Manila urges Hong Kong to leave visa-free entry out of hostage row

The Philippines voices hope for a healthy exchange of travellers ahead of lawmakers' vote on whether to end preferential treatment of Filipinos

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 4:17am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 4:33am

The Philippines has urged Hong Kong not to link visa-free arrangements for Filipinos and other aspects of bilateral ties to the Manila hostage tragedy.

The call comes ahead of a Legislative Council debate tomorrow over proposed economic sanctions against the Philippines, as the incident that left eight Hongkongers dead more than three years ago remains unresolved.

More details also surfaced yesterday about a rift in negotiations last week between those who lost loved ones or were injured - who are demanding an apology and compensation - and the representatives of the visiting Manila city government.

The Philippines' Foreign Affairs Department said it "hopes to delink the Hong Kong hostage crisis from other aspects of its relations" with the city, state media Xinhua reported.

The department added that it would be keeping a close eye on tomorrow's push in Legco to withdraw the preferential visa arrangement, Xinhua said.

"Both Hong Kong and the Philippines are attractive tourist destinations … We look forward to the continued healthy exchange of travellers," the department was quoted as saying. It also expressed hopes for a "speedy resolution" to the incident.

So far, the motion proposed by lawmaker and former security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has won the support of lawmakers across the political spectrum.

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok had said he would address the visa issue after the legislative debate tomorrow.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, acting on behalf of three bereaved families, said he supported imposing sanctions if no progress could be made.

August 23 of this year marked the third anniversary of the day eight Hongkongers were shot dead and seven others were injured after sacked Philippine policeman Rolando Mendoza took them hostage on board a tour bus in Manila.

To, who took part in last week's negotiations, has said that both sides had made concessions in an effort to secure a deal on compensation and had agreed to further exchanges.

Yesterday, his negotiating counterpart - Manila City Council member Bernardito Ang, who represented Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada - revealed that the biggest point of contention concerned the families' demand for an apology from President Benigno Aquino.

Debate had centred on the capacity in which Aquino would apologise - although Aquino himself has repeatedly ruled out doing so.

"How [the Hong Kong side] demanded President Aquino to apologise is not as president of the Republic of the Philippines, representing the people of the Philippines," Ang said.

"The apology is demanded of him as the head of government … because the people of the Philippines have not done wrong to the Hong Kong people."

There had also been accusations against the national government over the bungled rescue operation, he added.

Tse Chi-kin, older brother of slain tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn, said Manila still appeared "insincere".

"I have a strong feeling it just wants the matter to end as soon as possible, though not in a manner that would show commitment to its responsibilities."