Philippines ‘not bound’ by court ruling in hostage case-A A +A
Sunday, October 21, 2012
THE Philippine government is not likely to honor the award for damages granted by a Hong Kong court to victims of the August 2010 hostage taking incident in Manila that killed eight tourists and wounded seven others.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Sunday that the ruling of the Hong Kong high court granting a legal aid appeal from the survivors and families of the victims of the hostage crisis is not binding in the Philippines, therefore the government is not under any obligation to keep it.
"No foreign government can grant its citizens leave to sue another government and bind the other government to such an action. International law grants sovereignty to each nation and a primary character of this sovereignty is the immunity of states from suits," she said in a statement.
"The grant of Hong Kong government to the relatives of the hostage victims has neither legal consequence nor significance in international law," she added.
De Lima was apparently referring to the international law doctrine of comity of nations wherein one state, to the greatest extent possible, recognize the legislative, executive or judicial acts of another, as states seek to fully assert their sovereignty and traditionally refuse to recognize or enforce the judicial decisions of others.
Under this principle, she said a government may only be sued with its consent, whether by a foreign government or citizens of that foreign government.
Thus, the Hong Kong court's award of damages is nothing more than an "expression of moral support of to the victims of the Luneta incident by their government," she said.
De Lima, who headed the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) that probed the incident, said last year after a visit with her Chinese counterpart in Beijing, China that she would welcome the request of the hostage survivors and their family to inquire about the status of the cases against those found liable for the death of their loved ones.
She expressed doubt that the plans of the victims to file a lawsuit against the Philippine government, allegedly based on the prodding of some political figures in Hong Kong, would prosper.
She said, however, that they may file a civil suit under Philippine laws for payment of damages.
"Under the Philippine law and justice system, anyone has the right to seek redress by way of damage… If they are asking to consider negotiating for the purpose of getting compensation, the response is: nothing can prevent them from making demands," she said.
Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Roan Libarios, another member of the IIRC, said that such move of the victims to claim for damages should not come as a surprise.
"Some officials could be really held liable for negligence based on our report," he said.
The controversy stemmed from the gruesome hostage drama initiated by dismissed police officer Rolando Mendoza when he hijacked a tourist bus in Intramuros district in Manila and opened fire at each of the passengers after foiled talks with police negotiators.
The despondent policeman was eventually killed by sniper bullets from his former colleagues.
The IIRC, which was formed to probe those responsible for the hostage taking fiasco, originally identified 13 individuals as probably liable with the supposed mishandling of the hostage incident.
However, when a two-man Malacanang panel reviewed the IIRC report, only SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, the brother of hostage-taker was charged in court.
Later on, President Benigno Aquino III dismissed from service Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzales for failure to act immediately on Rolando's administrative case.
A recent Supreme Court ruling eventually reinstated Gonzales, saying Malacanang erred in dismissing him on alleged mishandling of the graft case against the hostage-taker, which triggered the hostage crisis.
Reports quoting the Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) last October 12 stated that a high court master had granted a Legal Aid Appeal from survivors and relatives of the fatalities in the August 23, 2010 tragedy.
In particular, they were demanding the Philippine government to issue a formal apology and provide compensation for the victims and their families. Among those from whom they seek damages are those they believe were responsible for the bungled hostage rescue operation, including Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and the police force.
Democratic Party legislator James To was quoted in the report as saying that the application for legal aid by the survivors and relatives of victims was rejected by the Hong Kong's Legal Aid Department at first because the Philippines may invoke state immunity as a defense.
While President Aquino already expressed regret over the incident and admitted that the crisis should have been handled better, the government refused to apologize to the victims' families. (JCV/Sunnex)