The Philippine Center on 5th Avenue in Manhattan holds the offices of the Philippine Consulate General, the Philippine Mission to the United Nations, and other government agencies. | Photo Blogspot.com
NEW YORK – A top career diplomat regarded as the Dean of the Asia Pacific Ambassadors has arrived in New York to assume a new assignment as Consul General (ConGen) of the Philippine Consulate. Petronila R. Garcia, who has served the government for 40 years, succeeds Claro S. Cristobal beginning October 16, 2020.
Consul General Garcia was the first woman Philippine Ambassador to Canada since 1949 when the Philippines and Canada established diplomatic relations between the two countries. She served in Canada from January 2014 to September 2020 with Zaldy Patron and Ron Castro as her two consul generals posted in Calgary and Toronto. Both previously served in New York, Patron as deputy consul general in 2013 and Castro as consul more than a decade ago.
Garcia reportedly has high remarks for her two consul generals, saying that they are very brilliant and professional career diplomats. “I don’t need to micro-manage anybody,” she was quoted to have said of them in an interview.
Reached for comment on Garcia’s appointment, Patron said: “Then Philippine Ambassador to Canada Petronila Garcia played an instrumental role in the opening of the Philippine Consulate General in Calgary in February 2016 to serve the estimated 210,000 Filipinos in the two provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada.”
He added that four years before Garcia’s transfer to New York, the Philippine consulates benefited from her leadership and guidance. He said that she motivated them to be more effective in delivering consular services and promoting cultural and economic diplomacy.
“I am sure that she will bring the same energy and enthusiasm in leading the Philippine Consulate General in New York to do more in order to protect the interest of the Filipinos in the U.S. East Coast and to advance the economic interests of the Philippines in that part of the world,” Patron said.
Garcia was also the first woman ambassador (her first in this capacity) assigned by the Philippines to an Arab country, the Arab Republic of Egypt, with concurrent jurisdiction over Sudan from 2004 to 2007. Garcia stayed in Israel until 2011 where she was later transferred. She had a break from foreign posting in 2011. She went back to Manila to become Assistant Secretary for the Middle East and the African Affairs from 2011 to July 2014 before her assignment to Canada.
She was in Egypt when the Arab Spring was just about to happen, a series of uprisings against oppressive governments in Tunisia where it first broke and then in other Muslim countries like Morocco, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, and Egypt.
Like Cristobal’s experience when he was in Egypt, Garcia is said to have studied all exit points and ensured that vehicles were readily available for transport of Embassy personnel and other Filipinos in case of a revolution erupted. After 18 days of mass protests by millions of Egyptians, Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Fortunately. Garcia was already in Israel when it exploded in February 2011.
While in Canada, Garcia recommended the purchase of a property in Ottawa to house the Philippine Embassy. Instead of renting and reportedly paying $27,000 a month, which began in the ’70s. She is an active proponent of women’s rights, promoting events at the Philippine Embassy in Ottawa. It commemorated an 18-day campaign to end violence against women and screen Filipino films depicting the plight of abused women. At this event, Garcia acknowledged that although the Philippines ranks relatively high on the UN Gender Development Index, “violence against women remains an issue of public concern.”
During her term, several container loads of garbage from Canada remained unclaimed in the Philippines for six years, which caused a diplomatic tiff between the two countries. Together with other diplomats, Garcia was recalled to Manila in 2019 due to Canada’s failure to meet the deadline set by President Duterte to take back the garbage.
Her other foreign assignments include Minister and Chargé d’affaires, a.i. at the Philippine Embassy in South Korea from 1997 to 1999; Counsellor and Chargé d’affaires, a.i. at the Philippine Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa from 1995 to 1997; Counsellor at the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv from 1993 to 1995; Consul at the Philippine Consulate General in Sydney, Australia from 1987 to 1992; and Third Secretary and Consul at the Philippine Embassy in Singapore from 1984 to 1987.
At the Department of Foreign Affairs office in Manila, Garcia served as Executive Director at the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs from 2003 to 2004, Executive Director at the United Nations and International Organizations from 2002 to 2003, Special Assistant at the Public Information Services Unit from 2000 to 2002, Head of the Department Legislative Liaison Unit from 1999 to 2000, Director at the Office of the Middle East and African Affairs from 1991 to 1993, Assistant Director at the Office of Asian and Pacific Affairs from 1983 to 1984, Assistant Director at the Office of European Affairs from 1983 to 1985 and Principal Assistant at the United Nations and International Organizations from 1981 to 1983.
Garcia joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1981, after succeeding in the Foreign Service Officer’s examination. She also passed the Career Minister’s test in 1994.
She was born in San Juan, Metro Manila, and has family roots in Bacolod, Negros Occidental. She holds two bachelor’s degrees from Miriam College (formerly Maryknoll College) and a law degree and has two sons – Angelo Victor and Jose Gabriel.
Related story: Two veteran diplomats to hold top posts in New York