Aquino happy Luneta hostage fiasco now behind him
MANILA, Philippines—Hounded by diplomatic tension with Hong Kong for more than two years, President Benigno Aquino was relieved to put the August 2010 Manila hostage drama that caused the problem finally behind him, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras said.
Following months of negotiations, the Philippine and Hong Kong governments resolved the row after the victims’ families accepted Manila’s expression of “sorrowful regret” and over P100 million offer of compensation.
The compensation, described as “tokens of solidarity” and reportedly raised by traders and private individuals, could total HK$20 million (about P115 million), according to a Manila councilor.
“He (the President) sounded very happy when he texted me,” Almendras, the government’s point-man in the negotiations, said in an interview on Thursday after briefing reporters on the agreement. “With all the problems that we have, however small the problem is, if you solve it, it’s one less thing to worry about.”
The administration had been dogged by the Aug. 23, 2010 drama in which eight HK residents were killed in a botched police rescue of a busload of tourists taken hostage by a dismissed Manila policeman. The hostage-taker was killed, and many others were hurt.
It was the first test for the young administration in handling a hostage crisis, and it drew protests from Hong Kong and Beijing.
The agreement restored bilateral relations between Manila and the Chinese special administrative region.
It reinstated the 14-day visa-free arrangement for Filipino diplomats and officials, and lifted the “black” travel advisory that warned Hong Kong residents against traveling to the Philippines.
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, who also initiated negotiations with the Hong Kong officials, has invited families of the victims to visit Manila again. Almendras extended a similar invitation to officials.
But this was done in a nice way given the sensitivity of the matter, Almendras said.
“There are bad memories and we couldn’t just approach them and say, ‘Hey, come visit us.’ It doesn’t work that way. The way you say it is very important,” he said.
Almendras thanked many government officials for the success of the negotiations, but especially praised former Trade Secretary Jose Pardo for doing a “fanstastic job’’ in negotiating behind the scenes and raising funds.
“Secretary Pardo was the person who took the lead and the initiative in dealing with the business and the private sector—the donors, all those who wanted to help—and everything worked out very well,” he said.
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