As a regular secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMWs) has yet to be appointed, former overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have mentioned retired career Ambassador Rafael E. Seguis as a candidate for the position.
But Seguis firmly said, quoting the Bible, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He said he had served the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for 54 years.
“I’m too old for the position. I could no longer cope with attending early morning Cabinet meetings. Besides, I already have hearing difficulties,” he added.
President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has appointed DMW Undersecretary Hans Leo J. Cacdac, Jr. as officer-in-charge (OIC). Cacdac has handled the cases we referred to him well.
Although Seguis is not inclined to return to government service, he still helps OFWs with problems or assists in bringing home those in war-torn countries with the help of his friends or people he came to know during his long DFA stint.
Seguis rose to fame when he successfully negotiated the release of two OFWs— Roberto Tarongoy (accountant) and Angelo dela Cruz ( truck driver)— from rebel groups in Iraq at the height of the United States-led military campaign against Saddam Hussein.
Despite Seguis’ reluctance, Noel F. Santos, founding member of the Knights of Rizal in Riyadh (KOR-Riyadh) and former nurse in the Saudi capital and in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said, “Kaya pa niya. Pwede naman siyang gumamit ng tulong sa pandinig at pakilusin ang mga tauhan niya.”
(He can still do it. He could use a hearing aid and delegate responsibilities to his staff.)
Perla Bermudez-Santos, founder of MoTHER in Riyadh, said her group was in close collaboration with the Philippine Embassy when Seguis was the ambassador to the Kingdom.
Bermudez-Santos now lives in Los Angeles, California.
“Then Ambassador Rafael Seguis gave a big push to MoTHER projects. He said during the opening ceremony of a MoTHER program that a mother was the closest person to one’s heart,” Santos recalled.
MoTHER stands for Movement for the Eradication of Rape and Other Violence against Women. It has expanded its services by promoting physical fitness through virtual Zumba and dancing with members in the Philippines and the US.
(Perla is currently in the Philippines to visit relatives in Santa Ignacia, Tarlac.)
Gina Gurne Abitona, former KOR-Riyadh woman member and school director, added, ” Former Ambassador Rafael Seguis was an action man based on our interaction with him during his stint in the Saudi capital.”
Abitona and her husband Ed, who passed on recently, were co-owners of Potter’s, a restaurant in Suleimania, Riyadh, which served the delicious beef dish bulalo.
Delfin Rejuso Lumberio, a former community leader in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, said, “He (Seguis) was very likable and diplomatic but firm. He regularly visited my house in the Golden Belt Village.”
Lumberio, then a manager at the Metals Division of Commodities and Supplies Corporation, added, “We used to work together as members of the school board of IPSA or International Philippine School in Al-Khobar.”
Seguis used to travel by car in his various postings with Carlos Tienzo as a driver. He was last posted in Frankfurt, Germany.
“I got him in Tripoli, Libya, as my official driver, and I brought him along with me during my subsequent postings in Baghdad, Iraq; Riyadh and Jakarta, Indonesia,” Seguis said
He preferred to travel by car instead of flying because “I enjoyed all my road trips via the desert, thinking all the time what I can do to help distressed OFWs in Saudi Arabia.”
At present, Lumberio is chair of the board of the Spacewell Metals and Industrial Corporation, a company he put up after he retired and left Saudi Arabia for good.
He is the KOR-Bicol Region chapter commander and president of the Ciudad Grande Pasig Homeowners Association.
Marcial “Jun” L. Nacion, Jr., former KOR-Riyadh area commander and Riyadh chapter commander, expressed his appreciation for Seguis, who received and entertained a Palestinian national inquiring about his diplomatic status if he would travel to the Philippines to marry a Filipino woman.
Nacion was in Riyadh then and suggested to the Palestinians to visit Seguis in his DFA office and seek his advice.
At the time, Seguis was back in the Home Office as DFA Undersecretary.
“He (Seguis) received the Palestinian with the hospitality Filipinos are known for. I felt proud knowing him and that he remembered me as a Riyadh OFW,” Nacion said.
I saw Seguis in action as the top diplomat of the Philippines in Saudi Arabia.
It was a little past noon in the summer, with the sun blazing hot in the cloudless sky when I visited the embassy inside the Diplomatic Quarter (DQ) off Makkah Road.
Seguis was away as he was attending the meeting of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in an African country. Minister Mariano A. Dumia, who later became ambassador, was acting head as Charge d’Affaires.
As I walked towards the chancery with the sun biting at my nape, I saw for the first time OFWs standing in line for screening before being allowed to enter the embassy premises.
Mac Escober, an engineer at the Ministry of Interior, came up to me and complained. “Pwede mo bang sulatin at punahin ‘yang bagong patakaran na pinapipila ang mga OFWs upang tanungin bago payagang pumasok sa embahada? Pwede mo akong i-quote,” he said.
(Can you write a report criticizing this new policy of making OFWs line up for screening purposes before being allowed to enter the embassy premises? You can quote me.)
He said he had developed a headache because of the heat of the sun.
After the report was published, I went back to the embassy. Seguis had arrived. He was mingling with OFWs inside the embassy premises, obviously wanting to ensure everything was all right.
Seeing me outside the steel gate beside the guardhouse, he approached me and said, “Nasaktan ako sa ibinalita mo. Pwede ba tayong mag-usap?”
(I was hurt by what you reported. Can we talk?)
I entered the gate and followed him. We climbed the flight of stairs to his office on the first floor of the chancery, a boy carrying a tray with cups of coffee, cookies, and mineral water following us.
As I sat across his desk, he talked but did not mention the report that criticized the new policy of screening OFWs entering the embassy by a security guard who was not a Filipino.
One time, he told me that he would hold a reception at his residence beside the embassy for the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and I would have an exclusive story if I attended.
I attended, and he was as good as his word. There was no other reporter from the local English print media.
At the time, Abdul Rahman bin Hamad Al Attiyah, a Qatari diplomat, was the secretary general of the GCC, which consisted of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
My coverage of Seguis did not end when he was cross-posted to Indonesia in 2003 to replace Ambassador Leonidas Caday, who was seriously hurt in a bombing outside his residence in the capital city of Jakarta.
I met Caday briefly for the first time when he flew to Riyadh as a member of a team investigating the mauling of a reporter from another newspaper. Soft-spoken, he asked me in a gentle manner where I came from.
He was surprised when I said I came from Burgos and Vintar in Ilocos Norte . He said he was a kababayan, or compatriot, as he was from Laoag, Ilocos Norte’s capital city.
I was at the embassy when a distressed Filipino domestic helper (DH) approached me. “Sir, pwede mo ba akong tulungan? Isang taon at kalahati na ako sa Bahay Kalinga (BK) pero parang hindi naaaksyunan ang kaso ko,” she said.
(Sir, can you help me? I’ve been at the Bahay Kalinga for a year and a half, but nothing is happening to my case.
As I left to write my story in the office, another distressed DH also asked me for help, saying she had been at the BK for six months and could not see any sign that she would be able to go home soon.
I wrote about the two cases one after the other, then emailed Seguis, who was back in the home office as Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs. Seguis replied, “I’ll help.”
His brief reply resonated many years later in how the DMW OIC reacted to his (Seguis’) requests for help on behalf of distressed OFWs. “Yes, Sir, we’ll help,” Cacdac would say.
A week after I wrote the story about the first DH who asked for help, she called and said, “Sir, maraming salamat. Sa wakas, uuwi na ako next week!”
(Sir, thank you very much. At last, I’m going home next week.)
The second DH who asked for help said her flight had also been scheduled.
In a personal capacity, I approached Seguis when he had just arrived to assume his post as the Philippines’ top diplomat in Saudi Arabia. I was still with Riyadh Daily at the time.
Seguis replaced the late Gen. Romulo M. Espaldon, whose tour of duty had ended and left with an unpaid advertising bill.
The supplement was on the occasion of the Philippine Independence Day celebration. Jun Arenas, the embassy finance officer, refused to settle the bill for SR7,500 (P110,625), saying there was no budget.
When Seguis arrived, I paid him a courtesy call and mentioned the problem. I showed him the newspaper issue with the supplement.
I had not finished explaining when he stood and said, “I know. Come, follow me!”
With a glimmer of hope that a year-long problem would be finally solved, I felt a sudden wave of happiness as I followed Seguis.
He walked briskly, taking big strides to the other side of the chancery building where Arenas’ office was.
“Jun, ano pa ba ang gusto mong ebidensiya para bayaran ito?” he said, showing Arenas the supplement.
(Jun, what more evidence do you need to pay this?)
“I know the job. I was doing it. Write a cheque for the supplement,” Seguis said.
Seguis started his career at the DFA and served as a Finance and Property Officer in his first overseas job at the Philippine Embassy in Rome, Italy. Subsequently, he was posted in Bangkok, Thailand and Cairo, Egypt before being recalled to the Home Office in 1972.
“What date shall I indicate on the cheque?” Arenas asked.
“Current date, and I’ll sign it!” Seguis said.
In my eyes, Seguis stood taller than his 5’9″ height when Arenas could no longer avoid settling the bill.
Seguis had worked hard, leaving a deep impression in the minds of the OFWs he served and worked with.
Now, they pay him back with trust and confidence by recommending him to a key government position, although he retired in 2004.
Seguis had been recalled to service due to his competence and commitment to his work.
At 84, he is no longer a spring chicken. He was born on Oct. 24, 1939, in Anao-aon (now San Francisco) in Surigao del Norte. But he is athletic.
He plays golf, which he took up while serving as a finance officer at the Philippine mission in Bangkok.
During his younger years, he played forward for his basketball team at the Office of Fiscal Affairs at the DFA.
He watches his diet, takes his medication and supplements, and consults his doctor every three months.