About a year ago, then-outgoing British Ambassador to Thailand Asif Anwar Ahmad was asked by his bosses in Great Britain to choose between Mexico and the Philippines as his next assignment.
He chose the Philippines.
“Because of your historical links with Mexico, I get the best of both worlds,” replied the 58-year-old diplomat who originally hails from London, England.
“The Black Nazarene, some of the traditions, some of the foods and some influences.
“And you have what I call, a certain ‘spikiness’ with you, Filipinos. You’re not shy and quiet always, you’re able to engage and express yourself, which is good.”
PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) interviewed Ambassador Ahmad at his Forbes Park residence along with other reporters from the entertainment media. The ambassador hosted the press launch of the British Council and Pru Life UK-produced two-part documentary Pangarap Kong World Cup, last Thursday, August 7.
Since he already mentioned what he believes is a positive Filipino trait, he was asked what he likes about the Philippines and Pinoys in general.
“What I love about the Philippines is that the importance of family, the ability of people to bounce back when they’re hit by some sort of setback...
“The other huge surprise for me had been food. You know, having served in Thailand, which is world-famous for foods, you know, I must confess, before I came here, if you ask me to name a single Filipino dish, I’d struggle.
“But now, I’ve eaten pinakbet, I’ve had adobo... The only thing I shy away from is the balut.”
He coyly confessed that he's still not up to taking the challenge at the moment.
“I have to be forced one day by someone, someday,” he said with a smile.
Ahmad also shared what he doesn't like about Filipinos.
“That is impatience.
“You want things to happen. There’s no reason why you can’t have better roads, or you can’t have livelihood training or what a farmer produces can’t get from the market to the supermarket.
“It’s this real sense of impatience,” he told PEP and other reporters interviewing him.
FAMILIAR WITH FILIPINOS. He is confident with his familiarity with Filipinos because of his experience interacting with some of us, even as far back as during his teens.
“Yes. A friend of mine... I call him ‘Kuya.’ He was one grade ahead of me in this high school that I graduated from. So I know people from the Philippines from when I was in my teens,” remembered the British envoy.
PEP asked him if he knows any Tagalog words, he replied, "Puwede. Konti lang."
Ahmad said he took Tagalog tutorials from a Filipina for five months before assuming his position as Her Britannic Majesty's Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines.
He added that the British are very familiar with Filipinos.
"There are some 300,000 Filipinos who live [in Great Britain] and some of them are British citizens. Some of them came through work or out of family connections. So it’s not completely unfamiliar.”
Born in London, but of Bengali ethnicity, Ahmad has been the British Ambassador to the Philippines since July 2013. But prior to this, he has been a frequent visitor since 2003.
“I’ve been coming in and out of here for 11 years now, doing various jobs. First, I was in trade here in the Philippines. I was the Foreign Policy Director for this region covering the Philippines,” the British diplomat recalled.
And how is his stay, so far?
“It’s been fantastic from a number of points of view,” answered the Durhmam University-educated former banker.
“It’s enjoyable because people are accessible at all levels whether they’re officials or ordinary people,” continued Ahmad.
“It’s a place where we can do a lot of work, professionally. Some of them... some of the serious stuff, the cultural stuff...”
The British Council recently held a “Great British Festival” at the Bonifacio High Street where everything best about Great Britain was highlighted.
But promoting his country is not just the only activity Ambassador Ahmad’s office is involved in.
“We also had big challenges. We mounted one of the biggest aid operations on the back of Yolanda. One thousand and three hundred of our military and aid personnel were here.”
He said the link between the Philippines and Great Britain is quite broad, that almost everything in the country has a bit of a British touch.
“Not just something that has to do with business, or education, or classic diplomacy. Just anything you touch, any subject you touch, you’ll find that there’s a British engagement or a presence.”
And one such subject is the sport of football, a very British sport and one, Ambassador Ahmad believes, Filipinos can really excel in.
He mentioned how the Philippine National Football Team, the Azkals, continue to climb the FIFA rankings and how local football stars like Filipino-British Phil and James Younghusband continue to inspire new generation of Filipino footballers.
“Like the Young Azkals, they’re 22 kids. They only lost two games. And they played against kids who’ve probably started playing since the time when they learned how to walk.”
The Young Azkals are the members of the Philippine Under-11 National Football Team and the subject of the documentary the British Council is co-producing with financial services company Pru Life UK.
Ambassador Amhad also said football is just right for Filipinos.
“In many other games, your height, your weight or your physical body mass or strength will determine whether you will succeed or not.
“In football, if you’re very small and you’re close to the ground, you have a very different way of playing which is very difficult for a big guy to play against. You’re agile and very grounded.
“If you’re quite tall, then you’re also very useful. So it’s a game that requires people of different physicalities.
“And if the Japanese or [South] Koreans can play at the highest level in the world, Filipinos have a great chance.
“But it needs everyone to come together to make it happen,” explained Ambassador Ahmad.
And coming together with Filipinos is what the British ambassador did by co-producing Pangarap Kong World Cup, the documentary feature about try-outs, the formation of the team, and the training of the members of the Young Azkals.
Working with ABS-CBN and the Philippine Football Federation, Pangarap Kong World Cup will have its first part telecast on the Kapamilya Network’s Sunday’s Best program on August 10, Sunday at 10 pm. Hosted by Atom Araullo, with appearances by Phil and James Younghusband, Chieffy Caligdong, Rob Grier, and other local football personalities.
The second part will be shown on October 26.