By MARIA ELLIS
One of the hallmarks of the diplomatic service is the ability to speak one or more foreign languages. The Filipino ambassador to the Court of St. James, His Excellency Ambassador Antonio M. Lagdameo is a fluent Spanish speaker, having spoken the language since childhood. He says, “I grew up speaking Spanish to my parents. I am thankful that as a child, if I had to send notes to my mom when I had forgotten to bring something to school, it would be written in Spanish. On my return from school in the afternoon, said note would have the appropriate corrections in case of grammatical errors, which my mother would point out to me – therefore, lesson learned! It also helped that in school, a lot of my schoolmates were also Spanish-speaking so we would generally end up conversing in English, Pilipino or Spanish.”
The ambassador’s fluency in the language of the conquistadores has served him well in his role as ambassador to Spain and to Mexico. He remarks, “It certainly helps. Among the Latin countries, the Filipinos are generally treated as the ‘Latinos from Asia’. Of course in Spain, since we were ruled by Spain for close to four centuries, we are considered by them as their little brown brothers and treated and accepted as such. In fact, even among our ASEAN brothers, we find more and more that they are making efforts to speak and read Spanish as it is another ‘language of diplomacy’!”
Ambassador Lagdameo, who was born in 1942, has had a privileged upbringing. His family lived in Forbes Park, which was and still is, the enclave of the affluent. He recalls his idyllic childhood in the Makati of yesteryears. “… on weekends, my brother and I would sometimes ride our bikes down Ayala Avenue and Buendia to see our friends and classmates from De La Salle College in Pennsylvania Street (now Leon Guinto Avenue). We would also ride around our subdivision with other children of our neighbours. Among the neighbours then were Gen. Carlos P. Romulo and the Zobel de Ayala families who were the developers of Makati.
The ambassador also reminisces about visits to a military reservation and the elite Manila Polo Club. “We would also sometimes ride our bicycles into Fort Wm. MacKinley and go to the headquarters of the Philippine Cavalry then headed by Colonel Jacobo “Jake” Zobel who would show us the stables where they had big horses. The Colonel was a very keen polo player and we would see him and his team on Sundays during the polo season at the Manila Polo Club where we would also have Sunday swimming competitions.”
Antonio Lagdameo is the fourth of six children of Ernesto Lagdameo and Pilar Revilla de Lagdameo who were both natives of Manila. His forebears’ names echo colonial Philippines. His paternal grandfather was Bienvenido Lagdameo y Mondragon and his paternal grandmother was Adela Viejo de Lagdameo. On his mother’s side, his grandmother was Trinidad Zamora y Quisumbing and his grandfather was Manuel Revilla y Eleizegui.
The ambassador’s wife, Ma. Linda R. Floirendo, is the eldest child of the late Don Antonio O. Floirendo who was known as the Banana King of the Philippines. She is the chairperson of the ANFLO Group of Companies, which is into banana export, meat processing, real estate development, and many other business interests.
Mr. and Mrs. Lagdameo have seven children – Antonio Jr., a company president, married to movie actress Dawn Zulueta; Maria Elena, a lawyer, married to Irish-American Brian Hogan; Maria Regina Victoria, a businesswoman; Jose Manuel, a company manager, married to Cecilia Tuason Guingona; Ricardo Luis, a company vice-president; Maria Isabel Dominique, a marketing director, married to Brendan Murphy; and Caterina Beatriz, a doctor.
The ambassador’s siblings are Ernesto Jr., Enrique, Maria Teresa, Maria Josefina and Jose Maria.
As the saying goes, “an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” an adage most appropriate for our UK ambassador who has followed in his father’s footsteps, the late Ambassador Ernesto V. Lagdameo. However, the paternal influence has not been confined to his choice of a diplomatic career. Ambassador Lagdameo has also adopted his father’s guiding principle in life. He says, “My philosophy in life – something I learned from both my late father and my late father-in-law: Nothing is impossible in this world – the impossible will just take a little longer, which also translates to: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.’ Therefore I have learned that if there is something you are trying to accomplish, you shall achieve it eventually so long as you persevere and never take no for an answer!”
The young Antonio was a student at the University of the Philippines. After graduating from his Pre-Med course, he went on to the first year of medical school, but being a doctor was not his heart’s desire. He felt that his calling was in the world of business. He says, “While my interest in medicine was still there, it was not the life that I wanted to live. I am glad that it is my youngest child who is now a Doctor of Medicine and is living my dreams!”
Ambassador Lagdameo has been our country’s representative to the United Kingdom for four years now. When asked what a typical day for him is like, he replies, “I arrive at the Embassy a few minutes before 9 a.m. to review the schedule for the day and proceed to go over communications, then review and approve what report and other correspondence have to be sent out. There may be people who want to call on me, or meetings/conferences to attend at noon, or evening receptions.” He also goes to sessions at the International Maritime Organisation where he is the Permanent Representative of the Philippines.
Undoubtedly, being an ambassador is a highly demanding job, but it can be quite fulfilling at the same time. What does our envoy like most about his work? He replies, “The aspect of my job that I like the most is meeting and interacting with my counterparts resulting in positive outcomes to what our negotiations were about, therefore getting the satisfaction of having done your job successfully.”
As an authority on the art of diplomacy, Ambassador Lagdameo cites the key skills of a good diplomat. “Must be open-minded! Ability to negotiate without being argumentative. Must also have the ability to appreciate the position of the party you are conferring with so as to be able to intelligently but positively get your point across.” Although he did not mention it, it can be assumed that a liberal sprinkling of charm, of which we Filipinos seem to innately possess, helps.
Being a diplomat has its perks, among which is the high probability of meeting famous people. One widely renowned personality the ambassador has met is Queen Elizabeth II. The ambassador recalls his audience with her. “As most of the other Ambassadors to the UK will agree, Her Majesty the Queen is always such a presence. At both my presentations of credentials to Her Majesty, the subject of our conversation was very personal wherein she recounted the win of my father-in-law’s horse, Mango Manila, over one of her horses at Ascot several years ago. I mentioned [to her] that when we went to greet her after the race,we did not tarry as we felt she may be upset over the loss, and she remarked, “In this game, you must remember that you win some, you lose some,” and with a gesture with her fingers, she said, “but the loss was just by a nose.”
Aside from being a horse racing aficionado, our ambassador is also an orchid fan. He says, “My wife and I have always admired orchids and have actively participated in orchid shows of the Philippine Orchid Society, and enjoy seeing the different orchids grown all over the world.”
With his many interests and activities, both as a private person and as a public servant, has the ambassador done everything he wanted to do in his life? He muses, “I would not say that I’ve done everything I ever wanted to do in this life because I believe that life is a never-ending challenge, which will inspire you to strive for more.” With that kind of mindset, we can be sure that our ambassador will keep working to the utmost on our behalf.
His Excellency, Ambassador Antonio M. Lagdameo is an asset to the Filipino community in the UK. He is not just hard-working, he is also, according to a former member of staff in the Madrid Embassy (this writer’s cousin), “mabait, so generous, easy to get along with, and really nice as a boss.” And to top it all, an ideal husband to Mrs. Lagdameo. What wife would not want that in her man?