The Philippine Consulate General in Houston reopens for first time in 25 years

HOUSTON – It is a big week for the Filipino community in Texas and the southern region of the U.S.

The Philippine Consulate General in Houston celebrated its reopening after it closed 25 years ago. Dignitaries and consuls general from all over the world came to Houston at the new consulate in southwest Houston to celebrate the inaugural ceremony Friday.

"The Filipino community here in Texas has grown to be the largest concentration of [Filipinos] in the United States, next only to the Filipino communities in California, Hawaii and Illinois. This gave the impetus for the re-establishment of a full consulate here in Houston," Jose Manuel G. Romualdez, the Philippine ambassador to the U.S., said.

Romualdez traveled from Washington, D.C., to the newly opened consulate at 9990 Richmond Ave. to congratulate the newly appointed Philippine consul general, Jerril G. Santos, who will lead the team in Houston.

"I would say it's pretty big, because we bring our services to their doorstep rather than have them go to places like Chicago or LA, which used to cover this area. Now they are just minutes away," Santos said.

Santos said the consulate shut its doors 25 years ago due to budget issues, but officials say with 200,000 Filipinos in need of its services here in Greater Houston, the Philippine government approved its re-establishment. 

"Several former ambassadors and all of the former consul generals and then the community at large have been petitioning the Philippine government for 20 years to make this a reality, and finally it's here," Gus Mercado, a longtime Houstonian and Filipino community leader, said.

Mercado and his wife helped lead the effort to bring the consulate back. 

"This is the beginning of a new day, and it bodes well for the Filipino community," Mercado said. "Honorary Consul Ethel Mercado here and the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce have somewhat filled the void with the Consular Outreach Program that we've been doing here for 10 years. We've helped 30,000 Filipinos with their consular needs. But this is a very welcomed development. It's finally here, and we love it that the consulate has finally been reopened."

More than 100 people came to support the reopening celebration. The program included the singing of the Filipino national anthem by performing artist and "Filipino Chit Chat" talk show host Vincent Evangelista and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner by performing artist and "Chit Chat" co-host Sheryn Regis.

Speakers included Santos, the associate regional director of the U.S. Department of State's Office of Foreign Missions Robert Hopkins as well as the consul general of Panama, Juan B. Sosa. Romualdez was the guest of honor.

"We have 200,000 Filipinos who actually live around here under the jurisdiction of Houston, and I know it's actually a growing community. We have a lot of Filipinos who are actually migrating here," Romualdez said.

Also in attendance were the consul general of Los Angeles, Adel Cruz; consul general of Chicago, Gina Jamorlin; consul general of New York, Claro Cristobal; consul general of Hawaii, Joselito Alegado Jimeno; consul general of San Francisco, Henry Bensuerto; consul general of Louisiana, Roberto Romero; and the honorary consul general of Texas, Ethel Mercado.

The consulate in Houston will serve New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma as well.

Those in Houston had to travel as far as Los Angeles to have their consular needs met.

"Anything and everything that a consulate can offer, we are doing that," Santos said.

The consulate will also work to expand and strengthen ties with the U.S.

"Eighty-five percent of Filipinos believe that the U.S. is our most trusted ally, and we will continue to trust in them, just as they trust in us," Romualdez said.

Many attendees said this day is one they would never forget.

"Just to hear our national anthem being sung here gives me goosebumps," Santos said.