A Momentous Ambassadorial Debut

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Bahrain has a thriving Filipino community, with the East Asian nation comprising one of the Kingdom’s largest expat populations. On June 12, the nation celebrated its independence day with a series of events held in Bahrain.

Kristian Harrison sat down with the newly-appointed Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to the Kingdom of Bahrain, HE Anne Jalando-on Louis, to discuss her diplomatic career so far, the current state of bilateral relations between the two countries and their plans to bolster ties in the future.

You have had quite a distinguished career. Can you give us a brief overview of your diplomatic postings and missions to date?
I entered the Philippines Foreign Service and joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1996. I was first assigned to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2000 as a Junior Officer, and then I returned to Manila after that to complete a compulsory two years of service in my home county. I then became Consul General in Sydney for six years, before returning to Manila in 2011 for another six-year stint.

In 2019 I returned to Malaysia as Deputy Chief of Mission and Consul General, which I was very proud to be part of during the challenging pandemic, before coming to Bahrain in April last year initially as Chargé d’Affaires. In December, I was officially appointed as a nominee for the Bahrain ambassadorship by my government, and I finally presented my credentials to His Majesty King Hamad in May to officially assume the position. It’s an honour to serve my first full ambassadorship and posting in the Middle East here in Bahrain.

How do you feel about living in Bahrain? What are your key observations about the country and how does it compare to your previous postings?
All the countries I have been to have been different in terms of political and economic relationships, each with various considerations. I’m very pleased with my posting here and the welcome I’ve received in the GCC so far. It’s been a very fulfilling year with many bilateral activities and the local Filipino community is engaging. I look forward to further enhancing ties in the year ahead.

What do you consider to be your most significant goals going forward in this Bahrain posting?
As we have just emerged from the pandemic, there are many activities that had to be put on hold during that period. We are currently trying to work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to jump start high level co-operation again and move forward. Most importantly of all these, we hope to be able to convene the Philippines-Bahrain Bilateral Consultations and forge partnerships in numerous corporate activities. One of my main challenges is to increase trade and drive economic changes through business delegations.

Of your many career achievements over the years, which particular experiences do you think have helped you most in your role as ambassador?
I have been lucky to be part of a career that has been grounded in service. Every day comes with a new challenge, but as long as you greet it with optimism and a willingness to learn, you’ll always overcome them. Working with such great teams also helps, I think keeping an open door and accepting ideas from them makes my job far easier… you have to be a people’s person and I think I strive towards that.

How many Filipino expats live in Bahrain? Has this number risen or declined since the pandemic? What are the most prominent vocations amongst the Filipino community’s residents?
As of April this year, the LMRA reported 57,000 Filipinos in Bahrain, which is up from 49,000 in 2021. It shows that despite businesses closing and many expats leaving during the pandemic, the number has rebounded. This perfectly summarises how efficiently Bahrain dealt with Covid-19 and its aftermath, with businesses now hiring and thriving again.

The highest proportion of residents, at least half, are domestic service workers in households, followed by those in retail, sales and auto shops. Then we have many members in hospitality, restaurants and of course our skilled professionals lead the way in fields such as engineering, accounting and healthcare.

What activities does the Embassy of Philippines in Bahrain undertake to promote cooperation and unity between the two countries?
Since 1979 we have conducted numerous high level visits, the most important of which was former President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit in August 2017. Last month, Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry Undersecretary, Dr. Mohammed Ali Behzad, led a delegation to Manila. These kinds of high level visits enhance our countries’ partnership and we aim to build on this in the years to come. We have more than 20 signed bilateral agreements, with more pending, in the fields of tourism, education and healthcare amongst others.

To celebrate our 125th Independence Day last month, our embassy hosted a reception featuring 200 guests, featuring a demonstration of Filipino culture through popular singing duo The Nightingales and a selection of our cuisine. We also promoted tourism opportunities and other Filipino products.

Are there any high-level delegations planned for the near future from the Philippines to Bahrain or vice-versa?
We are due to host high level meetings with bilateral consultations at an undersecretary level, with a joint commission meeting to follow. Both will be hosted in Manila. We also hope to have a large business delegation visiting Bahrain before the end of the year.

How do you feel Filipino culture has influenced Bahrain?
Many Bahrainis I have spoken to love to tell me how many Tagalog words they know because of their familiarity with our people, especially those who have domestic help from the Philippines!

I think our food has also had a profound effect in Bahrain with many dishes adapted to the local cuisine. Filipinos are also extremely hard workers, which I think is an ethic that has been adopted by locals.

What are the current trade figures between Philippines and Bahrain and what areas of business or commerce between the two countries do you think could be improved significantly?
In 2022, Bahrain was the Philippines’ 70th largest exporting destination and 75th importing destination in terms of volume. The surplus was in Bahrain’s favour, so we are working to improve that and are positing the Philippines as an alternative source of requirements for the Bahrain market in areas such as spare parts in the aeronautics and motoring industries.

Currently the main imports from the Philippines are agricultural products, especially fruits like bananas, pineapples and cooking condiments. Women and children’s clothing are also popular products. Bahrain’s main export to the Philippines is iron and aluminium.

Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview?
I am very pleased to be assigned to Bahrain, working closely with the government to enhance relations and also to engage with the private and academic sectors, and of course our stakeholders and partners. I have found the Filipino community to be open and cooperative and I would like them to know that the embassy is always open to them should they need our help.