Mark anniversary by removing alert

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


This day a year ago, the lives of seven Hong Kong tourists and their guide were senselessly snuffed out on a bus in Manila when a Philippine police team's attempt to save their group from a gunman went horribly wrong. We watched their too-real drama unfold on live television, wishing and hoping that all would end well, only to be dumbstruck by the amateurish rescue effort that ended in a bloodbath. Disbelief turned to anger to outrage, and a black travel alert for the Philippines, the highest possible, has since been in place. Those personally caught up in the tragedy are still seeking an apology and compensation, and despite an inquest here and an investigation there, questions remain. That should not, however, prevent relations between Hong Kong and the Philippines from getting back on track.

Some who watched the incompetence of the police, who are not satisfied with the punishment meted out or the reforms that have been made, will wonder why such an effort should be made. In the aftermath of the killings, there were worrying signs of hostility in Hong Kong towards people from the Philippines. There are some who still believe the country is dangerous and unsafe to visit. Time is supposed to be the greatest healer, but it is clear that for some people, passions continue to run high.

But emotions do not help find solutions and certainly have no place in diplomacy. There has been no repeat of the tragedy and the Philippine authorities contend that they are in the process of revamping their policing system. Keeping the black alert in place would seem to be a political decision rather than one aimed at giving sound advice to overseas travellers. Only Syria, where there have been 2,000 deaths from political violence this year is similarly tagged, while riots in England last month attracted only a cautionary note.

Aquino's government was only two months old when the hijacking took place and it is still struggling to come to terms with the Philippines' many problems. Overseas relations is one of them; the president will try to iron out difficulties with China when he visits Beijing on August 30. Hong Kong and Manila must also do their best to co-operate so that tourism and economic ties can be restored. It is in the interests of neither that matters stay as they are.

The survivors and their relatives will never forget what befell them a year ago. When the group that has travelled to Manila relives the tragedy at the scene today, our thoughts will be with them recalling their loss and sorrow. They still have demands and both governments must help them find solace. But the anniversary must also mark a new era of understanding. Removing the black alert is the best starting point.