Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, a critic of Beijing’s claims to the disputed South China Sea, was denied entry to Hong Kong on Friday and deported, his lawyer said.
Del Rosario was behind two prominent initiatives against China, including a 2013 case at an international arbitral tribunal which eventually ruled against Beijing’s claim over most of the resource-rich waterway.
His deportation comes as anger is still bubbling in Hong Kong over a proposed bill that would have allowed extraditions to the mainland, raising fears of people being ensnared in China’s opaque court system.
Del Rosario said he flew to Hong Kong early Friday using a Philippine diplomatic passport but was taken to an immigration holding area on arrival, where he remained for nearly three and a half hours.
Del Rosario’s lawyer Anne Marie Corominas subsequently said: “He’s been excluded and deported.”
She said he was already aboard a plane back to the Philippines and added that authorities had given no reason for denying him entry.
Hong Kong immigration officials had no immediate statement on the deportation but routinely decline to comment on individual cases.
Del Rosario may have “misused” his diplomatic passport for his Hong Kong trip, Malacañang said Friday.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo raised this possibility since the former top diplomat’s trip was not sanctioned by the Philippine government.
“Mr. Del Rosario may have misused a diplomatic passport in his travel to Hong Kong, a trip which is private in nature and is in no way related to government or foreign service,” Panelo said in a statement.
“As the country’s former Chief Diplomat, Mr. Del Rosario should have known or have been alerted to the proper use of diplomatic passports and other travel documents.”
Antonio Morales, the Philippine Consul General in Hong Kong, told the ANC news channel immigration authorities did not give a clear reason or “elucidation” as to why Del Rosario was denied entry.
The Philippine consulate was just given “immigration regulations” for an explanation, Morales said.
“I asked the immigration authorities there what was the reason for the delay in the processing of the entry, and I was told that it is for some immigration reasons. And so I contacted the head of the immigration department of the airport, and I was told the matter was being processed,” he said.
“Aside from the immigration reason, there was no other reason given,” Morales added.
Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said Hong Kong’s denial of entry to del Rosario was a “retaliatory move.”
“It’s probably the same reason as that behind my denial of entry to Hong Kong, which had to do with the filing of communication at the Office of the Prosecutor in the ICC,” she told ABS-CBN News.
Earlier, del Rosario had told ABS-CBN that he was given “no rational explanation” for his detention.
In March, del Rosario filed a complaint against Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the International Criminal Court, alleging “crimes against humanity” over the supposed environmental fallout of Beijing’s activities in the disputed waters.
Hong Kong immigration authorities briefly held another critic of China, former Supreme Court justice and special anti-graft prosecutor Conchita Carpio Morales on May 21 when she made a private visit to the territory with her family.
Morales, who was also a party in the complaint filed by Del Rosario at the ICC, was released hours later, but chose to return to Manila instead.
Del Rosario said he had been in Hong Kong to attend a board and shareholders’ meeting of a private company, and had asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to inform the territory’s authorities about his trip.
The former foreign secretary, who served under President Benigno Aquino, accused airport immigration authorities of acting “in violation of the Vienna Convention” on diplomatic privileges.
He arrived in Manila at about 5 p.m. Friday, where he was met by Morales.
Aquino’s elected successor President Rodrigo Duterte has since largely set aside the South China Sea ruling to court Chinese trade and investments.
Friday’s incident comes as the Duterte government seeks to calm public outrage over the June 9 sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in an area of the South China Sea claimed by both countries.
Duterte has called the incident “just a collision of boats” and reiterated his country does not want war with China.
Although Hong Kong was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, it is still administered separately under an arrangement known as “One country, two systems.”
But activists have been alarmed in recent years by what they feel is a tighter grip by Beijing, though Hong Kong still retains freedoms unseen on the mainland.
The Palace on Friday questioned Del Rosario’s motives for going to Hong Kong.
“Why did he even go there? That’s my question to him. Was this deliberate on his part, so that he would have the same situation where he could use it as a forum for his advocacy?” Panelo told CNN Philippines.
“If I were Del Rosario, I would not have gone to Hong Kong because I’m sure I would be going through the same ordeal the former Ombudsman did,” he added.
Panelo said a diplomatic passport was irrelevant as long as other countries deem its holder to be a risk to their security.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros deplored Hong Kong’s treatment of Del Rosario, calling it a clear case of harassment and retaliation.
Another minority bloc member, Senator Francis Pangilinan, called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to ensure the safety of Del Rosario while in Hong Kong.
“We need our government acting decisively to protect our citizens rather than kowtow to a foreign power that harasses, intimidates and bullies our very own. We call on our government to protect and defend our citizens and to end its complicity and collaboration with China’s highhandedness,” Pangilinan said.
Sen. Richard J. Gordon slammed Hong Kong authorities for acting with disrespect and exhibiting a lack of good judgment.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, on the other hand, said the denial of entry was the right of the host country.
“Having said that, it is the obligation of our embassies or consulates... to extend all kinds of assistance, legal and humanitarian, even medical to any Filipino,” said Lacson.
Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin on Friday denounced Hong Kong’s treatment of Del Rosario.
He said the incident “only shows how China continues to bully Filipinos from the small fishermen to our former top diplomat.”
Villarin added: “China is emboldened because the Duterte government’s policy of subservience is tantamount to surrender of our sovereignty. It’s high time Filipinos stand up and demand a stop to this bullying and for government to protect Filipinos.”
“It is an insult and an affront to our dignity as a nation, as a member in good standing of the international community of nations,” he said. With Maricel V. Cruz and AFPREAD: Hold China accountable – ex-DFA Del RosarioREAD: China boat crew told to pay up, apologize to PHREAD: Morales denied entry into Hong KongREAD: Two former Philippine officials sue China leader before ICC
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