Luneta crisis: Erap to meet Hong Kong officials April 24

MANILA, Philippines – Manila Mayor Erap Estrada is set to leave for Hong Kong on Tuesday, April 22, to make amends over the botched Manila hostage crisis more than 3 years ago.

In August 2010,  23 people – 21 of them tourists from Hong Kong – were taken hostage by a sacked police officer at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta. Eight of the 21 were killed during the 8-hour siege.

Estrada will be leaving at around 10 am for Hong Kong, where he hopes to "bring back the relationship" between the two cities. The Philippines and Hong Kong's relationships turned sour after the botched hostage-taking incident.

The mayor earlier said he was worried over additional sanctions from Hong Kong. Right after the hostage taking incident in 2010, Hong Kong imposed a "severe threat" outbound travel alert on the Philippines.

More recently, Hong Kong announced its "first phase of sanctions" against the Philippines – official and diplomatic passport holders would now need to apply for visas to visit Hong Kong.

Estrada will be accompanied by 7 city councilors, including Manila Councilor Bernardito Ang, who leads the Manila city government's dialogue with Hong Kong officials.

The Philippine delegation will meet with Hong Kong officials on April 24, and fly back to the Philippines on April 25.

Backchanneling?

A source from Estrada's team said the trip to Hong Kong was a "joint effort" by presidential palace and the city government of Manila. "But the final phase was initiated by Malacañang," the source added.

The source admitted, however, that the Manila city government was "not privy" to the details of the final phase. 

President Benigno Aquno III has maintained that there is no need to apologize over the incident even after the visa sanction.

According to an ABS-CBN News report, Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Almendras and Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima will be traveling with Estrada.

The source said Almendras is already in Hong Kong and "will meet [Estrada]" there. The Palace earlier said Almendras was still communicating with the Hong Kong government to reach "a mutually satisfactory conclusion."

Almendras, however, told Rappler in a text message that he would not be going. Purisima could not be reached as of posting.

Estrada will also present to Hong Kong officials two resolutions by the city council – one formally apologizing for the incident and another that would require the Manila city government to hold "religious rites" to remember the victims of the hostage-taking crisis.

Relatives and survivors of the hostage taking incident will be invited to take part in the religious rites themselves. – Rappler.com