Palace thumbs down calls for actions vs Hong Kong

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

MANILA -- Malacanang on Thursday rejected call by some lawmakers for retaliatory actions against Hong Kong for imposing sanction against the Philippines after its failure to issue a public apology over the 2010 Manila hostage crisis.

In the regular press briefing, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said suggestions to retaliate for Hong Kong's revocation of visa-free privileges for holders of official Philippine passports may be counter-productive.

"Sa anumang sitwasyon na may pagkakaiba ng pananaw, ano ba ang magpapalapit sa posisyon, ano ba ang option na dapat tahakin para madagdagan imbis na mabawasan ang pagtitiwala at pagkakaunawaan? (Ang) retaliatory options, kabahagi ba sila ng magpapalapit sa pagkakaunawaan o papalayo doon?" he said.

"Ang focus ay sa hakbang na makapagpalapit sa pagkaroon ng pagkaunawaan at pagkalinga sa mga affected families. 'Yan ang primary concern natin," he added.

Quezon City Representative Winston Castelo earlier urged the Aquino administration to revoke the visa-free entry being given by the Philippines to Hong Kong officials.

Castelo, an administration ally, said that the country must not stand for bullying act being imposed by the officials of the Chinese province.

Coloma explained, however, that both sides are still continuing to engage each other through "continuing dialogues and conversations that hopefully would lead to achieving mutually satisfactory results and closure."

"All I can say is that we are purposively pursuing avenues for the possible attainment of closure on this matter. Our focus is on being able to provide direct support to the affected families, which is part of the framework for reaching and understanding," he said.

In the meantime, the official said that in the face of all recent developments, the Philippine government "remains determined" to pursue the attainment of a mutual agreement.

Such a path will be the "most beneficial for our people especially Filipinos working and residing in Hong Kong," he added.

Coloma also reassured Filipinos in Hong Kong the government is prepared to help them and ensure their rights, including those of ease of travel and employment opportunities.

"Kaya sinasabi natin naghahanda naman ang ating pamahalaan ng karampatang hakbang para tiyakin ang kapakanan ng ating mamamayan ay mapangalagaan," he said, adding that the government could not control the actions of external parties.

"We can only control our response to these issues," he said.

A lawmaker meanwhile said that China is possibly exploiting the Hong Kong-Manila feud as a pressure point in response to the repulsive behavior of the Philippine government in taking the rising Asian superpower's nine-dash claim to the international tribunal.

Valenzuela City Representative Sherwin Gatchalian said Beijing is likely "fanning" the situation between Manila and the former British colony instead of pacifying the growing tension that escalate and affect the financial and tourism industries of the two governments.

Starting February 5, Filipino government officials and diplomatic passport holders are required to get visa before they could enter Hong Kong. The Chinese administrative region imposed the sanction for the Aquino administration's refusal to issue a public apology on the death of eight Hong Kong tourists during an attempt to rescue them during the August 2010 hostage crisis in Manila.

"There must be something more to the Hong Kong visa sanction. Expect tougher immigration and trade restrictions in the months to come," Gatchalian warned.

The country next month is set to submit to the UN Arbitral Tribunal a formal statement regarding China's self-ruling claim of territories in the South China Sea including sections, which have been declared part of the Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea.

China has opposed the Philippine government's plan to elevate the long-standing territorial dispute under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, describing the move as "unacceptable and legally weak."

Gatchalian, said the "first phase of sanctions" is only a sneak peek of things to come and may be extended to cover Filipino tourists and contract workers, and commerce.

"Instead of provoking Hong Kong, the Chinese government should help in achieving a mutually acceptable resolution and settlement to the Luneta incident, and help restore political normalcy," he said.

He believed that the next phase of sanctions Hong Kong plans enforce is to halt in the processing of new applications for Filipino household service workers in April 2014 as part of its amendments to immigration ordinance.

Gatchalian pointed out that should the Hong Kong government take a tougher stance to penalize the Philippines, changes in immigration policies are likely to affect more than 800,000 Filipino tourists yearly.

He also include in the worst case scenario the approximately 15,000 permanent residents, and 160,000 domestic helpers who could directly serve more than 200,000 local families dependent on household services. (SDR/John Carlo Cahinhinan/Sunnex)

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