Hong Kong: I would like to express my deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the Quirino Grandstand hostage tragedy and apologize to the people of Hong Kong for that senseless debacle and the heart-rending loss of life. I also condemn the Aquino administration for its incompetence and its inept handling of the situation.
As I write this column from the Island Shangri-La Hotel in Central District, Hong Kong, thousands of locals are beginning to converge in Victoria Park to protest the Aquino administration’s bungling of the crisis.
The rally, organized by political parties from across the spectrum, will start and end at popular gathering points for off-duty Filipina maids. Government officials, meanwhile, are calling for restraint amidst fears of racial tension, while rumors of a violent backlash are making many Filipino residents and tourists edgy.
Rage against President Noynoy Aquino has been rapidly escalating in the former Crown Colony, stoked by the local media, which has been playing up the story, without pause. For instance, on the Airport Express train to the city and later in my hotel room, I watched the news footage of the hostage crisis aired on TV, every 5 to 10 minutes.
The Hong Kong public’s reaction to Aquino’s mismanagement of the incident has been severe, to say the least. Newspaper editorials, letters from readers, television talk shows, and viewers’ call-in reactions have all been scathingly critical. I personally saw a group of people in Mong Kok watching Aquino’s press conference and cursing him in Chinese. “You Dog!” “You Swine!” were some of the invectives hurled. Also in Mong Kok, thousands of people signed a petition demanding a thorough investigation by the Aquino administration.
In a meeting with Hong Kong Chinese friends, I was profusely ashamed of the Philippine government’s stupidity. “It’s okay Buddy. We know you didn’t vote for that smiling guy,” said one of them, who had long been aware of my political sentiments.
The anger of the people of Hong Kong against Aquino is understandable. Several mistakes, mostly of the Aquino administration’s own doing, were widely played-up by the local media.
First, the live news coverage. Everyone in Hong Kong was glued to the TV during the hostage crisis and saw first-hand, the Aquino administration’s mismanagement of the situation.
Second, the call. Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang tried desperately to contact Aquino during the day of the hostage episode, to no avail. The matter was made worse by the Aquino administration’s ridiculous excuses about protocol and procedure. But what incensed people even more was Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma who said of Tsang’s call: “That is unbelievable because the President is accessible all the time.” So Aquino didn’t only botch the crisis, his people effectively even called the leader of Hong Kong a liar.
Third, the envoys. To express his deep sorrow to the people of Hong Kong, Aquino offered to send Vice President Binay and Foreign Affairs Secretary Romulo to the territory. Unfortunately, this was viewed by many locals as another slur by the Aquino administration. Given the gravity of the matter and the vital economic relations between the Philippines and Hong Kong, Aquino should have personally apologized to Tsang’s government and the families of the victims, not to send mere envoys.
Finally, the smile. This was perhaps Aquino’s worst PR screw-up. Most people were appalled by the way he kept smiling in the press conference immediately after the hostage-taking and during his inspection of the crime scene at Quirino Grandstand. At a time when both nations were in a state of mourning, Aquino’s jovial demeanor was callous and nauseating. “I felt like smashing the TV when I saw him smile and smile,” wrote a Hong Kong resident.
In his defense, Aquino said: “My smile might have been misunderstood. I have several expressions. I smile when I’m happy; I smile when I’m faced with an absurd situation when I cannot prevent my own emotions.” Personally, I was stunned by his explanation. In effect, the entire world heard the President of the Republic of the Philippines and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces say that he has no control over his own feelings and reactions.
I didn’t campaign for Noynoy Aquino. Along with just a handful columnists like Belinda Cunanan, who was fired from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Carmen Pedrosa of the Philippine Star, and Emil Jurado of Manila Standard, I tried to warn people about him. We said Aquino didn’t have the experience or preparation to be President. Unfortunately, many didn’t listen and we were pilloried by the Yellow Army and their media propagandists. Just two months into his administration, Aquino has failed the acid test of leadership and has been unmasked for what he really is—incapable of leading the nation.