Strength of spirit

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 August, 2010, 12:00am

It's an undeniable fact that the Manila hostage tragedy was due to the bungling incompetence of the Philippine government and its police force. To make things worse, the nation's president, Benigno Aquino, smiled during a press conference about the tragedy and tried to defend the police by saying that even in Russia, with its resources and sophistication, the outcome of the 2002 Moscow theatre hostage-taking incident was far more severe. How can any Hongkonger not be outraged by such an irresponsible response from an unconcerned president?

But for the concerted pressure from the central and Hong Kong governments, the Philippine authorities would not have promised to carry out a thorough investigation, deliver a full report as soon as possible and send a high-level delegation to explain the situation to officials in both Beijing and Hong Kong. However, the central government has refused to meet the delegation until a full investigation report is completed.

Despite our grief, I believe most Hongkongers will not take revenge on innocent Philippine nationals, especially those working as maids here. Instead, we have heard incredible stories of courage, dignity and humanity that illustrate the strength of Hong Kong people in the face of adversity. Many people took action to show their sympathy, respect and support.

After confirmation that one victim was an MTR Corporation employee, the company immediately sent representatives to Manila to render assistance and has pledged to raise funds for his family and provide financial support for his two children's education.

Hong Thai Travel Services employees have set up a Facebook page in remembrance of their colleague Masa Tse Ting-chunn, who had been widely praised for risking his life by phoning his company and alerting it to the hijacking. Some have suggested that several of the hostages, including Tse, should be considered for Hong Kong's top bravery honour.

There are countless examples of outpourings of sympathy for the victims and their families. The government has pledged to set up a special fund to provide life-long financial support for the victims' families.

The strength of our spirit and unity as a city, and our collective pride as Hongkongers, are on full display for the world to see. For now, finding out the truth would be the best consolation for the victims and their families.

Most Hong Kong people place a high value on fair and just treatment and, thus, allegations of racial disharmony because of this tragedy are not only unfair, but objectionable. Hongkongers will not and should not vent their anger on innocent people. In fact, many local Filipino groups have condemned the incident. Hong Kong is a peaceful society and although most people are outraged by the tragedy, they will not victimise innocent people.

Meanwhile, some politicians have tried to grandstand by unfairly criticising the government. Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai said the chief executive had breached protocol by trying to have direct dialogue with Aquino. Even more ridiculous was lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee's suggestion that we should have sent our SWAT team to join the rescue operation.

These comments were unreasonable and impractical. I don't believe the Philippine government would have allowed our fully armed law enforcement officers into its country. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, critics can say anything they want.

Our government should be applauded for handling the crisis swiftly and with a great deal of sensitivity and care. But, there is one little imperfection - the choice of this time to announce a freeze on maids' salaries. Why?

It gives the impression that the administration is trying to take advantage of public sentiment to bully a group of helpless overseas workers. Is it pure coincidence or is there any underlying motive? Whatever the reasons, it is a poor and unfair decision that should be changed.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator