Big support for tougher action on Manila: survey

Hongkongers fear visa restrictions for officials will not force an apology; they want economic sanctions and even a ban on Filipino helpers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 February, 2014, 4:06am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 February, 2014, 7:24am

Watch: Philippine bus hostage-taking incident

Half of Hongkongers believe a ban on visa-free access for Philippine officials will not be effective in forcing the country's leaders to apologise for the 2010 Manila hostage tragedy, a survey found, while just 16 per cent believe it will work.

The Chinese University survey found that 70 per cent of those polled supported economic sanctions, while half believed the government should stop importing domestic helpers from the Philippines.

Hong Kong last month withdrew visa-free access for officials and diplomats from the Philippines, forcing the 800 who visit the city each year to apply for a visa in advance.

The announcement marked the first time Hong Kong had imposed sanctions on a foreign state and came after talks over an apology for the killing of seven Hong Kong tourists and their guide by sacked policeman Rolando Mendoza came to nothing.

Survey co-ordinator Dr Victor Zheng Wan-tai, of the university's Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, said the fact the measure only affected a few officials and had a "very mild" impact on the country as a whole meant Hongkongers had little faith in it.

But he was surprised to see so many people favour economic sanctions, such as suspending procurement of Philippine products by the government.

"Hong Kong is a free and open city. It's hard to imagine we would use methods such as economic sanctions," Zheng said. "The findings reflect that citizens really have deep sympathy for the victims of the hostage crisis and are angry at the Philippine government's unwillingness to apologise and compensate [them]."

The survey of 762 people was conducted between February 16 and 19. The margin of error was 3.5 per cent.

About 75 per cent objected to the view that the Philippine government should not be held responsible as the tragedy was "a crime committed by an individual gunman". Some 90 per cent believed the Philippine government should apologise for the "botched rescue attempt" during which Mendoza started shooting hostages and was killed.

Almost 90 per cent said the Philippine government should apologise. About half said they would only accept an apology from Philippine President Benigno Aquino himself, rather than Manila mayor Joseph Estrada, who has indicated a willingness to say sorry. About a quarter would accept Estrada's apology.

Aquino has repeatedly refused to apologise, citing possible legal liability.

"I feel this survey has shown Hong Kong people's attitude towards the government's handling of the issue," said Tse Chi-kin, brother of slain tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn. "I hope our government can come up with a plan as soon as possible to answer people's demands."

Tse believed economic sanctions would be more effective.

Although the survey found support for a ban on Filipino domestic helpers, organisers noted that those with a higher level of education and incomes over HK$20,000, who were more likely to employ helpers, were "significantly less supportive".