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Thursday, January 30, 2014

HK Cancels Visa-Free Travel for Filipino Diplomatic, Official Passport Holders

Hong Kong will suspend visa-free travel for Filipinos holding diplomatic and official passports starting February 5, amid political tensions over the Manila bus hostage crisis.
Regular passport holders are not affected for now. An official passport is issued to government officials and those who hold diplomatic posts abroad while a diplomatic passport is issued to Philippine diplomatic service members, Cabinet officials, service attach├ęs and Filipino delegates to international institutions.

“To visit Hong Kong, holders of these passport will have to apply for a visa beforehand in accordance with normal procedures in the immigration department of Hong Kong or Chinese and consular missions overseas,” Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said in a press briefing.

The new sanction comes after talks over a Philippine apology to relatives of Hong Kong citizens killed in the 2010 fiasco broke down, Leung said. Leung laments that “the Philippine side is still unable to meet the demand of the victims and their families for a formal apology.”

“The victims and their families and the SAR government agree the response is unacceptable,” Leung added, noting that the sanction is just the first phase. Under the erstwhile agreement, holders of official and diplomatic Philippine passports may stay in Hong Kong for 14 days without a visa.

“The sanctions that we have announced are just and justified. We welcome the continuation of dialogue between Hong Kong and the Philippines to bring the matter to a final conclusion,” Leung said further. Prior to the travel sanctions, Hong Kong lawmakers have urged their government to impose limits tighter rules on hiring Filipino workers.

There is also a long-standing warning to Hong Kong citizens looking to travel to the Philippines. Leung has not specified other sanctions it will impose on the Philippines over the tragedy and whether or not this will include economic restrictions.

On August 23, 2010, eight tourists from Hong Kong died after they were hostaged by disgruntled policeman Rolando Mendoza. The Manila bus hostage crisis lasted for 10 hours and was aired live in major news outfits around the world. Separate probes have since been launched by both Hong Kong and Philippine governments, with Hong Kong demanding a formal apology from President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

Recently, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada issued an apology for the bus crisis. Government data show that more than 160,000 Filipinos are now in Hong Kong, most of them workers. Total trade between the two countries meanwhile amounted to some $6.2 million in 2012.

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