(Wrapup) 3-way show of solidarity for HK, Manila and Beijing in aftermath of Monday’s hostage-taking

August 25, 2010 10:17 am 

MANILA, Aug. 25 — Two days after a tragic attempt Monday to rescue alive, if possible, more than a dozen Chinese tourists from being held hostage inside a bus by a fully-armed out-of-his-wits former police officer, representatives from Hong Kong, Beijing and Manila have begun sifting through the ruins and picking up the pieces of tarnished reputations.

First, as an “expression of solidarity” with the people of Hong Kong and the families of victims, President Benigno Aquino III declared that Wednesday August 25, will be a day of national mourning and for Philippine flags to be flown at half-mast in government buildings.

Eight Hong Kong Chinese were among the confirmed dead and a few seriously injured in Monday’s hostage-taking incident, a 12-hour ordeal which began at about 9 a.m. and ended at about 9 p.m. at the iconic Philippine tourist spot, the Luneta Park.

The victims were identified as Daniel Magadia, Ken Leung Kam Wing, Leung Chung See, Jessie Leung Song Yi, Keon Leung, Fu Cheuk Yan, Yeung Yee Wa and Tse Ting Cheung, among the supposed 25 tourists on the bus.

Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim participated in a Buddhist ritual ceremony to send off the dead.

At the ceremony, families of the slain victims offered flowers, lighted candles and chanted for their departed relatives in a makeshift altar near close to the ill-fated tourist bus.

On Tuesday, Malacanang welcomed a working team from China, escorted by Beijing’s ambassador to Manila Liu Jianchao.

They got assurance from President Aquino that the Philippine Government will shoulder all expenses related to the death, hospitalization and hotel accommodations and other collateral damages, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said at a press briefing.

Lacierda did not confirm if compensation will also be given by the government.

The Chinese delegation was also assured that investigations would include their participation, eager as they are for answers –as stated by Hong Kong Chief Executive Sir Donald Tsang– as to why there was such a high mortality rate and if negotiations were incompetently handled.

According to Lacierda, China has assured that tourism flow from mainland China will not be tainted by the incident.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo also expressed the same view.

Philippine congressmen, meanwhile, took sides, lambasting either media or the police itself for contributing to the failure to save as many hostages as possible.

Spearheaded by neophyte Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the Senate passed a resolution conveying the body’s “sincerest and most heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the families, friends and relatives of the victims of the bloody hostage-taking.” The Marcoses are close friends of the Chinese government.

Families of the victims, as well as the Beijing government and the Hong Kong autonomous leadership, will receive copies of the Resolution.

The Resolution also called for the Senate to initiate “an exhaustive and thorough investigation” of the incident and to closely monitor all the other investigations to ensure that justice be immediately serve to the victims.

The remains of hostage taker Rolando Mendoza, gunned down by a police sniper’s bullet, are now with his family in Tanauan, Batangas province.

He hijacked the bus and took the passenger-tourists hostage to call attention to what he claimed was the injustice of his expulsion from the police force in 2008.

His brother, Gregorio, who was seen at the scene of the crime, has been detained allegedly for obstruction of police work.

Aquino had ordered a relook of his expulsion papers with the Office of the Ombudsman as part of the negotiations, but that may be moot and academic now.

The Filipino bus driver escaped unscathed and is back with his family in Taytay, Rizal. He admitted to still being in a state of shock, unable to sleep and eat following the ordeal.

He said in an interview that he was quizzed lengthily by authorities after he successfully slipped out of the bus and run into their custody.

Because he had escaped without being harmed by the hostage-taker, authorities had momentarily suspected him of being into the plot.

The bus is a complete wreck and has not been moved out pending investigation by a joint Philippine forensics team from the police and National Bureau of Investigation, accompanied by Chinese counterparts.

Philippine Airlines (PAL) promised to sponsor the two-way air fares of two next-of-kin of each dead or injured victim, and to bring back to Hong Kong the remains of the dead.

PAL noted that their bookings will be treated as a priority and all that is needed from relatives is proof of relations to the victims.

The airline said that “despite the expected adverse impact of travel advisories against the Philippines, the airline will continue to mount regular flights to its 26 international and 21 domestic destinations." In the Manila-Hongkong route alone, PAL has five daily flights.

To allay fear and apprehension in the international and diplomatic community here, the diplomatic corps will be briefed on the security situation any day soon.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reiterated that Monday’s incident was “an isolatd case and is not reflective of the peace and order situation in the Philippines.”

The safety of foreigners is a commitment of the government, DFA said.

Hong Kong is of importance to the Philippines in that about 115,000 of the estimated 250,000 Filipino residents there are employed as domestics for Hong Kong Chinese nationals and other expatriates.

This translates to a major source of foreign remittance for the national economy. Hong Kong Chinese are also among the biggest groups of Chinese travelers to the Philippines.

Filipino organizations in Hong Kong said they fear that a possible fallout from the incident would be the retaliation of locals against Filipinos by physically harming them or losing their employment. (PNA)

LDV/GJB

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