MANILA, Philippines - Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada on Tuesday said Malacanang's statement that it will not stop him from apologizing to the Hong Kong government for the 2010 Quirino Grandstand hostage-taking where eight Hong Kong tourists were killed is moot and academic.
Estrada said this is because no one can stop him from doing so.
In a telephone interview with The STAR, Estrada said his determination to apologize to the Hong Kong government is out of his concern for the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) there.
“I am negotiating on behalf of the more than 160,000 OFWs in Hong Kong and the city government. I’m worried not only for the Hong Kong nationals who visit our country but for the OFWs as well,” Estrada said.
Malacañang continues to refuse to apologize for the deaths of the Hong Kong tourists, including their guide, during a bungled police rescue after being taken hostage on a Manila tour bus by a dismissed police officer in 2010.
The Hong Kong government earlier announced that it is scrapping its visa-free privileges for Philippine diplomatic and official passport holders.
Estrada said the botched hostage crisis was the fault of his predecessor, former Manila mayor Alfredo Lim.
He said his planned visit to Hong Kong is still under negotiation.
“There is no result yet of my planned trip to Hong Kong. Councilor Bernie Ang is still negotiating for it,” he said.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. earlier said Malacañang will not prevent Estrada from apologizing to Hong Kong.
Coloma said the government continues to work to achieve a mutually acceptable solution for the sake of the OFWs in the southern Chinese city and to bring closure to the incident.
The chairman of the House committee on foreign relations, meanwhile, urged Malacañang yesterday to apologize as soon as possible to the Hong Kong government to avert harsher sanctions.
Albay Rep. Al Francis Bichara, former Philippine ambassador to Lebanon and Syria, said the government must brace for more sanctions from Hong Kong and even China, which continues to be aggressive in asserting its claim over the West Philippine Sea.
“If I’m the president of the Philippines, we could have done that earlier because apparently we cannot always say that is the fault of the police captain because we’re part of the operations and we are partly to blame also. The entire world saw it. We cannot cover this up,” Bichara said, referring to the hostage fiasco.
When asked whether President Aquino should apologize immediately, he said: “I really don’t know how they will study this because if we’ll wait until we’re down, it will be more embarrassing.”
He, however, maintained that he respects the prerogative of the President on the matter.
The lawmaker said the government apologized for the death of a Taiwanese fisherman in the hands of the Coast Guard.
He also said China last year pulled out its envoy.
He said the government should prepare for harsher sanctions as Hong Kong is apparently prepared to sustain whatever losses that may come if they restrict ordinary Filipinos from visiting the Chinese territory.
“They can afford to sacrifice that because this is a matter of pride,” Bichara said.
House resolution vs visa restriction
For his part, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of the second district of Cagayan de Oro City said he will file a resolution in Congress this week asking the Hong Kong government to withdraw its demand for Philippine government officials to get a visa first before entering the Chinese autonomous province.
Rodriguez said he does not approve of Hong Kong’s insistence that the president of the Philippines ask for an apology for the 2010 hostage incident.
“We have to uphold the dignity of the Office of the President,” he said, adding that the national government was not involved in the tragedy.
He said it is enough that the mayor of Manila apologized for the incident.
He added that when Filipinos were victims of terrorism or other crimes in China and Hong Kong, the Philippine government never asked for an apology from their head of state.
Rodriguez said he believes the recent visa restriction was due to the pressure exerted by China on the Hong Kong government because of issues in the West Philippine Sea.
“It’s possible that this is a form of harassment,” he said. – With Paolo Romero, Gerry Lee Gorit