Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Easy for you to say

Following yesterday's tragic events in Manila, Hong Kong politicians from Chief Executive Donald Tsang downwards have been quick to express their anger at the handling of the hostage situation by the Philippines police. It is of course easy to sit back in a comfortable room in front of your big screen TV and pass judgement in such cases. Perhaps they should give a thought to whether the right course of action is so obvious when you are out there with inadequate protection facing an armed kidnapper in torrential rain. Yes, the Philippines police appeared to lack training, equipment and leadership - all the fault of politicians, not the officers themselves. Despite this, they put their lives on the line, facing gunfire and eventually successfully rescuing at least some of the hostages alive. Don't they deserve some credit for this?

As for the Hong Kong government placing the Philippines on its tourism blacklist, advising against travel to the country, this is a silly knee-jerk reaction. The proper use of this mechanism is in cases where the security situation in a country presents a general threat to visitors, such as in Bangkok a few months ago during the clashes between the government and redshirt protesters. There is no such general danger in the Philippines - the biggest risk most Hong Kong tourists face there, unless they visit the remoter parts of Mindanao, is that of the occasional pickpocket and the country's appalling driving standards, both of which can be found much closer to home.

This was a one-off incident of a disgruntled armed nutcase running amok and killing innocent people who just happened to be there at the time. Such incidents happen from time to time in many countries, including in recent years Canada, the UK, the USA and China. It is hard to imagine the Hong Kong government advising against travel to any of those countries had a similar event occurred there.


hksarblog said...

I generally agree with your sentiments PB. The tour bus hostage incident may well be a one-off (and someone called AimlessWanderer commented on my recent post that it could be a symptom of the larger malaise of a corrupt, ineffective and disorganized central government).

However, from what I know, the general danger level in the Philippines is pretty bad and should not be so easily dismissed. It is not uncommon for tourists riding in taxis to be “chased” or “kidnapped” by gangs carrying firearms, especially if tourists are on their way to the airport. This is because the gangs and the police authorities know it is likely that any assaulted and robbed tourists are more likely to be relieved to be able to catch their flight and quickly leave the country (and are less concerned about filing a report to the police, who are not going to do anything helpful in any case). I’d say armed assault and robbery, particularly on the roads, is relatively more dangerous than the occasional pickpocket!

BarryO said...

The travel alert is probably aimed at tour companies. It only covers 60 odd counties and neither Afghanistan or Iraq is on the list. So they are safe!

I think they Police did the best they could. It`s not a rich country by any means and can`t afford the same level of equipment and training as HK.

Foamier said...

Spot on, PB, old chap. The Philippines is a basket case (I was there just before Bus Gate and slapped a Philippines travel ban on myself as soon as I left Manila), but you have to give credit to the poor sods tasked with attacking the bus with a couple of tin-openers and a hammer.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, PB, for a thoughtful and balanced assessment of the incident. A lot of things went terribly wrong on that day, and hopefully lessons have been learned. This is not, after all, the first hostage crisis to end tragically. It seems, however, that the heartfelt apologies and expressions of sympathy from the Filipino people are not enough to placate some people, and a lot of the comments I am hearing are beginning to sound like racism. I think we would all do well to remember that this tragedy was caused, not by an entire nation of people, but by a single disgruntled madman. There isn’t a country on earth that doesn’t have plenty of them.

English guy