Del Rosario asserts 'no misuse' of diplomatic passport
MANILA (UPDATE) - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Saturday said it would soon cancel all diplomatic passports given to former foreign affairs chiefs and Philippine envoys, and halt the courtesy issuance.
This followed the deportation of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario from Hong Kong on Friday, where he had used his diplomatic passport.
"The DFA Office of Consular Affairs (OCA) will be issuing an order shortly, cancelling all courtesy diplomatic passports, and requiring their surrender for physical cancellation," said Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Emmanuel Fernandez of the DFA's Office of Diplomatic Affairs in a statement.
"The practice of issuing courtesy diplomatic passports to former DFA Secretaries and ambassadors shall henceforth be discontinued," he said.
Del Rosario, the country's top diplomat during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III, had flown to Hong Kong for a business meeting on Friday but was barred entry for unspecified immigration reasons.
The 79-year-old former official was held by immigration authorities for at least five hours before he was sent back to Manila.
He decried his barring from the Chinese territory as a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which requires states to grant entry to diplomatic agents.
Malacañang on Friday said Del Rosario may have "misused" his diplomatic passport for a private trip.
In an interview Saturday afternoon, Del Rosario said he would comply but asserted he did not misuse his diplomatic passport.
"The purpose of the trip was clear that it was for business. So there was no misuse of my diplomatic passport. I declared what I was going to do there," Del Rosario told ABS-CBN News.
He said he complied with the required revalidation of his passport before his flight, as he had many times before.
Del Rosario is a known critic of Chinese incursions in the disputed South China Sea and was top diplomat when the Philippines lodged an arbitration case against China in 2013, which the country won in July 2016.
In March, he along with former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and a group of fishermen filed a communication before the International Criminal Court accusing Chinese President Xi Jinping of crimes against humanity for Chinese incursions in the disputed waters.
Morales had a similar experience in Hong Kong last month, when she was initially barred entry while traveling there for a family vacation and was cleared hours later. She, however, decided to fly back home.
Del Rosario said he was aware of the possibility of suffering the same fate before his flight and decided to reach out to the office of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. about his Hong Kong trip.
"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," said Del Rosario, adding that he spoke to Locsin's chief of staff.
COURTESY DIPLOMATIC PASSPORTS ISSUED SINCE 1993
Fernandez said Del Rosario's passport was issued on Dec. 20, 2016. This was nearly 9 months since he stepped down from his post as DFA chief in March of the same year.
His current passport was approved by then Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. and was supposed to be valid until Dec. 19, 2021.
Fernandez said the DFA OCA "revalidated" Del Rosario's diplomatic passport on June 18 for his Hong Kong trip.
The DFA has been issuing courtesy diplomatic passports to former DFA secretaries and ambassadors since the issuance of a 1993 department order.
But, said Hernandez, this is only "to accord them the usual port courtesies at immigration points abroad" and "not to confer them with diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention."
According to the DFA website, diplomatic passports are given to the country's highest ranking officials, including the President, Vice President, senators and members of the House of Representatives, diplomats, the Chief Justice, cabinet secretaries and undersecretaries, and the central bank governor.
Spouses and unmarried children of these officials are also granted diplomatic passports when joining them on official missions overseas.
The same special passport is also issued to "delegates to international or regional conferences as authorized by the President to undertake diplomatic missions for the Philippine Government and accorded full power."
Those issued diplomatic passports get visa-free privilege for a certain period of time in some countries where holders of regular passports would require such travel document.