MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government said Thursday it regrets new Hong Kong sanctions but cannot accept a demand that it apologize for the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists in a 2010 hostage tragedy.
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the Philippines has already expressed its deepest regret and condolences over the incident and made a “generous offer” of payments to the victims and their families to resolve the issue.
Hong Kong said Wednesday it will end visa-free visits by holders of official Philippine government passports starting Feb. 5. Ordinary Filipino travelers aren’t affected.
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said it was the first phase of sanctions, but did not explain what further steps he would take.
Leung said the two sides had agreed on three other issues: compensation, holding responsible officials accountable, and putting in place safety measures for tourists.
Relations have soured over the Philippines’ bungled rescue of the tourists, who were taken hostage on a Manila tour bus by a dismissed police officer.
The Philippine government has expressed regret but has not officially apologized.
“The sanction is unfortunate because a substantive closure ... had already been arrived at three years ago with the previous Hong Kong SAR government and the victims as well as their families,” Hernandez said.
He said the Philippines responded to a renewed appeal for compassion made last October “without equivocation and in a most generous manner.”
Hernandez said Hong Kong then began a complete renegotiation demanding an apology “which the Philippines, as a sovereign nation, is not prepared to consider.”
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, a former Philippine president, said he is worried that Filipino workers in Hong Kong might be affected by the row, and expressed a willingness to go to Hong Kong to apologize.
“I think they want President (Benigno) Aquino to apologize but it’s not the fault of the president,” Estrada said.
He said it was the former Manila mayor who supervised the bungled police rescue, not Aquino.