Ambassador Mario de Leon Jr.: In retirement, a life of contradictions

‘I’m freer now.’ The FilAm Photos

‘I’m freer now.’ The FilAm Photos

By Cristina DC Pastor

At Starbucks on Fifth Avenue where we met for this interview, the barista called out, “Mario!”

I smiled at Ambassador Mario de Leon Jr. – formerly Consul General in New York – as he got his chai tea, teased him about his now untitled life. Truth is, he confessed, as we walked up to the second floor. “I’m freer now.”

Retired for more than a year, De Leon, 65, now leads a life away from the limelight. For more than five years he was this diligent diplomat who reported to his Philippine Consulate office at 8 a.m. and often turned in almost midnight juggling one party after another — a coronation event, a dinner gala, or a speaking engagement.

When retirement came in June 2017, his being was abruptly stilled.

“The first two months were boring,” he said. “You’re used to a routine and suddenly you stop the routine. Suddenly everything slows down.”

In time, he got used to a slower pace of life that involves the occasional travel, some time for gym (Blink) and church (San Sebastian), a couple of hours reading books and watching documentaries (Amazon Prime). He makes his own breakfast of fruits and coffee, and takes walks around his Woodside neighborhood. He loves a little afternoon nap when his body craves it, usually after a busy morning.

A visit to the gym two or three times a week.

A visit to the gym two or three times a week.

Occasionally, a Filipino will recognize him on the street and ask for a selfie. De Leon always obliges with a shy smile.

“Saan ko ba nakilala ito?” he will try to jog his memory. But always, the Pinoy will remind him where they met and who their common friends are.

Nowadays, De Leon and his wife Eleanor are choosy with invitations accepting only those that are truly important. Actually, in his family, he is the only one without a job, a thought that makes him chuckle. His wife works full-time in finance; their two daughters, Khristine and Joyce, are crafting their own careers.

Contradictions
When he was ConGen from 2011 to 2016, his official self would be more assertive, try to patch things up where there were conflicts, quick to put out fires and keep peace within the FilAm backyard. Now that he’s retired, he is more objective, somewhat at arm’s length, takes more time to examine situations, but always with the perspective of one who is willing to help.

“Hindi naman sa ayokong makialam. It’s just that I’ve learned to live with contradictions,” he said, recalling a famous line from the socialist Karl Marx.

And here is where he finds himself at the center of community fireworks. He was recently named Honorary Grand Marshal of the Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc. or PIDCI.

Eating healthy and hearty: Bagel and doughnuts when he was ConGen, now rye bread, fried egg and oatmeal with fruits and coffee.

Eating healthy and hearty: Bagel and doughnuts when he was ConGen, now rye bread, fried egg and oatmeal with fruits and coffee.

“It’s all about the parade,” he said with a shrug, responding to concerns he lent his good name to a controversial organization often dragged in dispute. “It’s a tradition of the Filipino community. It took the community a lot of effort to get the first Sunday of June for the parade and if you don’t have a parade, another country will just come in and get the slot. It’s in that context I decided (to accept the position of Honorary Grand Marshal). We need to put value on this tradition.”

Consultant
De Leon talked about his part-time job as an International Business Development Consultant for a newly-organized company called MRE Strategists LLC, comprising Filipino and American businessmen. The company is involved initially in real estate prospecting, mainly brand hotel development, in tourism destinations in the Philippines. His role is to find potential clients or investors considering his wide swath of influential connections.

“That’s what I do now. It’s not a fulltime job, I don’t even consider it a job. It pays only when you make a deal,” he said. While these deals take time, one project he is confident will be completed before the end of the year is that in Panglao Island in Bohol, Panglao being the center of tourism in the Visayas.

Curiously, one of his partners in this new venture is Roland David, a financial professional and a person believed to be associated with the fireworks at PIDCI because his partner, Fe Martinez, is a long-time president. David is not widely known throughout the community, but those who know him speak of a man cunning at business.

Said De Leon, “Yeah, we work for the same company. He has many companies, this is just one.”

The splintered Knights of Rizal is another one of the contradictions he’s learned to live with it.

“Here’s what I tell people and I tell them very bluntly,” he said. “If I talk to one side, it doesn’t mean I’m siding with them. We are all knights. I don’t think our national hero wants us to be in disarray. He wants us to follow the examples of his wisdom, his ideals. Yet nag-aaway away tayo. I try to elevate the discussion to a higher level.” De Leon is one of the few KGCR (Knight Grand Cross of Rizal), a high rank similar to that held by the Supreme Commander.

Is the community more unified today than when he found it more than five years ago?

Unity, he said philosophically and with a sigh, remains a pipedream. “I used to tell people, let’s be patient, let’s work toward common goals. There will be contradictions. Time will heal and we’ll go back again.”

© The FilAm 2018

De Leon and wife Eleanor check out the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden.

De Leon and wife Eleanor check out the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden.



2 Comments

  1. Former Consul General and Ambassador Mario de Leon is an excellent public officer who shone brilliantly in his role despite his low-key approach. In my few encounters with him during gatherings and events when he was New York Consul General, he (along with his wife, Eleanor) was very approachable. He exuded warmth beneath the surface of his cool demeanor. I am glad that he has maintained an active participation with the Filipino-American community so that, despite current challenges to PIDCI, there is continuity in the annual Philippine Independence Day Parade, which has been a long and hard-earned tradition among Filipino-Americans in the East Coast.

  2. Ernesto Gange wrote:

    Dear Editor, Thank you for sharing with me, your observations of the former Philippine Consul General of New York, Ambassador Mario Lopez De Leon Jr., as a peace maker. I brought to his attention, the case of the two warring families in the Metro Philadelphia area,. Dr. Rommel Rivera and his wife, Dr. Aida Rivera. vs Dr. Ferdinand Aczon and his lovely wife Mrs. Herminia Aczon. Ambassador De Leon Jr., came to Philadelphia one Sunday night, and, had dinner with the Riveras and the Aczons, and we ate and we talked, from 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM, until the Joy Tsin Lau Restaurant Staff, started cleaning the dining room for the following day. Nothing about the differences of the Aczon’s and the Rivera’s was discussed during the 5-hour dinner, but, the Riveras’ and the Aczons’ stopped fighting like cats a dogs after the visit of Ambassador De Leon. I did not have the chance to ask for an apology from Mrs. Eleanor De Leon, for depriving her one night with Mario, but, I know that she understands. Thank you Ambassador Mario Lopez de Leon Jr., may your tribe increase. Ernesto Gange, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

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