Aquino apology 'silenced by fear of legal backlash'

Saying sorry could lead to compensation payout Philippines can ill afford, says Beijing diplomat

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 4:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 2:12pm

Philippine president Benigno Aquino is refusing to apologise for the Hong Kong hostage tragedy because of his fear of taking legal responsibility, according to a senior diplomat at Beijing's embassy in Manila.

"President Aquino has a strong sense of legal awareness because many of his officials are lawyers," the diplomat, who requested anonymity, told the South China Morning Post.

"He is afraid that once he makes an apology, the Hong Kong victims' families, who also have a strong legal sense, will take action to sue the government for misconduct and seek compensation. That would be a big burden for a poor country."

More than three years after eight Hong Kong tourists were shot dead by sacked policeman Rolando Mendoza, Hongkongers are still angry about how the Philippine government handled the hostage crisis and its refusal to apologise.

The anger deepened after the government did apologise when a 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman was shot dead by its coastguard on May 9.

After threats of sanctions from Taipei, the Philippines offered a formal apology to Taiwan, paid compensation to the victim's family, and homicide charges were recommended.

It also led to accusations that the Hong Kong government had been too soft.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda has said that the government had paid compensation to Hong Kong victims' families through a non-governmental body; former tourism secretary Alberto Lim had given an apology, which represented the president's attitude; and some officials had been punished.

Lacierda has also said that the envoy sent to Taiwan following the May 9 shooting did not indicate preferential treatment.

"An envoy was sent to Taipei … because we don't have diplomatic relations," he said. The Philippines sent a higher-level delegation to Hong Kong, led by Lim, the diplomat added.

Some Philippine people do not agree with this reasoning.

"Aquino should personally give an apology to the Hong Kong people as this happened in Manila. As the president of the Philippines, you should take responsible for such a tragedy even though it's not your mistake," said Teodoro Locsin, a journalist and former speechwriter for ex-president Corazon Aquino.

A Filipino businessman who refused to be named said he and many of his friends felt shame when their president smiled while commenting on television about the hostage case.

"He should not only apologise to Hong Kong people, but also say sorry for his improper behaviour, especially his strange smile, no matter whether he did it intentionally or unwittingly," the businessman said.