Veteran journalist and China expert Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana is President Duterte’s choice as ambassador to China.
Sta. Romana was president of the Philippine Association of Chinese Studies, a lecturer on Chinese politics at the University of the Philippines’ Asian Center and a trustee of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement in Los Baños, Laguna.
He has written and given lectures on China and Philippines-China relations in various international forums here and abroad.
He co-edited with Teresita Ang See Philippines-China Relations – Beyond Disputed Waters, published in 2013, which tackles extensively issues and concerns in Philippines-China relations.
Sta. Romana earned an AB in economics and a BS in commerce at De La Salle University.
In 1971, he joined a delegation of Filipino student leaders on a 15-day exposure visit to China. While there, then president Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus and subsequently declared martial law.
Unable to go home, Sta. Romana stayed on for almost 40 years, learned Mandarin at the Beijing Language and Culture University, and got first-hand experience in significant events in China.
He then worked as editor in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences journal until 1986 when he pursued a master’s degree in international relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts.
In 1989, he returned to China andbecame Beijing bureau chief for ABC News. He covered major stories in China such as the Tiananmen protests in 1989 and the crisis in US-China relations in 1999 and 2001. He had interviewed former Chinese premier Zhu Rongji and covered the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
He is the winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and an Emmy award in the news and documentary category.
He retired in 2011 and returned to the Philippines.
In May 2013, under the auspices of PACS, Sta. Romana and six other China experts held a five-day dialogue with the heads of think tanks in China, like the Institute of South China Sea Studies in Beijing and Institute of Strategic Studies in Shanghai, heads of universities, as well as scholars and researchers on contemporary international relations.
It was a significant breakthrough: both sides got together to tackle and clarify many of the contentious issues on the increasingly souring bilateral ties.
The following year, the China scholars were invited to a two-day symposium in the Philippines at the Ateneo de Manila University in December 2014.
Sta. Romana accompanied former president Fidel Ramos in August this year on his visit to Hong Kong. Upon his return, Ramos recommended Sta. Romana to Duterte as ambassador to China. Sta. Romana was appointed on Sept. 28.
He is looking forward to revisiting some places in China. “China keeps transforming…this will give me an opportunity to become more acquainted with the changes in China.”
His wife Nancy traces her origins to Fujian province. The couple’s two sons speak fluent Mandarin. The elder works in Shanghai and the younger is now working in Manila.
Sta. Romana realizes that “differences will remain on certain issues” between China and the Philippines. But the objective, he says, is to “promote the good neighborly relations between the two countries, so we can learn to live together as good neighbors.” — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 29, no. 10 (October 18-31, 2016): 3.