Del Rosario’s diplomatic passport in Hong Kong barring: A non-issue issue

June 25, 2019 - 12:14 PM
Hong Kong Immigration
An undated photo showing an immigration counter in Hong Kong. Authorities denied the entry of diplomatic passport holder Albert del Rosario, a former top diplomat of the Philippines, to Hong Kong on Friday, June 21, 2019. (HK immigration photo)

There are serious concerns about the government’s plan to cancel courtesy diplomatic passports following Hong Kong’s denial of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario‘s entry.

The Department of Foreign Affairs recently announced that it would revoke all of the same types of passports issued to previous foreign affairs chiefs and envoys, including Del Rosario.

Vice President Leni Robredo argued that the department should have issued the order a long time ago if the governing body has issues with it.

“Eh kung talagang hindi dapat iyon ginagamit ng mga dating opisyal ng DFA, dapat noong natapos ‘yung termino, obligasyon ng DFA na i-cancel na. Bakit ngayon lang?” she said in her weekly radio show “Biserbisyong Leni.”

She added that it appeared as if the cancellation was the department’s “knee-jerk reaction” to Del Rosario’s situation, considering he was involved in a communication filed at the International Criminal Court against China.

Del Rosario’s trip, passport had clearance 

Del Rosario pointed out that the foreign affairs department, the sole agency authorized to issue passports, revalidated his courtesy diplomatic passport and informed current DFA chief Teodoro Locsin Jr‘s office about it.

“I submitted for revalidation, as usual, I got the approval because they know that I go to Hong Kong regularly for the board meetings there,” he said in an interview.

“In addition to submitting myself to revalidation, I separately called the office of the Secretary of the DFA and I said that I was traveling to Hong Kong on a business trip and I didn’t want to suffer the same fate as Ombudswoman Morales,” Del Rosario added.

The DFA was supposed to inform the Philippine Consul General in Hong Kong of the former top diplomat’s trip, who will then inform the Hong Kong’s immigration office of his arrival through a letter.

“But apparently, nobody even knew where that letter was or whether they have received it,” the former top diplomat said in another interview.

Del Rosario is a holder of a blue diplomatic passport. Others with such privilege are high-ranking government officials such as the president, vice president, the senate president, speaker of the house of representatives, chief justice, cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, members of the Congress, the central bank governor and officials’ spouses and unmarried minor children.

Other individuals can be granted such a passport under orders of the president and the Foreign Affairs secretary.

Albert del Rosario
Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario. (Interaksyon/Bernard Testa/File photo)

Diplomatic passports are also subjected to revalidation before the holder is allowed to leave the country, according to the Philippine Passport Act of 1996.

While Del Rosario’s passport was revalidated by the department, the agency nevertheless announced it would cancel all of the courtesy diplomatic passports issued to former diplomats.

Locsin even pointed out that former diplomats are entitled under law to hold such passports. Some Filipinos similarly questioned the plan to revoke them.

Retired diplomat Rafael Seguis, who served at the DFA for more than 50 years, also responded to Del Rosario’s critics.

Del Rosario’s diplomatic pass: A privilege with basis

Locsin stated that former envoys are granted the privilege to have courtesy diplomatic passports under Department Order No. 12-1993 of the Foreign Affairs Department in ex-DFA Chief Perfecto Yasay Jr’s term.

Del Rosario was issued one in December 2016 with validity of up to December 2021.

He served as the country’s top diplomat during former President Benigno Aquino III’s term and is credited for being behind the Philippines’ legal victory over China whose expansive claims over the South China Sea are invalidated by an international tribunal.

The DFA confirmed that it has revalidated Del Rosario’s diplomatic passport on June 18, 2019 under “Section 14 of the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 and in accordance with existing regulations, for a business trip to Hong Kong.”

The courtesy diplomatic passport, according to Del Rosario, gets him through “immigration lines” and provides him “port courtesy.”

“All the time, when I arrive, the local consulate provides me an escorting facility so I can go through the immigration faster,” he admitted.

Denial of entry as ‘disrespect’ 

The former top diplomat also shared that Hong Kong’s denial of his passport was a “disrespectful” act of the special administrative region of China toward the Philippines.

“I went to Hong Kong with a diplomatic passport, was held for six hours, denied entry, and then summarily deported. What is the significance of the aforementioned?” Del Rosario said.

“My diplomatic passport carries the seal of the Republic of the Philippines. To show disrespect for the passport bearer is to disrespect the Republic,” he continued.

Last May, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales was also denied entry to the same country, albeit temporarily.

Both Morales and Del Rosario previously lodged a complaint at the International Criminal Court against Chinese President Xi Jinping for alleged crimes against humanity in the West Philippine Sea.

They called it a “most massive, near permanent and devastating destruction of the environment in humanity’s history” that has significantly affected “myriad groups of vulnerable fishermen.”

China has been aggressively building artificial islands and beefing up its maritime militia in the resource-rich South China Sea which is an important trade route.

Earlier this month, a Chinese fishing vessel rammed a Filipino boat that endangered the lives of 22 crewmen. Experts believe the deed was “deliberate” and recalled how a similar action was done against a Vietnamese fishing vessel.