MANILA, Philippines — Former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales was held at the Hong Kong airport on Tuesday for “immigration reason,” in what her supporters believe was in retaliation for her suing Chinese President Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for environmental crimes in the South China Sea.
Hong Kong airport officials said the refusal of her entry was an “instruction” from a source they did not identify.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted that Morales’ companions – her husband, daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren – were allowed entry, adding, “CLASS! I can see her sneer. She’s in high spirits and in a wheelchair in a detention room at the airport.”
Morales and her family were allowed to enter Hong Kong four hours later, but they decided to just return to the Philippines. Their plane arrived in Manila at 8:57 last night.
She told journalists at the NAIA Terminal 2 that no reason was given to her by Hong Kong authorities for her four-hour detention.
In March, former foreign affairs chief Albert del Rosario, Morales, and a group of Filipino fishermen filed a complaint with the ICC seeking to hold Xi and other Beijing officials liable for China’s destructive activities in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.
“One of the reasons we had filed our case in the ICC is to be able to push back against the bullying and harassment that we have been encountering from our Goliath of a neighbor,” Del Rosario said in a statement yesterday.
He added, “Today, with the holding of former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales by immigration authorities in Hong Kong as a security presumably due to the ICC case that we had filed, we are experiencing more of the same.”
Senator Francis Pangilinan also denounced Hong Kong’s treatment of Carpio, saying it was “clearly in retaliation for her courageous act of bringing China to court.”
“Knowing the former ombudsman, this will not deter her from pursuing the case and as such the act of deporting her will only further strengthen her resolve,” Pangilinan said in a statement.
He said the incident also exposed China’s resolve to go after those “who oppose and refuse to accept their illegal acts committed in the West Philippine Sea.”
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno called Hong Kong airport authorities’ action “deplorable” and “totally without basis.”
Diokno said Carpio’s filing of a case against China before the ICC “does not make her a security risk.”
“One is not a security risk just because she is exercising her right, under international law, to seek relief from an international court,” he said.
Del Rosario said they are grateful, nonetheless, to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for its efforts to help the former ombudsman.
Morales, in a text message to her public relations consultant Alma Tuason, said she arrived at Hong Kong airport past 11 a.m. together with her husband Eugenio, their son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, and was held by immigration authorities.
“Di ako pinayagan ng Immig na papasok sa HK. Pinapasakay ako sa 6 p.m. PAL flt. (I was barred by Immigration from entering HK. I was told to board a 6 p.m. PAL [Philippine Airlines] flight),” Morales’ text message read.
Morales said the Chinese authorities merely cited “immigration reason” for denying her entry to Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.
Morales said her family decided to cancel their Hong Kong trip and join her in the flight back to Manila.
Lawyer Anna Marie Corominas said she was able to briefly talk to Morales over the phone shortly after the latter was held by immigration personnel.
“I received a call from her at about 1 p.m. She (Morales) was in a holding area and was not allowed to speak with her family,” Corominas said. She said the former ombudsman was held for four to six hours while her return flight to Manila was being arranged.
“The question that needs to be asked is – how is a 78-year-old former anti-corruption ombudsman and former justice of the Philippine Supreme Court a ‘security threat’ or risk in HK-China,” Corominas said in a text message.
Help from DFA
In the absence of Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. who is in Myanmar, undersecretary for strategic communications and research Ernesto Abella led efforts to assist Morales.
“I already called up Usec. Abella as Sec. Locsin is in Myanmar on an official mission, and requested him to give assistance to former ombudsman Morales and her family. He already replied and said they are already on it,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters.
He said that while the Philippines will defer to Chinese laws, the former ombudsman is assured of government assistance regardless of her political persuasion.
“We will defer to the immigration laws and rules of other countries much as we expect foreign nations to respect our country’s internal rules,” he pointed out.
“We asked the Department of Foreign Affairs, through our consulate general in Hong Kong, to render full assistance to the former ombudswoman and her family for their safe and secure return to the Philippines,” Panelo said.
“The same government assistance shall be given to each and every Filipino in distress abroad, and this is regardless of political persuasion or affinity,” he added.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also said there’s not much the government could do to help Morales.
“Regardless of the reason, we may not question the action taken by Chinese immigration officials, as the entry of foreigners or the refusal thereof is the exclusive and sovereign prerogative of any country,” he said in a text message.
Guevarra believed that Morales was rejected entry by Chinese government because of the complaint she filed against Xi before the ICC.
“I can’t find any reason for this incident except former ombudsman Morales’ filing of a complaint against China’s President Xi before the International Criminal Court,” he said.
With President Duterte’s unabashed appeasement of China, the ICC complaint of Morales and Del Rosario has not found support from the government.
It was not clear yet if Abella had briefed the President regarding Morales’ experience at the Hong Kong airport.
In the ICC complaint, Del Rosario said they were accusing Xi of “directly” causing Filipinos much hardship. The complaint stated that Chinese building of artificial islands, poaching of fish and aquatic resources, bullying of Filipino fishermen were tantamount to crimes against humanity.
Also named in the complaint aside from Xi were Chinese state councilor and foreign minister Wang Yi and Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua. (The Philippine Star)