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National Day of Mourning declared for slain hostages

President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday declared Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010, a day of national mourning for the eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong who were killed in Monday’s bloody hostage crisis in Manila. Aquino also assured Chinese officials of his government's assistance to all the victims of the tragedy. Through Proclamation No. 23, Aquino instructed all public institutions nationwide and all Philippine embassies and consulates overseas to lower the Philippine flag at half-mast on Wednesday. “These deaths are a great loss to the peoples of Hong Kong and the Philippines, and call for the most solemn commemoration and respect at a time of grief of our two peoples," Aquino said. August 25, however, is not a holiday, clarified presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda at a press briefing in Malacañang. Lacierda said Aquino personally met with Chinese Ambassador Liu Jianchao and other Chinese embassy officials Tuesday afternoon to assure them of his government’s continued assistance for the victims and cooperation with the Hong Kong government. “The President reassured the Chinese officials that the Philippine government would extend all assistance to the victims and also to the relatives of the victims," Lacierda said. The Philippine government will shoulder the funeral of the fatalities and the hospitalization of the survivors, as well as their accommodations and flights back home, Lacierda said. Aquino reiterated the same assurance of assistance to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Chief Executive Donald Tsang, whom Aquino talked to over the phone after his meeting with the Chinese officials, said Lacierda. Tsang was earlier reported to have been disappointed in the Philippine government after Aquino did not respond to his call Monday night immediately after the hostage crisis ended. Lacierda said Aquino failed to take Tsang’s call because he was in a closed-door meeting with Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) officials at the time. Lacierda said the president promised to reactivate the tourist police to guard tourist areas. He also vowed that the Philippine government will cooperate with the Hong Kong delegation that is helping in the investigation. The Philippine side of the investigating group will be headed by DILG secretary Jesse Robredo, while the Hong Kong side will be headed by one Guo Shao Chueen. There are no details yet whether the Hong Kong group will conduct a parallel investigation of the hostage-taking incident as the two leaders will still meet Tuesday night, said Lacierda. - KBK, GMANews.TV