The Ledesmas give a glimpse into the remarkable work of diplomacy, how it is needed during a global pandemic, and how it has shaped their lives.
Upholding good diplomatic relations between countries can be daunting and complicated. For RJ and Vanessa Ledesma—who are Honorary Consuls to Monaco and Montenegro, respectively—it is a role that they approach with remarkable commitment and dedication.
The Ledesmas underwent a stringent process for their respective roles. But, as Vanessa points out, the opportunity to serve both countries, Montenegro and the Philippines, is a remarkable opportunity to hold. As Consuls, their work is all about maintaining good diplomatic and cultural relations, and, at the same time, ensuring Filipinos in their respective European nations are respected and treated well.
Montenegrins have warmly welcomed ties with the Philippines, Vanessa says, a development that has made her proud of her home country. “They really look forward to having a bilateral relationship with us,” she explains. Montenegrins regard the Philippines and Filipinos highly, from our natural resources and local products to our entrepreneurs and our hardworking character. In fact, many Filipinos have taken on leadership roles in the Montenegro hospitality industry.
The same goes with Monaco, RJ shares. “We often get a lot of requests to help expedite bringing more people to Monaco,” he says. “They like the quality of service that Filipinos provide over there in the Principality.”
Moments in service
The Ledesmas underwent unforgettable experiences that shaped them and impressed upon them the gravity of their roles, particularly in the last year.
When the pandemic hit, many Montenegrin workers got stuck in our country’s shipping lines. Vanessa was unsure then if she had the authority to sign repatriation documents but finally was able to help facilitate their return to their homeland. She knew in her heart it was the right thing to do, and her resolve was bolstered even more upon hearing about the families of these workers. “It was such a wonderful feeling that I was able to bring families together,” she says. “This position is much stronger than I thought it could be.”
For RJ, an experience that stuck with him is the 2016 visit of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II to the country. As part of the consulate team during the visit, he was involved in everything from the plane landing and security management to planning the state dinner and guiding the royal in his leisure trip to Palawan. “In the end, he gave a big donation to the children and to the environmental laws of Palawan,” Vanessa recalls, “That was unexpected, but he did that for the country because he loved the hospitality in everybody and the beautiful country itself.”
Communications with Monaco and Montenegro remained constant during the pandemic. “What’s important for us [is] we continued to maintain close ties and to monitor the status of Filipinos living there in Monaco,” RJ shares. While there are no major concerns with the Principality, for now, Vanessa shares a different situation in Montenegro.
Apart from repatriating Montenegrins to their homeland, she received the additional but essential duty of issuing Montenegro visas. This is done in the nearest embassy which is in Beijing, China.
“[Visas] could now be coursed through the Montenegro consulate office in Makati City,” Vanessa explains. By 2025, Montenegro will be part of the European Union (EU) so carrying their visa means having a Schengen visa as well. Even non-residents of the country can have a second passport through them. “What’s nice about this is you don’t even have to reside in Montenegro. [You] just have to purchase real estate property.” Several Filipinos are looking into the Citizenship-by-Investment program, and Vanessa is thrilled to spearhead this work.
Apart from consul work, the couple has excelled as entrepreneurs as well. They are known for founding Mercato Centrale, the food and lifestyle night market. Because of the health crisis, they are switching to a socially-distanced outdoor market. Now, they are focused on launching a cloud kitchen through a Mercato mobile app.
Drifting from the F&B industry, they are also establishing Enter PH, which RJ describes as “a consultancy firm that helps foreign businesses of short outsource to the Philippines.” Easy Franchise moves along the same wavelength as it “connects our franchise companies to potential franchisees all over the world.”
As an entrepreneur, RJ says his mindset is about searching for and creating opportunities. “How can we turn this irritation into an inspiration? How can we make this point into a business opportunity?” He says. “It’s not for myself. It’s for other people to also uplift their lives. When we did Mercato, we’re providing an opportunity for people to create jobs.”
The couple’s businesses are about helping restaurants, even small food vendors, to get back on their feet especially in these tumultuous times. In Vanessa’s words, their motivation is “seeing people grow” through their businesses.
Outside of consul work and entrepreneurship, RJ and Vanessa are also hardworking parents. With the current online class setup, the Ledesma home, Vanessa admits, can be chaotic in an amusing way. But they’re “very grateful that we get to see them every day now and we get to see their activities firsthand,” she clarifies.
With their demanding roles all, while navigating the developments of the pandemic, they know that they need to give some time for themselves, too.
Thankfully, they have ways to unwind. RJ is a certified yoga instructor so he immerses in his practice to recharge himself. And the couple’s shared meditation, exercise, prayers, and gospel time have been helpful in finding their daily center. “Before you are able to give service and help others, you first have to love yourself. Don’t forget to take care of yourself,” Vanessa emphasizes. “This includes your mind, body, and spirit.”
Likewise, RJ stresses the importance of diplomacy, compassion, integrity, and respect. All these values reflect not only on the embassy they are part of but their individual character. Standing by their principles, the Ledesmas prove to be exemplary models of a man and woman who strive to lead beautiful and meaningful lives.
Photos courtesy of RJ Ledesma.