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Philippine Foreign Secretary Ople Dies - 2003-12-15

President Gloria Arroyo says she is deeply saddened by the death of Philippine Foreign Secretary Blas Ople, who suffered a fatal heart attack on a flight from Tokyo to Bangkok.

Blas Ople was 75 when he passed away in Taiwan. He apparently suffered a heart attack late Saturday on a flight leaving Tokyo. He had attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Japan.

The flight was scheduled to land in Bangkok, but diverted to Taipei when the Philippine foreign secretary became ill.

"While on board the plane, he experienced breathing difficulties so the captain of the flight declared a medical emergency and diverted the plane to Taiwan," said Julie Heidemann, a spokeswoman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

He was taken to a Taiwan hospital for treatment. Ms. Heidemann says the foreign minister was taken off life-support late Sunday.

"The nation mourns the death of a great Filipino," said Ms. Heidemann. "We were awed by the vision and indomitable wit of secretary Blas F. Ople. We will miss him and the world will miss him."

President Gloria Arroyo, who is on a visit to Hong Kong, released a statement saying she is deeply saddened by the minister's death.

Mr. Ople had accompanied President Arroyo to the ASEAN summit in Tokyo. He was en route to Bahrain for a meeting when he suffered heart failure.

President Arroyo appointed Mr. Ople foreign secretary in July 2002. Before that he served in the country's Senate.

The former resistance fighter against the Japanese military in World War II went on to serve in the government of three Philippine presidents. Under strongman Ferdinand Marcos, he was labor secretary. Mr. Ople then helped revise the national constitution under President Corazon Aquino, who came to power after Mr. Marcos was ousted in a peaceful revolt.

Blas Ople is survived by his wife and seven children.