MANILA

Ex-DFA chief says he's being held at Hong Kong airport

MANILA. In this March 22, 2019, file photo, former Philippine Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario answers questions from the media during a news conference with former chief anti-graft prosecutor Conchita Carpio-Morales in Makati City. (AP)

MANILA -- Former Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario who accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of crimes against humanity in court said Friday, June 21, he was barred from immediately entering Hong Kong and held at the airport for unclear reasons.

Del Rosario told The Associated Press by telephone that he flew to Hong Kong on Friday for a business meeting but was blocked by immigration officers from entering. He said he was later brought and held in a small airport immigration lounge.

Immigration personnel told him an unspecified "case" they could not specify was the reason why he was not allowed to enter the territory immediately. At the time he talked with The AP by cellphone, he said he has already been held for two hours.

"I keep reminding them that I'm traveling on a diplomatic passport and according to the Vienna Convention, they have no right to hold me," Del Rosario said, referring to the international treaty that specifies the privileges of diplomats to carry out their work without fear of coercion by a host country.

Del Rosario said he was told he would be moved to another airport area shortly to have a discussion with an immigration official.

Last May, former Philippine Supreme Court Justice and top anti-graft prosecutor Conchita Carpio-Morales said she was also barred for about four hours from entering Hong Kong for a vacation with her family and ordered to take a flight back to Manila.

Hong Kong airport and immigration officials later told her "there was a mistake" and that she could proceed with her trip to Hong Kong, but she and her family had already decided to return home because of the incident, she said at the time.

Del Rosario and Carpio-Morales took the bold step of filing a complaint before the International Criminal Court against Xi and other Chinese officials over Beijing's assertive actions in the disputed South China Sea, which they say deprived thousands of fishermen of their livelihoods and destroyed the environment.

They accused Xi and other Chinese officials of turning seven disputed reefs into man-made islands, causing extensive environmental damage, and of blocking large numbers of fishermen, including about 320,00 Filipinos, from their fishing grounds.

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua to Manila then called the complaint a "fabrication." Chinese officials also raised their concern over the complaint in a meeting with Philippine officials in Manila in April, saying the case is "affecting the prestige of our leader," a Philippine official told the AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

When del Rosario was Philippine foreign secretary, he also spearheaded the filing of an arbitration case to challenge the legal basis of China's sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea on historical grounds. The Philippine move was sparked by a standoff between Filipino and Chinese ships in 2013 in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, which Beijing later effectively seized.

An international arbitration panel invalidated China's territorial claims in a 2016 ruling and upheld the Philippines' right to exploit marine resources, including potential undersea oil and gas deposits, in its exclusive economic zone, a stretch of coastal waters. China has ignored and defied the arbitration decision.

The legal offensive against China contrasted with President Rodrigo Duterte's rapprochement with Beijing since he took office in mid-2016 while often criticizing the security policies of the United States, a treaty ally.

Del Rosario has said that he and Carpio-Morales filed the complaint against Xi and other Chinese officials "to be able to push back against the bullying and harassment that we have been encountering from our goliath of a neighbor." (AP)


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