Gawad Mabini, Order of Sikatuna conferred on six distinguished DFA personnel

Published December 11, 2020, 6:48 PM

by Roy Mabasa

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday conferred six of its personnel with two of the highest Presidential awards – the Gawad Mabini and Order of Sikatuna — in recognition of their exemplary service to the people and nation.

The late Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon Bernardita L. Catalla was conferred posthumously with the Order of Sikatuna, with the Rank of Datu, Gold Distinction for her work in defending the rights of Filipino workers. 

While serving as Consul General to Hong Kong between 2014-2017, Catalla actively sided with rights groups in the fight to keep domestic workers from cleaning windows in high-rise buildings, which had resulted in several deaths. The Hong Kong government eventually introduced the ban in 2016. Well-respected by her peers, Catalla served, with distinction, for 27 years in the Foreign Service. She died due to COVID-19 complications at a hospital in Beirut in April 2020. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who conferred the awards on behalf of President Duterte, paid tribute to the awardees, citing their sacrifices as exemplary civil servants.

“[The orders] express the highest honor and the deepest gratitude the Republic can give to civil servants in the foreign service. The President, bearing the mandate of the Filipino people, confers these honors on our colleagues on behalf of a nation grateful for the sacrifices of these exemplary civil servants,” Locsin said in his remarks. 

The other awardees were the following:

Jose Santiago L. Sta. Romana, Philippine Ambassador to China, Gawad Mabini with the Rank of Dakilang Kamanong, whose work enabled the Philippines and China to have productive relations despite challenges. Sta. Romana was a decorated, veteran journalist who had been covering China for thirty years before becoming a diplomat. His deep understanding of China and its people contributed to a greater understanding between the two countries, leading to more stable political relations while the signing of several key economic agreements led to the Philippines becoming China’s second-biggest trading partner in 2019.

Iric C. Arribas, Career Minister, Office of Migrant Workers Affairs, Gawad Mabini with the Rank of Dakilang Kasugo or Commander, for leading the repatriation program for thousands of stranded Filipino workers from Saudi Arabia. 

Arnaldo C. Mahor, Foreign Service Staff Officer IV, Office of Migrant Workers Affairs, Gawad Mabini with the Rank of Kasugoor Member, who, time and again, has shown dedication to assisting nationals in distress, having volunteered to join the Rapid Response Team (RRT) that repatriated Filipinos with expired visas during the amnesty period in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates; and again joining the RRT that repatriated over 7,000 OFWs stranded in Tripoli, Libya during the crisis. His initiatives also led to the improvement of the Assistance-To-Nationals (ATN)-services of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA). These included the Assistance to Nationals Shared Information Administration (ATNSIA) which increased the DFA’s capacity to absorb and handle requests for assistance from Filipinos throughout Saudi Arabia and beyond; and his development of a system that allowed for the disbursement of more than Php159 Million to 58,680 cases involving repatriation, medical and welfare assistance, and other activities to support our OFWs in Saudi Arabia;

Sanny Darren B. Bejarin and Mark Anthony Z. Geguera, both foreign Service Staff Employee II, Philippine Consulate General in Shanghai,Gawad Mabini with Rank of Kasugo or Member for volunteering to head to Wuhan, Hubei when it served as the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020. They led the evacuation of hundreds of Filipinos, including undocumented ones, negotiating with local authorities for their exit visas and flight clearances, amidst a pandemic and one of the strictest lockdowns in the world.

The Order of Sikatuna is an order of diplomatic merit conferred upon individuals who have rendered exceptional and meritorious services to the Republic of the Philippines. Established by President Elpidio Quirino, it is one of three senior honors of the Philippines, along with the Philippine Legion of Honor and the Order of Lakandula.

Gawad Mabini, on the other hand, is named after Apolinario Mabini, the first Secretary of Foreign Affairs in the First Republic of the Philippines. It is conferred on Filipinos who have rendered distinguished foreign service, or helped promote the interests and prestige of the Philippines abroad. 

Traditionally held on July 22, the birthdate of Mabini, the ceremony had been postponed due to the pandemic.