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Philippines Rejects Hong Kong Apology Demand After Sanctions

Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- The Philippines has rejected demands from Hong Kong for an apology to victims of a 2010 hostage crisis in Manila and said it regrets sanctions imposed by the Chinese city.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying yesterday said visa-free access will be suspended for some Philippine diplomats and officials after talks over the issue broke down. Further sanctions would be considered, he said.

“A total renegotiation has been opened by the Hong Kong SAR to demand an apology, which the Philippines as a sovereign nation is not prepared to consider,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said at a televised briefing in Manila. “Our nation has already expressed its deepest regret and condolences over the incident and we are preparing to reiterate this.”

Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous special administrative region of China, has been locked in a dispute with the Philippine government after eight members of a Hong Kong tour group were killed in 2010 in Manila. It accused officials of bungling a rescue operation after a former police officer took the tourists hostage on a bus and opened fire after hours of failed negotiations. The city’s government is demanding an apology, compensation and that officials involved in handling the emergency be held accountable.

‘Unequivocal Message’

“We have to emphasize that the victims and their families have been demanding a formal apology from the Philippine side from the very beginning,” a Hong Kong government spokesman said in a statement today. “The announced measure aims to send an unequivocal message to the Philippine government. We hope the Philippine government will demonstrate greater sincerity and resolve to bring a satisfactory conclusion to the Manila hostage-taking incident.”

Chief Executive Leung said yesterday that, despite many rounds of discussions, there remain substantive differences between the two sides over the apology issue. He said his government will implement necessary sanctions to bring about a satisfactory conclusion.

“The Philippine side is still unable to meet the demand of the victims and their families for a formal apology,” Leung said at a briefing yesterday. “The victims and their families and the SAR government agree the response is unacceptable.”

The measures, which will become effective Feb. 5, won’t affect Philippine diplomats and officials already accredited to serve in Hong Kong. About 700 to 800 people a year travel on such passports to Hong Kong from the Philippines, according to Leung.

Expressed Regret

The Philippines has already expressed regret over the bus-hostage row, Hernandez said. Compensation had been offered by the Philippines and it is ready to turn over an “additional token of solidarity” from the Filipino people.

China’s central government backs Hong Kong’s handling of the aftermath of the hostage incident, the nation’s official Xinhua News Agency said yesterday after Leung’s action, citing Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. China urges the Philippines to solve the matter as soon as possible, it said.

In November, Leung gave the Philippines a one-month deadline to make substantial progress in the negotiations. Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the island nation a few days later, killing more than 6,000 people and displacing 4 million.

The sanctions fall short of previous calls from lawmakers in Hong Kong to tighten employment permits for Filipinos, the second-biggest foreign ethnic group in the Chinese city. Filipinos made up about 1.9 percent of the population in Hong Kong, with most of them working as domestic helpers, according to the 2011 census.

To contact the reporters on this story: Joel Guinto in Manila at jguinto1@bloomberg.net; Eleni Himaras in Hong Kong at ehimaras@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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