Wednesday, October 9, 2013, 07:56
Aquino refuses to apologize for Manila hostage crisis
By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong

The Philippine president said on Tuesday it was not the Filipino culture to apologize for actions committed by others as he again refused to apologize for the 2010 Manila hostage tragedy, while survivors argued the Philippine government was responsible for the mishandling.

President Benigno Aquino III made his stance clear to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying at a Monday evening meeting on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia. He recollected the meeting’s exchanges as he briefed a group of Philippine reporters later in the day.

“I told them, in our culture when we apologize, we were admitting that we are at fault as a country, as a government, and as a people. And we pointed out that, from our perspective, there was one lone gunman responsible for this tragedy,” Aquino said.

“We cannot admit wrongdoing if it’s not ours. But we do extend our sincerest condolences. Again, we expressed our deepest regret that it’s so contrary to how we treat visitors in our country,” he said.

Aquino’s comments did not sit well with families of the tragedy. Tse Chi-kin, brother of deceased tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn, called Aquino’s words “nonsense”, as the Philippine Department of Justice had already cited seven officials for problems in the rescue operations.

“Everyone was carrying out operations as part of the government and as we found so many problems with so many officials, it is impossible for that government to state it has nothing to do with it,” Tse told Cable TV.

Li Yick-biu, a 72-year-old released early in the 10-hour siege, said the arrest of the gunman’s brother by Philippine police had contributed to worsening the situation. He named ex-mayor of Manila, Alfredo Siojo Lim, as one of the responsible officials.

But the meeting did see a slight shift in Aquino’s stance. According to Leung, who spoke to Hong Kong reporters on Tuesday morning, Aquino insisted at the beginning that “the matter has been resolved”, only for him later to tell Philippine press they still had work to do.

“I think there was a clarification as to what each side has been doing, why the perceptions of each side is such. We’re working to put that behind us. I also got the sense that they really were sincerely trying to come to a solution to that incident,” Aquino said.

While many Hong Kong people have been enraged by Manila’s response to the crisis, Filipino responses to demands made by survivors and families of the eight victims have not been positive.

Both sides agreed to maintain high-level dialogue in future and the Philippine government may send its Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to meet the families to explain follow-up action.

But Leung warned no one should “over-promise the results of further dialogue between Hong Kong and the Philippines”, as he concluded the half-hour meeting was merely “a small step in the right direction”.

“I believe, and I made the case to the Philippine side, that this matter, unless it is resolved properly, will continue to stand in the way in the normal relationships between Hong Kong and the Philippines,” he said.

Leung also said he felt sorry that the city government has failed to reactivate press badges for nine Hong Kong radio and TV crew members, who lost their access to the APEC event for allegedly “beyond-civility” behavior when they shouted questions at Aquino on Sunday.