‘Manila bus hijackings to become daily events’: HK govt

“In panic and indecisive” is one verdict on the performance of the Manila police during the bus hostage drama. It is a phrase Hongkongers usually associate with their own government, but at least – we assume – our cops would handle such a situation professionally. They would probably make sure the whole proceedings weren’t broadcast live on TV and radio. They wouldn’t have allowed the hijacker’s armed brother, plus other bystanders, to stroll right up to the scene out of nowhere. They would have succeeded in pulling the bus door off first time. They would probably have a real negotiator present. Little things like that.

The Philippines is a joke country. But yesterday’s freakish outbreak of deadly mayhem leaving eight Hong Kong tourists dead does not make it more dangerous than it was last week. The Big Lychee already views abroad – or Southeast Asia, more accurately – as a risky place, thanks to Thailand’s civil strife and Indonesia’s bombings and pogroms, let alone the incessant ferry sinkings, volcano eruptions, typhoon strikes and journalist massacres of the region’s former Spanish colony.

What, therefore, is the point of the Hong Kong government’s decision to issue a Black Outbound Travel Alert for the Philippines? This means the recall of all Hong Kong package tours already down there, cancellation of all planned/booked/paid-for/bags-packed group trips until further notice, plus an official warning to everyone else to steer clear of the place (despite a constant stream of migrant workers and others between here and there).

One possible answer to the question is that, in a state of panic and indecision about appearing to be panicking and indecisive, our leaders proclaimed the costly and troublesome order to at least tackle the ‘indecision’ part of their self-perceived shortcomings. Ever since the Mainland and Macau mounted operations to rescue their delicate tourists stranded in Bangkok’s shut-down airport in 2008, our officials have been especially petrified about appearing uncaring towards Hongkongers who venture out into deepest darkest foreign parts and encounter problems. Screw up thousands of planned trips, and save face!

Another explanation is that the Hong Kong government, a non-sovereign entity with no independent foreign policy, is using the travel alert system as a diplomatic or political weapon: a way of hitting back at Philippine incompetence out of spite. If this is the case – whether the target audience is Manila’s bumbling officialdom or (more likely) our own local public opinion – it is a stupid thing to do. It’s costing money, even if you don’t care about the advisory system’s integrity. Coming from a government that routinely misuses public consultation exercises, off-the-record media briefings and other functions of its publicity machine, it is all too believable. One consolation: there are probably some very good ex-HKG Manila deals on offer all of a sudden.

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20 Responses to ‘Manila bus hijackings to become daily events’: HK govt

  1. TerryWaite says:

    Why don’t Hong Kong people make good hostages?

    1. They want to stop three times before you get to the safe house to do last-minute shopping.

    2. Once there, there aren’t enough electric plugs for all their appliances and gadgets.

    3. The relatives are too busy applying for compensation to get a ransom together.

  2. Sir Crispin says:

    Situation Normal…nervous hand-wringing and hysterical wailing from the HK government.

    Perhaps The Philippines can retaliate with their own travel warning.

    Travel ban to HK: Warning, the majority of HK citizens are being held hostage by crazed developers with millions of dollars being extorted daily in ransom. HK government too impotent to act. Might we suggest a staycation to safe and lovely Maguindanao; or for the more exotic, perhaps a lovely trip to Kandahar for some hiking in the mountains.

  3. PS Tam says:

    How about a moratorium on cynicism to mourn for the broken families and innocent civilians killed in the hostage tragedy?

  4. Maugrim says:

    I agree PS Tam. I know a family that has now lost two children, their father, with a son on life support. To be honest, nothing about the Phillippines surprises me at all, however the truth is that there are some very shattered pieces that need to be put back into place here in the longer term. I’m not sure our media and their interperative cartoons are of much help.

  5. Gerald Simmonds says:

    Things seem pretty touchy between the HK/China Govts and the Phils – a couple of years ago we discovered, to our cost, that holders of HK Passports can only stay in the Phils for 7 days before having to apply for extensions of stay/pay daily fines – other foreigners – mostly Westerners – get much longer.

  6. isomoliu says:

    The Outbound Travel Alert System is a complete joke. Just look at the countries for which the yellow alert has been issued: Indonesia, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand. The yellow alert means there are signs of threat and travellers are advised to take caution and monitor the situation. Those travelling to separatist Baluchistan are only asked to take caution and there’s no concern at all for those who wants see the sights of Baghdad. It was an ill-thought-out kneejerk overreaction. If only the alert system is decorative. Better check your insurance coverage before taking the very good Manila deal.

  7. Sir Crispin says:

    PS Tam, you’re absolutely correct. My bad. I do feel very sorry for those families and I can’t imagine the agony they went through yesterday with the long wait.

  8. Jack Russell says:

    “How about a moratorium on cynicism to mourn for the broken families and innocent civilians killed in the hostage tragedy?”

    Yes please. And let’s put the pathetic puns on hold, too. Just for a day.

  9. PS Tam says:

    Yes, Maugrim, Sir Crispin and Jack Russell, let’s turn our thoughts today to all the victims.

  10. S Wong says:

    PS Tam, it is indeed a day of moaning the unfortunate death of the innocent tourists.

    Hope their families will eventually find peace.

  11. Bigot says:

    Condolences to the bereaved!
    May the wounded recuperate fast!
    The deseased — Requiescant in pace!

  12. Greavsy Strider says:

    We all sympathise with the victims and their families. However the travel ban helps no-one, either here or in the Phillipines, and as Isomoliu points out above it is devoid of logic. Unfortuately it smacks of a tantrum from our little emperor, viz. RTHK: “Mr Tsang said he telephoned the Philippine President, Benigno Aquino, and left a message, but had not received a reply.”

  13. gweipo says:

    In a hostage situation rapid action is probably the worst thing that could happen, if anything the situation was ‘resolved’ too soon.
    A good hostage negotiator would have made all the difference, and Tsang should have had the government pay for flying in the best. That is the kind of action real leaders take.
    Any leader of a multinational would have known better what to do than him.
    Hostage taking is not an unknown science.
    I fear no-one in the Philippines or elsewhere took it seriously and just treated it as a media event.
    Shame on them all.

  14. Plod says:

    The Philippines would not have accepted a foreign negotiator. Besides what with the cultural differences and the law enforcement connections of the hostage taker, it may well have worsened the situation.

    For once I thought Sir Donald showed a bit of genuine passion – unlike that muppet in Manila who was virtually laughing it all off during his press briefing.

    Bigot – you either can’t spell/are innocently ironic or you’re a prick of the highest order. I fear the latter is true.

  15. Doctor Decimated says:

    Crosby Stills and Nash? 49 bye-byes? A gross over-estimate there, methinks.

    Surely a more appropriate tune would be The Who’s “Magic Bus” …

    Here’s the link:

  16. IloveHK says:

    To Plod – I agree, the Phil Prez does look like a muppet. But what’s disturbing is his constant, annoying smirk, the whole time he was defending the police. Perhaps it’s involuntary, maybe it’s out of nervousness, but it sure doesn’t look good smiling the whole time he’s speaking. He was smiling even when he was inspecting the bus!
    Another awful president for a sad, depressing country…

  17. S. Li says:

    I have long heard that the Philippino government is incompetent, but I could never imagine that it is so incompetent.
    And those ” marksmen.” Are they really marksmen? One shot at the gunman standing full-view at the door of the bus would have ended the whole thing. Maybe they were afraid they could miss, or their leader is an idiot.

  18. Plod says:

    S.Li – I wouldn’t blame the marksmen as they only shoot with orders. After all, when it did go pear-shaped it was one of the marksmen who got the head shot on the culprit – pat on the back for him.

    The real shambles was amongst the Police leadership – which was non-existent throughout. I’m still staggered that those overweight, ill-trained, ill-equipped, middle-aged clueless cops were Manila’s best SWAT team – at the time I guessed they were just the lads from the local cop shop.

    Great country, lovely people but this incident is indicative of the fact that they simply couldn’t organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery.

  19. Donald Tsang says:

    Regarding your skeptical headline – ‘Manila bus hijackings to become daily events’ – did you see the news last night. It happened again yesterday to locals in Manila! I’m so happy my hysterical overreaction to the events earlier in the week has paid off.

  20. S. Li says:

    Donald –
    There is nothing to be happy about. Anyway you have admitted that you are hysterical and have over-reacted.

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