The Commission on Appointments, Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, confirmed on August 15, the appointment of former Los Angeles Consul General Ma. Hellen Mariano Barber De la Vega as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Commonwealth of Australia with concurrent jurisdiction over the Republic of Nauru, the Republic of Vanuatu and Tuvalu.
“What a great gift from Our Lady of Assumption on her feast day,” Ambassador Hellen told PNews.My target departure is October 15,” she added.
The Committee on Foreign Affairs also confirmed the appointment of 38 other DFA officials in varied positions; and after deliberating on their qualifications and fitness, the Committee found them ‘fit and qualified to be in the post where they are nominated and appointed….’
Sen. Lacson stated that Hellen has 36 years experience in Foreign Service, starting with her diplomatic career in 1982 as a research clerk at the American Division Office under the Dept. of Foreign Affairs. Her past assignments include posts at the Philippine Embassies and Consulates in Los Angeles, CA; Myanmar; Beijing, People’s Republic of China; Tokyo, Japan; Madrid, Spain; and Jakarta, Indonesia.
For her ‘exemplary service and broad experience in the foreign service,’ she received this year the Order of Sikatuna Award with the Rank of Datu this year. Established by Pres. Elpidio Quirino in 1953, the Order of Sikatuna is ‘the national order of diplomatic merit of the Republic of the Philippines conferred upon individuals who have rendered exceptional and meritorious services to the Republic of the Philippines.’ Hellen also received in 2013, the Certificate of Recognition for Outstanding Leadership from the City of Cerritos, CA, and the Distinguished Diplomat Award by the Riverside Board of County Supervisors, CA, among many other awards.
The Filipino community in Los Angeles thanks the newly-minted Ambassador because her assignments at the Philippine Consulate – first as Deputy Consul General (2003-2007),and later as Consul General (2012-2014) led to the formation of Kalayaan Incorporated, a 501 c(3) non-profit corporation, tasked to celebrate Philippine Independence Day; and the Philippine Disaster Relief Organization, also a 501 c(3), which ‘helps rebuild lives when disaster strikes.’ Her husband Joveno ‘Bing’ de la Vegais a founding president of PeDRO. According to Chito Mandap, chair of the Jose P. Rizal Monument Movement, “Congen Hellen was my first partner among consulate officials, in our search for a venue for Dr. Rizal’s monument.” The only life-sized statue of Dr. Rizal in California can only be found at the Carson International Sculpture Garden of Heroes in the City of Carson.
The daughter of Romulo Barber, an engineer from Abra, and retired public school teacher, Florinda Mariano Barber, from Calapan Island, Mindoro, Hellen is the eldest of five sisters and two brothers. She has a passion for books and is very religious, according to her husband. (Come Oct. 1, they will be celebrating their 7th wedding anniversary.)
“This is a true story,” Bing narrated. “Upon her arrival at the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles, she was ushered to a vacant office usually assigned to Deputy Congens. The corner office faces southwest. Instead, she chose to move to another room, half the size, normally assigned to vice-consuls. Why? Because,” Bing continued,” it overlooks the St. Basil church across the street!”
Her predecessor, Consul General Mary Jo Bernardo Aragon (now Ambassador to Thailand), said: “I am happy with Ambassador De la Vega’s appointment as she becomes the second woman Consul General in Los Angeles since the Philippine Consulate was opened in 1947.”
Hellen is a product of Siena College Quezon City and is deemed to be the ‘highest-ranked diplomat among the alumnae of Siena College.’She graduated Cum Laude in 1982, at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila with a Bachelor’s Degree in Asian Studies. She obtained her Master’s Degree in International Public Policy from the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. as a Freeman Fellow. She is also a recipient of a Fellowship program on Investments Promotion from the Belgian Government and took her Foreign Service Training Course under the auspices of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The couple’s friends in Los Angeles wonder if Bing will be eating a lot of donuts in Australia. “To be a spouse of an Ambassador or Consul General means,” Hellen explained, “eating a lot of ‘donuts,’ as in do not do this and do not do that. He had huge amounts of these in my last two postings,” Hellen quipped.