Ambassador Sta. Romana’s death aborted Duterte’s ‘last mission’ with China

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. led the foreign service in paying their last tribute to Philippine Ambassador to Beijing Jose Santiago ‘Chito’ Sta. Romana Friday.

Sta. Romana’s remains were repatriated Wednesday from Anhui province where he was found dead inside a hotel while undergoing a mandatory 21-day quarantine. 

In his eulogy, Locsin said Sta. Romana is the “only one” whom he and Chinese State Counselor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi trusted as their respective “messenger.” Before both countries hold official bilateral meetings, “most of the time” there will be private meetings with only the three of them — Locsin, Wang Yi and Sta. Romana.

Diplomatic sources told Business Mirror that Sta. Romana was the “best” choice by President Duterte to head the most difficult post — Beijing. Sta. Romana, who went on self-exile to China during martial law and lived there as broadcast journalist for more than two decades, was instrumental in defusing tension between two countries embroiled for the past two decades on a territorial dispute in the South China Sea. 

“He died before we were done with our last mission. That mission is over as far as I’m concerned. I cannot imagine working on China without him,” Locsin said.

The top diplomat did not specify what was the “last mission” that was aborted following his demise. 

Sta. Romana joined Locsin during the Philippine-China foreign ministerial consultations in Tunxi, Anhui province in April. During the talks, China asked the Philippines to steer clear of “disturbances” and put their maritime disputes “in a proper place” within bilateral relations.

While Locsin and his delegation left Anhui and flew straight to Manila, Sta. Romana had to quarantine at a hotel as condition to all residents who are going travelling to China’s capital coming from overseas. The 74-year old diplomat was found lifeless inside the hotel on his second week in quarantine. 

His son, Norman, who was based in Shanghai was given a special pass to leave the city-wide lockdown to claimed his body in Anhui. A team from the Philippine Embassy in Beijing flew to Anhui to arrange his repatriation. Until now, the DFA was mum on the cause of his death.

Sta. Romana was given full military arrival honors upon his arrival at Villamor Air Base. Locsin said it was a “fitting beginning of the honors due him, even this rite is just the middle of others to be given.”

“It is the tradition of the Philippine military to honor those who, as soldiers do, dedicate their lives, give the last ounce of talent and courage, and unfailing perseverance, in the service of the Filipino as Chito did from youth to the moment of his last breath.

“He died in the line of duty like a soldier; never asking why, never failing to give his best to the day he would die,” he added.

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