The Foreign Office said Saturday it would soon cancel all diplomatic passports given to former foreign affairs chiefs and Philippine envoys,
and halt the courtesy issuance—a statement challenged by the country’s permanent ambassador to the United Nations Lauro Baja.
The DFA announcement followed the deportation of former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario
from Hong Kong on Friday, where he had used his diplomatic passport.
“The DFA Office of Consular Affairs [OCA] will be issuing an order shortly, cancelling all courtesy diplomatic passports, and requiring their surrender for physical cancellation,” said DFA’s Assistant Secretary Emmanuel Fernandez in a statement.
“The practice of issuing courtesy diplomatic passports to former DFA secretaries and ambassadors shall henceforth be discontinued,” he added.
But Baja, also a former DFA undersecretary, told Dobol B sa News TV in an interview beamed nationwide that Del Rosario was entitled to a diplomatic passport even if he had left the DFA.
“Secretary Del Rosario is also entitled to have an ordinary and diplomatic passport, whatever his reason is in going abroad,” Baja said.
Del Rosario, who filed a case along with former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales against Chinese President Xi Jinping over China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea, was barred from entering Hong Kong on Friday although he was carrying a diplomatic passport after being held by immigration authorities for six hours.
Del Rosario, a vocal critic of China and who led efforts to bring the country’s disputes with China to international arbitration in 2013 when he was Foreign secretary, was supposed to attend a business meeting.
Del Rosario, the country’s top diplomat from 2011 to 2016 during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III, had flown to Hong Kong for a business meeting on Friday but was barred entry for unspecified immigration reasons. He was eventually deported.
His lawyer said Hong Kong authorities gave no reason for denying him entry.
But a Philippines’ government spokesperson said there “might have been a problem with the use” of the passport.
“If you use a diplomatic passport it has to be an official engagement between the Philippine government and the country that you’re entering,” Martin Andanar told reporters Saturday on the sidelines of a Southeast Asia leaders summit in Bangkok.
“I’m not really sure what the activity... he was supposed to attend if it was government or private,” he added.
Andanar would not be drawn on whether Del Rosario was barred from Hong Kong for political reasons, saying only “it’s the right of any country to deny (entry by) anyone.”
Hong Kong immigration officials refused to comment on the case.
Del Rosario was granted a diplomatic passport in 2016, in line with Philippines law allowing certain former officials to use one if traveling on government duty.
But Del Rosario earlier told reporters he was in Hong Kong for a business meeting, and on Saturday the DFA said it was revoking all diplomatic passports held by former foreign ministers and lower-level officials.
Speculation has mounted that del Rosario was turned away from Hong Kong because of his tough anti-China posturing.
He was behind a 2013 case at an international tribunal that ruled against Beijing’s claim in the South China Sea.
In March, he filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court against Chinese leader Xi Jinping,
alleging “crimes against humanity” over the supposed environmental fallout of Beijing’s activities in the disputed waters.
Hong Kong was handed over from Britain to China in 1997, though is still run independently under a “one country, two systems” arrangement.
But critics say Beijing has tightened its grip on the territory, and the financial hub has increasingly turned away China critics on arrival at the airport.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has largely backed away from Manila’s once-tense standoff with Beijing over its sweeping claims in the resource-rich South China Sea.
In a related development, in Bangkok, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Del Rosario’s experience in Hong Kong could not be compared to that of former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales as the former’s case could be more on his use of an official travel document.
In a statement, Panelo said while both Del Rosario and Morales were not allowed to enter Hong Kong, the circumstances appeared to be different.
“(U)nlike the case of former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, 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,” he said.
Morales was barred for allegedly being a security threat.
Panelo said being a former “Chief Diplomat,” Del Rosario should have known that the improper use of diplomatic passports was not right.
“Mr. Del Rosario should have known or have been alerted to the proper use of diplomatic passports and other travel documents. Moreover, given the experience of the former Ombudsman, Mr. Del Rosario should have been prudent enough to ensure that Hong Kong, a Chinese Special Administrative Region, has no objection to his entry,” the state-run Philippine News Agency quoted him as saying.
Panelo said Hong Kong’s action could not be questioned because “any country has the authority and the right to bar entry (for) any foreign national to its territory.”
Even then, he said the Hong Kong consular office “continues to provide assistance to Mr. Del Rosario, like all other Filipinos who may find themselves in distress abroad” despite his “penchant to capitalize and politicize issues related to PRRD’s (President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s) foreign policy towards China.”
“(H)e remains a Filipino citizen entitled to protection and assistance from the Philippine government,” Panelo was further quoted as saying.
READ: Barred, deported
READ: Two former Philippine officials sue China leader before ICC