MANILA – A small group of Hong Kong forensic experts will start on Monday examining the bullet-peppered tourist bus where Chinese tourists were held hostage by a dismissed Manila police officer on August 23.
Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Agrimero Cruz Jr. said the Hong Kong group were given clearance by PNP to have “constructive possession” of the bus starting Monday.
The Hong Kong investigators arrived Saturday at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City but were stopped by the PNP from entering the bus and gather evidences as the Philippine police had not finished their own forensic investigation yet.
Also, the police cited the Chinese investigator’s lack of clearance from the PNP and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Cruz, however, stressed the incident was not meant to stop the foreign forensic experts from doing their own probe.
National Police Chief Jesus Verzosa, who oversees the investigation, said he welcomed the Chinese investigators as he vowed transparency in Monday’s bloodbath at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.
Former police officer Rolando Mendoza commandeered a bus carrying a 20-member Hong Kong tour group visiting Manila last week, 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 broadcast live on television, but later opened fire on the tourists. A police sniper shot and killed Mendoza — but not before eight tourists were killed in gunfire. Three others were seriously injured, including one who is still in a coma.
In Hong Kong, tens of thousands of citizens marched Sunday in honor of eight locals killed in the bus hijacking in Manila, denouncing the Philippine government for botching the rescue operation and demanding justice for the dead.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has "begged for understanding" and ordered a thorough investigation into last Monday's incident, but that has done little to stem growing anger in this wealthy southern Chinese territory where violent crime is a rarity.
About 20 Hong Kong legislators led the crowd gathered at an urban park in a short ceremony honoring the dead before setting off on a march to the Central financial district. Police didn't estimate the size of the crowd, but organizers said about 80,000 people took part.
"That 80,000 people can show up in such a short period of time -- it shows the anger and unity of the Hong Kong people," lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said.
The bloody ending stunned Hong Kongers, who blasted Manila police for what they called an amateurish rescue attempt. They also accused Philippine President Aquino of indifference in angry online messages.
"Everyone saw how the Philippine government mishandled the situation before TV cameras and the chaos in the country. As a Chinese person, I need to demand justice," 49-year-old worker Andy Wong said at Sunday's protest.
Manila's police chief has taken leave and four leaders of the assault team have been relieved pending an investigation. Officials have said the firearms used by 200 police commandos will be tested to see if any of the hostages were hit by police gunfire.
Philippine presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said Sunday his country respects the right of Hong Kongers to express their sentiments. He promised to announce the results of a "comprehensive, fair and accurate" investigation in three weeks.
There are concerns that local anger could boil over and the some 120,000 Filipinos working as live-in domestic helpers for Hong Kong families could face a backlash. So far there have been no reports of violence — although a local Filipino activist group says two maids have been fired over the incident and another employer decided not to sign a helper who had been lined up. Philippine officials are also expecting Hong Kong tourists to stay away from their country.
In a gesture of solidarity, local Filipino activists organized an interfaith service in memory of the victims earlier Sunday where they lit eight candles — one for each victim.
"We ask the Hong Kong people who are watching us not to blame us for what happened because we also did not want this kind of thing to happen. This is why we are holding this prayer — to send our sympathy and condolences to them," migrant worker Elma Oliva said.
The Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong also said five masses were held Sunday throughout the Chinese administrative region attended by Filipinos.
“Members of the Filipino community in Hong Kong have arranged the vigils and masses in remembrance of the victims of the hostage-taking incident in Manila on 23 August,” said the PCG-Hong Kong in a statement.
The masses were held at the St. Joseph's Church in Garden Road, Central; St. Francis Church in Hang Kwong St., Maon Shan; Annunciation Parish in On yin Street, Tsuen King Circuit; St. Benedict Church in Kong Pui St., Shatin; and St. Teresa Parish Church in Prince Edward Road, Kowloon.
A signature wall was also set-up in the venue to provide an avenue for people to write messages and express themselves. (AP/PNA/AMN/Sunnex)