Beijing is right to take up Hong Kong’s drug case in Philippines
- The central government vowed to protect all Chinese abroad in the wake of the detention of a top Huawei official. It now has to do so for the four men jailed for life by Manila
Beijing says it will protect the human rights of all Chinese citizens aboard. That was in response to the arrest in Canada of telecoms giant Huawei No 2 Sabrina Meng Wanzhou for possible extradition to the United States. But Meng is among the biggest of the big cheese in China. Now we will see if the central government will show concern when it comes to ordinary people.
Four Hong Kong men have been jailed for life in the Philippines for drug possession after a police raid on their boat off the coast of Zambales province, northwest of Manila, in 2016. Despite well-known flaws about the Philippine justice system, we shouldn’t assume the men, aged 31 to 51, are innocent. Nevertheless, enough facts are known about their case to raise questions about the life sentences imposed. The Hong Kong government and the foreign ministry have promised to take up their case.
The Philippine court heard that 467.8 grams of crystal meth, or “ice”, was found in the backpack of one of the men, but only during a second search when the backpack was briefly taken away from them.
Why were all four men convicted when the drug was found on only one of them? The raid was a high-profile operation, led by Philippine police chief Ronald dela Rosa, who brought along local TV news crews.
Presumably, Philippine police were alerted by what they considered a reliable tipoff and expecting a drug haul far more significant than less than 0.5kg of crystal meth. The fishing boat was initially described as “a floating meth lab”, but only a non-functioning hydrogenator was found.
Dela Rosa, now retired, is running for the Senate and was widely considered the chief enforcer of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial war on drugs.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has rightly said that we need to respect the judiciary of another sovereign state. But it is also her government’s responsibility to make sure our residents are treated fairly and justly abroad.
Philippine prosecutors reportedly will launch an appeal in the case, on the grounds that the four men were wrongly let off the charges of manufacturing drugs. A hydrogenator could be used to produce drugs, or unsaturated oils.
Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu has requested help from the foreign ministry, whose officials have promised to help. Beijing must show it cares about the welfare of all citizens aboard, not just the big cheese.