By Vanette Colmenares
New York – It was a few minutes before 9AM when I arrived at the Philippine Consulate in Manhattan to keep an appointment earlier made the previous week. A man holding a Philippine flag, and Erwin, the front desk person greeted me and gave me a piece of paper to write my appointment on. Soon, Filipinos started to line up for their documentation needs.
That day, I chanced upon Cherry, the owner of Kabayan chain of restos who distributed flyers about her food truck which was just around the corner.
A couple of minutes passed and a black car stopped right in front of the Consulate building, and a man in black suit, alighted. It was the newly assigned Consul General Elmer Cato I presumed who briskly walked right inside. Then as if on cue, we were told to stand at attention while the Philippine flag was raised. Then one by one, we were allowed to enter following protocols of temperature taking and hand sanitizing, after which we were ushered in to our respected areas of business.
Window 6 was where I met Noli and Vanessa, two very helpful people, who updated me on the new laws that transpired over the years about documentation which I had to address if ever I returned home. I had my copied documents which I handed to them plus my original ones for proof as required.
On the next step, I was with E Rodriguez who was elated that we had the same middle name. I was made to sign another set of documents which preceded my fingerprinting and signature verification.
When I was done, Noli told me to come back before noon, as the oath taking for nationality reacquisition will then be held. I was amazed at how quick they operated. Probably the pandemic had made the flow of doing business at the Consulate easier than previous years when I too would sometimes need its services and had to wait hours on queue.
I barely had about an hour and a half to spare so I started walking along 5th Avenue and gazing at New York who is starting to wake up from the pandemic.
Within 5 minutes of my walk, I got a text message from the Consulate to go back as my documentation process was not yet done. I smiled and gave a reply while walking back. I did sign a few more documents and joked that I felt like a celebrity whose signature was much sought. After that, I quickly told Marvin, the receptionist at the front desk that I would be back in an hour for the final round of my appointment.
I have walked many days on 5th Avenue since my school is just a few blocks away from the Consulate, and thus I knew the neighborhood well. After a quick sandwich and water, I satiated my hunger and walked back. I was then ushered to a waiting area where about six people where already seated socially distanced.
I was told that the ConGen would be the one to officiate our oath taking and I was so elated that I had to tell my editor. But just as I texted, I saw him exit the building with an entourage and was puzzled. My hunch would be that if he didn’t return in a few minutes, another one would do it. True enough, we were ushered to the Kalayaan Hall on the 2nd floor where Vice Consul Tanya Ramiro officiated the rites.
It was a quick one – with an explanation of our restored rights as Filipino citizens, inviting us to spread the good news about the Philippines and welcoming balikbayan and all. VC Ramiro then told us to put our right hand to our chest, while we sang “Lupang Hinirang” and recited the “Panatang Makabayan.”
I perfectly remembered the patriotic pledge, however, this has been changed to something different this time. After that, VC Ramiro welcomed us back and off she went where she came from.
We were only six of us in the rite, and it would have been nice to have at most a five-minute welcome back chat. But that did not happen.
I was glad that in the year of the pandemic, I became an official citizen of three. One as an American, one as a Filipino, and the third as a certified senior citizen of the world. The seal of citizenships has been embedded in my soul. #