(Updated 8:13 a.m.) - Former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada apologized Wednesday to survivors the Manila bus hostage crisis in August 2010, but two of the survivors dismissed the mayor's statement as hollow and coming too late.
“On behalf of the people of Manila, as the mayor, I want to say: we are sorry for the incident, for what happened to the victims,” Estrada said in an exclusive interview with a Hong Kong cable channel Tuesday,
Estrada is the first Fiipino public official to personally issue an apology to victims of the hostage-taking incident.
He said that had he been mayor during the incident, he would have apologized sooner.
“I will take full responsibility. I will apologize. As the one in charge, you cannot blame your subordinates,” the actor-turned politician said. Estrada was elected mayor in May over his predecessor, re-electionist Alfredo S. Lim, who was chief executive of the capital city during the hostage crisis.
Lim was criticized for having left the command center when disgruntled former police officer Rolando Mendoza seized a bus and held hostage its 25 passengers on August 2010. Of those on the bus during the incident, 21 were Hong Kong tourists on their way out of the country.
Eight of the 21 Hong Kong tourists did not make it out of the bus alive.
Too little, too late
However, at least two survivors of the hostage crisis said Estrada’s apology was hollow, and came three years too late.
"It has been three years and the Manila government has not done anything to compensate us," said Yik Siu-ling in a South China Morning Post report.
Yik’s lower jaw was shattered by a bullet during the incident.
Similarly, Tse Chi-kin, whose younger brother, Masa Tse Ting-chunn, was killed, said Estrada wasn’t the right person to apologize.
"It's inappropriate that a new guy just comes out and says he's sorry," he said.
Tse said an appropriate apology would at least require a formal letter from the governement.
Since the 2010 hostage incident, a black travel warning for the Philippines issued by the Hong Kong government has stayed in place, despite repeated appeals by the Philippine government to remove it.
Four HK demands
Since then, surviving victims have called for a public apology from President Benigno Aquino III, as well as for monetary compensation and for erring officials to be sacked. The victims also want improved tourist safety.
Aquino, however, ruled out an apology, calling it unnecessary.
“We deeply regret what has transpired. The apology connotes that the State did them grievous harm, I don’t think that is correct. This was the act of one man," Aquino told reporters in 2011.
While Estrada said his predecessor, Lim, should have apologized, he defended Aquino’s decision not to apologize.
“The chief executive of the town or the city is in charge of that, not the president. The mayor will apologize for that, not the president,” he said.
"As a mayor of the city, you should be on top of all this, you should direct everything. But unfortunately, my predecessor (Lim), did not do that,” Estrada added.
Suit to be filed in HK
Meanwhile, the survivors and relatives of those who died in the tragedy said they will sue the Philippine government for compensation, a Hong Kong news site reported Thursday.
A report on Radio Television Hong Kong said the legal action stemmed from Manila's supposed ignoring of their call for action.
RTHK said the relatives and survivors plan to file the suit in a Hong Kong court.
It added they plan to include in the suit former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and "seven other officials involved in handling the crisis."
— ELR/KG, GMA News