But aside from proving his competence, Aquino also has to swiftly repair strained relations with both Hong Kong and China. Immediately after the hostage incident, Hong Kong issued a travel advisory against the Philippines and the Chinese vice premier cancelled his trip to Manila. The Philippines has to complete its probe if it wants to appease angry citizens and officials in Hong Kong and China, many of whom believe it was the inefficiency of the Philippine police that led to the death of their fellow citizens.
But securing justice for the memory of those slain isn’t the only goal for the Philippines. Officials also want to prevent anti-Filipino sentiment in Hong Kong and China—both major destinations for Filipinos seeking employment abroad—from fermenting. In addition, the Philippine government also has to be able to reassure the international community that it’s ready to defend the security of tourists and foreigners.
This is by no means the first time that the Philippines has become entangled in messy issues involving its neighbours. In 1995, for example, it downgraded its diplomatic ties with Singapore after a Filipina domestic worker was executed in Singapore for murder. For many years, relations between the two countries were chilly, and there were knock-on effects for Filipinos employed in Singapore. The Philippines government doesn’t want a repeat of such tensions, which could see restrictions placed on Filipinos working in Hong Kong, or further discourage its citizens from visiting the Philippines.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
And the crisis could also have an impact on the Aquino government’s foreign policy by pushing the administration closer to the United States if China isn’t appeased. Aquino, in fact, recently cancelled trips to Vietnam and Indonesia, although he plans to follow through with his scheduled visit to the United States later this month.
The other option for Aquino is to forge closer ties with China, as a kind of apologetic gesture over the hostage blunder. But he can’t do this without upsetting the US, which considers the Philippines as a reliable ally as the US and China vie for supremacy in the region.
It’s a genuine dilemma for Aquino, and one he would have had no idea he was going to encounter when he first heard about the unfolding ‘domestic’ tragedy in Manila.