'I'm not visiting Hong Kong to apologise for bus siege' says Philippine minister
Philippine justice minister says she has no plan to brief families on bus siege killings, and Aquino has not spoken to her about rumoured trip
Jeffie Lam, Phila Siu and Alan Robles
The Philippine Justice Secretary has denied she has any plan to come to Hong Kong to apologise for a bungled rescue mission during a bus siege three years ago that left eight Hongkongers dead.
Leila De Lima told reporters in Manila yesterday that she was never instructed by President Benigno Aquino to make the official apology that has been sought by the Hong Kong government.
It had been reported that Aquino agreed to send De Lima to Hong Kong yesterday to brief victims' families on the judicial process and status of their cases.
"There is no truth to the rumour that I will go to Hong Kong [yesterday]. It's kind of strange this rumour went the rounds because in the first place the president has not talked to me about it," De Lima told the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper.
Philippine presidential office spokeswoman Abigail Valte told the Post: "Secretary De Lima says she is waiting for further instructions from the president."
Aquino earlier insisted he would make no apology, saying the lone gunman was to blame. Seven Hong Kong tourists and their guide were killed and several others hurt when fired Manila policeman Rolando Mendoza took them hostage at gunpoint on their tour bus in the Philippine capital. A bungled rescue saw the gunman shot dead by police.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party said yesterday that the government should suspend all exchanges with, and put an embargo on products from, the Philippines to increase the city's bargaining power ahead of an upcoming ministerial meeting.
It comes after radical pan-democratic party People Power earlier said it would seek a law revision to ban Filipino domestic helpers from working in the city in an effort to force Manila's hand on the issue.
Yesterday, the Democratic Party said it could take at least two years to introduce the ban, and it would have little effect on the current situation.
The party instead wants the government to impose economic sanctions on the Philippines to press for a resolution that could include compensation and a formal apology from Manila.
"The Hong Kong government needs more bargaining power before it starts negotiating with Philippine officials," lawmaker Sin Chung-kai said.
The party called on the government to suspend all interaction with Manila, including trade talks and cultural exchanges, and to stop buying products from the country indefinitely.
It also called for a wider boycott of Philippine goods and for all business and cultural links to be suspended.
Party member and district councillor Henry Chai Man-hon said Hong Kong was the Philippines' seventh-largest trading partner, but it was 18th among countries doing trade with Hong Kong. "Sanctions would have a bigger impact on the Philippines than on Hong Kong," Chai said.
But one of the survivors of the tragedy, Lee Ying-chuen, said she did not want Filipino maids in Hong Kong to be used as scapegoats in the saga, adding that they had contributed a lot to the city.
Liberal Party chairwoman Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee suggested that all Hongkongers write to Aquino, demanding an apology.