Philippines Names New Foreign Secretary With South China Sea Verdict Looming

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Philippines Names New Foreign Secretary With South China Sea Verdict Looming

Jose Almendras will be the interim replacement for the influential Albert del Rosario.

Philippines Names New Foreign Secretary With South China Sea Verdict Looming

Former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, seen here with US secretary of state John Kerry before a bilateral meeting last year.

Credit: U.S. Department of State Photo

Philippine president Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday named Jose Almendras as his new foreign affairs secretary.

In a statement, presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said that Almendras, secretary to the cabinet, would be out of his current position and replace Albert del Rosario, who had resigned from his post last month for health reasons (See: “Philippines Top Diplomat Resigns”). Del Rosario had been suffering from a series of health issues, including a spinal problem and a recently detected heart ailment.

“Upon his assumption as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Secretary Jose Rene Almendras has ceased to be Cabinet Secretary,” Coloma said.

Coloma added that executive secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr. would now replace Almendras’ in his post. Almendras was appointed cabinet secretary in 2012. Prior to that, he served as energy secretary.

Almendras will serve as ad interim foreign secretary for the next few months. Aquino is nearing the end of his six-year term, and the Philippines is gearing up for upcoming presidential elections in May which is still taking some interesting turns (See: “Philippines Election Race Takes a New Turn With Grace Poe Decision”).

Despite this, there will still be a number of lingering issues that Almendras and the Aquino administration will have to confront, chief among them the South China Sea disputes with a verdict expected in May on a case that the Philippines filed against China with the United Nations’ Permanent Court on Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague (See: “Does the Philippines’ South China Sea Case Against China Really Matter?”)..

As I noted in my previous piece, during his tenure, which began in February 2011, Del Rosario had presided over several milestones in Philippine diplomacy directly or indirectly related to the South China Sea, including the filing of the case as well as the strengthening of the U.S.-Philippine alliance with the inking of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in 2014 (See: “Philippine Court Upholds New US Defense Pact”). Del Rosario has been a tireless voice drawing attention to China’s assertiveness within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as in other international fora.

Last month, in an interview with Philippine media in Los Angeles, Aquino said that he was considering four candidates to replace del Rosario. But he also took the time to hail del Rosario as “one of the blessings” that had been bestowed upon him.

“I really have to say that he is also one of the blessings bestowed upon me. In an area where I don’t really have that much expertise, he took in quite a lot of the burden and really performed his role as adviser. So, tough shoes to fill,” he said.