Sadog Tasi resident Juanita Andres wanted to make sure that she is still registered as an overseas absentee voter so she could cast her ballot in the May 2013 Philippine elections. However, she couldn't find the time to register because of her job as a house worker.
“Work keeps me busy,” Andres, who has been on Saipan for 18 years, said in her native language.
But the 51-year-old Ilocos Norte native made time on Wednesday to do her long overdue errand, joining dozens of other Filipinos on island who trooped to the Philippine Consulate General to avail of Overseas Absentee Voter registration and other consular services.
Yesterday was the last day of the Consulate and a large crowd took advantage of the opportunity, causing long lines at the consular post that has served the Filipino community in the CNMI for more than 23 years.
“It's really sad that the Saipan consulate will shut down because we no longer have any office to go to when we need assistance as Filipino workers,” said Andres.
Gerry Aquino, 51, said his visit to the Consulate yesterday was because he was asked to submit supporting documents for his application for late birth registration.
“After the closure, it will be difficult to process any documents we would need because we now have to go through the Guam Consulate and that's not accessible for us here in the CNMI,” said the auto mechanic from San Jose.
Filipino worker Francis Esguerra of Tinian, who arrived on island Monday and brought at least 25 consular service requests from the southern island, volunteered to help the remaining Consulate staff in assisting Filipino workers in need of consular services.
“While the Filipino community on Tinian is saddened by the closure, we already have accepted this decision by our government and are now looking forward to the mobile services of the Guam Consulate next year,” she said.
Guam Consul Edgar Tomas “Gary” Auxilian, who took charge of the Saipan consulate after Consul General Medardo G. Macaraig left on Oct. 15, noted in an interview yesterday that the consulate had to stay open beyond office hours in their remaining weeks to accommodate the expected stream of Filipinos lining up for various consular services.
Auxilian disclosed that in the last few days, the consulate processed as many as 40 passport renewal applications per day, majority of which do not expire until next year.
The consular services provided of late, however, were limited to just passport renewal applications and OAV registration. Auxilian explained that consular documents needing longer processing times and requested at the last minute had to take a backseat due to time and manpower restrictions.
Consulate employees have begun leaving for other foreign service posts since Macaraig's departure for his Kuala Lumpur consular assignment more than two weeks ago, leaving behind Auxilian, administrative officer Jose M. Sto. Domingo, and finance officer Rowena G. Tolosa to deal with the disposal of consular properties, finalizing records and preparation of reports, among others.
“We thank the Filipino organizations, religious leaders, the media, and the entire Filipino community on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota for having the pleasure to serve them in over 20 years. We also acknowledge the cooperation and support extended to us by the host government of CNMI,” Auxilian told Saipan Tribune.
At the Philippine Overseas Labor Office and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, two attached agencies of the consulate, officer in charge Julia F. Fabian said that they processed as many as 125 OWWA membership application or renewal.
As of Wednesday morning, the office had a total of 874 OWWA memberships and more are still expected at the close of yesterday's business. The office used up all five booklets of official receipts that it ordered for Saipan.
Fabian said they just ask for the contact information of the OWWA member's family or any other person in the Philippines whom they will authorize to pick up the official receipt once released.
“But we did issue a certificate of membership coverage to the OWWA member and then we stamped in their passport the validity of their coverage,” she added.
With yesterday's closure of the Saipan consulate, Auxilian said the consulate in Agana, Guam welcomes today the challenge of taking over the consular responsibilities in the Northern Marianas. The consul was designated as the point of contact for Filipinos in the Commonwealth.
“It's a new challenge for us,” he said. “We hope to be able to live up to that challenge. Despite the distance separating the Northern Marianas and Guam, the Guam consulate will reach out to the Filipino community here through modern technology. With great excitement and with God's help, we will be able to serve our kababayans.”
Auxilian revealed that once he goes back to Guam by Nov. 15, the Guam Consulate General will begin preparations for the planning and logistics of mobile consular services to Saipan, Tinian, and Rota in 2013.
He emphasized that the Guam consulate will rely on the support of Filipino organizations and religious groups in serving the Filipino community of the Northern Marianas.
Auxilian urged Filipinos to contact them for consular services and assistance. The Philippine Consulate General in Guam is located at Suite 601-602, ITC Building, 590 Marine Corps Drive in Tamuning. Mailing address is P.O. Box 9880, Tamuning 96931, Guam. Contact numbers are (671) 646-4620 or 30 for office, (671) 649-1868 for fax, and (671) 488-4630 for hotline. They can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and they also have a Facebook page (agana pcg). For requirements and procedures on consular services, visit www.philippinesguam.org.