Rodrigo Duterte

Duterte’s apology over Manila tour bus hostage incident is long overdue

The Philippines president surprised everyone during his Hong Kong visit by making a formal apology over the 2010 tragedy. Hopefully, this can now lay the matter to rest

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 April, 2018, 1:36am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 April, 2018, 1:36am

No one expected the Manila tour bus hostage incident in 2010 would be raised again during Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Hong Kong. But the Philippines president surprised everyone with a formal apology over the horrific saga, in which eight Hongkongers were killed in a botched rescue. The apology, which came four years after a settlement had been made, is long overdue. It is nonetheless welcome news. As the saying goes, it is never too late to apologise.

That vindication comes after those responsible for wrongdoing are no longer in power is not unusual. The maverick leader upended his predecessor Benigno Aquino’s steadfast refusal to take the blame.

Duterte apologises to Hong Kong victims of Manila hostage tragedy

What prompted Duterte to say sorry in his second visit to the city in 10 months remain unclear. But against the backdrop of improving China-Philippines relations, the apology has put a positive note to a bitter saga that once soured Manila’s ties with Beijing and Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government hoped that the apology could bring closure to those affected.

The live broadcast of the 25-member tour group held hostage by a gunman is still very much part of Hong Kong’s memory today. It took four years before a settlement was made. Frustratingly, the agreement only came with the expression of “most sorrowful regret” from the Philippines government.

Duterte’s statement drew mixed reactions from survivors and victims’ family members. The brother of the tour guide who died in the drama said it was a form of respect to those affected. But a survivor who has gone through rounds of surgery to her shattered jaw said the apology was not sincere, saying Duterte should formally write to them or meet them. Her response shows that moving on is not easy. Their ordeal is not something we could possibly claim to understand.

Did Duterte have ulterior motive in apologising for hostage crisis that killed eight Hongkongers?

Sorry can be the hardest word for politicians. But reluctance to apologise often antagonises other parties and makes things worse. Sincere or not, the apology is not going to change the outcome of the tragedy. The survivors and the victims’ families could have been spared the ordeal of pursuing justice in times of pain had the apology come earlier. It is to be hoped that the postscript to a long closed chapter can lay the matter to rest.