MANILA -- Hong Kong immigration authorities on Friday detained at the airport then sent home a former Philippine foreign minister who sued Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Albert del Rosario, foreign minister under President Benigno Aquino, was returned to the Philippines after immigration officers held him for several hours at Hong Kong's airport. He had flown there to attend a board meeting of First Pacific Company Ltd.
Tensions are running high in Hong Kong, as residents are holding mass protests against a controversial bill that would allow the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China.
Hong Kong's refusal to allow del Rosario into its territory marks the second time the city has denied entry to a former senior Philippine official. Former Supreme Court justice and ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales was also barred last month.
Morales and Del Rosario have both brought cases against Xi before the International Criminal Court over crimes against humanity for the "massive" environmental damage brought by island building activities in the South China Sea.
Del Rosario told the Nikkei Asian Review he was denied entry without reason, accusing Hong Kong of violating the Vienna Convention that defines the diplomatic relations between countries.
"[It] looks clearly like harassment," Del Rosario said in a mobile phone message.
Del Rosario's lawyer, Anne Marie Corominas, said Hong Kong only cited "immigration reasons" for denying the former foreign secretary's entry into the city. She said Hong Kong authorities refused to recognize the diplomatic passport issued to Del Rosario.
"It is an affront to the Philippine government. He has diplomatic status," Coromina said, adding almost all countries respect travel documents of other nations.
"This is how international relations remain stable. In this situation, something else came along," she said.
"The Immigration Department (ImmD) does not comment on individual cases," a spokesperson for Hong Kong's immigration authorities said in an email. "In handling each immigration case, the ImmD will, having regard to the circumstances pertaining to each individual case, decide whether the entry will be allowed or refused in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong and prevailing immigration policies."
Del Rosario traveled to Hong Kong on Friday morning to attend a board meeting of First Pacific. of which he is a director. First Pacific has units in the Philippines such as leading telecom company PLDT, infrastructure conglomerate Metro Pacific Investments and gold miner Philex Mining.