Philippine government cannot be allowed to forget hostage tragedy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2012, 1:09am


The hostage-taking in Manila two years ago that took the lives of seven Hong Kong tourists and their guide will never be forgotten by relatives and those injured. In the time that has passed, though, there should have at least been a sense of closure. A Hong Kong inquest last year that determined the victims had been unlawfully killed by Philippine police officer Ronaldo Mendoza helped, but calls for an apology and compensation from the Philippine government have gone nowhere. Worse, so little has been done by the Philippines to prevent a repeat that it would seem officials have an interest only in putting the past behind them.

Any such perception does not serve the interests of the Philippines. Tourism and overseas workers provide a big slice of the country's income and Hong Kong is an important factor in both. The black travel alert that our government has put in place since the killings has cut the numbers of tourists by more than 10 per cent, despite promotional campaigns. Whether it has affected the number of domestic helpers taken up by employers cannot be said with certainty, although a years-long decline continues in favour of Indonesians. Nor have the events that unfolded on live television that terrible day much faded from our memories. The incompetence of the negotiating team, highlighted by that image of a policeman amateurishly pounding the side of the tour bus with a long-handled hammer to make the gunman surrender, still haunt us.

Mendoza did not drop his gun and come out of the bus, of course. He opened fire, as did the special forces police surrounding the vehicle. A Philippine investigation concluded it was the hostage-taker's bullets that claimed so many innocent lives, although officials have since said that it was possible some of the rescue team's shots may also have maimed or killed. Of the dozen people named as being at fault, only the gunman's brother was charged, and the case against him is still pending. A deputy ombudsman, not directly involved, was sacked. All others implicated were either removed from their posts and quietly reinstated or suffered no retribution.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has expressed remorse but refused to apologise. Three victims and a relative trying to take the case to court in Manila are being stymied by Filipino lawyers not wanting to get involved. Filipinos want to forget what happened and move on, but until their government shows resolve, Hong Kong will not let them.