Former Asean secretary-general Rodolfo Severino dies, aged 82

Former Asean secretary-general Rodolfo Severino Jr died on April 19, 2019.
Former Asean secretary-general Rodolfo Severino Jr died on April 19, 2019.PHOTO: HOWIE SEVERINO/FACEBOOK

MANILA - Respected diplomat and former secretary-general of Asean Rodolfo Severino Jr died on Friday night (April 19), the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Saturday.

He was 82.

The DFA did not disclose the cause of death but Mr Severino's son, GMA news anchor Howie Severino, said his father had been suffering from complications related to Parkinson's disease for several years.

Mr Severino's wake will be held at the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig City, after cremation, starting from Sunday until next Wednesday.

Mr Ong Keng Yong, who took over Mr Severino's post in Asean in January 2003, described the late diplomat as "exceptional" as he was "considerate and soft-spoken, yet steely and strategic in defending his country's interests".

"He would not come across as a tough negotiator but he knew his stuff and weathered you down with his stoic persistence," said Mr Ong, who served as the bloc's secretary-general until January 2008 and is now Ambassador-at-Large at the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Rod was passionate about Asean and its ideals. He was a champion of the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) and spent a few years after he stepped down as secretary-general of Asean to write a substantial book about ARF," said Mr Ong, referring to the bloc's key forum for security dialogue that was established in 1994.

A former journalist, Mr Severino joined the Philippine foreign service in 1965.

He served as the country's envoy to Malaysia, as Consul-General to Houston, as well as held diplomatic posts in Washington, DC, and Beijing.

At the DFA, he served in various positions at the Office of the Undersecretary for Policy and the Office of Asia and Pacific Affairs, ending his foreign service career as Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy from 1992 to 1997.

A year after his retirement in 1997, he became Asean's 10th secretary-general from 1998 to 2002, "the second Filipino to have earned that distinction", according to the DFA.

He began his term at the height of the Asian financial crisis and devoted those years restoring global confidence in the region until it was back on track as a dynamic regional grouping.

"Rod was regarded as a fair and professional secretary-general of Asean. He was aware of the Filipino interests but he carried out his Asean responsibilities wholeheartedly," said Mr Ong, who first met Mr Severino, then Philippine ambassador to Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur. 

"I learned a few important ways to manage the sensitivities of Asean member states. For example, he advised me to call on every Asean leaders to listen to their expectations of the secretary-general; and I must try to attend some parts of each Asean sectoral meetings as the respective ministers must hear from the secretary-general the overall Asean position on the thorny issues in their sectors," Mr Ong recalled.

"Rod earned the respect of Asean colleagues whom he interacted with," he added.

Mr Severino was also instrumental in mobilising regional cooperation in addressing the root causes of the regional haze emanating from forest fires, which had become a major crisis in the late 1990s.

He was also the inaugural head of the Asean Studies Centre at the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore from 2008 to 2015.

Mr Severino also authored various books touching on Asean and its community.

Born on April 27, 1936, Mr Severino has a master of arts in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and a bachelor of arts in Humanities from the Ateneo de Manila University.

He is survived by his his wife, Mrs Rowena Romero Severino, two sons Horacio (Howie) and Rodolfo III (Kokoy), daughter Rhoda and adopted daughter Gina with the late Caridad Gorospe Severino, daughter-in-law Ipat Luna, and grandchildren Alon Severino and JJ, Angel, Anna, Anton and Elyza David.