A Philippine presidential palace official will accompany Manila's mayor to Hong Kong next week in an attempt to resolve the 2010 hostage tragedy, marking the first visit by officials since Hong Kong imposed sanctions in February.
Joseph Estrada plans to extend an official apology as mayor, sources say. It is unclear whether Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras, President Benigno Aquino's senior aide, will do the same. Other city councillors are part of the delegation.
Estrada, a former president, will invite relatives and victims to Manila as guests of the city government for an August "prayer event", two separate sources say.
Manila councillor Bernardito Ang confirmed Estrada's trip to Hong Kong, saying a meeting between him, Hong Kong officials and relatives of the slain victims had been arranged by Almendras.
Estrada's spokesman, Diego Cagahastian, said: "[He] will have a meeting with Hong Kong officials. He will also have a meeting with a group of victims."
Both sources said the city of Manila, through Estrada, had already invited the victims and relatives to the prayer event.
"The relatives of the victims will arrive in Manila later on to conduct a prayer event at the Luneta," Cagahastian said, referring to the place where four years ago Rolando Mendoza hijacked a tour bus filled with Hong Kong tourists and demanded his reinstatement as a Manila policeman. Eight Hongkongers were killed in the ensuing bloodshed.
Ang said the city council had passed a resolution making August 9 this year "a day of prayers and mourning". He explained that August 23, when the bloodshed occurred, fell on July 14 in the Chinese lunar calendar, and this year it falls on August 9.
"So we are inviting them because we are asking the Buddhist monks all over metro Manila to pray for their souls," said Ang.
The Hong Kong government has cancelled visa-free access for Philippine diplomats and officials. Survivors and relatives want a formal apology, compensation, punishment of responsible officials and better tourist safety.
Ang said the exact date of the delegation's arrival - "between April 20 and 25" - was still being discussed.
The Hong Kong Security Bureau said: "We will report to the victims and their families as well as the public when substantive progress has been achieved."
Additional reporting by Phila Siu
Watch: Philippine bus hostage-taking incident