DFA to cancel diplomatic passports after ex-chief’s HK detention
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Saturday said it would be recalling all “courtesy diplomatic passports” issued to former government officials.
The new policy comes in the wake of former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario’s six-hour detention and denial of entry by Hong Kong immigration authorities on Friday.
“The Office of Consular Affairs (OCA) will be issuing an order shortly, canceling all courtesy diplomatic passports,” the DFA said in a statement.
It acknowledged that on June 19, the OCA’s diplomatic and official passport section revalidated Del Rosario’s diplomatic passport for his business trip to Hong Kong.
The passport revalidation is provided by Section 14 of the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 and in accordance with existing DFA regulations, the DFA said.
Not for immunity
A diplomatic passport was issued to Del Rosario in December 2016, as approved by former Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. by virtue of Department Order No. 12-1993. The document was valid until Dec. 19, 2021.
The DFA clarified that diplomatic passports issued to former secretaries and former ambassadors were only meant to accord “usual port courtesies” to the bearers but not, as claimed by Del Rosario’s supporters, to give them diplomatic immunity under international law.
“Since the issuance of the 1993 department order, diplomatic passports have been issued to former DFA secretaries as well as ambassadors as a matter of courtesy, not to confer them with diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, but only to accord them the usual port courtesies at immigration points abroad,” the DFA said.
Del Rosario on Friday described as “harassment of the first order” the action taken by the Hong Kong immigration authorities in barring him from entering China’s special administrative region.
Matter of tradition
He said he was denied entry for the case that he and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales had filed in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Chinese President Xi Jinping and for his strong stance against Chinese claims over nearly the entire South China Sea.
As foreign secretary, Del Rosario led the filing of an international arbitration case against China in 2013 challenging the legal basis for Beijing’s expansive claims over the strategic waterway on historical grounds.
On Saturday, Del Rosario said he did not abuse his diplomatic passport.
The President and the foreign secretary, he said, may grant diplomatic passports to government officials other than diplomats, and that it was a matter of tradition for former foreign secretaries and former ambassadors to be granted diplomatic passports.
“A diplomatic passport must be revalidated by the DFA before each trip,” he said, adding that he submitted his passport for revalidation weeks before his trip to Hong Kong.
“Apart from revalidating [the passport], I contacted the office of the [DFA] Secretary [Teodoro Locsin Jr.] to inform his office that I will be travelling for a business trip using a diplomatic passport,” he said.
The Philippine consulate in Hong Kong also informed Hong Kong authorities about his trip using a diplomatic passport, he added.
“I followed all the rules,” Del Rosario said. “I’m wondering whether this is a knee-jerk reaction to get back at us for our position [on China].”
Sotto: China reason valid
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Saturday said the Chinese government had valid reasons to bar Del Rosario from entering Hong Kong.
“[The Chinese government] did not allow [Del Rosario] entry, what’s harassment there? You gave them reasons to harass you, why do you now go to the house of your enemy?” Sotto said in a radio interview.
Hong Kong immigration authorities also held Morales for several hours at the international airport at Chek Lap Kok before eventually allowing her entry. She chose to return to Manila instead.
According to Sotto, it was obvious that Del Rosario was denied entry because of the case that he and Morales filed against Xi and other Chinese officials in the ICC.
In the case, the two former officials in the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III accused Xi and the others of crimes against humanity for their “atrocious actions” against Filipino fishermen in the South China Sea.
“I will be surprised if anyone would still think otherwise; only that some people are giving it a different twist,” Sotto said.
The Chinese government’s response was short of a retaliation, he said: “You don’t like me; I don’t like you.”
Tread carefully, read law
The Senate President cautioned Del Rosario’s supporters against calling for the government to come to the former secretary’s defense.
“They should tread carefully and read the law because they might be embarrassed, especially over claims that the passport is not valid,” Sotto said.
He cited Republic Act No. 8239, which limits the grant of diplomatic passports to former Presidents and Vice Presidents, and excludes former members of the Cabinet.
Del Rosario was to attend a meeting on Friday of the board of the Hong Kong-based conglomerate First Pacific Co. Ltd. where he sits as a nonexecutive director.
Its subsidiaries include PLDT and Philex Mining Corp. in the Philippines, Indofood in Indonesia, Singapore’s PacificLight, and Goodman Fielder in Australia.
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