Standing up for a citizen
We leave it to former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te to sum up the situation regarding Hong Kong’s refusal of entry to former ombudsman and Supreme Court justice Conchita Carpio Morales.
“(She) commands no armies and musters no troops, denied entry into HK for being a ‘security risk.’ To whom she is a risk is unclear,” said Te on Twitter.
Maybe Morales, 78, presents a risk to Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and other denizens of Hong Kong Disneyland, which was her ultimate destination because she had promised her fatherless grandchildren a visit to that amusement park. Or maybe the Chinese government (even if Hong Kong is supposedly autonomous) felt that, by filing suit against it at the International Criminal Court (ICC) together with former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Morales has become a sworn enemy of our giant neighbor, never to sully its territory with her presence.
The suit before the ICC accuses the Chinese government of committing alleged “crimes against humanity.” In particular, the former officials said China was in the process of carrying out a “systematic plan to control the South China Sea.”
Indeed, around the time Morales was briefly in Hong Kong, disturbing developments were playing out in the contested waters of the South China Sea.
New satellite images from an international research initiative monitoring activities in the South China Sea show that Chinese clam harvesting fleets are back in Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal and nearby areas. The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative-Center for Strategic and International Studies described the clam harvesting fleets as China’s “most destructive boats,” adding: “These fleets, which typically include dozens of small fishing vessels accompanied by a handful of larger ‘motherships,’ destroy vast swaths of coral reef in order to extract endangered giant clams.”
“The reef was already extensively damaged by the earlier phase of clam harvesting up to 2016,” said the research body, “but imagery from December 2018 reveals the return of a large number of clam boats.”
This is certainly alarming, as it threatens not just the fragile existence of the giant clams, known as “taklobo” in local parlance, but also the integrity of the coral reefs themselves. This, in turn, threatens the food supply of the Philippines and its neighbors, since the chain of reefs is considered the “nursery” of the region’s sea life.
This is precisely the core of the legal arguments raised by Morales and Del Rosario in their ICC suit. The incursions of Chinese fleets, at times even accompanied by Chinese Navy vessels, present a dire threat not just to sea life in the area, but also to the livelihood of Filipino fisher folk as well as the food security of our population.
What has the government done to control if not ban entirely the presence of Chinese vessels in our territorial waters? Aside from issuing verbal warnings and wringing hands at international meetings, Philippine officials have done little to confront China over this clear and present danger.
Contrast such inaction to the harsh welcome with which Hong Kong authorities greeted Morales and her family. Although there is no disputing the right of any country to control who they will allow into their territory, the lack of a clear and cogent explanation for the four-hour detention of Morales leads to suspicions that it was a form of harassment, intimidation and petty revenge.
Though she has since “vowed” never to visit Hong Kong again, Morales has found allies in both the Philippine and Hong Kong governments. Opposition Senators Bam Aquino and Risa Hontiveros have called on officials to “throw (their) full support” behind the former Ombudsman. “I hope we see our government side with a fellow Filipino and not with a foreign government,” said Aquino. In Hong Kong, legislator Ted Hui Chi-fung aired his suspicions that “political reasons rather than security reasons were considered.” Referring to the case before ICC, the Hong Kong lawmaker asserted that “the Hong Kong government has no legal basis to consider the court case that has nothing to do with Hong Kong.”
And from the President’s end? Silence.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.