DIPLOMACY

Manila won't hit back at Hong Kong's visa curbs over bus siege tragedy

President’s spokesman pledges no retaliation amid warning over the repercussions for domestic helpers working in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 4:04am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 8:40am

The Philippines says it will not retaliate against Hong Kong's new visa restrictions on officials, after the country's vice-president warned of the potential repercussions for thousands of domestic helpers who send back billions of dollars in remittances each year.

Secretary Sonny Coloma, chief of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, said in a press briefing yesterday that "if Hong Kong has taken steps against us, we are avoiding that path that would lead us further from understanding each other".

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced last week that Hong Kong would cancel 14-day visa-free arrangements for Philippine officials and diplomatic passport holders after Manila failed to respond to all of its demands over the 2010 bus siege, in which eight Hongkongers died.

Starting today they will need entry and transit visas to Hong Kong.

Coloma said that far from imposing counter-sanctions, "we continue to work to achieve a mutually acceptable solution for the sake of our workers in Hong Kong. We will do what we can to arrive at an amicable and mutually acceptable solution that will bring closure to this issue".

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has avoided making any public statement on the matter.

However, Vice-President Jejomar Binay expressed concern on Sunday that the row between Hong Kong and Manila would affect the 100,000 plus Filipinos working in the city.

"I hope not," Binay said, adding "that would be saddening" if it happened.

Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong last year will have sent home more than HK$4 billion in remittances, according to figures from the Central Bank of the Philippines.

Earlier, Congressman Winston Castelo urged Aquino to retaliate against Hong Kong's sanctions. But Castelo has not filed a House resolution to that effect.

Speaker of the House Feliciano Belmonte indicated yesterday that Congress would give Aquino a free hand in negotiating closure and would not dive into the issue for now.

Ever since Hong Kong announced the sanctions a week ago, public debate on whether or not Aquino should apologise has intensified.

"We're really just a breath away from the formal apology ... that's the only thing they are asking ...We won't lose anything by apologising," Clarita Carlos, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, told Coloma during a television show.

Asked at a press briefing if Aquino would avoid an apology until the end of his term in 2016, Coloma said the presidential palace remained hopeful of a solution.

Coloma also said the palace would not stop Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada from apologising or trying to resolve the issue. Estrada has previously apologised.