• The hazards of service

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    WE join with the nation in expressing our condolences to the family and friends of the Philippines’ ambassador to Pakistan, Domingo Lucenario Jr., who was killed along with several others in a helicopter crash in Pakistan late last week.

    Leif Larsen, Norway’s ambassador to Pakistan, also died in the crash, along with Habibah Mahmud and Heri Listyawati Burhan Muhammad, the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors, respectively. Their husbands were among the injured, as were the ambassadors of Poland, the Netherlands, Romania, South Africa, and Lebanon.

    The military helicopter in which the party was riding suffered a mechanical failure and crashed while attempting to make an emergency landing, according to the Pakistani military. The Taliban in Pakistan later announced they had shot down the aircraft, but witnesses on the ground and on board other helicopters in the convoy quickly refuted the bogus claim.

    The group was traveling to visit a tourism-related project, part of a Pakistani government effort to improve the country’s troubled image. Regardless of what the investigation of the crash by the Pakistani authorities reveals, the unfortunate news reminds of us the risks our country’s representatives abroad often face.

    Ambassador Lucenario, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, was a 25-year veteran of the diplomatic service, and had been posted in several countries around the world during his career. And while many of those years for the Ambassador were probably pleasantly unremarkable – it is fair to say the job title carries a certain amount of prestige and is highly sought-after, for just that reason – his tragic death only points out that maintaining the country’s good relations abroad does sometimes come at a stiff price.

    We tend not to notice our overseas ambassadors until they are involved in some kind of controversy or crisis. Their attendance at important events or the outcomes of their meetings with world leaders are occasionally acknowledged, but these instances are usually not “news,” not in the same way as, for example, the recent questions about the work of the Philippine embassy in Jakarta on behalf of Mary Jane Veloso, or criticisms leveled at embassies in the Middle East about their handling of some cases of distressed OFWs.

    That is not at all unfair; the nation’s diplomats are, after all, public servants, and should be held to consistently high performance standards. We place a great responsibility on them to serve as the guardians of the interests of the nation and Filipinos abroad, and in a sense, the fact that the job of being ambassador is in many ways very enjoyable – attending receptions and shaking hands is not exactly hard work – that aspect of it could simply be considered the reward for accomplishing the mission well when it really matters. And doing so under conditions that are sometimes mortally threatening – threats of violence, political unrest, natural disasters, or helicopter crashes.

    The fact that we do not hear much about our ambassadors and other official representatives to the rest of the world is an indication that despite the occasional controversy, the vast majority are doing their jobs, and doing them well. Many of them dedicate the entire working lives to it; and in tragic cases like Ambassador Lucenario’s that are no less tragic because they are fortunately rare, sometimes give their lives for it.

    For that, they deserve our gratitude and appreciation. Certainly, we will continue to call them to account when they fail to meet reasonable expectations of propriety and effectiveness, but we should likewise acknowledge a job well done.

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