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PH, HK end bitter row; sanctions lifted

Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada speaks during a news conference in Hong Kong Wednesday. Hong Kong and the Philippines reached a compromise over Hong Kong’s demands for an apology for the families of eight tourists killed in a bungled response to a 2010 Manila hostage-taking that soured relations. AP

HONG KONG—After nearly seven months of negotiations, the Philippines and Hong Kong on Wednesday announced a “win-win” solution to provide closure to the 2010 Manila hostage tragedy that claimed the lives of eight people and injured seven others from this Chinese special administrative region.

Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said both sides reached an agreement after the families of the victims agreed to the Philippine government’s expression of “sorrowful regret and profound sympathy, and most sincere condolences” through letters issued by Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima.

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Malacañang had refused to apologize for the hostage-taking at Luneta Park, saying it would open the government to legal liabilities.

Almendras said the primary concern of the Philippine and Hong Kong governments was to provide for the needs of the victims and their families.

“This resolution is because [President Benigno Aquino III and Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying] both agreed we were going to find a win-win solution, a complete solution. The primary, most important thing in this initiative is not politics, not national interests but the families,” Almendras said.

He said President Aquino’s “first marching orders” were to provide for the needs of the victims and their families after Leung gave a detailed description of their plight during the two leaders’ meeting in Bali, Indonesia, last year.

Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada tried to settle the row with Hong Kong by apologizing to the victims’ relatives on behalf of his city.

Almendras said he met with the former President late last year and told him and his team to stop their initiative to give way to direct talks between Malacañang and Hong Kong.

He thanked Estrada and his team, however, for launching the initiative.

Almendras said that he, together with Philippine officials, including Estrada, had a “solemn” meeting with the victims or their families Wednesday afternoon before the deal was announced to the public.

“I am grateful to the people of Hong Kong, most especially to the family members and the victims who have made themselves open and have now spoken out in favor of the final resolution of this situation,” Almendras said in a press conference at the Philippine Consulate General.

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Time to heal ties

“From hereon, we believe it is time to heal the relationship. We can only look forward to enhancing the bilateral and people-to-people friendship between the Philippines and Hong Kong,” he added.

In a separate press briefing at government headquarters, Leung announced the lifting of sanctions against the Philippines and the “black” travel advisory that warned Hong Kong residents against traveling to the Philippines.

“The resolution of the incident enables the normalization of the bilateral relations between Hong Kong and the Philippines. I therefore announce that the sanction against the Philippines is lifted immediately. The 14-day visa-free arrangement applicable to holders of diplomatic or official passports of the Republic of the Philippines for visiting Hong Kong is reinstated,” Leung said.

“At the same time, since the Philippine government has implemented a range of measures to guarantee tourist safety, I announce that the Black Outbound Travel Alert against the Philippines is lifted with effect from today. The Outbound Travel Alert that applies to the Philippines will revert to Amber, as was the case before the hostage-taking incident,” he said.

“It has been over three years since the Manila hostage-taking incident. Yet, the sufferings of the victims and their families remain close to our hearts. With the final resolution of the incident, I sincerely hope that the deceased may rest in peace, and the injured and their families can move on with courage and strength,” Leung added.

Almendras said the letter from Purisima explained the circumstances [during the hostage-taking] that made the police determine a certain course of action that eventually failed.

“The third paragraph explained that because of that, it acknowledged the fact that their actions were not ready for the eventual results,” he said.

“The most important is the families have found this acceptable. They have accepted that point. The letter was not an instant letter. That letter took many, many months to formulate,” Almendras said.

Asked if he used the word “apology” during the meeting, Almendras said: “I am not sure if I used it or Mayor Estrada used it. We did not read a statement. It was an interaction between the family members.”

Marginally acceptable

A statement released by Hong Kong on Wednesday said the issue of an apology had been settled by the Philippine government expressing “its most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy.” But the statement did not specifically mention a formal apology from the Philippine government.

Tse Chi-kin, whose brother, tour guide Masa Tse, was killed, said the phrase “sorrowful regret” was “marginally acceptable.”

“It’s still an apology,” Estrada told reporters. “We feel sorry for what happened.”

Almendras said he also explained to the victims why the demand for an official apology from Mr. Aquino could not be met.

“In my meeting with the families this afternoon, I explained to them that what they originally wanted was not possible and they understood the complexity. There’s a technical complexity to that,” Almendras said.

“I would rather not say [we] refused [to use the word ‘apology’] but we have found a better way [of] saying something [that] is more acceptable in the realm of international diplomatic issues,” he added.

More compensation

The Philippines had already provided undisclosed financial compensation to victims and their relatives, with the money donated by private individuals.

The Hong Kong statement said more financial compensation would be given, although there were no details.

“An additional token of solidarity will be given to the victims or their families as a most sincere gesture of compassion of the people of the Philippines,” the statement said without disclosing the amount families and victims will receive.

The Philippine government will offer HK$1.5 million ($193,482) for each of the deceased and HK$3 million for the injured in a compensation package that would total HK$20 million, Cable TV News reported.

The Philippine government also said it had taken measures to “hold to account those responsible,” adding that it was ensuring such an incident will not occur in the future, according to the statement.

When asked if former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, on whose watch the hostage-taking happened, would also be held to account, Almendras said: “He lost the election [in 2013]. He’s no longer there.”

 

Mr. Aquino satisfied

In Manila, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said Mr. Aquino “expressed satisfaction that closure and a mutually satisfactory conclusion have been reached.”

Coloma thanked Estrada for his initiative that contributed to the national government’s efforts “to reach this desired outcome.”

In a statement posted on Twitter by his spokesperson, Estrada said “Hong Kong has lifted the travel ban, and relations between Hong Kong and Manila are now back to normal.”

“It was a very fruitful meeting with [the] Chief Executive of Hong Kong. I was with Secretary Almedras and [former Finance Secretary Jose] Pardo. I personally apologized and showed [a] resolution of [the] City Council. They accepted it,” Estrada said.

He and his delegation, including several Manila councilors, also met with the families of the victims who accepted the apology.

“Victims’ families will also come to Manila on July 14 to remember and pray for the victims,” the statement added.  With reports from AFP, AP, Erika Sauler and Jerome Aning

 

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TAGS: Alan Purisima, Chinese special administrative region, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Jose Rene Almendras, Joseph Estrada, Luneta hostage crisis, Manila hostage crisis, Manila hostage tragedy, Philippine National Police, President Aquino
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