Del Rosario, PHL foreign affairs chief during Hague tribunal case vs China, dies at 83


FORMER Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, who steered the Philippines in securing a landmark maritime legal victory in the South China Sea, has passed away. He was 83.

The business group Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) announced his passing on Tuesday, April 18. Del Rosario had been a member of the business group for 45 years before he became a diplomat.

The DFA said Del Rosario died while en route to San Francisco.

“I extend my deepest condolences to the loved ones of Secretary Albert del Rosario. He was a consummate diplomat and an inspiring leader who led the DFA with integrity and unwavering commitment to public service. You will be missed, Mr. Secretary,” DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo tweeted.

Del Rosario served as the foreign secretary of President Benigno S. Aquino III from 2011 to 2016.

During his almost five-year stint as the country’s top diplomat, Del Rosario pushed for a very risky move in questioning the legality of China’s claim over the South China Sea before an international court.

With the imprimatur of then President Aquino, Del Rosario brought together top legal luminaries of the country, including former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and tapped international law experts to bring China before an international tribunal.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippine government in 2016, largely invalidating China’s nine-dash line claim.

“The West Philippine Sea arbitration was very intense, with so much at stake, and so many strong opinions all over. Through it all, Sec. Albert Del Rosario was a level-headed, reasonable, inspiring, and calming influence. Sec. Albert served beyond the call of duty and
brought out the best in all of us. The nation owes you,” former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said in his Facebook post.

In 2014, Del Rosario also signed the now-controversial Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) allowing the Americans to preposition their defense equipment.  The EDCA is once more in focus, after Philippine and US officials agreed to tag four more EDCA sites in addition to the five original areas.

The DFA said it “mourns” the passing of Del Rosario whom it described as a “staunch advocate of protecting and advancing national security and promoting the rights and welfare of Filipinos both in the Philippines and abroad.”

He is survived by his spouse, Gretchen del Rosario, and his children.

Foreign embassies such as the United States, the European Union, Czech Republic, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom and Canada expressed their sympathies on Del Rosario’s death.

The Metro Pacific Investments Corporation (MPIC) has also notified the Securities and Exchange Commission on the passing of Del Rosario. Del Rosario served as “non-executive” director of MPIC since May 2016.

Protector of OFWs

Aside from his legacy on the South China Sea, Del Rosario’s tenure at the DFA came at the height of the Arab Spring. Hours after he was sworn into office, he secretly traveled to Tripoli, Libya to personally oversee the repatriation of Filipino workers.

Although he was already 72 years old, he insisted on joining the Quick Reaction Team that extracted 400 OFWs and brought them safely to the Tunisian border.

He also led the repatriation of OFWs in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Egypt.

Over 24,000 Filipinos were repatriated during the Arab Spring and other natural disasters.

It was also during his time when the DFA extended its passport or consular offices to malls such as Ayala, Gaisano, Robinsons, SM, and Ali Mall.

Philippine-US relations

Before his stint as secretary of foreign affairs, he also served as the Philippine ambassador to the US. During his incumbency, he was able to secure US$1.2 billion from the US in funding assistance, pitched the Philippines as the destination for business process outsourcing (BPO) to American companies, and acquired greater access to the US market for Philippine exports.

At the time when the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), the second largest pension fund in the world, was about to remove the Philippines from its list of investment locations, Del Rosario led the Philippine government and business community to lobby to retain it.

Del Rosario also lobbied before the US Congress to refrain from discriminating against the Philippine canned tuna industry, as the US was about to give zero tariff rates for Andean countries in South America.

However, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo allegedly fired Del Rosario as Philippine ambassador over disagreements over Del Rosario’s refusal to hire a US-based lobby group to help project her administration. Del Rosario later joined the Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO), a group critical of the Arroyo administration.

Accomplished businessman

Del Rosario had earlier said that his entry to the public service was an accident.

Before he joined the government, he was already an accomplished corporate executive with businesses in insurance, banking, real estate, shipping, telecommunications, consumer products, retail, pharmaceutical and food.

Thus, in the Aquino administration, he was considered the wealthiest Cabinet member with more than P765 million in assets.

DFA officers and staff said he was generous to a point of donating a whole year of his salary as raffle prize during social events, and even paying for his own official trips.

PBBM mourns death

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. mourned the death of Del Rosario.

In a brief statement, Marcos remembered Del Rosario, as an “honorable diplomat and an esteemed public servant,” during his time in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). 

“I extend my deepest sympathies to the family and loved ones of Secretary del Rosario, who was known for his patriotism and integrity, ” Marcos said. 

“We thank his deep commitment to our national interest and his unwavering devotion to our shared values,” he added.  

Del Rosario served as the Philippine Ambassador to the United States from 2001 to 2006. 

He was later appointed as DFA Secretary, a position he held from 2011 to 2016, by former President Benigno Aquino III. 

MAP: Paragon of statesmanship

The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), meanwhile, said del Rosario “will forever be remembered for being a paragon of statesmanship and management excellence for nation-building, and for his overwhelming love of country.”

In a statement, MAP recalled that it conferred the “MAP Management Man of the Year 2014” award on del Rosario for “raising the standards of economic diplomacy by pursuing an independent and principled foreign policy.” 

Lawmakers remembered the former DFA chief for his strong and consistent defense of territorial waters and features and resources in them that belong to the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.

Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said: “Our country has just lost a consummate diplomat, a humble and conscientious public servant and civilian, and a staunch and passionate defender of national sovereignty.”

For his part, House Majority Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe described Del Rosario as a true champion of Filipino democracy and sovereignty having been one of one of the prime movers of country’s bid to secure the position of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in relation to Philippine claims in the West Philippine Sea.

Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Ralph Recto said there was no better advocate of Philippine interest, “no braver defender of our OFWs, no bolder champion of our sovereignty than him when he was the Republic’s top diplomat.”

“He was eloquent in speech and refined in manners. Whether it was to cooperate with governments or contest their actions, he articulated our position in a convincing but dignified way, earning for him the admiration of peers, and for the country the respect of nations,” said Recto. 

Del Rosario was appointed by the late president Benigno Aquino III in February 2011 and served until March 2016. With reports from Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz, Samuel P. Medenilla — 

Image credits: DFA