Philippines lifts entry ban on nine Hong Kong journalists

Manila says the nine names were struck off its blacklist because they did not put the president through another bout of aggressive questioning

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 November, 2014, 3:31am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 November, 2014, 9:09am

The Philippines has lifted an entry ban against nine Hong Kong journalists who shouted questions at President Benigno Aquino last year, a government spokeswoman said yesterday after a media backlash.

The journalists were expelled from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Indonesia last year after they were accused of heckling Aquino over the 2010 Manila hostage crisis that left eight Hong Kong residents dead.

The entry ban came to light only last week, when one of the journalists was turned away at Manila airport.

Philippine Immigration Bureau spokeswoman Elaine Tan said yesterday that the ban was lifted because Aquino had not faced another bout of aggressive questioning at the Apec summit in Beijing this month.

"After a re-evaluation, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency said they are no longer considered as threats and the ban was lifted effective [on Tuesday]," she said.

The journalists were on the blacklist because they were a "threat to public safety" after "acts committed against the president" at the Bali summit.

But the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs subsequently said it had not been consulted about the ban, and demanded a review.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said yesterday afternoon that the Hong Kong government was aware of reports that the Philippines had lifted the ban.

"We are trying to get in touch with the Philippine government about this, and we have not received a confirmation," ahead of a visit to South Korea.

A spokesman for RTHK, which has a journalist on the blacklist, said the broadcaster had yet to receive notification from the Philippines.

Hong Kong Journalists Association chairwoman Sham Yee-lan said the blacklist should not have existed in the first place.

"It is journalists' duty to ask questions," she said. "There were no questions worthy of asking [Aquino] this year.

"In Indonesia last year, the Manila hostage crisis was not solved at that time. The reporters saw a precious chance [to question Aquino] so it was normal for them to seize the chance."

In the 2010 crisis, eight Hongkongers died after a sacked policeman hijacked their tour bus in Manila's Luneta Park before opening fire during a botched rescue attempt. Years of diplomatic rows over the case ended in April with a statement of regret from Manila and an agreement to pay compensation to survivors and the victims' relatives.

Shum said the reporters had asked Aquino the questions loudly because they feared the president could not hear them.

She said she did not know if the Hong Kong government had done anything to help lift the ban, but it should be its responsibility to inform the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of China so the matter could be solved diplomatically.

Last night, the Security Bureau said the government was still trying to confirm with the Philippines consulate in Hong Kong to see if the ban had indeed been lifted.