From Tragedy To Farce

The death of eight Hong Kong citizens during a botched hostage rescue in Manila three years ago was a tragedy.

What is happening now in the follow up is fast turning to farce.

Let us be clear about the facts. The hostages were shot and killed (some others were injured) by an individual ex-police officer, probably high on drugs, who was protesting his dismissal.

Prime responsibility must rest on his shoulders and his alone because he pulled the trigger.

The fact that the situation deteriorated to the point that the now deceased gunman opened fire owes much to the incompetence of a number of Philippine officials subsequently identified in an official enquiry report.

They fully deserve the criticism heaped upon them, and the disciplinary action taken against some of them.

They have been exposed as professionally inept, though not responsible in a narrow criminal sense.

What should have happened in the immediate aftermath of the incident is a full and sincere expression of regret by a senior Philippine national figure.

However most seemed to be too busy denying their own role in the rescue fiasco.

Contrast the Manila situation with what has just happened off the coast of Lampedusa in Italy when over 300 illegal immigrants from Africa were drowned after their boat capsized in a storm.

No official was in any way to blame for the tragedy but the Italian Prime Minister no less was so shocked by the loss of life that he has arranged a state funeral. The local mayor wept openly, as well might we all.

So where does this leave us three years on from our own incident?

Some relatives of the deceased seem to have set their hearts on a full formal public apology from President Benigno Aquino. They have been encouraged in this approach by some members of our Legislative Council.

There is only one problem: Mr Aquino has stated specifically and emphatically, on the record, that he is not going to make any such apology.

We are free to draw our own conclusions on what this shows about his character and personality, but as he is the elected head of state in another country, there is not much Hong Kong can do about it.

But instead of cursing and getting on with our lives, our legislators seem to be competing with each other to come up with lunatic schemes to force the Philippines to submit.

We must press Beijing to raise the issue at the highest diplomatic levels (this from Members who normally bridle at the slightest intimation of Central Government involvement in our affairs). The only problem here is this is not a matter of foreign policy between states, it is a crime committed by an individual who is now dead. Any intervention could therefore only be informal in nature.

We must have a trade embargo, or put high tariffs on Philippine exports, or both. The only problem here is that Hong Kong is a founder member of the World Trade Organisation and any such action on our part would clearly be ruled unlawful.

Don’t worry, here comes another terrific wheeze: let’s stop Philippine helpers coming here by not approving new contracts and not renewing the contracts of those already here when they expire. The loss of remittances will hurt the country and Aquino will be forced to eat his words, that’ll show him who’s boss.

Really? I mean, really? We can’t hit the strong, so we are going to take out our frustration on the weak? What would that say about our character and personality?

Never mind the impact on tens of thousands of Hong Kong families who rely on their helper for support with child care, or care for the elderly, or enabling both spouses to work (a consideration that caused some members to at least pause for thought).

What about the impact on tens of thousands of honest hard-working Filipino helpers whose families rely on their income?

What our leaders should be doing is comforting the bereaved, helping them recover from their loss, and finding closure. Not stirring a pot that will never boil.

In short, we all need to grow up.