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Philippines seeks clarification on Hong Kong hijack inquest

MANILA, December 28, 2010 (AFP) – The Philippine government said Tuesday it wants Hong Kong to explain the nature of its planned public inquiry into a fatal hijacking in Manila before it will allow its officials and citizens to testify.

Philippine Justice Secretary Lilian de Lima said Hong Kong had asked 116 Philippine witnesses to testify at the inquest into the fatal August 23, 2010 hijacking of a tourist bus that left eight Hong Kong residents dead.

De Lima told told reporters she had advised President Benigno Aquino that the Philippine government was under no obligation to bring all 116 of its citizens to the Hong Kong inquest.

“I advised the president to seek clarification (on behalf of) the Philippine government on the exact scope and objectives of the inquest proceedings,” De Lima said.

Ties between Hong Kong and the Philippines were strained after a sacked police officer seized a busload of Hong Kong tourists in the capital, leading to a bungled police rescue attempt during which the eight died.

In late September an investigating panel headed by De Lima recommended charges against a dozen people, including an ex-national police chief and Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim.

But in October Aquino called for only minor charges to be filed against four police officers, Mayor Lim and a deputy ombudsman, to the fury of Hong Kong.

“We are cooperating (with the Hong Kong government) provided that (our) sovereignty is protected as well as (Filipinos’) rights,” De Lima said Tuesday.

The best way to go about it would be for Hong Kong to conduct its inquiry under the terms of its 1997 mutual legal assistance treaty with the Philippines, she added.

“It’s our obligation to assist in terms of sending summons to the witnesses named, but we cannot compel the witnesses to go to Hong Kong. That is not in the contemplation of the (treaty),” she said.

De Lima said that if the two governments agreed on the terms of the inquest, she would lead the witnesses to Hong Kong, but suggested that not all the 116 Filipino witnesses sought would attend.

“They (Hong Kong authorities) want to establish the cause of death and circumstances surrounding the eight, but why ask all 116,” she added.

Hong Kong’s justice department wants the mayor of Manila, police snipers, doctors and medical examiners to attend its own inquiry.

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