Today’s motion is about whether or not we should urge the Government to impose sanctions on the Philippines in order to restore the dignity of Hong Kongers. Since the Manila hostage crisis which happened more than three years ago, the relatives of the victims have incessantly advocated negotiations with the Philippine government and launching a thorough investigation into how the event happened, from beginning to end. They also asked that the people responsible be punished. However, the Philippine government has shown arrogance on this matter and has been dilly-dallying on starting to talk about apologizing and compensations.
At the same time, at the recent APEC meeting, the HKSAR Chief Executive made an appointment with the Philippine president on the hostage crisis. At the meeting, the arrangement of seats did not give equal weights to the leaders. Moreover, the Filipinos unilaterally videotaped and publicized the clips, paying scant attention to diplomatic protocol and showing disrespect toward the HKSAR. The rudeness of the Philippine government has attracted the concern of the Central Government, the Chinese premier Li Keqiang requested the Philippine president to appropriately settle the crisis in the shortest possible time.
After that intervention by the Chinese premier, the Philippine government took action. Earlier, the Manila City Council passed a resolution to extend to the relatives of the victims apologies. They have assigned the Manila mayor to lead the work of reconciliation; he will come to Hong Kong later. The Manila councilor Hung Yingchung has earlier also come to Hong Kong to meet with representatives of the Security Bureau and the relatives of the victims. Although they discussed compensations and apologies, it is reported that a wide gulf separated the two sides.
I agree that the Government and relatives should at this stage negotiate with the Philippine side to procure an official apology and to arrive at a solution as soon as possible. That would achieve our four objectives of apology, compensations, accountability, and improvement and restore Hong Kongers’ faith in the Philippines. However, if the Philippine side shows no sincerity in solving the problem, our next step should be to adopt some measures that would put pressure on the Philippines while not affecting the daily lives of the Hong Kong people.
As a matter of fact, the incident has brought severe wounds to the relatives of the deceased and the survivors. If we continue to drag our feet on the matter, both sides will not derive any benefit. Therefore, the earliest settlement of this matter will work in our interests. But we have to realize that this incident involves international diplomatic relations. We need to be careful in handling that. The Government, for its part, has adopted tougher measures – the Chief Executive has explicitly stated that, unless the negotiations yielded substantial progress within a month, Hong Kong would impose sanctions on the Philippines.
But as to what action we should take, I am of the opinion that we should consider the suggestion of Hon Mrs. Regina Ip Lau Shuk-yee. She proposed suspending the non-requirement of visas for Filipino visitors and tightening the issue of commerce and work visas to those holding Philippine passports. I think that this will not affect Hong Kong much. On the contrary, that will bring a lot of pressure to bear on the Philippines. The proposal is worth considering. However, at this stage, we should first continue to fight for a positive result from negotiations. If there is not bilateral agreement, then the government can consider Mrs Ip’s proposal. The proposal can be executed with just a seven-day notice to the other side; it is simple and workable.
Moreover, some legislators suggested that the Government should stop purchasing Filipino goods and call on the commercial sectors to temporarily suspend the commercial exchanges between us and the Philippines. They even suggested an outright boycott of Philippine goods. According to Trade and Industry Department statistics, in 2012 imports from the Philippines totaled in value HK$41 billion. In the main they consisted of various mechanical devices and telecommunication gadgets. If we inadvertently boycott Philippine goods, our business sector will also be adversely affected. In addition, Hong Kong is a member of the World Trade Organization and is an internationally famous free-trade port. Because of this, we have seldom heard of our stopping commercial exchanges with foreign countries. If we inadvertently boycott Philippine goods, we will destroy our good reputation of a free-trade port. This is not wise!
Lastly, some people in society have proposed imposing even tougher measures on the Philippine government, such as suspending the issue of work visas to Filipino domestic helpers. But I think this measure will directly affect the daily lives of Hong Kongers. We may, in doing this, open a can of worms. The outcome would be unthinkable. According to figures from the Immigration Department, there are more than 310,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, of whom half are Filipinos. There are a lot of Hong Kong families with young children, elders, and mobility-inconvenient family members who are cared for by Filipino domestics. If we cease issuing visas to them, we will bring serious disruptions to the lives of a large proportion of our families.