MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – After holding him for 6 hours, Hong Kong authorities on Friday, June 21, barred former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario from entering Hong Kong.
Del Rosario, who was on a business trip to Hong Kong, said he was not given any official reason for the decision.
"After nearly 6 hours of being held up, was denied entry without reason," Del Rosario told Rappler in a text message.
Del Rosario said that he was denied entry even if he carried a valid diplomatic passport.
"Denied entry without explanation. [Diplomatic] passport not honored in violation of Vienna Convention," he added.
"He's been excluded and deported," del Rosario's lawyer Anne Marie Corominas told Agence France-Presse.
The former Philippine top diplomat was held by immigration officials after arriving at the Hong Kong International Airport at 7:40 am on Friday.
Del Rosario went to Hong Kong to attend the board and shareholders meetings of Hong Kong-listed First Pacific Company Limited.
In an interview on ANC earlier on Friday, Del Rosario said he hoped to attend at least the shareholders meeting of First Pacific.
His lawyer called the incident "pure harassment."
China has yet to offer an explanation, but Beijing's foreign affairs ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters: "Who is allowed or not allowed to enter the country is entirely China's sovereignty."
Although Hong Kong was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, it is still administered separately under an arrangement known as "One country, two systems."
But activists have been alarmed in recent years by what they feel is a tighter grip by Beijing, though Hong Kong still retains freedoms unseen on the mainland.
Hours before he was denied entry to Hong Kong, Del Rosario had called the joint Philippines-China investigation of the sinking of a Filipino boat in the West Philippine Sea an "insult" to the intelligence of the Filipino people.
'Protect, defend Filipinos'
Del Rosario was held exactly a month after former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales was detained at the Hong Kong International Airport. They both had complained against Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials for alleged crimes against humanity in the West Philippine Sea. (READ: Ex-PH officials bring China's Xi to Int'l Criminal Court)
Opposition senators linked the incident to the ICC complaint.
“This is looking more and more like retaliation for the filed case against China at the ICC. We said it before, we’ll say it again: this will not deter them from pursuing China at court. This will only strengthen their resolve as we continue to assert for our sovereign rights,” said Senator Francis Pangilinan.
Pangilinan added that the incident happened while the Recto Bank issue was still "fresh" in the minds of Filpinos, particularly how the Chinese crewmembers abandoned the 22 fishermen in their sinking boat.
"Our government has so far sat idly by as Filipinos continue to be affected by their relentless exertion of power. We need our government acting decisively to protect our citizens rather than kowtow to a foreign power that harasses, intimidates and bullies our very own. We call on our government to protect and defend our citizens and to end its complicity and collaboration with China's highhandedness," he said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said the denied entry of Del Rosario might have been prompted by the former top diplomat's opposition to a joint probe with China on the Recto Bank incident.
She urged the Department of Foreign Affairs "to stand by Secretary del Rosario."
"It should immediately inquire as to why Secretary del Rosario was detained, determine whether diplomatic protocols were violated as he was reportedly travelling with a diplomatic passport and take the appropriate diplomatic actions if ever protocols were breached," Hontiveros said.
"I also urge the DFA to follow up on its inquiry on to why former Ombudsman Carpio-Morales was detained last month. We should not let these forms of intimidation pass unchallenged," she added.
Senator Leila de Lima said the incident just showed the "pettiness" of China.
"China is clearly bothered with the Morales and Del Rosario ICC complaint, but petty enough to retaliate against the two by harassing and detaining them at the HK airport," she said in a statement on Saturday, June 22.
She also called out Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo for harping on Del Rosario's use of a diplomatic passport – with the former top diplomat had relayed to the DFA prior to his Hong Kong Trip. She said said that this, along with Duterte's dismissive tone on the Recto Bank incident, showed that the Duterte administration favored China over its citizens' welfare. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com