The Legacy of Filipino Diplomats in the Gulf – Illustrado 300 Most Influential Filipinos in the Gulf
Ambassador Corazon Yap Bahjin
Another symbol of female empowerment, Former Ambassador Corazon Yap-Bahjin made Philippine Foreign Service history when she became the first Filipina Muslim to pass the career Foreign Service Officers’ examination, and then head a diplomatic mission when she became the Philippine Ambassador to Bahrain in 2009 – the fourth female to have done so in the kingdom.
She joined the Foreign Service in 1979, starting as Acting Director of the Cultural Division of the Office of Islamic Affairs (now the Office on Muslim Affairs). Her first overseas posting was for a Vice Consul’s position in Jeddah in 1986. Thereafter, she was posted as Second Secretary and Consul at the Philippine Embassy in Amman in 1990, where she assisted in the repatriation of Filipinos from Kuwait during the first Gulf War. She then moved to Cairo as Second Secretary and Consul at the Philippine Embassy, thereafter to Bangkok as First Secretary in charge of Political Division and Consul and Deputy Representative, ESCAP and then to Xiamen, China as Consul General from 1995-2005, before taking office in Bahrain.
Ambassador Grace Relucio Princesa
“Collective heroism for a common cause is important for us. It is an essential part of good governance. Love and friendship work. Love begets love. It works. And if it works in our community, perhaps it can also work at an even bigger scale.”
Though it has been years since the first Philippine female Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Grace Relucio-Princesa, has moved from the UAE in 2015 to eventually become the Philippine envoy to the Vatican, she still holds a special place in the Filipino community’s heart. Her warm personality, dynamic spirit and unique pro-people leadership style have made a deep imprint in the minds of the people.
Known by many as “Nanay Amba,” Ambassador Princesa, who considers herself as a servant leader, was a shining ray of light within the Filipino community in UAE, not only as a diplomat but also as someone who championed female empowerment, Filipino pride and the spirit of collaboration. Beyond her diplomatic duties to improve bilateral relations with the UAE, the Ambassador has also supported many community initiatives, endeavored to unite Filipino groups, as well as initiated a financial literacy program called “Pinoy Wise.”
MME Remedios ‘Fe’ Cabactulan
Former educator Mme. Remedios ‘Fe’ Cabactulan has been an extraordinary role model who brought empowered Filipina representation, as well as leadership to the diplomatic community, not only in the UAE but also beyond. During her husband’s tour of duty in the UAE, apart from promoting the Philippines in meaningful social endeavors, she also headed the Department of Foreign Affairs Ladies Foundation (DFA LF) in the emirates, the Asian Ladies Group which included 22 countries, and was President of the UAE Ambassador’s Wives Club in 2005-2006 overseeing 70 members. In 2013, she was elected as the president of the United Nations Delegations Women’s Club (UNDWC) on its 50th anniversary, making her the first Filipina to head the non-profit social group of women from various UN nations in New York, USA.
Chargé D’affaires Elmer Cato
For Chargé D’Affaires Elmer Cato, staring danger in the eye has been part of his job as a diplomat tasked to look after the safety and welfare of Filipinos in war-ravaged countries in the Middle East. Serving as Head of Post in Baghdad in 2015, he and his team, with support from the Iraqi government, have succeeded in disrupting the operations of human trafficking syndicates operating in Kurdistan and rescued and repatriated numerous trafficking victims.
Now the Chargé D’Affaires in Libya, he is facilitating the repatriation of Filipinos who are caught in the middle of the political conflict and are assisting nationals in distress, while still trying to keep a certain level of ‘normalcy’ within the community and keeping morale high. He shares, “I would like to be remembered as the go-to person to get the job done. As someone who helped make a difference in improving the lives of our people, someone our people could run to and count on.”