HONG KONG — An estimated 80,000 Hong Kong residents marched Sunday in honor of eight locals killed in a bus hijacking in Manila, denouncing the Philippine government for botching the rescue operation and demanding justice for the dead.
Former Philippine police officer Rolando Mendoza commandeered a bus carrying a 20-member Hong Kong tour group visiting the Philippine capital last week, hoping to reverse his dismissal from the force on what he said were bogus robbery and extortion charges.
Mendoza 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 by gunfire. Three others were seriously wounded, including one still in a coma.
The Philippines government 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 rare.
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 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.
"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 were 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 that 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.
Starting Monday, a small group of Hong Kong forensic experts will be allowed to examine the bullet-peppered bus, Philippine National Police spokesman Agrimero Cruz said.
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," migrant worker Elma Oliva said.
Survivor Lee Ying-chuen, who along with her mother escaped with light injuries, said in an article published in Ming Pao Daily News the tourists thought about subduing Mendoza but never acted because he seemed friendly and promised to release his hostages.
"If we didn't wait for the police rescue operation and acted decisively, there might have been a different outcome. But the horrible thing is there are no 'ifs' in history," Lee wrote. (AP)