Philippine, Chinese officials praise Manila’s ambassador to Beijing after his death

J.C. Gotinga
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Philippine, Chinese officials praise Manila’s ambassador to Beijing after his death Chito Sta. Romana, the Philippine ambassador to China, speaks during a forum on the South China Sea, in Manila, Feb. 19, 2018.

The Philippine ambassador to Beijing, Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana, has died in China, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced Tuesday without revealing information about the cause of death.

The envoy, a former newsman and ex-bureau chief in Beijing for the American ABC News network, had served as the Duterte administration’s envoy to China since 2016. He was 74.

“It is with the inconsolable grief of the secretary and the profoundest sadness that the Department of Foreign Affairs announces the demise of Philippine ambassador to China, His Excellency Jose Santiago ‘Chito’ Sta. Romana,” the Philippine foreign office said in a statement.

Local news reports said Romana died Monday in the Chinese city of Huangshan where he was completing a 21-day quarantine after traveling from the Philippines with Filipino Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who visited China for talks with his counterpart, Wang Yi.

The Philippine Embassy in Beijing was coordinating with the Chinese authorities to repatriate the ambassador’s remains, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Sta. Romana was appointed as Manila’s envoy to Beijing in December 2016 “in recognition of his deep knowledge of China’s history and people,” the department said.

“[W]e honor his important legacy of selfless service to the Filipino in the most challenging foreign post,” it said.

In Beijing, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, which in recent years had traded verbal blows with Manila over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, heaped praise on Sta. Romana.

“He worked and lived in China for many years and was our old friend and good friend. After assuming the post of the Philippine ambassador to China in 2017, [sic] he worked actively and industriously, making important contributions to promoting bilateral relations and friendship between our two peoples,” Wang Wenbin said in the statement.

“We are deeply grieved by the loss of a good friend and extend our heartfelt condolences to his loved ones.”

Broadcast career

Jim Laurie, a former ABC News correspondent who set up the network’s bureau in China, paid tribute to Sta. Romana on Facebook as a “kind, compassionate and extraordinary knowledgeable man.” He said Sta. Romana died “while completing his mandatory quarantine in a hotel.”

“He joined ABC News a few years after I set up the bureau in 1981. And remained there through numerous correspondents and visiting producers well into the 2000s,” Laurie said.

As the Beijing bureau chief for ABC News, Sta. Romana covered China as a producer and reporter from 1989 until his retirement in November 2010. 

He reported on major stories such as the Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown in 1989, the crisis in Sino-U.S. relations in 1999 and 2001, the economic rise of China, and the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

China’s envoy to Manila, Huang Xilian, was among those paying homage to Sta. Romana.

“I greatly value our time working together and will always be grateful for his friendship and undeniable contribution to the development of China-Philippines relations,” Huang said in a statement. 

Sta. Romana was among the first Filipinos to visit China as part of the Philippine Youth Delegation in 1971. Stuck there the following year when Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, he studied Mandarin.

He was appointed ambassador in December 2016, months after President Rodrigo Duterte took office and the Philippines won an international arbitration court ruling that invalidated China’s expansive claims to the disputed South China Sea region.

The ambassador steered bilateral relations despite those territorial differences. Under his tenure, ties “flourished all the more in maturity and were deeply strengthened,” the Philippine foreign office said. 

Sta. Romana was present in 2019 when Duterte decided to confront Xi about the ruling, years after he shelved the decision in order to foster closer ties with Beijing.  

“I think the first three years he has exerted a lot of the diplomatic capital to build a reservoir of goodwill and friendship with President Xi,” Sta. Romana said at the time.

“And so he has decided that it’s the time to include in the diplomatic agenda and in the discussions sensitive issues that may have caused misunderstanding if they were brought up in the past,” he said.


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