The Philippine Center on 5th Avenue in Manhattan | Photo Facebook
NEW YORK – Filipinos in New York have not quite settled in yet to know more of the incumbent Consul General Petronila R. Garcia. Now she is transitioning to go back to Home Office in Manila after serving nearly three months only in her post. According to Manila’s source, her replacement is about to arrive in New York from the Middle East as he also awaits his replacement.
Elmer G. Cato, 54, the current Philippine Ambassador to Libya, will be the new Consul General of New York to replace Garcia.
“He was one of the earlier candidates considered for the post in New York,” said the source and did not elaborate. The DFA’s policy is to have diplomats return to Manila after serving abroad for six years and hold another office for two years before being assigned abroad again. Garcia has served in Canada from January 2014 to September 2020 and completed her six-year service in New York.
The incoming consul general is not new to New York; he had served at the Philippine Mission to the United Nations from 2003 to 2010 as a consul. His wife and his son, who graduated from college in May 2019, live in New York.
From New York, his new assignment was in the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. In 2014, he applied to become the chargé d’affaires — head of the post — in Baghdad one of the most hostile capitals in the Middle East. According to his published recollection, a suicide car bomber blasted just five days after he assumed office through the five-star hotel where he stayed. It killed six and wounded several others.
After ending his three-year stint in Baghdad, Cato requested then-Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Alan Peter S. Cayetano to send him to Tripoli and fill in the void left by Mardomel Melicor, who had ended his assignment there. He ended up going back to Manila to assist incoming DFA Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr., his former publisher at the now-defunct Today newspaper.
In 2018, he was Assistant Foreign Affairs Secretary for Public Diplomacy before being appointed as the Charge d’ Affaires and Head of Mission in the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, in 2019. Mid-way through his assignment, in December 2019, DFA Secretary Locsin informed Cato that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has approved his recommendation as ambassador. The announcement came after he and a few staff members of the embassy decided to stay in Libya to oversee Filipino workers in the conflict-stricken area and sought the government’s repatriation offer. Tripoli is home to over 1,000 Filipino migrants.
The journalist-turned-diplomat Cato is from Angeles City, Pampanga. He began his foreign service career in 1998, as a consular officer in Manila, San Fernando, and Angeles before his overseas assignments in New York, Washington, D.C., Baghdad, and Tripoli.
He is a recipient of the Gawad Mabini, one of the highest national decorations for Filipino diplomats, for initiating the transfer of DFA passport offices to shopping malls nationwide.
He was a 16-year-old cub reporter for Ang Malaya in 1983. As a journalist from 1983 to 1998, he reported for the Manila Chronicle, Reuters News Agency, Kyodo News Agency, GMA 7, Philippine News and Features, and Saudi Gazette. He served as Nation Editor of the Philippine Daily Globe and Today before joining the Indonesian Observer in Jakarta as Executive Editor.