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CG sees big task ahead as envoy to Lebanon

26 June 2017

By Vir B. Lumicao

Congen Catalla
Outgoing Consul-General Bernardita Catalla is excited about her impending posting as the Philippine ambassador to Beirut, but expects Lebanon to be a very busy assignment.

In her speech at the diplomatic reception for the 119th Anniversary of Philippine Independence held at the Conrad on June 8, Congen Bernie said she was nostalgic yet proud of her accomplishments as she welcomed the more than 200 guests to the celebration.

“I’m both happy and sad that tonight will be the last National Day reception I will be hosting,” CG Bernie said without announcing her next destination.

But after the reception, the ambassador-in-waiting said in an interview with The SUN that she was looking forward to August, her expected move to her new post in Beirut.

Her first priority will be to work on a bilateral agreement so Manila could lift a labor export ban to Lebanon.

There is no ambivalence on her part about moving to Beirut,  even if it means leaving behind one of the most vibrant OFW destinations in the world.

She considers the new posting as a priceless trade-off that is paramount to her career.

“That’s the height..the peak of your career to become an ambassador. If I can become an ambassador in Hong Kong, why shouldn’t I stay? I love it in Hong Kong, but it’s a career move,” Catalla said.

She said it had been her wish to become an ambassador before she retired.

That opportunity came just this year, when President Rodrigo Duterte nominated her as ambassador plenipotentiary to Lebanon and the Commission on Appointments confirmed her on May 17.

The next step is for the government of the Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, to inform the government of Lebanon of her appointment as envoy.

But the job that awaits her won't be easy. With 28,000 mostly undocumented Filipino domestic workers in the eastern Mediterranean country, Catalla is looking to a very busy schedule.

She will also be taking over a post that has been vacant for over a year, with Ambassador Leah Basinang Ruiz having left end of June last year, leaving behind only a lean staff led by a charge d’affaires.

“I’ll have a lot of work to do, because there is an existing ban on the deployment of household workers from the Philippines, but still many people go there, so, maraming illegal workers,” Catalla said.

So, it will be like starting anew for the ambassador when she arrives in Beirut.

“Walang labor agreement doon, so that’s something I’d like to deal with,” Catalla said. She added that the Philippines and Lebanon have a memorandum of understanding on a standard employment contract like what workers have in Hong Kong, but it is still waiting to be signed. Once that agreement is signed, the ban will be lifted, she said.

She is confident of being able to handle the work that awaits her, as she says her Hong Kong stint has prepared her for the assignment.

“It allowed me to learn the ropes of being a head of post. But even more than that, because Hong Kong...I think functions more than an ordinary consulate general,” Catalla said.

She said it was not just the size of the Filipino community in Hong Kong that makes the post here comparable to an embassy.

“It’s not just that, because here you deal with the business sector, you deal with the academe, you deal with the government and policy,” CG said. “Kaya napakaganda ng exposure sa Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong may have been a prized destination, but Congen is already looking forward to her new job as a personal representative of her President.

“You represent the government, you represent the President of the Philippines, so, ang tawag sa iyo, ‘Excellency’. Walang diplomat na hindi gustong maging ambassador, kahit sa dulo ng daigdig pa iyan, kahit sa Timbuktu pa iyan.”

She said the usual advice given to diplomats at the DFA is: “Wherever they send you, if you’re ambassador, you should accept it.”

“It’s a privilege,” Amba Bernie said ecstatically.
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