Jan 23, 2012

Feature Story: Consul General Julius Torres, Aloha to a Public Servant

 
by Aurelio Solver Agcaoili

[Consul General Julius Torres]
I knew it would be tough getting a schedule to interview the new Consul  General Julius Deloso Torres in Hawaii.

He had just arrived, and my request was too soon. 

Even when then Consul General Leoncio Cardenas was about to retire,  I    already wrote to Deputy Consul General Paul Cortez to ask for a chance to sit down with the incoming consul general who would be coming from Amman
He was warming up and trying to get settled, and here I was, egging on, asking for the moon, and asking for the impossible. He had out-of-state appointments, the appointments secretary told me. 

But he was gracious, and in between my final examinations at the sate university where I teach, I got an afternoon to sit down with him. I was to probe his mind. 

[Aurelio S. Agcaoili and ConGen Julius Torres. Photo by Agcaoili]


I arrived at the Philippine Consulate General on Pali Highway some ten minutes earlier than the schedule, with an Observer staff photographer in tow.

There was light rain on the streets. Towards the west, two rainbows displayed their spectacular colors as if announcing to all those who would like to watch that in the days ahead so many good things will come for the people of the Philippines.

I went straight to the main door, past the consular offices.

Not far away, two men got out of a car.

I have not met Consul General Torres before and I had no idea how he looked like. One of the men wore a green long-sleeved barong, the verdant color of life. I knew right there and then that he is the new consul general.

“Are you coming for the interview?” he asks.

“Yes, sir,” I respond. “I have a schedule with the new consul general. At two.”
“You came on time,” he says. “We just had lunch.” He offers his hand.

“Thank you for giving in to my request,” I say and I shake hands with him.

He lets us in into a huge receiving room by the first floor of the consulate general. A portrait of President Benigno Aquino III hangs on a wall that leads to another inner room that I have become familiar with because of a previous media briefing I had to attend prior to the Asia Pacific Economic Conference in November.    

From a stint at the Philippine Embassy in Jordan as the ambassador for about three years, Consul General Julius Torres comes to us with a fresh vision of what it is to serve the people of the Philippines everywhere.

His more than thirty years of career service with the Department of Foreign Affairs plus a hands-on experience as press officer of the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Carlos P. Romulo have prepared him to go where his service is needed.

He has been all over, with postings in a number of embassies: Bucharest, Saipan, Brussels, Canberra, Koror, and Toronto. His degree in journalism and his training in civil law, both at the University of the Philippines, came in handy in his various posting, able to merge both the requisites of diplomacy and the need to take good care of Filipino citizens in these places of assignment.

He did not plan to become a career diplomat.

Fate had it that he would become one when, at the height of his activism during the now famous First Quarter Storm, a time when the basic rights of people existed as a fiction during the dark days of Martial Law, he resolved not to give in to the temptations of becoming a factotum of big business, the economic structure that has closed all avenues to giving a fair chance to the people of the Philippines.           

He understood the meaning of capital, and the need to put in place the economic infrastructure of the Philippines state.

But he did not approve the unjust ways of exploitation and dehumanization, concrete realities he himself had seen as a young student of Philippine Science High School where he received his initiation into the just cause of fighting for the basic rights of the people.

Instead, he vowed to serve the people by going into public service.

There are a number of things that are clear to him—and one of these is that his service to the people of the Philippines would never be negotiable.

It is a commitment wrought in stone.

It is a commitment wrought upon realizing full well that the need to create a just and fair society for the people of the Philippines remains an ideal worth pursuing.

This was to be his motive for going into public service, for joining the diplomatic corps.

He came from a town in Zambales that spoke Zambal and Ilokano. 

But it is Zambal that stuck to him, with some ability to converse in Ilokano when forced, but not confident enough to carry a good conversation. It is in Zambal that he is most at home with, the language of his family, the language of his place, the language of his people.

He knows of the importance to picking up the Ilokano language to serve the majority of the Philippine population in this state.

He says he is looking for someone who could teach him the rudiments of good, and effective, Ilokano. He says he is ready to learn.

From PSHS, he moved to the University of the Philippines at Diliman, and there registered for the sciences, in chemistry, for his bachelor’s.

But activism had its own energy in those days of disquiet in the late 70s, when life was snuffed out from the minds of the young people looking for a chance to contribute their talents and gifts for the homeland.

The dark night of misrule raged on, and its own rage got into his young heart.

He began to speak the language of social change, of democracy that had substance, of liberty that spoke of the good life for everyone.

Awakened to the realities of an indecent regime with its indecent, abusive ways, he resolved to take part in the struggle, for which reason forced him to drop out of school for a time and take part in activism in a more meaningful way. It would take him several years before going back to college, and finish his degree in journalism, instead of chemistry.

Journalism and its emancipatory promises led him to the doorstep of then Foreign Affairs Secretary Carlos P. Romulo.

There, he would be trained in the rudiments of writing, public relations, and public administration.

It would also open his eyes to the possibilities of a government service.

He took the Foreign Service examinations while in law school, and he passed. That was to be the beginning of his work in international relations and the end of his dream of becoming a lawyer.

We exchanged notes on our experiences.

There were serendipitous circumstances that led to the crossing of our paths.

While a faculty at the University of the Philippines at Diliman, I had my office fronting the avenue that was used to film Ruben Torres’ life.

The film, Kadre, would star Cesar Montano, and I watched the shooting from my window, curious as to how they used fire trucks to simulate rain dripping from the dense branches of rain trees that formed a canopy along the oval that stretched from the famous naked man in oblation by the administration building and back to University Avenue.

Julius D. Torres the consul general is the younger brother of Ka Ruben, the famous kadre.

The older brother is known for his earlier activism, and for the political leadership that he played during the early days of the Aquino Regime, right after President Marcos’ ouster from power.

I did not know the connection before that—and the serendipity began.

We talked of the FQS, when I was still in the province as a mute witness to the political activism of those priests and college students of the better colleges of my small city in the North.

The governor, Elizabeth Marcos, would paint the walls enclosing the capitol in pristine white. When the police people were not looking, the activists would turn the while walls into a canvass of rage and denunciation, the big words, in red paint, I would memorize.

“You were involved?” I ask.

“Only the deaf and mute would not be involved.”

“Were you afraid?”

“We were. But there was no other choice.”

“Do you regret?”

“No. My only regret is that I had to go back to UP to finish my degree. Nine years before getting my degree.”

“Is this activism the same energy we expect in Hawaii?”

“It is. And more. My stint in Jordan taught me valuable lessons. I had to fight for our people. I had to fight the people who were not in the know. Our people’s right to live the good life is non-negotiable to me. You cannot just simply say that we have to stop deploying our people. We do not have many options in the Philippines. And even if we officially say that, our people would figure out a way to go to Jordan illegally. In that way, they are at the losing end. In that way, there was no means to protect them. The best option is to negotiate with Jordan. And I did.”

“What is your view of our foreign affairs?”

“We ought to have a lean and mean bureaucracy. And an efficient one. We want trained professionals who know the merits of multi-tasking.”

“If you were offered the job of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, would you accept?”

“I would do anything to serve our people.”

We talked more about our people, the prospects for a better homeland, the blighted lives of our wretched poor.

And we talked about the Ilokanos in Hawaii, their enduring spirit, and their capacity to survive. 

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