Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wrote letters to Hong Kong and Chinese leaders to express her sympathy for the death of eight tourists from Hong Kong during the Manila hostage-taking.

There would have been nothing wrong with her writing directly Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Chief Executive Donald Tsang and China Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, except she knew her successor was already in a difficult position over the bungled rescue operation for the hostages last Aug. 23.

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Arroyo, now a House member representing Pampanga’s second district, said in the letter dated Aug. 26 that the hostage-taking was a “senseless and reprehensible act of brutality.” She also said she will await the outcome of the investigation as promised by the government.

“Whoever may be held accountable for the violent turn in the negotiations should be penalized accordingly. This is the only way we could truly honor the memory of the victims and give justice to the families in their hour of bereavement,” she wrote in a letter to Tsang.

Eight tourists from Hong Kong died in the hostage-taking by dismissed police officer Rolando Mendoza. He took the tourists as hostages and demanded his reinstatement into the service. Mendoza lost his job early this year after he was involved in an extortion case.

President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III took over from Arroyo last June 30 after he won the May elections by a huge margin of votes. Barely two months into his presidency, the hostage-taking incident happened and he was thrust into a national and international controversy where the country’s reputation as a peaceful tourist destination was questioned.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tsang had said he tried to contact Aquino by phone at the height of the hostage-taking but his call was not returned.

A top-level Philippine government delegation to be led by Vice President Jejomar Binay was supposed to leave for Hong Kong last week to officially express the Philippines’ sympathy but a Hong Kong counterpart said it would await results of the investigation.

Former president Joseph Estrada was supposed to fly to Hong Kong last week but decided to cancel his trip. It turned out to be a right decision as his son, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, experienced having his passport thrown at him by a Hong Kong immigration officer when he entered the country last Aug. 26.

It is unclear what Arroyo hoped to gain by writing the letters to Hong Kong and Chinese leaders. If it were to express condolences, she could have just joined government’s voice or expressed it through a House resolution.

Given the diplomatic crisis and the sensitive nature of the case for President Aquino and the government, she could have just shut up and joined in the common expression of sorrow.

Her letters only called attention to herself while her successor struggled with the crisis, and she did not help clarify the situation or calm emotions. (ninicab@sunstar.com.ph)