Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Many Filipinos feel sorry for HK families who suffered death or injury in Luneta carnage, but President stubbornly refuses to apologize for it. He should---in accordance with Filipino customs and traditions, and above all, because we're a Christian nation. China extended helping hand in post-Yolanda by sending badly-needed hospital ship. That would have been perfect time for him to sound 'apologetic,' but instead his sharp words only heighten tensions between the two peoples.

President Aquino has refused to apologize to the people of Hongkong for the Luneta carnage that took place in July 2010, just a month after he assumed office---never mind if the act of HK Chief Executive C.Y. Leung of cancelling the visa-free privilege for Philippine officials appears to be just the first of repercussions from the HK-SAR government.

There is fear that the heightening of tension between HK-SAR and the Philippines could affect, not only the status of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos serving as domestics in HK, or Filipino sailors passing through the port of HK enroute to other destinations, but also trade between economic giant China and our economically puny country.


Aquino was quoted by Palace officials to be worried about the legal implications of an “apology,” as it might, in the Palace’s estimation, put his administration in legal and diplomatic entanglements. Legal experts have studied this angle and they have been quoted as saying the possibility of legal entanglements is remote---and that therefore, the President should go ahead and apologize for eight deaths of HK nationals and others injured at Luneta.

But I’d like to put an apology from the President in the context of Filipino customs and traditions, and I wish I had contributed to this line of argument at the height of the debate over the Luneta carnage nearly 3 1/2 years ago---when it would have been the right time for P-Noy to apologize.

Now it’s frightfully awkward for him to do so---and from what we have seen about how the mind of this man has worked over the past four years since his candidacy, it’s tough to imagine him apologizing now---he hates to be bamboozled.  He’d probably rather we went to war with China, or that all the Pinay domestics in HK were repatriated.

In fact the tension between our two countries has been heightening after President Aquino was quoted as asserting that incursions by China of various points in the West Philippine Sea without any of its allies denouncing it is much like the Appeasement at Munich---when the Great Powers yielded Sudetenland, then part of Czechoslovakia, to Germany in the hope of stopping his aggression in 1938, just prior to World War II. 

The comparison is utterly extremist and reckless, shocking even powers friendly to us and reaping ridicule from the international community.  


From the Filipino standpoint, the argument for an apology is simple, but not flippant. It goes to the very core of our nationhood, our ‘people-hood.’

If visitors to one’s home are injured for one reason or another, particularly because of carelessness or neglect of its inhabitants, the head of the family or home apologizes for the injury, even if he or she did not have a direct involvement in what had happened.  This is part and parcel of Filipino hospitality. The HK people who suffered death or injury at Luneta were our visitors.  The nation felt so sorry for what had happened to them in July 2010 and the Father of this nation, the President, should have apologized right there.

Three years later, in justifying his continued refusal to apologize, P-Noy cited two instances when Filipinos travelers in China suffered death and injury---as some kind of a tit-for-tat. Is it really that?  There seems to be a world of difference between those terribly sad and tragic episodes in China suffered some years ago by Filipino nationals, and what happened in the Luneta in July 2010.


In one of those two instances that both happened in Beijing’s gigantic Tiananmen Square, a wayward bus suddenly plowed through a crowd, killing a number of people, including a Filipino doctor touring the place, and injuring scores;  the motive of the bus driver was said to be political in nature.

The other episode carried out at the height of political tension between China and Japan involved a man who killed an elderly Filipino and his daughter in a knife attack, and injured two other members of the family. The thinking at that time, to which I subscribed, was that the Filipino family was thought to be Japanese tourists. It was most tragic.

Malacanang now points out that in those two episodes in Tiananmen Square Filipinos were killed and injured, China never issued an apology.


So, one might ask, what’s the difference between what happened in Tiananmen Square and at the Luneta? For one thing, in the episodes in Tiananmen the acts of two deranged men had happened so suddenly that there was no time for the Chinese authorities to react to protect the visiting Filipinos.

Whereas, in the Luneta episode, various agencies of the Philippine government were involved in tackling the hostage crisis and yet the killings still happened. In hindsight we all realized that it was a series of blunders by local and national officials and police authorities in a drama lasting for many hours. Reports said the President was in a Chinese restaurant not far from the hostage scene, and almost unappreciative of the seriousness of the situation---until the deaths occurred.

In other words, it was a series of blunders over unbelievable incompetence and in fact, the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo had recommended that then Manila Mayor Fred Lim take the responsibility for the tragedy. But because the ex-Mayor had been a loyal ally of the Aquino family P-Noy just couldn’t punish him beyond a few weeks' suspension. 


To be fair, President Aquino was new at his office at that time, and that should be considered an EXTENUATING factor. But it’s also obvious that the reason he didn’t want to apologize then, as now, is that it would highlight the incompetence of his young administration then---which, to his critics, hasn’t improved in this 4th year of his reign. Aquino keeps stressing that the Luneta crime was the doing of one deranged hostage-taker, not the entire nation, hence no apology is needed. But in reality, the bureaucracy led by himself should shoulder the blame.

Above all, if the Chinese government failed to apologize for the deaths of Pinoys in China, that doesn’t justify the PH government's refusal to apologize over the Luneta carnage. The Philippines is a Christian country and to ask for forgiveness from those who are wronged in our land is a Christian act---as Christ on the Cross begged His Father to forgive "those who know not what they do.”

Asking for forgiveness is the other side of the coin of pardon. We are asking the people of HK to pardon what happened at the Luneta, over and above their pain of loss. The Chinese reached out to the Filipinos in the post-Yolanda crisis, when it sent a hospital ship to Tacloban to do operations on those badly-hit. That may have been the best moment to find a way to sound like he's apologizing for the Luneta carnage, but it didn't happen. 

The President should apologize, late in the day though it is.

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