Manila and the victims of the 2010 bus hostage killings have inched closer to a possible compensation deal, said a joint statement issued by the government, the victims' representative and the Manila negotiator yesterday after their second meeting.
The joint statement came after Manila City Council member Bernardito Ang - who on Wednesday said the compensation amount demanded by the victims was too great - provocatively questioned whether a Hongkonger's life is worth more than that of a Filipino soldier.
"Today's discussions were … helpful to narrow the differences," the statement said, adding all parties had agreed to further exchanges over the four demands raised by the victims and family members as a package.
"This time, the gap [between the two parties] has been narrowed … and I am satisfied with the progress," said Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun after his meeting with Ang.
"[This] not only refers to the apology and compensation, but also the other demands raised by the victims, which include punishment of responsible officials and improved safety for tourists."
To said both parties had made concessions but a deal was yet to be struck, as he and Ang still needed to consult the victims and Manila, respectively.
But he refused to comment on whether victims had lowered their compensation demand.
"The amount isn't the most important thing … it is not the more the better. But it shouldn't be an amount that embarrasses people and must meet Hong Kong's [living] standard," he said.
To admitted the atmosphere of yesterday's talks was tense: "Both parties had resentment over the events of the past few days. We have to spend some time clarifying the misunderstandings before we [can] move on to substantial discussion."
Ang has been criticised for breaching a confidentiality agreement after he revealed to Cable TV details of the deal Manila planned to offer.
To said he and the victims were not happy that details had been aired on TV through Ang, while Ang himself suspected that the victims' camp had leaked information to other media.
To said the government should consider introducing sanctions - including Regina Ip Lau Shuk-yee's suggestion of ending visa-free access to Hong Kong for Filipinos - in order to press for a deal if there wasn't any progress after a month.
Ang left the central government office where the meeting took place about an hour after To, but refused to comment further on the negotiations.
Separately, a security bureau spokesman yesterday denied a Philippine TV station's report that the victims had already accepted Manila's apology.
Sacked policeman Rolando Mendoza hijacked a tour bus in Manila in August 2010, shooting dead seven tourists and their guide, all Hongkongers, before being killed in a bungled rescue.