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Congen Bernie makes post-Christmas wish

14 April 2016

By Vir B. Lumicao
Congen Catalla and her guests.
After one and a half years in Hong Kong, Consul-General Bernie Catalla is wishing for one thing to happen this year: that she becomes an ambassador, which will mean her being sent to another overseas post.
“I’m wishing na ma-post na ako, for my own professional growth.  Para maging ambassador naman ako,” Catalla told The SUN in an interview on Jan 4.
“Kasi hindi naman ako magiging ambassador (in Hong Kong)… I’ll be frank, sa totoo lang, gusto ko ang Hong Kong.”
But she said fulfillment of that wish would depend on the successor of President Benigno S. Aquino III, who will appoint replacements when the incumbent steps down along with his appointees after the May elections.
“I wish the new President or the new secretary of foreign affairs won’t forget me.”
Catalla spoke with The SUN after hosting a Christmas party for the second year in a row for the neighborhood OFWs at the official residence at Villa Venetto in Mid-Levels, this time with a bigger attendance as new faces joined the merriment.
The event was planned after Congen’s OFW friends asked her back in early December if there would be another Christmas party at her home as they had in 2014. So the diplomat, a renowned cook, prepared food with help from some visting relatives, but was surprised that about 50 guests turned up, most of them new faces.
 “Wow! Sabi ko, siguro mga kaibigan ng mga tagaroon. Karamihan naman sa mga tagaroon hindi nakapunta dahil may mga Christmas party ang kanilang mga amo,” she said.
Like the tens of thousands of OFWs in Hong Kong who come from different, remote regions of the country, the revelers came from various corners of the territory to celebrate the day with the consul-general.
“May dumating ng mga 10pm, nag-prepare pa ng sayaw,” Catalla said, showing The SUN a cellphone photo of a group of ladies performing a modern dance.
“May mga dumating mag-aalas-dose na ng gabi, kasi raw may party ang kanilang mga amo. May grupong nag-exchange gift.”
As the arrivals were staggered, there were some who took leave early, saying they had come all the way from Yuen Long; while another woman said she lived in Aberdeen. Another woman left an impression.
“Eto, ang ingay ng babaeng ito, akala ko taga-Villa Venetto. Pagdating ng 9pm, sabi, ‘Maam, mauuna na kami. Sa Repulse Bay pa ako.’ Parang sanay na sanay na rito,” Catalla said, showing the photo of a group of women. “Siya raw ay dating tagarito, lumipat na raw.”
A Filipino family who used to live in Villa Venetto, came and shared the fun. They said they were now staying along Robinson Road.
Then came a big group led by a pastor and his preacher-wife from Yuen Long. Catalla said they were invited by the Filipina helper in the flat above hers. “Sinabi raw nila kasi, ‘Pakisabi naman kay Congen baka puwede kaming umatend’ and I said yes, so they came, marami sila.”
The host welcomed their presence because the Pastor would be able to bless the food.
In retrospect, Catalla said the first Christmas party she hosted for the OFWs in 2014 had been propitious. “I opened my house to them, so, kapag day-off ko, Friday, may magri-ring. ‘Madam, nagluto kami ng ganito.’ ‘Ma’am, gumawa ako ng puto. Tikman nyo.”
She said that for three months last year while she was home alone and grieving the loss of a slain nephew, she reaped the benefits of the goodwill she had built with her OFW friends on her block.
“They came and gave me food, they took care of me. Nakita kong nagmamalasakit nila sa akin,” the diplomat said. She said they felt at ease with her and sometimes sought her help regarding some friend’s problems.
One helper on the block who was set to go home after undergoing eye surgery needed to do exit paperwork at the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration but could hardly see. So Catalla asked the woman’s friends to bring her the documents, and she took care of them. On Dec 25, the OFW flew home.

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