Philippine ‘bus hostage’ delegation divided as only half the members arrive in Hong Kong

Senior politician and top policeman due to lead ‘palace-sanctioned’ talks not yet in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 April, 2014, 5:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 April, 2014, 8:57pm

Confusion surrounded a visit by a delegation of senior Philippine officials today which was set-up in a bid to defuse a diplomatic row over the 2010 Manila hostage tragedy and discuss compensation and an apology to victims’ families.

Yesterday, it was announced that a delegation of Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, Jose Rene Almendras, secretary to President Benigno Aquino’s cabinet, and Philippine National Police director general Alan Purisima would arrive in the city today for meetings.

Today, however, Estrada arrived with Manila city councillor Bernardito Ang at the Hong Kong International Airport nearly an hour after their expected 12.20pm arrival. There was no sign of Almendras or Purisima.

Sources in Manila, who only spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to say why the delegation did not travel together, as earlier announced. It is not known when they plan to travel to Hong Kong.

Diego Cagahastian, public information chief for Estrada, said yesterday: “This is a Malacanang (Palace) trip. He added that the visit was “a joint effort of the national and local (Philippine) government”.

They left the airport’s VIP complex shortly after 2pm in a security motorcade comprising of a matte-black Rolls Royce, two matte-black Mercedes-Benz G-Class Sport Utility vehicles and two seven-seater vans.

Estrada, in his trademark sunglasses, and Ang, who was in a wheelchair, left the airport building without speaking to journalists waiting at the exit.

The group is expected to meet Hong Kong officials and a group of family members of victims during his stay.

Seven Hong Kong tourists and their guide were killed after being taken hostage by a sacked policeman onboard their coach in Manila on August 23, 2010.

Diego Cagahastian, public information chief of Estrada, said earlier that the 77-year-old mayor would be bringing a cheque for the surviving victims and the families of those killed.

The Hong Kong government has cancelled visa-free access for Philippine diplomats and officials in an economic sanction to pressure Manila to address demands by survivors and relatives. They are seeking a formal apology, compensation, punishment of responsible officials and better tourist safety from the Philippine government.

In October, Aquino told the South China Morning Post he could not issue an official apology or compensation because “the act of one individual who is probably mentally unstable … should not be construed as an act of the entire country”.

Ang visited Hong Kong last October to meet some of the families of the slain victims and a legislator in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Watch: Philippine bus hostage-taking incident