Donald Tsang

Inept officials and police to blame for loss of life

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 August, 2010, 12:00am

August 23 will be remembered as the darkest, most tragic day for Hong Kong. Almost all Hongkongers witnessed live on television the cold-blooded hostage-taking situation in the heart of Manila.

A sacked policeman held a Hong Thai group of tourists hostage for 11 hours and the dramatic siege ended in tragedy because of the incompetence of the Philippine government and its special task force at the scene. Their mishandling of the crisis ultimately led to the deaths of eight Hongkongers, with a further seven injured, two seriously.

Even 12 hours after the ordeal, the Philippine government was still unable to confirm the personal data of the dead and injured.

The Philippines is hopelessly corrupt and the government has been extremely irresponsible in its handling of the whole crisis. At no point did any senior local official come out to direct the rescue operation.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen tried to contact the Philippine president several times, but was unable to reach him.

The scene in Manila was chaotic; there were no laws, no leadership and no strategies, which meant the crisis dragged on in unbearable slow motion.

The police negotiators were incompetent and lacked basic communication and mediating skills; negotiations broke down after the gunman was told his brother had been arrested.

It seems that the ineptitude of the Philippine police never fails to disappoint us. Judging from the TV footage, they seem to have made blunder after blunder while their so-called special task force lacked proper equipment and weapons. In fact, the whole operation lacked effective command, organisational and strategic skills.

The task force was so unprofessional that members couldn't even break open the tour bus windows during their numerous attempts to try to storm the vehicle.

Shame on the Philippine National Police and shame on the Philippine government. This tourist crisis has become a collective shame for the country.

Not only are Hongkongers saddened by the loss of so many lives, but all of us feel anger towards those cowardly police officers who should have put the safety of hostages first but instead chose to watch their own backs.

To say the Philippines is the most corrupt and rotten country in Asia is no exaggeration. We need to get to the bottom of this crisis and find out exactly what happened.

In comparison, our heroic Hong Kong spirit was on full display. The tour guide risked his life to keep his company informed of the situation while a female hostage, who was allowed to leave with her two young children, helped to free another child by claiming that he was also a relative. A Hong Kong husband sacrificed his own life when he tried to stop the gunman from shooting other hostages, including his wife.

Our government has acted swiftly in the crisis with a special task force led by the chief executive to co-ordinate communication with the Philippine authorities and seek assistance from the Chinese embassy in Manila.

It has also chartered two flights to take families of the hostages to the Philippines. All government departments have taken appropriate action to facilitate the return of the dead and injured.

We should lay the blame squarely on Philippine President Benigno Aquino and demand that his government give a full account of the crisis and issue a formal apology to the people of Hong Kong.

And we should show our collective anger and disapproval by boycotting the country as a tourist destination for a year, and withhold our tourist dollars to make them pay.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.