Philippines' foreign minister Albert del Rosario resigns over health issues

Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario (centre) has resigned due to ill health.
Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario (centre) has resigned due to ill health.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (REUTERS) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Monday (Feb 8) accepted the resignation of foreign minister Albert del Rosario, who helped spearhead the country's vigorous challenge to China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

"President Aquino has accepted the resignation of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario effective 7 March 2016," the presidential communications secretary, Herminio Coloma, told reporters.

"The president is kind enough to allow me to step down so I can fully address certain personal health issues," Del Rosario told Reuters in a text message responding to a request for comment.

There was no announcement on who would replace del Rosario.

Deputy Foreign Secretary Laura del Rosario is widely expected to step in as acting foreign minister until June 30, when Aquino steps down from office because of term limits.

The two officials are not related.

The 76-year-old Albert del Rosario was on the board of one of Manila's largest mining firms, which has a stake in oil exploration in the South China Sea, when Aquino appointed him as foreign secretary in 2011.

He also served as ambassador to the United States in the previous government.

Del Rosario led the Philippines' effort to file an arbitration case in the Hague, questioning China's claims in the South China Sea, in a case Beijing has not recognised.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. About US$5 trillion (S$ 1.41 trillion) of ship borne trade also passes through the waterway every year.

The arbitration court's decision is expected in May or June.