Manila urges calm after sanctions vote

Spokesman says it will help Filipinos after call for retaliatory measures by HK lawmakers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 November, 2013, 4:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 November, 2013, 6:22am

A top-level call for calm has been issued to the city's 160,000-strong Filipino community after Hong Kong's Legislative Council passed a motion calling for economic sanctions against the country over the Manila tour-bus hostage tragedy.

As a massive storm hammered their country, Herminio Coloma, a spokesman for the Presidential Palace, urged calm in the wake of Hong Kong lawmakers' backing of retaliatory measures against the Philippines over their response to the hostage tragedy in 2010 that left eight Hongkongers dead.

"We are calling on everyone to keep calm and they should not be perturbed because the government is ready to help them … We will continue to take all appropriate measures in order to protect their interests," Coloma said.

One of the non-binding motions passed by Legco on Thursday called for an end to visa-free access for Filipinos.

Coloma told ABS-CBN television in Manila that talks were under way between the Philippines and Hong Kong authorities to arrive at a "mutually satisfactory conclusion". He also said the high-level talks between President Benigno Aquino and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying last month in Bali demonstrated the desire of both sides to reach a proper conclusion.

It has also emerged that Manila mayor Joseph Estrada has postponed his trip to Hong Kong to deliver an apology on the city government's behalf. He had been due to arrive this month.

Victims' families have pressed for an official apology from the national government, and Leung vowed this week to impose sanctions unless "substantial progress" was made in talks on the issue by the end of this month.

Feliza Benitez, a Filipino domestic helper in Hong Kong, said there was "of course" a feeling of uncertainty among the city's Filipinos. "The president has to do something about it," she said.

And Chinese traders in the Philippines are lobbying Aquino to authorise an official to apologise to the victims on his behalf. "Chinese merchants now hope to explore a possibility of not requiring the president to apologise himself, but that he delegates the power to apologise on the Philippine government's behalf to some official," said financial services lawmaker Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, who is of Filipino Chinese descent.

Under Estrada's plan, most of the compensation would derive from these merchants, an idea that brought criticism in Hong Kong over why the government refused to contribute financially.

Tse Chi-kin, brother of slain tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn, said: "We know it is impossible for the president to apologise. But the national government as a whole does owe the Hong Kong public an explanation."

Additional reporting by Raissa Robles in Manila