HONG KONG – What price apology?
No less than HK$20 million (US$2.6M) , if media reports on the payout given to victims of the 2010 bus hostage tragedy in Manila are to be believed.
The nearly 4 years of stalemate between the Philippines and Hong Kong over the sorry incident in which 8 Hongkongers were killed was resolved on April 23 after the deal over the generous payout was struck.
But the issue that had caused hostilities to fester for months, and even prompted Hong Kong to issue fresh sanctions against the Philippines early this year, was obviously sidestepped.
Instead of the formal apology that was demanded for the victims of the tragedy, both sides settled for the words “most sorrowful regret” and “profound sympathy” in a joint statement they issued announcing an end to the standoff.
Whipped into frenzied anger for months by politicians who made an apology the key demand for a settlement, many locals were left unbelieving.
At a press conference called by President Benigno Aquino’s cabinet secretary, Rene Almendras, to give details of the agreement, a number of young local reporters adamantly demanded answers as to why Manila refused to bow to the demand.
Almendras fended off the questions by saying that there was a “technical difficulty” to the President issuing an apology, before adding that the victims should be praised for accepting this reality.
One was left wondering why the same question was not addressed to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying during his own press conference to announce the settlement.
After all, he had adamantly insisted that getting an apology was a non-negotiable demand, as he upped the ante by withdrawing visa-free access to Philippine diplomats and officials in February.
It was a question that obviously also bedeviled James To, who as the victims’ legal representative, was as unyielding about this demand as many of his fellow legislators in the democratic camp.
Pressed on the matter, he went to the ridiculous extreme of saying that his research showed that the words “most sorrowful regret” and “apology” were one and the same thing.
Then, there was also the issue about whether Almendras had used the “a” word during a private meeting with the relatives. At least one family member present said the secretary did use the word, a claim that the Philippine side declined to confirm or deny.
What Almendras did say was that the settlement was a “win-win situation.”
Indeed, the joint statement said that the 4 demands of the victims “on apology, compensation, sanctions against responsible officials and individuals, and tourist safety measures” had been met.
Despite this, many people, including some of the families, remain restive, thinking that their government had blinked to get a settlement.
On the other hand, those who had supported the Philippines’ firm stand against issuing an apology were also left stunned by the immense cost paid to win peace.
But having finally settled a row that on hindsight should not have dragged for so long, both sides should let recriminations rest. Each took something away from the negotiations, and this should be enough for them to just let go. – Rappler.com
Another version of this article was first published in The Sun Hong Kong. Rappler is republishing this with permission. The author is a veteran journalist, having worked for various newspapers and TV stations in the Philippines and in Hong Kong. She is also a lawyer and migrants rights activist.
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