Problems do not go away simply by pretending they do not exist. Philippine President Benigno Aquino has for three years ignored the pleas for compensation and justice by the survivors and relatives of the Manila bus tragedy, presumably hoping that they would give up. But the pain and hurt is deep and Hong Kong people share the suffering. There can be no forgetting until demands have been met. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, therefore, deserves credit for brokering with the leader a resumption of negotiations between officials.
Leung made the deal with Aquino in talks on the sidelines of this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Bali. But it is clear that making progress will not be easy. The president told Philippine media on Monday that he would not apologise for the deaths of seven Hong Kong tourists and their guide in a botched rescue attempt by police officers that had unfolded to disbelief on live television. He contended it was a matter of culture; Filipinos believed an admission of fault could only come from those who had been directly involved.
Aquino can make such assertions because he is in a domestically strong position. His approval ratings among Filipinos have remained consistently high since taking office as president just two months before dismissed policeman Rolando Mendoza seized the tour bus. The country's economy is running hot, the leader is making ground on an anti-corruption drive and Time magazine has boosted his ego by putting him among its list of the 100 most influential people in the world for his stand against China over territorial claims. In such circumstances, the black travel alert Hong Kong's government has had in place against the country since the tragedy is of little consequence to Filipinos or their president.
That is of no comfort to the victims, who, beyond an apology, seek compensation, punishment of officials responsible and improved tourist safety. Mendoza died in the rescue attempt and none of those accused of wrongdoing have admitted fault, suffered consequences or shown regret. Legal suits for damages have been filed, but outcomes are uncertain unless the Philippine government is engaged and resolute.
Aquino's noticeable lack of empathy has been hurtful. Fresh talks offer a chance to right the wrong. The president may feel he has more to lose than gain by apologising, but Hong Kong will remain resentful and angry towards him and his country unless he expresses genuine remorse.