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

“As I See It” has moved to www.jasonyng.com/as-i-see-it

As I See It has a new look and a new home!! Please bookmark www.jasonyng.com/as-i-see-it for the latest articles and a better reading experience. Legacy articles will continue to be available on this page. Thank you for your support since 2008. www.jasonyng.com/as-i-see-it

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. Dai pai dong is ever wallet-friendly 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 a

The City that Doesn’t Read 不看書的城市

The Hong Kong Book Fair is the city’s biggest literary event, drawing millions of visitors every July. The operative word in the preceding sentence is “visitors,” for many of them aren’t exactly readers. A good number show up to tsau yit lau (湊熱鬧) or literally, to go where the noise is. In recent years, the week-long event has taken on a theme park atmosphere. It is where bargain hunters fill up empty suitcases with discounted books, where young entrepreneurs wait all night for autographed copies only to resell them on eBay, and where barely legal – and barely dressed – teenage models promote their latest photo albums. And why not? Hong Kongers love a carnival. How many people visit a Chinese New Year flower market to actually buy flowers? Hong Kong Book Fair 2015 If books are nourishment for the soul, then the soul of our city must have gone on a diet. In Hong Kong, not enough of us read and we don’t read enough. That makes us an “aliterate” people: able to read bu

The Moonscape of Sexual Equality - Part 1 走在崎嶇的路上-上卷

There are things about America that boggle the mind: gun violence , healthcare costs and Donald Trump. But once in a while – not often, just once in a while – the country gets something so right and displays such courage that it reminds the rest of the world what an amazing place it truly is. What happened three days ago at the nation’s capital is shaping up to be one of those instances. From White to Rainbow Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 5-to-4 decision on same-sex marriage, the most important gay rights ruling in the country’s history. In Obergefell v. Hodges , Justice Kennedy wrote, “It would misunderstand [gay and lesbian couples] to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find fulfillment for themselves… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”  With those simple words, Justice Kennedy made ma

Brexit Lessons for Hong Kong 脫歐的教訓

It was an otherwise beautiful, balmy Friday in Hong Kong, if it weren’t for the cross-Channel divorce that put the world under a dark cloud of fright and disbelief. Asia was the first to be hit by the Brexit shock wave. BBC News declared victory for the Leave vote at roughly 11:45am Hong Kong time – hours before London opened – and sent regional stock markets into a tailspin. The shares of HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank, both listed on the Hong Kong Exchange, plunged 6.5 and 9.5 per cent, respectively... It ended in divorce ________________________ This article appeared in the 29 June 2016 print edition of the South China Morning Post . Read the rest of it on SCMP.com as " After Brexit, Hong Kong voters should take a careful look at what our own localist parties are really selling localist politics ." As published in the print edition of the South China Morning Post

The Beam in Our Eye 眼中的梁木

With 59 confirmed deaths and over 500 wounded, the Las Vegas mass shooting is the deadliest one in modern American history. Places like Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Sandy Hook, Orlando—and now Sin City—are forever associated with carnage and death tolls.  They don't get it Not a week goes by in America without a horrific gun attack in a shopping mall, a school or a movie theatre.People outside the U.S. can’t fathom why the world’s wealthiest country can be in such denial over a simple fact: more guns means more gun-related deaths. But they don’t get it, don’t now? Instead, they tell us foreigners to stay out of the debate because we don’t understand what the Second Amendment means to the Land of the Free. So the anomaly continues: each time a shooting rampage shocks the nation, citizens respond with prayers and tributes for a while, but their lawmakers do nothing to change gun laws. And we—the foreigners—shake our heads in disbelief and wonder how many more innocen

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 charts the city's post-colonial development. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies. Jason also co-edited and contributed to Hong Kong 20/20   (2017) and Hong Kong Noir   (2019). Jason is also a social activist. He is an ambassador for Shark Savers and an outspo

Unfit for Purpose 健身中伏

Twenty years ago, a Canadian entrepreneur walked down Lan Kwai Fong and had a Eureka moment. Eric Levine spotted an opportunity in gym-deficient Hong Kong and opened the first California Fitness on Wellington Street, a few steps away from the city’s nightlife hub. Business took off and by 2008 the brand had flourished into two dozen health clubs across Asia. There was even talk about taking the company public on the Hong Kong Exchange. Then things started to go south. The chain was sold, broken up and resold a few times over. Actor Jackie Chan got involved and exited. The Wellington Street flagship was evicted and shoved into an office building on the fringe of Central, while key locations in Causeway Bay and Wanchai were both lost to rival gyms. What was once the largest fitness chain in Hong Kong began a slow death that preceded the actual one that stunned the city this week. It needs a corporate workout ________________________ This article appeared in the 16 July

10 Years in Hong Kong 香港十年

This past Saturday marked my 10th anniversary in Hong Kong .  To be precise, it was the 10th anniversary of my repatriation to Hong Kong. I left the city in my teens as part of the diaspora which saw hundreds of thousands others fleeing from Communist rule ahead of the 1997 Handover. For nearly two decades, I moved from city to city in Europe and North America, never once returning to my birthplace in the interim. Until 2005. That summer, I turned in the keys to my Manhattan apartment, packed a suitcase, and headed east. A personal milestone My law firm agreed to transfer me from New York to their Hong Kong outpost half a world away. On my last day of work, Jon, one of the partners I worked for, called me into his office for a few words of wisdom. He told me that there was no such thing as a right or wrong decision, and that people could only make life choices based on what they knew at the time. “I assume you’ve done your due diligence,” Jon gave me wink, “in that ca

A Farewell to Arms 永别了,武器

America is a bizarre country. To be an American — or to live in America — is to accept a few things that defy common sense. For starters, pizza is considered a “vegetable” under federal law. Two tablespoons of tomato paste on the dough is enough to make the pie healthy enough to be served at every public school cafeteria. Speaking of health, emergency rooms across the country routinely turn down trauma patients who fail to produce proof of health insurance. Facing skyrocketing healthcare costs , the uninsured are left for dead and the insured are worried sick about rising deductibles and annual premiums. Not bizarre enough? Here's another good one: gun shootings have become so commonplace that the evening news no longer reports them unless they are deemed a “shooting rampage.” And each time after a massacre, gun enthusiasts line up outside Wal-Mart to stock up on assault weapons for fear of tougher gun laws. That’s right, in America you can buy a military-style semi-automatic rifl