Congen Elmer Cato says goodbye, heads to Milan after NYC

Consul General Elmer Cato at an October 30 party welcoming him back to NYC. Ironically, he bids farewell to the community in this same gathering. Photo by Ronie Mataquel

By Cristina DC Pastor

He burst into the NYC scene with the energy of a bold, eager bever of a leader and hit the ground running. On Facebook, he was photographed visiting  victims of anti-Asian violence in hospitals while also teasing the rise of a Bayanihan community center.  He quickly, nay meteorically, became a darling of the community.

Elmer Cato, the exiting consul general in New York (with jurisdiction over nine other Northeast states), said his goodbye to the community on October 30 after a year and a half in office. He faced community leaders, some of them quietly expecting the dire announcement. He announced he was being transferred to Milan, Italy as consul general “effective immediately.”

Technically, it is not a demotion given it is the same rank but in a different city. But in the hierarchy of importance in Philippine diplomacy, the move is seen as a sharp step-down to a country where the most important posts are in Rome and the Vatican City, the seat of the Pope.

Milan is Cato’s first European assignment.

“Today, I started saying my goodbyes. I am deeply honored to have been given the privilege to serve our kababayan in New York and the rest of the United States Northeast,” he told a gathering of community leaders at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel in Flushing.

The Philippine flag is raised in Bowling Green, Manhattan to commemorate Filipino American History Month in New York. Cato delivers his remarks  with Mayor Eric Adams and Filipina Deputy Mayor for Economic and Workforce Development  Maria Torres-Springer in attendance. Facebook photo

Cato quickly became somewhat of a polarizing personality since he arrived in NYC in 2021. He was beloved by those who admire his rapid attention to Filipinos attacked on the streets. He was also known to have “divided” the community surrounding himself with a coterie of favored organization leaders.  He invited eyebrow-raising attention early in his term when he reproached organizations for not paying attention while he spoke at their gatherings.

His absence has been talk of the town for many weeks in mid-September just as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was about to visit NYC to address the UN General Assembly. There is talk of projects that came with high-profile fundraising; there is also talk about his politics. A remark he allegedly made in public – that he “did not vote for Ferdinand Marcos Jr.” in the May elections – is being revisited. He made it clear though that he  remained committed to Marcos’s all-embracing message of unity despite not voting for him.

Cato has remained mum about his absence during the Marcos Jr. visit.  He told The FilAm he was admitted in a Pampanga hospital for “stress-related gastro issues” and was advised a two-week rest by his doctor before returning to New York City.

Members of the community were a mix of sad and stunned.

Writes school teacher Ernesto Pamolarco, “We feel sad. Pero baka mas higit na kailangan ang iyong serbisyo doon sa Milan, Sir Congen Elmer G. Cato. Thank you for all your hard work, dedication and commitment in serving the FilAm community in New York. Good luck and may God bless you and your family. Till we meet again.”

Whatever the reason for his early exit, Cato is no stranger to  Filipino nationals in dire situations having served as head of Embassy in Iraq and Libya. A source said Milan, where several thousand Filipinos are employed as domestic workers, is a good fit for Cato.

“He will have to work very hard there,” said a source.

© The FilAm 2022

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