Friday, July 23, 2010


So how often does an envoy get an American city to name a day for him?

For Ambassador Willy Gaa, the Philippine’s soft-spoken chief diplomat in the US, the answer is: 2.

San Diego and nearby National City in California voted to designate last July 14 as “Willy Gaa Day”.

Mayor Jerry Sanders of San Diego and National City Mayor Ron Morrison presented their resolutions at gala rites of the Philippine American Business Improvement Development in San Diego, citing Ambassador Gaa’s "lifetime of service to the Philippine community of the world.”

There is a sizeable Fil-Am population in both cities. An indication perhaps of Fil-Am influence in the area, they have their own statue of Jose Rizal.

He’s been Philippine Ambassador to Washington DC for more than four years. Before that, he was consul general in Los Angeles.

A career diplomat, he served for three years as ambassador to Australia in 2002 and then to China in 2003-2006 before the US posting.

He has two law degrees – one from the University of the Philippines and the other from New York University, and is licensed to practice law in California.

Washington DC and the Court of St. James (London) have long been considered the prized assignments for Filipino diplomats, that have on occasions been filled with political appointees.

Rumors would flare periodically about Ambassador Gaa’s imminent recall, and to that he would also respond that he serves at the President’s pleasure.

It is no secret that many are vying for his position.

Washington DC is both a prestige and power posting. As the Philippine’s top trading and security partner, and major benefactor, the US assignment carries some unique challenges.

When Barack Obama became president, Ambassador Gaa was tasked to arrange a meeting with then President Arroyo. As a DC veteran, Mr. Gaa knew only too well the restrictions, even for a “photo-op” for the two leaders. He cautioned Malacanang, but Mrs. Arroyo pursued her hunt for the charismatic first African-American president to the extent of pivoting from a Middle East sortie to attend a prayer breakfast meeting that President Obama was attending.

News that Mrs. Arroyo was winging on her way to Washington DC caught Ambassador Gaa by surprise, insiders tell us. He was said to be already more than halfway across to the continent for a scheduled engagement in the West Coast when he had to turn back so he could welcome Mrs. Arroyo at Andrews Air Base in Maryland.

He has fended off as best he could the political pitfalls of the office, and that has endeared him to the community.

He’s far from flashy (except perhaps for his turns at the karaoke) but people know he gets the work done. Ambassador Gaa helped nurse the Filipino World War II veterans equity compensation bill through Capitol Hill and is pushing for a trade bill that expands garments exports to the US.

Ambassador Gaa is, in many respects, the compleat diplomat and thus, the work is never done especially now there is a new president to serve.

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