WOULD she consider herself a women's libber? The Philippines' second woman consul-general to Hong Kong takes a long, thoughtful draw on her cigarette, then laughs with a quiet self-assurance. ''My career as a diplomat proves that I am definitely that, because I learned to exist in a world where I competed fairly with men,'' she said. Ofelia Castano has spent more than 20 years working overseas as a diplomat, and her recent assignment to Hong Kong has set much of the 110,000 to 120,000-strong Filipino population in the territory talking. Ninety-eight per cent of Hong Kong-resident Filipinos are women, so they have placed high hopes on the new top diplomat at their consulate. Economic necessity and feminine resolve have seen more Filipinas - many with professional qualifications - taking overseas jobs with lower status but higher pay to become the breadwinner for the family. But unlike many who have left husbands and children behind temporarily, Ms Castano has devoted herself to her career. ''I never met Mr Right and I enjoy taking control of my life.'' There are plenty of problems for her to deal with here. During her recent posting in Singapore where she spent three years, she heard complaints against Filipino domestic helpers using a public place on their days off, but the issue did not receive as much publicity or debate as the same complaints about the helpers in Hong Kong. ''The consulate has had initial talks with the Hong Kong Government about a possible recreational area for the Filipino community. The local Government is looking at several possible sites and is in the process of consultation with us and other consulates of countries with domestic helpers here. ''There is no time frame but we hope it will be available very soon,'' she said. IT will not be plain sailing for Ms Castano as far as her countrywomen are concerned. Many have repeatedly expressed disappointment in the Philippine consulate in letters to newspapers, criticising the consulate for being indifferent to their welfare. But Ms Castano reacted quickly to the recent incident when Tregunter Tower's management erected a sign forbidding maids from using the main lift. It was placed immediately below a sign indicating dogs were not welcome either. She sent a letter to Secretary for Home Affairs Michael Suen urging action on the ''deplorable policy of discrimination against Filipino domestic helpers adopted by Tregunter Tower's management''. ''The consulate has disputed the allegation by the so-called legal sources that 'it is not illegal to put up the sign' forbidding Filipino maids to use the main lift in the same manner as dogs,'' Ms Castano asserted in between puffs of her cigarette. She said the consulate was doing the best it could to help Filipinos, given resource and space constraints. The consulate occupies two floors of the Regent Centre on Queen's Road Central but it cannot accommodate the 1,000 nationals who flock to its offices every day. It is hoping to move to bigger premises next year. She recognised that most Filipinos in the territory were probably ill-informed about what the consulate could or could not do for them. ''The consulate has other functions like promoting trade and tourism. The domestic helper phenomenon came about only in the 80s so this concern was just added to our basic duties. ''When illegal recruiters get apprehended in the territory by law enforcers we inform the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration about the case and advise them to make representations with the National Bureau of Investigation to arrest the personsinvolved. ''The Filipinos who are illegally recruited are normally assisted by our staff to be repatriated immediately.'' All the money collected from the Filipino overseas contract workers, according to the consulate officials, goes to the Philippine Government. Their contributions to the Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration (OWWA) fund are used worldwide to tackle Filipino workers' pressing needs. Some were used for the repatriation of Filipinos trapped in the Middle East during the Gulf War. Ms Castano said she doubted that only domestic helpers in Hong Kong were taxed by their consulate. ''I suppose they are taxed, too, in Rome and in the Middle East. Those in Singapore are probably not taxed because they don't earn as much as the domestic helpers here. ''So it really depends on whether or not the Filipinos in a foreign country make that much money to be considered taxable.'' On the charge that prostitution is rampant among Filipino contract workers in the territory, she said outsiders should not point an accusing finger at Filipinas. Other nationalities had at one time or another ''gotten into this so-called oldest profession''. A consulate team which went to Macau recently to rescue Filipinas forced into prostitution found that Brazilian, Russian, Thai, Malaysian and Singaporean women also worked there as prostitutes. Another consulate official said that as long as the Philippine economy was in a shambles and unable to offer its citizens competitive employment opportunities, prostitution would remain a tempting alternative. The new consul-general also has looked at the two-week rule, but no change seems likely. ''I have talked with the Immigration Department about it and we were assured that they have been exercising a lot of flexibility and leniency towards our countrymen. ''They explained that some years ago there was no such thing as a two-week rule. This took effect to give the worker enough time to wrap up her affairs and go home. Now the foreign labourers in the territory are given two weeks to find a new employer.'' Ms Castano favours Filipino workers remaining in the territory after 1997 even if some believe she could well be the last Philippine consul-general in Hong Kong. ''Obviously, there is a need for it,'' she said. ''I always tell our countrymen to take pride in themselves.''