A new beginning, a new era, and new expectations

by Ricky Rillera

Then Philippine Ambassador to Canada delivering her message during the commemoration of Philippine Independence Day on June 12, 2020. | Photo YouTube Philippine Embassy Canada

It would have been a more engaging conversation as in the past when the media met in person with the consul general. The current pandemic situation prevented it, and the meeting was through Zoom – a now popular tool used by most people and organizations in communicating with each other.

But my latest Zoom experience defied that feeling when members of the FilAm Press Club of New York met with Consul General Petronila R. Garcia on Wednesday, Oct. 28, for the first time on an official call. The environment was warm, spontaneous, and engaging as we fielded several questions on broad topics.

By the way, I was a bit hesitant to call her consul general aware of her 40 years experience as a diplomat, recently as Philippine Ambassador to Canada before her assignment to New York. Also, as someone who her peers regard her as the Dean of the Asia Pacific Ambassadors.

“…although she has achieved the rank or title of an ambassador, there is only one person to be called that in the US — Ambassador Jose Manuel ‘Babe’ Romualdez. I thought that in a formal setting in public, we call her ConGen.”

The truth is, although she has achieved the rank or title of an ambassador, there is only one person to be called that in the US — Ambassador Jose Manuel ‘Babe’ Romualdez. I thought that in a formal setting, we call her ConGen. But in informal or casual conversation, I’d interchangeably use ConGen or Ambassador, whatever comes to mind. I guess that makes sense – to make a clear distinction of official capacity. At least for me, it would.

Four questions caught my attention. The first is a question on what motivated the consul general to be a diplomat. I empathized with her when she responded that her family had difficulty locating her sister for years. They found her in Mexico with the assistance of then deputy chief of mission of the Philippine embassy. ConGen Garcia said she was relieved and impressed at the kindness and compassion shown to her family. That experience stuck with her, and she envisioned to be like that person someday. “I’d like to serve to help people,” she said.

I found such revelation, as personal as it is, honest, sincere, and inspiring. Fast forward many years after; she is now the person she wanted to be — touching the lives of many others.

The second one is about the most memorable experience of her work. She was the first woman posted in an Arab country – in Egypt, and several years later, her next assignment was to Israel. Whoever decided to deploy her to both countries deserves much credit as it was a brilliant move in diplomacy. Her engagement in the area added to her treasure chest of experience that made her the focal point about Middle East relations in 2011 when she went back to Manila’s head office.

“To me, courage in the face of imminent danger to save lives is what she showed in this instance. Even as civilians, there is no guarantee of how things will turn out to be in wartime.”

What impressed me more is her capacity to plan and execute the extraction of more than 120 Filipinos in Gaza, at the height of hostilities, which she found very fulfilling. In the process, a bomb exploded nearby. Concerned with their safety, she negotiated with feuding parties for them to cross over to Jordan. “One of the skills of a diplomat is to know how to negotiate,” she said. To me, courage in the face of imminent danger to save lives is what she showed in this instance. Even as civilians, there is no guarantee of how things will turn out to be in wartime.

The third is about her comment on recalling a fellow ambassador stationed in Brazil, seen on CCTV allegedly mistreating her Filipino domestic staff.

The consul general is known as a champion of human rights, particularly women’s rights. She was unequivocal in her response. She concurred with the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr., and the statements he gave to recall Ambassador Marichu Mauro. She said there is a process in dealing with these cases whereby a panel would investigate the allegations, and if there is probable cause, the DFA will file an appropriate claim. “The DFA does not tolerate abuse and the full course of the law will be applied,” she said.

Finally, she comments on the upcoming elections in the US and the Philippines, which has polarized the community. I know that as a career diplomat, she would balance her statement, and she did. “We do not have a differential of political colors. Everyone has a right to an opinion, and I respect and support that right. But we have to engage to agree to disagree. Whatever the outcome — the bureacracy is very strong to serve our people, that is what matters,” she said.

“Forty years is a lot of life experiences that show character, integrity, humility, and loyalty. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” the Scripture says. Consul General Garcia spoke from the heart that defines herself.”

The rest of the questions dealt with service delivery issues such as the delay in processing dual citizenship applications, cultural events, and travel to the Philippines. As someone overseeing consular operations, a briefing must have been provided to her even before she came on board. She was current, and ably responded to questions posed to her. These are a matter of governance, ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of systems in place.

Forty years is a lot of life experiences that show character, integrity, humility, and loyalty. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” the Scripture says. Consul General Garcia spoke from the heart that defines herself. It will be a long road from hereon, but a brief moment with her in a Zoom meeting is like a fireside chat, knowing more of her as she goes on with her new journey.

A new beginning, a new era, and new expectations from both the diplomat and the community she will now serve.

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