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  • Jul 9, 2014
  • Updated: 10:02am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Shame on politicians using Manila tragedy for their own ends

Stephen Vines says threat of sanctions is not only wrong, but won't work

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 6:59pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 7:05pm

The Hong Kong government and some of its more unlikely allies are threatening to turn the Manila bus killing tragedy into a farce. Three years after Hong Kong residents were killed and injured during a bungled hostage rescue, officials are working on a plan to penalise all the people who were not involved in this tragic event.

Details have not been revealed but a one-month deadline has been set for retaliation, which could include measures such as curbing the import of Philippine domestic helpers, ending the visa-free entry regime for Philippine visitors, and goodness knows what else.

Among the most vocal proponents of this retaliation offensive are pan-democrats who should know better. Piling in behind them are the usual band of opportunists who see no tragedy as being too small to ignore if there is a chance of furthering their political careers. And now the hapless Leung Chun-ying administration has seized on this as a possible way of restoring its battered credibility.

They want President Benigno Aquino to apologise and insist that large sums of cash are paid to the victims and their families. Imposing sanctions on hapless Philippine citizens will not work. In fact, it is likely to be counterproductive.

One of the reasons for Aquino's popularity in the Philippines is that he cleverly plays the nationalistic card and has acquired a reputation for standing up to foreigners. He has already demonstrated that standing up to tiny Hong Kong is popular and risk-free.

The great brains in the Hong Kong government think the best response to this intransigence is a range of measures that will reduce the growing tourist business with the Philippines and penalise both employers and domestic helpers who work here. Could there be a better example of self-inflicted damage?

Lurking behind this stupidity is a suspicion that the demands for apologies and compensation stem from a racist attitude towards the Philippines.

When Hong Kong travellers suffer fatal accidents on the mainland, not least because of failures in safety regulation, the administration does not even hint at demands for redress. Nor does it do so when Hongkongers suffer disaster in other countries where the authorities are at least in part responsible for their fate.

There are no excuses for the way the hostage crisis was handled by the Manila police force: but what realistically can be done? First of all, the families of those involved have already indicated an unwillingness to accept compensation payments in line with those that are made in the Philippines. Do they really think that any government will volunteer to pay more to foreigners than to local people?

Secondly, there has in fact been an apology, by Joseph Estrada, the mayor of Manila, even though he was not in office when the tragedy occurred. Will another apology, by Aquino, make that much difference?

Frankly, we are now entering the realms of absurdity. I am not criticising the people who are directly involved in this affair but there is plenty to criticise in the stirring and posturing of those who are only involved for their own political ends.

The current administration has sunk so low in public esteem that even opportunistic gestures like this are unlikely to help it gain ground. And what can be said of the unholy alliance it has formed with its usual opponents?

It may be unfair to set a higher standard of behaviour for democrats who campaign for justice and human rights for all. However, you cannot set out your stall with these goods on display and expect no one will notice when some of the goods are taken off the table because they might earn a higher price by being withdrawn.

The time has come to be aware of the damage caused by those exploiting this tragedy.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur

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This article is now closed to comments

SpeakFreely
I tend to agree this is over played. In comparison, Lama boats killed more and findings pointed to negligent of marine inspection and understaffing by boat companies, if I'm not mistaken. So, who is apologizing, compensating, resigning? The row on that seems much lower profile than against Philippine. Similarly, if our tourists killed in NY or LA because of wrongful handling by NYPD or LAPD, for argument sack, do we seek apology from Obama? Let's move on.
Urban kid
Great article Stephen, I agree with every word!
chanaa
the rest of asia sees it exactly as it is - political opportunists & greed of hong kongers.
i am ashamed to call this home
whymak
I always get turned off by Mr. Vines' solidarity with pan democrats in his hate-China stance. But this is a rare occasion that we agree.
Hong Kongers' arrogance toward Philippines, its people and our guest workers goes against the grain of my Chinese upbringing and precepts of a Confucian gentleman, 君子. We are rich and they are poor. Why keep beating a dead horse or try milking blood from stone? Enough is enough.
I got it! These Hong Kongers are not Chinese. They are self-hate bananas.
Advocates of nebulous Hong Kong core values - Chris Patten's girl and her followers - over traditional culture of the silent majority frequently perform monkey-see-monkey-do gigs of Anglos for foreign pleasure. Anson Chan's disdain that HK might become a "Chinese" city is obvious to the most casual observer. These folks have learned the worst of Anglos' adversarial behaviors in judicial and political confrontations but nothing about goal setting or getting things done. In critical inquiries and serious debates, soi disant democrats have nothing to show for except shopworn slogans - true democracy, freedom and all that jazz.
I am sure Mr. Vines, a supercilious diehard of Democracy values, will in no time revert to his erstwhile divide-and-conquer Anglo stance on issues involving one country two systems.
Mark my word. In his next piece or two, he will once again align himself with the miscreants in Civic Party, other saboteurs and subversives and revert to China bashing.
mercedes2233
'Exploiting this tragedy'? The Govt is vilified for not doing anything and for doing something. I thought it pursued this in response to popular demand.
And no point comparing this with accidents on the Mainland. Those are accidents, the incident in Manila was human blunder on the part of the authorities.
marian
why they don't just totally ban filipino tourists too?! hong kong then will show the world how they advocate and emulate notorious Nazi Germany's ultimate racist icon Hitler!lol! they can have the mainlanders as new targets later..LOL!
fsk999
If this tragic fiasco had played out in Hong Kong with a disgruntled HK cop taking Filipino tourists hostage in a coach with a bundled rescue resulting in their deaths, a subsequent inquest and possible enquiry would have resulted in a swift apology by the CE.
However, it is impossible to imagine such a scenario in which local police are allowed to mishandle a serious, life threatening situation to which the hostage negotiator cadre and special duties unit are not swiftly summoned to take control and professionally resolve the situation without loss of innocent life.
eufemio.agbayani
"Secondly, there has in fact been an apology, by Joseph Estrada, the mayor of Manila, even though he was not in office when the tragedy occurred. Will another apology, by Aquino, make that much difference?"
Mr. Estrada, for those who do not know, is a former president of the Philippines. That should make the apology heavier.
I agree. Hong Kong, at least its politicians, is demanding as if it were an independent state, yet it is now. As we say it in the Philippines, "matuto silang lumugar." (They should know what they're place is.)
@madams
It's sayings like matuto silang lumugar that keep average filipinos constantly victimized by corrupt politicians and businessmen....I can hear it now, all you poor and working class filipinos should know your place, and not complain about powerful people.
archipelago
Too much of politics from Chinese in HK. A month wait is kinda long. We want the sanctions now. FYI, there are more than 60 countries welcome Philippine people for a holiday without Visa. HK is just a small city and sad to say, nothing special anymore to HK in this century.

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