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Farewell to Sir Junie, from Stanley Prison

08 September 2018

By Mario delos Reyes

The Philippine Consulate’s Assistance to Nationals Section (ATN) lives up to its name and purpose. It is perhaps the most crucial section of he consulate, as it is a crisis troubleshooter, not only for the vast number of OFWs in Hong Kong, but also to all Filipino nationals, including tourists or those just in transit in the city, who happen to run afoul with the law.

Though relatively understaffed, it is always there to assist Filipino nationals in whatever problems they may encounter.

ATN is currently headed by a new but super active and perceptive, and seasoned diplomat, in the person of Consul Paul V. Saret. He has been in his post for just a few months but he has already visited us twice in prison, and I found out that he is so well informed on a wide range of OFW concerns, but also on the highly controversial and sometimes annoying prison transfer issue. He is so keen to make a difference in the approach to ending the impasse on getting this treaty implemented, and succeed where many others failed.

Junie Cayabyab and daughter.
In the meantime, ATN will soon be saying goodbye to one of its workhorses, a very able staff who is up for recall. Attache Hermogenes Cayabyab Jr is set to return to the main office of the Department of Foreign Affairs after completing a full six years of an eventful and fruitful service.

According to him  no specific place is in the offing for his next posting. But in one of our informal conversations he expressed a willingness to be reassigned to conflict zones in the Middle East.  I came to know that his first posting was in the oil-rich Arab emirate of Qatar although he was temporarily deployed to Syria to assist in the evacuation of OFWs from the war-torn country.

He is so eager to help our migrant workers who are in desperate and precarious situations, and he was tested to the limit during his Hong Kong sojourn.

Credibility and competence in the performance of assigned duties, coupled with tact and diplomacy, are the main traits of a model envoy. With my natural curiosity that makes me a keen observer of people, I can say that Sir Junie as we fondly call him, is one of those who possess these qualities.

On hearing about his impending recall, I placed a call to the Consulate to bid him farewell and to thank him for some unprecedented service rendered to us for which he was partly responsible. However, I was not able to get to talk to him as he was dealing with an emergency case outside of the office, which I know was part of his normal routine.

Looking back to his arrival six years ago, I remember noticing that the Consulate’s prison visit became a regular event, where previously, it was just a random thing. It also marked the first time that a consul general (Bernardita Catalla) made a surprise visit to us. Not only that, my request for the Congen to attend my graduation was granted to my delight, and of course, Sir Junie was there as an escort. Sir Junie is talk and has a solid physical built, making him an ideal escort for a lady in an all-male prison.

Due to our incessant request for the consulate to intervene on our behalf for the prison transfer to be implemented, an extraordinary event occurred. The Philippines’ acting justice secretary came for a face-to-face visit with us, for the sole purpose of responding to our many queries in regards to the issue of transfer. I am pretty sure this visit would not have proceeded smoothly without the guidance and active participation of this humble attaché.

After four consecutive days of trying to contact Sir Junie I became lucky enough to get him on the line. During our conversation I jokingly asked if he was now about to retire. “I am still young and still have plenty of years left to serve,” was his animated reply.

I next asked him what was the most unforgettable and interesting case he had handled as an ATN officer in Hong Kong. After a short pause, he finally muttered, “Marami sila, pero lahat ay itinuturing kong pare-parehas at parte lang ng aking trabaho.” Then he continued somewhat apologetically, but in an emotion-filled voice:  “Pasensiya na kayo kung ano man ang pagkukulang ko sa inyo na hindi ko nagampanan, at nawa’y makalabas na kayong lahat ng mas maaga. Lalo na ikaw, ilang buwan na lang at makakalabas ka na, at akala ko noong una ay maisasabay na kita sa pag-uwi…konting tiis na lang at magkikita-kita na lang tayo sa atin.” All I could tell him at the end of our conversation was “Thank you for being with us”.

Sir Junie had been a constant fixture in the consular prison visits for the entire duration of his tour of duty, and though he always had a friendly and genial demeanor he often spoke just a word or two. However, he would always be all ears and eyes during our often lively exchanges with the rest of the consular officers.

Sir Junie will be greatly missed, not just by us, but I am sure, also by the greater Filipino community in Hong Kong. On behalf of all the Filipino inmates in the different institutions in Hong Kong, I would like to say, “Thank you, Sir Junie, for always being there when we needed you most. Goodbye and we salute you for a job well done.”

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