We are used to seeing them in their formal suits, working hard serving the Filipino communities in different parts of the world as members of the diplomatic corps. But what do our ambassadors and consuls do when they are off from work? For Diplomat Off-Duty, we talked to Ambassador Leslie Baja from the Philippine Embassy in Morocco.
Ambassador Leslie Baja has been a career diplomat for 36 years now and it shows in the way he conducts himself in a video call for this article. He is engaging and warm in his tone of voice, but he is also laser-focused on his mission of strengthening the presence of the newly revived Philippine Embassy in Rabat, Morocco, after its closure in the early 1990s. He has a daunting task ahead of him as his area of responsibility also covers Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal.
Coming from ambassadorial posts in Egypt and Switzerland, Ambassador Baja is in his element. Being a diplomat runs in the family, he shares DNA of the former Permanent Representative to the United Nations of the Republic of the Philippines Lauro Baja, Jr., his uncle. With such an important and hectic posting, Ambassador Baja surely requires an equally heavy dose of downtime and relaxation to cope with the pressures of the office.
To my surprise, Ambassador Baja shares the simplicity of his routine outside of and after work.
“I go home to be with my family.”Ambassador Leslie Baja
At the end of a workday, he loves nothing more than spending time with them, as long as he has no official evening functions. He doesn’t mention any exotic hobbies or passion-driven pastimes. He is a family man and enjoys eating out with them at a restaurant sometimes. They enjoy discovering new eating places and trying out different cuisines, but Ambassador Baja also indulges his children’s cravings for the occasional fast food. He mentions a few American staples available in Morocco—no different from what you would find in Philippine malls. And just like any typical family in the Philippines, they also go out to watch whatever movie is worth watching on the big screen.
During long weekends, Ambassador Baja likes driving to other cities and towns, despite their long distances and travel times. He sits behind the wheel himself. It’s his way of relaxing with the family and enjoying the host country’s rich heritage. He is keen on visiting places with an abundance of historical architecture that highlight the very best of the local culture. On Saturdays, he and his family do their groceries and other shopping errands, as they would back home in Metro Manila. I sense from Ambassador Baja’s responses a clear attempt at normalcy, grounding his family on Filipino habits and routines to counter the constant travels and household movements of a dedicated diplomatic family.
Unique to Ambassador Baja’s family life is the fact that his own wife is also an ambassador and a career diplomat. Ambassador Noralyn Jubaira-Baja heads the Philippine Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa. While they are both on the same continent, the extreme north-south expanse separating them longitudinally from each other does present its own challenges. Despite the distance, they are able to cope with the geographical separation, thanks to technology. Ambassador Baja and their children sometimes fly over to visit Ambassador Jubaira-Baja at her southern post. And every day, both ambassadors communicate with each other over the phone.
The more Ambassador Baja shares about his personal circumstances, the more it makes sense that he puts such a high premium on family time as his pastime. He does not lose sight of what is essential, regardless of his diplomatic status.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Baja’s office continues to buzz with activity daily. Shortly after presenting his credentials to the Mauritanian presidency in June 2021, Ambassador Baja was able to establish the honorary consulate in the West African country in July 2022. He still has much to do in the service of the Philippine government and the Filipino community in his area, but Ambassador Baja is up to the task—and the solid foundation that family time gives him plays no small part in making that happen.
This article was first published in TFEM’s Autumn/Winter 2022 Issue.
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Agatha Verdadero is a writer and editor from Nairobi, Kenya. She finished her MFA in Creative Writing at De La Salle University Manila (with high distinction) and her BA Humanities at University of the Philippines Diliman (cum laude). While not immersed in her work or playing with her fur baby Sam, she does extreme adventures in the wild