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Philippines regrets HK’s travel sanction over 2010 tragedy

The Philippine government expressed its regret over the decision of Hong Kong to suspend visa free access for diplomatic and official Philippine passport holders after Manila failed to issue a formal apology for a deadly hostage-taking in 2010.

In a statement issued Thursday, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the sanction is unfortunate because a substantive closure on the Quirino Grandstand incident had already been arrived at three years ago with the previous Hong Kong government and the victims as well as their families.

Last Wednesday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced that they have decided to end visa-free visits by Philippine officials because the Aquino government has not apologized for the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists nearly four years ago when a former police officer took them hostage on a bus and opened fire after hours of failed negotiations.

Leung said holders of official Philippine government passports will no longer be allowed to visit Hong Kong for up to 14 days without visas starting Feb. 5.

The sanction fall short of previous calls from Hong Kong lawmakers to tighten employment permits for Filipinos, the second-biggest foreign ethnic group in the Chinese city. About 700 to 800 people a year travel on such passports to Hong Kong from the Philippines.

Leung said that despite many rounds of discussion, there remains substantive difference between the two sides over the apology and his government will implement necessary sanctions to bring a satisfactory conclusion.

However, Hernandez pointed out that Philippine government responded to a renewed appeal for compassion made by Hong Kong last October 2013. “without equivocation and in a most generous manner.”

He said additional tokens of solidarity have therefore been pledged by the Filipino people at the behest of the Philippine government.

“These amounts that are being offered are substantially more than those that have been previously accepted by the victims and their families,” said Hernandez. “We have been made to understand that the victims and their families have agreed to this offer.”

According to the DFA official, in response to this generous offering, a total negotiation have been opened by the Hong Kong government to seek a demand for an apology “which the Philippines, as a sovereign nation, is not prepared to consider.”

“Our nation has already expressed its deepest regret and condolences over the incident and we are preparing to reiterate this,” said Hernandez.

To bring this issue to its final conclusion, he stressed that the Philippines remain committed to manifest compassion for the victims and their families and is ready to turn over the additional tokens of solidarity from the Filipino people.

“We hope that we will be able to do this as soon as possible,” Hernandez stated.

At the same time, he assured the Filipino people that their government “has done the utmost best” to address the Quirino Grandstand issue.

Hong Kong, however, insists for an apology, compensation and that officials involved in handling the emergency be held accountable.