Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon Bernardita Catalla died of coronavirus in a Beirut hospital early on Thursday morning, the Foreign Ministry of the Philippines has reported.
Catalla was 62 and had worked for the foreign ministry for 27 years.
"With deep sadness, the Department of Foreign Affairs announces the untimely demise on 2 April 2020, of Ambassador Bernardita Catalla, Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon, from complications arising from Covid-19," the ministry said in a statement.
“A career diplomat for 27 years, service to the country has been the hallmark of Ambassador Catalla’s distinguished foreign service career,” the ministry said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said Catalla died at around 12:30am on Thursday morning in an unnamed Beirut hospital.
Beirut’s Rafic Hariri University Hospital is treating the bulk of the countries cases although other hospitals are making beds available.
She served in key posts as Consul General in Hong Kong, in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta and also as Passport Director “where she delivered frontline service to millions of Filipinos.”
Since December 2019, she led the voluntary mass repatriation program of the Philippine Embassy in Beirut as the economic crisis in the country forced hundreds of workers from their jobs largely in the service industry and as domestic helpers.
"Her ever-ready smile and infectious laughter may have been extinguished but her dedication to our country will always be there as a guiding light for all members of the Philippine foreign service," the ministry said.
Those in the Filipino community in Beirut were saddened by the news.
“She was very nice to me and to all Filipinos here, easy to approach and very down to earth,” said Father Henry Ponce, a Filipino Jesuit priest in Beirut who is – like many – confined to his home. “It's a big loss for us here in Lebanon, we have lost a very hardworking ambassador who immerses herself with the people.”
He said that she had always helped the church’s outreach to the Filipino community. "She has been supportive of my programs for the migrants, especially in the shelter for runaways,” he said. “She would attend my masses there with the wards of the shelter.”
UAE Ambassador Hamad Saeed Al Shamsi told The National that the embassy was “mourning our friend and colleague,” who he said, “worked tirelessly… and spent her life and time serving her country.”
“Her death represents a great loss for diplomacy, for her country and her people. We ask God for her mercy, and patience and solace for her family," he said.
Lebanon's Labour Minister Lamia Yammine said that Catalla’s death, “is a loss for Lebanon as well as for the Philippines.”
Wang Kejian, China's ambassador to Lebanon, expressed his shock at the news in a letter to the Filipino embassy shared with The National.
"It was a great shock to hear the very sad news of the passing away of HE Ambassador Bernardita Catalla today from complications arising from Covid-19. Please accept my sincerest condolences,” he wrote.
He described Catalla as “a brilliant and devoted diplomat,” and added that “it's hard to believe that she's not with us anymore”.
In a tweet, Mr Locsin said she would be honoured for her years of service.
"Ambassador Bernie Catalla's remains will be received with an honour guard and I am putting forward a nomination for Gawad Mabini and Sikatuna. Not that she needs more honour than the profound regret and mourning of a grateful service, government, and I hope nation," Mr Locsin said over Twitter.
Dodo Dulay, the Foreign Ministry Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns, described her passing as “a great loss”.
“Our nation owes you a debt of gratitude,” he said on Twitter.