Ex-DFA chief Del Rosario returns after he was barred from Hong Kong

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 21) — Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has returned to the country after being barred from entering Hong Kong where he was held for hours at the airport, a month after former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales encountered a similar fate.

"I think the bottomline is we were being harassed … If you follow the trend, the honorable Ombudsman was here, she went through the same experience, And the link to that experience which turned out to be consequential to us was the communique that we sent to ICC (International Criminal Court)," Del Rosario told reporters upon arriving in Manila.

Anne Marie Corominas, a lawyer for Del Rosario, said Hong Kong immigration authorities are not allowing Del Rosario to enter the semi-autonomous region of China. She added that he will be leaving the city earlier, at 2:05 p.m. instead of 8:30 p.m.

Del Rosario said Hong Kong immigration authorities only told him that he was being held for "immigration reasons," but did not disclose what these reasons were. He said he was given food and water while he was held.

He said he goes to Hong Kong four to five times a year to attend business meetings. He said this is his first trip to the city since he and Morales filed a complaint against Chinese President Xi Jinping and two other Chinese officials over China’s infractions in the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines.

The two former officials said the Chinese officials should be held liable for near-permanent environmental destruction which put the livelihood of Filipino fishermen at risk.

In May, Morales was also held at the Hong Kong airport and initially denied entry. She returned to the Philippines on the same day, despite already having been allowed to enter the special administrative region of China.

Protest Hong Kong 'failure'

Del Rosario earlier told CNN Philippines' Newsroom Ngayon that he was "fine" and was assisted by Manila's consulate in Hong Kong. He added that the office of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr. assured him that his ordeal will be "expeditiously handled."

The former top diplomat, who traveled on a diplomatic passport, was supposed to go to a board and shareholders meeting of investment management and holding firm First Pacific Company Limited, where he has been a non-executive director since June 2016.

The diplomatic passport, he said, is a courtesy given to former Foreign Affairs secretaries by the Foreign Affairs department. He added this should have shielded him from "the problems [he was] encountering."

"He is on a diplomatic passport, this shouldn't happen. He should have some sort of immunity," Del Rosario's lawyer, Anne Marie Corominas, told Newsroom Ngayon.

Before traveling to Hong Kong, Del Rosario said he informed the Foreign Affairs department about his trip. In turn, the Foreign Affairs department informed the Hong Kong consulate, he said.

Del Rosario and Corominas said that Hong Kong could have possibly violated its treaty obligations under the Vienna Convention, which shields diplomatic agents and their families 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.”

But Del Rosario said the Foreign Affairs department suggested to protest the "failure" of Hong Kong authorities to respect his diplomatic passport.

Morales, in a statement ahead of Del Rosario's return to the country, said the barring of the former top diplomat from entering Hong Kong "confirms the detestable retaliatory act of China as it confirms that Hong Kong has shed off or been cowed into giving up its autonomy."

But Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that Del Rosario should have learned from Morales' ordeal.

“If I were Del Rosario I would not have gone to Hong Kong because I'm sure I would be going through the same ordeal the former Ombudsman did,” Panelo told CNN Philippines' Balitaan.

Del Rosario admitted that he expected that he would also be barred from entry, but wanted to "test" it.

"I think I was ready. I had to test it because I have business in Hong Kong," he said.

Asked if he would ever return to Hong Kong, where he is expected to join board meetings, Del Rosario said, " I have to find out if I’m going to be accepted by immigration, because if not, it’s a wasted trip."

On the plane to Hong Kong, Del Rosario penned and issued a strongly-worded statement against a proposed joint probe between Manila and Beijing on the ramming of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in Recto Bank.

CNN Philippines' Melissa Luz Lopez, Gracielle Libero, Tristan Nodalo and Pinky Webb contributed to this report.