HONG KONG—The Philippines government has given cautious assent to calls for Hong Kong involvement in an inquiry into a deadly Aug. 23 hostage incident in which eight tourists from the city died, following a rally of tens of thousands of people over the weekend.
March organizers said that between 50,000 and 80,000 people took part in the march Sunday. Demonstrators carried banners of condolence to the families of the victims and called for an independent inquiry into the incident, which many in Hong Kong feel was badly handled by Philippines police.
About 20 Hong Kong legislators led the crowd gathered in Victoria Park in a short ceremony honoring the dead before setting off on a march to Chater Gardens in the downtown business district.
The march was largely silent, with participants wearing black or white shirts, both signifying mourning.
Led by members of the city's Legislative Council, mourners observed a one-minute silence before laying wreaths and tying yellow ribbons to handrails.
Democratic Party legislator and organizer Cheung Man-kwong said that around 50,000 people were present at the start of the rally, which took in many of the places in the downtown area where Filipino domestic helpers typically congregate on Sunday, their one day off during the week.
He called on Hong Kong citizens to refrain from any acts of aggression or discrimination against Filipinos living in Hong Kong.
"We are calling on the Philippines government to launch a full inquiry into the incident, and to make the truth of what happened public," Cheung said.
Philippines presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told reporters on Monday that a group of Chinese investigators, including some from Hong Kong, would be allowed to examine the bus and firearms from the incident, in which former police officer Rolando Mendoza took over a bus carrying a 20-member tour group in Manila.
"The Chinese authorities will be allowed to examine the bus as well as the firearms," Lacierda said.
"They will be working under our supervision. They’re here on observer status," he added.
The rescue attempt by Philippines SWAT teams was watched on live television by millions in Hong Kong, and has been slammed by top officials, the media and ordinary residents.
Call for independent inquiry
Cheung said after the march that it had passed off very peacefully.
"We had two aims here: one was to grieve and pay respects to the victims from Hong Kong who died or were injured in the Philippines," he said.
"The other was to call on the Philippines government to allow Hong Kong investigators to take part in an independent and impartial inquiry, to bring justice to Hong Kong."
Political activist and legislator Leung Kwok-hung, also known by his nickname "Long Hair," said the issue must be pursued by the Hong Kong government, the Philippines government, and the Chinese foreign ministry.
"We all know that the Philippines authorities gave a very poor performance. We want them to hold an independent inquiry. It shouldn't be a case of them investigating themselves," Leung said.
"[We also want to know] if the Hong Kong government sought the help of Beijing, and whether the Chinese government took the initiative to help Hong Kong people, because we in Hong Kong have no diplomatic function: we depend on the Chinese foreign ministry."
But he denied claims that Hong Kong political forces were united on the issue.
"The pro-China parties are obviously going to be reluctant to lay the blame at China's door," he said.
Media reports in neighboring Guangzhou said meanwhile that many travel agencies in the city had stopped taking tours to Manila.
An employee who answered the phone at the Guangzhilu Travel Agency confirmed the report in the Guangzhou Daily News.
And an employee who answered the phone at the Beijing headquarters of the China Travel Service said that some tours to the Philippines had failed to go ahead because of customers canceling bookings.
"We haven't stopped the groups going to Manila, but we will do whatever our customers want. If they want to go, then we'll go. If they don't, then we'll negotiate with them to cancel the trip ... I'm sure people will [want to pull out]. The most important concern is safety. That is the biggest factor here."
While Chinese officials have said the incident won't harm diplomatic ties with the Philippines, the official news agency Xinhua called the rescue attempt "clumsy" in an editorial Sunday.
"The rescuers' random window-breaking and shooting, smoothed over with words directed at the sacked policeman, did nothing to save the lives of eight Hong Kong tourists who were shot dead while exchanging fire," the agency said in an international weekly column.
"As an act of atonement, the Philippines has responded by laying off a number of high-ranking police officers. Yet this doesn't resurrect the dead nor does it do anything to help improve the country's dysfunctional crisis-management readiness," Xinhua said.
Mendoza held up the bus for 11 hours, hoping to reverse his dismissal from the force on what he said were bogus robbery and extortion charges.
He released several children and elderly hostages early in the 12-hour standoff, but later opened fire on the tourists. A police sniper killed Mendoza after eight tourists already were killed.
Original reporting in Cantonese by Li Li and in Mandarin by Tang Qiwei. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.