MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines' ambassador to Lebanon passed away Thursday due to complications from COVID-19, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
Ambassador Bernardita Catalla led the voluntary mass repatriation of Filipinos in Beirut since December, the agency said in a statement.
In her 27 years as a diplomat, Catalla served as Consul General in Hong Kong and held key posts in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, the DFA said.
"Bernie, as Ambassador Catalla was fondly called, has always lent a helping hand, to her family, friends and colleagues," it said.
"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."
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., in a tweet in February, described Catalla and the Philippine Embassy in Beirut as “pure gold,” as they attended to the repatriation of Filipino workers.
“Our ambassador and the staff in Beirut are pure gold. We just can't thank them enough,” Locsin said.
In January, Locsin conveyed President Rodrigo Duterte’s gratitude to Catalla for her work in a “nightmare assignment.”
“To Bernardita Catalla, our ambassador to the beleaguered mission in Beirut, the President and I extend our heartfelt thanks for all you're doing with nothing to work with in a nightmare assignment. When you're tired tell me what European capital you want and you have it,” Locsin tweeted on January 10.
Catalla tweeted back, saying she is happy to continue serving “as long as they needed me.”
“Sir, thank you very much for appreciating what I do for the Filipinos here in Lebanon. I am happy to continue serving our people here as long as I can effectively discharge my functions and as long as they need me. Salamat po kay Président Duterte at sa Inyo,” Catalla said.
In a tweet Thursday, DFA Undersecretary Brigido Dulay said the country owes Catalla “a debt of gratitude,” describing her passing as a great loss.
“Today, @DFAPHL lost one of its own. PH Ambassador to Lebanon Bernardita “Bernie” Catalla, a frontliner in our repatriation efforts, died from Covid19 in a Beirut hospital. A great loss to @DFAPHL & to our country. Our nation owes you a debt of gratitude,” Dulay said.
In a separate tweet, Locsin told Filipino foreign service workers overseas to take extra care as they confront the threat of COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, there are 121 Filipinos abroad infected with COVID-19, according to the Department of Health.
A separate tally of the DFA, also as of the same day, shows there are 401 confirmed cases among overseas Filipinos from 32 countries, of which 197 are verified by the DOH International Health Regulation.
Of the total, 270 are still undergoing treatment, 118 have recovered, and 13 have succumbed to the disease.
Meantime, the virus has claimed 96 lives in the Philippines out of 2,311 cases.
-- Report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News