THIS June 2, 2016, Italy will celebrate its Republic Day, also known as Festa della Reppublica (Festival of the Republic) in Italian. It was on this day when the Italians voted to abolish the monarchy in 1946 so their country could become a republic.
In the Philippines, Italian Ambassador Massimo Roscigno will lead the celebration. It will be a mixture of dignity, of course, and some pomp—after all Italy can be said to be the physical site of the capital of the western half of the Roman Empire—and lots of fun and festivity.
This year’s celebration marks a milestone for Roscigno who implemented programs to boost the strtength of the diplomatic and bilateral relations of Italy and the Philippines.
Among these programs are the Italian Assistance to the Agrarian Reform Community Development Support Program (IARCDSP), the Debt-for-Development Swap Program and the Agreement on Bilateral Cooperation on Labor Migration between the Government of the Italian Republic.
Roscigno told The Sunday Times Magazine that IARCDSP started in 2013 as an integrated development support program of the Italian Development Cooperation. Its two main objectives are poverty reduction and rural development specifically in four provinces of Mindanao (Sutan Kudarat, Saranggani, Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur).
“The program is under the financing category of ‘soft loan and grant’ conducted bilaterally with the Department of Agrarian Reform. Italy contributes + 26.190.016. In terms of grant, we contribute + 1.350.612. In sum, it is 66 percent of the overall contribution,” Ambassador Roscigno explained.
He continued, “To implement this program, there are three main strategies or components we employ here. Number one is agricultural and enterprise development support. We want to stabilize and increase the production of farmers and develop new market opportunities by using improved technologies, crop diversification and create new entrepreneurial activities. In other words, we want to encourage farmers to develop the enterprise culture.
“Number two is community infrastructure development support. Here, we focus on social infrastructure based on the specific needs of farmers. On the ground we work with LGUs in the rehabilitation of rural roads and bridges, irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities, water system, and other social infrastructures like health care centers and multipurpose halls.
“Number three is local capacity building support. This component is very important especially for the farmers. Here, we assist them to become self-reliant and self-sufficient by improving their skills or capacity. For example, we strengthen farmers’ organizations, community development and training of LGU implementers and providing equipment under the framework of ‘learning-by-doing.’ ”This project, Roscigno added, is the Italian way of assisting the Philippines to attain two of the eight objectives UN Millennium Development Goal: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability.
He further explained, “We are happy for the mutual support and cooperation between Italy and the Philippines to do this. In fact, the House of Representatives recognized this effort in February this year through a House Resolution. In the long-term context, we believe that this program is crucial in attaining peace and development in Mindanao. People need sustainable livelihood above all else to prevent them from resorting to violence or any other unlawful acts.”
Debt-for-Development swap program
“Debt conversion is one of the Italian government’s means to meet its international commitment to provide assistance worth 0.7 percent of its GNP to developing countries such as the Philippines. We launched this program in Manila on April 2013 when we signed an agreement with the Department of Finance,” explained Roscigno.
He continued, “This program is unique in some ways because instead of asking the country to pay for their debt obligation, the Italian government converts the debt amount to become a grant to implement development programs, for instance, in the poorest areas in the Philippines.”
Officially there are seven operating projects funded under Italy’s Debt-for-Swap program in Ifugao province, the Bicol areas, Palawan, Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental, North Cotabato, Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, and Kalinga province. In total, there is an allocation of P150 million to fund these projects. This compensates for the P160 million debt obligation of the Philippines to Italy.
Agreement on bilateral cooperation on labor migration
In December 2015, the Philippines and Italy signed a labor agreement during President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s Italy visit. The actual signatories are Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz and Italian Minister for Labor and Social Policies Giuliano Poletti.
The agreement aims to protect and improve Filipino migrant workers’ plight in terms of information-sharing, legal assistance, language and vocational training courses financed by the Italian government, and opening new employment opportunities for Filipinos in the Philippines aspiring to work in Italy. The agreement also seeks to revitalize relations between the two countries in anticipation of celebrating the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Italy and the Philippines.
With this agreement, Amb. Roscigno hopes that the Filipino community continues to increase in Italy (now with a population of almost 200,000) and be able to enjoy higher level of opportunities in Italy.
For Roscigno, these programs are among the ways of fulfilling his desire to strengthen the longstanding friendship between the Philippines and his country, through his work in the embassy.
First assignment in PH
This stint is not the first time that Roscigno has been assigned to the Philippines by his foreign ministry. He served as counsellor and deputy head of Mission at the Embassy of Italy in the Philippines from 1988 to 1992.
“When I came here in 1988, I never had a hard time adjusting to the culture because it’s almost the same back home. People love eating with the family while talking for long hours,” he happily said and recalled that when he first arrived it was just two years after the EDSA Revolution in 1986. People were still excited with all the changes that they hoped would happen in our country.
That was also the time when he met his wife-to-be Agnes Ventura, a Filipina businesswoman who visited the Italian Embassy one day in 1988 to inquire about machinery for cutting marble. After that meeting, their love story blossomed and even though he was assigned back to Italy in 1992 and they had a long-distance relationship for seven years, they got married in Rome in 1995. They are blessed with an only daughter named Ursula.
“My wife easily became an Italian and embraced our culture. She learned to cook Italian food and introduced me to a lot of Filipino food. My favorite Filipino food are kilawin, adobo, lumpia and bulalo,” he shared.
Back to the Philippines
After being assigned to home duty in Italy and then to other countries like Lebanon (Beirut), the United States (Los Angeles), and China (Shanghai), and again back home to Italy, he returned to the Philippines with his family on January 4, 2013 to be the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Italy to the Philippines.
“It’s an honor to be a representative of Italy to the Philippines. I learned to love the Philippines the way I love my country Italy. We were very happy when we arrived in January 2013 in the Philippines, especially my wife,” recalled Roscigno.
After coming back to the Philippines as the ambassador, he discovered more interesting cultures existing in different islands of our country.
“I love the sea and I’ve been diving in many diving spots in the Philippines like Mindanao, Palawan and Puerto Galera, among others. Visiting these amazing places, I also discovered the rich culture of the Philippines which sets it apart among other countries. I also found out the common culture that the Italian and the Filipinos are practicing especially, love for food, family ties and religion,” he explained.
Since 2013, Roscigno has tried to focus on people-to-people relations, while continuingh projects for cultural exchange.
For him, what he is doing now is just a fulfillment of his dream to serve his country and to be of service to all the countries that his country Italy choses to build bilateral and trade relations with.
His father also works as a diplomat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy, and Roscigno realized early how important this profession is in the development of nations.
“When I was in college, I studied courses that were to lead me to Foreign Service,” he explained.
Born in Rome, young Roscigno graduated from the University of Tieste in 1977 with a degree in Law. Then he completed his PhD in European Studies at the University of Rome La Sapienz in 1979.
“Our general duty and function is to promote relations in all fields—political, trade, and culture—but for me, the most significant one is cultural because it is a very important means in building bridges between human beings and nations,” he said summarizing the importance of diplomacy and how be a professional diplomat.