MANILA – It was an ending that took more than half a year in the making. For Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, it was a very difficult journey, one where he had to address issues of sincerity and culture between Hong Kong and the Philippines over the deaths of tourists in what is infamously known as the 2010 Manila hostage crisis.
According to Almendras, the discussions to bring a closure to the row dragged for a long time because they had to address the different needs of the families, for them to see the sincerity of the Philippines.
Almendras acknowledged that one reason it lasted so long is because the families didn’t want a politicized discussion.
“The reason for that is I had to posture that I am not a politician, and anything I have to offer them has nothing to do with making me look good, because that was… pinaka-allergy nila, na ginagamit lang sila ng iba’t ibang tao para to pursue their interests,” he said.
Almendras also said they agreed to keep most of the discussions and documents confidential and be sensitive to the needs of the families, like the language of the documents that satisfied their demand for an apology, as well as the matter of the amounts representing the tokens of solidarity.
Not all the families received the letters and tokens, Almendras said, as not all of them were present in the meeting of Hong Kong and Philippines officials which took place on Wednesday.
“When we say it was tough, it was because not one family speaks for the rest and not one issue can be resolved in a similar way to everyone across the table. So to a certain degree, hindi one size fits all,” Almendras told members of the press during a media briefing.
According to Almendras, the real challenge was that there was a lot of emotion and cultural issues relative to the final compromise.
“If you notice—some of you may have read the transcript of the statement of the Chief Executive—he said, ‘there were ups and downs’. Definitely, there were. Well, the truth is, some families wanted to move on and moving on is not about being paid or receiving money. Moving on is about accepting certain realities,” he said.
Almendras spelled out in great detail the discussions that began with a meeting between President Aquino and Hong Kong chief executive Cy Leung in Bali, Indonesia, at the sidelines of the last Asia Pacific Economic Conference meeting.
“In the course of the discussion, Chief Executive Cy Leung explained to the President what was happening to the victims, what was happening to the general population in reaction to what was happening. The meeting lasted, if I remember correctly, almost an hour,” Almendras recalled.
Almendras said President Aquino had one marching order: “He said, number one, if there is going to be a solution to this, that it will be aligned or with the primary consideration of which will be the families of the victims. He said we must make sure that the politics both in Hong Kong and the politics in Manila and the geo-political situation across the globe is not the primary consideration because otherwise we will never find a solution to it.”
Almendras said he had been making frequent trips to the former crown colony.
“Now I will admit to you, I had flown to Hong Kong quite a number of times. I fly in the morning, have five-hour meetings with them and I fly back in the afternoon and I did that several times. Those meetings were with key government officials in Hong Kong,” he said.
In those trips, Almendras used his diplomatic passport, which was covered by visa requirements.
“Ginamit ko po ang aking diplomatic visa, aking diplomatic passport, every time I traveled to Hong Kong despite the sanction. I can show you my passport, my diplomatic passport. I insisted on using my diplomatic passport, and thankfully naman, Hong Kong respected it,” he said.
Almendras also took the opportunity to thank his counterparts.
“The Hong Kong side was headed by Director Edward Yau of the Office of the Chief Executive. He does not have a portfolio but he was sort of in charge of moving it there. Of course, with him was the Secretary for Security TK Lai, the police official or the head of the security who came here in the [Philippines]…He was here the day after the incident in Luneta, the one attending to the Hong Kong victims. He was the one who had to welcome all the families. So the involvement of Secretary TK Lai was very important because he have both professional and personal link to the families. Then there was the Undersecretary for Security John Ka-Chiu Lee who also part of the team, Permanent Secretary Alice Lao, Deputy Secretary for Security Maggie Wong, Assistant Secretary for Security Amy Wong and there are many other support staff who are involved in our discussions.”