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? Ambassador Philippe Jones Lhuillier of the Philippine Embassy in Spain, tells us how he sees art in crucifixes and religious pieces.
Philippine Ambassador to Spain Philippe Jones Lhuillier never imagined himself being a diplomat. So when President Estrada assigned him to Rome in 1999, he expected it would only be for two years. Little did he know that those two years of serving his kababayans would become twenty two and would lead him to Italy, Albania, San Marino, Portugal and Spain and eventually, would become a life’s mission. Being with the Filipino community has become Ambassador Lhuillier’s source of happiness and his way of relaxation.
Despite his hectic schedule, the approachable and good-humored ambassador agrees to sit down with The Filipino Expat Magazine in the middle of the 4th OFW Congress held in Madrid and gamely displays his candid side.
What do you do in your free time?
A lot of things. I enjoy antiques. I go for religious pieces, like the crucifix. I go around flea markets to find them. For me this is relaxation. Second, spending time with my family. I have been an ambassador for 22 years and I have been separated from my family this whole time. Whenever we have an opportunity, we really find time to be together. Family is the most important thing in life.
Why religious pieces?
I see crucifixes as art. If you look at crucifixes, there are no two crucifixes that look the same. It is the inspiration, the artist’s interpretation, his description of how Jesus Christ died on the cross or is dying on the cross. Also, it is the face of Jesus Christ, either alive or dead, that really gets me.
How many pieces have you got so far?
I have over 1,000 pieces of ivory crucifixes. I have been collecting for the past 50 years. My first piece was a tiny crucifix.
Where do you keep them?
When I was ambassador in Italy, I kept them under the bed so my wife wouldn’t know. When we moved back to the Philippines, she eventually found out and asked me why I had so many. I enjoy collecting them so much. I have museums in the Philippines, one in Cebu and one in Manila. I am putting one in Antipolo. Right now, they are private but I want them to be public. I always say that the Filipino community should see them. I am making a new one which will be open to the public. Hopefully people will really appreciate them, especially since most of my crucifixes and paintings are from Europe. People go to the Vatican and fall in line to see those pieces. And with my collections, they can soon see them in the Philippines.
Having tons of these art pieces, is there any chance of stopping?
I told myself I would stop buying. My family tells me, you have too many. But yesterday, I was offered a Pietà. I have a lot of Pietàs but I looked at it and I said, I still don’t have this one. As you know, the definition of satisfaction, you want to get something different.
What do you usually do with your family?
We eat together. Like tonight, all of them are here in Madrid. We are going to have dinner together, in the house. I have seven children, two boys and five girls. It’s a basketball team. My wife lives with me in Madrid because my boss has to be beside me always.
Do you have a favorite place in Madrid?
For me, many places are interesting depending on the occasion. When guests come around, either we eat in the house or eat out in a restaurant. We don’t like “class-class” (fancy) restaurants, we like regular places with better food, not touristy. Especially if there are Filipinos working there, I see how they respect their Filipino employees.
Do you travel a lot?
Oh yes, with my wife and family. I used to go around every two years and travel together as a family with a 50-seater bus all over Europe.
What are your favorite tourist destinations?
France, Italy, Portugal. I enjoyed Portugal very much. The people are very nice, very friendly. The place is very colorful. In Italy, it’s Rome, Milan and Florence. In Spain, I like Barcelona. Also Malaga, it’s not that big. It’s near the sea.
When you travel, do you buy an art piece?
Not really. My aim when I travel is to be with my family. Only if by chance, I see something, “by feeling”, then I buy. I never buy in bulk and it always depends on my “feeling”.
What do you miss about the Philippines?
First, my complete family. Second, friends. We get old and some of our friends die, it’s sad. Now, my friends and I say goodnight to each other every nifght.
Are you religious?
I believe in fate and God. Every night I pray for happiness. I studied in La Salle and the training that La Salle had taught me that I can’t go out of the house without a rosary. I have my 50-year-old scapular too. I have two rosaries here in my pocket. It’s amazing, even when I’m swimming, it has to be there, it is a security blanket. I prefer them over having money in my pocket.
What is the best part of living in Madrid?
For Filipinos, this is home. They feel at home. During the pandemic, there were only eight people from Madrid who wanted to be repatriated.You will feel at home right away. Spanish people are loving and Filipinos feel being part of the family.
Are there any plans of retiring soon?
Retiring is a difficult thing in life. I am always on the go. Business-wise, I have decided I can´t go back to business. As a diplomat, I will be continuing. When you see this crowd (Filipinos), they need somebody to help them know their rights. I always want to help. Whenever I could, I would help more. Life is like that.
This article was first published in the Summer 2022 issue of The Filipino Expat Magazine.
What's Your Reaction?
Nats Sisma Villaluna has been serving the Filipino community in Spain for more than 13 years. His volunteer works include teaching Spanish to Filipinos, and as artistic director of the Coro Kudyapi, a group of musically inclined young Filipinos in Barcelona. His passion to serve the Filipino community now extends to other countries in his role as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the new The Filipino Expat Magazine.