Relatives of Hongkongers killed in the Manila hostage crisis have slammed Philippine President Benigno Aquino as "irresponsible" after he again refused to apologise for the tragedy.
They also urged the Hong Kong government to consider tougher sanctions after it ended visa-free access for Philippine diplomats and officials to press for an apology and compensation for the victims.
Aquino fuelled the row in a New York Times interview, in which he said there would be no apology for the killing of eight Hongkongers by sacked policeman Rolando Mendoza and a botched rescue operation, despite the "phase one" sanctions that took effect yesterday.
Aquino told the Times that any apology risked creating a legal liability. He also noted that China had not paid compensation for the death of Filipinos in episodes on its territory.
In a separate statement, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs called on Hong Kong "to be sober and to reflect rationally on this issue".
But Tse Chi-hang, brother of slain tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn, said of Aquino's reaction: "It is very disappointing. It is very irresponsible for [Aquino] to try to negate the responsibility his government should bear for the incident. The Hong Kong government should press harder and consider tougher measures."
However, Executive Council member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a strong advocate of sanctions, called for patience and suggested the picture could change when Aquino left office in 2016.
"I am not saying we should concede defeat. I like to point out that it is going to take a long time," Ip said, noting there was still room for Hong Kong to increase sanctions, such as tightening visa restrictions for Filipinos coming to work in the city other than as domestic helpers.
Lawmakers and solicitor James To Kun-sun, who has worked with the families and survivors, said sanctions sent a strong message that Hong Kong would back its actions with words. But he said it was too early to talk about further measures.
"We should trust the government and allow it more time. We also need to allow Manila time to weigh its options," said To. But he said the families stood firm on the need for an apology from Aquino.
Financial services lawmaker Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, who has family links to the Philippines, said businesses in Manila feared further sanctions.
But the Civic Party's Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, an international relations scholar, said Hong Kong could do little more without Beijing's input.
In Manila, city councillor Bernardito Ang, who represents Manila mayor Joseph Estrada, yesterday said further negotiations between the city government and Hong Kong were being arranged. "The instruction of [Estrada] is not to let go of the negotiations despite the national government's failure to reach an agreement," said Ang, adding that sanctions would not affect the "friendship" between both places. Estrada, a former president, has attempted to extend an olive branch to Hong Kong.
"We will keep talking … we wholeheartedly want to resolve the issue," Ang said.
A Hong Kong government spokesman welcomed Ang's comments and said it was committed to negotiations.
Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung
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