THE GOVERNMENT will send a high-level delegation to meet with Beijing and Hong Kong officials only after it completes a “full, thorough and transparent investigation” of the botched hostage crisis that ended in the death of eight Hong Kong tourists in Manila last Monday.
Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs made this announcement after the trip of Vice President Jejomar Binay, Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, scheduled for early Thursday, was postponed to a still unspecified date.
On Thursday night, the DFA said that “while the delegation is ready to leave anytime, there is an understanding between both sides that the Philippine delegation will bring a full report of Monday’s incident.”
“Concerned Philippine authorities are now conducting a proper investigation with a view to completing the report as soon as possible,” the foreign office added.
Full report demanded
According to some DFA insiders, however, the Chinese foreign ministry made it a requirement that the Philippine government come up with a “full report” on the incident before the trip could proceed.
The government promptly “agreed to comply with the Beijing government’s requirement,” the sources said.
Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Operations Office claimed yesterday that the two governments had agreed from the beginning that the delegation would go to Beijing and Hong Kong only after a report on the hostage crisis has been prepared.
“The understanding was we would wait for the complete report so that we would have a firm basis for the exchange of information. That was the understanding from the start,” Coloma told dzXL radio.
He said the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, Liu Jianchiao, has said that he would accompany the delegation.
Lacierda said there was a lack of coordination when plans were being made for the Thursday trip of the team that would explain the Philippines’ position to the Beijing and Hong Kong leaders.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs already told us that the purpose of the delegation was to present the investigation report,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said the government has committed to come up, “expeditiously,” with results of the investigation that President Aquino has placed under the direction of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
However, Philippine National Police Chief Director General Jesus Verzosa indicated that the investigation could take some time because of the amount of evidence that will need to be processed and the number of statements from officers to be recorded.
“Since [the case] needs to be analyzed lengthily, this might take long. We will be issuing appropriate statements as necessary,” Verzosa told reporters as he inspected the warehouse at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig where it had been towed.
It was the PNP chief’s first public appearance since Monday’s hostage drama.
Verzosa explained that evidence would have to be pieced together to recreate the whole scenario and determine what triggered the bloody end of the hostage incident which, in the early stages, looked like it could have been resolved peacefully.
Investigators ought to identify how the events developed since the hostage-taker’s temperament had been calm in the beginning, he said.
“We will find out what triggered the change in his mood, and correlate this not only with what is happening inside the bus, but also outside of the [bus], especially those that were covered live [by broadcast media],” he said.
Verzosa said Hong Kong authorities were welcome to observe the investigation because he wanted to show everyone that the police “are conducting a fair, impartial and transparent investigation.”
He only requested observers not to get too close to the bus, in particular, so as not to affect the integrity of the evidence.
“We will charge all those who violated criminal laws, those who have violated administrative laws, those who have violated other regulations,” Verzosa said.
The Binay-led delegation was supposed to have called on top Chinese government officials on Thursday, and then proceeded to Hong Kong today to meet with Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang.
The group was supposed to be meeting with the families of the victims this weekend.
Earlier, Secretary Ricky Carandang of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning office, explained that the delegation was tasked to explain what happened last Monday to Beijing and Hong Kong officials.
Another reason was to prevent the anger of Hong Kong citizens from “[spilling] over and [affecting] innocent Filipinos living and working” there, he said.
Carandang said the government “understands the anger and the dismay of the people of Hong Kong, but at the same time we don’t think it’s right that our ordinary citizens who had nothing to do with this should be paying the price for that.”
No new black travel alerts
Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary Eduardo Malaya of the DFA clarified that aside from the “black travel alert” issued by Hong Kong authorities warning its citizens against travel to the Philippines, “no new travel advisories against the Philippines have been issued by other countries.”
Malaya said the DFA recognizes the “prerogative of the Hong Kong government to issue a travel alert in the light of the tragic end to Monday’s incident.”
However, he said that it was an “isolated incident and is no way reflective of the peace and order situation in the Philippines.”
The government is “committed to ensuring the safety of all foreign nationals within its territory,” he said.
Norman Bordadora & Jerry Esplanada, Phil. Daily Inquirer