable,” adds Ledda.
His extensive resume in foreign service, spanning 25 years, has given Ledda a solid understanding of the plight of Filipino expatriates both in Asia and Europe. “I hope to meet the expectations and serve well the Filipinos in the Netherlands. I also hope to further strengthen the Philippines-Netherlands relations.”
The Dutch discovered the Philippines during the Dutch-Spanish war in 1600 when they sent out two war ships to the country. It was under the Spanish rule at that time. The relationship between the Philippines and the Netherlands has since developed into that of friendship and mutual understanding.
Today, top Dutch companies like KLM, ING, Shell, Philipps and Unilever have strong presence in the Philippines. The Netherlands is home to some 17,000 Filipinos according to the 2011 data of the Central Bureau of Statistics in The Hague.
One of Ledda’s goals is to promote the Philippines to the Dutch market particularly in the areas of maritime and tourism. According to him, there are still parts in the Netherlands where the Philippines is unheard of.
“More should be done to encourage Dutch tourists to spend their holidays in the Philippines,” laments Ledda.
He acknowledges that some of our kababayans, especially the undocumented, have yet to put their full trust in the embassy. He wants to correct these misconceptions about the government office.
“Philippine embassies function to serve both the documented and undocumented. We do not make that kind of distinction. We are always aiming to assist them in the best possible way we can depending on their circumstances,” says Ledda.
Ledda has already mapped out his plans to visit the different cities in the Netherlands to get to know more the Filipino community and bring the embassy closer to them.
This article was first published in the 6th edition of The Filipino Expat Magazine. CLICK to read or download back issues.