Erap sets HK trip after birthday to make amends
MANILA, Philippines – It's a long shot, but Manila Mayor Erap Estrada wants one thing for his coming 77th birthday: a better relationship between his city and Hong Kong.
"That's why I want to go to [Hong Kong] to strengthen, bring back the relationship between Manila and Hong Kong. It can be successful, it can not [be successful]. It depends," Estrada told reporters on Tuesday, April 15, on the sidelines of the Unibersidad de Manila graduation at the Manila Hotel.
The Philippines and Hong Kong's relationship turned sour after a botched hostage-taking incident in the city of Manila, then still under Mayor Alfredo Lim, on August 23, 2010. Twenty-three people – 21 of them tourists from Hong Kong – were taken hostage at the Quirino Granstand. Eight of the 21 tourists were killed during the 10-hour siege by a sacked police officer.
Estrada first floated the idea of a Hong Kong visit in October 2013, right after celebrating his first 100 days as Manila mayor. The plan, however, didn't push through.
This time, days before the former president turns 77, he's again planning a trip to Hong Kong "after the Holy Week."
"I'll celebrate my birthday first," Estrada told reporters when asked when he would head to Hong Kong. Estrada will celebrate his birthday on Saturday, April 19.
Without giving specifics, Estrada said "someone is arranging" a meeting with Hong Kong officials, but did not give a time table for his planned trip.
"Hopefully, we will meet some of the officials. If you'll ask me, the highest official there, the CEO of Hong Kong, if given the chance," he added.
Estrada said he was worried over additional sanctions the country might face. Late January, Hong Kong announced its "first phase of sanctions" against the Philippines. Official and diplomatic Filipino passports holders now need to apply for visas to visit Hong Kong.
'Sorry not enough'
Estrada had apologized before, during an interview aired over Hong Kong's Cable News. "On behalf of the people of Manila, as the mayor, I want to say: we are sorry for the incident, for what happened to the victims," Estrada said in the exclusive interview.
The mayor is careful to emphasize that the apology comes from the city of Manila, and not the national government. President Benigno Aquino III has been consistent in his stand: the country regrets the incident, but there's no need to issue a formal apology.
Hong Kong's government declined Manila's apology, adding that it also wants compensation for victims, for officials to be held accountable for "mishandling the incident," and for government to "ensure the safety of tourists."
To this day, Hong Kong imposes a "severe threat" outbound travel alert on the Philippines, alongside Eypt and Syria. The alert means the government's security bureau advises locals to "avoid all travel."
But on Tuesday, Estrada said talks between Manila Councilor Bernardito Ang and Hong Kong officials "are progressing." Hong Kong earlier denied Ang's claim that they had already accepted Manila's apology.
Estrada said he's not sure how long the Hong Kong visit will take. "Maybe one day, two days, one week," he said.
If all else fails, the trip will just be a vacation, he added. – Rappler.com