Congen MJB Aragon was ‘not on protocol’
By DAVID CASUCO, PWD Contributing Writer
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 29 – Filipino-Americans in this city thought they had seen everything there is to Consul General Mary Jo Bernardo Aragon.
They had it all wrong.
Two days before her tour of duty was to end, the hardworking, well-loved and ever politically correct Congen MJB Aragon did something “out of protocol” that left the standing room only weekend crowd at the Rizal Hall of the Philippine Consulate offices totally flabbergasted.
Responding to well-wishers’ request after a Thanksgiving Mass in honor of Filipino saint Lorenzo Ruiz, Congen MJB Aragon flaunted her musical side; obliging with a couple of standard ditties while the crowd swoon and sway to her music.
“Don’t you think that’s a bit out of protocol?” a woman next to me asked jestingly. “The Congen’s got talent. The heck with protocol.” says another.
A couple of hours earlier, Congen MJB Aragon granted this writer an exclusive interview for a human-interest story, which will come out in a separate run. The Congen appeared sprightly and engaging, visibly satisfied with the success of the work that she did in Los Angeles.
After six years as head of mission of the Philippine Consulate General in L.A. or Philcongen-LA Congen MJB Aragon leaves the post a lot smarter and wiser, an experience that put her in a high perch with an elite league of diplomats who survived the tough “L.A. assignment.”
Generally regarded as the most daunting of all the Philippine foreign missions, the L.A. Assignment has jurisdiction over one million Filipinos and Filipino-Americans living in Southern California, Southern Nevada (covering counties of Clark, Nye and Lincoln), and the entire states of New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona.
“The ‘L.A. Assignment’ certainly tested my diplomatic skills to the fullest, maybe even much more than my five-year stint at the Philippine Mission to the United Nations,” Congen MJB Aragon told this writer. “It enriched me, in a way, that it made me a stronger person.”
The large area of jurisdiction and the over 1.4 million Filipino population is intimidating enough, but the greatest challenge doing the “L.A. Assignment” is dealing with the highly fragmented and very demanding Filipino-Americans, and serving the over 600 community organizations.
The Philcongen-LA is seen as the waterloo to many Philippines foreign affairs career diplomats. It is here where a government envoy can be jettisoned back home unceremoniously because he messed with the Filipino media, or he earned the ire of a clannish Fil-Am group, or his wife did not patronize the Pinoy couturiers.
“There are situations during our consular outreach services when the people simply get unreasonable. Some look at us as inefficient government bureaucrats. However, we are trained to deal with those kinds of situations. My father has taught us never to harm anybody because it will comeback to haunt us,” said Congen MJB Aragon. “I want to be remembered as friend to all and any enemy to none. If I get criticisms for my action or lack of action, I will deal with it. Life is too short to be consumed with enmity and antagonism.”
It was not a total smooth ride with the media for the quick-smiling Congen. Actually, there were a couple of testy encounters between some Filipino media men and the Consular staff that could have turned into a full blown conflict like the Congen Victor Garcia vs. the Fil-Am media in the early 90s, but Consul MJB Aragon handled it her own effective way each time.
Perhaps it is because of Congen MJB Aragon’s “friend of all, enemy to none” mantra that she endeared herself even to the less friendly Filipinos in Los Angeles. The traditionally critical Filipino journalists were her friends; she easily connected with them, a luxury that was never enjoyed by the envoys that came before her. The writers even accorded her the moniker “Darling of the Fil-Am Media” or “The Most Beautiful Congen Ever.” Of course, the second title – although in great part true – was more of an endearment because Congen MJB Aragon was the first woman L.A. consul general to hold the L.A. post. The caveat here is that makes future Filipino lady diplomats pretenders to her L.A. throne.
“My secret is perhaps because I have no secret. I am glad I established rapport with the media effortlessly. Maybe because I try to be accessible to them; but maybe it is for the media people to respond why (they like me),” she said.
Told that she is a success story and it seems she has a perfect life, the Congen, who is married to Las Vegas-based Dr. Romualdo Aragon Jr., said the obvious chink is her being an absentee wife and mother. She wished she had enough time for her family.
“Of course there are regrets. My regret is I cannot always be there for my family. That’s the hardest part because my profession and the profession of my husband do not allow us to be in one place together,” she said. “I am married to my husband for 25 years now and the time we had been together could only translate to five years. But in a way, it has its advantage because when we see each other we are like sweethearts again.”
Amazing as it is, Congen Aragon’s married life is yet another proof that distance has no power over love that is nourished by total trust.
On Oct. 3 Congen MJB Aragon will rejoin her husband and 18-year old daughter in Las Vegas. The L.A. assignment done, the home full of life, love, and laughter beckons. Then it will be another season, a time to celebrate and sing a new song. (David Casuco writes for Mabuhay News Service and Pinoy Watchdog on the Filipino-American community in Southern California, sports, and tourism-travel. He has a journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas).