Del Rosario says Hong Kong airport questioning seems like harassment

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 21) — Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who is being held in Hong Kong for still-undisclosed reasons, says he is possibly being harassed.

“It would seem that way. Given the absence of information that I feel is necessary to hold anyone, I think you would come to that conclusion,” Del Rosario told CNN Philippines’ Newsroom Ngayon. “There is no rational response as to why I've been kept waiting.”

Del Rosario, who holds a diplomatic passport, was held at the Hong Kong International Airport upon his arrival in the semi-autonomous Chinese region at around 7:40 in the morning Monday. He said Hong Kong immigration officials had not told him why he was being denied entry.

The country's former top diplomat flew to Hong Kong to attend a shareholders meeting of investment management and holding firm First Pacific Company Limited, where he has been a non-executive director since June 2016. He is booked on a flight back to Manila in the evening.

Del Rosario was unable to attend the meeting.

Exactly a month ago, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales was also held at the Hong Kong airport for undisclosed reasons. She was supposed to go on vacation with her family and was eventually granted entry, but chose to fly back to the Philippines instead.

Del Rosario believes he is being held in connection to a complaint he and Morales filed in March against Chinese President Xi Jinping and two other Chinese officials before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity. Morales made the same conclusion when she encountered the same problem.

“That is not an assumption. It is what it’s all about,” said Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson.

But Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who is officer in charge of the government while President Rodrigo Duterte is en route to Thailand to attend the ASEAN Summit, said that Morales’ experience should have been a “lesson” for Del Rosario.

“Personally, I believe that the lesson derived from former Ombudsman Morales' similar experience should have been clear to him,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.

He added that he will request the Foreign Affairs department to extend assistance for Del Rosario.

Del Rosario said he was getting assistance from the Philippines' consular office in Hong Kong and had received assurance from the office of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin Jr. that his situation will be “expeditiously handled.”

Diplomatic passport

While the cases of Del Rosario and Morales seem similar, Anne Marie Corominas, their lawyer in the ICC complaint, said Del Rosario’s situation was graver because he is travelling on a diplomatic passport.

“He is on a diplomatic passport, this shouldn't happen. It should have afforded him some sort of immunity,” Corominas told Newsroom Ngayon.

Del Rosario said his diplomatic passport “should have avoided problems” he encountered at Hong Kong.

He said is he studying Hong Kong’s possible violations of the 1961 Vienna Convention, which the Chinese autonomous region and the Philippines are party to.

The Vienna Convention grants diplomatic agents and their families immunity from criminal, civil and administrative prosecution. However, this immunity does not apply if a diplomatic agent acted in relation to “any professional or commercial activity exercised by the diplomatic agent in the receiving State outside his official functions.”

The Philippine Passport Act also does not say that former Foreign Affairs secretaries and former ambassadors are still entitled to carry diplomatic passports.

But Corominas said that the Philippines should lodge a diplomatic protest over the treatment of Del Rosario.

“This is not the way to treat the Philippines, which is supposed to be in friendly relations with Hong Kong. It’s unacceptable,” she said.

Del Rosario said he would likely fly back to Manila at 8:30 tonight as scheduled.

Hours before flying to Hong Kong, Del Rosario fired off a strongly-worded statement against a proposed joint probe of Manila and Beijing on the ramming of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in Recto Bank earlier this month.