Hongkongers have long memories

/ 12:23 AM November 02, 2013

HONG KONG—It’s not just elephants who have long memories; Hongkongers seem to have longer ones. The saying “Time heals all wounds” apparently doesn’t apply in this Chinese enclave. The bitter memory of the 2010 Luneta hijacking in the Philippines has lingered among a large number of the population of this territory of 7 million souls.

That saying can also be rephrased to “Time wounds all heels” because in Hong Kong eyes, the “heels” in this case are beleaguered Consul General Noel Servigon as well as President Aquino and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.  (Oldsters know the word “heel” denotes a rascally person.) The ill feeling sometimes spills over to the domestics who are totally powerless in this whole affair.


The dim view of Filipino officials results from the continuing anger over what’s been a grossly mishandled diplomatic issue. The families of the eight people killed by the deranged Rolando Mendoza in 2010 keep insisting on a presidential apology and compensation. While Hong Kong styles itself as “Asia’s World City,” that attitude smacks of the Muslim practice of demanding “blood money” for crimes committed against their nationals. Now the relatives of the victims have, in their exasperation, resorted to a lawsuit against the Philippine government.

What still rankles for them is how President Aquino, not long after the hijacking, appeared on TV with a statement of regret over the tragedy. But news photos of him showed what looked like a nervous grin on his face—which so infuriated Hongkongers that a contingent of angry protesters stormed the Philippine Consulate bearing placards showing Mr. Aquino’s head topped with horns.


With Mayor Estrada announcing his plan to come and offer his apologies, the whole event has reached tragic-comic proportions. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had come earlier with his own version of an apology, which Hongkongers dubbed as “insincere.” Estrada says he will plead for the lifting of the black travel alert, which warns Hongkongers against going to the Philippines (as they’re warned against going to Iraq and Syria). He has already pointed out that the tragedy occurred during the administration of Mayor Alfredo Lim—the official hated by Hongkongers (and many appalled Filipinos) because of his now-notorious lunch break during the siege of the hijacked bus. That, along with the antics of the policemen trying to smash into the bus, lingers like a Keystone Cops scenario in many memories.

Adding to the animosity, an angry legislator has urged that Hong Kong stop hiring Filipino maids—a threat that Taiwan used when trigger-happy Philippine Coast Guard men killed a hapless fisherman. An apology and restitution were quickly made in that case. Meanwhile, a recent report said President Aquino has refused to consider compensation for the bus hijacking victims for fear of too hefty a sum being demanded by their families. He did not help matters much by spouting a non sequitur during the recent Apec summit, saying that Filipino culture is “different” from Hong Kong’s—as though this were a profound truth no one had considered. The implication that Filipinos don’t take responsibility for violent acts committed by their brothers and that apologies are unnecessary was a total no-brainer.

For a wealthy enclave like Hong Kong to demand restitution from a poor country famous for exporting its workers to prop up its economy is certainly unconscionable. This has produced various letters in the main Hong Kong paper, the South China Morning Post, remarking on the ongoing folly. One Hongkonger urged the two sides to settle all this “in the spirit of mutual respect,” seemingly oblivious that this is hard to do when one side acts like the master over the other side, which it views as the servant. The degree of local vindictiveness amounts to outright racism.

Meanwhile, Hongkongers have sought other sources for their maids and have been importing Indonesian and Bangladeshi women to slave in their households, because the latter are considered more docile than the more savvy Pinays.

Journalist Philip Bowring has pointed out that when some Hong Kong tourists were killed during a balloon ride in Egypt, no hue and cry ensued demanding recompense or apologies from Cairo. And Legislator Regina Ip has called the angry protesters a “mad brigade” and offered a balanced view: “Obnoxious though it might sound to many angry Hong Kong citizens who have been whipped up by the doctrine of hatred by limelight-seeking politicians, Aquino has a point in drawing a distinction between an act of state, in the form of a crime committed by a state employee, and a private act, in the form of a killing frenzy committed by a deranged former policeman.”

Meanwhile an exasperated Filipino resident takes comfort from all this by saying that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” since countless Hongkongers rely on Filipino women to care for their young and aging folks.

Isabel T. Escoda is a freelance journalist based in Hong Kong.


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TAGS: Diplomacy, Foreign affairs, Hong Kong, Hostage-taking
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