Skip to main content

Post Mortem on a Massacre 屠殺後的檢討

Not since the SARS outbreak in 2003 has a news event gripped the city with such intensity, as live coverage of the hostage crisis in Manila unfolded on prime time television and left us in shock and disbelief. On August 23rd, what started out as a media stunt staged by a frustrated ex-cop ended in a shooting gallery leaving nine dead and three seriously injured. In the days that followed, as details of the bungled rescue were exposed, dissected and analyzed, citizens of Hong Kong united in a kind of collective anger never seen before directed at another sovereign nation.

A man-made tragedy

A lot of ink has been spilled by the local press over the sheer incompetence of the Manila police force. We saw it with our own eyes: rescue units performing a slapstick comedy titled Amateurs’ Night at Rizal Park. Using props from sledgehammers that bounced right off unbreakable windows to ropes that broke after a few pulls and purple glow sticks that smacked of a Halloween toy, the comedians completed their unfunny theatrical joke in front of a stunned audience 700 miles away. 

But the joke was on the victims and their families: a pair of young girls suddenly orphaned, a woman clever enough to save someone else’s child but not her own husband, and a mother weeping by the side of her comatose son after losing the rest of her family. Their stories tugged at our heartstrings and resonated across a city where taking a vacation in less developed parts of Asia is a national pastime. What happened to those families could have happened to any of us.

As is the case for other man-made disasters, many of us are looking for something or someone to direct our anger and frustration at. Unfortunately for the 150,000 Filipino expatriates working in Hong Kong, every aspect of the hostage crisis – from the gross negligence of the police force to the public relations blunders at the national level – feeds into our racial stereotypes. However untrue and unjustified, the stereotypical Filipino, ever lazy, sloppy and corner-cutting, has been part of the Hong Konger’s psyche since the first crop of domestic helpers from the Philippines arrived in the late 1970s. 

Within days of the Manila Massacre, a racial backlash started to simmer. Our chief executive, in an act of bravado that could only be described as closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, slapped the country with the most severe travel advisory the next day, not as a safety measure but rather a form of punishment against the tourism-dependent economy. Legislators organizing this Sunday’s mass rally urged participants not to carry racist banners or harass Filipino passers-by. Patience and understanding are in short supply in Hong Kong this week, and the already tenuous relationship between our city and its impoverished neighbor has gotten more tenuous still.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang isn't helping

Determined to get a more balanced perspective on things, I sat down with a few of my Filipino friends earlier this week for some one-on-one, heart-to-heart discussions about the hostage crisis. Before I even began, Benny, a musician who moved to Hong Kong from Manila three years ago, asked me if the stories he had heard about Filipino maids being beaten or sacked by their Chinese employers were true. 

Indeed, rumors of violence and dismissals have begun to swirl within the Filipino community here. I could neither confirm nor deny these rumors, and so I instead offered Benny a rather cynical response: if there were abuses by Hong Kong people out of retaliation, the stories would have been all over the news and we would have known about it. Cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless.

On the subject of police incompetence, my Filipino friends proffered a unanimous explanation. In the Philippines, the police department’s budget is being strangled daily by rampant corruption. Police officers, including the half-hearted SWAT units charged with the perilous task of freeing the Hong Kong hostages, are under-paid and few are willing to risk their lives in the line of duty. 

“They just want to go home to their wives and children at the end of the day,” explained Lisa, a co-worker who sits three floors above me in the office. 

A cash-starved police force also means officers must muddle through the day with antiquated equipment and non-existent training. That explains why rescuers fumbled through the bus siege without so much as a step ladder, a battering ram or a pair of night vision goggles.

Their competence has cost life

And so it once again boils down to that third world woe: corruption. The subject is echoed by every Filipino I have talked to and is the singular reason why the Philippines is mired in perpetual poverty. The country is currently ranked 139th on the worldwide corruption perceptions index, below even Bangladesh, Uganda and Libya. In the Philippines, corruption is simultaneously the oil that greases the economic machine and the venom that poisons it. With half of the country’s GDP controlled by 15 powerful families, bribery is the only way money can seep through the crevices of the crony system. 

Every new government since Ferdinand Marcos, crowned the second most corrupt head of state of all time by watchdog organization Transparency International, has run on an anti-corruption platform but none has made even a dent on the viper’s nest. In my past visits to Manila, I tasted first-hand the poison of corruption that flows through every vein of society. In the wealthy Makati City neighborhood within the greater metropolitan area, my friends and I couldn’t get through the day without passing out “coffee money” to umpteen police officers like it was Chinese New Year in Hong Kong.

In this week’s hostage crisis, corruption reared its ugly head and did so on multiple fronts. Corruption was what made the police department sack the gunman Rolando Mendoza a year ago, when the highly decorated cop got thrown under the bus for bringing drug charges against the scion of a powerful family in the Philippines. Corruption is what starves the police department of resources critical to keeping it afloat and capable of responding to emergencies like a hostage standoff. And corruption was possibly the reason why the Mayor of Manila ordered to have the gunman’s brother arrested in the middle of a hostage negotiation, a decision that defied all common sense and ultimately pushed the gunman over the edge.

One corrupt president after another

In the weeks and months ahead, citizens of Hong Kong are expected to step through the various stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining and mourning – before we finally come to terms with the heart-wrenching tragedy. Similarly, the Philippines will take a bit of time to recover from the national embarrassment of staging the most disastrous rescue operation in human history. But perhaps embarrassment is the last thing its people should worry about. Until and unless the endless cycle of corruption is dealt with, this country has no future.

Popular Posts

Book Review: "Generation HK" 書評:《香港世代》

Unpacking the young generation in Hong Kong is a tall order, not least because a singular, archetypical “Hong Kong youth” does not exist. The cohort is as diverse and divergent as it comes, from socioeconomic background and upbringing to education and exposure to the wider world, to values, ideals and aspirations. It defies stereotypes and generalisations.

Ben Bland, a British correspondent for The Financial Times, is in a unique position to take on that ambitious project. Whereas Bland’s extensive experience reporting in Asia—including stints in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar—has given him a broad field of view, his relatively short tenure in Hong Kong—just over two years—allows him to look at its people through a long-range lens.
It is that unadulterated objectivity and his unquenched curiosity that make Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow a discerning and refreshing read. Released last summer under Penguin Book’s inaugural “Hong Kong series” to mark the 20…

About the Author 關於作者

Born in Hong Kong, Jason Y. Ng is a globetrotter who spent his entire adult life in Italy, the United States and Canada before returning to his birthplace to rediscover his roots. He is a lawyer, published author, and contributor to The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Free Press and EJInsight. His social commentary blog As I See It and restaurant/movie review site The Real Deal have attracted a cult following in Asia and beyond. Between 2014 and 2016, he was a music critic for Time Out (HK).

Jason is the bestselling author of Umbrellas in Bloom (2016), No City for Slow Men (2013) and HONG KONG State of Mind (2010). Together, the three books form a Hong Kong trilogy that tracks the city's post-colonial development. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies. In 2017, Jason co-edited and contributed to Hong Kong 20/20, an anthology that marks the 20th anniversary of the handover. In July 2017, he was appointed Advising Editor for the Los Angeles Revie…

From Street to Chic, Hong Kong’s many-colored food scene 由大排檔到高檔: 香港的多元飲食文化

Known around the world as a foodie’s paradise, Hong Kong has a bounty of restaurants to satisfy every craving. Whether you are hungry for a lobster roll, Tandoori chicken or Spanish tapas, the Fragrant Harbour is certain to spoil you for choice.
The numbers are staggering. Openrice, the city’s leading food directory, has more than 25,000 listings—that’s one eatery for every 300 people and one of the highest restaurants-per-capita in the world. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants reached a high of 64 in 2015, a remarkable feat for a city that’s only a little over half the size of London. Amber and Otto e Mezzo occupied two of the five top spots in Asia according to The World’s Best Restaurants, serving up exquisite French and Italian fares that tantalise even the pickiest of taste buds.

While world class international cuisine is there for the taking, it is the local food scene in Hong Kong that steals the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Whatever your budget and palate…

Media Attention + Upcoming Events 媒體關注 + 最新動向

Upcoming events and speaking engagements in 2018

Shooting of British documentary about free expression in Hong Kong
Venue: Centennial Campus, University of Hong Kong
Date: 21 October
Release date: 2019

Panelist at Pink Dot Hong Kong 2018
Topic: Choice of jurisdiction for same-sex marriage
Venue: West Kowloon Cultural District
Date: 21 October
Time: 6:00pm

Launch of new website: jasonyng.com
Date: November

Deliver legal workshop for foreign domestic workers organized by Philippine Consulate General HK and Wimler Foundation
Topic: Know your rights
Venue: Philippine Consulate General HK, Admiralty
Date: November

Book launch of Hong Kong Noir published by Akashic Books
Venue: TBD
Date: November

Release of Hong Kong Highs and Lows (2018 anthology by Hong Kong Writers Circle)
Short story: “Points of Inflexion”
Date: December



2018

Speaker/panelist on BNP Paribas diversity & inclusion panels
Topic 1: What is an LGBT ally?
Venue: BNP Paribas, IFC Two
Date: 8 October
Topics: Male allies: a panel on…

Past Events: 2017年活動

Media coverage and speaking engagements in 2017


Interview with Apple Daily 蘋果日報
Title: "下月8日提訊 料親身上庭 [Patrick Ho] to be arraigned on 8 January, expected to appear in person"
Publication date: 22 December

Interview with Ming Pao Daily 明報
Title: "依法限提訊後70日開審 律師指變數仍多 [Patrick Ho to be tried within 70 days of indictment, but timing is subject to change" Publication date: 21 December

Interview with Ming Pao Daily 明報 Title: "何志平案1月8日提訊 或3月中開審 料獄中過農曆年 Patrick Ho to be arraigned on 8 January pending trial in March, expected to spend Chinese New Year in prison" Publication date: 21 December

Interview with Apple Daily 蘋果日報 Title: "起訴書:何志平倘罪成須充公財產 Indictment says Patrick Ho's assets to be seized upon conviction" Publication date: 20 December
Radio Interview with BBC Radio Title: "Censorship and freedom of expression in China and Hong Kong" Show: The Cultural Frontline Presenter: Tina Daheley Broadcast date: 11 December
Moderator at Enrich HK panel …

Join the Club 入會須知

You have reached a midlife plateau. You have everything you thought you wanted: a happy family, a well-located apartment and a cushy management job. The only thing missing from that bourgeois utopia is a bit of oomph, a bit of recognition that you have played by the rules and done all right. A Porsche 911? Too clichéd. A rose gold Rolex? Got that last Christmas. An extramarital affair that ends in a costly divorce or a boiled bunny? No thanks. How about a membership at one of the city’s country clubs where accomplished individuals like yourself hang out in plaid pants and flat caps? Sounds great, but you’d better get in line.

Clubs are an age-old concept that traces back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The introduction of coffee beans to England in the mid-17th Century spurred the proliferation of coffeehouses for like-minded gentlemen to trade gossip about the monarchy over a hot beverage. In the centuries since, these semi-secret hideouts evolved into main street establishments t…

Let the Tanhua Bloom 曇花再現

When I moderated Kevin Kwan’s book talk for China Rich Girlfriend at a Hong Kong literary event in 2015, the Singaporean-American author was in the process of casting for the Hollywood adaptation of his first book.
Three years later, Crazy Rich Asians the movie—a cross between Cinderella, Pride and Prejudice and The Bachelor—is a runaway hit in North America. The romantic comedy topped the U.S. weekend box office in its opening week and proved to Hollywood studios that a film featuring an all-Asian cast can be just as bankable. 

For Asian audiences everywhere, CRA is more than a feel-good summer blockbuster. It is the coming out party a long time coming. If the people we see on the big screen look cool and sassy, we feel we all do. But god forbid if they come off as dorky or lame, we all do too.
It’s not just the moviegoers who get the jitters. The same is true for actors, directors, screenwriters, and novelists of Asian descent. Whether CRA is a hit or a flop may jumpstart or cut sh…

Who is Agnes Chow? 誰是周庭?

It was roughly six months ago when Nathan Law, chairman of Demosisto, lost his job. He and five other pro-democracy lawmakers had strayed from the prescribed oath during the swearing-in ceremony, and were ousted from the Legislative Council (LegCo) after Beijing issued a reinterpretation of the oath-taking provisions in the Basic Law. Many saw the unseating of six democratically-elected lawmakers, dubbed “Oathgate” in the local press, as a calculated political move to purge the legislature of the opposition.

The time to fill some of these vacated seats is finally upon us. Four by-elections will be held simultaneously on March 11, in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West, New Territories East and for the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape sector.
Barely old enough to run, 21-year-old Agnes Chow (周庭) of pro-democracy party Demosisto has thrown her hat into the ring hoping to win back Law’s Hong Kong Island seat. Her decision to run has not come without a price: she has deferred …

The Joshua I Know 我認識的之鋒

When I shook his hand for the first time, I thought he was the strangest seventeen-year-old I’d ever met.
It was 2014, and considering how much Hong Kong has changed in the last three year, it felt like a lifetime ago.
Joshua sat across from me at a table in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, with his iPhone in one hand and an iPad in the other. I ordered him a lemon iced tea with extra syrup.
He was eager to begin our conversation, not because he was excited about being interviewed for my article, but because he wanted to get it over with and get on with the rest of his jam-packed day.
During our 45-minute chat, he spoke in rapid-fire Cantonese, blinking every few seconds in the way robots are programmed to blink like humans. He was quick, precise and focused.

He was also curt.
When I asked him if he had a Twitter account, he snapped, “Nobody uses Twitter in Hong Kong. Next question.”
I wasn’t the least offended by his bluntness—I chalked it up to gumption and precocity. For a te…

Seeing Joshua 探之鋒

“We are here to visit a friend,” I said to the guard at the entrance. 
Tiffany, Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s long-time girlfriend, trailed behind me. It was our first time visiting Joshua at Pik Uk Correctional Institution and neither of us quite knew what to expect.

“Has your friend been convicted?” asked the guard. We nodded in unison. There are different visiting hours and rules for suspects and convicts. Each month, convicts may receive up to two half-hour visits from friends and family, plus two additional visits from immediate family upon request.
The guard pointed to the left and told us to register at the reception office. “I saw your taxi pass by earlier,” he said while eyeing a pair of camera-wielding paparazzi on the prowl. “Next time you can tell the driver to pull up here to spare you the walk.”
At the reception counter, Officer Wong took our identity cards and checked them against the “List.” Each inmate is allowed to grant visitation rights to no more than 10 friends and fam…