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White elephant?

MANILA, Philippines – FROZEN in time.

This was how Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael E. Seguis described the old Philippine Embassy building in Baghdad, Iraq when he visited the abandoned structure which is being rented to the Philippine government for $70,000 annually.

Seguis led a team dispatched by the Philippine government to Iraq to look into the possibility of reopening the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad and the lifting of the ban on the deployment of Filipino workers there.

According to Seguis the three story duplex at No. 22, Zukak, Mahalat 916 in Baghdad’s Hay Al Jadriyah District could easily be mistaken for a residential building.

He said the diplomatic nature of the building is given away by the seal of the Republic of the Philippines and the presence of Iraqi security forces outside a 10-foot-high concrete barrier erected in the street outside.

Inside, memoranda and other documents signed by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Domingo Albert remained tacked to the bulletin board. These were dated 2004.

Seguis said almost everything was covered with dust–from the old office furniture and computers to the Russian-made rifles and body armor and helmets that were purchased to help embassy personnel repel an insurgent attack that never came.

“It’s just like how we left it six years ago,” the DFA official said. “The Embassy seems to have been suspended in time.”

The embassy served as the base of operations for Undersecretary Seguis and other Filipino diplomats at the height of the government’s successful efforts to secure the release of kidnapped overseas workers Angelito dela Cruz and Roberto Tarongoy in 2004 and 2005.

The embassy was opened by Ambassador Ernesto Llmas in 1980 after Manila established diplomatic relations with Baghdad to assist Filipino workers displaced by the Iraq-Iran War.

It remained open despite the bombing of Baghdad at the height of the first Gulf War in 1991 and during the United States-led action against Saddam Hussein in 2003. (Roy C. Mabasa)