I was preparing for my nth trip to Hong Kong and I was informed to be a little cautious going there, especially that the pain caused by last year’s hostage-taking fiasco in Manila, Philippines came back into the consciousness of the Hong Kong public on the occasion of the horrific incident’s first anniversary. Since, I’m a Filipino I was told that I might bear the brunt of Hong Kong residents
furious on what happened in Manila a year ago.
On August 23 last year, an ex-cop named Rolando Mendoza who had personal gripes with the Philippine government had hijacked a busload of tourists from Hong Kong. Due to the pathetic bungled handling of concerned government officials to the crisis, the disgruntled and crazed ex-cop went berserk, opened fire on the hostages, killing eight and injuring several others until Mendoza himself was killed by responding police officers. The horrific incident had caught people across the globe tuned into their TV sets as the 11-hour drama was covered live by local and international media.
As a result, the fledgling Aquino administration as well as the Filipino nation came under fire from the Hong Kong and Mainland China governments and its people. I remembered it so well when I came to my office that afternoon of August 21, my Chinese colleagues were looking at me as if I did something wrong to them or as if they have something very important to tell me. It was really a sanamagan day for all Filipinos all over the world.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government also issued a black travel advisory on the Philippines because of the incident. This travel advisory indicates that a severe threat exists and all travel to destinations in the Philippines should be avoided. A year after the incident, the black travel advisory has not yet lifted by HKSAR.
Contrary to what I am hearing from Filipino politicians and the local media that tourist flow to the Philippines from Hong Kong and China was not affected by the August 21, 2010 fiasco, the truth is Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese travelers are shying away from the Philippines. I, for one can attest that most of my Chinese friends have some hesitations in visiting the Philippines.
Tourism Assistant Secretary Benito Bengzon said the tourism industry posted $12 million in foregone revenue as Hong Kong travelers continued to shy away from the Philippines since August last year. Despite efforts of the government and the private sector to negate the impact of the Luneta incident, Bengzon said the downtrend in the number of Hong Kong visitors has remained irreversible.
The black travel advisory does not only affect Philippine tourism but also Chinese tourism agencies operating in China and the Philippines. Since, the black travel advisory prevents these agencies to sell package tours, only those who arrange their own trip can visit the Philippines.
Teresita Ang-See, a prominent Filipino-Chinese leader in Manila said that most Cantonese-speaking guides in the Philippines are from Hong Kong and many of them have had to borrow money to tide them over due to the absence of inbound tour groups from the former colony. Travel agencies here which cater to inbound Hong Kong tour groups likewise are forced to retrench their employees.
Certainly, the black travel advisory by HKSAR is jeopardizing Philippine tourism and the new Department of Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez and his team should work doubly hard to lure back Chinese visitors. He should not give up in negotiating with the HKSAR government in lifting the unfair travel ban to the Philippines.
Regardless of the pain, horror, and still fresh wounds of the August 21 incident, the issue should not be used as a political tool to pressure the Philippine government. As the South China Morning Post daily opined “There is understandable anger in Hong Kong towards the police tactical response team in Manila. Its efforts to end the hostage taking appeared to be farcical. But what is not comprehensible is why people have vented their frustrations against Filipinos. They’ve done nothing wrong, after all. Such behavior towards them smacks of racism. The response is knee jerk, but punishes the Filipinos as a race for an incident that has nothing to do with. Travel bans are for safety, not political retribution.”
Image Credit: Hong Kong SAR Public Security Bureau website