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Hong Kong Group Presses Philippines for Apology Over Hostage Killings

A priest consoles Amy Leung during a Hong Kong memorial service of her 58-year-old husband Ken, 21-year-old daughter Doris and 14-year-old daughter Jessie, who were kiled during a bus hijacking in the Philippines on Aug. 23, 2010.

Philippine government officials have met with representatives of victims and a survivor of last year's botched hostage rescue in Manila that left nine people dead.

Representatives of the eight Hong Kong tourists who died say their meeting was "useful." But they expressed disappointment their demands were not met.

During the hour-long meeting at the Department of Justice in Manila, Secretary Leila de Lima heard from six Chinese nationals who wanted four things from the Philippine government: criminal charges against certain officials who oversaw the hostage crisis, an official apology from the president, compensation for the victims and better protections for tourists traveling to the country.

Immediately after the meeting, de Lima said she would bring all of their points to President Benigno Aquino. She also reiterated that under Philippine law anyone can make a demand for compensation from the government.

“We recognize there were lapses, there were inadequacies in the handling of that unfortunate incident," she said. "That is why the Philippine government has been exerting serious efforts to address all these gaps, all these deficiencies in the competence of the concerned agencies. We need closure to this particular matter and we ask for understanding.”

On August 23 last year, a fired senior police officer hijacked a tour bus filled with tourists from Hong Kong and demanded his old job back, a drama that played out live over international news channels. The 11-hour siege ended with eight tourists and the hostage-taker dead after a mishandled rescue attempt by police.

De Lima’s office investigated the incident and found there was a lack of clear direction to officials during the siege. In the report, de Lima recommended criminal and or administrative charges against 10 people.

But just five officials, including Manila’s mayor and police officers, face administrative charges. One person was fired over how he handled the gunman’s request to be reinstated.

Lee Ying Chuen was on the tour bus. She says returning to the Philippines nearly a year later has been hard, but she says she had to do it to “for justice.” Lee says the group had wanted to meet with President Aquino.

“We were disappointed when we requested one meeting with him when we were in Manila. That he also refused to meet with us, refused to have a dialogue with us, refused to listen to our demands," Lee said. "So we have been disappointed many times before, in our experience. And I do hope we will not be disappointed again.”

The president’s press secretary says President Aquino repeatedly expressed regret over the incident, but the group says that is not the same as an apology.

Hong Kong legislator James To acted as spokesman for the group that met with Justice Secretary de Lima.

“Of course we cannot say we are satisfied with the result," he said. "But at least we know more about the procedure and we will liaise closely more with her office.”

To says the group hopes to put pressure on the president through de Lima, who said she would meet with Mr. Aquino right after the meeting with the Chinese nationals.

In recent weeks, the government has staffed tourist destinations in metro Manila with extra police. Hong Kong’s travel ban to the Philippines since the day of the hostage crisis remains in place.