By Raïssa Robles
But the problem is, the letter was never delivered because Beijing never gave the go-signal for Vice President Jejomar Binay to hand-carry the letter there.
When Binay flew to Beijing in February, he did not carry the letter with him, China’s envoy to Manila Liu Jianchao confirmed in reply to my question during his press briefing last week.
Ambassador Liu said Binay’s trip was solely on the Philippine government’s request to stay the execution of three jailed Filipino drug traffickers there.
The Luneta survivors and victims’ relatives are one in saying that they have never received an apology from President Benigno Aquino III.
I searched my mind and my own archives to see if this was true.
I found out that on September 9, 2010, Aquino was grilled by Ted Failon and other news anchors on the hostage crisis. He was asked if he had apologized for the botched rescue.
I think I apologized already to the Chinese community. I don’t think it does us any good to keep on apologizing on every turn.
PNoy then rambled on:
I think I’ve written a letter already. As chief executive of the country, I will probably be writing to my counterpart as far as PROC (People’s Republic of China) is concerned. I remember now. There is a delegation (of) Binay and Romulo (the foreign secretary then). I did write a letter, affixed a signature to it, but it hasn’t been delivered.
As to when this would be delivered, he said:
Sagot sa atin (Beijing’s reply was), bring the investigation report together with the letter.
The Hong Kong survivors and relatives of those who died are increasingly incensed that PNoy has refused to apologize personally to them.
Should he personally apologize?
Some prominent members of the ethnic Chinese community in Manila believe he should not and he has already done so.
For instance, Fernando Gan, the secretary general of the 170,000-strong Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry told me:
As far as the whole nation is concerned, when the president ordered all [Philippine] flags to be lowered at half mast [immediately after the tragedy], that’s enough apology.
He said even congressmen who die were not accorded half-mast honors automatically. He said it would violate protocol for the Philippine head of state to extend his apologies directly to the victims.
But the problem is, the victims are hurting.
And ironically, PNoy is one of the two Philippine presidents who know the pain of losing a loved one. (The other was President Elpidio Quirino whose wife and children was massacred by the Japanese forces in World War II.)
Perhaps, as Interior and Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo said last week, the government could say sorry not in words but in deed.
The survivors and victims’ relatives are now impatiently waiting for the government to hand down its verdict on Mayor Alfredo Lim – probably one of the most hated Filipinos in Hong Kong today.
Survivor tells her tale of horror
A survivor named Lee Ying-chuen recently wrote about the experience which has changed her life forever.
When you read it, please remember that the eight who died in front of Manila’s Quirino Grandstand a year ago were all from middle-class families on school holiday with their sons and daughters. They patiently waited all day inside the bus, fully trusting that the Philippine government and authorities would rescue them in the end.
Here is her horrifying tale:
Over the past 12 months we have visited the eight graves of our fellow tour group members many times. We take them flowers, and hope the fragrance will bring their souls some comfort. We hope that one day we will be able to bring them more comfort, by telling them that justice has finally been done on their behalf.
Life goes on, and so does the trauma we suffer. Happy families have been torn apart. Some of us lost our loved ones. Children have been orphaned. Some of us battle every day with the pain of injuries and some of us have lost the ability to look after ourselves. Some of us survived without bullet wounds, but the gunshots haunt us. We are sad and we are in pain but, most of all, we are angry.
We are sad and angry because the tragedy could have been avoided and lives could have been saved. As was pointed out by the Philippines’ own Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC), the killings were brought about by officials’ gross negligence and incompetence, and the lack of planning and co-ordination in negotiations with the hostage-taker, as well as in the assault and rescue by their police. We hostages considered taking action to subdue the gunman, but chose not to do so because we trusted the Philippine government to make our safety its top priority and try every means to save us.
Instead of doing their utmost to save us, the commanders preferred to abandon the scene for dinner at critical moments, and decided to tire out the gunman. But, rather than getting tired, the gunman was incited by the arrest of his brother and the disregard of his repeated warnings that he would kill us. Instead, the Philippine government made itself ridiculous with a bungled operation in which eight innocent people were killed.
We are sad and angry because some of us could have survived the shooting if given prompt and proper medical treatment. As a medical expert testified at the Hong Kong coroner’s inquest, some hostages like tour guide Masa Tse had a survival probability of 57 per cent and 14-year-old Jessie Leung a 36 to 60 per cent chance immediately after the shooting. As the IIRC pointed out, a female hostage was alive when taken to a hospital where she was refused entry and she died on the way to another hospital. The ambulances lacked basic emergency supplies like bandages. After an 11-hour stand-off which ended in an hour-long exchange of gunfire, the lack of preparation for emergency treatment for the victims showed that saving our lives was not a great concern for the Philippine government.
We are sad and angry because the deceased were not treated with respect. We remember that the Philippine president smirked publicly when he went to the scene after the tragedy. We remember that coffins were opened for journalists to take photos without consent of the family members of the deceased. We remember that bodies were put in coffins marked with incorrect names and that the bereaved received and cried over bodies not those of their family members. We remember that after an autopsy in the Philippines, the brain of a deceased young girl was found in her chest, while strips of cloth were stuffed into her head. We remember this vividly.
We are sad and angry that, despite the promises made by the Philippine government to co-operate with the Hong Kong coroner’s inquest, only nine out of the 119 witnesses summoned in the Philippines chose to testify via video, and then only after being urged to do so by people in Hong Kong.
Except for the gunman’s brother, the others who testified were not directly involved in the siege and were involved in post-incident tasks. None of the key witnesses to the incident testified, neither Mayor Alfredo Lim (supposed to be the chairman of the Crisis Management Committee), nor Vice Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso (who brought the gunman’s letter in person to the Ombudsman and was supposedly the vice-chairman of the Crisis Management Committee), nor General Rodolfo Magtibay (who was the ground commander), nor the negotiators, nor the snipers nor any of the policemen who besieged the bus.
We are sad and angry that we have not received any note of apology from the Philippine government. A spokesperson said that it apologised many times. Well, if so, to whom did it apologise? Would it not be a basic matter of courtesy that apologies should be made to the victims? We received only a resolution from the Philippine Congress expressing sympathy and condolences, but there is no word even close to an apology in its document. From the Philippine government, we have heard nothing at all.
We are sad and angry that one year since the tragedy the Philippine government has yet to take any action to compensate the victims. There has been an offer of token solidarity from several Philippine charity groups, but this is no substitute for the government accepting responsibility. The fact the Philippine government has not approached the victims to offer compensation shows a lack of respect and concern for the value of the lives lost and for those injured.
We are sad and angry that the Philippine government has not taken seriously the recommendations of the IIRC to hold key officials accountable for their mishandling of the incident, including criminal charges.
We are sad and angry that the Philippine government has shown far more concern that Hong Kong withdraw its black travel advisory warning than for the well-being of the victims. The Philippine government has not understood it is the consensus of Hong Kong society that this incident be resolved satisfactorily before the advisory is lifted.
We are sad and angry that the Philippine president refused to meet us during our trip to Manila this week, and, instead of attending a commemoration for the victims of the bus siege, attended a ceremony a few hundred metres away to welcome the arrival of a new warship.
The Philippine president again publicly said that there would be no apology to the victims because the tragedy was the fault of a lone gunman and not the state. This flies in the face of the IIRC’s findings that the gross negligence of many senior officials contributed to the tragedy. The arrogance of the Philippine president, who sneered at our sadness, has fuelled our anger.
We urge the Philippine government to honour its country by ensuring that justice be done.
To that end, it should take the following actions:
Issue a formal apology;
Pay rightful compensation;
Hold accountable officials who were guilty of gross negligence and incompetence;
Introduce effective measures to safeguard the personal security of tourists.
Amid all our sadness and anger, we appeal to the Chinese government to demand justice from the Philippine government.
We need the Chinese government’s support and assurance that it will defend the value of the lives and dignity of Chinese citizens and tourists visiting other countries.
Justice has not been done. If you share our sadness and anger, please join our appeal by signing our online petition at:www.petitiononline.com/HK823