Manila hostage crisis debate takes a swerve towards the ridiculous

Victims of hostage crisis deserve sympathy, not crass interventions by officials and lawmakers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 November, 2013, 5:23am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 November, 2013, 5:23am

For some time now I have been watching with growing incredulity the statements of our political leaders on the subject of the Philippine hostage incident of 2010.

They seem to be competing with one another to see who can come up with the most ridiculous proposal or comment.

If there is such a contest, then we may now have a "winner".

But before I say who I think that is, I need to make something clear to the victims and their relatives: the whole of the Hong Kong community has nothing but sympathy for your suffering and your loss. Those injured in the incident deserve the best medical care we can provide.

It is quite natural that you also expected a sincere expression of regret over the botched rescue attempt, to come from the most senior level.

If Philippine President Benigno Aquino had had any sense, he would have made such an apology at the time. It must by now be clear to you that he is not the calibre of person to behave in such a statesmanlike way. Any apology he might, under severe threat, be forced to give now would be meaningless because it would not be genuine.

Those of our legislators who have encouraged you to pursue one have done you, and indirectly Hong Kong, a disservice.

Similarly with the claim for compensation. The Philippines is a poor country and any offer in line with the levels payable to its own citizens would not meet your expectations or needs. If any one of the victims was not carrying appropriate travel insurance, then probably the best that can be hoped for is for a charitable organisation or individual - here or in Manila - to step in.

But no democratically elected government is going to propose a very large payout to foreigners, especially now as its priority is to rescue its own communities from the impact of the super typhoon.

Now for the competitors.

Longest in the field has been legislator James To Kun-sun, demanding an apology that is not going to come and vast sums of money from a government that hasn't got them.

Outflanking him on the absurd side is fellow Legislative Council member Albert Chan Wai-yip, who wants to ban all new domestic helper contracts, thereby inflicting a severe blow on large numbers of Hong Kong families as well as economic hardship on some of the poorest Filipino families.

A half-hearted entry from Executive Council member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee: her counterproposal of ending visa-free entry would cause only minor inconvenience for visitors from the Philippines and only modest damage to the travel industry here.

Two strong entries from our Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, the first when he set a deadline of one month (what happens then?) and the second when he was asked, post-super typhoon and devastation, whether he would relax the deadline, replied that "Manila hasn't asked for that". Is it possible it had other things on its mind?

And now for the winner. In steering the emergency aid proposal through the Legco Finance Committee (well done, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor) our chief secretary said the hostage aftermath and the humanitarian aid now required were entirely separate issues.

This was a classic "Swerve to the Left in order to move to the Right". (Think 1978, Deng Xiaoping praising Mao Zedong in order to scrap his absurd economic policies.) Because of course the two issues are intimately linked.

A small group of our residents suffered from Philippine government incompetence on one day. Millions of Filipinos suffer from the same incompetence every single day.

Both groups deserve our support.

Mike Rowse is managing director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at Chinese University. mike@rowse.com.hk