[PHOTO AT LEFT - Ambassador to Italy Philippe J. Lhuillier]

MANILA, MARCH 24, 2010 (STAR) HIDDEN AGENDA By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes - The Philippine foreign service corps will never be the same again.

Not after one of the longest serving ambassadors was recalled to the home office after almost 11 years of being the country’s head of delegation in Italy.

Ambassador to Italy Philippe J. Lhuillier left his post in Rome earlier this year originally to make way for Rep. Antonio Cuenco and was given only barely two months to wind up his affairs. It wasn’t only the Filipino community in Italy but also the Italians who felt sad about his leaving.

In fact, the farewell parties for Lhullier went on for a week. It seemed everybody in Italy wanted to say their goodbyes properly and to make him know that he will be sorely missed.

During a gathering with the Filipino community leaders in Italy, Lhullier reminded them that the embassy office is not owned by the embassy but rather by them. He also expressed hopes that the embassy will continue to remain open for Philippine nationals based in Italy, as it had been open to you for the past 11 years.

The Filipino staff of the United Nations system in Rome also held a farewell luncheon for Lhuillier, with representatives from the four UN organizations (Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Program, Biodiversity, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development) in attendance.

IFAD AVP for finance and administration Jessie Rose Mabutas pointed out that it is difficult to surpass the achievements of Lhuillier. One of his accomplishments is the publication of a coffee-table book which chronicled the bilateral relations of two countries from the perspective of the leading nationals involved.

A thanksgiving high mass in his honor at the Basilica of Sta. Pudenziana which serves as the national church of the Filipinos in Rome was officiated by Cardinal Jose Sanchez and concelebrated by Monsignor Jerry Bitoon with Father Romeo Velos, chaplain of the basilica, as well as 15 other Filipino priests, was jampacked by well wishers coming from as far as Messina in the south and Milan from the north.

Cardinal Sanchez, in his homily, characterized Lhuillier as “not only a man of faith but also an extraordinary man who did his best in the service of his country and his fellowmen in Italy. In that event, Lhuillier was presented a certificate of papal blessing from His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

Lhuillier was also bestowed the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity, the highest award given by the Italian government to foreigners.

Lhuillier served not only as a father figure for the Filipino community in Italy. As the acknowledged dean of the diplomatic corps in Rome, Italy, he organized meeting that served as a forum for exchange of ideas not only about Italy but also about the UN organizations based in Rome . And as the “dean,” it can be said that he was able to influence pretty much where assistance from these agencies went.

In fact, last year alone, the FAO approved five technical cooperation program (TCP) projects for the Philippines totalling $ 2.5 million.

Lhuillier may not admit it, but his long stay in Rome has given him an edge compared with the other ambassadors. He knows the ropes and therefore easily spots where the bottlenecks are and solves them.

But aside from the TCP projects, he was also largely instrumental in the FAO’s approval of seven trust fund projects worth around $ 14 million. Major donors were the Global Environment Facility, Belgium , Spain, the European Community.

Aside from these, the Philippines was able to secure $23 million of the European Union assistance for agricultural production systems, with IFAD, WFP, and FAO as conduit agencies.

It may be good to note that Lhuillier and the FAO director-general Jacques Diouf are good friends.

On his last day as permanent representative to the FAO, the FAO had just approved a technical cooperation project worth $ 445,000 for the diagnosis and management of swine diseases.

His premature recall had a negative impact. Over at the World Food Program, the Commission on Audit (COA) lost its chance to become the external auditor of the UN agency. That’s because Lhuillier was no longer around to lobby among his ambassadorial colleagues to support the Philippine campaign. The final selection will be in June 2010, the same time as his normal duty would have ended.

Lhuillier’s recall is turning out to be a very sad event for the Philippines.

New IPO head

Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IP Phil.) director-general Adrian Cristobal Jr. recently retired after raising the office’s level of respectability and credibility many notches higher.

Taking Cristobal’s place is Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor, a seasoned lawyer and enforcer of the law who assumes the top IP Phil. post at a time when interesting developments are taking place in the local and global patents arena.

Blancaflor is best remembered for his stint with the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) which was formed by the justice department in the aftermath of the Dos Palmas kidnappings nine years ago. Blancaflor was not only a member of the council, he was also its face and spokesman.

It will be recalled that several members of the Abu Sayyaf who were charged in connection with the Dos Palmas kidnapping and murder were eventually meted out life sentences in 2007. Then US Embassy spokesperson Rebecca Thompson said the council’s feat gave justice to the Burnhams and (Guillermo) Sobero, who was executed by his kidnappers.

Blancaflor also had a stint with the defense department and was among the first appointees of the present administration. He was also at one time chair of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking.

His track record has given the business sector some kind of assurance that he will not allow anyone to take the country’s intellectual property laws lightly.

But what may have impressed the business sector more is Blancaflor’s keen understanding of developments in the international legal scene, an acumen honed and sharpened by his many involvement in collaborative work with various international agencies.

This qualification is crucial since Blancaflor is coming in as IP Phil. head at a time when patents are under challenge in many parts of the globe. The challenge has become more difficult in the face of an international howl against “ever-greening” of patents allegedly being perpetrated by giant multinational interests.

In several instances, the global battles over patents have reached our shores. The new IP Phil. head will, therefore, find his new assignment an exciting one especially given the Filipinos’ aspiration for greater access to products that are beyond their reach because of the exclusivity that ever-greened patents may have deprived them.

Hopes are high that frivolous patents will be a thing of the past under Blancaflor. The man looked the Abu Sayyaf straight in the eye and did not blink. Giant business interests will not intimidate him.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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