Filtered By: News

Palace says deal with HK sealed even before Erap trip

Although thankful to Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, Malacañang on Thursday said most issues between the Philippines and Hong Kong had already been settled even before Estrada flew to the special administrative region.

At a press conference, Cabinet Sec. Jose Rene Almendras said Hong Kong and Philippine officials signed the final document on the negotiations on the 2010 Manila hostage crisis before Estrada, a former Philippine president, went there on Tuesday.

"I signed the final agreement two weeks ago," he said without elaborating.

Almendras said negotiations started in early October last year at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Indonesia where Aquino met with Hong Kong Chief Executive C.Y. Leung.

Since then, he said he had been flying to Hong Kong back and forth to meet with his counterparts.  

That same month, the City Council of Manila issued a resolution apologizing to Hong Kong and the families of the eight tourists from Hong Kong who were killed during the hostage-taking incident.

“The problem was it was sort of turned down [the apology]... they were also up against challenges," said Almendras.

One of Hong Kong's demands was for the Philippine government to apologize, an option which President Benigno Aquino III had repeatedly rejected.

So after learning about Estrada's move, Almendras said he talked to the former president and showed him the "strategy" they were already using to solve the issue.  

But he said he did not try to stop Estrada from doing what he wanted. He added that Estrada allowed him to lead negotiations as long as he sent updates.


Almendras said fulfilling the demands of the other panel was difficult since they had to consider the wishes of all the families.

Aside from this, he said there were questions of "ill feelings, lack of sincerity, suspicion, and vested interest" in both camps.

“The mere challenge was that there was a lot of emotions and cultural issues relative to the final compromise," Almendras said.

He also said there was a need to keep things confidential with respect to “cultural sensitivities.”

“I suggested that we keep everything under wraps until such a time that we have a final solution. Why? Because there was a lot of emotion and a lot of sensitivity to families and persons that were going to be involved," he said.

No "sorry"

Talks culminated on Wednesday during a meeting between the panels, which included Estrada, and the families of the victims.

But Almendras said they were not even sure the meeting was going to happen since the families did not confirm attendance right away.

“We only knew the final composition or the names of who were going to attend the meeting about an hour and a half before the meeting started," he said.

"[But] towards the end of the meeting the feelings and sentiments started becoming a lot more positive sincerely," Almendras added.

During the meeting, Estrada and a representative of the victims' families expressed their sentiments, Almendras said, adding the Philippine panel also gave the families a copy of the letter signed by Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima.

Leung had said the letter expressed the Philippine government's “most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy” for the pain and suffering of the victims and their families.

Almendras said it took them five and a half months to craft the wording on the letters given the President's earlier declaration that the Philippines cannot apologize to Hong Kong.

“Na-satisfy po natin ang mga hinihingi ng pamilya.. without having to use that word,” he said, referring to “sorry.”

He said Estrada's presence was also "helpful" because there were many "audiences" and that there are things the national government could not say.

But as to why Hong Kong accepted the former president's apology this time around, Almendras said, “Sometimes the delivery and the tone is equally important as the message.”

Other demands

As for the tokens of solidarity, Almendras denied that these totaled to P150 million or that government used public funds for it.

“We had to find an innovative way to address that," he said, citing help from private individuals from both Hong Kong and the Philippines.

But he noted that not all the families are going to accept the tokens of solidarity because it was not “appropriate.”  

“That's why we don't use the word compensation,” he said.

Without giving details, Almendras said they are still “addressing the individual concerns” of the families.

Aside from the apology and tokens, the Philippine government also assured the families that the incident will not happen again and that charges have been filed against those responsible for the botched handling of the hostage crisis. —KBK, GMA News