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In response to criticism, Philippines lifts ban on nine Hong Kong journalists

This statement was originally published on cmfr-phil.org on 26 November 2014.

The Philippine government banned nine Hong Kong journalists from entering the Philippines for "heckling" President Benigno S. Aquino III in October 2013. In response to criticism from journalists' groups, the government lifted the ban, declaring that "no untoward incident transpired during the President's visit to China for the 26th APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit (earlier this year)."

According to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), Philippine immigration officials denied entry to Eric Lee Kwok-keung, a Now TV cameraman, upon his arrival in Manila on 20 November 2014 for a personal visit.

The cameraman was shown a letter ordering the prevention of his entry and eight other Hong Kong journalists.

"Acting on the 29 May this year letter of Ager P. Ontog, Jr., Director General, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), Office of the President, requesting that the above-named subjects be prevented from entering the country to cover the APEC Summit next year for heckling of President Benigno S. Aquino III during the latter's visit to Bali, Indonesia during the October last year CEO Summit," the HKJA quoted the letter.

In October 2013, Hong Kong journalists were removed from the APEC Summit for shouting questions at Aquino and demanding a comment on the 2010 Manila hostage-taking incident, during which a dismissed police officer killed eight Hong Kong tourists.

"Such a blacklist, if it exists, is a serious contravention of the International Declaration of Human Rights and a blemish on the reputation of Philippines as a democratic nation," said the HKJA in a letter to Aquino on 24 November 2014.

"As we have stated in our earlier letter to you, the journalists were carrying out their duties in asking for your comments on the Manila hostage killings. None of their behavior could possibly justify their classification as a security threat to you or your country."

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) said in a statement that the incident "gives a chilling message to journalists worldwide: If the government's intelligence agency does not the like the way you ask questions, you may be labeled a public safety threat and blacklisted from the Philippines."

On 25 November 2014, the Philippine Bureau of Immigration (BI) lifted the ban.

"Following normal protocol, the BI heavily relied on the advice of the NICA to lift the blacklist as NICA is presumed to be in a better position to know the facts surrounding the initial finding of undesirability and subsequent reversal of such finding," said Atty. Elaine Tan, BI spokesperson.

The President's Office, meanwhile, said there was no bad faith in the blacklisting of the Hong Kong journalists and that the concerned agencies were only doing their jobs.

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