Saturday, February 19, 2011


Ambassador Willy C. Gaa closes an eventful tour-of-duty in the United States at the end of the month.

He will be replaced by former Central Bank governor Jose Cuisia.

Gaa was feted over the past weeks by friends in Washington DC, including a farewell party tendered by the State Department at historic Blair House last week.

He has left his mark in Washington DC – ranging from the approval of a $434 million Compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) fund in Congress.

He presided over one of the most prodigious chapters in PH-US relations.

He became only the 2nd career diplomat to be appointed Philippine ambassador to the United States in 2006.

Before that, Gaa served as ambassador to Libya (1992-1997), Australia (2002-2003) and China (2003-2006).

He also worked in various capacities in the Philippine consulates in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

In the time we’ve known him, we witnessed a quiet but steely resolve to get the work down, no matter how difficult they may appear.

Even in the face of critical reports, Gaa was always welcoming and candid with the media.

We always thought these were traits of a man who rose through his own labors, a diplomat whether he dealt with foreign governments or compatriots doing business at the Philippine Embassy.

In fact, his official residence along DC’s famed Embassy Row has become a sort of home-away-from-home for visitors from Manila or from out of state.

It was the scene of one storied “duel” when Gary Valenciano and Martin Nievera visited the capital for a one-night concert.

The Ambassador and Mrs. Linda Gaa hosted dinner that inevitably gravitated to their tastefully adorned living room.

From there, it was a short hop to the piano and one of Gaa’s passions – singing.

He belted out “Kahit Isang Saglit” – one of Nievera’s trademark songs and with the multi-awarded Louie Ocampo on the piano, they made one unforgettable evening in DC.

His penchant for song proved infectious, recruiting some Capitol Hill VIPs that included California Congressman Mike Honda.

Another “passion” is golf. That completed the “Gaa touch” in DC’s large diplomatic community – singing, golf and sumptuous home-cooked meals courtesy of Mrs. Gaa.

He told me he tries to consume more vegetable than meat.

He used to suffer from high blood pressure but when he was posted to the Middle East, he was forced to forego pork and beef and discovered his BP dropped even without maintenance drugs.

Because he doesn’t smoke and being a health buff (at the height of the winter “Snowmaggedon” last year, he was seen shoveling snow himself), news he has lung cancer came as a terrible shock for many in DC.

He is undergoing chemotherapy in New York.

When he took over the DC post from another popular envoy, former Ambassador Albert del Rosario, some doubted whether he could fill his shoes.

Gaa proved his critics wrong, allowing his accomplishments and quiet efficiency to establish his credentials.

He now faces perhaps the greatest challenge of his life but the Pinoy and Fil-Am community in Metro DC is rooting and praying that like all the other hurdles he’s faced before, he will overcome this too.

American author Richard Bach says farewells are part of life – they are “necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”

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