LAWMAKERS and the Hong Kong government expressed “concern” at the blacklisting of nine Hong Kong journalists after they supposedly disrespected President Benigno Aquino III during a foreign trip last year.
While some lawmakers said the matter was a simple case of “bad manners,” others felt it was an assault on freedom of the press, which the government banners as part of the democratic tradition of the country.
“What our government did in blacklisting the nine journalists was a clear transgression of press freedom,” said Rep. Silvestre Bello III of 1-BAP party-list, a member of the House minority group.
Bello made the remark after the Hong Kong government issued a statement expressing its concern on the incident.
“The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government expresses concern on the case of a Hong Kong journalist being refused entry into the Philippines,” the Hong Kong statement read.
The statement said the Assistance to Hong Kong Residents Unit of the Immigration Department will contact the people concerned to obtain further information and will later take up the matter with the Philippine consulate general.
Hong Kong issued the statement as the immigration bureau said the journalists, whom it did not name, were blacklisted on the recommendation of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency over “acts committed against the president during a summit in Bali, Indonesia”.
Bureau of Immigration spokesperson Elaine Tan cited Memorandum Order No. ADD-01-005, dated March 29, 2001, which listed grounds upon which foreigners may be excluded or disallowed entry into the country.
“One of the grounds, anchored on the interest of public safety, is when a foreign national shows disrespect or makes offensive utterances to symbols of Philippine authority,” Tan said.
A foreign national who is proven to possess grounds for exclusion is likewise included in the blacklist.
Information on a foreign national is gathered by the BI through various sources.
“We have close coordination with local law enforcement agencies and counterparts abroad to ensure that no undesirable foreign national enters, or remains in the country, as the case may be,” Tan said.
“The rationale is that the subject is a threat to public safety and blacklisting minimizes that risk,” she added, although she did not clarify whether the nine journalists were considered as “threats to public safety.”
But Tan clarified that a person who has been included in the blacklist may contest the fact by filing a request for lifting to the Commissioner of Immigration and “if he submits sufficient proof to reverse the blacklist, it may be lifted accordingly.”
She confirmed that “certain foreign journalists were included in the blacklist upon information relayed by the NICA relating to acts committed against the President during a summit in Bali, Indonesia.”
Her remark confirmed the complaint of Eric Lee Kwok-keung, a cameraman of Hong Kong electronic media Now TV, was prevented from entering the country on Thursday morning when he arrived via Philippine Air Lines Flight PR 301.
Lee said an airline official showed him a letter from the Immigration Bureau saying:
“Acting on the 29 May this year. letter of Ager P. Ontog, Jr., Director General, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, Office of the President, requesting that the above-named subjects be prevented from entering the country to cover the APEC Summit next year for heckling of President Benigno S. Aquino III during the latter’s visit to Bali, Indonesia during the October last year CEO Summit.”
“Thus, we hereby include the above-named subjects in the Bureau’s Black List with remarks: ‘Undesirability’.”
Aside from Lee, the letter identified the eight other banned reporters from Now TV, Commercial Radio and Radio Television Hong Kong as Hon Chuen, Ip Lo Fon, Yip Yiu Kwan Kelvin, Chau Tse Nang, Li Siu Liung, Chu Wai Ying, Lo Kam Ping and Luitse Kin.
The nine were expelled from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali last October after shouting out questions about the 2010 Manila hostage crisis, where eight Hong Kong nationals were killed.
The journalists were asking Aquino whether he would meet Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-Yung or apologize to the families of the victims.
Palace press aides said the journalists had “crossed the line” with their loud and aggressive questioning and administration allies in the House agreed.
“What self respecting country will allow citizens coming from other countries who cannot even respect its highest ranking official on the other hand insult him?” asked Iloilo Rep. Jerry Trenas, adding that press freedom and respect for the highest official of the land are two different matters.
“They [nine blacklisted journalists] should mind their manners. It is an insult to all of us if they heckle our president. What if we do that also to their president? It is unbecoming of a journalist to do that,” said Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III.
“If they heckled the President during the last year’s APEC, I would not take it against anyone if these people were excluded from the guest list,” said Quezon City Rep. Bolet Banal.
But veteran journalist Shirley Yam, vice vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association said they will ask the Hong Kong government to confront Philippine authorities and make that sure Hong Kong journalists are free to carry out their duties.
Another senior journalist, Alex Lo of the conservative South China Morning Post, asked “how petty and vindictive can the Philippines get?”
“A democratic country with a free press may bar foreign reporters if they or their organisations have engaged in reporting that endangers people’s lives, such as condoning terrorism or otherwise encouraging violence and civil unrest,” Lo said in his column.
“Other than that, such bans fly in the face of common decency, not to say democratic rights such as free speech and a free press,” he added.
Lo said the “appalling and unwise move” of banning the nine Hong Kong journalists will only rekindle resentment and likely retaliation from Hong Kong, so soon after the crisis over the 2010 Luneta hostage crisis.
“[The Philippines] has finally managed to end the diplomatic crisis, which reached all the way to Beijing, after reaching a settlement in April with survivors and the families of those killed... By now, everyone has forgotten the crisis and the bitter wrangles that went on for years - or would have had it not been for the Philippines’ latest silly move,” Lo added.
Lo noted that the reporters were blacklisted for loudly asked questions – which was described as “heckling” – when Aquino was walking through a non-restricted area of the Bali International Convention Centre. With AFP
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