Upon his arrival at the Hong Kong International Airport at around 7:40 a.m. Friday, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario was held for questioning. He was kept there for six hours and then denied entry.
Talk about a really long day.
Del Rosario was supposed to attend a business meeting but met, instead, the same fate that befell former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales exactly a month before. In May, Morales flew to Hong Kong to take her grandchildren to Disneyland but was held at the same airport. She was deemed a security threat.
It would not be a stretch to conclude that Del Rosario’s holding had something to do with his position on China in general, and a statement he released earlier that morning in particular. The former secretary criticized the proposed joint PH-China investigation into the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat in the West Philippine Sea.
"The plan for a joint probe by the Philippines and China is the worst news yet. It redounds to a potential partnership between one party (Philippines who is out to seek the truth) against another party (China, the bully) who is out to suppress it."
“Can we please not insult the intelligence of our people?" he added.
Public opinion has been greatly divided over the way Philippine officials have handled the June 9 incident in Recto Bank. Twenty-two Filipino fishermen were left by the Chinese at sea after their boat sank; it was Vietnamese fishermen who rescued them. The Chinese denied responsibility for the sinking and came up with an excuse for fleeing.
For his part, President Duterte took an inordinate amount of time before commenting on the sinking, claiming he was waiting for all the facts to come in. When he finally spoke, it was to dismiss what happened as a “little maritime accident.” After meeting with administration officials, the Filipino fishermen changed their story to conform to the official narrative.
But Del Rosario is fair game, of course. Earlier this year, he and Morales filed a complaint before the International Criminal Court accusing Chinese President Xi Jinping of crimes against humanity by committing aggression against Filipino fishermen and destroying marine resources in the West Philippine Sea.
Del Rosario, who was traveling on a diplomatic passport, has yet to issue a statement on his detention as of press time. His lawyer, in a television interview, said it was pure harassment and a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
No matter the reasons given, the Chinese authorities’ action on Del Rosario has driven home a single, unequivocal message: “Nobody messes with us and gets away with it.” It is not likely that Del Rosario would back down, but what transpired on Friday was a great inconvenience that no doubt made his life difficult for a day.
In the following days, we are bound to hear numerous explanations and interpretations of why Del Rosario was held in Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China. Woe to those who would accept them as truth, and continue to believe that China remains a dear friend with our best interests at heart. For one, those who single out people who dare challenge them are not called friends. They are called bullies. Second, all countries only champion their own interests.
So if we don’t stand up for our own, then nobody will.
Del Rosario’s grueling day may have ended, but in terms of defending what is rightfully ours and finding the courage to call out unjust acts, Filipinos—both its governors and the governed—have a long way to go.