Philippine minister offers 'deep regret' but no apology

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2011, 12:00am


Survivors and relatives of the victims of last year's Manila hostage crisis yesterday met a Philippine government minister for the first time since the disaster, but failed to get the official apology they were hoping for.

Instead, Philippine Justice Secretary Leila De Lima expressed only 'deep regret' on behalf of her department, saying she was not in a position to apologise for the nation.

De Lima's statement echoed that of her government, which marked the first anniversary of the crisis in which seven Hong Kong tourists and their tour guide were killed, by saying that it 'recognises the grief and burden' of the victims' families, but fell short of offering an apology.

'On the eve of the first anniversary of the Quirino Grandstand incident, the Filipino people renew their sympathy and solidarity with the families of the victims and the people of Hong Kong,' said a statement issued on behalf of the Philippine government by presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda

After her one-hour meeting with the Hong Kong delegation, De Lima said there had been 'a good and interesting exchange. It is a very tragic and unfortunate incident which I am sure has caused so much pain and trauma to the victims and the survivors, and also caused embarrassment to the country.'

She said the Incident Investigation and Review Committee appointed by her government to investigate the incident had been disbanded. The government could not, therefore, follow up its recommendations to President Benigno Aquino for criminal charges to be filed against various officials involved in the botched handling of the siege.

So far, only the deputy ombudsman, Emilio Gonzales, has been sacked over the incident.

De Lima said, however, that she was 'glad to hear' the group of Hong Kong families preferred to settle the issue of compensation through negotiation rather than going to court, and promised to convey their demands to Aquino.

Hong Kong lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who was travelling with the group and attended the meeting with De Lima, described it as 'useful'.

Survivor Lee Ying-chuen said she understood De Lima was not in a position to apologise on behalf of her government, but that it was Manila's basic responsibility to offer one.

'We have been disappointed many times before; I do hope that we won't be disappointed again [by the Philippine government],' she said.

Before travelling to Manila on Sunday, Tse Chi-kin, the elder brother of slain tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn, told the South China Morning Post nothing could deter him from fighting for a formal apology and compensation, despite being physically and mentally exhausted.

Tse has met central government officials in Hong Kong and lawyers in Manila to help his cause. But so far the Philippine government has not responded to his grievances.

He said everything he had done for his younger brother so far had been in vain. 'In the quiet of night, when I feel very tired, I ask myself: should I persist?

'But when I think of Masa, that he can sacrifice his life to do what he thinks was right to do, what we are doing now is just incomparable,' he said. Tse also accused Hong Kong's government of not doing enough to help them.

Meanwhile, Jason Leung Song-xue, 19, is still recovering in Tuen Mun Hospital from life-threatening brain injuries suffered in the siege. His mother, Amy Leung Ng Yau-woon, who lost her husband and both daughters, is caring for him.

Yik Siu-ling, who injured her lower jaw, has recently found a new job with a charity and started a new life while her friend, Joe Chan Kwok-chu, is considering whether he should undergo further surgery to his right hand.

Daniel Wong Ip-cheung, principal of Tsuen Wan Government Secondary School, said Tracey Wong Cheuk-yiu, 17, and her brother Jason Wong Ching-yat, 13, who lost both parents and an aunt in the shooting, had recently overcome their fear of travelling in a tour bus by going on a school trip to Guangzhou in June.

Tsang Yee-lai and her children Fu Chak-yin, 11, and Fu Chung-yin, five, who were let off the bus before the shoot-out only to learn later that husband and father Fu Cheuk-yan had been killed, are still struggling to come to terms with their loss, said an older brother, Daniel Fu Kin-wah.

Lee Ying-chuen, 37, who survived the shooting uninjured with her mother, Lo Kam-fun, 68, said they both still had nightmares about the incident.

The least affected were retired couple Li Yick-biu, 73, and his wife, Li Tsui Fung-kwan. The two were among the first hostages released by gunman Rolando Mendoza.