Updated: Oct 6
By: Donna Avellana Künzler, Switzerland
Tapas, Sangria, Gaudi, shopping, and the beach…these are the things I associate most with Barcelona. But what was it like to move there as a diplomat tasked with reopening a consulate during the pandemic?
Enter Consul General Maria Theresa “Tess” Sta. Maria Lazaro, who landed in Barcelona just March of last year and has hit the ground running ever since.
A career diplomat
Consul General Lazaro entered the foreign service in 1999, and has held a number of positions which include as Second Secretary and Consul in the Philippine Embassy in London, Minister and Consul in the Philippine Embassy in Berne, and just before moving to Spain, as Executive Director of the Office of Consular Affairs (OCA). She has a doctorate in Philippine Studies from the University of the Philippines (UP). Prior to joining the foreign service, she was an Assistant Professor at the Department of History, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy in UP Diliman.
How did she end up in foreign service? She recounts, “Foreign service has always fascinated me. When I was taking my Master’s degree, I had classmates interested in joining the foreign service and a number of them took the Foreign Service Officers’ (FSO) exam. In my case, it was not until I was taking my doctoral degree that I took the exam, upon the prodding of an ambassador who was then a part-time lecturer at the University where I was affiliated.”
Making a difference
With over two decades of being a diplomat, what does she look forward to when starting a new tour of duty? She remarks, “I always look forward to learning and experiencing new culture, meeting new people, new challenges, making new friends and, of course, achieving many things during my term. It feels good to be able to accomplish things that people will remember you by long after you’ve completed your tour of duty.”
One of Consul General Lazaro’s favorite highlights during her diplomatic career is the project with Swiss foundation, Glückskette. The project raised a remarkable CHF 46M for the Haiyan victims in an overnight telethon. She narrates, “It was a memorable experience seeing Filipinos readily volunteering in the telethon and even preparing food for those who participated. The Swiss were very impressed! It was truly a bayanihan at work. After the telethon, we staged “Danke Schweiz” events where Filipinos gave away hugs and goodies to the Swiss and staged caroling events in the bahnhof as a way of expressing our gratitude.”
Her Tour of Duty in Barcelona
After almost three years in Manila, Consul General Lazaro found herself in Europe once again to run the Philippine Consulate in Barcelona. She quips, “You know, being in the foreign service is also like being an OFW. We get assigned to a particular country and live there for a certain number of years. Since Barcelona is my third posting in Europe, there has really been no major adjustment personally, except for looking for a place to stay.”
True enough, after finding an apartment, she was immediately occupied with her consular duties. She recounts, “Barcelona is a challenging post in so many ways. It’s been close to ten years since we last had a career diplomat here. We had to start everything practically from scratch. On the other hand, starting anew allows us to innovate, be creative and introduce measures that can help us serve our constituents better.” And given the pandemic situation, one of the first things she did was install protective barriers in the consular area and implement health and safety protocols.
In just a little over a year, this diplomat was able to introduce policies aimed at making consular services more accessible. These include the extension of public hours, doubling the availability of appointment slots, single appointment for multiple services, priority appointments for senior citizens, pregnant women, and persons with disabilities, and the opening of the Consulate every first Saturday of the month for those who cannot come during weekdays. The Kumustahan sa Konsulado also started last year as a platform to connect directly with the Filipino community and to help the consulate be more inclusive and implement policies and programs that respond to the needs of the community. Consul General Lazaro explains, “We want our kababayans to treat this Consulate as their home away from home and to feel comfortable discussing with us their concerns and issues. We want them to be happy with our service and to leave the Consulate satisfied.”
The Consulate also works closely with the Philippine Embassy in Madrid to come up with programs to help Filipinos with irregular status to be regularized, and for the diplomas of Filipino registered nurses to be recognized.
Exciting times indeed for our kababayans in Barcelona. Wishing Consul General Lazaro all the best in her tour of duty!