[ Note : pardon the backstory, but we found out first-hand that either the Republic of the Philippines‘ representative in New Zealand checks their Embassy Facebook page herself (or asks Lisa Estalilla her cultural attache to do so) very regularly, or takes very seriously its constituents’ requests, so that an FB message / request for an informal interview from YLB took all of less than half a day to answer, and if not for an official trip to the Cook Islands‘ Pinoy community, would’ve been granted within 2 days. It’s not everyday that an ambassador will so readily meet with a factory worker (that’s me) without a second thought, so I consider my blog lucky. ]
…WHEN SHE’S a kabayan just like you and me, as if you didn’t know. Before the first anniversary of her appointment as the Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand, Her Excellency (she blushes whenever she hears the lofty salutation, but it’s really part of her official name) Virginia H Benavidez had gone to nine cities around New Zealand (amazing when you consider there are only 15, and at least four times to Auckland) for the mobile consular services launched on her watch, gone to as far down south as Dunedin, less than 3500 kilometers from the South Pole, endeavored to engage, in each of her visits, the authentic face of the Pinoy migrant on NZ shores, and has batted for aggressive economic diplomacy from Day One as a way to jump start trade relations between the friendly nations.
i know that’s a mouthful up there, but in the three-quarters of an hour I shared salabat and chichirya with the good Ambassador, she was on fifth gear explaining away why a lot needed to be done by the Philippine Embassy, what she intended to do, and what she had done, getting her feet dirty right away. And with wide-eyed little old me as her newest fan, wouldn’t you believe it? her energy and earnestness made it impossible for me not to.
Her mobile consular efforts, which brought e-passporting to the four corners of the country, was an achievement in itself. Concerned that Pinoys were spending much more in transportation and accommodation to Wellington than the actual NZ$80 needed to renew their travel docs, a metaphoric duh must’ve hit Ambassador Virgie on the head : why don’t we bring passporting to their own cities? The very simplicity of the idea was novel in the fact that it had never been done before, and expectedly it was such a hit that since it started, the Embassy has not stopped reaching out to Pinoys with 101% positive results, in Auckland, Christchurch, Invercargill, Dunedin, and very soon the northernmost city on Middle Earth, Whangarei. And it all started because a dairy worker told the Ambassador they spent more than a day’s travel and certainly more than a week’s wages for board and lodging to renew a passport.
But it doesn’t end there, as the Ambassador’s broad vision is giving birth to a few more projects. Because of recent calamities on various points of the Pacific Rim, our embassy is one of the first in NZ’s diplomatic community to set aside time and energy for disaster preparedness, alongside of course efforts of national and local government bodies in New Zealand. No doubt we hope the cultural zeal of Kiwis in observing health and safety in practically all aspects of living, will rub off even in small part on our lahing kayumanggi. With the help of volunteers and safety officers, our ambassador will make sure of that.
Lastly but not the leastly, she has made it the third pillar of her ambassadorship to ramp up ways and means to increase trade between the two island nations. NZ and the Philippines already support each other regionally and on international issues, her Excellency explains. Buying products and services from each other is just the next step.
Quite a few other tales the good ambassador regaled us with, showing us that the world of diplomacy is not always cocktails and state dinners. If on her last day as our envoy, she can look at the mirror and answer affirmatively the question : were you able to get up close and personal with as many kabayan as you could, and make their lives better as Filipinos, then it would’ve been a job well done.
Congrats on your first year Ambassador Benavidez, and many more successful years to come. Mabuhay!
PS. Many thanks to cultural attache Ms Liza Jane Estalilla for helping us make the interview possible !
- why Marilou Guangco Scott is my favorite Kinoy* (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)
- the five people you meet in the barangay (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)
- NZ randomly, thru unjaundiced unbiased Pinoy eyes (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)
- scent of a kabayan (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)
- stand by my brother Pinoy (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)
- pinoyness in the neighborhood, pinoyness in the workplace (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)
- Filipino inmate ‘appeals’ to Philippines VP for help (arabtimesonline.com)
- when is an ambassador not an ambassador? (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)