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  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 4:42am
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PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 4:04am

Hong Kong is right to keep black travel alert on the Philippines

Alice Wu says the travel alert on the Philippines should stay until victims of the Manila hostage crisis get the justice they deserve

It has been three years since the Manila hostage crisis, yet survivors and victims' families still wait for the justice they deserve, and so the Philippines remains "black" on the Hong Kong government's travel alert list. Some see it as nonsensical, since the travel alert has done little to get the Philippine government to budge. Certainly, it has proved ineffective.

Sure, the new Manila mayor (and the country's ex-president) Joseph Estrada apologised for the tragedy last week. But it's puzzling since the apology wasn't his to make. Whether it was sincere is irrelevant. All Estrada can be sorry for is his president's and his predecessor's inability to say sorry.

Estrada must know that his apology is technically inconsequential. And while all this talk about what he would have done may well be true, it has the additional "virtue" of being self-serving; highlighting where Alfredo Lim failed and how he would have handled it better is a terrific public relations move. It was a perfect image-building opportunity and Estrada capitalised on it.

The apology should have no effect on Hong Kong's travel alert, which really shouldn't be much of a cause for controversy. Over 100,000 Hong Kong tourists visit the Philippines every year, even after August 23, 2010. So, it is clear it hasn't deterred Hongkongers from visiting a country whose authorities have proved - in their handling of the hostage crisis - to be completely inept and incapable of protecting innocent lives in hostage situations. Every year, enough Hongkongers choose to look past this gross negligence and gross incompetence.

Sure, the actions of key players who could have ensured a much better outcome on that tragic day have been criticised. But that's little reason to assume steps have been taken to better protect tourists. There are risks associated with travelling to the Philippines; travel warnings have been issued by other countries, for reasons like "increased terrorism activity".

The four basic demands of the survivors and relatives of victims remain unanswered: an official apology by the Philippine government; compensation; punishment for the officials responsible; and, improved tourist safety. And as they press on with legal action, the least the Hong Kong government can do is keep the travel alert.

The treatment by the Philippine government of the fatal shooting of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng by the Philippine coastguard in May stands in stark contrast to its silence on the hostage crisis. In that case, the Philippines issued a formal apology, agreed to pay compensation to Hung's family, and homicide charges have been recommended - and it took less than three months following the incident for these to happen.

We're not blind to the geopolitics that makes Hong Kong's three-year-old tragedy different from that of the Taiwanese fisherman's. It may seem nonsensical that politics should stand in the way of human lives. Call it nonsensically necessary if you want, but without the victims' demands answered, the travel alert remains. Removing it would not be politically viable.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA

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This article is now closed to comments

mymak
Travel alerts are not in place to pander to the whims of politicians. Imagine if typhoon signals could also be deemed politically required. Travel alerts are to warn us of any dangers that may be present when we travel to another country. If the Philippines is now to remain black then we need another 'real' warning system for Hong Kong people who need to travel there, be it for business or other reasons.
jandajel
Notice that the author is a "political consultant". I guess she advises her clients to pander to the lowest common denominator, regardless if it is reasonable or logical. With consultants like her advising local politicians, it seems that Hong Kong will continue slide down to the bottom of the toilet.
Urban kid
I strongly agree with the previous comments and totally disagree with Alice Wu. The Hong Kong Government policy is both ridiculous and racist. I am a Hong Kong permanent resident and a frequent traveller to Cebu and I can honestly say that it is a safe place to visit. In no way can the Philippines be compared to Syria, which has a civil war, or Egypt, which has just experienced a coup. Moreover, the Philippine Government has already apologised and has also offered or given compensation to the relatives of the unfortunate victims.
So, Hong Kong, for the sake of international relations let's put this ugly incident behind us. The Government should lift the travel alert which is a distortion of reality! Travel alerts should not indeed be imposed to pander to the whims of politicians.
bluefirestorm
Alice Wu wrote this absurd article because (choose one or more that applies).
(a) fell through the rabbit hole of politics at age 12 and her thoughts stayed stuck in wonderland
(b) spent too much time writing on her journal with multicoloured pens
(c) had too much caffeine with her many lattes and might be lactose intolerant
amunro
"Over 100,000 Hong Kong tourists visit the Philippines every year, even after August 23, 2010. So, it is clear it hasn't deterred Hongkongers from visiting a country whose authorities have proved - in their handling of the hostage crisis - to be completely inept and incapable of protecting innocent lives in hostage situations. Every year, enough Hongkongers choose to look past this gross negligence and gross incompetence."
You defeat your own argument - it's pointless because it's artificial, so why have it at all? If you took the trouble to read your own newspaper you would also see that compensation has been paid already - the current demand is therefore irrelevant. The government continues to back the calls for whatever because it's the only populist cause they have going for them. I commute to the Philippines monthly (I am there now). Trust me, it doesn't feel a bit like Syria.
stoatmonster
Alice Wu's argument for maintaining the black travel warning is utterly ridiculous and specious and just goes to prove that the government's security warning system is a political tool rather than an objective scale for warning travellers about potential travel risks.
John Adams
It was only when I read Ms Wu's title at the end of her absurd article that I could make any sense of it
The fact that she terms herself a "political consultant" explains it all.
She obviously thinks that the Philippines black travel alert should stay in place to make a political point, rather than a sensible travel advisory.
Meanwhile countries like Afghanistan and Somalia are considered safe by the OTA,
PS: Ms Wu - please read the SCMP's Howard Winn ( "Laisee" column) on this subject.

chaz_hen
H E L L...keep the black flag up FOREVER... it'll just further reinforce the utter useless stupidity of HK's government "leaders" as HKers continue to go to the Philippines for comfortable and reasonably priced vacations.
impala
This must be the dumbest piece published in the SCMP today. And mind you, we have a tractatus by James Tien on these pages today, so the competition was tough. It is hard to believe that Ms Wu was at any point associated with a (more or less) respectable institution like UCLA.

She appears to have been infected with the one-party state mindset that rules supreme in the lands that lie beyond our northern border (or 'barrier,' soon to perhaps become a 'barricade'). This mindset dictates (yes, dictates) that it is fine to use any arm, hand, foot or even toenail of the state to achieve the ruler's goals. Principles, purposes, citizens rights, or anything else that might stand in the way, are of secondary concern.

It is only with this mindset that Ms Wu can arrive at her warped conclusion that it is fine to abuse for political means a travel warning system that was set up to offer the public reliable information about potential dangers when travelling abroad. I suggest she quickly
chanaa
How dumb can this writer be ? One is a criminal offence & the other a govt / military.
In any case, i am ald majority of hkers have common sense & continue to travel to Philippines.

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