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Protests mar Philippine Independence Day celebrations

13 June 2019

By Daisy CL Mandap

Consul General Tony Morales and Deputy Commissioner Song at the traditional toast

For the first time since a diplomatic reception was held in Hong Kong 20 years ago to celebrate Philippine Independence Day, no top-ranking Hong Kong official was around to take part in this year’s festivity held last night, Jun 12, at the Conrad in Admiralty.

The invited guest of honor, Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng, sent regrets hours before the reception, and several others from government also cancelled at the last minute.

Most of the other guests came late, and only about a third of the expected crowd turned up.

The reception line 30 minutes after the start of the cocktail party
That’s because the venue of the celebration was right in the center of a massive, and at times, chaotic public protest, against the proposed extradition bill that could see accused people in Hong Kong being sent for trial in China.

Consul General Antonio A. Morales who hosted the reception, gave thanks to those who came despite the difficulties.

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“We really appreciate your presence, knowing the difficulty of accessing this place,” he said at the start of his speech.

“June 12 is really the day that we declared our independence. Unfortunately, our day of celebration coincided with the day of protests. But that is part and parcel of the democracy that we (won)."

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Congen Morales also thanked Hong Kong for providing Filipinos “the environment and opportunity to exercise their rights” before quipping: “They are politically involved here and I don’t know if they are affected by the political atmosphere in Hong Kong or they affected the political atmosphere in Hong Kong.”

For the traditional toast with the guest of honor, Congen Morales asked Song Ruan, deputy commissioner of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, to do the honors.

Officers and staff of the Consulate came in full force, but most had to walk to the reception in their finery

While guests in formal attire gathered inside Conrad’s ballroom, young protesters were massed in the adjoining Pacific Place mall, where they regrouped after being pushed back from the government complex by police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets.

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Some of the guests reported inhaling some of the fumes from the tear gas that seeped through the MTR’s vents as they made their way to the hotel, but they pushed on.

Many roads leading to the area had been blocked to prevent demonstrators from taking over more public space, so the only way to get there was via the MTR. But later that night, even that access was limited as the MTR station in Admiralty was shut down and Pacific Place shuttered to force the protesters out onto the streets.

The long walk from Conrad to Wanchai where public transports could be taken
Those who left the reception later than most found themselves either walking all the way to Wanchai in their formal clothes to get to the MTR, or hail taxis. The alternative was to walk up to Hong Kong Park, and then get out on Kennedy Road in Mid-Levels.

Walking towards Wanchai, guests including Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre were given a scare when protesters ran each time a siren sounded in the distance. The siren went off thrice during that brief period, sending people scampering, but it was apparently a false alarm each time.

Along the way, pedestrians were offered water bottles and snacks by demonstrators who turned up near the protest sites with vehicles full of provisions.

Earlier in the day, there were also fewer guest than usual at a breakfast gathering for Filipino community leaders at the Consulate, which is a stone's throw away from the government complex in Tamar where intermittent clashes between protesters and police took place throughout the day.

Many who came spoke of walking several blocks to get to the venue, or being forced to walk to the MTR as it was the only way to get there by public transportation.

In his message, Congen Morales thanked the community for taking an active part in the recent  overseas voting for mid-term election in the Philippines, and noted that Hong Kong again registered the highest turnout.

That, he said, showed the high level commitment of Filipinos in Hong Kong to taking an active role in how the country is run by its leaders.

He took the opportunity to announce that he will be heading back to Manila soon, and thanked  community leaders for helping make his stay in Hong in Hong Kong meaningful.

"Mami-miss ko ang Hong Kong, at ang inyong pakikipagkaibigan. Isang karangalan na makilala ko kayo at mapagsilbihihan ko kayo."

It was the same message he gave at the Independence Day cocktails, which he said he was attending for the second and last time. Congen thanked the Hong Kong government, members of the diplomatic corps, the Filipino community and other groups that helped him serve the post well.

He vowed to return to Hong Kong sometime after leaving, but joked that since he has friends in Immigration, he hoped he wouldn't be detained at the airport. This was in reference to former Philippine Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales who was barred entry recently, apparently in retaliation for her having sued Chinese President Xi Jinping at the International Criminal Court over the West Philippine Sea dispute.

On Sunday, the Filcom's annual public celebration of Independence Day on Chater Road was also slightly affected by the first day of protests, as the guest entertainers arrived later than expected in the afternoon due to heavy traffic in the area.

Luckily, the protest march that day which drew a record one million participants, started after lunch so the Chater festivity which started at 9am was disrupted only by heavy rain. But as soon as the program ended at 6pm, police moved in to close off the road to prevent rallyists occupying it as they did during the pro-democracy protests in 2014.

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