Ambassador Bernardita Catalla (center) with some repatriated OFWs.  Catalla succumbed to COVID-19.  She was 62 (photo from social media)

The Philippine ambassador to Lebanon, Bernardita Catalla, died from complications arising from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). She was 62.

“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 Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement.

Catalla, who suffered from chronic respiratory problems, passed away at a Beirut hospital where she was confined.

Described as a strong defender of the rights of Filipino domestic workers in Lebanon, the said Catalla worked as a career diplomat for 27 years, serving in various capacities.

The DFA said Catalla was the consul general in Hong Kong, “looking over the welfare of hundreds of thousands of overseas Filipinos” prior to being assigned in Lebanon.

Since December 2019 she headed the voluntary mass repatriation program of the Philippine Embassy in Beirut. She also held key posts in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta and was also Passport Director where she delivered frontline service to millions of Filipinos.

“Bernie, as Ambassador Catalla was fondly called, has always lent a helping hand, to her family, friends and colleagues. 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 statement said.

DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. paid tribute to Catalla by posting on his Twitter account.

Amb. Bernardita M. Catalla passed away at 12:30 a.m. in the Beirut hospital where she was confined. I extended her for a great job in a difficult post. I promised her Paris so she’d hang on. But she just laughed, “Now I must learn French.” She saw me to say goodbye last March 9.

— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) April 2, 2020

(Rommel F. Lopez)