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New Philippine Honorary Consul to Western Australia appointed

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Ms Virma Symons was recently appointed as Philippine Honorary Consul to Western Australia and will be serving a term of three years.

H.E. Ma. Hellen B. De La Vega, Philippine Ambassador to Australia, administered the oath of office of Ms Symons via video link on 17 April 2020.

This officially re-opens the Philippine Consulate in Perth to serve more than 30,000 Filipinos in Western Australia.

The Honorary Consul is responsible for promoting and protecting the interests of the Philippines in Western Australia. It is also her duty to protect the rights and promote the welfare of Filipino citizens in her consular jurisdiction.

“It is my privilege and honour to be working with the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines in general, and the Philippine Embassy in Canberra, and to be able to serve the Filipino community in Western Australia,” Symons said.

Ms Virma Symons takes oath as Honorary Consul before Ambassador Helen Dela Vega via video link
Ms Virma Symons takes oath as Honorary Consul before Ambassador Helen Dela Vega via video link

Education

Symons obtained her law degree at Murdoch University School of Law in 2000.

She finished a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Communication at the University of the Philippines in 1985 before obtaining a Bachelor of Laws degree in the same institution in 1990.

Symons moved to New York to further her studies at Cornell University where she was awarded Master of Laws in 1998.

Professional career

Australia

Virma Symons is a legal practitioner and runs her own legal firm, Symons & Co Legal since 2013.

Her company’s focus include family law, property law, trusts, will and estates, joint ventures, business, and international law.

Symons started her legal practice in Australia in 2001 under work experience, then articled clerk before working as a lawyer in 2006.

In 2007, Symons established her own legal practice as a solicitor and registered migration agent.

Philippines

After passing the bar in 1990, Symons began her legal career as a general counsel in the Philippines. She worked as a lawyer under the Meer, Meer & Meer Law Office.

She also worked for Victory Liner as in-house corporate counsel (1991-1995), Keppel Monte Bank as manager and assistant corporate secretary (1995-1996), and Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company as in-house lawyer (1996-1997).

Giving back to the community

Symons had a lot of interaction with members of the Filipino community individually in the past because of her profession as a lawyer.

Last year, her colleague, Peter Buenaventura, introduced her to the leaders of the Filipino community. Her firm, Symons & Co Legal, was one of the sponsors of the Philippine Independence Day organised by the Filipino Australian Club of Perth, Inc (FACPI).

“I attended the event for the first time and felt an overwhelming sense of being home. It was such a great feeling to be amongst Filipinos,” Symons said.

Symons applied for the vacant honorary consul position upon the prodding of one of her clients, Vicki Wotherspoon, who happens to be the President of Filipino Australian Club, Inc and founding member of the Filipino Community Council of WA.

Wotherspoon approached Symons and encouraged her to apply for the role of Philippine Honorary Consul in Perth three times before finally deciding to give it a go and after consulting her husband.

Symons informed The Philippine Times, “It was time to give back to the community so I said yes.”

Symons’ appointment has the support of the Executive Committee and Board of the FACPI, and Dante Maribbay (former President of FCC Australia and FCC WA).

Her colleague in the legal profession, Luciano Sales, also supported her application for the role and introduced her to leaders of the Filipino community.

“I thank them for their support. I would not have been given the role without them,” Symons said.

“I have a team of volunteers who are currently helping me. They come from various organisations: Marino Salinas Ed Magtuto, Eric Almen, Mervin Matondo, Carmelita Baltazar, Roger Acacio, Cecilia Concepcion, and Father Nelson,” Symons added.

“I welcome the support of other volunteers who are willing to be of service to our Filipino community in Western Australia in their own unique way because as I said, I cannot do the role alone,” said Symons.

Plans and challenges ahead

Honorary Consul Virma Symes
Honorary Consul to Western Australia Virma Symes

Symons plans to support the Philippine Embassy’s outreach programs such as consular mobile services. She also plans to promote Filipino culture in Perth in tandem with the Philippine Embassy including such activities as food fairs, fashion shows, and trade shows.

“I also aim to work with the Filipino community to further promote bilateral relations between Perth/Australia and the Philippines. I will look into university-to-university and sister city agreements to promote these bilateral relations,” Symons said.

Symons is aware of the challenges she faces as honorary consul.

“I will explore outbound trade missions and business-to-business networking activities through the Perth Chamber of Commerce and other agencies,” Symons added.

“At the moment, the most pressing problems are getting our people who have lost their jobs home or finding them new jobs, assisting stranded Filipinos who need to go back to the Philippines, helping students who have lost their jobs, assisting families of Filipinos who passed away from COVID-19, amongst others, in the short-term,” Symons said.

In the long-term, she would like to be able to generate livelihood for the unemployed Filipinos within her jurisdiction.

“I would also like to bring together Filipinos to achieve unity amongst diversity,” said Symons.

According to her, one of the problems she might be facing is funding because there is no budget allocated to her office from the Philippine government.

“The role is voluntary and I would appreciate everyone’s help because I cannot do this alone,” Symons said.

Predecessor

Symons made a courtesy call to her predecessor Honorary Consul Michael Gillis on her first day of work and personally met with him.

“He was very accommodating. He introduced me to his contacts whom he thought would be of help to me and emailed them all. He has been very supportive of me and he continues to help me. He is not a Filipino but he has our best interests at heart,” a thankful Symons said.

Gillis will continue to help the Filipino community through his role as a Director of the Australia Philippines Business Council (WA).

“I encourage each of you to introduce yourself to Virma and support her in her new role,” Gillis said in an email to announce his replacement.

Consulate details

The Philippine Consulate in Perth will be operating by appointment Monday to Friday from 8.30 am to 5.00 pm.

Its new office address is on Level 21, 140 St. George’s Terrace, Perth, WA.

Correspondence may be sent to PO BOX Z5446 St. George’s Terrace, Perth, WA

For consular matters in WA, contact Ms Virma Symons on 0408 301 038 or email vzafra@iinet.net.au or via Facebook Page.

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