8 years in jail for ex-consular official in N.Y.? ‘Too harsh,’ say some in community

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Dismissed Consul-General Ma. Lourdes Ramiro-Lopez who served in Japan and also in New York

Dismissed Consul-General Ma. Lourdes Ramiro-Lopez who served in Japan and also in New York

By Cristina DC Pastor

The conviction of a former Philippine consular official to New York has thrust civil service ethics into the brew of political discussion: ‘She did her job well’ versus ‘She was dishonest’ is now being debated before the court of Social Media.

Diplomat Ma. Lourdes Ramiro-Lopez was found by the Office of the Ombudsman to have made false claims in her government Personal Data Sheets (PDS). According to the court’s March 22, 2013 decision, Lopez claimed to be a graduate of UP and that she was unmarried, statements that turned out to be “false declarations.”

She now faces up to eight years in prison including the “accessory penalties of cancellation of civil service eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits and perpetual disqualification from holding public office.”

Some in the Filipino community in New York examined the merits of Lopez’s conviction, some calling it “harsh” for a person who, from many accounts, has served the foreign service professionally.

Said community leader Juliet Payabyab, “It’s too strong, too long, for someone who did her duties in an honest and dedicated way.”

Another member of the community with ties to the Permanent Mission to the UN, said Lopez was “beautiful, charming and smart” and served her country well as a diplomat.

She told The FilAm that “many were envious of her rapid rise up the ranks of the diplomatic service.”

The FilAm learned that Lopez served as Acting Head of Consular Post, which is a temporary position. Lopez, who was never designated as Consul General, was posted in New York sometime 1993 to 1994. She served after ConGen Rodolfo Arizala and before ConGen Romeo Arguelles. Her name does not appear on the website of the Philippine Consulate General in New York.

Lopez was first assigned to New York in the early 1980s, serving with the Philippine Mission to the UN.
Then, after being assigned back to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila (or the Home Office), she got a posting at the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. and served there in the late 1980s. She was posted once again at the Philippine Mission in New York in the mid- to late ‘90s, where by then she held a rank as a Deputy Permanent Representative.

This explains why some long-time New York residents, like Payabyab, have a hazy recollection of Lopez.

“At the time, the community had less interaction with the consulate, there’s not too many dinner-dances, less of everything as compared in the last many years after her term,” she said. What she remembers, however, is a diplomat who was “accommodating, always smiling, and pretty.”

Lopez’s case highlights Filipinos’ reactions to ethics and the culture of impunity as they relate to corruption in government. Questions like, “Why should Lopez serve eight years for a civil service violation, and yet the Marcoses who stole billions of pesos are never put behind bars,” are being raised.

Others would counter that Lopez committed a violation by claiming to have finished the AB Broadcast Communication course at UP, and declaring herself to be unmarried, and deserves a form of retribution. Some members of the community who spoke to The FilAm believe eight years is “too much.”

In response, Lopez appealed the Ombudsman decision saying UP was still in the process of reconstructing her academic records when the ruling was handed down.

“Then UP President Emerlinda Roman had noted that Lopez only needed to secure a certification from the university registrar in 2010 showing that ‘UP cannot confirm her status because the records are still being reconstructed,’” according to a report quoting Lopez’s lawyer.

As to her civil status, Lopez maintained that she has been estranged from her husband since 1970 even before she was hired by the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1971. Her 1971 PDS states ‘single,’ but her 2005 PDS says ‘separated,’ which created the confusion.

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