Should the Philippines apologize for the death of 8 Hong Kong tourists in Manila in August 2010?

Should the Philippines apologize over the death of 8 Hong Kong tourists in Manila in August 2010?

It’s now more than two years since eight Hong Kong tourists died in a failed police rescue bid in Luneta Park in Manila, and Hong Kong’s anger over the incident hasn’t subsided.

On the contrary, this fury is even intensifying.

A clear proof of this anger is Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s warning that the city will impose unnamed sanctions on the Philippines if the latter fails to present “concrete proposals” within a month to resolve the issue.

Hong Kong is adamantly pressing for two major items: a formal apology from the Philippine government for mishandling the rescue and just compensation for those who perished in the tragedy.

For inexplicable reasons though, President Benigno Aquino’s government has steadfastly refused to apologize, insisting a dismissed policeman – not the Philippine government — was responsible for the tragedy.

Clearly, the two governments disagree by a wide margin on which party should be made accountable for the loss of innocent lives.

To try and understand why Hong Kong people remain very angry at the Philippine government until today, let’s imagine a scenario.

If your own daughter and other people are held hostage by a lone gunman inside a tourist bus or an apartment, and if police rescuers later decide to pepper that bus or apartment with dozens of bullets to kill the lone hostage taker after failing to complete a rescue bid, how will you feel if your loved one dies, possibly in the crossfire?

Extreme anger, of course.

And who will you blame first for this tragedy? The hostage taker whose state of mind is unstable? Or the police and their superiors, who are supposed to be veterans with sober minds, and whose principal task is to save lives instead of losing them?

The answer is clear as daylight.

Frankly, I was both horrified and infuriated after watching how a Manila police SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team tried to rescue in August 2010 16 tourists from Hong Kong who were held hostage inside a tourist bus by a lone gunman, dismissed police officer Rolando Mendoza.

It was clear on global TV that the SWAT team members weren’t properly trained in rescuing hostages and lacked proper equipment, thereby disabling them from completing their mission. Their next major blunder right after they heard gunshots inside the bus. They sprayed the bus with bullets to kill the hostage taker, clearly ignoring the fact that victims could have died easily in the crossfire.

Before the tragic ending, there were serious questions on how negotiations with the hostage taker was conducted. For instance, why wasn’t Mendoza lured into giving up his guns much earlier by granting his demands, namely, reinstatement into the police and dropping of extortion charges against him? Had his demands been granted, would it harm anyone? Hardly anyone. And it would have ended the hostage drama quickly and saved all hostages. And even if Mendoza’s demands were granted, that won’t stop authorities in any way from charging him later for hostage taking.

Clearly, senior, not low-ranked, officials, made the decision to send in inexperienced SWAT policemen. Clearly, senior officials were the ones who issued the order to kill the lone gunman by peppering the bus with bullets – even if the hostages were still inside. Clearly, senior officials rejected Mendoza’s demands, eventually leading to the loss of lives.

If senior officials were the ones who made the major decisions, shouldn’t the Philippine government then own up to the responsibility for the fiasco? Or should it continue blaming Mendoza for being solely responsible for the tragedy?

In my view, the Philippine government’s position in this issue is untenable and illogical. The different government agencies who handled the crisis, namely the Department of Interior and Local Government, the police and the Manila government, are all extension of the national government.

Thus, the national government is ultimately responsible for the bungled rescue bid.

So, if the national government is ultimately responsible, is there shame in owning up a shortcoming or major error and apologizing for it?

Which option is more honorable and decent? To continue denying a clear-cut shortcoming even in the face of video footage of the failed rescue bid or having the courage to admit an error and apologize for it?

The Philippines is in a no-win situation if it continues to play hard ball with Hong Kong.

Anyone who views this National Graphic video footage of the incident — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1dyKiJHCEk – and even other videos will see clearly how badly the rescue attempt was handled. There is no denying this fact.

It is high time for Aquino’s administration to end its illogical intransigence. It can’t claim the moral high ground in this lingering controversy as the video footage clearly showed errors in the failed rescue bid.

Settling its row with Hong Kong is the most sensible and decent thing to do to put an end once and for all to this lingering irritant between the two jurisdictions.

Hong Kong’s threat of unspecified sanctions, which might affect Filipino tourists to this city and even the status of about 160,000 Filipino domestic helpers here, clearly indicates that the problem isn’t plain dust and dirt that can simply be swept under the carpet.

Aquino should muster ample courage and wisdom to resolve this pestering problem.

A formal apology doesn’t necessarily mean loss of face. On the contrary, it even reflects courage, humility and sense of decency in the course of acknowledging shortcomings. Monetary compensation should not never be viewed as a burden, especially if it is arrayed against the loss of lives which will never be replaced.

No one wins in a protracted battle. Both sides incur losses, but what’s hurt most are innocent victims who may be caught in the crossfire, specifically OFWs now in Hong Kong and Filipino tourists who may be deprived of visa-free entry to this city.

The Aquino administration should seek a win-win solution to this lingering problem. The sooner the better.

There should be proper closure to the pains and agonies of the August 2010 hostage tragedy. This is the only way for the Philippines and Hong Kong to move forward in more productive endeavors.

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