MANILA — President Benigno Aquino III expressed "deep regret" Tuesday for the deaths of eight Hong Kong hostages in a botched police rescue last year but rejected the families' call for a formal apology.
Aquino said the lone gunman and not the state is to be blamed for the tragedy. He compared the incident to last month's attack by a "deranged gunman" who killed 77 people in Norway.
He told reporters on the anniversary of the hostage-taking that an apology connotes that the state harmed the tourists, which he said was not correct.
The tourists were taken captive on their bus by a fired policeman fighting for reinstatement. Hours of unsuccessful negotiations turned bloody when he opened fire, prompting police to chaotically storm the bus. The gunman was killed by a police sniper.
A Hong Kong inquest earlier this year concluded that Philippine officials contributed to or caused the deaths of the tourists. Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo has said that police fire did not kill any of the hostages.
No one has been charged criminally for lapses in the police operation and only one official has been fired.
"This was the act of one man, in the same token that some of us citizens have been affected elsewhere in the world, we do not blame the entire population," Aquino said.
Tearful relatives and a survivor offered flowers and lit incense at the downtown Manila park where the 11-hour drama unfolded on live television the year before. Buddhist monks chanted prayers while local anti-crime activists carried a white cross bearing the names of the victims.
"We continue to sympathize with them," said Aquino, who did not attend the commemoration. "We really wish it did not happen."
He acknowledged that rescuers could have performed better, but said any police force would face serious limitations in responding to a gunman who suddenly changed his negotiating position.
In a meeting Monday with the relatives and a Hong Kong legislator, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima promised to relay to Aquino their demands for compensation and a formal apology, as well as the filing of criminal charges against police and other officials involved in the botched rescue. (AP)