HONG KONG—Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday formally apologized over the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists in a 2010 Manila hostage crisis that soured ties with the Chinese territory.
The incident happened under previous President Benigno Aquino III who had rejected Hong Kong’s demands for an apology because he said the hijacker caused the crisis.
However, Duterte on Thursday said an apology to “the Chinese government and the people of China” was “only right” and necessary.
“From the bottom of my heart as the president of the Republic of the Philippines and in behalf of the people of the Philippines, may I apologize formally to you now,” Duterte said in a speech before the Filipino community in Hong Kong.
“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.”
In Manila, a former envoy said Duterte’s apology to Hong Kong for the 2010 Manila hostage crisis might have been eight years too late, but it was still a very welcome development.
Former ambassador Apolinario Lozada Jr. said Duterte’s apology would not only improve the relations between the Philippines and Hong Kong but would also give protection to the Filipino workers there.
“I am very happy that the President did it even if it’s quite late. That’s really one of the irritants until today between the Philippines and Hong Kong bilateral relations,” he told ANC.
Duterte also issued a public apology to Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday, a week after describing the military crackdown on the country’s Rohingya minority as a “genocide.”
Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, has come in for intense global criticism over her public silence regarding a brutal military crackdown that has forced nearly 700,000 Muslim Rohingya to flee the mainly Buddhist nation for Bangladesh.
Duterte’s original comments, made in a Manila speech a week ago, were a rare example of public criticism by the head of one Southeast Asian country of another.
Hong Kong had been infuriated by the Philippine government’s response to the incident in which a disgraced former police officer hijacked a tour bus to protest his sacking.
Day-long negotiations to release the hostages trapped on the bus failed and, with the drama being broadcast live around the world, Philippine security forces bungled a rescue attempt. AFP, with Vito Barcelo
A deeply emotional row was resolved in 2014 after the Philippine government expressed “its most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy” but avoided a formal apology.
An apology was instead issued by the Manila city government.
Duterte, 73, was elected in mid-2016 and had sought to improve his nation’s relations with Beijing despite a territorial row over the South China Sea as he courted investments and trade from the world’s second-largest economy.
He visited Hong Kong after participating in the Boao Forum―dubbed the Asian Davos―in China where he met with President Xi Jinping on Tuesday.
Thursday’s apology came as Duterte declared the Philippines’ “love” for China.
“I hope this would go a long way to really assuage the feeling of the Chinese people and government,” Duterte said.
A small anti-Duterte demonstration had been held earlier in Hong Kong, home to around 190,000 Filipino domestic workers.
Around 50 people gathered near his hotel to chant slogans in protest against his war on drugs, which they said was a sham used to target activists and opponents.
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