The Philippine Center on 556 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY | PDM File Photo
NEW YORK – Almost three months after city offices and businesses were on lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Philippine Consulate has announced that it will open its door to the public on Friday, June 12 following the lifting of restrictions. However, limited consular services and at limited days and hours are being offered as outlined in its Advisory 19. It is a temporary arrangement for the initial two weeks.
June 12 is observed as a national holiday in the Philippines and in all Philippine foreign diplomatic offices but the consulate opted to open. Perhaps, as a symbolic gesture of celebrating the resumption of services and the Philippine Independence Day.
“In the absence of the celebrations normally held on June 12, we chose to open our door and to resume our operations,” Deputy Consul General Kerwin Tate told the Philippine Daily Mirror. “We honor our community and the Filipino people by this small token of service.”
All appointments must be made through the consulate’s Q-Less Appointment system, which is also expected to be operational on June 12. The services will be limited to urgent consular services such as passport applications, travel documents, overseas voter registration and social security system. These services will be available on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tate said the schedule of services will be increased and the other services will be made available in phases as the situation improves.
“The community response to the re-opening has been enthusiastic, to say the least,” Tate said. “We already have a full schedule for the week.”
According to Tate, most of the appointments already made are for passport applications. These are produced in the Philippines and delivery will be made 4- to 6 weeks after application, which will be mailed back using the self addressed, self-stamped envelope (SASE) supplied by the applicant.
At present, the consulate is mailing passports it receives from Manila and will continue in the coming days. “We have informed clients whose passports have arrived to send us SASE, so we can mail their passports back,” said Tate.
Added Tate: “We all have been looking forward to once again serving the public. We are of course, very much aware of our community needs, that is why we opted to open as soon as possible, while balancing the safety of our clients and our staff.”
Working during this pandemic has been challenging to most people. For the consular staff, this happened even before the general lockdown when a colleague from another office was diagnosed with COVID-19 early March.
Like everyone else at the consulate, Tate had to observe self-quarantine following the illness of their colleague. “We were worried, because we are aware of the risks involved,” he said. He was in communication with his family in the Philippines to update them on his health status. “Thankfully, nothing happened,” Tate said.
He is also thankful that their colleague from the Philippine Mission to the United Nations who contracted the disease is now doing well. He believes that the Mission has its own arrangements, and that they are also observing mostly offsite or work from home schedules.
The United Nations has said that for the first time in its 75th history, there will be no in-person General Assembly meeting this September.
“Working from home has its challenges and opportunities. Our Consulate team was fast and successful in transitioning our in-person informative and commemorative events to online,” said Consul Arman Talbo, one of the untiring staff members of the consulate. He will be celebrating his fourth-year tour of duty in New York this August.
Talbo is responsible for coordinating all the online events which the consulate either hosts or partners with other organizations. Past events include the ConGen Hour, regular COVID-19 discussions with doctors and nurses, immigration, employment, business forums and the new Kwentuhang Pambata where Fil-Am children are taught Filipino culture and language through storytelling.
He also heads the Philippine Center Management Board (PCMB). He promptly ordered to board-up the Center’s glass facade and doors last Monday after reports of riots and looting in the vicinity. He said they did this “to protect our personnel and government property. Fortunately, there was no damage to the facility.”
According to Talbo the boards will stay on depending on the situation. “As of today (June 9), businesses along 5th Avenue are still boarded up,” he said.