Retiring but still unstoppable

Community News & Features Jun 16, 2010 at 2:55 pm

CONGEN MINERVA FALCON, WITH FOUR DECADES OF PUBLIC SERVICE

By Riza Khamal


“I don’t want to be remembered, I just want not to be forgotten,” that’s the wish of Toronto Consul General Minerva Jean Falcon as a public servant. She has been in the foreign service for almost four decades, serving the Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad.

With a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of the Philippines, Consul General Falcon also has a post graduate studies of Bachelor of Laws from the UP and Master of Arts in International Relations from Boston University.

She started her career in Foreign Service in 1972, holding various diplomatic positions and had received numerous citations, recognitions and awards like Dean of the Consular Corps, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1999; Gawad Centenaryo, 1998; Distinguished Service Award, DFA Day, June 1999 and Outstanding Alumna, U.P. Alumni Association, Hawaii Chapter, 2000 among others.

Now in her 39th year of service, Toronto could be her last tour of duty, as she is heading for retirement after her term. “I’m retiring, but I can serve my country in other ways,” says Falcon.

As a public servant, she never ceases to look for ways in helping Filipinos. In Canada, the issues affecting the Filipino caregivers interest her as well as the accreditation of our professionals.

“I’m particularly interested in issues affecting the most vulnerable sector of the Filipino community in Canada, our live-in caregivers. I am well aware that Filipinos compose 90 percent of the caregivers working in Canada and 60 percent of them are in Ontario.

“When I was the consul general in Vancouver, a lot of our caregivers who were in between employers where falling through the cracks. That is why I make it a point to keenly follow the recent reforms in the regulations affecting caregivers, both in provincial and federal level,” adds Falcon.

“I would like also to explore the avenues by which the accreditation of our professionals, especially our nurses, could be facilitated, particularly in this province of Ontario. Ontario is particularly a tough nut to crack. Notwithstanding the fact that the province passed the Fair Access to Profession Act in 2006, the law lacks some teeth and its supposed benefits are hardly felt by our workers.”

Due to difficulty of having their foreign credentials accredited here, she said there are Filipino professionals who opted to go back home instead.

In her years of service, she had her share of memorable duties too. Two of which are her assignments in Hawaii and in Spain.

“First, in Hawaii I accomplished the Philippine Centennial, where I was able to unify the community towards a year-long celebration,” she says.

“Second, when I was in Spain, I was able to secure from the government an amnesty for undocumented Filipinos.”

She served her longest term, four years, as Consul General in Hawaii and the shortest was served in Hamburg, Germany for only six months.

It’s in Germany where she was faced with the most challenging duty, due to the controversy over NAIA Terminall III (Fraport).

“NAIA II was financed by the Frankfurt Airport authority but it got in a lot of controversy during my tour of duty in Germany. It came to a point where the Philippine government had to resort to expropriation of the terminal,” recounts Falcon.

Consul General Minerva Jean Falcon at her Consulate office

Consul General Minerva Jean Falcon at her Consulate office

As a lawyer, she was put in a challenging role as the country’s representative in Switzerland, because of the Philippine government’s claim on the escrow account of the Marcoses.

“The post in Switzerland was vacant for 11 months. So I was sent there, because it needs a certain profile, a lawyer, to know what’s happening legally. As Ambassador to Berne, I had to render assistance to PCGG (Philippine Commission on Good Government) officials in recovering the Marcos’s loot,” says Falcon.

During her stay in Switzerland, Falcon, made a high-level representation in the Swiss government to secure the money under the escrow accounts, to ensure that the money from those accounts will directly go to the Philippine government.

Meanwhile, after being in various Filipino communities abroad, according to Falcon, one of the issues that she believes universally affects Filipinos wherever they may be is the issue of irregular migration.

“This is of particular concern to us in the Foreign Service because we are mandated by law under Republic Act No. 8042, as amended by RA 1022, otherwise known as the Migrant Workers Protection Act, to protect our nationals, regardless of their status in the host country,” says Falcon.

Under the said law, it is the duty of the foreign service department to assist Filipino workers, whether they are documented or undocumented. However, most of the problems arise, according to Falcon, when workers are undocumented. First, since they do not have a status in the host country, they can be deported (i.e. airport-to-airport, release upon arrival). Second, they cannot avail of the services that would normally be made available to documented workers (e.g. legal representation, health insurance etc.)

Another issue, says Falcon, that is affecting Filipinos abroad is the issue of separation of families.
“This almost sounds like cliché, but it’s true. I believe that the worst among the so many costs of migration is the separation of families. Long physical separation eventually erodes the relationship between spouses. Moreover, it has taken its greatest toll on children as we are raising a generation of motherless youths,” says the mother of three.

After her tour of duty in Toronto, retirement seems inevitable, but not even that can stop her from pursuing her passions.

“I wish to take a Master of Laws Degree, with specialization on the Law of the Sea, at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia,” says Falcon, who still looks forward to serving the country even after retirement.

Her four decades of public service will definitely make its mark in the hearts and minds of people whom she served and whose lives she has touched. Her legacy in public service and governance will not only make people remember her but will also let them not forget her because besides being a public servant, she’s also known as everybody’s friend. The warmth in service she extended everyone will always be felt and appreciated.