Duterte apologises to Hong Kong victims of Manila hostage tragedy
Philippine president takes city by complete surprise, offering apology and upending his predecessor’s refusal to accept blame for botched rescue
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took Hong Kong by complete surprise on Thursday, making a full public apology for the Manila bus hostage crisis that left nine people dead nearly eight years ago.
On his second visit to the city in 10 months, the outspoken leader upended his predecessor’s steadfast refusal to accept the blame for the botched rescue attempt that resulted in the deaths of eight Hongkongers and the rogue policeman who hijacked their tour bus.
“For the first time – the Chinese government and the people of China have already been waiting for this – there has been no official apology coming from the Filipinos regarding what happened in August 2010,” Duterte told a gathering of the city’s Filipino residents.
“May I address the Chinese people who are here. From the bottom of my heart, as president of the Republic of the Philippines, and on behalf of the people of the Philippines, may I apologise and say sorry that the incident happened and as humanly possible I would like to make this guarantee – it will never happen again.”
The apology drew wild applause from the 2,500-strong crowd at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.
Former president Benigno Aquino had frequently refused to apologise for the handling of the crisis.
An official statement of “most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy” was the best the victims’ families could get during his presidency.
Duterte, on a three-day visit to Hong Kong, said he hoped his apology would “go a long way to really assuage the feelings of the Chinese government and people”.
He said it was “only right” to apologise. “What is really needed is just to say we are very sorry, we apologise.”
The disastrous rescue attempt also left 13 Hong Kong tourists injured in Manila’s Rizal Park, and the subsequent fallout prompted the city to issue a black travel alert against the Philippines.
However, the two governments and victims’ families reached an agreement in 2014 under which an undisclosed amount of compensation was paid by Manila.
Duterte’s apology was met with mixed feelings by family members of the victims and survivors on Thursday.
“The Philippine government has been evading its responsibility over the tragedy for the past eight years until now, when eventually a representative from the government has offered an apology. It is a form of respect to the victims’ families,” said Tse Chi-kin, elder brother of tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn, who was killed in the incident.
He hoped the government would seriously review the incident to avoid future tragedies.
Survivor Yik Siu-ling said: “I think that the apology was not sincere enough. He [Duterte] should instead offer it in written form … He should at least write us a letter or meet us formally.”
Yik, whose lower jaw was shattered by a bullet, had to undergo reconstruction surgery 50 times and is still receiving treatment.
She added that the apology would not mean much to the victims’ families after so many years.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who helped the affected families, said the apology, although late, was a positive sign.
“Duterte is, after all, an elected president and he apologised on behalf of the Filipino people. I believe that it can help improve the relationship between Hong Kong and the Philippines.”
But To said the president should also examine the case of four Hong Kong fishermen who were being “unreasonably prosecuted” in the Philippines.
The jailed men, aged 30 to 51, were arrested in Subic Bay in July 2016 after a raid on a “floating crystal meth laboratory”. They have denied all charges and are being held in a prison in Olongapo for drug possession and manufacturing.
Earlier on Thursday, dozens of migrant activists took to the streets near the hotel where the president was staying in Tsim Sha Tsui. Protesters criticised the fact that they were restricted to a small area far from Duterte’s sight. They also noted the disproportionate number of police officers.
The president was due to leave Hong Kong on Thursday night.
Additional reporting by Danny Mok