Hong Kong yesterday opened a coroner’s inquest into the death of eight tourists last year in a bus hijacking in the Philippines amid lingering doubts about the outcome of Manila’s investigation.
Many in Hong Kong are upset that Philippine President Benigno Aquino III chose not to pursue criminal charges against the top police and security officials who oversaw the botched rescue operation.
Relatives of the victims who attended the court hearing said they were seeking closure.
“The main thing I want is an accounting, a reason,” said Leung Kam-shing, whose younger brother, businessman Ken, was among the victims. “Of course I don’t accept the investigation results over there [in the Philippines].”
Ken Leung’s wife escaped unhurt, but his two daughters were also killed and his son is still recovering from a serious head injury that initially left him in a coma.
“I want this to be investigated thoroughly,” said Wong Shing-sham, whose younger brother Wong Tze-lam was a victim. “The way they do things [in the Philippines] definitely isn’t up to par.”
The inquest won’t determine criminal or civil liability, overseeing Judge Michael Chan said. It is meant to determine the cause of death for the eight Hong Kong victims.
One key question is whether all eight were gunned down by the hostage taker, former police officer Rolando Mendoza, or if they were hit by friendly fire. The Philippine report said while available evidence suggests Mendoza killed all eight before he was killed himself, this needs to be confirmed by ballistic testing.
The court plans to summon 34 Hong Kong witnesses and 116 from the Philippines — although Chan said he didn’t expect most of the Philippine witnesses to attend. Some have submitted depositions, including Manila police chief Rodolfo Magtibay and other police officers who took part in the negotiations and the rescue attempt.
Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim has already declined to attend, saying he has already explained his involvement.
Hong Kong witnesses will include seven of the surviving hostages, Hong Kong forensic experts and police ballistics experts, said Jat Sew-tong, a government-appointed lawyer who will question them.
In early testimony yesterday, Tse Chi-kin, the older brother of slain Hong Kong tour guide Masa Tse, teared up as he was asked to describe what his brother was wearing when his body was identified.
He said he refused to let Philippine coroners perform an autopsy on his brother because he didn’t trust them.
“We believe the methods in Manila are backward. We were also worried that once they were done we would not be able to recognize my brother,” Tse said.