MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte made a public apology on Thursday (April 12) for a hostage-taking incident in 2010 in Manila that left eight tourists from Hong Kong dead.
“May I address myself to the Chinese people who are here. From the bottom of my heart, as the President of the Republic of the Philippines and on behalf of the people of the Philippines, may I apologise formally to you now,” Mr Duterte said at a gathering of Filipinos in Hong Kong.
It was the first formal apology offered by a sitting president for the tragedy, that stoked public anger in Hong Kong.
In August 2010, a distraught ex-policeman lugging an assault rifle boarded a bus and held its passengers – all tourists from Hong Kong – as hostages.
What followed was a hostage drama that unfolded right at the heart of the capital Manila.
After a half-day of fruitless negotiation, and with TV and radio networks broadcasting live the incident, policemen stormed the bus in a nearly comedic rescue attempt: uncalled for sniper fire; a sledgehammer being used to try to break the bus’ plexiglass windows nearly falling on a SWAT operative’s head; the bus’ door refusing to budge as rescuers tried to pry it out with a rope.
When the dust settled, nine people, including the gunman, died, most with shots in the head.
Hong Kong was incensed. It demanded restitution and an apology from then President Benigno Aquino.
It took three years to appease Hong Kong, mainly through the effort of former president Joseph Estrada, who had by then become Manila’s mayor.
It was Mr Estrada who flew to Hong Kong to deliver an official apology.
Mr Aquino said he regretted the incident, but he never apologised for it. The rescue attempt was not his call, he insisted.
“We are sorry that the incident happened, and as humanly possible I would like to make this guarantee also that it will never, never happen again,” said Mr Duterte on Thursday.
He alluded to Mr Aquino’s refusal to apologise, saying: “We will go a long way to really assuage the feeling of the Chinese people. There was no apology coming from the mouth, so let me do it.”
Mr Duterte flew to Hong Kong, after attending the Boao Forum on Hainan island, in southern China, where he met Chinese President Xi Jinping.
He managed to secure more pledges of financial aid from Mr Xi, and witnessed the signing of US$9 billion (S$12 billion) worth of investment deals with 10 Chinese companies.
In his speech at the Boao Forum, Mr Duterte said the Philippines’ warming ties with China can serve as as a model for a “positive and mutually beneficial engagement” which the rest of the world can learn from.