Michael Alexander Ang will always be grateful to his family for allowing him to spread his wings somewhat farther from what they are known to do.
The third child of The Manila Times Chairman Emeritus, Dr. Dante Arevalo Ang, Michael has spent the last 12 years of his life in foreign service as Honorary Consul of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
This year, he brings added prestige and worthwhile responsibilities to his office as the elected Dean of the Consular Corps of the Philippines—the organization of Consulates, Consulate Generals and Honorary Consulates of various countries in the Philippines who work toward the advancement of cultural and economic relations.
This is not to say, however, that Michael refused to get his feet wet in the family’s publishing business, although he and his siblings—Anna Marie [now Thompson]and The Manila Times President and CEO Dante “Klink” 2nd—were away for a time when their father was running their earliest titles. Ang Sr. had sent them to the United States amid political turmoil in the early ‘80s.
Completing secondary education in Houston, Texas, Michael went on to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in English Communication Arts at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. While there, he often landed in the Dean’s List until he graduated in 1995.
Eager to return to the Philippines after 13 long years living abroad, Ang Sr. asked Michael and his brother to work for him and the dutiful sons acquiesced.
On hindsight, it seems that fate nevertheless led him toward working with other nationalities as he was promptly sent abroad anew to manage their company’s small office in Hong Kong. His father assigned him to oversee the distribution of Filipino publications to Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the former British Colony and nearby Macau, as well as look into other services Filipino communities may need over there. Both responsibilities naturally placed Michael in contact with various foreign agencies too.
For a brief period, he also joined his older brother in Rome, Italy where the Angs based their European distribution of publications.
Toward the end of the ‘90s, the Department of Foreign Affairs, then led by the late Blas F. Ople as secretary, began noting the Angs’ dedication toward keeping OFWs informed and protected through their businesses that the government luminary appointed Ang Sr. as Honorary Consul of Jordan.
Come the early 2000s, however, Ang Sr.’s responsibilities ballooned when the family finally bought The Manila Times Publishing Corporation, and more so when former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo tasked him to chair the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) in 2005.
With his father forced to give up his post at the Jordan Consulate, a whole new opportunity opened up for Michael—one he never even thought of pursuing but a career all the same for which he had unknowingly prepared.
Today, The Sunday Times Magazine takes pride in chronicling the achievements of Michael Alexander Ang, who, despite being unable to join The Manila Times in an official capacity is still very much considered one of its own.
The Sunday Times Magazine (STM): Coming from a family entrenched in the field of publishing, how unexpected was your entry into Foreign Service?
Michael Alexander Ang (MAA): Joining the Foreign Service was never in my radar. I actually succeeded my dad Dante Ang Sr. who was the former Honorary Consul of Jordan here in Manila for about two and a half years.
In his particular case, he received his appointment through the former Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Blas Ople. He asked my father if he would be interested in representing a country here in the Philippines as an Honorary Consul General. And after detailing the responsibilities and workload of the post, his Curriculum Vitae was turned over to the Jordanian Government through the DFA, which then submitted it to the office of the former Jordan Ambassador to Japan since they have jurisdiction over the Philippines and a couple of other countries [in terms of foreign relations]. It was finally processed through the Embassy in Tokyo and submitted it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Jordan.
After my father received the offer from former President Arroyo to join her cabinet [as Chairman of the Commission of Filipinos Overseas], he felt it was not a good idea to represent two offices. So he resigned as Honorary Consul to Jordan and the former Ambassador of Jordan. It was then that my name was shortlisted along with three other candidates in Manila and the former Ambassador of Jordan in Japan decided I was the best candidate to succeed my father.
Then, the rest is history as they say. Back in 2005, I received a heads up from the Embassy that the Ambassador had forwarded my credentials to the Foreign Ministry in Amman, Jordan. Among my immediate responsibilities, which is unlike most of the Honorary Consuls here in Manila, I’m one of the few with the authority to issue visas.
To be clear, I do not decide who to issue the visas to, and only do so after applications have been processed by the Jordanian government particularly the Ministry of Interior which has the sole authority either to grant or deny an application.
With your work experience before this posting generally related to publishing, what adjustments did you have to make to assume the post of Honorary Consul?
It’s kind of interesting because in terms of the orientation they provide to an Honorary Consul, they walk you through the process after you are appointed, which in my particular case happened only last year when our new Consul in Tokyo came to Manila to bring some things I requested.
So when he came here, he walked me through the protocols of processing documents for authentication, application for visas, reports we need to submit to Tokyo, and money we remit back to Jordan from fees collected here. Basically procedures I had already worked out myself.
What they reminded me was that I should attend certain meetings to represent the Jordanian government, but technically as an Honorary Consul, we don’t deal with anything that goes into politics. However, in my case, there have been several instances that my Embassy had asked me to attend particular meetings even though they are political in nature.
What then are your major responsibilities as Honorary Consul?
I have three primary responsibilities. One is to authenticate documents, two to issue visas like I said earlier, and three to attend to concerns of Jordanian nationals and their families here in the Philippines and the concerns of the government when they tell me to do so. These, of course, are aside from finding ways to improve business ties between the Philippines and the Kingdom of Jordan.
The work the position involve is very interesting. It wasn’t something I prepared myself for, not knowing I’d end up in foreign service, but it really is very challenging. It’s also very rewarding in terms of the friends and contacts that I’ve made, so that somehow in my own small way, I’m also able to contribute to The Manila Times in directing [editorial]to the right person for stories that involve the various embassies and foreign relations in general.
On the reverse side, I also find it fulfilling to assist my colleagues in the Consular Corps of the Philippines in developing a better understanding of the Filipino culture, the companies here and even families and individuals they come across.
What is a typical day like for the Honorary Consul of Jordan in Manila?
It’s very erratic actually. I was told that back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there were close to 10,000 Jordanians living and studying here in the Philippines. The number has gone down significantly in the last decades to around 330 to 350. But what’s interesting is how this 300-plus population is comprised of the very students who studied here back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, who married Filipinas after graduation, started families and established businesses here. I look after the majority of these Jordanians but if we were to include other Arabs who have been issued Jordanian passports, let’s say the Palestinians, the number goes up to close to a thousand.
So in terms of how all this affects my day, it really all depends if there is a Jordanian concern. If they call me on my mobile directly or call the Consulate and say they need the assistance of the Consul—documents that need to be authenticated, concerns of renewal or loss of passport, concerns with regards to immigration or if somebody has been arrested or detained—then we have to attend to that. It’s situations like these that change my schedule significantly.
Could you talk about your history as member of the Consular Corps of the Philippines and how it led to your election as its Dean for the year 2018?
I’ve been a member of the Consular Corps of the Philippines since 2006 and I became the member of the Executive Board about three years ago.
Last year, I was nominated and elected as the Vice Dean. And following our constitution and bylaws for the Consular Corps, as well as tradition, the only member that you really nominate and elect is the Vice Dean who then succeeds the Dean of the Corps the following year.
What’s interesting about our organizational set up is that we alternate between a career and a non-career Consul. So last year, the Dean was Camilo Sanhueza of Chile who was a career diplomat, and then for the Vice Dean, we nominate and elect from the Honorary Consuls.
Since beginning your term as Dean of the Consular Corps of the Philippines, what projects have you already set out to do?
My vision, which I shared with the members of the executive board, is the desire to return to our roots. And what I mean by these roots when you talk about the Consular Corps of the Philippines is to have an understanding that we are comprised of two different sets of diplomats. We have the honorary and the career consuls so that in terms of marrying the two groups together under one umbrella, you have to be cognizant of the fact that we actually have constitution and bylaws, which provide us with rules and procedures on how we function.
In going back to that level of our foundation, I made it a point the first special meeting I convened to a review of our constitution and bylaws to make sure that everybody is on the same page—to be informed of the set of rules and parameters we have to work with.
The second meeting I convened gathered the past Deans of the Consular Corps of the Philippines who are Honorary Consuls. We also went over the constitution and bylaws, placing emphasis on the fact that it is supposed to be an open exchange of ideas and comments. This is one thing were were able to implement during Camilo’s term as last year’s dean, and it’s also something I have committed my term to—to continue to grow that aspect of going back to the basics.
As dean, I will see to the open exchange of information from all of our members, not just from the officers or the executive board but really an open exchange of ideas, thoughts, comments, even criticisms from all the members of the Consular Corps of the Philippines. In that way, we can grow more as an organization because all different points of views will be brought to the table.
Given this head start, one thing I really want to focus on during my term is to create a legal entity for the Consular Corps of the Philippines. We’ve been around since 1972 and the format of the organization has evolved so much so that we actually have regular charities we support. Naturally, we have to raise funds for these charities yet in the 45 years we’ve been around, we have never created a legal entity for the Consular Corps of the Philippines.
So one of my main goals is that within this year, we will create either a non-profit organization or foundation to serve as the legal entity of the Consular Corps of the Philippines, which will allows us to function better as a formal and professional organization. We will have our set papers—our articles of corporation—which I believe will provide a stronger model for the international federation of honorary consuls, of which the Consular Corps of the Philippines is a member. We’re very proud to be a member of the International Federation of Consular Corps and Associations (FICAC) which has its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
Happily, based on the feedback from two presidents of the FICAC, we’ve been told they consider the Consular Corps of the Philippines as one of the most active around the world. As dean this year, I don’t want to fall short [from]expectations and am committed to find more ways for the organization to grow. Part of that means we need to further integrate our activities with the activities of the other chapters of the Consular Corps of the Philippines in Cebu and in Davao.
So far, in terms of our monthly lunch meetings, we already had Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo as guest speaker; and for the first time last February 28, we invited a panel from the Bureau of Immigration to our meeting, which you can imagine brought out a very active exchange on topics affecting all the Embassies and Consulates here.
Alongside these meetings, I’ve also spearheaded taking the Consular Corps of the Philippines on the road. The idea here is, instead of just holding activities in a closed environment—where attendees would only be from the Consular Corps and certain individuals or organizations we invite—I suggested for the group to go out, and our first stop was Adamson University. They were very kind to welcome us and host a half-day forum we organized in cooperation with the US Embassy.
At that time the US Embassy had a special envoy named Susan Jacobs whose purpose in visiting the Philippines was to encourage our government to be a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Originally we were hoping to have 70 to 100 people in attendance—students, faculty members, representatives from several law schools in Manila, diplomats and the media—but we ended up with over 500 in the audience!
It was a great experience for our members to realize the possibility of trying different things to engage not just the consuls but also the community in our activities. At the same time, being out there shows the public what the Consular Corps is all about; that we’re not just about closed door meetings or dinners and parties, but about sharing relevant information with the public and in this case interacting with the youth.
Behind the scenes of course, one of the major activities that we have—which is an ongoing battle for us—is to find more ways to add value to the organization from the perspective of our members from the different embassies and consulates, especially the new ones. What we do is to regularly invite a representative from the DFA, Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Immigration to network with the members and provide the opportunity and gain immediate feedback from these different agencies on a variety of concerns.
How have you seen the Consular Corps of the Philippines evolve since joining and taking on various positions in the organization?
Traditionally, the highlight of every year of our existence is the annual Consular Ball. To my knowledge, this event basically a Christmas party for the career and non-career consuls to get together. But then, in the same way that the organization has evolved over the years, the Consular Ball itself also evolved into its present feature as a fund-raising activity, given how the Consular Corps has gone from fellowship to charitable involvement. In saying this, we’ve never been geared toward generating money except for our charities, which again is the reason why we want it to be a legal entity as a non-profit organization that follows the laws of the Philippines.
Among our projects is a series of mangrove reforestation activities. The first was in Mindoro, then Calatagan, Batangas and the third, which we will implement this year, will be more of a community development project with an eco-concept. We’ve partnered with Conservation International for this undertaking, which will take us to communities in Silonay, Mindoro. The goal to help these communities maximize the revenue they generate from
We have also maintained over the past several years a scholar, one of the children of an employee at the DFA.
We want to offer more scholarships this year through our network, maybe even extend the offer not just to children of DFA personnel but also those of employees at the Bureau of Immigration, and other specific government agencies that deal directly with Foreign Service and the Consular and Diplomatic community. This is our way to show our gratitude and appreciation to our partners from government, while emphasizing the value of education—the major thrust of the Consular Corps.
We might even revive “Brigada Eskwela” at the beginning of the new school year, which the public hardly knows we do because it isn’t easy to picture diplomats doing some cleaning and painting to reach out to the community. But we’re more than willing to do all these things.
What do you ultimately hope to achieve by the time you end your term as Dean of the Consular Corps of the Philippines, and as Honorary Consul of Jordan?
I hope that in some small way, I will be able to add to what has been shared by the past deans of the Consular Corps in terms of what they have contributed to the organization. I wish to promote its continued evolution in becoming more inclusive, not just of the different Career Diplomats who arrive in the Philippines or the Honorary Consuls who are appointment by their respective countries to represent missions here in the Philippines, but of the community.
I also hope to lead the organization in being open to more possibilities and refrain from being stagnant as it has in the past. We also have to continue to fulfill our role in helping to facilitate the needs and requirements of our members and the needs of the communities and people that we engage as an organization so that we can maintain and further strong relationships among nations, the Philippine government and the public.
If I will continue to be blessed by the Jordanian government with their trust and confidence to represent them here in the Philippines, I would gladly do so for as long as they see the value of my presence, because it is truly a worthwhile endeavor.
It is indeed my honor and pleasure to represent the Kingdom of Jordan, more now as the Dean of the Consular Corps of the Philippines, highlighting the fact that this is the first time that a Consul of Jordan has been elevated to top the position of a Philippine organization. In both capacities, I consider myself blessed and I wholeheartedly welcome that challenges they bring.