ObituaryTransition

Albert del Rosario: Suits need to rest, too

The country owes a debt of gratitude to the diplomat and public servant who served his country well

Albert del Rosario
In a file photo, President Aquino and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario onboard the USS Carl Vinson as it crosses international waters, observing fighter jets land and take off from the carrier’s runway. (Photo from Raf Ignacio)
Albert del Rosario

In a souvenir shot, Secretary Albert del Rosario and the author at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, waiting for the next engagement. (Photo from FB Raf Ignacio)

(The country mourns the passing of ambassador and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario April 18, 2023 at 84 years old. The man who helped defend the country’s territories by standing up to China, he was ambassador to the US and later, foreign affairs secretary in the administration of Benigno S. Aquino III. 

Below is a recollection of and tribute to the diplomat and public servant written in his FB by a former staffer in the Aquino administration, which we are publishing with his permission.)

“You need at least two well-made suits. After you wear one for an entire day, you need to give the suit a day to rest.”

Secretary Albert left an outstanding legacy in his years of service as ambassador and secretary of Foreign Affairs that many will remember. But to me, his advice about suits and how to take care of them is what stuck the most. He said this not in a speech, but during a casual conversation with fellow Cabinet secretaries to pass the time on a long-haul flight. I was a young staffer (and an aspiring diplomat) then, listening in to their discussion about their wardrobe.

From the many foreign trips and Cabinet meetings that I had the privilege of joining with Secretary Albert, a few stories stand out.

Being one of the more senior members of the Cabinet, both in rank— the Secretary of Foreign Affairs (SFA) is the primus inter pares —and in age, Secretary Albert could have excused himself from the rigorous feats the Cabinet had to go through, or delegated tedious tasks to his team. But he refused any sort of special treatment from Sir (President Aquino), his fellow Cabinet members or from the staff, and chose to be in the trenches with them.

During the ASEAN Summit in Brunei, Sir wanted to revise the draft statements at the last minute, so he asked SFA and several top diplomats to meet with him after dinner. The closed-door editing session started around 8 p.m., and they finally finished a little past midnight. I remember this vividly because the speechwriters and I were just outside the room on standby, wondering what was happening in the room. I later learned from the diplomats who were in the room that Sir and Secretary Albert went through the statements line by line to wordsmith the text that would assert our claim on the West Philippine Sea. In the ASEAN Summit in Myanmar the following year, Secretary Albert and his team worked until 3 a.m. to revise Sir’s remarks, as recounted by Gian Lao, one of Sir’s speechwriters.

During Sir’s visit to the water recycling plant in Singapore, when the elevator broke down, Sir asked Secretary Albert if he would like to wait for the elevator to be fixed so he did not have to put a strain on his knees climbing several flights of stairs. Secretary Albert refused the offer and walked up with Sir and the rest of the team.

The welfare of Filipinos abroad was his top priority. One of his first acts as SFA was to fly to the Middle East immediately after being sworn in to personally oversee the repatriation of OFWs fleeing for safety from the Arab Spring protests. This left such an indelible impression on Sir that he mentioned this anecdote in his last SONA.

Albert del Rosario

From his FB, the author with Secretary del Rosario after his oath-taking as a Foreign Service Officer in 2013

Sec. Albert played a crucial role in saving Mary Jane Veloso from execution. He appealed to Indonesian authorities to spare her life, citing that Mary Jane was not a criminal, but a victim of the drug trade. It was already past midnight when SFA and his aides rushed to get a formal memo for Sir to sign and fax to Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi’s office. The save was so last minute that the headlines the following day said that Mary Jane was dead.

During one Cabinet meeting, Sir entered the room upset because of DFA’s inputs to his briefing kit, among other things. He reprimanded SFA in front of the Cabinet. Secretary Albert calmly responded in his low voice, “Mr. President, I apologize and I take full responsibility. It will never happen again.” He did not give any excuses, which was the last thing anyone would want to do when Sir was upset. SFA’s composed and elegant response calmed Sir’s mood for the rest of the meeting.

Sec. Albert was a gentleman, a true statesman, and a champion in asserting Philippine sovereignty. He was firm yet kind, brilliant yet unassuming. He was a class act both in word and in deed. History will look favorably on his contributions to Philippine Foreign Policy and to what it means to be a public servant.

Like your advice about suits and how to take care of them, you have worked tirelessly for an entire lifetime, and now the day has come for you to rest.

Thank you for your service, Secretary Albert. Enjoy your reunion there in heaven with Secretary Dinky, Secretary Mon, Secretary Jesse, and Sir.


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