Philippine President Benigno Aquino finally said sorry to Hong Kong yesterday - not for the Manila hostage bloodbath but for forgetting the name of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, whom he met earlier this month.
Aquino stuck to his refusal to apologise to the hostage victims and their families, and admitted that fears of a legal backlash were a consideration. But he said some of the policemen who botched the rescue of Hongkongers from a hijacked tourist bus in Manila in 2010 could get harsher penalties.
Video: Philippine president: There will be no apologies for Hong Kong over bus hostage tragedy
The president's apology came during a foreign press forum in Manila when he was asked if, on the sidelines of the recent Asean summit in Brunei, he had discussed Hong Kong's concerns with Premier Li Keqiang .
Aquino rejected a China News Service report that Li had told him to find a way to resolve the dispute, saying: "I didn't talk to him about the Hong Kong issue.
"We talked in passing, as opposed to a formal bilateral meeting," he said, adding that most of the discussion had to do with disputes in the South China Sea.
"I talked to the chief executive of the SAR - I'm sorry and I apologise, the name escapes me at this point in time - wherein he explained their perspectives and I explained our perspectives."
Asked if the possibility of a legal backlash was deterring him from formally apologising, he said: "That has to be a consideration." An apology would imply that the hostage-taking was an act of state, and "then the idea also of compensation comes in".
"Our position is that the act of one individual who was probably mentally unstable should not be construed as an act of the entire country. We offered again our condolences to all who suffered and died. But there are limitations from a legalistic point of view."
Still, Aquino said his government was serious about bringing closure to the issue.
"I think the … current thinking is to increase the penalties for several policemen involved."
However, he said ex-Manila mayor Alfredo Lim might escape punishment, though he left his post at a crucial time and his order to arrest hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza's brother unwittingly set off the killing frenzy. He said the police commander ultimately was responsible, since he could have ignored Lim's suggestions.
Separately, the Security Bureau said it had "initial contact" with Manila City Council member Bernardito Ang, representing mayor Joseph Estrada, about arranging a meeting with bureau officials to apologise to the victims' families and survivors.
Ang said the city legislature was "sincere" in apologising regardless of what the Manila did.
"This incident took place in Manila. If something happened in Hong Kong, the central government wouldn't apologise."
But Tse Chi-kin, brother of slain tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn, said Aquino should say sorry, too.
Additional reporting by Phila Siu and Stuart Lau