As the bodies of the eight Hong Kong tourists killed in Monday's hostage shootout in Manila return home, Filipino officials try to determine how it happened.
It was reminiscent of a reception for war dead. Survivors and family members gathered at Hong Kong's International Airport as eight coffins were unloaded onto the tarmac. Hong Kong's Chief Secretary, Henry Tang, promised continued support. "Hong Kong people will always stand by their side and government will spare no effort to providing whatever assistance they require," he said.
An investigation is already underway in the Philippines into the incident, where a disgruntled former police officer opened fire inside a tourist bus he had commandeered. It is still unclear if the eight victims who were killed were shot by the hostage taker or by gunfire from police storming the bus. Secretary Tang, who had voiced harsh criticism of the way Filipino officials had handled the case, agreed the investigation was of utmost importance.
"But, I still believe that a full, comprehensive, thorough and impartial report is the best condolences and the best closure for this whole tragic incident," he said.
While sorrow and anger continued in Hong Kong, the Philippines observed a day of public mourning Wednesday. Questions about how the incident was handled are being expressed there as well. "Filipino migrant workers here share the Hong Kong people's shock and dismay at the way the crisis situation was handled," said Delores Peleaz, a member of the Filipino Migrant Workers Union.
President Benigno Aquino shifted into damage control mode. "We understand that there is that sense of outrage, and the anger that emanates from that sense of outrage. We ask for their understanding. We are correcting deficiencies that we have noted in the implementation of our operating procedures. None of us wanted this outcome. And, we'd like to emphasize the fact that primary consideration was on trying to secure all of the hostages," he said.
In the wake of the shootout, several senior Philippine police officials have been placed on leave. The weapons used by police have been secured as part of the investigation.
However, Filipino Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, who had already acknowledged police were ill-prepared for the hostage incident, urged caution against jumping to conclusions. "You know, until we get a full report and complete the investigation, I guess it's not fair to say whose head will roll. We need to establish accountabilities and responsibilities," he said.
The hostage situation is expected to take a toll on the Philippines tourist industry taking with it hopes that had been expressed that it could become a growth factor in the country's economy generating many badly needed jobs.