Hong Kong yesterday lifted the black travel alert and diplomatic sanctions imposed on the Philippines after family members and survivors of the 2010 Manila bus hostage incident accepted the Philippines' "most sorrowful regret, profound sympathy and sincere condolences."
Although no apology was made by the Philippines' national government under President Benigno Aquino in the "final resolution," about HK$20 million in an "additional token of solidarity" will be given to the victims as the Philippines met all four demands of the families, a joint statement by the SAR and Philippine governments said.
The successful end of the three-and- a-half-year crisis came after six to seven months of negotiations between the two sides that started on the sidelines of the APEC forum in Bali last October.
The final resolution brings closure to the families of the eight Hongkongers who died and the 13 injured in a tragedy that soured bilateral relations between Hong Kong and the Philippines.
The official apology came from Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada who presented an "apology scroll" to the families on behalf of the City of Manila.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said: "The Hong Kong side ... including the victims and the families ... believe that the Philippine side has been sincere."
Aquino's right-hand man, Jose Rene Almendras, said at a separate press briefing that the term "most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy" adopted in the joint statement was "more acceptable in the realm of international diplomatic issues." He said there is also "a technical complexity" in the use of the term "apology" from the national government."
Almendras met with the families and delivered a letter to each family from Philippine National Police Director-General Alan Purisima asking to "please accept our most sorrowful regret.
Leung said the Philippines has taken actions against responsible individuals involved in the rescue attempt.
"The punishment is not completed and has been ongoing, both on administrative and criminal matters. The Philippine government will notify the SAR government on their progress," Leung said.
Almendras said at one point, he sought advice and meeting with a Confucius center at a Philippine university "because I wanted to understand the cultural issues and perspectives on certain things."
"We are very aware that there are some cultural issues that we needed to be careful with," he said.
The token - or "abuloy" in the Philippines - is not compensation as his country believes no value can be put in one's life.
There is also "a technical complexity" in the use of the term "apology" from the national government, Almendras said.
He thanked Leung and the government for announcing all the sanctions had been lifted, including the black travel alert being downgraded to the normal "amber" and diplomatic sanctions against 14-day visa free entry for diplomats and officials.
"We were able to convince the Hong Kong government of our sincerity to work for the resolution. We in turn appreciated the same sincerity that the Hong Kong panel showed us," Almendras said.
"Our promise to the HK government and to the families themselves is to have taken the steps necessary to ensure that the event in the Quirino Grandstand will not happen again."