Immunity from ignorance

"Sotto could have spared himself the embarrassment."



The news about former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario being denied entry in Hong Kong by Chinese immigration authorities last week was overshadowed by Senate President Tito Sotto questioning why he had a diplomatic passport.

Del Rosario (not a relative) enlightened Sotto that the issuance of a diplomatic passport is a privilege granted to former foreign secretaries and ambassadors. Del Rosario, aside from being a former SFA secretary, was also a former Philippine ambassador to Washington. Holders of diplomatic passports are supposed to be accorded a certain degree of courtesy and privileges at a country’s port of entry including immunity from arrest. We cannot totally blame Sotto who could be working under the notion that a Senate President has immunity from ignorance.

Sotto, before opening his mouth, should have instructed his staff to inquire from the DFA why Del Rosario is entitled to a diplomatic passport. He could have spared himself the embarrassment of not knowing and being the laughingstock of the diplomatic community.

A diplomatic passport is a privilege given to former ambassadors for their service to the country. It is not given to the retired rank-and-file DFA personnel but only to ambassadors or former chiefs of missions. It is also issued occasionally to members of Congress like Sotto when they are on official trips abroad like attending an Interparliamentary Union invitation to a conference. But in this instance, diplomatic passport for congressional officials is granted on a one-time basis only and the blue passport must be returned at the end of the official trip.

But why was Del Rosario denied entry and detained for questioning by HK authorities? His harassment followed the same treatment of former Office of the Ombudsman Chairperson Conchita Carpio Morales in the case of Morales. Hong Kong authorities claimed she was a threat to national security. She and Del Rosario filed a joint case of human rights violation in the International Criminal Court of against Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Simply passing through Hong Kong as a transit point in the case of Carpio Morales and for Del Rosario to attend an international business conference is hardly a threat to China’s national security. Perhaps national security threat exists only in the minds of the Mandarin cabal in Beijing. This insecurity must be borne out of the massive one million march of Hong Kong Chinese protesting the extradition bill to try in the mainland those who commit a crime in the former British Crown Colony.

We don’t expect the career diplomats at the DFA to twit Soto because they have to go up before him as chairman of the bicameral Commission of Appointments for their promotion and foreign assignments.

Filipinos get to have the likes of Sotto in very important positions because of many of our voters elect candidates who are popular movie actors.

President Rodrigo Duterte is now in Thailand for the Association of Southeast Asian Summit. Will he bring up the case of the Chinese sinking and abandonment of the Filipino fishing boat and its 22 crewmen in the conference? While Filipinos expect Duterte to do so, it is doubtful whether he will even if he said he’s not afraid of China. As it is, the case has been played down by Filipino officials and even Digong himself as a simple maritime accident and not an attack on the country’s sovereignty. Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo even cast doubt that the bigger boat that rammed the F/B Gem Ver was even Chinese. Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, on the other hand, presented the Filipino boat captain and the cook but did most of the talking making those who saw the ANC telecast coverage of the event suspect the survivors had been convinced to change their account of the incident. With Piñol looking at them, the two survivors gave a less definite version the foreign ship and its crew that rammed them were Chinese.

The Philippine Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority had just finished their investigation and the findings have yet to be submitted to the President and released. So we must not expect too much of it knowing the President is close to the Chinese president who has made known loans to the Philippines infrastructure projects like three additional bridges across the Pasig River to ease congestion at Guadalupe. We need those bridges even if President Duterte said road traffic from Cubao to Makati can be done in five minutes. A Metro Manila Development Authority said this is mathematically impossible. We hope the MMDA official does not lose his job for contradicting the President.

Topics: Albert del Rosario , Carpio Morales , Vicente Sotto III , Philippine Coast Guard , Maritime Industry Authority , Metro Manila Development Authority
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