MANILA — Philippine officials say issues surrounding the deadly botched rescue attempt of Hong Kong nationals held hostage at a Manila park nearly four years ago, have been resolved “once and for all.”
Philippine Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said a series of meetings between the Philippine and Hong Kong governments over seven months resulted in the Philippines meeting four demands of the victims and their surviving family members.
On state-run television, Almendras, who led negotiations, said the government offered condolences, undisclosed reparations, reassured the victims it would hold accountable those responsible for the bungled rescue attempt and take measures to ensure the safety of tourists.
Almendras said Wednesday was the first time Philippine officials met face to face with a small number of the victims and their surviving families and the government’s sincerity was on the line.
“That was the most difficult, challenging option that needed to be in place. Despite the fact that there were tons and inches of documents that were signed… at the end of the day the families said ‘We will see if the sincerity is there.’ So I’m happy to report that that came across really well,” said Almendras.
In August 2010, a disgruntled former policeman, who was heavily armed, hijacked a tour bus filled with Hong Kong nationals and demanded he be reinstated. The daylong hostage situation resulted in eight deaths and seven injuries after a police swat team tried to break into the bus and exchanged gunfire with the ex-officer.
Since then, victims and their families had been calling for an official apology from President Benigno Aquino on behalf of the Philippines. The president refused saying the entire country could not be held accountable for the actions of one man. The administration instead expressed condolences and offered compensation.
The president and Hong Kong’s chief executive had a lengthy discussion on the issue of the “non-apology” at the APEC summit in October, which prompted negotiations. In November, Hong Kong threatened sanctions against Philippine passport holders and non-renewal of its thousands of contract workers if the victims’ four demands were not met. The first sanction against the Philippines that revoked government workers’ visa-free privileges to Hong Kong went into effect in February.
Philippine officials met with Hong Kong government officials Wednesday. In a statement afterward, Hong Kong Chief Executive C.Y. Leung said the two governments and the victims “reached consensus on the resolution of the four demands.” He said the Philippine government expressed its “most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy, and extends its most sincere condolences.” Leung said the sanctions as well as a years-long travel ban to the Philippines were lifted as of yesterday.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry said Beijing is “pleased to see that this issue has been properly resolved in the end.”
Hong Kong Legislative Councilor Albert Chan was one of the authors of the sanctions. He said emotions are still high in Hong Kong over the lack of an official apology.
“Some thing’s not satisfactory for this conclusion. But since the victims’ families already expressed that they accept this arrangement, we don’t want to drag this on indefinitely because this will add stress to the families of the victims,” Chan stated.
Chan said relations between the two governments have slightly improved. But he said “Hong Kong people are still extremely angry” and sad over what he called President Aquino’s “unwarranted” attitude.