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Death of a diplomat

MY FIRST introduction to the Philippine foreign service was as a young boy growing up in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii (TH) in 1947. At that time the Hawaiian Islands were a long way from becoming the 50th State of the Union.

Aside from its beautiful beaches and other scenic wonders, Hawaii was also home to the largest overseas community of Filipinos outside the Americas.

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After serving briefly as press secretary to President Manuel Roxas, my dad was appointed consul general with assignment in Honolulu. He was one of the pioneers of the newly organized foreign service of an independent Philippine Republic.

Vice President Elpidio Quirino was the concurrent foreign affairs secretary.

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As for many tourists of the day, Hawaii was paradise for a boy living next door to historic Pearl Harbor and magnificent Diamond Head off Waikiki Beach.

My second introduction to the foreign service was in 1986 after the Edsa Revolution when President Cory Aquino sent me off as ambassador to Indonesia, after retiring from the Air Force. By coincidence, Jakarta was also the last posting of my father where he ended his tour of duty as dean of the diplomatic corps. Prior to Indonesia, he had served in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Austria and Switzerland. He passed away in 1979.

The residence and offices of the Philippine ambassador in Jakarta along Imam Bonjol Street were acquired during my father’s stay and when I moved in some eight years later, the scent of his favorite cigars seemed to be everywhere, from the bedroom, the dining room, as well as his private office at the chancery.

My third experience with the Philippine foreign service was as an outsider renewing my passport at the Office of Consular Affairs, Aseana Business Park, Parañaque City.

As late as 2005, the Philippines was one of a handful of countries (Togo, Guinea, Nepal, Chad, Tunisia, etc.) that continued to issue manually scripted passports, with the photos physically attached on the personal data page. Since the passport could be easily tampered, serious doubts about the integrity of our travel documents at times resulted in embarrassing situations at various entry points to other countries around the world. Secondary immigration checks or special counters set up specifically to check Filipino passport holders would result in delays during holiday and business trips. The credibility of the Philippine passport was at a low point.

To correct this situation, several attempts to implement a machine-readable passport (MRP) system were made by various officials, but it was only during the tenure of the Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo that the MRP project got off the ground.

It was Ambassador Domingo D. Lucenario Jr., as assistant secretary for the consular affairs and project manager of the MRP program, who provided the leadership and direction needed to ensure success of the passport modernization agenda.

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On Aug. 11, 2009, on the 111th foundation day of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Philippine e-passport was launched with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in attendance. In recognition of his efforts to provide Filipinos with a modern, credible and secure travel document, Ambassador Lucenario was awarded the Order of Sikatuna, rank of Datu, during the launching ceremonies. The award was one of three major presidential awards for outstanding performance in government. The other two were the Order of Lakandula (rank of grand officer) and the Gawad Mabini Award, also with the rank of grand officer. Ambassador Lucenario is one of a handful of Filipino career diplomats with the rare distinction of having been honored with all three presidential awards.

Today, thanks to Ambassador Lucenario, I carry a Philippine e-passport. As the ambassador put it, “A passport has a meaning. It makes your dreams come true. We are helping other people reach out to a brighter future.”

Some world-class features of this document:

  • An imbedded integrated circuit chip that allows faster verification of the identity of the passport holder
  • Biometric information of the holder
  • Automated fingerprint identification system
  • Unique identification number
  • Virtually tamper-proof security features
  • Compliant with the high security standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization

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Last week the sad news took us all by surprise. As our envoy to Pakistan, Ambassador Lucenario was on a Pakistani Air Force helicopter with other foreign dignitaries who were invited by President Nawaz Sharif to visit some projects in the northern part of the country.

The Taliban claim to have shot down the helicopter using a shoulder-fired, ground-to-air missile. On the other hand, Pakistani authorities attribute the crash to engine failure.

Ambassador Domingo Lucenario Jr. died in the line of duty. Much like the soldier who falls in battle, he was doing what he has always done in his diplomatic career: serving the nation and our people with courage, integrity and dedication.

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His eldest daughter Marien, an Ateneo Law School graduate, writes about her father:

“All my life I saw this man whose generosity and kindness knew no bounds. He loved his country fiercely and dedicated his entire life to public service. And he did it every day quietly, not seeking recognition. He did it because he believed in the Philippines and its potential to be a great country. Until the end, he was out there representing a country he loved with all his heart. And my heart aches that he would not be able to continue his work to help our countrymen abroad… My father was truly an exceptional man.”

Youngest daughter Nikki writes: “Dad was our biggest inspiration for hard work and dedication. He would tell stories of the days when he was a young, handsome boy and his achievements back then. He inspired and motivated his children to always strive for success. We owe all our achievements to his support.”

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TAGS: Ambassador Domingo D. Lucenario, Global Nation, news, Pakistan
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