Del Rosario says canceling courtesy diplomatic passports unlawful
MANILA, Philippines – Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Monday pointed out that revoking courtesy diplomatic passports of former foreign affairs secretaries and diplomats is “illegal and “unlawful.”
Del Rosario issued the statement after the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) moved to issue an order canceling all courtesy diplomatic passports several days after the former DFA chief, using a Philippine diplomatic passport, was barred from entering Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.
“A department order such as has been issued is illegal. It cannot supersede the [Philippine] Passport Act which has to go through Congress for approval,” Del Rosario said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.
“What has been done is unlawful and it has no effect because it is in contradiction with the [Philippine] Passport Act,” he added.
The country’s former top diplomat also said that the Philippine Passport Act should be revisited.
“I think that the public officials who have been responsible for this withdrawal of the privileges given to carrying a diplomatic passport for former ambassadors, for example, they should revisit the Passport Act,” he said.
“The [Philippine] Passport Act provides for former AEPs (Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary).they had been granted the privileges of a diplomatic passport, this is a part of the [Philippine] Passport Act and it constitutes the law of the land,” he added.
The DFA earlier said the Office of Consular Affairs (OCA) “will be issuing an order shortly, canceling all courtesy diplomatic passports, and requiring their surrender for physical cancellation.”
Several government officials questioned Del Rosario’s use of diplomatic passport given that he is no longer a government official.
‘Official use only’
Running counter with Del Rosario’s claim, Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said that under the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 issuance of a diplomatic passport does not include former cabinet secretaries.
Under the law, the diplomatic passport may be used for “official missions or official travel.”
The DFA said Del Rosario received his diplomatic passport in December 2016 as approved by then Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay by virtue of Department Order No. 12-1993.
Del Rosario’s diplomatic passport is valid until December 19, 2021, the DFA added.
“On 18 June 2019, the DFA Office of Consular Affairs (OCA)- Diplomatic and Official Passport Section (DOPS) revalidated former SFA Del Rosario’s diplomatic passport, as provided by Section 14 of the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 and in accordance with existing regulations, for a business trip to Hong Kong,” the DFA said in a statement over the weekend.
‘Courtesy, not immunity’
“Since the issuance of the 1993 Department Order, diplomatic passports have been issued to former DFA secretaries as well as ambassadors as a matter of courtesy, not to confer them with diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, but only to accord them the usual port courtesies at immigration points abroad,” the department added.
Del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales filed a communication against Chinese President Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court in March in connection with China’s activities within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.
Morales was likewise stopped at the Hong Kong airport on May 21, 2019.
“The honorable ombudswoman nor I haven’t had any problems with Hong Kong immigration in the past. Until we filed that case,” Del Rosario told reporters when he arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Friday afternoon. /gsg
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