East Meets West

East Meets West

For Philippines Ambassador to Jordan Junever Mahilum-West, working in the Middle East for the past two years has been an “East-meets-West” experience – literally.

In the spirit of fostering better understanding between the two cultures and countries, “we focus on people-to-people exchanges, particularly cultural cooperation,” says the tall, stylish and sophisticated Ambassador.

Today, there are approximately 45,000 Philippine nationals living in Jordan, compared to 7,000 in the 80s. As a result, a Jordan-Philippines friendship association is in the works as well as an association between the senates of both countries. Not much is known about each country by the nationals of each, she points out, hence the focus on cultural exchanges between the peoples and governments of Jordan and the Philippines. Interfaith dialogue is seen by the diplomat as another means of fostering better understanding between the two cultures. The Philippines has hosted such dialogues in the past. “We are very interested in His Majesty’s initiatives in this area,” notes the Ambassador.

The Embassy in Jordan, which also serves Palestine, is working on promoting Jordan as part of the Holy Land pilgrimage since Filipinos are more familiar with religious pilgrimages. Pope Francis identified five cities in Jordan for pilgrims: ‘Um Qais, Pella, Bethany, Mount Nebo and Machaerus.

Before coming to Jordan, the diplomat worked as the Philippine Consulate General in Toronto. “It was a challenging and satisfying post for me,” reminisces West with a smile. The Consulate was responsible for around 300,000 Filipinos and it was her first intensive counsellor position, entailing economic diplomacy and trade investments.

Her diplomatic career saw her stationed at the Philippine Mission to the United Nations in Geneva between 2004 and 2010, with her portfolio focused on human rights.

East meets West in love

This poised diplomat will never forget when she met her Australian husband John West whilst working in Paris 17 years ago on her very first assignment. John was then working as an economist in Paris at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Due to the demands of their jobs, the couple lived separately when the Ambassador was posted in Geneva. “It was not hard,” says West, looking fondly at her husband sitting beside her, “as the two countries are so close to each other. With the fast train (TGV), distance was not an issue.” It was only when West was posted in Toronto, 11 years later, that both she and her spouse lived together, as they do so now in Jordan, too.

In her spare time, West immerses herself in diverse hobbies: golf and collecting antique maps and prints, something she picked up in Paris. “She’s a good karaoke singer!” exclaims her husband and the Ambassador agrees with a laugh.

Reflections on Jordan

Even though her robust husband enjoys making curries and basic dishes, the couple agrees that their favourite foods include tabouleh, mutabal and fatteh.

“The natural beauty, touristic attractions and rich history” are some of their favourite features of Jordan.

For John, Jerash is one of his favourite places to visit repeatedly, especially for walks. He has a busy life himself, travelling twice a year to teach at Sophia University in Tokyo. “I work in international economics, but the perk of being married to June (short for Junever) is the opportunity to meet many people, which makes life more interesting,” he says. He is currently up every morning at five to work on a book on Asian economy and politics.

With one more year to go in her current posting, West is hoping to continue introducing her culture, including Filipino ballet, folkloric groups and films, to Jordan.   

Holiday destination: the Philippines
As some families start to plan their summer breaks, Ambassador Mahilum-West raves about the beaches in the Philippines. But it all depends on the type of holiday you are looking for.

“The Philippines is great for shopping and it can accommodate a heritage tour and ecotourism too,” she adds. While we speak, she proudly points to a colourful necklace she is wearing which is handmade by Filipino artisans. Jewellery, pearls, paintings, indigenous weavings, clothes, furniture and even electronics are all sought after by visitors to the country. 

The 3 pillars in

Philippine foreign policy

1. Political security

2. Economic development

Upholding and promoting the rights of Filipinos abroad

Did you know?
The Philippines ranks third highest in the world, after India and China, for remittances received from workers abroad, representing 10 per cent of the Philippine Gross Domestic Product (GDP)