The relatives of eight Hong Kong tourists killed in a Philippine bus hostage fiasco yesterday cried out for justice as they returned to the site of the slaughter for an emotional one-year anniversary ceremony.
Buddhist monks lit incense and offered food and drinks on a makeshift altar on the pavement of Manila’s Rizal Park, where the hijacked bus stood for 11 hours before a bungled rescue attempt led to the bloodbath.
Last year’s chaos was replaced by a peaceful atmosphere, the mournful hymns and chants of the monks broken only by the rapid shutter clicks from the cameras of a Hong Kong press contingent.
“We will never forget the pain,” said Tse Chi Kin, whose brother Masa Tse Ting-chunn was the tour guide on the bus and was among those slain.
He said the family came back seeking closure of sorts, but they had largely failed after Philippine President Benigno Aquino III rejected an appeal to meet with them and personally apologize.
“It has been one year, but we have not received any apology — not an e-mail, not a letter, not even a call,” he sobbed.
Aquino, who skipped the ceremony, maintained he regretted the tragedy, but ruled out an apology for an attack he said could not have been stopped.
“An apology connotes that the state did them grievous harm. I don’t think that is correct,” he told reporters after giving a speech at a naval event just a block away from where the mourners had gathered.
“We sympathize with them, we really wished it did not happen. But in the same token that in Norway, there was this tragedy that could not be prevented because of a lone solitary deranged gunman,” he said.
Aquino was referring to far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who bombed Oslo’s government quarters before shooting down participants at an island youth camp, killing 77 in all.
However, Manila survivor Lee Ying Cheum, who said she was still recovering from deep mental trauma, insisted Philippine authorities clearly mishandled the crisis.
“We trusted the government to save us. We were wrong,” Lee said. “We are still angry [because] families were torn apart, children were orphaned.”
As the relatives left after the ceremony, one of the two police negotiators involved in last year’s drama walked to the altar and offered a prayer.
“I feel regret. I needed to say sorry to them [the victims],” Chief Inspector Romeo Salvador said. “We did not fully fulfill our job. We should have done better.”