Consul Cardenas: A Feature Story



By Aurelio Solver Agcaoili

The Honolulu assignment is a delightful déjà vu, a case of the familiar that went away for sometime but came back and now ever-ready for the summoning at any given time.

Here is this place again by the Pali Highway, grandly standing with its colonial grace, a place welcoming the newcomer who is not new to its premises.

This place, blessed with stories and histories, has been a witness to how Consul General Leoncio R. Cardenas, Jr. together with the other officers and members of the Philippine Consulate General, signed a letter expressing support for then Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and General Fidel V. Ramos when the two decided to declare a revolt against then President Ferdinand Marcos.

In an interview at his office, he says that he is surprised to find a copy of that letter in one of the binders on the shelf.

He showed me that letter, now yellowed by years of having been left alone to become a document of courage and commitment to a cause grander than one’s professional and personal interests. With this document, the Philippine Consulate General of Honolulu, for whatever it stood for in those days of disquiet and distress, became the consulate of the people of the Philippines and not of any regime purporting to represent the will of the people.

In 1985, Cardenas came to Honolulu for the first time as consul, serving under then Consul General Raul Ch. Rabe. This was an assignment with a different set of challenges, a bit different from his work as Third Secretary and Vice Consul of the Embassy of the Philippines in Washington, DC where he served in that capacity for three years prior to the Honolulu assignment.

Those were interesting and difficult times—and the times for difficult choices for people in the diplomatic corps especially in communities where loyalties and sympathies were more pronounced because of political and sometimes, ethno-linguistic, alliances. There was a sense of ‘tribalism’ at its worst and this sundering of a community in a compact place like Honolulu required an extraordinary ability to take part in a delicate dance of competing, oftentimes, conflicting, positions about issues affecting the community and the home country.

Cardenas’ parents did not understand—not initially—why he had to take side with the people, and with Ramos and Enrile, when Marcos needed all the support of the people particularly those to whom he appealed for ethnic and familial loyalty.

But to the mind of Cardenas, there was no way in which the Philippine Consulate General could dismiss the spirit and burning rage of a people in the cusp of waging a revolution whose only condition is the return of their basic freedoms that had been denied of them for decades.

The international media were all over the place and the Philippine Consulate General was bombarded with many media men asking questions, cross-checking facts, wanting updates. When Rabe got too tired attending to the nitty-gritty of facing the media, he assigned Cardenas to face all of them. This added assignment gave Cardenas the information he needed to understand more fully in the round what was happening to the homeland.

And he never regretted having taken part in that collective act of the Philippine Consulate General.

Buddy Gomez would soon replace Rabe and Cardenas would move to Ottawa in Canada as Minister and Consul General of the Embassy of the Philippines there.

For a total of seventeen years, Cardenas would have a tour of duty in many other countries: as Minister and Consul General in Brasilia, Brazil; as Deputy Consul General at the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco, California; and as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary at the Embassy of the Philippines in Dili, Timor-Leste.

He looks and says that his coming full circle is a sacrament: you go back where you came from in that perpetual search of beginnings that open up to finalities that do not tell you of empty ends but of more fecund beginnings in that circle of knowledge opening up to more productive and meaningful knowledge.

He says this is parallel to the kind of life he has lived: fruitful as it is a life that has been lived in service to country and countrymen and women.

He counts the years. “In three years, I will retire,” says. “Compulsory. I have to go.”

He has offered me a freshly brewed coffee. I take the cup and taste the goodness of having kind public servants around like this consul general whose dark barong is crisp and speaks well of the dignity of his office that, among others, is entrusted with promoting and marketing what the Philippines can offer to people of other lands.

It is one duty that Cardenas performs with a breeze.

As a marketing man for a pharmaceutical company in Manila, he took the rounds of doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies and promoted and sold medicines of all kinds. It was a good life, he remembers. Money was not tight as the commissions and other perks would come flowing. But somewhere along the way, he asked himself, in a moment of serious critical reflection, if that was all he wanted to do: a drug salesman. For years, he was doing well and he did not complain.

But he remembered that he went to the University of the Philippines to earn his Bachelor’s in Foreign Service and he never had the chance to use the knowledge he gained from the state university whose operation was subsidized by people’s taxes.

And so he did the next best thing he wanted to do a long time before the pharmaceutical work gave him that detour: he took the Foreign Service examination. He was one of the very few who made it.

In between assignments—and while holding positions at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, he enrolled for his master’s in business administration at Letran College, to enhance his administrative skills. At the home office, he served in the Office Personnel and Administrative Services, the Office of Economic Affairs, the Office of Asia and Pacific Affairs, the Office of European Affairs, the Office of Fiscal Management and Services, and the Office of American Affairs as Assistant Secretary.

“What will you do in three years?” I ask him. We have talked about writing, poetry, the revolution, People Power, the Marcoses, the towns we left behind, the towns in Ilocos Norte we both come from.

“I will go back to Badoc,” he says. There is no qualification here, no ifs, and no buts. One straight answer, factual as factual can be.

Here we see the clear road to a circle coming in fullness, rounder and rounder, and the circle is getting bigger and bigger to account new meanings, new syntax, new definitions, new stories, new sense of mission.

“What will you do in Badoc? You have heard of the road chaos yesterday?” I ask, one question after another.

“I will pick up from where I left off. Badoc is a life. Badoc is a story. It is my life, my story. It is my way of coming to terms with finitude, with mortality,” he tells me.

I look at him and give him my book, “Kallautang—Poetics of Diversity, Displacement, and Diaspora: Ilokanos in the Americas Writing.”

“Thank you,” he says, in Ilokano.

“That is our life, Consul,” I tell him. “We go all over but at the end of the day, we go back to where we came from. We are this, this kallautang, this aimless wanderer.”

“Yes, but we know where to find the road back to the nest we have left behind. How do you call this now?”

“In Ilokano, you mean?”

“In our language.”


“Yes, yes, that is it. Mapanak agapon.”

“Yes, you will go home to Badoc to roost, “ I say.

“I will help out. Do civic works. Maybe pick up my music again.”

“What about your children?”

“They have a life of their own now. I have given them all the freedom they need. And the blessing. They let me be.”

Observer, Sept 2009

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