There is a word in the Filipino language that describes a disaster that happens when an upcoming event is prematurely announced or a game or an election is prematurely called. The word is “bulilyaso.” The closest translation of this into English is “jinxing it” when some stupid outsider tries to influence and poison the environment and as a result, the important event that everybody is waiting for is cancelled or executed disastrously.
The planned re-opening of the Houston Consulate after decades of Philippine government neglect of the Filipinos in Texas and in neighboring states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and parts of New Mexico is now a very sensitive issue that all of us should hope will happen, but leave alone until it really happens. If a good thing is meant to happen, it will happen. There is no need for anybody to push or pre-empt the decision-makers for one-upmanship or any other selfish reasons they may have for interfering.
The closing down of the Houston Consulate during the Cory Aquino administration for political and economic reasons has caused tremendous suffering on the part of the Filipinos in our region for almost 30 years who had to travel 1,600 miles both ways to the nearest consulate in L.A. for their basic consular needs. The very old Filipinos on wheelchairs who come to our Consular Outreach project cry tears of gratitude saying: “Hulog po kayo ng langit sa amin, we can no longer survive a trip to Los Angeles!”
Thanks to the creation of the Honorary Consulate in Dallas and the deputizing of the Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce who, working together, have helped tens of thousands of Filipinos especially in Houston in the last 9 years, this suffering of the Filipinos in our region has somewhat been mitigated. Since her appointment as a non-paid Honorary Consul with a full-time staff whose salaries she herself pays, Ethel Mercado has handled more than 2,000 cases and helped Filipinos in South, West and North Texas with their problems 6 days a week, year-round. She has also attended to the needs of numerous Filipinos in distress in different parts of the state, in prison, in hospitals or in homeless shelters, or mail-order brides who are being abused by their American husbands to name a few examples.
In the 9 years that the PACC Chambers of Houston, Dallas and McAllen have hosted and managed the Consular Outreach program, they have served more than 25,000 Filipinos in Texas and in neighboring states 8 times a year and saved them $12.5 million in travel costs. Former Consul General Mary Jo Aragon described this project of PACC as “community service at its finest!” Unfortunately, these sacrifices on the part of the consular officials who visit Texas 8 times a year, the untiring Chamber volunteers in the three cities and the quiet but very effective Honorary Consul Ethel Mercado are not enough. The demand for consular services is so great, for every 1,000 Filipinos that we served, another 1,500 had to be turned away. It was in fact the recorded sacrifices and hard work of the PACC volunteers for 9 years and the year-round pro-bono services of the Honorary Consul in Dallas in the last 4 to try to solve a much bigger problem that helped add much needed strength to the proposal to re-open the Houston Consulate.
Hence the need to re-open the Houston consulate, a project that had been extensively discussed and debated through five different administrations (Ramos, Estrada, Macapagal-Arroyo, Aquino and Duterte).
Wrong and Shameless
With all due respect, it is very wrong and downright shameless for one person or group of persons to claim credit for the planned re-opening of the Houston Consulate based solely on one letter that received a non-committal courtesy response from an aide to the new Secretary and on one innocuous recent visit to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Claiming credit for a huge million-dollar project that one did not work for or helped approve would be a huge insult to many important people who had lobbied for many years to re-open the Houston Consulate, including former Ambassadors, former Consul-Generals and friends of the Texas Fil-Am community in Malacanang and in the DFA. It would be an insult to the careful and judicious planning and detailed due diligence by sympathetic individuals and groups who supported the cause through the years.
Here are the facts:
We tried to keep these facts under wraps for a long time for fear of being jinxed, but in view of the growing misinformation through social media perpetrated by the shameless posturers and credit grabbers, we feel an obligation to share these facts which we have known for a long time, but never talked about. Should you be interested in confirming these facts, feel free to contact any or all of our former Consul-Generals in L.A. who are now in Manila who have worked on this, or any of our former Ambassadors from Hon. Raul Rabe to Hon. Ernie Maceda to Hon. Joey Cuisia.
- The proposal to re-open the Houston Consulate started during the term in Washington DC of Ambassador Rabe 20 years ago and almost happened during the tenure of Ambassador Ernesto Maceda who was close to members of our community. The talks intensified during the term of Ambassador Joey Cuisia who was very supportive of us, and our friends the 3 former Consul-Generals in L.A. who also supported the re-opening project.
- The proposal to re-open the Consulate which was passed on from one administration to the next was actually approved during the term of President Benigno S. Aquino III, DFA Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. We were expecting the re-opening to happen two years before the election, but unfortunately, due to other priorities, the project did not get the funding that it was asking for. Secretary Del Rosario had exerted great efforts to re-include it in the 2016 budget but their term had already come to an end. As early as 2015, we itched to talk to the Fil-Am community about it to create some excitement but are glad that we bit our tongues. Otherwise, it would come out as jinxed, fake news. Mabubulilyaso. Magagalit lang ang mga tao.
- The master plan to re-open the Houston Consulate which was approved by the Aquino administration led by DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario finally got its budget approved during the term of President Duterte. Being a very limited budget that would pay for the office expenses but would depend on the six existing U.S. consulates to contribute manpower from their existing rosters, of course the incumbent Consul Generals strongly objected to it. As of this writing, this dilemma is still in the process of being resolved, and therefore, there is still the slight possibility that this project may not happen as scheduled in 2018. In the Philippine government, as in any other government, anything can happen, especially when it is a matter of securing big funds. It must also be noted that in addition to Houston, there are many other competing countries and cities that are also lobbying for a new consulate or the re-opening of a closed consulate. Seattle’s needs, for example, are just as critical as Houston’s if not more so.
- Although the details of the proposal are known only by a small handful of individuals in our region, we never talked about this, not even with our friends. Have you ever seen any formal announcement or press release about this by the DFA, by the Philippine Embassy or the L.A. Consulate, even during the time that we feel the project was getting closer to fruition? This is why when the itchy tongues and fingers of publicity-hungry posturers and credit-grabbers started to announce this in social media, it created quite a consternation in the Consulate and in the DFA. So, if this project ever gets jinxed again, the more than 200,000 Filipino constituents in Texas and 4 neighboring states who stand to benefit greatly from a re-opened consulate in our region will have these unscrupulous posturers and interferers to blame. We will make this known to one and all.
- One of the reasons why the first Honorary Consulate was established in Dallas and not in Houston which has a much bigger Filipino population is because of the possibility that the Houston consulate might be re-opened. But knowing from day one that her job as Honorary Consul for the entire state was an impossible one as Texas is geographically bigger than California which has two consulates and two honorary consuls, Honorary Consul Ethel has always advocated
for the appointment of a second Honorary Consul for Houston. Unfortunately, our secret vetting of potential candidates in Houston did not result in a single one who was willing to work an essentially full-time job without a salary, and on top of that, to personally be responsible for about $75,000 annual budget for staff and office expenses without help from the Philippine government. Many were excited to vie for the position, until they found out that they will be working full time pro-bono, and will be spending a lot of out-of-pocket money to do the job.
- Unbeknownst to many, after every change in administration since the consulate was closed down 27 years ago, we have always been in the forefront of mass petitions for its re-opening. We averaged 500 signatures from Texas and 4 surrounding states. We gathered about 1,000 signatures for the first petition to President Fidel V. Ramos 20 years ago. And, we can show you that my name and Ethel’s name were always on the front page of the multi-page petitions. In our petitions and personal negotiations, we have always taken the position that re-opening the Philippine Consulate was critical, and if that is not to happen for any reason (budget, politics, etc.) DFA should appoint working Honorary Consuls in Dallas, Houston and maybe a third one in deep South Texas. So, again, no one individual or group of individuals can lay claim that they were responsible for the eventual re-opening of the consulate, if and when it finally happens. To put a stop to the rumors and the shameless posturing, we have urged the government to go ahead and issue a press release, but the planning and execution will continue to be done under the radar for obvious reasons.
Respect the chain of command and you will be served promptly.
We will have more details on the quiet work being done by the Consulate Scoping Mission as they become available. If you have any inquiry or suggestions, we suggest you follow the chain of command. Just like any government or corporation, the Philippines follows a chain of command. And we have been told: If you don’t respect the chain of command, the chain of command will not respect you.
On our request, the Philippine government may soon issue a press release on the Consulate re-opening project. Meanwhile, the Honorary Consul for Texas, Mrs. Ethel Reyes-Mercado will be happy to answer any questions or provide consular services that you may need. For those who are not aware, Hon. Consul Ethel Mercado has an office in Dallas that provides some consular services year-round, 5-6 days a week, 9am to 6pm. (See attached articles). In-between the 8 consular outreach weekends in Houston, Dallas and McAllen, the Honorary Consulate in Dallas provides emergency passports for those who have to urgently leave for the Philippines but whose Philippine passport has expired, special powers of attorney, reports of birth, reports of marriage, document authentication, application for Philippine visas for U.S. nationals, etc. She also attends to Filipinos in distress anywhere in Texas. Her office is busy all day long fielding phone calls and attending to the needs of Filipinos, many of them from Houston and South Texas. For these services, so you don’t have to go to L.A. or wait for the next outreach. You may call Hon. Consul Ethel’s office at (940) 728-2222 any day of the week and request an appointment. Emergency consular documents are usually given to you on the same day. (Please share this information with your members, constituents and circles of friends who may need the services).
Please be guided accordingly,
Chief of Staff to the Honorary Consul in Texas