By Anna Ven Sobrevinas | FilAm Star Correspondent
SAN DIEGO — Since 2014, a familiar face has been attending Filipino community events in the county. An important and very visible figure, lawyer Audie de Castro, is San Diego County’s Philippine Honorary Consul General.
Honorary Consulates are voluntary, official positions specializing in authenticating and notarizing documents. However, services such as passport renewals, dual citizenship applications and visas still need to be processed in nearby general consulates – in this case, the Los Angeles General Consulate.
“The purpose is because a lot of the Filipino-Americans in San Diego County have to drive all the way to Los Angeles for very routine consular needs,” said de Castro. “(Honorary consulates) alleviate the volume in Los Angeles and also saves the Filipino-Americans money because they don’t have to drive there for three hours. There’s almost 200,000 Filipinos in San Diego County and that helps the community quite a bit.”
De Castro does not charge the public for his time. The Honorary Consulate only charges governmental fees the public would have paid in LA and remits the money to the general consulate.
“I think if people see that there’s a presence by any kind of government official, it makes them feel a little bit more empowered,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to accomplish and whenever we have calls from politicians, we will respond to them because it’s in our interest to have a relationship with politicians as well.”
Aside from legalization of documents, another vital role of the Honorary Consulate is to promote Philippine trade and tourism in San Diego.
“Last year, I brought several public officials in San Diego County to the Philippines and I brought some business executives with me to promote the economic growth in the Philippines,” he said. “I also promote the community here in San Diego, so for example, (for) the House of the Philippines, I’m helping them raise money, attending a lot of the events, endorsing their activities. I go to all the events when I’m available to promote the community and to try to inspire the community.”
During outgoing Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim’s farewell party in April, de Castro said although his appointment took a year to process, the former was extremely supportive of his nomination. He was sworn in at the Malacañan Palace by His Excellency Jose Cuisia, Jr. in July 2014.
“I realized this role is something I was very honored to accept,” he said. “It allowed me to work with the government on both sides to promote the community whereas I didn’t have the opportunity before. When I travel to the Philippines, I see all the people that are struggling there. It makes me really sad but more than that it makes me want to work harder because those people have nobody or very few people fighting for them, in my opinion.”
For de Castro, people in the community should change their mindset about the motherland and see it in a positive light, especially Filipino-Americans who weren’t born there. He makes it a point to talk privately to people visiting the Philippines and give them simple yet crucial pointers.
“First thing I want them to do is show respect, that’s the number one priority – in fact I think that’s more important than economics because with respect, economics follows,” he said. “Number two, I want them to respect the country. I want people to treat the same way they would treat people in the United States. What I try to do when I go with people there is I try to set an example on how I feel is appropriate behavior around them. I treat them like anybody I would treat in the United States.”
A specific issue he has observed with Filipino-Americans in the county is their loss of cultural identity and the urge to recapture it.
“They’re really in the middle of two cultures,” he said. “Language and culture are some of the things that Filipino-Americans really lack and partly it’s not their fault because they were born and raised here and we didn’t promote it enough back in the days when their parents immigrated here.”
De Castro has 17 years of legal experience and was a certified public accountant prior to law school. He attended the University of San Francisco School of Law and graduated cum laude. He has served as chairman of San Diego’s Filipino-American Chamber of Commerce.
As for his message to San Diegans, de Castro said he would like Filipino-Americans to take great pride in the Philippines and for the community to work together.
“They need to be more involved with the community so they can learn more about the consular services,” he said. “I want them to know that they can always call the office for questions and we will do our best to help them. We can’t help them with everything and they have to understand that I just don’t have authority over everything. What I could try to do is point them in the right direction and my staff or I will try to answer any question they have.”
There are seven other honorary consulates in the country, located in Atlanta; Dallas; Juneau; Louisiana; Miami; and Michigan.
De Castro and his staff can be reached at 619-241-2114,via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, through Facebook or by visiting his office at 701 B St., Ste. 1745, San Diego 92101.