Philippine ambassador to Lebanon dies from coronavirus complications

Ambassador Bernardita Catalla presents former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri with Philippine-crafted tokens on Feb. 7, 2018. (File/Supplied)
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Updated 03 April 2020

Philippine ambassador to Lebanon dies from coronavirus complications

  • From December 2019, the envoy spearheaded voluntary mass repatriation program

MANILA: The Philippines Ambassador to Lebanon died on Thursday from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“With deep sadness, the Department of Foreign Affairs announces the untimely demise on April 2, 2020, of Bernardita Catalla, Philippine ambassador to Lebanon, from complications arising from COVID-19,” the DFA said in a statement.

According to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Catalla died at 12:30 a.m. in the Beirut hospital where she was confined.

“I offered 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 on March 9,” Locsin said on Twitter.

A career diplomat for 27 years, Catalla served in key posts such as Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta and was passport director, delivering frontline service to millions of Filipinos, the DFA said.

Prior to her assignment in Lebanon, she was consul general in Hong Kong, looking over the welfare of hundreds of thousands of overseas Filipinos.

BACKGROUND

• A career diplomat for 27 years, Bernardita Catalla served in key posts such as Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta and was passport director, delivering frontline service to millions of Filipinos.

• Prior to her assignment in Lebanon, she was consul general in Hong Kong, looking over the welfare of hundreds of thousands of overseas Filipinos.

• From December 2019, she spearheaded the voluntary mass repatriation program of the Philippine Embassy in Beirut.

From December 2019, she spearheaded the voluntary mass repatriation program of the Philippine Embassy in Beirut.

“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 DFA said. “Service to the country has been the hallmark of Ambassador Catallas’s distinguished foreign service career.”

Dodo Dulay, foreign affairs undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns, wrote on Twitter: “Today, @DFAPHL lost one of its own ...”

Loscin said Catalla’s remains will be received with an honor guard and that he would nominate her for a Gawad Mabini and Sikatuna awards, conferred upon individuals who have rendered exceptional and meritorious services to the Republic of the Philippines.

“Not that she needs more honor than the profound regret and mourning of a grateful service, government and, I hope, nation,” said the DFA secretary.


Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

Updated 25 May 2020

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

  • Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile
  • Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara – Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians

ISTANBUL: Israeli airline El Al has resumed cargo flights twice weekly between Tel Aviv and Istanbul for the first time in 10 years — a sign that decade-long bilateral tensions might be easing.
A cargo flight landed in Istanbul on Sunday morning to pick up humanitarian aid and protective equipment destined for US medical teams fighting COVID-19.
Burhanettin Duran, head of the Ankara-based think tank SETA, wrote that Turkey’s regional empowerment is “obliging Israel to search for normalization steps with Ankara.”
Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the cargo flight is a positive and visible development in bilateral relations that was probably approved by top government officials on both sides and required diplomatic efforts.
“However, the fact that this step takes place in parallel to a discussion about Israeli annexation in the West Bank, and to criticism of annexation by regional and international actors, might impact how it’s viewed in Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Goren said while the Israeli and Turkish governments continue to have significant policy differences, they should work to restore their relations to ambassadorial level, and to relaunch a strategic dialogue on regional developments of mutual interest.
“The forming of a new Israeli government, and the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as a new foreign minister, could be an opportunity to do so, and the cargo flight brings some positive momentum,” he added.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in May 2018 after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile, as it also serves the latter’s strategic interests in weakening the Iranian presence in Syria.
But Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians. 
In a video message on Twitter, he said the issue of Jerusalem “is a red line for all Muslims worldwide.”
He added that Israel’s “new occupation and annexation project … disrespects Palestine’s sovereignty and international law.”
Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst at geopolitical-risk firm Stratfor, told Arab News: “Turkey is trying to create economic ties with Israel because … Erdogan is finding the political ground changed, caused in part by demographic changes as young Turks are less incensed by the Palestinian issue, and in part by a general weariness among Turks about putting too much skin in the game to solve the Palestinian question,” 
Israel is expected to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank on July 1 under the terms of a coalition government agreement. Ankara has strongly criticized the plan.
Israeli and Turkish officials are rumored to have held talks behind closed doors to reach a deal on maritime borders and exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean. 
Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently said it was “proud of our diplomatic relations with Turkey.”
But Goren said it is currently unlikely that Israel will advance a maritime demarcation deal with Turkey as it would shake several regional balances at the same time.
“It will put in jeopardy, and run in contrast to, the important alliances in the eastern Mediterranean that Israel has fostered in recent years with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt,” he added.