Benigno Aquino

Smiling Aquino ‘ridiculous’ and ‘lacking empathy’, Manila hostage crisis survivors say

Philippine President Benigno Aquino says smile after Manila hostage crisis was to control his feelings - but survivors say that's ridiculous

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 April, 2015, 11:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 April, 2015, 5:20pm

Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s reason for smiling after the 2010 Manila hostage crisis in which eight Hongkongers died was “ridiculous”, survivors said, accusing him of lacking empathy.

Aquino attracted furious criticism after disgruntled former Philippine policeman Rolando Mendoza hijacked a tourist bus, leading to a deadly shoot-out with police, when he appeared to smile at a press conference following the incident.

But the Philippine president told the South China Morning Post in an exclusive interview published today that “it was the absurdity” that made him smile briefly at the time.

“Some people will curse, will shout to high heavens… [the smile] is an effort to control [my emotions and actions],” he said.

But two survivors of the crisis agreed that “ridiculous” was the first word that came to mind when they heard Aquino’s reason for smiling.

One of them, Lee Ying-chuen, said Aquino’s attitude over the past five years, including his latest explanation, showed he “lacked empathy”.

“As a public figure, he should have expected how others would perceive the smile,” said Lee, who was at the back of the coach when Mendoza opened fire.

“It only shows that he has no empathy.”

“Even after that [press conference where Aquino was filmed smiling] and after all the criticism, he still smiled when he mentioned or was asked about the incident,” Lee said, after revisiting files she kept on the incident.

“When we went back to commemorate [the victims] at the scene, he was officiating a celebratory event nearby and we could even hear the cannons being fired.”

Lee also dismissed the alternative interpretation that Aquino’s smile was a result of cultural differences.

READ MORE: ‘I smile when I’m fed up’: Philippine president Benigno Aquino defends ‘inappropriate’ grins that sparked international outrage

“I’ve been to Southeast Asia many times but I’ve never heard that it is part of the culture to smile after someone dies,” she said.

During the hostage crisis, Aquino had instructed one official of the Department of Interior and Local Governments to relay his orders to Special Action Forces commander Leocadio Santiago to use the elite SAF commandos for the rescue.

Instead, Santiago disobeyed Aquino’s orders, and the poorly trained SWAT team of the Manila police was used instead.

“Maybe [smiling is] my own coping mechanism, rather than strangling the neck of the person who could have avoided that tragedy if they had just followed the instructions,” Aquino said.

Another survivor, Li Yick-biu, called that explanation “unacceptable” and “illogical”.

“How could it be possible that his subordinate disobeyed his orders?” Li said. “If that’s what happened, he didn’t even have the powers of a president.”

Lee, 77, and his wife Tsui Fung-kwan were released early by Mendoza due to Lee’s diabetic condition.

“This so-called explanation is simply ridiculous,” he said.

Other survivors did not respond to the Post‘s written inquiries and phone calls, while Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun, who was assisting the victims, said he would not comment because they wished to look forward.

“The survivors and their families have considered this matter resolved and are on their way to a new start,” To said. “So I would not comment on this out of respect for their wishes.”

But To said he hoped Aquino would continue to step up security measures at tourist sights in the Philippines as a way to fulfil one of the four demands of the survivors and families. The other three demands were an apology, compensation and punishment for the officials responsible.