'So be it': Del Rosario says won't challenge DFA plan to cancel courtesy diplomatic passports

Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 22 2019 07:03 PM | Updated as of Jun 22 2019 07:05 PM

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario shows his passport as he arrives at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport after being denied entry to Hong Kong, June 21, 2019. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Ex-top diplomat has regular passport

MANILA - Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Saturday said he would not challenge the Department of Foreign Affairs' (DFA) plan to cancel all courtesy diplomatic passports.

This as he asserted he did not misuse his diplomatic passport- one issued him in 2016 as privilege accorded a former DFA chief- when he flew to Hong Kong Friday for a business trip.

The 79-year-old former official, a staunch critic of Chinese incursions in the disputed South China Sea, was denied entry to the special administrative territory of China and sent back to Manila.

"If that’s what they want to do, so be it," Del Rosario told ABS-CBN News.

"It becomes no good once they refuse to revalidate," he added, referring to the required procedure for diplomatic passport holders prior to every trip.

Asked if he has a regular passport, Del Rosario said: "I have a regular passport… It’s relatively new."

Del Rosario did not give a direct response when asked if he took offense that an office he once headed had taken such step.

"Well, I have no comment... if that’s what they want to do, but my comment is I think that... I was saddened by some suggestions that I was misusing my diplomatic passport. It’s not true."

"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," he said.

The DFA on Saturday said it would cancel all courtesy diplomatic passports and would stop issuing such special travel document to former DFA chiefs and envoys.

Diplomatic passports are given high-ranking government officials- the President, Vice President, members of Congress, Cabinet members, the Chief Justice, and the central bank governor, among others- for ease in travel on official missions.

Bearers are granted visa-free entry for a certain period of time in states where Filipinos with regular passports would require such travel clearance.

Del Rosario said it had become "a matter of tradition for former DFA secretaries to be issued a diplomatic passport... this was extended to former ambassadors."

Still, Del Rosario said, he was conferring with lawyers to study DFA documents related to the issuance of courtesy diplomatic passports and the Hong Kong immigration incident.

"So we are studying the matter further and we may have additional comments when we complete [this]. We have to look at some records," he said.

He cited that the DFA had been issuing courtesy diplomatic passports through a department order and that the foreign office may have to "reverse this" to officially put an end to the practice.

"I think they may have a little bit of a problem because the courtesy has been extended to the past presidents," Del Rosario said.

"We’re studying this further… with the end goal of trying to understand why this is being done," he said.

DEL ROSARIO WANTED TO AVOID MORALES' HK EXPERIENCE

Del Rosario said he had traveled several times to Hong Kong for business using his diplomatic passport and encountered no problem.

He said that other than getting his diplomatic passport revalidated, as required, he spoke to the chief of staff of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. prior to his trip for a headsup.

The DFA then relayed this to the Philippine Consul General in Hong Kong, who then informed the city's immigration office of his arrival.

Del Rosario said he wanted to avoid the immigration problem that former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales went through in May, when she was initially barred from entering Hong Kong while on a vacation trip with her family.

Morales was later cleared but just decided to go back home.

"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," he said.

The two former senior government officials, along with a group of Filipino fishermen, had filed a communication against China's President Xi Jinping for alleged crimes against humanity over Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

Del Rosario ended up suffering worse fate in the hands of Hong Kong immigration authorities on Friday, as he was deported to Manila.