The Philippines' chief presidential aide, along with Manila's mayor and the nation's top policeman are flying to Hong Kong today in an attempt to defuse the stand-off over the 2010 bus hostage tragedy - and will bring a cheque for the victims.
"This is a Malacanang [Palace] trip," Diego Cagahastian, public information chief of Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, said when asked why the secretary to President Benigno Aquino's cabinet, Jose Rene Almendras, and Philippine National Police director general Alan Purisima were accompanying Manila mayor Joseph Estrada.
Cagahastian said Estrada, 77, would bring a cheque for the surviving victims and the families of those killed but he did not know who had funded it or how much it totalled. "The only thing he told me was, he will bring a cheque for the victims. That's all," he said.
Asked why the three were going together, Estrada said: "It's a joint effort of the national and local government."
The presidential palace did not reply yesterday to questions on today's trip. But in a statement released a week ago, Manila confirmed Almendras' role, saying he "continues to have discussions with Hong Kong government officials on reaching a mutually satisfactory conclusion".
A source with knowledge about the trip surmised that the police chief was coming to give an official update on measures taken to make the country safer for tourists and outline sanctions imposed on police who botched the rescue of Hong Kong tourists on August 23, 2010.
Eight Hongkongers died in the tragedy, which was sparked by a disgruntled former police officer who hijacked the bus with 25 people onboard.
Manila councillor Bernardito Ang, who arranged today's Hong Kong visit, said: "I cannot confirm the time and the activities out of respect for the Hong Kong side."
Asked whether the group would meet top Hong Kong officials and surviving victims and relatives, Ang replied: "The arrangement will be made by [Hong Kong officials], so we will just leave from [Manila] and then wait for their instructions."
The Security Bureau did not confirm the Philippine officials were coming. "We will report to the victims and their families as well as the public when substantive progress has been achieved," a bureau spokesman said.
Last week, Estrada expressed the hope that he would be able to meet Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying "if I am given a chance". He also said he would apologise as mayor because the tragedy happened in Manila.
In October, Aquino told the South China Morning Post he could not issue an official apology or compensation because "the act of one individual who is probably mentally unstable … should not be construed as an act of the entire country".
While in Hong Kong, Estrada will also extend an invitation from the city government to victims and relatives to visit Manila this August for "a prayer event".
Tse Chi-kin, brother of killed Hong Kong tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn, said yesterday that he and other families had four demands - an apology, compensation, punishment for the officials responsible and improved tourist safety. But if Estrada only offered an apology the affair would not be over, he said. He hoped that a representative at the national level would apologise.
Watch: Philippine bus hostage-taking incident