By KEVIN DREW and CARLOS H. CONDE
The New York Times
Published: August 27, 2010
HONG KONG — A rift between China and the Philippines deepened Friday, with protests and rallies planned for the weekend to demand an investigation into the hostage standoff in Manila that left eight tourists from Hong Kong dead.
The announcement of protests on Saturday at the Philippine Consulate here and a public rally organized by various political parties on Sunday reflected the anger — fed daily by new revelations of missteps — that the Philippine police allowed the Monday standoff to drag on for 12 hours, throughout which the president, Beningo Aquino III, avoided phone calls from Hong Kong’s chief executive.
“It is a very emotional time here,” said Chan Kin-man, a sociology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Many people in Hong Kong believe the lives of the tourists taken hostage were not properly valued.”
Nearly 38,000 people have signed books of condolence for the victims across the territory, the government said.
The gunman, a 55-year-old police officer fired on extortion charges, opened fire inside the bus near the end of the ordeal. Shortly after, the bus driver escaped, screaming that everyone was dead, and the police finally moved in. The gunman, Rolando Mendoza, was killed by a police sniper.
Ballistics tests are being done on the commandos weapons, leaving open the question of whether the long-delayed rescuers may themselves have shot some of the victims. Hong Kong’s coroner has raised the possibility of carrying out its own investigation, depending on the findings of the autopsies of the eight victims.
Chinese fury was originally focused on the length of the standoff and the fact that the daylong crisis played out on live television — keeping the gunman, who was watching from a monitor inside the bus, abreast of the police actions outside.
But since then, infuriating information has piled up.
A catalog of mistakes listed at a Senate hearing in Manila on Thursday included that the ground commander insisted on using his own group of commandos, leaving a better trained and equipped team from the police Special Action Force sitting idly at the scene. The help of a trained hostage negotiator was declined.
There have been suggestions that the responding police officers — alienated themselves by a culture of graft and favoritism — may have sympathized with the hostage taker, who demanded a review of the extortion case against him and his dismissal from the force.
Broadcasters have added to the outrage. On Friday, television footage of the gunman’s funeral showed family members placing the Philippines flag over his coffin. Chinese officials expressed “strong indignation.”
After a social commentator, Anthony Yuen, suggested on his program that Hong Kong had overreacted to the shootings, and that its territorial leader, Donald Tsang, should not have tried to contact Mr. Aquino during the crisis, his employer, Phoenix TV in Hong Kong, suspended the program.
The episode has deeply damaged the Philippines tourism industry, which relied heavily on visitors from Hong Kong, and has also wounded the new and hopeful presidency of Mr. Aquino, the scion of two of the country’s most enduring symbols of and democracy. He made erasing government corruption, including police abuse, a campaign platform that reverberated with the public.
But the standoff has underlined those problems, said Kai-shing Wong, executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, which is based here. Mr. Wong said his group had chronicled episodes of abuse by the police and military in the Philippines over the past 10 years, including allegations of torture used in interrogations.
Mr. Wong cited a case last week in which Philippines television broadcast video captured on a cell phone that claimed to show police officers in plain clothes torturing a man at a Manila police station.
“It’s not enough to probe this case,” Mr. Wong said. “The Aquino government must take an in-depth look at the law enforcement system.”
The Philippines scores low in a variety of rankings on safety and civil society. The Institute for Economics and Peace ranks the country as 130th out of 149 on its latest “Global Peace Index.” The stakes of the inquiry into the standoff are high for Mr. Aquino, who took office in June.
Kevin Drew reported from Hong Kong, and Carlos H. Conde from Manila.