Philippines holds day of mourning for slain tourists
Manila: Flags across the Philippines flew at half mast Wednesday on a national day of mourning for Hong Kong tourists killed in a hostage crisis, amid a hailstorm of criticism over alleged police blunders.
President Benigno Aquino called the day of mourning to remember the eight tourists who perished when police stormed a hijacked bus to end a day-long hostage siege in the heart of Manila's tourist belt on Monday.
Survivors and the bodies of the dead are due to be flown back late Wednesday to Hong Kong, where fears are mounting of possible retaliation against the thousands of Filipinos working in the southern Chinese city.
Small ceremonies were held around the Philippines while Internet social networking sites were flooded with messages from Filipinos apologising to the victims' families and hitting out at police for bungling the rescue attempt.
"Our deepest condolences to the family of the victims. Let us all pray (for) the souls of the victims who died in the tragedy and let us all pray for world peace," netizen Louie Lynn wrote on Aquino's Facebook page.
Ex-police officer Rolando Mendoza seized the bus, with 22 Hong Kong tourists and three Filipinos on board, in a desperate attempt to have himself cleared of extortion charges that had led to him being discharged from the force.
The crisis ended in a hail of bullets, with police snipers killing Mendoza as the events were aired live on television around the world.
Amid fierce criticism from the Hong Kong government and the Chinese territory's media, police admitted to making blunders and Aquino promised a full investigation.
Among the most glaring apparent mistakes were that the ill-equipped commandos were unable to get into the bus for more than an hour after breaking its windows, while Mendoza was earlier allowed to air his demands on radio.
National police spokesman Senior Superintendent Agrimero Cruz told a news agency on Wednesday that autopsies on five of the victims had been completed, but families of the three others opted to have it done in Hong Kong.
Cruz said the autopsies completed by the Philippine side showed the five had died from gunshot wounds, but he would not disclose whether the bullets came weapons belonging to Mendoza or the police.
"We cannot say yet whether the bullets came from the gunman himself, as forensics experts still have to release the official report," Cruz said.
But Cruz expressed frustration at the tirades being directed at the police for their handling of the crisis, labelling critics "spectators in the gallery".
"Everyone is an expert already," Cruz said. "The criticisms are very unfair. They are all from the gallery, or from (the people watching) in the safety of their homes."
Cruz said Hong Kong police were helping police in the investigation by gathering statements from the survivors of the tragedy.
Aside from ordering an inquiry, Aquino has formed a high level delegation that will travel to Hong Kong to brief authorities there.
Widespread anger in Hong Kong has raised fears for the safety of the country's 152,000 Filipinos working in the territory, many of them employed as domestic helpers.
"There is that possibility that something bad could happen," Consul General to Hong Kong Claro Cristobal said on DZBB radio in Manila.
He said at least one domestic helper had already complained that her angry patrons cut short her employment contract in protest at the hostage deaths.
Cristobal said Filipino authorities in Hong Kong were in contact with the leaders of the country's expatriates there and had told them to closely monitor developments.
He said the consulate was expecting Hong Kong nationals to express their sentiments through vigils and protest marches, which could come to a head late Wednesday when the survivors and the remains of the eight are flown back.
In Manila, the government appealed to the public to ease up on the criticism after Aquino's official website and Facebook page were flooded by angry comments.