Panelo says Del Rosario shouldn’t have gone to Hong Kong

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 21) — Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, who has been barred entry from Hong Kong, should not have headed to the semi-autonomous Chinese region, especially after former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales also got the same treatment a month ago.

“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.

On May 21, Morales was also held at the Hong Kong airport when she arrived for a vacation with her family. She was eventually allowed entry, but opted to fly back to Manila.

Del Rosario and Morales believe that their being held is connected to the complaint they lodged against Chinese President Xi Jinping and two other Chinese officials before the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in connection with Beijing’s infractions in the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines.

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

But Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who has been appointed as the officer in charge of the government while President Rodrigo Duterte is in Thailand for the ASEAN Summit, said Morales’ ordeal 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.

Panelo also asked if Del Rosario deliberately went to Hong Kong to promote his advocacy.

“Why does he have to go there? That’s my question to him. Is this deliberate on his part so that you would have the same situation where he can use it as a forum for his advocacy?” Panelo said.

For Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, it is best for critics of Xi to just travel elsewhere.

"Kinakasuhan mo president namin tapos pupunta ka dito," Sotto told reporters. "Ang messaging noon, pumunta ka sa Singapore o sa Japan. 'Wag ka pumunta sa China. May atraso ka sa China. Ayaw nila 'yung ginawa mo."

[Translation: You sued our president and now you're coming here ... The messaging there is go to Singapore or Japan. Don't go to China. You offended China. They don't like what you're doing.]

Del Rosario is in Hong Kong for a board and shareholders meeting of investment management and holding firm First Pacific Company Ltd., where he has been a non-executive director since June 2016. He had already missed the meeting.

Anne Marie Corominas, a lawyer for Del Rosario, also told Balitaan that Del Rosario, who holds a diplomatic passport, had informed the Philippine government that he would be travelling to Hong Kong.

“Our consulate even informed the Hong Kong authorities that he would be travelling there today. If there had been an issue, we should've known it before,” Corominas said.

But Panelo said it is also Del Rosario’s fault if he is clueless about Hong Kong’s objection to his travel as he did not follow up if he would be allowed to enter.

He added that a diplomatic passport is irrelevant in cases where countries deem its holder to be a security risk.

Sotto, meanwhile, questioned Del Rosario's use of a diplomatic passport, saying that he is no longer a Philippine government official and was not in Hong Kong for an official business related to the government.

"Bakit ka ba binibigyan ng diplomatic passport, mayroon ka naman regular? Kasi official ka, so opisyal lakad mo. Kung 'di ka na official ... bakit meron ka pa diplomatic passport?" Sotto said.

[Translation: Why are you still being given a diplomatic passport, when you have a regular one? Because you are an official, you are on an official business trip. If you are no longer an official ... why do you still have a diplomatic passport?]

Del Rosario said he still has not been informed why he was held by the Hong Kong authorities.

Corominas has prodded the Philippines to lodge a diplomatic protest over the treatment of the former Foreign Affairs chief, saying that Hong Kong possibly violated its treaty obligations under the Vienna Convention.

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.”

Panelo, echoing his statement when Morales was barred from entering Hong Kong, said that the Philippines could not question Hong Kong’s treatment of Del Rosario.

“We cannot question the authority, the right of a country to stop or to investigate any guest or visitor wanting to enter that particular country,” he said.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.