Half a world away

May 20, 2017

In recent columns, I wrote about the current top foreign diplomats currently representing their countries in the Philippines. I hope you were able to know more about the sitting ambassadors of countries we have friendly relations with in these past columns. Let me add one of the latest interviews which we had, this time with the Ambassador ofBrazil to the Philippines, H.E. Rodrigo Do Amoral Souza.

Ambassador Souza was born in Sao Paolo, the largest city in Brazil and lived out his childhood there with his parents. He was raised in a middle class family and fondly remembers a normal, middle class life with the family. He studied there and took up Business Administration in a renowned business school in Sao Paolo. He only left his home town when he passed the entrance exam that marked the start of his career in foreign service.

Actually, he remembers being undecided about his career path after high school. He took up a business course and in fact started working as a Junior Trainee in one of the largest supermarket chains in Sao Paolo, but his heart wasn't in it. His interests were always in history, foreign languages and foreign culture in general. One fateful day, there appeared a big ad in the newspaper about a government bid for applications in the diplomatic service, and this got him thinking hard. It wasn't until a year later, and after some informal research on the matter, that he took the entrance test and passed it on his first try.

He entered the diplomatic service in 1981. During that time, those who wished to enter the service had to study for two years in a diplomatic academy, and by the end of 1983, he started working as a Junior Diplomat. Four years later, he was posted in Buenos Aires, Argentina as Steward to the Foreign Secretary. Then he was off to Santiago, Chile as First Secretary and onwards to Rome till the end of 2003 as Counselor.

He was sent back home to Brazil and spent twelve consecutive years in his native country. He says this was rather unusual for a diplomat but for personal reasons, he decided to and enjoyed his long stay in Brazil.

The Philippines is only his fourth assignment and his first as a full-ranked ambassador. He arrived here about fourteen months, in January 2016. Previous to his Philippine posting, he worked as Director for Immigration and Legal Affairs at the Foreign Ministry in Brazil.

All appointed ambassadors in Brazil had to have a confirmation hearing at their Senate where the Foreign Service Commission had to give its approval. He remembers having to prepare well for this confirmation hearing and contacted the Philippine Embassy in Brazil. The Philippine Ambassador then graciously lent him videos and books about the Philippines, and the Embassy staff likewise was very helpful to him. This was his first inkling on how hospitable Filipinos can be, and as soon as he arrived, this impression was quickly validated. He made friends easily and this, he concluded, makes his job here as Ambassador very easy.

Our bilateral trade with Brazil peaked in 2014 when total trade amounted to US$1 billion. However, after 2014, trade decreased as exports from Brazil to the Philippines getting less because of the severe recession in Brazil that lasted for two years. Now, the amiable Ambassador is working doubly hard to identify the areas with the most potential for new investments and improved trade between our two countries. He is now awaiting the arrival of a very important business delegation from Brazil in mid-July. The delegation will be headed by the governor of one of the main agricultural exporters in his country. Brazil is also participating in the bidding for six new aircrafts which the Philippines needs. He hopes Brazil's top aircraft manufacturer will be a successful bidder here.

Between Brazil and the Philippines, we have a time difference of eleven (11) hours, which should give you an idea of how far this country is. If you check the globe, Brazil is exactly on the opposite side of where the Philippines is, and as Ambassador Souza himself said, it takes one and a half days to travel from Brazil to the Philippines, so we do not have too many Brazilian tourists coming our way and not too many Brazilians living or studying here either. I actually took that trip with my family last year and yes, the trip took so long indeed. This is why they do not have too many Filipino tourists in Brazil either. While Filipinos can be found anywhere in the world, the Filipino community in Brazil is significantly small-in fact we never encountered a Filipino OFW or tourist when we were there. Last year, less than 20,000- Brazilian tourists arrived in the country, though Brazilians do not need visas to come here. There is a need for an improved tourism campaign so that Brazilians can differentiate between the Philippines and our neighbors Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, just like Filipino tourists can differentiate Brazil from its neighbors Chile and Argentina.

Ambassador Souza says that there is clearly a need to know more about each other's culture, but Brazilians and Filipinos share pretty much the same values about family and religion.

On sports, Brazil is a sports-crazy nation. It hosted the Soccer World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics last year. Football remains the most popular sport, and it is almost like a religion in Brazil, Ambassador Souza said. In contrast, he noted that the development of football in the Philippines remains at an amateur stage. Brazil has been sending coaches to the Philippines and participated in some local and regional competitions in volleyball. He personally thinks that football is most suited to the Filipinos because the sport does not require height and heft, just talent. The world's best player which hails from Argentina is not tall, and so are so many others in the top league. He is quick to admit though that the Philippines remains as basketball-crazy as it has always been since decades ago. He remembers that in the 50's and 60's, football was so popular here until basketball overtook it. In Brazil, he said, they use football as a tool for social inclusion with so many programs for young Brazilians to learn values like discipline, respect, and team work.

Ambassador Souza has visited Cebu, Davao, Batangas, Vigan. He loved El Nido in Palawan and hopes to bring his son there when he comes to visit.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

For comments (email) sunshine.television@yahoo.com


About the Author

Ray Butch Gamboa graduated from the College of Arts and Letters of the University of Sto. Tomas. It was a course that should have been preparatory to a law degree, but the call of broadcasting aborted his plans.

At the age of 16, while still a student, Butch tried his hand at disc jockeying, landing a job at Mareco Broadcasting Network's AM stations DZBM and DZLM. From there, Butch moved on with his illustrious career as a popular disc jockey, riding the airwaves of Bob Stewart's middle-of-the-road music at DZXX, and ending his disc jockeying career at ABS-CBN's DZYL and DZQL.

From there, he stayed on with ABS-CBN, covering live the proceedings at the Manila Stock Exchange and eventually entered into the world of television sales as an account manager for the premier channel of ABS-CBN Channel 2.

In the early 70's, at the outbreak of Martial Law, Butch was one of the thousands of professionals who woke up jobless when then President Marcos declared the new status of the nation. With the closure of ABS-CBN, Butch ventured into different fields outside of broadcast. He tried his hand and with ease and success at export (Costume jewelry), real estate (brokerage), and restaurants (fast food).

In 1987, after the revolution, with the broadcast industry back to its free state, and with its irresistible call ringing in his ears, Butch made his inevitable comeback and pioneered in a local motoring show, producing Motoring Today on Channel 4 and co-hosting with local motor sports' living legend Pocholo Ramirez.

After 4 years, he ventured into another pioneering format by producing and hosting Business & Leisure, which was originally aired on ABS-CBN's Channel 2. The format eventually espoused similar ones in other different channels. But the clones in due course faded away leaving the original staying on airing on Channel 4 and eventually on Shop TV on Sky Cable's Channel 13.

The following year, the pioneering spirit in Butch spurred him to produce another TV show, Race Weekend, also on Channel 4, covering circuit racing at the Subic International Raceway after the motor sport's hiatus of 17 years. But when similar shows with duplicated formats sprouted, he decided to give way and ended the program after a year, although still enjoying unparalleled viewership.

In 1998, when the local automotive industry was in a slump, Butch contributed his share to help the ailing industry by producing another popular motoring-related show, this time exclusive to the automobile and its industry—Auto Focus, which became a vehicle for local automotive assemblers and importers to showcase their products and dwell on the industry's latest technological developments.

In 2003, Butch teamed up with his brother, Rey Gamboa who was a former Shell executive and presently one Philippine Star's business columnist to co-produce and co-host the TV show Breaking Barriers on Channel 13. It is a talk show that features guests who are in the news and in the middle of controversies. The program ventures to draw deeper insights into current issues to learn how they impact to our daily lives.

Today, Motoring Today on its 28th year of service to the general motoring public still enjoys its unprecedented loyal vierwership nationwide while Auto Focus, after 16 years has firmly established its niche viewership among automobile enthusiasts and on the other hand Business & Leisure is on its 24th year dishing out current business issues and lifestyle features.

Today, aside from writing weekly columns for the Philippine Star (Motoring Today on Wednesdays and Business & Leisure on Saturdays) and executive producer / host of weekly TV shows (Motoring Today, airs Sundays on Solar Sports Channel 70, Business & Leisure, airs Tuesdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13 and Auto Focus airs Thursdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13, Ray Butch Gamboa is currently the Chairman and CEO of Sunshine Television Production and Marketing Services Corp., President of Gamcor Management and Development Corp., Chairman of Asia-Pacific Realty Corporation, President and Chairman of Socio-Communication Foundation for Asia and Founding Chairman of the Society of Phil. Motoring Journalists (SPMJ)