HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong announced Wednesday it was imposing sanctions on the Philippines because of its “unacceptable” failure to apologize for a deadly hostage crisis more than three years ago.
The current visa-free arrangement for visiting Philippine diplomats and officials will be suspended from February 5, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told a press conference.
Currently they are able to stay 14 days without a visa.
Leung described the move as the “first phase of sanctions” and said the government may take more action if it thinks it could be “effective” in securing an apology over the 2010 hostage-taking.
He added that every year, 700 to 800 diplomats or officials visit Hong Kong from the Philippines on the existing visa-free arrangement.
Hong Kong has been demanding an apology for the incident in which eight Hong Kongers were killed and seven wounded.
They were shot after negotiations broke down between Philippine authorities and a former Philippine police officer who hijacked a Manila tour bus in protest at his sacking.
“The Philippine side is still unable to meet the demand of the victims and the families for a formal apology despite many rounds of discussions,” Leung said.
“The response is unacceptable.”
Hong Kong lawmaker James To, who also represents families of the victims, said it was the first time the city had imposed sanctions on a foreign country.
“It sent a very clear message that the government is very determined to fight for justice for Hong Kong people,” To told reporters.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino has refused to apologize on behalf of his country, insisting the deaths were mainly caused by the actions of the hostage-taker.
The apparent incompetence of the Philippine police during the hostage crisis outraged residents of Hong Kong, a city with low crime rates.
Hong Kong has maintained a travel warning to the Philippines since then.
But the city was widely criticized for sticking to its threat of sanctions in November, when Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated large parts of the Philippines.
The Philippine consulate in Hong Kong was not immediately available for comment.
In November a Hong Kong woman who was shot in the face during the hostage crisis became the first to receive a payout from Manila, an undisclosed sum donated by Filipino businessman.
More than 160,000 Philippine nationals live in Hong Kong, with most working as domestic helpers. Bilateral trade totaled some $8.2 billion in 2012.