Hostage victims can’t sue Manila, judge decrees

Writ trio are told that sovereign states are immune from legal action in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 7:51am

A High Court judge yesterday struck out a claim filed by victims of the Manila hostage tragedy against the Philippine government on the grounds that a sovereign state is immune from being sued in Hong Kong.

But the two survivors and the mother of the tour guide killed in the bungled rescue three years ago could continue their legal battle against eight Philippine officials, said Mr Justice Mohan Bharwaney of the Court of First Instance.

Lawyers are considering whether to appeal against the judge's decision.

Last week, Lee Mei-chun, mother of tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn, and survivors Yik Siu-ling and Joe Chan Kwok-chu said in writs that they suffered injury and loss as a result of negligence or breach of duty by the Philippines and the eight officials involved in the rescue attempt. They are seeking millions of dollars in compensation.

The judge said: "I strike out the claim against the Republic of the Philippines on the grounds of sovereign immunity.

"I have not received any evidence or submission on whether the Republic of the Philippines is willing or likely to be willing to join as a party or is willing or likely to be willing to submit to the jurisdiction of this court."

The judge referred to the landmark Congo case of 2011 in which the Court of Final Appeal ruled that sovereign states enjoyed "absolute immunity" and therefore were protected from civil or criminal litigation.

Bharwaney said a jurisdiction could not assert judicial authority over a foreign state against its will.

The judge announced his decision after he dismissed the claimants' bid to have the hearing held behind closed doors due to the "sensitivity" of the case.

The eight officials were sued because they were criticised in a report by Philippine Secretary for Justice Leila de Lima.

They are the then Manila mayor Alfredo Lim; Manila police superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay; the vice-mayor of Manila Francisco Domagoso; Leocadio Santiago, a police chief; former national police director general Jesus Versoza; former interior and local governments undersecretary Rico Puno; chief hostage negotiator Orlando Yebra; and Chief Inspector Santiago Pascual.

The three victims filed the writs ahead of a legal deadline on the third anniversary of the tragedy in which sacked policeman Rolando Mendoza took 22 Hongkongers and three Filipinos hostage on a tour bus in Manila and shot eight dead before being killed himself.

They took the action after they said their demands for an apology, compensation, punishment for the officials responsible and better tourist safety were not met.

Yik and Chan filed a separate claim against Hong Thai Travel Services for negligence and breach of duty. Chan's hands were injured and Yik's lower jaw, left thumb and right index finger were shattered by a bullet.