The Philippines said on Thursday it was “not prepared to consider” apologising for the Manila bus hostage crisis nearly four years ago, despite Hong Kong’s newly-announced visa sanctions against the country.
The spokesman for the Philippine foreign affairs department Raul Hernandez said in a statement that the country’s government “regretted” Hong Kong’s decision to cancel visa-free privileges for its officials and diplomats visiting the city.
He said the sanction was “unfortunate” because substantial compensation on the bus crisis had previously been arrived at with the Hong Kong government, the victims and their families.
Hong Kong on Wednesday announced that holders of official and diplomatic Philippine passport holders would no longer enjoy a 14-day visa-free arrangement when the first phase of sanctions takes effect next Wednesday.
Later on Thursday, the Hong Kong government issued a statement from the chief executives' office re-iterating its position on the matter.
"As the Chief Executive stated yesterday, the four demands of the victims and their families are justified. The Philippine side has addressed three of the demands positively. However, we have been seeking a satisfactory solution to the four demands made by the victims and family members as a package," the statement began.
"Despite many rounds of discussion, the Philippine side is still unable to meet the demand of the victims and their families for a formal apology. There remains a substantive difference between us," the statement continued. "We have to emphasise that the victims and their families have been demanding a formal apology from the Philippine side from the very beginning since the incident. The HKSAR Government will continue to seek a satisfactory response from the Philippine side."
"The announced measure aims to send an unequivocal message to the Philippine government. We hope the Philippine government will demonstrate greater sincerity and resolve to bring a satisfactory conclusion to the Manila hostage-taking incident."
The Hong Kong government has been infuriated by the Philippines’ refusal to apologise for the incident on August 23, 2010, in which sacked policeman Rolando Mendoza took 22 Hong Kong tourists and three Filipinos captive on their coach.
He shot dead seven tourists and their guide before being killed in a bungled rescue.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said that the measures, which he described as the “first phase of sanctions,” had been imposed after the Philippines had remained unable to meet the demands from victims and their families for an apology, even though it had responded to three other demands more positively.
Hernandez said on Thursday that the Philippines had no plans to make an apology as it was made to understand that victims and their families had accepted compensation and additional tokens of solidarity the country offered to them.
“In response to this generous offering, a total renegotiation has been opened by the Hong Kong SAR Government to seek a demand for an apology which the Philippines, as a sovereign nation, is not prepared to consider,” he said.
“Our nation has already expressed its deepest regret and condolences over the incident and we are preparing to reiterate this,” Hernandez said, adding that the country remained “committed to manifest compassion for the victims and families”.
Survivors and the relatives of victims have been demanding a formal apology, compensation, punishment of responsible officials and improved tourist safety.
They previously rejected an apology from Manila mayor Joseph Estrada last August as “insincere”, but found the government’s responses to the other three requests satisfactory. Ablack warning - the highest - against travel to the Philippines imposed by the government after the incident remains in force.
In November, the Philippines gave an undisclosed amount to injured survivor Yik Siu-ling, who had facial reconstruction surgery costing HK$1 million in Taiwan to repair damage from a bullet through her jaw.