The Philippines is his Second Home
THERE is something comforting about meeting someone who has already previously been to the Philippines; it is like meeting a long-lost friend. Although you want to know more about the person—who he is, what he likes, what he believes in—somehow the conversation slips back to the past: how he lived here, what he experienced, what are his memories.
Ambassador Massimo Roscigno of Italy is one such man. He is no stranger to the Philippines, since he was previously assigned here 25 years ago. From 1988 to 1992, he was the deputy head of mission and counselor of the Embassy of Italy in Manila.
He remembers his stay then fondly, because it was on this assignment that he met his wife. In a way, he considers the Philippines to be his second home.
‘My second country’
It’s my second country,” Roscigno declares. “It’s a joke, but not so much: in a sense, I represent my country here, and I am very honored to travel to do that. But, at the same time, when we become so close to a country, we become a promoter of that country in our own country. It works both ways. When I go back to Italy, I talk about the Philippines. I tell how nice it is. I invite my friends to come and visit there.”
The good ambassador is not the only Italian who has a fondness for the Philippines. He says he has many compatriots who have opted to live here for a number of reasons. They have adapted well to life in the country, because Filipinos are so much like Italians.
“I think it is the Latin character that we share, and the same religious background that we have,” he adds.
The Philippines is the first ambassadorial posting for the Italian ambassador. He was previously the consul general in Los Angeles and Shanghai. In fact, he is quite proud of his stint in Shanghai, because it coincided with China’s hosting of the Olympics in 2008 and the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010. It was with his management that the Italy mounted one of the most popular pavilions during the expo, second only to China’s own pavilion.
Upon his return to the Philippines in 2013, he was amazed at the development that country has seen since the early 1990s.
“It was quite exciting to see how the country has changed, and also how the system has evolved. I noticed great changes. We are talking about 25 years ago,” he says. “The city has changed dramatically in terms of new buildings, new settlements, new cities. I was so impressed to see Bonifacio Global City, what it has become from what was the residential area for officers.
“But traffic has become very dramatic. I’m glad to see this country evolve so fast. Of course, with rapid growth, you have some aspects that go out of control. You have to keep after them—traffic, infrastructure. It is difficult to evolve in an orderly manner. Even with the best planning, you cannot manage all aspects of growth. It takes a little imagination. At the same time, the country is behind in infrastructure. There is a serious shortage in that. But the government is making an effort to fill this gap that penalizes the Philippines compared to other countries,” he adds.
Roscigno admitted that he thought his move to the Philippines from Shanghai would have been a quieter one. However, he admits that he is as busy as ever.
He has been occupied introducing the Italian language to Filipinos. He says very few schools in the country offer Italian-language classes. A handful of universities offers courses in Italian, with the University of the Philippines in Diliman offering a bachelor’s degree in Italian language.
While English is the lingua franca—he admits that it is the second language of many Filipinos—a knowledge of Italian would be good for those interested in going into the hospitality business. He says there is a demand for staff who can speak Italian in many hotels and resorts around the world. The same is true in the Philippines; a basic knowledge of Italian would be an advantage for local travel guides. There is also an emerging business-process outsourcing market requiring Italian speakers.
But Filipinos will not find it hard to learn the Italian language. So many Filipinos who are working or have settled in Italy speak the language fluently.
“I have met a number of second-, even-third, generation Italian-Filipinos in Rome, and they possess impeccable Roman accents,” he declares.
Largest Filipino community in Europe
Filipinos are very much welcome in Italy. The Filipino community there is actually one of the largest in Europe, second only to the United Kingdom. The official tally lists the number of Filipinos in Italy at around 180,000; this number can be higher if an actual count of undocumented Filipinos in Italy could be determined.
The Filipino community in Italy is also the oldest immigrant community in the country; Filipinos first arrived there in the 1960s and the 1970s. And the Italian envoy disagrees with the stereotype of Filipinos as domestics and blue-collar workers in his country.
“You will now find Filipinos in Italy as managers, as employees in hotels and companies, in logistics and in airports,” he says.
He adds, “Filipinos in Italy are well-appreciated by Italians. They are among the foreign communities which is most respected, appreciated. In the sense, they are very law abiding. You will find very few cases of Filipinos getting in trouble. There have been some cases recently, and they make the news because they rarely happen. For many Italians, Filipinos are hard workers and are a law-abiding people.”
Trade between the Philippines and Italy is low, at about $700 million annually, and it has been steady through the years. However, the Italian envoy admits that so many Italian products reach the Philippines through third-party merchants, and not necessarily direct from firms in Italy.
He believes the close relation between Filipinos and Italians should serve to push better trade between countries.
“I think that, by itself, this is a very good basis to promote relations between our countries,” he says. “Our ties are strong, and we enjoy very good government-to-government relations. But we could do much more with this base that is very solid.”