Gov't weighs 'compensation' for HK tourist victims

Posted at 08/30/10 2:48 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A Cabinet secretary on Monday said the Philippine government will coordinate with the Chinese embassy in giving "solidarity offerings" to relatives of the victims of the August 23 hostage crisis.

Speaking to ANC's "Headstart", Social Welfare Secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman said President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has instructed the Cabinet to work closely with the Chinese government on how to give possible compensation to the victims.

"It's not compensation, it's a solidarity offering. It's understanding their situation and saying that in their culture, it is important to make them feel that we understand the gravity of the situation and that part of our show of solidarity is to offer them this financial support. It is not equivalent to what everyone would have earned had they lived," she said in the interview.

She also likened the solidarity offering to the Filipino custom of giving "abuloy" or financial help to relatives of the recently deceased. She added that the Philippine government has previously given civil indemnity to victims of such tragedies as bomb attacks.

She said the Hong Kong government will be giving civil indemnity to the hostage victims aside from compensation to be granted by the insurance companies. A report by The Standard newspaper in Hong Kong said relatives of the 8 slain Hong Kong tourists would receive compensation ranging from HK$320,000 to HK$1.32 million from Hong Thai travel company and its insurance arm. Read here

President Noy at command post

In the interview, Soliman revealed that President Aquino mobilized Cabinet members at the height of the hostage crisis. She said Palace officials did not broadcast their movements to stop hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza from "upping the ante" in the negotiations.

She said she was instructed to stay at the Bayview Hotel on Roxas Boulevard to await the signal to go to the Manila Pavilion and assist the rescued tourists.

She said President Aquino was at the command post at the Emerald Restaurant and had discussed the situation with Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim.

"He was not in Malacañang. The decision that was taken was this will be a police matter. Events were too fast, decisions were taken by those in authority.  We were not there as part of the decision-making," she said, adding that the President was not at the restaurant just to have dinner.

Soliman cited several lessons from the hostage tragedy including the need to form immediate crisis committees during hostage situations, instituting psychological training for policemen and tightening communication plans for government negotiators.

She said a police manual for crisis management was followed "up to a certain point" and that an investigation is necessary on why it was not fully followed.

Another area for improvement is the need for law enforcers to conduct regular simulation exercises of different kinds of hostage situations and how best to address them, she said.

Managing the crisis

She said the government is addressing the expected backlash of the hostage incident by publicly apologizing for the crisis and showing solidarity to the victims and their families.

She said another challenge for the Cabinet is managing the public relations aspect of the hostage crisis. She acknowledged that the Philippine government has been pilloried for its seemingly lackluster response to the hostage crisis, which led to tragedy.

"Obviously, the sentiments and emotions are very high. We need to help everyone in a way go through collective stress debriefing and begin to understand that we accept the outrage. Some people are reacting to the outrage, I encourage them not to. Let us accept the fact that there are people who are very angry. This will pass. And this moment is a moment of recognition of grief and therefore recognizing grief and outrage at this time on our part is necessary in healing," she said.

She said the government is also investigating how a Philippine flag was draped over the casket of hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza last week, which irked the Chinese government. The flag was removed last Friday before Mendoza's burial.

Soliman said ordinary citizens must ask permission from their mayors to use the Philippine flags on their coffins. She said use of the flag on the coffin is reserved for "a respected citizen or official of the country. "

"We need to discuss with the mayor. Did she know? What was that? According to law, mayors are the ones who give permission to use the flag," she said.