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  • Aug 28, 2014
  • Updated: 1:45am

Manila hostage crisis

Seven Hong Kong tourists and one tour guide were killed and 13 people were injured when a disgruntled former police officer opened fire on a bus full of Hong Kong tourists after hijacking it in Manila on August 23, 2010. Dissatisfied with the Philippine government's handling of the crisis and the ensuing investigation, Hong Kong issued a black travel alert against the Philippines and later introduced other sanctions. The two governments and victims' families reached an agreement on April 23, 2014 in which survivors and victims' families accepted an undisclosed amount of compensation from Manila and the Hong Kong government agreed to lift sanctions. 

CommentInsight & Opinion

The madness of the anti-Manila brigade

Regina Ip says the call for sanctions against the Philippines for its president's refusal to apologise for the 2010 Manila tragedy betrays a troubling detachment from reality

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 October, 2013, 4:59am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 October, 2013, 9:12am
 

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27 Oct 2013
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Total number of votes recorded: 434

Following Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's meeting with Philippine President Benigno Aquino in Indonesia earlier this month, the hyperbolic denunciations heaped on the government are a looking-glass through which Hong Kong people can see their self-centredness and detachment from reality.

There is a marked difference in reaction to this incident between local residents with international exposure and those apparently without. The former, including some columnists and readers of this newspaper, dismissed Hong Kong people's calls for reprisals as "farcical" and "idiotic", while the latter carried on pushing the government to get tough on the Philippines by banning Filipino maids, or imposing trade and economic sanctions, or both.

The reality is that Hong Kong, not being an independent country, has historically imposed sanctions only at the behest of its sovereign power, whether in compliance with resolutions of the UN Security Council or as part of its sovereign power's unilateral actions against another state or non-state territory.

Moreover, as a member of the World Trade Organisation, Hong Kong is bound by its rules not to impose trade restrictions on fellow members, save in accordance with provisions making exceptions to safeguard "essential security interests". The Manila hostage crisis of August 2010, though resulting in the tragic death of eight Hong Kong citizens and severe injuries to several others, would hardly justify invoking such provisions.

As one of the earliest members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, Hong Kong enjoys equal status with other members in discussing Apec issues. However, raising non-economic issues, such as seeking an apology and compensation from a head of state, is not strictly part of Apec's agenda. Bilateral meetings on non-economic issues between heads of state are often held on the margins of Apec's "leaders' meeting", but agreement to hold such meetings is purely discretionary. Hong Kong, as the demandeur of a bilateral meeting to discuss a botched rescue three years ago which the Philippine president clearly wished to "put behind" him, had few levers at its disposal.

Given Aquino's hard line, in pursuing this "mission impossible" Hong Kong was not helped by the fact that it had no representation in Indonesia, no troops on the ground who could help set up informal bilateral meetings ahead of Leung's arrival, or conduct behind-the-scenes lobbying in the Philippines to soften Aquino's stance.

Even if, in the future, the government is persuaded to put money behind its efforts to strengthen its external relations, it is hamstrung by a lack of the equivalent of a "foreign service corps" - a body of elite officers willing to serve Hong Kong's interests overseas, regardless of Hong Kong's lack of "muscle" while acting on its own.

As for other possible sanctions such as the suspension of civil aviation talks, it is understood that such talks have more or less ground to a halt since 2008, as there are few demands for further expansion of such services from the Philippines.

The banning of domestic helpers from the Philippines would certainly hurt Hong Kong's middle class as much as the Philippines, quite apart from the fact that it would be morally wrong to vent Hong Kong people's fury on the maids who played no part in the Manila tragedy.

The only "weapon" which the Hong Kong government could invoke fairly readily is a unilateral decision to suspend its visa-free arrangement for visitors from the Philippines, since there is no formal bilateral agreement between Hong Kong and the Philippines.

The Philippines could instantly retaliate by doing the same in respect of Hong Kong visitors, the numbers of which have been dwindling in the past three years. But as visitors from the Philippines have been rising - totalling over 700,000 last year - our own tourism industry would definitely be hurt in some way.

Obnoxious though it might sound to many angry Hong Kong citizens, who have been whipped up by the doctrine of hatred of limelight-seeking politicians, Aquino does have a point in drawing a distinction between an act of state, in the form of a crime committed by a state employee, and a private act, in the form of a killing frenzy committed by a deranged former policeman.

Naturally, if Aquino was big-hearted enough, he could have expressed his heartfelt sorrow over the tragic loss of lives on his territory, arising from a blatant mishandling of a relatively simple hostage situation by policemen in his capital.

If the city of Manila, which has oversight over its policemen, is sincere about apologising to Hong Kong people for the sufferings inflicted, and is willing to work out a decent offer of compensation, the victims' families are well advised to accept the apology, and draw a line under this tragedy.

But chances are that the politicians who have been goading the victims to take their complaints to the limit and beyond will not let go, with the result that the suffering will be aggravated, while a presidential or national apology will remain as elusive as ever - at least while Aquino remains in office.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People's Party

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This article is now closed to comments

warren.wai
If we look at the perspective of the Filipino people, Mr Aquino's action is seen as enhancing the stature of their nation. All along, Filipinos have been coming to Hong Kong as domestic helpers and stories abound about their sufferings here. It is thus very inspiring for them that they could stand up against the leader of Hong Kong and act like a boss for once.
With such mindset, it would be impossible for Aquino to backdown and accept the 4 demands of the victims' families - which are actually quite non-specific and hard to carry out (unless the Filipinos are truly remorseful). With the incident totally forgotten by the Filipino psyche, an apology plus more would be next to impossible.
Hence, CY Leung's hesitancy seems particularly pointless to me.
caractacus
Fair comment. Hong Kongers tend to be parochial and self centred with an inflated sense of their own importance and abilities. Many see this as a racial issue, which is stupid. It was a failure of a city's police force to use the best people available. Bad judgment by the Manila police chief, no more. It was not an act of state.
This is an issue between national governments and Chinese people have no right to demand vengeance. The creep politician James To is misleading the victims' families to make extravagant demands and is aggravating and exploiting their grief. As so many times in the past he appears to be grandstanding to gain popularity. Disgusting.
mercedes2233
The Philippines apologized for the unlawful killing of ONE Taiwan fisherman after Taiwan imposed 11 sanctions on the Phillipines including the hiring of Filipino workers. Why are the lives and well being of HK residents less precious that we have 'no right to demand vengeance'? Doesn't the same principle apply?
SpeakFreely
Well said. Hkongers should think when 911 hit over 10+ yrs ago killing thousands, who did New Yorkers asked for apology? No one. Rather, the US government paid out lots of money to help out viticm familes. I know some get millions Usd. HK government should focus on helping these victims by giving more generous financial helps. At least bigger financial help will alleviate a lot of pain and assist victim and families move on faster and easier.
mercedes2233
Who would the New Yorkers ask for an apology from? The US declared immediately, rightly or wrongly, that the perpetrator was Osama Bin Laden and went after him tooth and nail. The New Yorkers didn't have to do anything. On this occasion, we know who the prepetrators are, the HK Govt didn't do very much, and it is time the guilty party paid up.
Taiwan levied an embargo on the Philippines for killing a Taiwanese fisherman. The embargo was lifted after the Phillipines apologized. Why shouldn't HK penalize the Philippines somehow when it behaves in this cavalier way? Aquino should apologize, not just to be 'big-hearted'. It was a result of their faulty decisions that people were killed or wounded. Just because HK doesn't have a sufficient leveredge doesn't mean we should just go away, and I am surprised that Regina Ip doesn't have more sympathy or sense of righteousness.
chanaa
hkers keep drawing parallel between the Twn incident & Manila bus - why ? One is an act by a soldier via military chain of command & the other is an act by a deranged person outside govt control. Bungled rescue attempt / unprofessional ? Who are we to judge another soverign country's civil service level ? As educated as most hkers are, they seem to have blinkers on in this respect.
As Regina alluded, certain parties are out for political gains. I am not a fan of CY, but hk needs to filter out the garbage from some of these grandstanding opportunist. So these opportunist came out with the familes claiming the Phils govt paid no compensation & they were caught few days later. Then, they claim its not enough. Not enough by which country's standard ?
impala
Ms Ip should add some of her rare actions to her always plentiful talk.

Why does she not table a motion in LegCo to remove the black travel alert for The Philippines?
yscj
True, the rescue was badly organized and lives were lost due to the gross incompetence of the Philipinne authorities. But it is equally true that there is a greater risk for travellers to developing countries. Holiday destinations are priced differently, partly for this reason. We may blacklist some of these destinations if their safety record is persistently bad. But suing a developing country for not being up to the "standards" of the advanced nations may be going a bit too far. Tragic incidents happen in the advanced countries too, not all are handled well either, and loss of innocent lives is not unknown. While our sympathies must lie with the victims, are we too prone to pick on the easy targets?
clk2828
The fact that there was a better SWAT team which was not called during the incident and some dodgy police department which was ill-equipped to handle the situation took over and allowing the media to show the incident real-time which the killer was watching the TV at the same time in the bus aggravated the situation out of control. The improper handling of the situation which didn't respect the lives of HK travelers is what the Philippines Government need to admit and act up to. "an act of state, in the form of a crime committed by a state employee, and a private act, in the form of a killing frenzy committed by a deranged former policeman" is TOTALLY NOT the point of focus!
Will.I.Am
Yup, well written. Everyday I see the hostage victim's family on TV and each time I get wearier. C'mon guys, just move on and stop being a politician's tool. But you guys really have "Stayed past your welcome."

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