Hong Kong, Philippines resolve hostage crisis issue

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippines and Hong Kong have finally resolved their differences regarding the 2010 bus hostage crisis in Manila that led to the death of 8 Hong Kong tourists.

A joint statement released by the two governments on Wednesday, April 23, said that "the HKSAR Government and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines have agreed that the 4 demands made by the victims and their families on apology, compensation, sanctions against responsible officials and individuals, and tourist safety measures" had been resolved.

Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, and Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Alan Purisima are all in Hong Kong.

There was however, no official apology from the Philippine government about the incident – one of Hong Kong's major demands. (READ: HK apology? No way, says Aquino)

Watch this report below.

The statement instead said the Philippines "expresses its most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy, and extends its most sincere condolences for the pain and suffering of the victims and their families."

It also said Purisima "has written to all victims of their families."

The Philippine Government will also give "an additional token of solidarity" to victims or their families "as a most sincere gesture of compassion of the people of the Philippines" although the statement did not give any details about the said token.

The Philippines had already provided undisclosed financial compensation to victims and their relatives, with the money donated by private individuals. According to Cable TV News, the Philippine government will offer HK$1.5 million (8.6 million pesos) for each of the deceased and HK$3 million (17.3 million pesos) for the injured in a compensation package which would total HK$20 million (115.3 million pesos).

Additionally, the statement said "Philippine Government has assured the HKSAR Government that measures are being undertaken to hold to account those responsible and to see the outstanding proceedings conclude as soon as possible."

Aligned with the Hong Kong victims' fourth demand, the Philippines also gave assurance a similar incident will not happen again following measures implemented by the government "to guarantee the welfare and safety of those visiting the Philippines."

Hong Kong had been infuriated by the Philippines' response to the incident in August 2010, in which a former local police officer hijacked a Manila tour bus in protest at his sacking.

Eight people from Hong Kong were killed and 7 wounded in a bungled rescue effort by Philippine security forces.

No apology

President Benigno Aquino III has been adamant about his stance on not issuing an apology to Hong Kong, arguing it could create a legal liability and pointing out that China has not paid compensation to the families of Filipino victims who died in the mainland.

In February, Hong Kong issued sanctions on visa-free entry for Philippine government officials and diplomats. 

All sanctions against the Philippines have been lifted by Hong Kong.

The news was happily welcomed by the Philippine government. Malacañang said Aquino was satisfied with the development.

"I have conveyed to the President the report of Secretary Almendras [confirming the resolution] and he expressed satisfaction that final closure and a mutually satisfactory conclusion has been reached," Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said in a statement.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also issued a statement, saying "the Philippines looks forward to working with the Hong Kong SAR government in turning a new page in bilateral relations."

Talks since October

The resolution comes 6 months after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in October 2013, where Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying met with Aquino.

Their meeting took place a day after several Hong Kong journalists were kicked out of APEC for shouting questions at Aquino regarding the crisis.

During their discussion, Aquino and Leung agreed to do their best to resolve issue. New negotiations started that month, with Aquino appointing Almendras to meet with Hong Kong officials to try and find a win-win solution.

Almendras, who has been discreetly traveling to Hong Kong since October to engage in talks, arrived in Hong Kong around 10am Thursday morning. Estrada flew a day earlier with 7 Manila councilors.

Estrada has apologized previously to Hong Kong in behalf of Manila.  with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com