Hong Kong curbs PH’s visa-free privilege

Paterno Esmaquel II
Hong Kong limits the visa-free privilege after it got a 'negative message' from the Philippines over the 2010 hostage crisis

STILL WAITING. In this 2011 file photo, relatives of the 8 dead Hong Kong nationals attend a ceremony at the Quirino grandstand, the site of the hostage-taking tragedy. File photo by EPA/Dennis M Sabangan

MANILA, Philippines – Starting next Wednesday, February 5, Philippine officials and diplomats will have to apply for visas to visit Hong Kong after China’s special administrative region sanctioned the Philippines over a 2010 hostage crisis.

Hong Kong announced this “first phase of sanctions” on Wednesday, January 29.

Hong Kong decided to cancel the 14-day visa-free status for official and diplomatic Filipino passport holders after the Philippines refused to apologize to the hostage-taking victims.

In a media conference, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said his government got a “negative message” from the Philippines on Monday, January 27, regarding the apology that Hong Kong demanded.

He said Hong Kong and Philippine officials discussed the matter on Tuesday, January 28, but their talks “bore no fruit,” according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

“The Philippine side is still unable to meet the demand of the victims and the families for a formal apology despite many rounds of discussions,” Leung said. “The response is unacceptable.”

Hong Kong lawmaker James To, who also represents families of the victims, said it was the first time the city had imposed sanctions on a foreign country.

“It sent a very clear message that the government is very determined to fight for justice for Hong Kong people,” To told reporters.

In November 2013, Hong Kong’s leader had threatened sanctions against the Philippines over the hostage crisis that killed 8 Hong Kong tourists. (READ: HK to PH: Take ‘concrete steps’ or face sanctions)

Leung had given the Philippines a month-long deadline.

OFW hub at stake

President Benigno Aquino III, on the other hand, has repeatedly refused to apologize. He explained that the hostage-taking incident was the “act of one individual,” who was “probably mentally unstable.” (READ: DFA on Erap’s HK apology: Aquino’s stand prevails)

At stake is the Philippines’ relationship with one of its economic drivers.

Hong Kong, China’s special administrative region, is a top destination of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Citing Philippine statistics, the International Organization for Migration says Hong Kong and China attract the 4th highest number of OFWs.

Up to 7.9% of OFWs go to Hong Kong and China.

The IOM adds that Hong Kong is the Philippines’ 10th highest source of remittances.

Up to $367,864,000 (P15.8 billion) in remittances in 2011 came from Hong Kong, the IOM says. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.