By Marivir R. Montebon
Special to Fiesta Talks
New York City – During the first media outing of newly installed Philippine Consul General for New York Maria Theresa Dizon –De Vega, she told members of the Filipino press here that in her watch, the Philippine Consulate will strengthen community relations outside the tri-State area and improve on its consular services. “We are going to move forward horizontally,” she said at the first ConGen Press Hour on November 7 at the Kalayaan Hall, a Monday when the winter chill was looming.
A few weeks later during a rapturous welcome party by over a hundred organizations, the petite-and-hyperactive woman leader reiterated her vision of reaching out to the unorganized members of the community. “I would like to reach out to the unorganized members of the community and tell them we are here and how we can be of support. Some would call us a team. But I would like to call us a family,” she told enthusiastic well-wishers.
Nine months since she served as the highest ranking official representing the Philippine government in the East Coast, De Vega has made true her mandate of propelling a horizontal growth in the Filipino communities in the East Coast.
In her watch, she has gone several times to connect with Filipinos in far-flung areas of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York’s upstate capital Albany, to take part in community events and provide consular services.
Her presence as the top woman in Philippine government here also bears an emphatic fashion statement, being an endorser of clothing and fashion accessories crafted by Philippine artisans and designers.
We need to promote it by wearing it or accessorizing our daily wear with anything having Filipino art, she once told a community leader Joy Theriot, recruitment director for an interfaith seminary in the city, the Unification Theological Seminary.
And chances are, one would spot the luminous ConGen running up and about the auspicious Philippine Consulate on 5th Avenue wearing a modernized Filipiniana or a suit embellished with Filipiniana accessory.
Noticeably, the Philippine Consulate has proactively been involved in the community’s concern on serious issues that had generally been hush-hush in the past: particularly immigration laws and deportation as well as the issue on bullying.
In the past few months, ConGen de Vega’s office has stirred conversations with legal luminaries regarding deportation proceedings and immigration law at the time when many undocumented Filipinos were concerned of their safety.
Very recently, the Paaralan sa Konsulado also tackled among young Filipino school children the pervasive issue on bullying at school.
De Vega, who was the chief coordinator of the Department of Foreign Affairs from 2013-2016 in Manila, is actually making a come-back after her brief stint at the Philippine Consulate from 2011-2013. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English from the University of the Philippines in 1989 and a Master’s Degree in English at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario in Canada in 1991. She passed the Philippine Bar in 2000 and has a graduate diploma in China Business Law (with distinction) at the University of Hong Kong.
Apart from being the official mother of the Philippine community here, she dots on her only child, Montserrat and occasionally flies to Mexico to spend time with husband Eduardo Jose de Vega who is currently the Philippine Ambassador to Mexico.
At her first ConGen Hour hosted by Vice Consul Khrys Corpuz, De Vega welcomed familiar and unfamiliar faces of the media as she responded to questions, ranging from diplomatic relations and safety to the cost of photocopy services at the Consulate.
She noted that the Consulate will start new projects and continue the flagship projects on the annual assembly of organizations, the Warden System, the Homecoming sa Konsulado, and a host of well-attended cultural and business programs which her predecessor, Amb. Mario de Leon had implemented.
When asked about her assessment of the safety and investment climate of the Philippines during the Duterte administration, she said, “I do not feel any less safe in my three and a half years of stay. There is high tourist arrival. And in terms of investment, the Philippines is one bright area in Asia. We have cut down processing times of business. The local government units are responding well on this,” she explained.
De Vega said that defense and diplomatic relations of the US and the Philippines remain the same. “There has been an increase in people to people exchanges. The US continues to be a very important ally,” she noted.
In 2011, De Vega left her post as Deputy Consul General to work at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila with then under Sec. del Rosario. The petite-but-formidable lady told an enthusiastic warm crowd that welcomed her in a well-attended winter party at the Sheraton International in Flushing. “I am happy to be providentially back in New York for some unfinished business.”
At this point, De Vega’s leadership is already strongly felt here. Steven Raga, chair of NaFFAA NY said ConGen Tess brought the same energy and proactive inclusiveness she did in London where she was Consul General of the Philippine Embassy. “We’re lucky to have her.”
Ledy Almadin, president of the PAFCOM in 2016, could not put it any better: “ConGen Tess is one of the smartest and passionate leaders I’ve met. She said when she came back that she wanted to meet every Filipino in her jurisdiction, especially the ones who never heard of the PCGNY. And she is doing that now. She is engaging with every Filipino group in the Northeast. She does not favor big establishments than smaller groups. She has many ideas and likes inclusiveness. She can be one of the best millennial leaders of the world.”