The first offense happened on June 9, 2019 when an unnamed Chinese vessel rammed Gem-Vir I, a Philippine fishing boat anchored on Recto Bank, West Philippine Sea, and fled inside China, leaving the 22 fishermen on board fighting for their lives until a Vietnamese rescue vessel appeared. China should have promptly apologized and offered material compensation for the fishing boat that was destroyed and the fishermen who were left fighting for their lives in the water. But it didn’t.

The government should have demanded an apology and compensation for the boat and the fishermen for their ordeal. But President Duterte downplayed everything as a “little maritime accident” that did not deserve a full inquiry, except jointly with the Chinese government. Vice President Leni Robredo pooh-poohed the idea and called for an independent third-party inquiry without any detail; and for the first time DU30 seemed inclined to listen to his Vice President.

It was very clear though that Malacañang was more concerned not to embarrass the Chinese government than to claim reparations for Gem-Vir 1 and the 22 fishermen who nearly perished at sea. The Palace could not seem to bring itself to ask Beijing what the Chinese vessel was doing there, at Recto Bank, which the Philippines considers part of its territory.

The second offense happened on June 21, 2019, when Hong Kong immigration authorities barred former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario from attending a shareholders’ meeting of First Pacific Company Ltd., a Hong Kong-based investment management and holding firm, where he is a major shareholder and a non-executive director. Del Rosario reportedly arrived at 7.40 a.m. on that day, and was questioned for five hours before he was sent home.

Press reports indicate the Hong Kong authorities questioned his use of a diplomatic passport, which was granted to him by the Department of Foreign Affairs pursuant to the Philippine Passport Act of 1996. Under Sec. 7 of this law, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs or the authorized representative or consular officer may issue diplomatic passports to persons “imbued with diplomatic status or on diplomatic missions.” These include the President and former presidents; the Vice President and former vice presidents; the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives; the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Cabinet secretaries, Undersecretaries, Assistant Secretaries of the DFA; Ambassadors, Foreign Service Officers of all ranks in the career diplomatic service, Attaches and members of their families; members of Congress when on official mission abroad or delegates to international conferences; Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and delegates to regional and international conferences when on official mission or accorded full powers by the President; spouses and unmarried children of above-mentioned officials when accompanying or following to join them in an official mission abroad.

In addition to these officials, the President or the Foreign Secretary may grant diplomatic passports to officials and persons on official mission abroad. These are what Secretary Locsin perhaps calls “courtesy diplomatic passports,” a term which does not appear in the Philippine passport law or in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Del Rosario was an ambassador before he became foreign secretary; his diplomatic passport is specifically authorized by law rather than a mere “courtesy” extended by the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. It cannot be withdrawn or cancelled except in pursuance of a law enacted by Congress, and no foreign government can tell the Philippine government he cannot be given a diplomatic passport. In denying Del Rosario entry to Hong Kong despite his diplomatic passport, Hong Kong authorities treated him as a “persona non-grata” and his diplomatic passport as a worthless document. This constitutes an attack not only on Del Rosario’s person but also on a sovereign act of the Philippine government.

This calls for proper retaliatory action from the Duterte government. But Locsin’s kneejerk reaction is to try to punish the specific victims of Hong Kong’s outrageous conduct and other persons holding diplomatic passports under Republic Act 8239. Locsin’s order is not only illegal but ill-informed. Regardless of the document’s multi-year life span, a diplomatic passport has to be revalidated every time it is used by its holder. All the DFA has to do is not to revalidate it, if it wants it discontinued.

But the offending party here is China, not Del Rosario or the Philippine government. Locsin’s duty is to speak, not for the alien offender but for his predecessor and his own government, whose sovereign right under the Vienna Convention and its own laws has been rudely disrespected by the Chinese government.