A compassionate, dedicated, and seasoned diplomat is the new consul general in New York

by Ricky Rillera

Consul General Elmer G. Cato | Photo via Facebook

NEW YORK – Journalist-turned-diplomat, Elmer G. Cato, has officially assumed his new assignment as Consul General of the Republic of the Philippines in New York on March 30. He succeeds Ambassador Petronila P. Garcia, who retired in January. She only served a three-month stint from October 2020 to January 2021 in New York after serving more than five years as Philippine Ambassador to Canada.

The Philippine Daily Mirror first reported Cato’s new assignment in January while awaiting his successor in Libya, who arrived March 29. After serving for two years as Chargé d’Affaires, e.p. and Head of Mission of the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli, Juan E. Dayang, Jr. took over his responsibilities.

Minister Juan E. Dayang, Jr. and Consul General Elmer G. Cato | Photo via Facebook

According to Cato, he and Dayang entered the foreign service almost at the same time. As Cato was leaving Libya, he wrote on his Facebook page: “As I head for my next assignment, I am sure that our kababayan in Libya, who I was given the privilege to serve in the time of conflict and pandemic, would be in good hands.”

Read: New consul general arriving in New York

Former consul general in New York, now retired Ambassador Mario Lopez de Leon, told the Philippine Daily Mirror that Cato is “a seasoned diplomat, having served at a multilateral post at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC.” Both Cato and de Leon worked at the Philippine Mission to the United Nations, although de Leon was assigned to another post when Cato came on board. He was consul general in New York when Cato was at the embassy.

“He is well equipped for the demands of our Consulate General in New York. I expect him to hit the ground running.”

Ambassador Mario Lopez de Leon
Ambassador Mario Lopez De Leon | Photo by YetBo Loverita via Facebook

De Leon added that Cato is “quite steeped in public diplomacy and also in handling assistance to nationals in crisis situations.” “At the Home Office, he was responsible for setting up some of our regional consular offices in shopping malls, making passport services more accessible to our kababayan,” he said. “He is well equipped for the demands of our Consulate General in New York. I expect him to hit the ground running.”

Likewise, another former consul general in New York, now Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, Maria Theresa Dizon-De Vega, applauded Cato’s arrival in New York. “Mr. Cato is an old New York hand having served previously at the Philippine Mission to the UN. At the same time, he has had back-to-back stints in hardship posts in Iraq and Libya serving our overseas Filipinos there in the most challenging of situations,” she told the Philippine Daily Mirror. “His experiences in the policy and frontline aspects of diplomacy will serve him well in his new assignment as Consul General.”

“Elmer will do well in NY, especially with the Asian hate going on. He’s very empathetic on those matters. He has seen the challenges in his previous postings up close.”

— Ambassador Maria Theresa Dizon-De Vega
Ambassador Ma. Theresa Dizon-De Vega | PDM File Photo

Dizon-De Vega also noted that “Elmer will do well in NY especially with the Asian hate going on. He’s very empathetic on those matters. He has seen the challenges in his previous postings up close.”

Before joining the foreign service, Consul General Cato had served in various capacities in the Philippines and abroad in the past 22 years.

At the Home Office, Consul General Cato served as Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy and later for Strategic Communications during the terms of Foreign Affairs Secretaries Alan Peter S. Cayetano and Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. from 2018 to 2019. During the time of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario, Cato was designated Special Assistant for Special Projects at the Office of Administration; Director for Intelligence of the Intelligence and Security Unit under the Office of the Secretary; and Executive Director of the National Council on United Nations Peace Operations from 2010 to 2012.

Consul General Cato served as Special Assistant for Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo L. Siazon, Jr. and Teofisto T. Guingona; spokesperson and Officer-in-Charge of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement; and as Officer in Charge of the Regional Consular Office in San Fernando and Clark Field, Pampanga.

Before his departure in Libya, Cato heard mass at the Saint Francis Church and met with Bishop George Bugeja, OFM, the Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli, who he met on his first official call when he arrived in Libya in 2019. According to his post on Facebook, it was also on Palm Sunday when he first met Tripoli’s Filipino community members. He thanked Bishop George, Fr. Magdy Mansour, and Fr. Sandro Overend Rigillo. He said they “provided the spiritual strength that allowed us to make it through not only the recent conflict but also the current pandemic and the several challenges facing our kababayan in Libya.” The church presented him with a plaque of appreciation “in recognition for his compassion and faithfulness to God and his dedication to Libya Filipino parishioners.”

Prof. Noel Pangilinan | Photo by Troi Santos

Noel Pangilinan, the consul general’s former colleague at the Philippine Daily Globe, where he worked as a copy editor with the News Desk, said, “The PCG-NY will definitely benefit from the leadership of Con Gen Cato. He is a dedicated public servant who only had the public’s interest in his heart.” Pangilinan has known Cato since the mid-80s. They worked together as editors for the now-defunct newspaper from 1989 to 1991 with Teodoro Locsin, Jr., now Foreign Affairs Secretary, the newspaper’s publisher.

“The PCG-NY will definitely benefit from the leadership of Con Gen Cato. He is a dedicated public servant who only had the public’s interest in his heart.”

— Professor Noel Pangilinan, Senior Editor, Asian American Writers’ Workshop

“I remember Elmer then accepting a job offer from a newspaper in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,” Pangilinan said. “The next time I met Elmer, it was here in New York City; he was already with the Philippine Mission to the United Nations in 2004.” The two journalists met again in 2018 when Cato visited New York, where they had lunch at Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine on 45th Street.

One memorable experience Cato had was meeting with the families of four abducted Filipino oil workers in Libya. Armed men took them from an oil construction site in eastern Libya with several other foreign workers in 2016. The family members have been waiting for six years for news about them.

“I had no answers for them at that time, but one thing I did was promise that I will do everything I can to find them,” he said. “I remembered that promise when I arrived in Libya (in 2019), but the civil war that erupted soon after and the coronavirus pandemic that followed prevented me from actively looking” for the missing kababayan.

Determined to locate them, he coordinated with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Tunis and kept the families updated. He also requested assistance from the Libyan authorities, who “promised their full support and cooperation.” By the end of February 2021, five days before the sixth year of their disappearance, they informed the Philippines’ families of their search results.

“It is a true story of a diplomat’s compassion and dedication for the people he serves, which he intends to continue in a new role he has in New York. Different environment, different challenges, but the same mission he has sworn to commit and uphold.”

— Ricky Rillera

“We have finally found them! With the help of Libyan military authorities and the Libyan Red Crescent, we were able to locate the gravesites of our four kababayan and their Austrian and Czech coworkers who were taken and killed with them,” Cato said. “They were buried in a cemetery in the eastern city of Derna.”

He felt relieved at accomplishing his mission. He knew that deep in his heart, “I did not fail the loved ones our four kababayan left behind and that soon they will be able to find the closure they have been waiting for,” Cato wrote on his Facebook page.

It is a true story of a diplomat’s compassion and dedication for the people he serves, which he intends to continue in a new role he has in New York. Different environment, different challenges, but the same mission he has sworn to commit and uphold.

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