Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada speaks on his phone before a news conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Photo by Tyrone Siu, Reuters
MANILA – For observers, the entry of former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph "Erap" Estrada into efforts to repair the damaged relations between Hong Kong and the Philippines over the Manila hostage crisis of 2010 was a major break.
For Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, President Benigno Aquino's point person in that effort, Estrada was "important in filling the gaps of the national government."
"Erap’s presence was helpful because there are many audiences. 'Yung audience mo 'yung pamilya, 'yung Hong Kong media, 'yung Hong Kong opposition, 'yung mga NGOs… And each of them was asking for something else, 'yung ganoon. In essence, we addressed most of the issues but there (were) some of those things that a national government cannot do, cannot say… It helped. Kasi the objective was to try to address as many of the issues that across the table," he said.
Estrada, according to Almendras, invited the families of the victims to the Philippines.
"Actually si Mayor po ang nag-imbita kasi kasama po sa resolution nila was an invitation to the families. Even that, we’ll have to be very sensitive to. Siyempre, di ba namatayan kayo dito, bad memories ito tapos lalapitan ko kayo para sabihin, 'Pare, pumunta ka dito…' Hindi puwedeng ganoon. Kailangan 'yung pagkasabi, 'yung kung kailan sasabihin, kung paano sasabihin, napakaimportante po nun," Almendras said.
He added, "In that meeting, I was explaining to the former President what the things were that I got from Hong Kong. I gave him an idea of how I felt was the best strategy to move forward. I did not ask him to stop what he was doing."
According to Almendras, it was Estrada who said, "Aba maganda na ‘yong nangyayari sa inyo. Okay, baka mas mabuti nga na medyo lie low muna kami, so that you can proceed with what you are doing."
"Now, let me put this into perspective. That was also around the time that Manila announced—and there was a big media splash in Hong Kong about the apology, the solution of Manila City, the apology of Erap. The problem was, well, it was sort of turned down. The People of Hong Kong said it’s not acceptable. The family—some family members said, 'no, not acceptable', and so forth. So they were also up against certain challenges," he said.
In 2013, the Manila City Council led by Vice Mayor isko Moreno passed a city council resolution apologizing to Hong Kong, in response to demands for an apology following the botched response to the crisis in 2010.
President Aquino had refused to apologize for what he believed were the actions of but one man.
This led to a diplomatic row which came to a head with the imposition of a travel ban on the Philippines by Hong Kong, as well as the removal of visa-free access in Hong Kong for holders of Philippine diplomatic passports.