Return of confidence in Philippine tours will take time, says Hong Kong’s security chief

Second round of sanctions was being prepared before agreement reached with families, lawmaker reveals

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 12:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 6:27pm

It will take some time for Hongkongers to recover lost confidence in the Philippines’ tourism industry despite a “severe threat” warning being lifted as part of the 2010 Manila bus hostage crisis settlement, Hong Kong’s security chief said today.

Reaction from the public to yesterday's agreement was mixed on whether the city has compromised too much in reaching an agreement with the Philippine government, with a number of callers to RTHK slamming the government for lifting the “black” travel alert too soon.

Speaking on RTHK, Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said tour operators would need some time to resume regular tour services to the Philippines.

“They will not all of a sudden start heading up there … there are all sorts of arrangements that need to be made to organise tours including finding a [local] agency and planning itineraries,” he said.

“I do believe Hong Kong residents, in regards to the local tourism there, will need some time to regain confidence in the tourism.”

Lai, who was undersecretary for security during the crisis, said he hoped the relatives of the victims and the public could take “a step forward toward a new start”.

A joint statement issued by the two governments yesterday announced the immediate lifting of visa-restrictions against Philippine officials and lifted the “black” travel advisory which was imposed shortly after the tragedy.

The Philippines also expressed its “most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy” over the tragedy which claimed the lives of eight Hong Kong people.

Speaking on Commercial Radio, Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who has been helping the relatives of the victims’, said the negotiations came with a lot of “twists” and the lowest point came in January when the government announced its first round of sanctions.

A second round of sanctions was also planned, Lai and To confirmed though both refused to give any details.

Commenting on the debate over why there was no mention of the words “apologise” or “sorry” in the joint statement, To said he and the relatives understood it was a “diplomatic negotiation” and would still accept it as an apology.

He also said Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada used the words “apology” and “sorry” repeatedly in front of the relatives before they met the press yesterday.

“The relatives know they did say it during the meeting. The mayor grabbed [injured victim] Yik Siu-ling’s hand and said sorry and apologised multiple times … she even said she was very moved.

He reiterated that the government did not force the victims’ relatives to accept the apology. “If they didn’t accept the apology, the government … would have enacted a second round of sanctions. They knew it would affect other people too and that if they insisted on the word ‘apology’ the road will only go on and on.”

Reactions from the public was varied. One caller to Commercial Radio, identified as Hui, claimed to be a friend of Masa Tse Ting-chunn, the tour guide who was gunned down in the crisis.

He said he was very sad when heard of the agreement yesterday. “But I understand their [the victims and families] decision,” he said. “They are very kind and generous as they wish not to see other Filipinos to suffer … it must be very hard for them, if not impossible, to leave the whole incident behind.”

Another caller, identified as Ms Lee, said the immediate lifting of the “avoid all travel” alert sent the wrong message to the world. “[The reason why the black travel alert] was in effect was because of the safety concern, not because the Philippines had not apologised,” Lee said.

The government should not act as if they had made significant achievements, she said, adding that the Hong Kong government alone did not achieve much before Beijing’s more active intervention.

One caller said he disapproved of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, but said he deserved some credit for the success, while another disagreed and said the sanctions should have come earlier and stronger.