(An online interview with Consul General Leo Herrera Lim)
My creed is that public service must be more than just doing a job efficiently and honestly. It must be a complete dedication to the people and to the nation with full recognition that every human being is entitled to courtesy and consideration, that constructive criticism is not only to be expected but sought, that smears are not only to be expected but fought, that honor is to be earned, not bought.
Margaret Chase Smith
(American Senator, 1897-1995)
In the profession and life that we have chosen, it will be natural that there will be critics on the things we have done. But, if I may paraphrase Churchill, to have critics is good. It means you have stood for something, sometime in life. As Aristotle bluntly puts it in a way that cuts both ways, “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
Consul General Leo Herrera Lim,
Chicago Consulate General of the Philippines
Most of you can attest that Leo has been great to work with from the very beginning and has helped all of us in building the Filipino-American community in different cities. My cousin Paul Vincent Uy who most recently served as Philippine Consul General in Santiago, Chile (his next assignment might be in NY or DC), said we were very blessed to have Leo as our Consul General, as Leo is known in the Philippine diplomatic community as one of the best Philippine diplomats in the world.
Michelle Lura White
Executive Director of FABEX Chicago (Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Chicago) & Vice-President of the Filipino American Network of Chicago
News of Consul General Leo Herrera Lim’s transfer to LA caught us completely by surprise. It didn’t seem that long since he and his family (wife Fides and children Leonardo Ignatius and Frances Leanne) came to Chicago and the transfer seemed all too sudden. Either that or I just lost track of time.
Asked why his office was so quiet about it, the Consul General told me he was waiting for his official replacement before making an announcement.
But quiet didn’t exactly fit the scenario of his forthcoming departure. For there was on the one hand, an article critical of him and his wife Fides that was published lately in one community paper and on the other, the various send off parties tendered by many other grateful sectors of the Filipino American community of Chicago. Among these organizations were the Senior Golfers of Illinois, Philippine CPAs of Greater Chicago, Philippine Golf Club and the Philippine Senior Golfers of America. Another joint send off was given by FABEX Chicago (Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Chicago), the Filipino American Network of Chicago, the Filipino American Lawyers Association of Chicago and the University of the Philippines Alumni Association of Chicago.
A diplomat par excellence
Both my husband and I knew from just a few meetings with Consul General Lim that he is brilliant. His knowledge is wide range, his experience extensive and his understanding deep. Yet he’s humble, warm and sweet. To appreciate who he is and what he brought to the Chicago Consulate General’s office, I have provided here excerpts from his biodata posted on their website.
Leo Herrera-Lim is a career diplomat. Prior to his posting in Chicago, he has represented the Philippines in the United States as Second Secretary and Consul at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. from 1991 to 1998 and had frequent interaction with the World Bank Group, Intelsat, U.S. Department of State and U.S. Treasury and in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as First Secretary and Consul and later Minister and Consul General at the Philippine Embassy in London from 2000 to 2007 dealing with government, international organizations and the private sector.
He studied economics and law at the University of the Philippines.
He has an extensive experience working with foreign governments, international organizations and financial institutions. He was intricately involved in the crafting and formulation of Government policies and positions on bilateral, multilateral and special issues. He is also a member of Philippine delegations to the United Nations (UN), Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and treaty negotiations. He attended trainings, seminars and programs at the Foreign Service Institute in Manila, the United States, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Italy.
Straight from his heart (Online interview with LHL)
I was glad Congen Leo agreed to do an online interview with me. I thought it was only fair to give him the chance to address the rumor and accusations that have gone very public anyway. And what better way is there to set the records straight than a question and answer format (Q & A)? After reading this interview, you will have understood both sides of the issue and could now hopefully make an intelligent and informed conclusion.
FMS: What cities/countries have you been assigned to as Consul General? Where did you stay the longest? Why? Of these cities/countries, which one did you find:most challenging – why? most welcoming – why? Memorable – why?
LHL: I have had the privilege of serving as Consul General in London and Chicago. Although, previously, I was also posted as Consul in Washington, D.C. I stayed about 7 years in Washington, D.C. and 7 years in London (not all the time as Consul General as I was given other diplomatic designations prior to being named Consul General in London). In Chicago, I have served for close to 4 years.
I have welcomed the privilege of serving both our country and our people at every city that I have been assigned to. Each post presents different challenges. In Washington, DC, for example, one of our pressing challenges then was towards transforming the bilateral relations after the 1991 closure of the US military facilities in Clark and Subic. While in London, we saw the extraordinary growth of G2G, B2B and people-to-people relationships. We managed several meetings between Philippine leaders and the British sovereign and head of government. British investments into the Philippines were growing and Philippine nurses were the highly preferred recruits by British hospitals from 2000-2003. All these development presented varying challenges for the Embassy. Add to these, the fact that as Consul General in London, I had to cover Ireland and Iceland. In Chicago, on the other hand, took on the challenge of increasing the awareness and respect for our people and our community in the society’s mainstream consciousness. Never an easy task, but always rewarding.
In the over 25 years that I have been a member of the Philippine diplomatic service, I have been able to visit and work for Philippine causes in and around hundreds of cities and states. Although I am unable to identify any particular city as more challenging than the other or more memorable, I would say that London and Chicago will always be amongst our top cities in the world to visit and remember.
FMS: How do you and Fides prepare for a new assignment?
LHL: There is not one particular approach that we utilize in terms of preparing for a new assignment. When we were, for instance, moving from Manila to Chicago, we looked at both the territorial and the constituency reach of the Philippine Consulate of Chicago. We talked with friends and colleagues who have previously been posted to Chicago and asked them for tips and advice on how we should approach our new assignment, considering both our family circumstances and our visions of service.
Immediately after receiving my order for LA, we immediately got in touch with my predecessor (Ambassador Hellen dela Vega) and prior Consul General (Ambassador Marciano Paynor) in LA. We visited Los Angeles in early March of this year and tried to get some understanding of both the similarities and nuanced differences from our previous assignments.
On a practical note also, we prepare to pack certain personal properties and effects that will enhance our promotion of the Philippines in our new post. In all the posts that we have been assigned, we had to bring our own beds, dining sets, sofas, Philippine paintings, books, etc. Fides has, through the years, invested on 18th and 19th century Philippine prints, books and coins, some 20th century Philippine paintings and some antique cabinets and mirrors to accent any official residence of the Consul General. Fides has natural skills and instincts for a diplomat’s spouse. In fact, unbeknownst to us that we will leave on our 4th year in Chicago, Fides has produced a coffee-table book with other ladies (entitled, “Intercultural Reflections in Chicago”) that highlights the connections of 8 countries, including the Philippines, with Chicago. This well written volume has been praised by Chicago Mayor Emanuel, Chicago Archbishop Francis Cardinal George, the Prime Minister of Finland, Ambassador Cuisia and every serious reader. In a sense, it has become part of our legacy for Chicago, in preparation for our next post!
FMS: What do you consider as the most significant duties/responsibilities of the consulate? You must have done many things beyond your call of duty – can you name some of them and explain why it is important that you do them?
LHL: The Philippine Consulate of today has expanded its responsibilities to address the political and economic objectives of our country and the needs of the overseas Filipinos. In the US Midwest, for instance, the Philippine Consulate has deliberately pushed to have many political leaders aware of the presence of the Filipinos in their jurisdictions. I have met with Governors, Mayors, Senators and Representatives from the different States within my jurisdiction to ensure that they not only are aware of the presence of the Filipino community in their jurisdictions but that this community have provided a positive contribution to society and the bilateral relations. We have also pushed for more US MidWest companies to take a look at the excellent opportunities that abound in the Philippines. Many may be unaware that the biggest employer in the Philippines right now is a US Midwest company.
As for the overseas Filipinos, we have expanded and broadened the reach of the Consulate to make services more accessible. When I arrived in 2010, the Consulate’s outreach services reached on 4 other States outside Illinois; now we are conducting 10 consular outreach a year. We have received hundreds of appreciation notes from people in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Minnesota, Ohio and Michigan because we saved them time and hundreds of dollars when we bring government service closer to their State of residence. One family in Louisiana estimated that we saved them at least $3,000 for having the outreach. They appreciate the change in the way we do things—-better use of technology and more customer service. Although we concede that there are still opportunities for us to improve, we are moving at the right direction.
We also address the difficulties faced by Filipinos in distress. In November 2012, an oil rig explosion took the lives of 3 Filipino workers and severely injured 2 others. We were active in searching for the missing, the repatriation of the remains, assisting the families of the injured to travel from the Philippines to Louisiana and have opportunity to be with their loved ones for several months, and obtaining adequate compensation for the loss and damages. We actively engaged the employers and the US authorities to ensure fairness and justice for our compatriots.
The Consulate has been proactive in addressing the difficult situation faced by Filipinos who have been criminally charged; we dispense service mindful of their dignity and concern for privacy.
When super typhoon Haiyan struck Central Philippines, the Consulate took an active role in making US media and their viewers aware of the gravity of the situation, the opportunities to help and where to channel them. The numerous fundraising events that were directly organized or participated by the Consulate were extremely successful. Many MidWest companies, like United Airlines, McDonalds, Northern Trust, Motorola, Abbot, Kraft, Grainger, Littelfuse, etc. gave millions of dollars towards relief and rebuilding. Illinois Governor Quinn and Secretary of State gave donations to the Philippine Red Cross and Mayor Emanuel met personally with me and the Consulate staff to convey the sympathies of his family and the people of Chicago. Totally unprecedented. The past years that we planted seeds of goodwill eased the efforts of generating cooperation from the key personalities from the political and business realm.
FMS: What do you consider to be your most important contributions to the Filipino and Filipino American community in Chicago?
LHL: I am not sure if I am able to identify a specific contribution to the Filipino-American community of Chicago as one that defined my presence and tour of duty. But if I am allowed to string together the many achievements that the Consulate shared with our community, I would like to believe that we have made more and more people believe that our collective goal ought to be towards increasing “awareness” and “respect” for our people and our community.
Consider the dialogues and engagements we have with the political and business leaders, the Consular Corps, the universities and colleges and the philanthropic community of Chicago, we have constantly delivered the key message that the Filipinos have gained an active presence in the Midwest and have been positive contributors to their respective neighborhoods and in the workplace. In 2011, we had over 150 activities related to the celebration of Rizal’s 150th birthday, we made our national hero’s life, thoughts and writings relevant to our community of today and the Chicago neighborhoods. When we launched Piyesta Pinoy in Navy Pier in 2012 and the community’s participation in the annual Thanksgiving Parade, we made it clear that our community celebrates achievements and culture not just amongst ourselves but with the diverse communities of Chicago. In the process, we have also tapped into the tremendous well of enthusiasm from the 2nd and 3rd generation Filipinos who wanted to show our community to their friends and families.
Finally, we have elevated the delivery of service by the Consulate. In late 2012, we relocated our offices to 122 S. Michigan so that the Filipinos may transact services at an office that is both presentable and dignified. The reach of our website (www.chicagopcg.com) has grown immensely. More and more people have used it to access accurate consular information and download appropriate forms. Many have also “liked” our Facebook page.
FMS: As far as promoting the programs of the Phil. Government goes, can you name the ones you consider yourself to have succeeded the most?
LHL: In the past 4 years, our team in Chicago has devoted tremendous efforts towards:
1. Making consular services more customer oriented. We responded to the calls for a better office, streamlined procedures, better website and a more responsive service.
2. Widened the appeal of the dual citizenship program. More people have been enlightened on the underlying value of obtaining dual citizenship and I am confident that the current momentum on applications for dual citizenship will continue.
3. Improving the passport services. The modernization of the Philippine passport required a new approach to ensure the integrity of the passport—-the capturing of the applicant’s biometrics. We reduced to a minimum the inconvenience to the applicant both at the Chicago office and in all our outreach services.
4. Contributing to economic diplomacy. Although this task was traditionally not within the consular sphere, we have actively involved ourselves towards making more US companies aware of the opportunities in the Philippines. We have created so much interest in making the Philippines an investment, trade or tourism destination.
5. Making the 2nd and succeeding generations part of our efforts. Undeniably, the 2nd and succeeding generation will have their own unique perspectives and approaches towards generating “awareness” and “respect” for our people, our country and our community. We have started to engage them along this path.
FMS: On Critics?
LHL: In the profession and life that we have chosen, it will be natural that there will be critics on the things we have done. But, if I may paraphrase Churchill, to have critics is good. It means you have stood for something, sometime in life. As Aristotle bluntly puts it in a way that cuts both ways, “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
I just hope that those who publicly criticize will have the decency to obtain their facts accurately and issue an appropriate apology posthaste once they realize error. Otherwise, take heed of Bob Dylan’s words, “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.”
[Backgrounder: (1) The coffee table book was produced by 8 members of the Chicago Consular Corps Ladies Club, led by Fides Herrera-Lim and Consular Corp Dean Patricia Maza-Pittsford, as part of the cultural diplomacy efforts of the 8 countries (Argentina, El Salvador, Finland, Indonesia, Philippines, Sweden, Switzerland,and Thailand). The book launching on October 23, 2013 was organized and attended by these 8 countries and the project donors and beneficiaries. Proceeds from the project went to Connections for Abused Women and Children (CAWC) and SOS Village for Children. (2) The Haiyan Fundraising on 23 November at White Eagle Banquet was organized by former Chicago Bar Association President Aurora Austriaco. Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia was named Honorary Chair. Ambassador Cuisia and Senator Dick Durbin appeared during the fundraiser. Amb. Cuisia instructed CG Herrera-Lim to attend to the fundraising as it is an important event for the Philippines and the victims.]
FMS: What’s circulating in the community is that you’ve been “recalled” because of complaints against you over your poor handling of the Haiyan fundraising, specifically for failing to show up at the biggest FilAm fundraising at the ‘Rizal Center where even the Governor and the Sec. of State showed up. (Heard you refused to show up because you didn’t want to be identified with that Filipino scumbag who was heading the Rizal fundraising.
LHL: Quite obviously, I am not being recalled. In fact, I am being given a bigger responsibility in term of constituency response. The Consulate coordinated some successful fundraising, e.g. the fundraising at Sunda raised over $48,000 for an event that took place from 1130 to 3 pm. The CBS telethon raised over $1.2 million for the US Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan fund. I really wanted to go to the Rizal Center during the week of the relief goods campaign but I asked those who were present there 3 basic questions that were not answered: (1) who is coordinating the C130 flight and who is arranging the clearances (it turned out later that this was a hoax); (2) which organization will receive the goods in the Philippines (initially, I was told it was the Philippine Red Cross, but when I called Chairman Dick Gordon, he was unaware of the Rizal Center operations; (3) who was in charge and accountable for the funds and acknowledgement of the contributions (no one can identify the responsible person). I cannot support a process that is seriously flawed and takes advantage of the goodwill of the public. I formally thanked both the Governor and the Secretary of State for their generous donations to the Philippine Red Cross, which were both remitted by the Consulate to the Philippines.
FMS: As for Fides, she is being criticized for being partial only to a few people like doctors and business owners.
LHL: Fides has many friends and network, not only the doctors or medical practitioners. The narrow-minded allegation appears to be a projection of the critics’ own values. Fides has friends in the consular corps, entrepreneurs, artists, philanthropic organizations. Her friendship is based on shared values and interests, not based on the cash register.
Q: Can you give us a preview of your LA assignment?
Answer: Los Angeles will be an interesting assignment as my coverage will be 3 States (Texas, New Mexico and Arizona) and 2 “half-States” (Southern California and Southern Nevada). It is a dynamic area with tremendous potentials for our country and our people. We have over 1 million Filipinos in these jurisdiction and many of them willing to contribute towards improving the economic relations between the Philippines and the US and uplifting the lives of our countrymen. In May, we are holding an investment roadshow in Texas. So even before I leave Chicago, I had to monitor the preparations for this roadshow. The daily volume of consular services in Los Angeles may be equivalent or more to one week’s load in Chicago!
If there is a repeat of this year’s weather pattern, Fides and I will surely remember all of you who are in Chicago come January 2015!