THE Philippines has ‘blacklisted’ the nine Hong Kong journalists who heckled President Benigno Aquino III during last year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit held in Bali, Indonesia.
Two prominent Hong Kong dailies, the Hong Kong Standard and the South China Morning Post, reported about the blacklist, saying that one of the nine journalists, Now TV cameraman Eric Lee Kwok-keung, was prevented from entering the country by immigration officers last Thursday upon his arrival via Philippine Air Lines Flight PR 301.
Lee had no choice but to return to Hong Kong.
A high-ranking immigration official, who asked not to be named, confirmed the incident.
Malacanang, however, quickly denied the existence of a blacklist and what appeared to be an attempt at “damage control.”
In a statement, Communications Secretary Herminio “Sonny’ Coloma said that “according to Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison, there is no such ‘blacklist’ of journalists who are denied entry to the Philippines on account of their actions during the APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia last year.”
Coloma added that “if the identity of the Hongkong-based cameraman who was reportedly denied entry is known, then the BI could verify from its records if, indeed, there was a denial of entry as well as the legal grounds for such denial.”
He added that “the specific actions attributed to the journalists in the 2013 APEC summit, is not one of the grounds for denial of entry into the country.”
“The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), which is the office that gives accreditation to international and Filipino journalists covering official government events, has not started the accreditation process for journalists who will cover the APEC summit in the Philippines in 2015. Therefore, no journalist has been given or denied accreditation, and there is no factual basis for the existence of a so-called ‘blacklist’.
But the SCMP report said that an airline official reportedly showed Lee a letter from the Immigration Bureau which confirmed the “blacklist.”
“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,” the letter said.
“Thus, we hereby include the above-named subjects in the Bureau’s Black List with remarks: ‘Undesirability’.”
The letter went on to identify the journalists as the six reporters from Now TV, including Lee; two from Commercial Radio and another from RTHK.
In October 7 last year, the nine journalists from Now TV, RTHK and Commercial Radio were expelled from the APEC summit in Bali after shouting out questions about the Manila hostage crisis in 2010, 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.
Malacanang said then that the journalists had “crossed the line” with their loud and aggressive questioning.
“As a former journalist, I know what it’s like to aggressively question a subject,” Carandang said. “The behavior of those reporters crossed the line from mere questioning to heckling and was even construed by the Indonesian security personnel assigned to the President as a potential physical threat to him, so they took what they believed was appropriate action,” said then Presidential Communications Development Secretary Ramon Carandang.
“There’s a line that can be crossed… The President was accosted very rudely and aggressively and the Indonesian security deemed it to be excessive and they took action to prevent them from getting too close to the President,” he added.
Lee, who was surprised on seeing the blacklist because he did not experience any problem when he visited the country in December 2013, expressed regret over the blacklist, which he described as “far from reasonable.”
Lee said that he would seek help from the Hong Kong government and the Philippine’s Department of Foreign Affairs in a bid to get the ban lifted.
The SCMP reported that Now TV expressed deep regret over the blacklisting, saying that the reporters were doing their job when they questioned Aquino about the 2010 incident, and described the blacklisting as “utterly unreasonable”.
It added that it would issue a joint letter, together with Commercial Radio and RTHK, to the Chief Executive’s Office and the top representative of Beijing’s Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong, in which they will call on officials to follow up the matter.
They also plan to send another letter to the Philippines consulate to register their objections.
Meanwhile, the immigration officer, who asked not to be named, said the nine Hong Kong journalists can appeal to lift the “black list order” against them by filing an appeal letter to the Office of the Commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration.
The board of commissioners will then decide if there is any merit to lift the “black list”.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To, who helped relatives of the victims of the Manila bus hijacking, said this latest development would “shock the people of Hong Kong.”
The vice-chairwoman of the Journalists Association, Shirley Yam, also expressed shock at the blacklist.
Yam said the Hong Kong government needs to confront the Philippine authorities, and make that sure Hong Kong journalists are free to carry out their duties.
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